Talk of the Towns: 3.24.21
forest park | The dinosaurs are coming! The dinosaurs are coming! Run away? Um, not unless you could use the exercise. Just chill. These are not the blood-thirsty reptiles that scared the bejeebers out of anybody who’s watched all or some of the Jurassic Park movies, so have no fear, silly Homo sapiens. Between one dozen and two dozen true-to-life representations—that’s right, kids; some have fur, others feathers!—of the long-extinct reptiles have arrived at the zoo for an exhibit opening Saturday, April 17, and running through Halloween. The temporary exhibit is the Emerson ‘Dinoroarus.’ Coronavirus safety precautions necessitated that the former occupant, Emerson Children’s Zoo, vacate the 3.5-acre space last fall. Some of the long-gone reptiles to be featured are animatronic; they’ll appear to move naturally. But you won’t have to worry about them nibbling on your favorite straw purse as the children’s zoo goats were wont to do, much less tear off an arm or leg for a snack. And who, other than paleontologists, is more fascinated by dinosaurs than kids? This engaging attraction will feature 16 groupings of colorful, prehistoric critters, some of them roaring and spitting—not on anybody, we surmise—or placidly munching on lush vegetation. Any grade-school kid’s favorites will appear. Some are herbivores, others are carnivores. (When I was in elementary school, sometime after the Cretaceous period came to a close, we called them, respectively, ‘plant eaters’ or ‘meat eaters.’) Representing a vast span of geological time, tens of millions of years, they include: Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, Quetzalcoatlus (pictured), Brachiosaurus and Parasaurolophus. But not all of the critters in the exhibit will be replicas of extinct creatures we learned about only through the fossil record. With not merely a nod to the erstwhile children’s zoo, there’ll be otters and other zoo animals—but no lions, tigers and bears. Guinea hens, for example.
System of a Down isn’t the only phenomenon that hails from Armenia. (Say what?) System is a loud and proud alt-metal band of Armenian-Americans, if you didn’t know—and who would have expected you to, right? But even fewer readers, we surmise, would know of chess phenom Levon Aronian, a Grandmaster (GM) from Armenia who is moving to The Lou and will represent the United States in future competitions. We don’t know of any fans who have a jersey with his name stitched on the back like ‘Pujols’ or ‘Warner.’ So far, that is. Aronian, 38, has been a major brainpower in the sport since he was a tween, winning the 1994 World Youth Chess Championship before he’d even reached age 12. Aronian went on to lead the Armenian national team to three Olympic gold medals (2006, 2008, 2012) and one World Team Championship gold (2011). The St. Louis Chess Club has become a second home to Aronian. After winning the 2019 St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, he spoke fondly of his many visits to the CWE. At the closing ceremony he remarked, “I love playing in St. Louis, where chess players are proud to be chess players, and we’re loved.” Aronian gives much of the credit to Rex Sinquefield and his family; Sinquefield is co-founder of the Chess Club. The so-called ‘Sinquefield Effect’ is largely credited with the resurgence of American chess over the last decade and the evolution of St. Louis into the nation’s chess capital. Aronian is currently ranked No. 5 in the world, and he will join the world’s fellow Top 20 players Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez and Hikaru Nakamura to represent the United States. Throughout his career, Aronian has amassed many individual victories as well, including the World Cup (2005, 2017), St. Louis Rapid & Blitz (2017, 2019) and the Sinquefield Cup (2015, 2018). Aronian also is a world champion in three formats; he’s a former Chess960 World Champion (2006, 2007), World Rapid Champion (2009) and Blitz World Champion (2010). Your move, St. Louis.
Age is nothing but a number. So says Wauneen Rucker, crowned Mrs. Missouri America 2020 and competing for the national title of Mrs. America at this writing. The 2021 pageant kicked off March 19 and wraps up March 27 at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas. Aside from being only the second African American to win the state contest in its 46 years of operation, Rucker is the first over age 50. She is 57! A hat she is wearing during the competition (pictured, with her state costume), with more 1904 World’s Fair flair than a stick could be shook at, was designed by Dianne Isbell, who has been a resident designer at Saint Louis Fashion Fund and is to be a featured designer for the Kentucky Derby Hat Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. Rucker has worn many other hats in her life, including that of a U.S. Marine and a St. Louis police officer. And she’s thrown a mortarboard into the air at least two times: She earned a B.S. in criminology and criminal justice from UMSL and a master’s in management from Webster University. Along the way, she’s had to shake flour out of a chef’s hat, too—Rucker has an associate’s degree in baking and pastry arts from SLCC-Forest Park. Today, she stays busy as a practicing minister, mother of two and wife. The charity she has chosen to promote is The St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, which ensures that low- to no-income families have access to an adequate supply.
A vibrant patchwork quilt made up of immigrant and refugee women is being sewn together, one stitch at a time, downtown at The Collective Thread. Terri Stipanovich is co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit, which was established in 2009 as Faith That Works. What started as a mission to help with social justice causes for women in Africa transitioned into a business model that teaches women to sew, providing a skill to earn a liveable wage. “In the summer of 2019, I was working to build our small-batch manufacturing operation,” she says. At the time, she could not have known this would position the outfit well when the pandemic suddenly shut down or slowed commerce last March for most everyone. Stipanovich innovates ways to empower women who have immigrated here, as well as refugees from the civil war in Somalia who have severely overcrowded a camp established in neighboring Ethiopia. A tent camp built to temporarily accommodate around 10,000 refugees has become a long-term home for as many as 80,000. “It touched my heart,” she says. “We just don’t realize how insulated we are here.” From her three dozen-some visits to East Africa, Stipanovich has absorbed just how desperate daily life can be. But she is dedicated to making it better for people there, and here. Part of The Collective Thread’s cross-cultural outreach mission is mentoring women in sewing, which for many is their first job in their new country. Small-batch manufacturing, from concept to completion, typically is performed within the building’s 7,000 square feet, but during the pandemic, many sewers have had to work from home for months. Much of the business revolves around contract work, but Stipanovich and business partner Annie Miller were able to pivot from mostly designing and creating apparel to making PPE (gowns and masks for the ongoing health crisis), thanks to a federal grant through the CARES Act. For Bibi and Jaky, a married couple who had to flee Afghanistan, prospects were stark had they remained. Jaky was working as an interpreter for the American military and as such, under threat of death from the Taliban. After an unimaginable ordeal, the pair and their three kids have managed to settle into family life in the metro. Jaky, who speaks four languages, has parlayed his fluency into a job here with a bank, while Bibi is one of The Collective Thread’s most accomplished and efficient workers. She has been making masks practically nonstop, often 300 or more a day, for which she is well compensated. In fact, they’re buying a home. Talk about a stitch in time. The next sewing classes at The Collective Thread start May 11. Several product lines are available for purchase online to support the women who make them here and in Ethiopia; e.g., colorful and washable Africa Market Bags and items in The Collective Boutique, like baby clothes, backpacks, jewelry, and masks. Stipanovich also is available to speak about her unique mission at any meeting or event. Visit thecollectivethread.com.