Fertile Ground

Feature story for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 29, 2013

Future looks bright as Memphis Botanic Garden turns 60

In 1947, two parcels of land on the eastern boundaries of Memphis were purchased for $400,000 to be used as a new city park.

At the suggestion of political boss E.H. Crump, an avid bird enthusiast, the park was nearly named Bluebird, yet would come to be known as Audubon Park, home to a shooting range and golf course among other amenities.

There was no area set aside for formal gardens at the time. In 1953, however, 2,500 rhizomes donated by the family of Morgan Ketchum were planted on the east end of the park, known afterward as the Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden. The idea self-pollinated, and garden clubs and societies such as the Memphis Men’s Garden Club and the Memphis Wildflower Society soon had their way with plantings. The city moved its rose collection from Overton Park to what was rapidly becoming heralded as the Gardens of Audubon Park.

Sixty years later and that rich patch of dirt has blossomed into the Memphis Botanic Garden with 28 specialty gardens spread over 96 acres in the heart of the city.

The 1960s saw growth as the Goldsmith family honored department store founder Jacob Goldsmith with a donation to create the Goldsmith Civic Garden Center as a gathering place. Three years later the Memphis City Council formally designated it the Memphis Botanic Garden, and in 1969, the foundation was formed that would manage the city-owned property.

In 1996, local philanthropists Helen and J.B. Hardin made a significant donation and Hardin Hall was built, creating space for receptions, conferences and a grand main entrance.

“That event certainly helped the Garden in terms of being able to generate income and sustain the operation,” executive director Jim Duncan said.

Having said that, Duncan noted that hard times were ahead for the attraction . . . (read more)


Kasser tackling tax law with Glankler Brown

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 29, 2013

Jake Kasser has joined the firm of Glankler Brown PLLC as an associate.

A Germantown High School graduate and the son of parents in the medical field, Kasser entered The University of Memphis as a walk-on safety for the Tigers football team. The advisers he worked with guided him toward his chosen field of accounting, and by his sophomore year he’d garnered an athletic scholarship.

Upon graduating, Kasser went on to get a master’s degree in accounting with a concentration in tax.

“When I was in grad school, (law school) was a thought,” he said. “I talked to my parents about maybe doing that. I think my mom suggested it at some point, and that’s when I started to give it some real thought.”

He earned a CPA license and, after graduate school, worked a brief time for the accounting firm of Whitehorn Tankersley & Davis. Then Kasser decided that if he was going to go on to law school, “that would be the best time to go ahead and do it and not wait.”

He entered The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law with the intention all along to focus on transactional law, as opposed to litigation, specifically anything “related to business or tax … that was my background,” he said.

While in school, Kasser served as a staff member of The University of Memphis Law Review and as articles editor of The University of Memphis Law Review editorial board.

As a first-year student, he worked for the Mason Law Firm, which focuses mainly on estate planning. For the next two years he worked for the divorce firm of Rice, Amundsen & Caperton PLLC. He graduated magna cum laude in May and is awaiting results from the bar exam . . . (read more)


Mission of Love

Feature story for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 28, 2013

Rock for Love brings annual awareness to Church Health Center

Beginning Sept. 5, Memphis will once again come together to Rock for Love.

The seventh annual, three-day fundraiser for the Church Health Center, providing health care for the working uninsured, will kick off that Thursday evening with a VIP barbecue at Ardent Studios.

And this year there’s a twist.

“While it’s a VIP barbecue for donors, bands, sponsors and friends of the center, there is a public ticket component so folks from the community can purchase a ticket, or a table for that matter,” said Jeff Hulett, public relations and communications coordinator for the Church Health Center.

The following night sees a bill of four bands at Young Avenue Deli in Cooper-Young, featuring the Side Street Steppers, Reemus Bodeemus, Hope Clayburn’s Soul Scrimmage and Kaleidophonix, as well as DJ Devin Steel between sets. Saturday puts a new spin on the raucous tradition with a family-friendly event at Overton Park in the afternoon.

