ALUMNI PROFILES — Spring 2009
   

 
Beth Daniels’ family conversation games can be found in several stores, including Imagination Toys in Ladue, Missouri. (Photo: David Kilper)

Bringing Families Closer Through Conversation
"Take my marketing degree, add a little occupational therapy, throw in a bit of mom, mix it all up, and you have Around the Table® Games,” says Beth Daniels, M.S.O.T. ’96, of her family game company. To date, she has created three games—Family Talk™, Family Talk2™, and Grandparent Talk™—designed to bring families closer through conversation.

The idea for Around the Table® Games came to Daniels when she was a stay-at-home mom with two busy children, Kate and Nathan. “My friends, some who worked [outside the home] and some who did not, all experienced the same thing,” she says. “We raced between Girl Scouts and gymnastics and soccer and church events. We were not having those dinner table conversations with the family that we had growing up.”

In response, Daniels created Family Talk™, a game with 100 cards containing questions family members could ask each other while running errands, waiting for a restaurant table, or on the sidelines at a soccer game. Sample questions include “What was dinner time like when you were growing up?” and “What worries you the most?”

She then developed a second game, Grandparent Talk™. Years earlier when her great-grandmother turned 87, family members wrote down a list of questions to ask her. Daniels, her mother, and her grandfather videotaped the interview. Half of the questions for Grandparent Talk™ came from that videotape, she says.

Daniels’ educational and professional background prepared her for the development of these games. After graduating from college with a marketing degree, she held a business position at a nursing home but wanted to help patients directly. So, she began to shadow a friend at her occupational therapy job. Daniels then decided to apply to Washington University’s graduate occupational therapy program at the School of Medicine.

After graduation, Daniels worked at the University, teaching and supervising students’ fieldwork. She also worked with Ken Harrington, director of the University’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, to incorporate entrepreneurship into one of her classes.

Once she created Family Talk™ and Grandparent Talk™, she decided to contact Harrington for advice about turning her game ideas into a business. He suggested that she participate in Ideabounce®, a Skandalaris program that encourages entrepreneurship. Aspiring entrepreneurs post their business ideas on the Web site, Daniels explains. Periodically throughout the year, Ideabounce® selects “bouncers” to pitch their ideas to judges and entrepreneurs from the community.

To Daniels’ surprise, the judges selected her idea as a winner. At a dinner honoring the winners, she met Pete Peters of Innovate Venture Mentoring Service. She applied to his program, which provided her with amazing mentors, Daniels says, who are giving her advice and “connecting me with people who can advance me in my endeavors.”

Customer feedback also helps. In her initial design, Daniels placed questions in a jar. When customers told her they brought the jar with them on vacations and elsewhere, she modified the design, putting the cards on a clip for greater portability.

Today, Daniels uses an outside sales force to facilitate sales and a public relations firm to increase national awareness. Originally a local business, Around the Table® Games can be found “in over 150 retail locations in over 30 states, and in Canada. We are hoping to keep that momentum, if not increase it.”

The job is a natural fit for Daniels. Her goal “is to keep conversations going, especially intergenerational conversations.”

Beth’s daughter, Kate, also is helping to keep conversations going. Kate created two new games, Buddy Talk and Camp Talk, scheduled to launch in spring 2009. These new games aim to connect kids through conversation.

“Engaging people in purposeful conversations, no matter what the age, makes life more meaningful,” Daniels says. She notes that she has learned a lot from her kids by playing these games. “Just when you think you know what your kids are going to say, they surprise you. It is important to keep talking in order to keep up with their thoughts.”

—Beth Herstein, A.B. ’83


Tom Holland brings the Wild West to life for youth at Teton Valley Ranch Camp in Wyoming. (Courtesy Photo)

The Wild West Comes Alive for Kids
The American West, as depicted in many cowboy movies, brings to mind a spirit of independence and determination. In the routines of modern daily life, one can easily forget that the Western landscape and the spirit it inspired really did—and still do—exist.

Tom Holland, A.B. ’02, is actually there, living the dream. As the head of a youth camp in Wyoming, he makes the Wild West experience come alive for kids each summer in a way no Hollywood director ever could.

Since 2005, Holland has worked at the Teton Valley Ranch Camp (TVRC), a prestigious summer camp located on 2,300 scenic acres near Dubois, Wyoming. He began as managing director and was promoted to executive director in 2007. The camp, nestled between the pine woods of the Shoshone National Forest and the glacial mountain peaks of the Wind River Range, offers a wide range of outdoor activities far away from televisions, cell phones, and iPods.

The camp’s primary focus is on youth ages 11–15 who arrive for their four-week summer adventure from across the United States and around the world. TVRC holds two four-week sessions. The first one takes place June 14–July 13, and the second session occurs July 15–August 13. On average, 130 youths participate in each session. In May, Holland and his year-round staff are joined by 60–70 additional young team members hired to encourage and challenge campers as they participate in hiking, climbing, rodeo riding, and more.

“Since 1939, TVRC has been a leader in providing experiential education to kids—teaching environmental stewardship, ranching heritage, and respect for self and others,” says Holland. “Our campers come here for the fun of being outdoors, singing around the campfire, and meeting other kids—not realizing that they are gaining independence, confidence, and resilience at the same time.”

