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NEW YORK—One of life’s adages is that if you look hard enough there’s always a silver lining inside the black cloud. Such a cliché, right? So, to put this theory to the test, Vmail Weekend asked an array of people within the optical sector if, indeed, they could identify any silver linings that they have experienced over the past six months during this coronavirus pandemic dark storm. As the glass-half-full among us would expect, we received a quite a few cheerful, surprising and upbeat stories that will put a smile upon even the dourest face among us. So, read on to hear about a surprise birthday party, a first fish and even a 39-mile ultra run.

Darren Horndasch
President and CEO
Wisconsin Vision

An unexpected visit by his family was part of
the surprise at Darren Horndasch’s milestone birthday celebration.

My 38th wedding anniversary was Friday, Aug. 14, and my 60th birthday was Saturday, Aug. 15 (just how things lined up 38 years ago). I had plans to take my wife to an outdoor dinner venue for our anniversary and planned to video chat with both of my sons and their families on Saturday as one lives with his family in Maryland and the other with his family in Illinois. They both regretted that due to all of the pandemic health concerns it was better that they remained in their respective towns. Although a bit bummed, I completely understood.

Quietly, and without me knowing, my wife Jamie and our principal owner here at Wisconsin Vision, Paul George, were planning an outdoor birthday surprise that involved all of our corporate and lab staff. I was actually supposed to meet with my attorney to complete our personal estate planning on that Friday (have to think about those things when you are turning 60), but it got changed to the following week due to a “hearing” he had to attend (only later to find out he was also involved).

Our director of marketing knew I was planning to take off early on Friday, but conveniently inserted a meeting with our local television sales representative (another co-conspirator) to talk about opportunities for the YMCA??? (I have been on the YMCA board since 1991.)

The Wisconsin Vision management team worked together to plan and spring the surprise birthday party on a Friday afternoon.
As the meeting ended, I was planning to take off (brought in my convertible Mustang on a beautiful sunny Friday) and pick up my wife for the day when our director of marketing said, “Wait, you have to go to the back lot – someone hit the company trailer.”

Bing – hook, line and sinker. I walked out the door and was immediately hit with everyone singing “Happy Birthday” to me – with food, balloons, gifts, cards and cake. It was just amazing. As I tried to hold back my emotions, I looked to my right and my wife and sons with their families (including grandkids) walked around the corner. I totally lost it at that point!

I am so grateful to the George family for the great surprise, my entire management team who participated in planning the event and my wife and family for making my 60th a birthday one that I will never forget. What started out to be a quiet weekend (ok, maybe I was a bit down thinking about starting a new decade without celebrating) ended up being just an amazing, humbling time!

Kissel Goldman
SVP Operations
Now Optics

Kissel Goldman and his son, Christian, have quite a fish story to tell.
The current environment has changed the way we see the everyday world. Simple, basic activities are now new adventurous thrills, and we have time to reflect on what really matters - each other!

I was able to finally take the time recently to learn how to fish near my home in Boynton Beach, Fla., and to join my younger son, Christian, on this journey. Not only am I learning a new skill late in life, but I’m also finally understanding what the meaning of fishing stories is all about!

The picture at the top of this story is my son Christian proudly holding my first catch.

Todd and Leigh Berberian
Todd Rogers Eyewear

The day Todd and I decided to bring a new puppy into our lives, we asked our young boys to dream about who she’d be.

"She’ll be magical!” the two of them would say. We hoped she would be, as we all manifested an extraordinary pup and awaited her arrival.

“We’ll name her Iris,” Todd said out of the blue one afternoon. Now mind you, we had not met her yet.

Both Todd and I mused that perhaps our new puppy’s soul would be our old, wonderful dog, Prana - reincarnated, just like in the movie “A Dog’s Purpose.”

Hey, you never know.

Well, Iris, the American Bulldog has now found her forever home with us. As fate would have it, she has heterochromia, aptly fitting for the pup of an optical family. Todd’s premonition of naming her “Iris” says it all.

She is indeed magical. Everywhere we go, people gravitate towards her...the white puppy with the ghosted black spots and one sky blue eye.

Our boys are proud to tell Iris's admirers about the Native American legend: that a dog with two different colored eyes has one eye on earth and one in heaven. They are sure that Iris can see all the people our family has loved and lost, and we believe that she can.

Often Iris winks at us from her one, beautiful blue eye.

Would you believe it? Prana used to wink at us in the exact same way.

Nick Williams
Keplr Vision

The State Farm Insurance
Co. headquarters building in its heyday.

State Farm Insurance Co. announced the demolition of its former global headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The historic 13-story Art Deco building served as State Farm’s global headquarters from 1929 to 1979. As the city of Bloomington braced for the demolition of the heart of its downtown, a new investor and lease were announced — Keplr Vision would combine its support and corporate teams and move all into the upper four floors of this historic building. The move-in date was set for mid-April 2020.