“It’s free, but we’re encouraging donations and beer will be for sale,” Hulett said.

The afternoon will feature various kids activities, arts and crafts tables, the Grizzlies’ bounce houses and a bake sale. It all will be happening close to the newly renovated and opened playground, with an atmosphere Hulett compares to the popular Memphis Rock-n-Romp events.

That same night sees a concert at the Levitt Shell, featuring up-and-comers Mark Stuart with Kait Lawson, as well as Patrick Dodd, John Kilzer and Kirk Whalum . . . (read more)


Reynolds Bone & Griesbeck rolls along with changing city

Small Business Spotlight for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 24, 2013

The accounting firm of Reynolds Bone & Griesbeck PLC has been around since 1916, when it was known as Shannon Reynolds & Bone.

John Griesbeck, managing partner, said his grandfather, Joseph George – known as J.G. – came aboard in the 1920s. It was a time when the financial center of the city was Downtown among the bales of Cotton Row and banks on Madison Avenue. Such a history carries with it the scent of ink, the image of green eyeshades and heavy, leather-bound ledgers.

Though the basics might be the same – still using the numbers 1 through 10 – the methods certainly have changed. Reynolds Bone & Griesbeck have found their place within the 21st century by expanding services as the needs of their clients change and grow. They are aware that the younger generation is their future as well, and have recently entered the social network fray with a page on Facebook, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel. Where does tweeting and blogging fit in with the image of number crunchers?

“It’s primarily to stay in touch with the younger people in the profession and the students in the universities,” Griesbeck said. “That’s how they communicate with one another.”

Services include tax preparation and planning, inventory control and management, audit work, and mergers and acquisitions. Clients come from the distribution, manufacturing, real estate and nonprofit industries. The way in which CPA firms work and service clients is constantly evolving as the tax code changes and businesses merge . . . (read more)


Martin’s program keeps girls engaged in STEM fields

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 23, 2013

Girls Inc. is a national nonprofit providing girls ages 6-18 with after-school and summer programs, field trips and college tours.

The goal, as stated by the organization’s mission, is “to provide a vision of confidence and self-sufficiency and to provide the means for making the vision a reality for girls, inspiring all girls to become strong, smart, and bold.”

The Eureka program is specifically designed to accommodate rising eighth-graders with an interest in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum. The Eureka program’s coordinator is Rondalyn Martin, a Memphis native who attended Hillcrest High School but had no such program available when she was a child.

“One of the things that I say to the girls often is that I wish I was afforded an opportunity, as well as knowing about programs such as this, that will give you an opportunity and give you this type of exposure to various careers,” she said.

During the school year, Martin said, women mentors working in STEM fields will come in to “speak with the young ladies about various opportunities that they have and expose them to various careers, salaries and whatnot, and we do a lot of touring of facilities as well as taking them around to teach them about colleges that have a high interest in those areas for them to participate in later on.”

The program extends into a summer component for a four-week camp that offers engaging activities and a more hands-on experience to help hold the girls’ interest over those off-months from school. The summer program is held on college campuses in the area and this past summer included a visit to The University of Memphis, where the girls learned about robotics and were able to build robots . . . (read more)


Yoakum helps businesses ‘move on with their lives’

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 22, 2013

Though the jump Brian Yoakum made at the beginning of August from The Biller Law Firm to Evans Petree PC was only a floor away, he saw a greater opportunity to broaden his practice areas and expand the services he could offer clients.

It was also a move from a two-attorney firm to one of nearly 50.

“This is my first time experiencing a large firm, but I think it’s going to be good for me and for my clients,” said Yoakum, whose expertise is in commercial and business litigation with a diverse clientele. “I’m looking forward to taking the clients that I currently have and expanding what I’m doing for them, but then also to be able to go out and use the platform of the larger firm to attract new clients.”