Holland’s connection with TVRC began when he was a freshman at the University. “I was studying environmental science, and a classmate suggested that I apply to be a summer counselor at TVRC,” he says. “My experience there was life-changing; when I returned to campus my sophomore year, I changed my major to secondary education.”

After graduation, he taught U.S. history to high schoolers in St. Louis, and earned recognition as Outstanding New Teacher by the State of Missouri. When he received a phone call offering him a position at TVRC, Holland and his wife, Catherine, decided it was an opportunity to make an even greater impact in the lives of children.

“At TVRC, every camper is challenged but not bullied, and can make mistakes in a supportive environment,” he says. “They can explore the West and just be kids. Then they can take their feelings of accomplishment and respect for the environment back out into the world and share them with others.”

Catherine Holland’s role at TVRC is one of vital importance to staffers and campers alike: She runs the camp’s acclaimed food program. A registered dietitian, she works with six chefs and assistant cooks to ensure that meals are hearty and healthy.

The Hollands also have added a young daughter, Madeleine, to the mix. During the winter months, they live in Jackson, Wyoming, a one-hour drive from camp. The TVRC staff spends these off-season months focusing on programming, hiring, and raising funds through the nonprofit TVRC Education Foundation. Luckily, the camp boasts a cadre of loyal camp alumni, friends, and former staffers who donate generously to ensure that TVRC continues its educational mission for future generations.

Holland’s successful development efforts have allowed him to expand the camp’s programming to include a three-week high school leadership program and a five-day camp for families.

“The world today needs places like TVRC,” Holland asserted in an address at the camp’s recent 70th anniversary celebration. “A few years ago, a young camper was in tears when it was time for him to leave camp. As I tried to cheer him up about returning to his home and school, he looked up at me and said, ‘Tom, you don’t get it. Here at camp, I’m cool.’ That statement sums up the feeling that every kid experiences here.”

—Lisa Cary


Julie Compton creates stories and characters for her novels in her home office in Florida. (Photo: Stephen M. Dowell)

Legal Career Leads to Literary Thrillers
"It still does not seem real to me,” says Julie (Grossman) Compton, A.B. ’85, J.D. ’88, of being a published author. “It is such a thrill whenever I walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf.”

Compton, an attorney-turned-author, combined her love of writing with her knowledge of the law to write her debut novel Tell No Lies, a psychological and legal thriller set in St. Louis. Tell No Lies (St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2008) is the story of Jack, a prosecutor who risks everything, both professionally and personally, when he succumbs to a growing obsession with Jenny, a colleague. His life is turned upside-down when Jenny is accused of murdering a client, and Jack is her only alibi.

Two news items inspired the idea for Tell No Lies. A radio report about the unethical behavior of a politician led Compton to wonder why someone would risk everything. “I believe most people are good—even those who do ‘bad’ things—and I wanted to explore why a good person does something so out of character.”

In another article, a suspect’s mother insisted her son was innocent, even though all evidence pointed to the contrary. “It was another aspect of human nature I found interesting,” says Compton, “the ways in which humans can delude themselves.”

Before she began writing professionally, Compton practiced law with private firms in St. Louis before becoming a stay-at-home mom. It was during this time that she completed the first draft of her novel.

At first, Compton wrote as a hobby—she just did it because she enjoyed it. When she began working on what would eventually become Tell No Lies, she was “not even sure I was starting a novel. When I write, I do not start at chapter one and continue from there. I just write scenes that come into my head. Only later does the real story develop.”

She began to attend a weekly writing workshop, which provided her with structure and taught her the discipline she needed to finish the novel.

After six years of staying home with her children, she re-entered the legal arena and accepted a job as a trial attorney with the U.S. Trustee’s Office in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2003, Compton and her family moved to Florida, and she returned to writing full time.

The actual writing process is Compton’s favorite part of being an author. “The act of sitting in front of the computer and getting lost in the story and the characters is pure joy for me,” she says. “There are days when I totally lose track of time, when the hours seem like minutes, and I wish the day could go on forever so I could continue writing.”

Attending book signings and speaking to library groups and book clubs is another rewarding part of the job. “I have met so many careful readers, those who notice small details about a character or pick up the nuance in a sentence,” she says. “This is every author’s hope, I think, to have readers who give as much care to the reading as you have tried to give to the writing. You hope the story becomes real for the reader. When you hear from someone who loved your book, it is incredibly satisfying.”

Compton credits her course work at Washington University and the school, itself, for helping her succeed. The reputation of the University opened many doors for her professionally, she says. A great education was not the only thing Compton received from the University. She began dating her husband, Eric, B.S.B.A. ’85, there. The couple has two daughters: Jessica, 16, and Sally, 14.

Her second novel, tentatively titled How to Save a Life, is scheduled for release in the next year. “It is the story of a Florida biker whose girlfriend is severely injured in a motorcycle accident and mysteriously taken from him without so much as a goodbye,” Compton says. “In his quest to get her back and literally save her life, he ends up figuratively saving his own life, too.”

For more information, visit www.juliecompton.com.

—Blaire Leible Garwitz