Environmentalists inspire a photographer's passion for wildlife

Environmentalists inspire a photographer's passion for wildlife

“Just a guy, a camera and a lot of clicking,” Michael Lewandowski says on his Lew Shots Facebook page.

Lewandowski’s photography has recently garnered local attention at exhibits at Hammond’s Paul Henry Gallery, Pier 74 in Cedar Lake and the Blue Room Café in Hammond.

Lewandowski, 50, has worked as a boilermaker for twenty five years and out of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local Lodge 1 in Chicago since 2000. His responsibilities include field construction work at power houses, refineries and steel mills.

About three years ago, Lewandowski, who always enjoyed photography, bought a “decent camera.”

“I like shooting wildlife, old cemeteries and cars,” Lewandowski says. “I’m not a people photographer. My wife showed me an article about Lora Mercado and her photography and I loved her cemetery shots.”

Mercado became Lewandowski’s mentor.

“She got me started, showing my photography in a local show at Pier 74 in Cedar Lake,” Lewandowski says. “I joined a local art group which is now called South Lake Arts Co-Op. They had an anniversary show at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond and one of my pieces was a shot from the inside of St. Joseph’s church in down town Hammond. That led to me having a solo show put on by David Mueller of Paul Henry Gallery at the Blue Room Café featuring my St. Joseph’s photos.”

An interesting connection which would lead to Lewandowski’s photographing some of what are becoming his best known and most satisfying shots of a group of bald eagles. Lewandowski introduced himself to Mike Echterling of WJOB radio at The Friends of the Little Calumet River clean up in March 2013.

Echterling took Lewandowski under his wing, so to speak, showing him the bald eagles’ nest.

“I was working nights and would go out before work and shoot the nest,” Lewandowski says. “I was there one day when I heard both adults screeching and looking skyward. Then one adult took off to scare away a hawk. Photographing the eagles was one of the greatest things I have done. It took four months.”

Lewandowski says he would like to have his eagle photographs used for education locally.

“I have been working on that,” Lewandowski says. “I made a DVD montage of my shots that I am very proud of.”

The Indiana Welcome Center is giving Lewandowski a few places to try.

“I dropped off my video montage of my eagle shots and it is supposed to be played on a monitor there,” Lewandowski says.

The biggest challenge in photographing the eagles, Lewandowski says, was trying to get the takeoff shot.

“I had kept them in focus for over an hour waiting for them to fly off a branch,” Lewandowski says. “Sometimes I had to switch hands because of cramping and shaking. I really like that shot and have had some good luck with it.”

In his video montage, Lewandowski has photographs of one adult eagle which was in a tree about one hundred yards from the nest. It broke off a branch and flew it to the nest. The other eagle then took the branch and placed it in the nest.

“These are two of my better take off shots,” Lewandowski says. “The first is called ‘9-11’ because I shot it on September 11 and it is also my first take off shot ever. The second is ‘Double Take Off’ which has a blackbird tagging along.

What Lewandowsk finds most satisfying about photography is “knowing when you are out shooting that you have shot something really special; something that is a keeper.”

“That's the great thing about digital; you can shoot a bunch of shots and might only keep a few money shots,” Lewandowski says. “You can also correct things as you go.”

For the future, Lewandowski plans to continue taking photos and getting into art shows.

He currently has framed photos for sale on display at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond and at both The Comfy Couch and Hoosier Highlander stores in downtown Highland.

“It is a great honor that someone thinks enough of my work to buy it and hang it in their homes,” Lewandowski says.

More of Lewandowski’s photography can be seen on his Facebook page Lew Shots Photography.

March 18, 2014 7:30 am Photos


INNSBROOK ACT II: Welcome Back, Kate!

INNSBROOK ACT II: Welcome Back, Kate!

Innsbrook Director of Event Operations Kate Leto Welcomed Back with Open Arms

When Kate Leto left her job as Director of Event Operations for Innsbrook Country Club for a year to work at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza, she discovered she missed the club’s camaraderie, social atmosphere and family environment. The feeling, as it turned out, was mutual. Although she enjoyed her time at the Radisson where she made some wonderful friends, she says, she never really severed her relationship with Innsbrook.

“I maintained a membership at the club and I would constantly run into members at the Radisson,” Leto says. “Of course, Mr. McColly asking me to return did make it very easy to say ‘yes.’ It was like coming home, I was absolutely thrilled to receive such a warm welcome back.”