In addition to litigation, Yoakum also has developed over the last couple of years the narrower field of premises liability defense, representing primarily retail and restaurant owners in defense of people who claim to be injured on their property.

Yoakum was born and raised in Memphis, and he completed all of his education in his hometown. He attended Memphis University School before going to Rhodes College, where he studied political science and international studies.

“I had opportunities at all phases of life to leave Memphis, but I love Memphis,” he said. “This is my home. I love its people, so I decided to stay.”

While a student, Yoakum worked as a runner for both Black, Bobango & Morgan (now Black McLaren Jones Ryland & Griffee PC) and Apperson Crump PLC, and those experiences clinched his determination to become an attorney.

After graduating and before entering law school, Yoakum worked as business manager for the Sammons Group LLC, and Jack Sammons, who had been appointed by Chancery Court as special master and receiver. Yoakum graduated from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2005 . . . (read more)


Colliers continues role as major commercial real estate player

Small Business Spotlight for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 17, 2013

Wilkinson & Snowden Inc. helped lead the industrial warehouse revolution in Memphis at a prescient time.

It was the 1960s when the commercial real estate firm founded by Russell Wilkinson and Robert Snowden began developing Airport Industrial Park. The firm was the brokerage arm of the development, and it was just before the founding of a company called Federal Express.

“With the advent of FedEx, the entire business began to change more and more, and it gained momentum as the years went on because of the FedEx factor,” said Gene Woods, president of the modern-day Memphis company.

In 1991, Wilkinson & Snowden partnered with a global real estate concern to become Colliers Wilkinson & Snowden and, in 2010, became Colliers International.

These days, the company of 50 employees is broken into two distinct offices – Asset Services and Brokerage Services. Though they work closely together, they keep two physical addresses, separated in East Memphis by the wide moat of Poplar Avenue.

“It’s a good way for our customers to see the differentiation between our two business types,” said Andy Cates, executive vice president of Brokerage Services, while emphasizing the synergy within the company, “but I would imagine that I talk to the guys in that office (Asset Services) 10 to 12 times a day about deals I’m working on, what they’re doing, the market and everything else.”

On the other side of that six-lane, asphalt fissure is Brad Kornegay, president of Asset Services, representing the institutional ownership and landlords of warehouse, office and retail spaces.

When Kornegay made the move to Colliers from Trammell Crow in 2004, it was with assets of 9 million square feet in tow. Today, he and his team lease or manage approximately 35 million square feet encompassing nearly 300 buildings and 477 tenants. The vast majority of that property is industrial warehousing and distribution . . . (read more)


Hester builds know-how in commercial construction

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 16, 2013

Len Hester is a project manager for Grinder Haizlip Construction Co., a general contractor that specializes in industrial and commercial projects and has worked on high-profile projects such as the Wright Medical Technology Inc. headquarters in Arlington, New Ballet Ensemble, the Grizzlies Sportsplex and the renovation of Memphis Theological Seminary.

Hester grew up in the construction business, though on the residential side, working summers with his father’s company, Tupelo-based Danny Hester Home Improvements.

He left Tupelo for Mississippi State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in management of construction and land development, returning home to work for his father the year following graduation.

“I decided that I wanted to try something different, came up to Memphis, and Grinder Haizlip gave me the opportunity to work for them,” Hester said. “I started learning the ins and outs of the commercial side of things; instead of a hammer in hand, I’ve got a pencil in hand now.”

That was eight years ago and, though he said it was a challenge becoming acclimated to managing commercial construction projects, he’s risen to the task and looks at himself as “a business inside of a business.”

“I’m responsible for my own projects; I’m responsible for the well-being and success of my project and, in turn, I’m responsible for the profitability that the company wants me to have,” Hester said.

