Editor’s note: In 2015, artist Matthew Swift collaborated with WCPO to create Cincinnati Super Heroes of 2015. Unfortunately, Matthew was killed in a car crash in September. We have decided to continue the Cincinnati Super Heroes franchise in Matthew’s honor.
If there was ever a year in which we needed heroes, it was 2016. As this year has drawn to a close, I asked the WCPO staff to tell me who inspired them, who gave them hope and who best represented our region. While there are many more we could mention, we’ve highlighted these individuals and groups as our Cincinnati Super Heroes of 2016.
Greater Cincinnati was well-represented in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Volleyball players Rachael Adams and Max Holt both won bronze medals, doing us proud. But it was judoka Kayla Harrison who brought home the gold. The Middletown native, who during the 2012 London Olympics became the first American to win a gold medal in judo, scored her second gold medal in Brazil.
Police officers often put their lives on the line, and have to take quick action in dangerous situations. Ohio State University Police Officer Alan Horujko was responding to a gas leak call when he found himself dealing with the unimaginable. Horujko, a Fairfield High School Graduate, happened to be on the scene when a man drove into pedestrians on the OSU campus, and, after exiting the car, began stabbing bystanders with a butcher knife. Within two minutes, Horujko shot and killed the assailant, ending what could have become a deadly terror attack.
Suzu Kaneda may not be a native of Cincinnati, but the two-year-old Japanese girl has captured the hearts of those in the Queen City and beyond. Suzu and her twin sister, Saya, were born with pulmonary vein stenosis. The condition causes a blockage in the vessels bringing blood from the lungs back to her heart, and requires a lung transplant. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is one of the few hospitals that performs the delicate surgery. Saya died shortly after being diagnosed with the condition. To save Suzu’s life, her parents raised over $2 million through crowdsourcing, allowing them to fly Suzu to Cincinnati. She was placed on an active transplant list, and received her new lungs in September. Kids from around Greater Cincinnati sent in get-well cards and gifts to Suzu. She and her family have overcome incredible odds, keeping hope alive.
FC Cincinnati took our region and the professional soccer world by storm. Announced in 2015, the new United Soccer League team launched its inaugural season in 2016 at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. The ownership team lead by Carl Lindner III and Jeff Berding spent months building up goodwill and a fan base before the first game. The team itself ended its first year having reached the playoffs. And a legion of dedicated fans sporting orange and blue not only broke all previous USL attendance records, but they captured the attention of Major League Soccer, which is now considering FC Cincinnati as one of its expansion markets in the 2020s.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is one of this area’s treasures. Its director, Thane Maynard, has been an ambassador for our region and a high-profile supporter of education and wildlife outreach. But when Harambe, the zoo’s 17-year-old gorilla, was shot and killed after a child fell into his enclosure, Maynard and the Zoo came under heavy scrutiny and became the target of internet trolls. Harambe became an internet meme, and the Zoo had to temporarily shut down its Twitter feed. Maynard became the public face of the incident. While Harambe’s death is a tragic loss to both the Zoo and Cincinnati, Maynard handled the unfortunate situation with grace.
Poverty and homelessness are two of Cincinnati’s largest issues. Almost half of the children in the city live below the poverty line, and many families struggle to stay afloat. Ruth “Cookie” Vogelpohl was one of our city’s leaders in bringing comfort to those in need. Vogelpohl founded Our Daily Bread, Greater Cincinnati’s largest soup kitchen, in 1985 after seeing a man dig through garbage to find food. The Over-the-Rhine soup kitchen serves an average of 400 meals a day to the area’s poor and homeless, and offers social services, kids clubs and shelter. Vogelpohl died Dec. 17, leaving behind a long legacy of charity.
Providing adequate care to United States Armed Forces veterans has been an uphill battle across the nation. Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald left Cincinnati to take over as Secretary of Veteran Affairs in 2014 to deal with mounting controversies. His attention shifted back to the Queen City after 34 current and former staff members at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center exposed a history of mismanagement, delays and inadequate care at the facility. It’s never easy to put one’s career and reputation on the line, but the whistleblowers who came forward did what they could to help those who served and sacrificed for our nation.
Dr. Victor Garcia
Dr. Victor Garcia saves the lives of those on his operating table as a pediatric surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. But outside the hospital, his aim is to stop inner-city gun violence.
Garcia founded CoreChange, a group dedicated to tackle the related issues of urban poverty and violence, in 2012. The group inspired Waterfields, a company which grows microgreens and employs local people from urban neighborhoods, and provided a template for the city’s Child Poverty Collaborative. Garcia continues to lead the way on finding solutions to Cincinnati’s poverty crisis, bringing the issue to the forefront at community summits and this past summer’s NAACP National Convention.
The Chicago Cubs broke their 108-year drought, defeating the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Few expected the Cubs to take the series. Fewer still expected Kyle Schwarber of Middletown to become one of the Cubs’ breakout stars.
Schwarber suffered a leg injury in April, and was expected to be out for the 2016 season. But he recovered faster than expected, and was added to the roster as the designated hitter for Game 1 of the series. Schwarber made history as the first Major League player to get his first hit of the season in a World Series game, and helped the Cubs overcome the Tribe.