Ronald McColly, president of McColly Real Estate, who has co-owned Innsbrook Country Club since 2004 with James Gagan, says that Leto, who genuinely cares about all the country club’s members, was definitely missed.

“When she came back people were saying that was the best thing that happened to the club in a long time,” McColly says. “She really understands the banquet catering business and what the bride and the mother of the bride want to make the wedding day special. That is important because it is one of the biggest days of their lives.”

McColly explains that Leto has been responsible for helping build Innsbrook’s current team. “I admire the autonomy of our management team, namely Jim Formas our Golf Pro, Marko Avorio the Executive Chef, Joel Sanders our Grounds Superintendent and Carmen Regalado our Comptroller. We work together as a team; while maintaining our independence in running our own departments and realize that a sense of humor goes a long way.”

Leto, who began working at Innsbrook in 2006, oversees the day to day operations of the clubhouse, staffing, menu development and the Banquet Department “plus all the other little details that add up to a successful country club.”

What Leto loves most about her job is the interaction and connection with the members and the planning and execution of special events and all aspects of banquets. “The friends you make become an extension of your family. That is part of the allure of a country club. The challenge, Leto says, is keeping the exclusivity of a private club for the members while continuing to grow and cultivating a banquet department that is open to the public.

Leto said her proudest accomplishments at Innsbrook include the smooth day to day running of the clubhouse, especially when the members are fully engaged and benefitting from all the amenities that the club has to offer. Secondly, Leto said, starting with the first wedding back in 2006, she developed the banquet department/special events and with McColly’s blessing, opened the banquet facilities to the public.

“We have watched the event business grow very successfully over the years,” Leto says. “Mr. McColly also renovated the northwest end of the clubhouse to incorporate three additional meeting rooms.”

Future plans include installing a Bocce Ball court within the year, she said.

“We want to continue to enhance the holiday events such as the Halloween party for the kids, and the Mother’s Day and Easter buffets,” Leto says, “Not to mention, our pool mimics a mini water park. Each year, we continue to grow and draw new members. Our central location has been very advantageous in that regard.”

Leto grew up and was educated in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “I came to America and started my career in the hospitality industry and here I am 30 years later,” Leto explains.

After 16 years working for the O’Brien Family and eight years at Whittaker Woods, Leto took the job at Innsbrook because she wanted to be closer to home and was ready for a new challenge. “Innsbrook offered me that opportunity,” Leto says.

Leto considers Peter and Danny O’Brien her mentors.

“I worked for Peter at their restaurant in Old Town and then at their restaurant on The River Walk on Lower Wacker Drive,” Leto says. “In 1998, I joined his father at Whittaker Woods Golf Community in New Buffalo and commuted for eight years. I would have to say my biggest supporter is my husband Mark. He is and has always been, a wonderful dad to our two children. He took up the slack when I worked the long hours that are demanded when one works in the hospitality industry.” She believes responsibility, commitment and integrity are the keys to success plus the necessity to deliver and exceed expectations.

“It is the ability to adapt to each new situation while staying faithful to the client’s needs and paying attention to detail in order to achieve the best possible outcome,” Leto says. Her personal goals are “to always produce the best quality work and “to be true to myself, the clients, and my coworkers.”

Leto finds the commitment of Innsbrook to the community fulfilling.

“At this time myself, Ron McColly, his daughter Rhonda McColly-Fleener, and her daughter Randalynn McColly-Fleener are very active with the Methodist Hospital’s Foundation,” Leto says. “We, along with other members of our staff and club members, have all been working very hard to support the Foundation’s Mardi Gras Season, which, for us, is actually a year-long process.”

Innsbrook Country Club also silently partners with the McColly Foundation, which raises funds and supports local charities including Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana, the American Heart Association, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, Dollars for Scholars and Purdue University.

Innsbrook Country Club will be 95 years old this year, she explains and the club has been completely renovated and has an amazing Member Grille that overlooks the greens.

“Our steakhouse restaurant, Langford’s Grille, boasts the best prime aged steaks in the area,” Leto says. “We try to get across the message that Innsbrook is not just a golf club, we offer a great social membership. I would go as far as to say we are the Region’s best kept secret for dining.”

February 17, 2014 5:37 pm Photos


Custom Drum Builder Steve Crabtree rocks on

Custom Drum Builder Steve Crabtree rocks on

Beat Boogie Quality Drums owner Steve Crabtree has loved drums since he was a young boy and heard Sandy Nelson’s classic “Let There Be Drums” for the first time.