Those projects lean to the commercial side and have included renovation of the Cordova AAA Auto Care Center, Dobbs Nissan, Dobbs Honda and other car dealerships. He’s presently at work on a Porsche/Volkswagen and an Audi dealership for Gossett Motor Cars on Covington Pike . . . (read more)


Nap time good for baby, good for dad

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Aug. 15, 2013

Nap time good for baby, good for dad

When we were new parents and the baby would fall asleep in the car, I’d carry him and his car seat inside the house, careful not to jostle him, careful not to slam the door, careful not to wake him at any cost — and I’d place him on the clothes dryer and turn it on.

Full or not, I’d turn it on regardless of the energy cost just to keep that slight movement and sound, some semblance of a still-moving car.

We lived in Midtown then, and if you live in Midtown you know that there is a train rolling within five blocks of any house at any time. We had a crossing half a block away and when that whistle would blow I’d stand in front of the baby in his seat on the dryer with my arms outstretched as though my body could absorb the sound of the whistle and keep it from entering his tiny, precious, sleeping ears.

And that’s how I would spend most nap times, trying desperately to keep him from waking up.

As an older and somewhat wiser parent, I know that there is still no better time than nap time; my own nap time.

I never understood why babies need all the naps anyway, they don’t do anything. They wake up and have food put in their faces, then they just lie around. They don’t even have to get up and go to the bathroom. Yet their big, curious eyes are as tired in the middle of the day as my 43-year-old eyes are now.

As an adult, I don’t call it a nap. My mother called it “resting her eyes.” What a wonderful euphemism. I always thought it had a genteel, almost Southern sensibility about it like “putting on airs” or “bless her heart” or “losing one’s religion.” We all know what it means, there’s no need to admit to it.

I try to rest my eyes every afternoon. I find that if I can just lie down on the couch in my office and close my eyes for just 10 minutes, then it makes the rest of the day —and me — more pleasant. My children will attest to that.

These eyes are tired. They spend all day looking. I look at books and magazines and documents. I look at the Internet on a laptop, tablet and phone. Last week, much of my time was spent looking at forms and packets my kids brought home to be signed for the new school year. And the kids, they want me to look at whatever they’re doing any time they’re around.

So I’m tired and I only want to rest my eyes, there’s no shame in that. There is shame, however, in falling asleep in your mashed potatoes at the dinner table.

Look, you’re tired, I know that. It’s why I recommend to all you new parents that you use your child’s nap time as an opportunity, not to do the dishes or laundry, not to watch television or Facebook, but to rest your eyes.

Just try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Stengel advises new lawyers to ‘find your passion’

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 15, 2013

Michael Stengel visited Memphis from his home in Buffalo, N.Y., for the first time at just the right time.

“I came down here in May to visit and see what the place was like, and it was just gorgeous and, unbeknownst to me, Memphis in May was going on,” he said.

It was 1983 and he was beginning law school at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, having recently graduated from the University of Rochester. Thirty years later, and he’s a practicing attorney with his own firm – and still at home in the South.

“I tell people I came down to Memphis for law school and a local girl kept me,” he said of his wife, Beth.

The Stengel Law Firm is largely one of criminal defense, an area he wasn’t even considering as a law student.

“I was not planning on going into criminal law until I got a job doing criminal defense work and just fell in love with it,” Stengel said.

That job, which began with a clerkship just before law school graduation, was with Clifton & Shankman, which later became Clifton & Stengel. In 1994, he went out on his own to begin Stengel Law Firm.

The business of criminal defense is one that requires a lot of time in court and a lot of time getting ready to be in court, and Stengel’s experience with both act as a cautionary tale to new and would-be attorneys.

“You have to love it,” he said. “You’ve got to be prepared for the unexpected, and you’ve got to learn to live with the sleepless nights before certain hearings.”

It’s an exciting career fraught with all of the drama and curveballs that one might expect. But be aware, he warned, there is the dull side as well, and the cautionary tale can grow even more harrowing . . . (read more)