Whether it is ticket sales for the Great Lakes Loons, managing the technical side of production at the MCFTA or creating a business from scratch, these Midland locals are making an impact in their communities. This week, we have featured three individuals whose jobs may be considered off the beaten path. We wanted to hear in their own words, how they happened upon these careers and what it means to live out your passion while developing a skill set you can rely on for years to come.
Thom Pepe, Assistant General Manager of Ticket Sales for the Great Lakes Loons
Thom Pepe’s career trajectory has spanned geographic locations and industries, before he found his current role as the Assistant General Manager of Ticket Sales for the Great Lakes Loons
“What I enjoy most about my job is the relationships I am able to develop with my colleagues, the strong fan base and the young folks I come across,” describes Pepe. “It’s not just buying tickets. When you come into that booth, I get to know a little bit about your family, what you do for a living, what is affecting you personally. It’s such an honor to hear a part of someone’s life story.”
Thom Pepe, Assistant General Manager of Ticket Sales with the Loons
Pepe has been with the Loons since March 2014 when he started out as a part-time seasonal employee selling tickets at the window.
“I’ve always been involved in sports of some kind, and it was my dream as a young boy to be a ballplayer or work for a ball club in some capacity,” adds Pepe. “I bought my first ticket to Dow Diamond about a year before I started working here. I was amazed at how beautiful it was, how happy everyone who worked there seemed and I knew I wanted to be a part of it in some way. As luck would have it, here I am now.”
Inside the ticket office at the Great Lakes Loons
On the surface, many expect the job to consist primarily of ticket sales, but Pepe describes the other elements that go unnoticed.
“Our typical day surrounds itself with the hospitality and humanity side of the business,” says Pepe. “We’ll pull tarp on rain and snow days, speak at events around the community and visit school and university classrooms. Some days we’ll even scoop ice cream or wrap hot dogs if extra hands are needed. When you come to Dow Diamond, we want to do everything in our power to ensure you feel safe and have a good time.”
Now sixty-five years old, Pepe boasts a career trajectory that has taken him all over the country and globe — from serving as a medic for the U.S. Air Force to teaching at the University of California, to an assistant general manager role for the Great Lakes Loons.
“Whether it is treating a patient, working with a student, or creating an experience for a family, I know that as long as I begin with people I’ll be successful anywhere I go,” says Pepe. “And sometimes, I might even sell tickets.
Josiah Blackmore, Owner of Red Threads
Located on Haley Street in Downtown Midland, Red Threads
is a custom screen printing business and Josiah Blackmore’s brain child.
“When I was twenty one years old, I had an experience which brought me back to God,” Josiah begins as he describes his path. “That was how I got started with this work. I had been born and raised in a Christian home, but never believed in it. It wasn’t until I had an encounter in my own life that I found my way back to faith.”
Josiah Blackmore, owner of Red Threads in Midland
Ever since, he has found his anchor in spirituality and set out on a journey to bring his faith into the work he does. Josiah landed on opening his own screen printing business after finding a lack of satisfying options when it came to Christian clothing.
“I wanted to make a shirt that was visually appealing and could be a conversation starter to dive into this message that I am passionate about,” says Josiah. “In the span of six months, I was able to find equipment, seed funding and a space to make my shirts.
With those details taken care of, Red Threads was born. Josiah works with his wife and a small staff to oversee the entire operation.
A finished product at Red Threads
“What most people don’t see is that in addition to the designer and printer, I am the business owner,” says Josiah. “I spend a lot of time thinking about the books, managing employees, navigating taxes and laws and building marketing plans. Some people think it’s just t-shirts, but this is business ownership in every way. We’re always dealing with a million moving parts at the same time; design and printing t-shirts is maybe twenty percent of the job description.”
It’s his passion and vision that he hopes to one day use to create a platform for spirituality and the Christian faith, especially among fellow peers.
Blackmore of Red Threads copies a print on a t-shirt
“In business, l do my best to be who I am and to be understanding of who I am,” adds Josiah. “When I’m presenting in front of other business people, I tell my story, unfiltered. Sometimes it’s scary because there is a stigma against Christianity today, and I can see why. But at the same time, it’s who I am. We make every effort to be an excellent example, serving our diverse customers generously and giving everyone our best.”
With an introduction to screen printing in high school, Josiah turned to Youtube to learn how to put his dreams into action. His current challenge: figuring out how to spend more time on the message he wants to put forth.
“I’ve got this amazing story of passion and faith, but part of the goal of business is also to turn a profit,” says Josiah. “Currently, much of our revenue stream is printing projects for our customers, and helping other people build up their passions. But, we want to make sure to also also tend to that flame in ourselves that inspired this.”
New projects on the horizon provide that hope, and even in the challenging times Josiah finds solace in the faith that started this all.
“Even in my darkest days, I can now say that I know who I am, why I’m here and what my purpose in this life is,” adds Josiah. “That gives me a deep sense of joy, and that is what I hope to keep spreading with all the work we do.”
Heath Hetherington, Director of Technical Services, Midland Center for the Arts
Heath Hetherington first started doing production work as a student at Mount Pleasant High School. He was part of the musical theatre program, and because the school didn’t have an auditorium of its own at the time, he was introduced to the Warner Auditorium on Central Michigan University’s campus.
“The first year, I played in the pit orchestra for the Wizard of Oz,” describes Hetherington. “I had always thought I would play music. In high school, I played the trombone and was a drum major, but eventually I made the jump to backstage. I’ve found that my background in music makes the audio side more interesting and goes a long way when you have to mix any type of music.”
Hetherington joined the Midland Center for the Arts in 2003 as a full time sound engineer and assistant director. One of his most memorable moments include playing the role of artistic director and producing a thirty-minute stage show for the Center’s 40th Anniversary Gala.
Heath Hetherington, Director of Technical Services at MCFTA
“We wanted to make it a dinner theatre atmosphere, with staging and decking coming out over the seats of the auditorium to create a Vegas style showroom,” describes Hetherington. “There were aerialists, vocalists and an orchestra among others. When people come up to you and say they have never experienced anything like that, there is no better compliment. Seeing the audience applauding at the end is one of those heart warming things that washes over you. It’s an amazing feeling to see something you produce have a greater meaning for someone else.”
Hetherington’s job, like many of the others described here, ebbs and flows. On the lighter weeks, he says can expect to work a standard nine to five with normal business days. But if there is a show in town that week, those hours may stretch from the early morning into the wee hours of the night.
Preparing for a performance at the Center
“That’s one thing people don’t always realize,” reiterates Hetherington. “The show is so much more than just the performance itself. On some days, we will get in at six a.m. to help set up. My job is to help execute people’s vision. If that means seeking out a source to carpet a room or picking up stadium astro turf to lay in the parking lot for an outdoor event, I’m on it. There are elements like that which go far beyond light, sound and staging.”
For those looking to go into this work, Hetherington offers this piece of advice.
“I always tell young people to try everything, regardless of the role. With the arts, even if you don’t think you’ll be interested in lighting, costuming, scene design, directing or acting, at least work on one show,” says Hetherington. “You never know what might surprise you. And it’s good to have more than one way to pay the bills.”
For more information on upcoming events at the Center or for this season’s packages, see the Midland Center for the Arts website