“I was smitten and now Sandy Nelson is playing a snare drum that I built for him,” Crabtree explains.

Growing up during the golden era of rock and roll, Crabtree received his first snare drum in the early 60’s. Five decades later Crabtree has become a custom design drum builder, percussionist and drummer who has made drum sets for many celebrities.

Crabtree said his first snare drum was held together with springs.

“Being one of ten living in a house on the south side of Chicago taught me the persistence to stick with it. This was just prior to the ‘British Invasion.’ There was a group of musicians who would get together and jam in a garage near our house. The drummer had a maestro snare and high hat.”

The group played Americana-type songs and the guitar player/drummer Cedric Carlson showed Crabtree a shuffle beat and roll.

“It was like throwing gas on a fire,” Crabtree says. “Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich were a big influence. That maestro snare became my next level drum for about $7.50 cents.”

The first wave of classic rock had landed on American soil: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five and the Zombies.

“My next snare was a jump to a silver sparkle Ludwig,” Crabtree says. “Soon it was a red sparkle Kingston drum-set. It was The Who, Cream, Jimi, The Doors, Big Brother, just non-stop great music.” After that there was a Ludwig kit and set of Premiers.

“I played in a few rock bands in the later 60’s and began working with original rock bands in the `70s and `80s but the brass ring was nowhere to be found. Later I worked for a gear manufacturer in Chicago and became a product manager for a gear line that I sold through distributors. I enjoyed the challenge of seeing the production of parts to the packaging and shipping, the cold calls and selling to a bigger and bigger distributor base.”

Crabtree took what he learned along the way and put his efforts into the Beat Boogie Drum line. He likes working directly with the musicians. “I network with them on-line, in person, from my trunk, whatever it takes. I have an opportunity to make a rim-shot heard round the world with my Beat Boogie Psychedelic Air Drum.”

A video of the Psychedelic Air Drum is available on the company website at

“If it works out it will send ripples throughout the industry,” Crabtree says. “If it doesn’t, I’ll continue to be a boutique drum builder. My dad once told me that I have this little target way out in outer space and that it’s going to be difficult to hit it. He said to bring it in closer and make it a bigger target.”

Crabtree's passion for drums led him to become a boutique drum builder.“In March of 2010 I created my first snare drum and wanted to offer an affordable primary or alternate snare drum that has bling and pop,” he says. “Most drummers own more than one snare drum as they are the most integral part of a set. It requires a lot of work and time to build and assemble drums, for example a typical snare drum uses over 240 components depending on the type of lugs used. It requires over 40 holes to be precisely drilled. I’ve taken a similar approach to the drums sets I build and use wood, steel, assorted retro wraps and wood veneers." On account of what started as a hobby, Crabtree now provides drums for many regional musicians---who play in many musical genres---as well as other drummers as "far away as Germany.”

The Beat Boogie drummers list continues to grow including a number of well-known names who perform with Prince, Kansas, Styx and the Buddy Rich Big Band.

Crabtree knew the founding drummer of Styx, the late John Pannozo, back in 1973 when he was still working a second job at Just Music on Halsted Street in Chicago.

“I bought a big set of Premier Drums, Keith Moon style, from him,” Crabtree says. “After 1978 I lost touch with him and they went on to be a world-wide success.”

Beat Boogie Customized Snare Drums are geared for drummers seeking an affordable alternate for a primary snare drum.

Percussion is the heart and soul of any song, Crabtree believes. Whether it's a pulse-pounding heavy metal track or cool and classic rock and roll, the drums are there, setting the pace for the entire band and injecting energy into the sound. With such a vital role to play in the performance, the right acoustic drum kit is one of the most important investments a drummer can make. Beat Boogie Quality Drums’ custom snares come in a variety of colors, wraps and wood and metal shells.

Crabtree is proud to play a small part in an industry he loves.

“The people you meet, the things you learn from drummers, the various drum manufacturers and master-drum builders throughout the world,” Crabtree says. “It’s truly a small, tight-knit world that I’m grateful to be part of.”

Crabtree will have a booth at the Chicago Drum Show in May, the world's biggest and longest running show of its kind.

The Beat Boogie Quality Drums Schererville showroom is accessed by appointment only. There is a link on the website for contacting Crabtree or he can be reached by e-mail at

January 20, 2014 5:37 pm Photos


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