Category Archives: Kim’s Kind Finds

A series of freelance articles created by Kim. Many of these articles appear in her local newspaper column.

From Normal to National: Mellissa’s Wheel of Fortune Journey


Some might call her a wordsmith. Others might argue she’s a puzzle solving pro.  No matter which way you “spin” it, Mellissa Wahl is one lucky lady. This month she’s showcasing her letter lingo on the nationally televised game show Wheel of Fortune.

Professional - MW

“I have been watching it my whole life,” smiled Mellissa. “My family knows being a contestant is high on my bucket list.”

The journey began with a text message last summer.

“My step-mom wrote telling me the ‘Wheel of Fortune Wheelmobile’ would be in Forsyth, Illinois–and I knew I had to go!” Each year, the bright yellow Winnebago hits the road searching for Wheel of Fortune contestants.

Mellissa and the Wheel Mobile

“There were about 400 people there,” Mellissa recalled. “I was brought on stage to solve a puzzle–but couldn’t figure it out.” Still, there was a glimmer of hope. If the casting agents liked what they saw, (personalities included) they’d follow up with those attendees.

A short time later…Mellissa received an invitation from Wheel of Fortune for a final audition in Springfield, Illinois. “About 80 people were there, including show producers. They said, ‘we want outgoing energetic people full of enthusiasm–and good puzzle solvers.’” The producers released some people halfway through the afternoon. But they asked Mellissa to stay for an interview.

Wheel of fortune graphic

“I knew this was my shot. I had to get them laughing, do something different to stand out,” she chuckled. “So I randomly said, ‘I can make a bird noise!’”

More than 10 years ago, Mellissa developed the chirpy call for her high school marching band show of The Lion King. And somehow…someway…in this moment…the bird call reemerged. “In my mind, it’s an exotic, tropical bird,” she smiled. “I just did it—right there, in front of everyone!”

The crowd, including the show producers roared. A short time later…Mellissa found out she made the show.

Wheel of fortune cake

“I was so excited! This February, I packed my bags and flew to Los Angeles, California for the taping.”

At the studio, she quickly learned playing Wheel of Fortune at home is dramatically different than on stage. “The cameras are kind of distracting—in fact, they’re pretty much right in front of you. The letter board is also at an angle which is different than what you see on TV,” she explained.

MW photo 1

Before going on stage, Mellissa had her hair and makeup done—and met Vanna White.

“She’s so down to earth, not to mention completely gorgeous without makeup. Vanna told all of the contestants not to be nervous, just go out there and have fun.”

Mellissa family and friends in LA

That’s exactly what Mellissa did.

“It was an amazing experience. Pat Sajak is so witty and kind. I did the tropical bird call for him too.”

You can catch that exotic display on April 14 at 6:30 p.m. central time. That’s when Mellissa’s Wheel of Fortune episode airs.

“I can’t tell anyone how I did until after that date” she explained. “But it was such a cool experience. One I’ll never forget.”

MW photo celebrate

And in this, ‘game of life’ if there’s one puzzle Mellissa solved thanks to Wheel of Fortune, it’s this:

“You never know until you try,” she said.

Now that’s truly winning.

Watch Mellissa represent Normal on Wheel of Fortune – Thursday April 14—6:30 p.m. central time!


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100 Priceless Gifts, in Pints


For the past few decades…it’s safe to say, 66-year-old David Messenger has been on the American Red Cross radar.  That…and its speed dial.

Messenger pictured with his 100th pint of blood following his recent donation. Photo courtesy David Messenger.

“I’ve been giving blood regularly for the past 45 years,” Messenger smiled.  “My dad was a donor so donating was, ‘in my blood’ so to speak.  I started as a sophomore in college at the age of 19.  I had a co-worker who needed blood, and I figured I’d donate a pint to show my support for him.” Little did he know that pint…given back in the 1960’s would soon multiply into dozens of blood drive trips. “I just kind of looked for them,” Messenger explained.  “Been pretty much everywhere to give blood–churches, malls, hospitals, schools, even gave blood overseas while living in Australia.”

Messenger’s blood type is O positive—the most common according to the American Red Cross.  Recently, it’s been in the headlines due to a large shortage in itsRed Cross blood supply.

“It tends to happen in the summer,” said Ben Corey, external communications manager for the Red Cross Heart of America Blood Services Region.  “Many people take vacations, are out of school–schedules fluctuate.  But, we’re now asking donors who haven’t donated, and those who are eligible again, to make an appointment to give now to help ensure blood products are available for patients.”

“Blood is essential,” added Messenger. “Since it’s broken down into parts, be it plasma…red cells…platelets…up to three lives can be saved with one donation.” Through the years Messenger has saved a lot of lives, and recently reached a major milestone.

A few weeks ago, I gave my 100th pint of blood,” he smiled.  “One hundred pints or 12.5 gallons depending on how I look at it.  Only took me nearly five decades to achieve!”

