Cleveland's Communications Pro:
From TV to the Lottery & Beyond
Sandy Lesko is a Cleveland girl born right here at Fairview Hospital January 19, 1958.
She attended Westlake public schools, with the exception of one year at Magnificat (or "Mags" as its known) her freshman year. She tried out for the prestigious Demonettes, the Dance/Drill Team at Westlake High School. They only chose four sophomore girls and Sandy was one of them. So she transferred back into the Westlake School System and finished High School there. The Demonettes performed at all of the football games, and while Sandy was there, they also performed during Basketball games. She stayed with the squad, and was their Captain, through senior year.
Her senior year the squad was invited to dance at the Richfield Coliseum at half-time of a Cleveland Cavaliers' game. Their uniform consisted of white high-top boots, ascots, jackets, little green culottes and even green underwear (to keep everything consistent when they were performing). For the Cavs' game, they had to wear tennis shoes so as not to mark up the floor.
Sandy Lesko - TV News Anchor
When they were done, they got to sit near the tunnel where the players came in and out. After the game, they all held out their white boots and the players autographed them. "High School was great in Westlake. I had a fabulous time." Sandy graduated in 1976 - the Bicentennial Class.
She was the only student in her graduating class who went on to the University of Michigan. She says more than anything else she decided on Michigan because her family had all gone there and she truly fell in love with the school.
Her father left the service at the end of WWII at age 23. He had been stationed in Italy. When he came home, he met her mother who went to Cleveland College (now Case Western Reserve). They married and moved to Ann Arbor where he got his architectural degree. He and his brother went on to open Lesko and Associates a prominent Cleveland Architectural firm specializing in educational facilities.
Her older brother, Gary, also went to Michigan. He is now a doctor living in Milwaukee with his wife and four children. (Sandy points out he got his medical degree from Ohio State - one of very few people to have graduated from both Michigan and Ohio State). Sandy cannot say enough about her only brother, "I absolutely worship him!"
Next in the sibling line is her sister, Linda, also a Michigan graduate. She lives in Westlake with her husband and four children. Linda was exactly four years and one day older than Sandy.
Sandy was next in the birth order and then came Janet, who was fourteen months younger. Janet "had to be the rebel" and went to Michigan State. They had a wonderful veterinary medicine program, which was her intended major. However, she wound up with a degree in business. She is also married with four children.
"I always say my brother is a doctor my sister is a lawyer - that makes me the Indian chief."
Sandy graduated from Westlake with 3.66 (before grade inflation which allows GPA over 4.0). She left Michigan with a 3.76 GPA.
Even with her high GPA, she was a "late acceptance" at Michigan State. Her father drove her up to Ann Arbor to plead her case because for an out of state applicant 3.66 usually would not be enough. Also, she says she is not a very good tester - so her SAT scores were not very good.
She did very well in the English writing portions but her math anxiety kept her from scoring well. She had been accepted at Dennison University at Granville Ohio but she really wanted to go to Michigan.
She graduated from University of Michigan a term early (December 1979) because she took extra credit hours. The term she took the extra credit was the first time she received a 4.0 GPA while at college. "Probably because with 23 credit hours I had no time to do anything else but keep up. High School was great, but college was stupendous for me. I was like a kid in a candy store."
Sandy comes from a very musical family, at least on her mother's side. "My mother used to sing everything. She would even sing about chicken for dinner. And she made parodies of songs for people's birthdays."
This love of music passed on to Sandy who took about eight years of piano lessons as a child, culminating at the Cleveland Institute Of Music. She had also taken ballet classes offered by the Cleveland Ballet.
With this background, it was no surprise that Sandy sang with the Arts Choral at Michigan and took a class in African American Dance. "That was a great class. I loved that class."
She also took subjects like Anthropology, Philosophy and English Literature, which was one of her favorites. She became deeply involved with the Psychology and Communications Departments and did not actually choose her major (Communication and Film) until the end of her sophomore year.
Sandy Lesko Mounts
Sandy was not sure what she wanted to do with her life. She was contemplating being a nurse. At the time she entered Michigan she never even considered television or radio.
She only turned to communications in college because of a nun who was teaching while on sabbatical. She took a course in writing and speaking for radio and television and the sister told Sandy that God had given her this beautiful voice for communications and she should use it. They went on a class trip to radio station WJR where JP McCarthy was doing the show. "That's really what hooked me. It was like watching Edward R. Murrow."
She earned her degree in Communications with a minor in Psychology. "I am only one class away from a major in psychology which I wouldn't take because I have such math anxiety and I just couldn't face statistics. I didn't want to fail at anything."