The Keplr Vision team is now working from the remodeled headquarters building.
Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to end the move and potential boon for the downtown economy – but Keplr Vision was able to take advantage of a bad situation. While its corporate support teams worked from home, Keplr Vision continued the physical move into the building. To the delight of Bloomington residents and downtown businesses, Keplr Vision has been able to help revive the local economy. The area is coming back to life. Some of the empty retail spaces around the building will soon be filled. Even with COVID, there is already a noticeable bustle that wasn’t there last year – with plenty of social distancing, of course.

Mike McDougall
McDougall Communications

A Midwest Reunion

After months apart, CooperVision’s Michele Andrews, OD, and Justin Kwan, OD, (foreground) got together with Mike McDougall of McDougall Communications in Chicago.
While many universities have shifted recruitment to virtual tours, the thought of sending a teen to a new city sight unseen sparks anxiety in the hearts of parents. That’s why I headed out mid-August on a masked-up, 1,500-mile, four-day college road trip with my son across the Midwest. The Chicago stop included a breakfast reunion at the home of CooperVision’s Michele Andrews, OD, where we were joined by Justin Kwan, OD, who lives nearby—the first time this team had seen each other since a January contact lens conference.

Bob Alexander
Sr. Mgr. of Technical Training / U.S. Training & Education
Hoya Vision Care

Hoya Vision’s Bob Alexander (left) and his friend, Dan, on their way to completing 39 miles, 3,560 feet of elevation gain and 88,000 steps.

Most everyone who knows me is familiar with my enjoyment of running. It has been a form of stress relief as well as a health challenge. My running consisted of varying distances, up to about 8 to 10 miles. In July of last year, that all changed.

I was working in Boise, Idaho, for a few weeks and discovered trail running. I soon sought out trails near my home in Ohio and was immediately hooked. I soon discovered that many trail runners take part in “ultrarunning,” anything over the 26.2 mile marathon distance. Most people don’t run ultra’s to win; they run to find out if they can complete them. Ultra’s typically start at the 50K distance (31 miles), and stretch up to 100 or even 200 miles.

Wanting a new challenge, I set my sights on training for the Bigfoot 50K at Salt Fork State Park in Ohio last December. I was not successful and only completed 20 of the 31 miles.

But feeling confident about my new training plan, in January I signed up for the Thunderbunny Trail Race, held May 8-9 locally in Athens, Ohio. I signed up to run the 12K segment Friday evening followed by a 50K race on Saturday morning, or 62K total. That’s 38.5 miles overall, and I was super excited and training harder than ever. But then came COVID-19.

The race was first rescheduled for Aug. 27–28, but then canceled outright. Still, I kept up my training and found new running partners.

The support crew included Alexander’s wife,
two daughters and their boyfriends.

But the only way to find out if you can successfully run that far is, well, to run that far. So, I made my own race. I projected two trails near my home, planned out the distance and aid station stops and then pitched the idea to my family. The goal was to run the 22-mile Burr Oak Backpack Trail and the 15.5 mile Wildcat Hollow Backpack Trail. With the connection between the two trails, it would be a total of 39 miles in one run.

I pitched the idea to two of my running partners, Dan and Mike. Dan agreed to run the entire 39 miles and Mike agreed to run the Wildcat Hollow portion. Each of us would be completing our longest trail run ever.

So, on Aug. 29, we set off, with the help of my wife, two daughters and their boyfriends. Dan and I departed from the Burr Oak beach area just after 6 a.m. and we rendezvoused with Mike about an hour later where he ran the Wildcat Hollow loop with us. Dan and I continued, being supported with food and water from our amazing crew. After 39 miles, 3,560 feet of elevation gain, and 88,000 steps Dan and I completed our goal 10 hours and 39 minutes after we started.

I am writing this just a few days after completing the run and am still attempting to comprehend what we were able to do. However, this experience did provide a few lessons. Setbacks are simply opportunities to reconfigure your plan so that you may be better prepared. Great friends are damn hard to find, and when one agrees to run 39 miles with you, you know for certain they’re there for you anytime, anywhere.

Finally, your most important goals are impossible without the support of your family. My family not only supported me, they physically participated. Pushing me through to the finish. In the end, it was not just my goal, but the goal of the entire family. And that was the most memorable part of the experience.

Distance Can’t Stop a CORE Cake Celebration

The custom cake at Lia Werner’s socially distanced farewell.
Lia Werner arrived at CORE (Centre for Ocular Research & Education) in February for a six-month study term as part of her optometry program at Germany’s Aalen University. After completing clinical research training, COVID-19 shut down operations yet she was able to complete several projects.

In early summer, several CORE co-workers offered a socially distanced farewell before she returned home to finish her work remotely. Even thousands of miles apart at that point, CORE organized a virtual celebration for Lia with the group’s signature celebratory symbol—a custom cake!