Before the year ends, I'm giving myself a gift: A check-in with a handful of folks whose stories were featured here this year.

Their personal challenges made me less inclined to complain (mostly). Their quirky ideas made me more inclined to think outside the box. Their fearlessness in fighting good fights, often against formidable opponents, made them stellar role models for the rest of us.

Vicie Williams continues to enjoy sweet success as CEO of Sister Chris's fruit-flavored barbecue sauces, sold at area Lunds and Byerly's stores. Once homeless and addicted to crack, Williams has been invited to speak in May at a staff conference at Goodwill Easter Seals, which works, in part, with people coming out of prison. Visit her website at www.sisterchrisfruitybbq

After 30 years of outreach to homeless youth in New York, Dan Celentano has expanded his program to children in the Twin Cities. "The emotional needs and concerns of homeless children from Minneapolis are no different than those from New York," said Celentano, a Minnesota transplant who runs a successful mentoring program near Duluth for fatherless boys. Working with Minneapolis-based People Serving People, he took two groups to his ranch this year, free of charge, for fresh air, fun and the freedom to act like kids. Other Minnesota agencies interested in his program are encouraged to contact Celentano through his website:

Tom Henry cultivated 160,000 seeds for people and 80,000 seeds for birds from his magnificent Sunflowers of Summer project. But it's the 2,000 gallons of water "schlepped in 5-gallon buckets that my shoulders remember most vividly," he said. Henry's the out-of-box thinker who planted 365 sunflowers up and down a grassy hillside near the airport last summer. He then partnered with Solveig Tofte, co-owner of Sun Street Breads in Minneapolis, to roast them. His project was featured, of all places, in "Just Frenchies," the international magazine for French bulldog enthusiasts. You can order his 2012 sunflower calendar by visiting the "Sunflowers of Summer" Facebook page, or through his website:

Alice Thompson added 176 readers to her twice-weekly "Morning Memo," her lively online newsletter published twice weekly. Thompson, 92, said circulation "must be around 1,500 by this time." The memo is filled with news, jokes, poetry and more. "I just don't know why the Morning Memo seems so popular," she said, "but I'm sure glad it is." To get on her mailing list, e-mail her at

Mariann Budde never solved the mystery of who stole two American Indian star quilts from St. John's Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. The theft was a heart-breaker for members, who received the quilts as gifts of gratitude from the White Earth reservation and All Saints Indian Mission in Minneapolis. The friendship endures and Budde is now a bishop in the Diocese of Washington, D.C.

Denny Smith remains optimistic that Minnesotans will "Vote NO" on the marriage amendment to be placed on the 2012 ballot. The amendment would define marriage in Minnesota as only between a man and a woman. Smith, married for 42 years and a regular churchgoer, has a son who is gay. He founded a St. Cloud-based nonprofit, Winning Marriage Equality, one year ago ( "to talk about this hot-button issue in a calm and respectful manner."

Mark Meier continues to speak about men and depression to an expanding audience. Meier, who almost took his life because of untreated depression, rode 3,200 miles across the country last summer, conducting 37 depression-awareness events. He recently delivered three talks on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Read more about his efforts at

Goffrey Duevel, 32, is recovering after his annual heart transplant checkup revealed multi-vessel blockages. Otherwise, he's working as a cardiovascular technologist and "enjoying the new stresses of a normal life." He's also helping to run a fledgling nonprofit for young adult professionals with heart disease.

The Eden Prairie Olympic Hills families raised $4,500 with their 9/11 lemonade stand, three times their goal. They used the money to purchase three oak trees for placement at the Memorial Plaza at Ground Zero.

And, if I still have your attention, a few corrections: The inspiring story of Chris Abani's generous appearance at Chanhassen High School last April is still inspiring. But, apparently, I was overzealous in my use of zeroes. Abani, an internationally acclaimed Nigerian novelist, was brought to the Twin Cities by student activist George Glaros III for far less than his typical $10,000 fee, which I reported as $100,000. After hearing him speak, I think he deserves the latter amount.

And our sincerest apologies to adorable Cassanova, featured in a column about the 2012 Rescue Dog to Therapy Dog calendar. He was identified as a she in the photo caption. Bow Ow.

Happy New Year.