Growing up was always an adventure in the Lesko house. Because her fathers business was largely dependent on school levies Sandy says it was either "hamburger or filet mignon." She goes on to say, "Obviously my Father did quite well because he loved what he did. If a school levy failed, it was no biggee for them - they lived through depression - this was no depression. Then my mother would sing 'there's no money in the bank' but of course that wasn't true."
Sandy is full blooded Ukrainian on both sides. Her parents grew up in "Bird Town" in Lakewood where all the ethnic people where. Her mother is Russian Orthodox, her father Byzantine Catholic. Sandy's grandfather was the cantor at Sts. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church.
Her father and uncle built the house she grew up in - the house her parents still live in. Sandy is very proud of her Ukrainian roots. She can dance the dances and toasts. She has traveled to Europe and Czechoslovakia. She tried to get into Ukraine, but at that time because of the Iron Curtain, they could not go on.
Her mother also has a Masters Degree in English Literature that she got at Oberlin in her mid forties. She taught English as a second language, High School English and American Citizenship.
The Leskos would have parties after the citizenship classes with guests from "Hong Kong and South America and all over and they would make their native dishes and we had this great food and wonderful exposure to all this culture and of course my father being an artist had all of these artist friends, sculptures and painters."
Although she grew up around creative people, they were not all artists. She says that the one thing they all had in common was that they were grounded, good, highly ethical people.
Sandy Lesko and Ron Mounts in Jamaica in early 2008
Her first job in Cleveland was right out of college for WGAR Radio. "John O'Day [now retired] was the first person to hire and nurture me." Her godfather was Mike Hrehocik, the roving reporter for Channel 3. When she was 15, he would take her into the studio and let her read scripts with Al Roker, Doug Adair and Mona Scott. This was during the time that Channel 3 had a basement studio on Euclid Avenue.
"Then he would take me to lunch at the Theatrical and it was like being part of old Cleveland." She remembers that everybody knew everybody and always greeted Hrehocik by name. "It was right there on Short Vincent and I have the greatest memories of being treated like a queen by my godfather at the Theatrical and it was just a blast."
As a result of her godfather's help, Sandy was exposed to the television and communications world even before going to Michigan. Hrehocik helped a lot of people get their start which provided an "open door that a lot of people didn't have." So when she came back from Michigan, John O'Day was more than willing to help Hrehocik's goddaughter and took her under his wing.
Once the door was opened for her, it became her responsibility to make it work. "It's a difficult thing to do. Once you get past the point of having influence with some one you have to make it on your own."
John O'Day became Sandy's mentor in the business and she truly enjoyed working with him. Soon after she started however, circumstances took her to Detroit. She worked at a cable television station, with her own talk show, Community Forum. "It was horrible. Looking back on it, it was hideous."
Cable was still in its infancy at the time and nobody really watched. Then she got a weekend job at a large 50,000 watt station owned by Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasters. "It was an AM kicking country station with Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. It was before Urban Cowboy so it was the real deal. And my parents could listen to me down here."
When the radio station offered her a full time job, she gave up the cable show. She worked in Detroit for about two years. Circumstances changed again and she moved to Alabama where she got a job at a radio station. They had no opening but she asked if she could just go into the studio and "try-out". They liked what they heard and hired her for a co-anchor team in the morning.
After that, she became the radio news director for another station in Birmingham and the last nine months of her three year stay in Alabama she spent in Mobile on WKRG television. She would not show her cable tape, because she thought it was terrible.
The news director decided to give her a chance. She picked a story out of the newspaper and the director sent her out on the story. She talked a defense lawyer in a murder case into an interview. She wrote the story and was hired.
She knew she wanted to come home though, so she started sending tapes to the Cleveland stations right away. Channel 5 responded and hired her. She was there less than 6 months when Dale Solly (now deceased) left the weekend anchor desk at Channel 8 to go to Channel 3.
Virgil Dominic called her and hired her as a live shot reporter. A few months later, they made her the weekend anchor. Dave Buckle, Vince Cellini, Mark Koontz and Sandy anchored weekends for five years together.
Ron Mounts and Sandy Lesko covering a story
Ron Mounts was summer relief at Channel 8. He was a cameraman and also worked the teleprompter. "This wasn't that long ago, but you took the scripts and ripped them and then taped them together and they were on a roller with a mirror above. We didn't have computers. We had big thick carbon copies. But it really wasn't that long ago."
In radio, she literally cut her tape with razor blades to edit a piece. "No one in this generation has any idea that's how this stuff happened. They all think it's been computers and big mechanical brain from the beginning."
Sandy was twenty-six years old and Channel 8 was her first really big break in a major market. In addition, she was home so she had everyone from family and friends to teachers and old boyfriends watching her. It was nerve-racking and she was, as she describes herself "a nervous Nellie".