Most people never know where their blood goes once it’s donated.  But in a few serendipitous moments, Messenger’s been privy to the impact of his gift.

“When I was a student in the X-Ray department at an Indiana hospital, I saw my unit of blood be administered to a patient staying there.  Kind of affirming…knowing someone so close by would be helped.  Another time, I learned my blood had been shipped to a children’s hospital in Chicago because it had an antigen they needed.”

100th unit close up

With each person he’s helped…Messenger’s good deeds aren’t going unnoticed. “His effort isn’t only impressive, it’s inspiring,” said Corey.  “One hundred pints of blood means potentially hundreds of people have been saved.  His commitment to give not only serves as an example for our Red Cross donors, but to our volunteers and the community as well.” So after all that giving…what’s next for Messenger?  Well, sharing the good will of course.

“I plan to stay active with the cause, and continue volunteering,” he said.  “I want others to know how important it is to give, and encourage them to donate.  Repay blood with blood.  If the Red Cross needs me, well…they know how to find me.”

How to Give:  Visit, download the American Red Cross free Blood Donor App or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to make an appointment or for more information.

Ann Rosenquist Fee and Joe Tougas star as Hank and Rita. Photo courtesy Terri Ryburn.

Music, a Movie, and a Nod to Route 66


She’s been retired for more than a decade, but a local woman with strong artistic passion is busy working on a project she hopes is destined for the big screen.
“I promised myself before retiring, that I’d explore creativity in all aspects of my life,” said Terri Ryburn…and she has.

Ryburn, who holds a doctorate in history from Illinois State University has written plays, had plays published, does standup comedy, is writing a memoir, and performs in a local acting troupe.

Terri Ryburn
Terri Ryburn

“I put myself out there, and it can be scary, but I think back to that retirement promise,” Ryburn smiled.
Her latest project involves one of her former ISU students and a screenplay–thanks to a chance social media encounter last summer.
“I read a Facebook post promoting a show called The Best of Hank and Rita: A Barroom Operetta,” said Ryburn. Lo and behold, it featured Ann Rosenquist Fee, one of my favorite students. Ann plays Rita alongside actor Joe Tougas who portrays Hank—her husband.”

The show goes something like this:
Fictional couple, Hank and Rita, are a singing duo who hit it big in the 70’s. But now it’s 1986, and the couple’s fame is dwindling fast. Instead of performing big concerts in urban areas—they’re playing to diner crowds and small town bars. Hank (Joe Tougas) doesn’t know it, but his wife Rita (Ann Rosenquist Fee) is planning to leave him. She just needs one more “good” performance before calling it quits.

Ann Rosenquist Fee and Joe Tougas star as Hank and Rita. Photo courtesy Terri Ryburn.
Ann Rosenquist Fee and Joe Tougas star as Hank and Rita. Photo courtesy Terri Ryburn.

“I called Ann because I had a sudden flash–I saw this show as a movie,” Ryburn explained. “After buying the CD and seeing it live with my good friend Kathi Davis, I got really excited. I told Ann, ‘we love the music, we love the concept, and we want to bring Hank and Rita to Bloomington.’ Ann agreed!”
Ryburn’s plan (with the help of friends) is as follows:
1.) Shoot/edit a short film starring Hank and Rita this winter. Cinematographer J.J. Painter is lending Ryburn a hand.
2.) Submit it to film festivals this summer.
3.) Use the profits to fund a larger movie on Route 66.

“As a historian, I would love to call attention to Route 66 and the communities along the way,” Ryburn smiled. “Even more, The Best of Hank and Rita offers something for everyone. It’s funny, sad, entertaining (there’s love, adventure), it has great music, really a universal story.”Route 66

To help pay for the short film, Ryburn is performing standup comedy at the Eagles Club on Thursday January 28th, at 8PM. But that’s not the only gig raising money for the initial project. Rosenquist Fee and Tougas are bringing their live show, The Best of Hank and Rita to Bloomington on January 29th and 30th. Like Ryburn’s comedy—it will also be performed at the Eagles Club.

“I’m learning to live without fear. I’m learning, growing, and having fun,” said Ryburn. “After all, everything you say ‘yes’ to, leads to something even more fantastic.”
The hope is there will be a big turnout for each performance so Ryburn, (and Hank and Rita too), can make this cinematic dream—a reality. Perhaps that’s the last “good” show Rita is looking for.

A Night of Standup Comedy with Terri Ryburn             
Thursday January 28th
Eagles Club
313 S. Main Street Bloomington
Tickets: $10 at the door


The Best of Hank and Rita – LIVE in Bloomington!
Friday January 29th/Saturday January 30th
Eagles Club
313 S. Main Street Bloomington
Doors open at 6:30 (cash bar, snacks available)/Performance at 8PM
Tickets: $15 in advance at or $20 at the door (if available)

The short film will be used to solicit funds for the full-length feature film. To donate to Ryburn’s project, call 309-452-5325 or email