Sandy Lesko Mounts and husband Ron Mounts
Sandy never really liked using a teleprompter because she says it is too easy to become dependent on it. Ron, who was actually a cameraman, was running the prompter, just to help out. Something went wrong and the script went by too quickly. At the commercial break, Sandy started screaming at him. That was how she first met the man she would later marry.
When she got the weekend anchor job Ron became the cameraman and they have worked together since. He is now chief cameraman, a title earned from great work and having been there 27 years.
Ron, Vince Cellini, Joe Farinacci ("Joe the Guard") Kathy Smith (an editor), Greg Smith (also an editor) and Sandy all went out together after the show on Sunday night to a little place on East 65th and St. Clair.
"They had dollar long neck Budweisers and we'd play pool until the place closed because we'd all be so wired up. We'd get off the air after 11:00 news and we were wide awake." Ron and Sandy were good friends long before they got married.
By 1987, they were living together. They moved into the Lake House in Lakewood. "Hanford Dixon lived above us and Jimmy Donovan lived there. It was a really fun place to live." In 1989, they were married.
Sandy Lesko and Ron Mounts wedding
Ron and Sandy have 3 children. She has boy-girl twins, Evan and Sara who were 15 in March. Joshua is 15 months younger.
Sandy was on television and radio during a period when "equal time" was mandated and she really believed in that. She says that has all changed now and that it is more entertainment than news. She says there are some wonderful journalists around, and cites her good friend Martin Savidge as an example.
But for the most part, she says that as far as the industry goes, "There is no journalistic integrity. Even Barbara Walters would tell you this. Anybody who has seen it happen will tell you...Portions of our news casts were becoming sponsored by companies, which is a gimmee now. But I thought what if we have to do a story about them? How could this happen? I am all for sales and revenue, but to me this crossed that blurry line."
This was one of the things that started to concern her about continuing to work in television.
In 1991, Sandy left Channel 8. She felt she reached her level of what she could do there. She was working with her husband every day but as a professional did not feel the urge to grow in that field. She had no interest in management and was not feeling challenged by her current position.
"Plus we were a 'just add water' news team. Since we were married, you had a reporter and a photographer sleeping together and they could just call us and we would both go out on assignment. But that gets really old."
Sandy says she really loves her husband and loves spending time with him, but no relationship can stand twenty four hour togetherness. She did not think it was very healthy for the relationship, but she was also not satisfied in her job anymore.
When she left Channel 8, she says she was one of the lucky ones because she did not have the opportunity to miss the people she worked so closely with. With her husband still there, she still had contact with her friends and co-workers.
Sandy had developed a relationship with then-mayor George Voinovich while she worked on city hall stories with Bob Cerminara. She had a lot of respect for Voinovich and he for her. When she decided to move on, she did not know what she wanted to do.
Ron was traveling with Mayor Voinovich on what they called "The Magic Bus", during his first raise for Governor against Celebreeze. (1990) Ron was traveling with Cerminara and the Mayor and he would call, from a pay phone, to talk to Sandy ("There were no cell phones then"). He would tell her where they were going to be and she would just coincidentally show up.
She asked her husband to plant an idea in the soon-to-be governor's mind in case he had any openings that would be good for her. Voinovich was a well-know "lottery hater" but the lottery was a reality and he needed some one he could trust to handle the communications and the media. He hired her as Spokesperson at the Lottery Commission. She stayed there for eleven years.
That is where she was working when she gave birth to her kids. When she was pregnant with the twins at age 35, she would take her pager and go to her parents' house, exhausted. Even though she only lived a few streets away, she would go there for the comfort. "I'd set the alarm and I'd crawl into my old bedroom and go into the deepest sleep. And then I could get up and go back to work refreshed and ready to go."
Sandy Lesko Mounts family at Niagara Falls in 2007
After eleven years though, she reached that same level that she had at Channel 8. She no longer felt like she was accomplishing anything and the next position up did not interest her. But it was different now because she had small kids at home and she did not want to just walk away from a job.
She says the only way she could do this job, being on a pager 24/7, was because she had a nanny. She said she actually did interviews on the phone from her bathtub because there was always "a fire that needed to be put out."
The nanny, Karen Vess, was with her children from the time they were in diapers until mid-2000 when she had surgery and had to leave. Sandy would not leave the kids with a stranger after they had been with their nanny for eight years.
"She was like their mom and she was my best friend." Her family had also decided that they could not abandon Karen; they would need to visit her and help her whenever they could.
Yoko Ono and Sandy Lesko
Sandy and Ron had not totally made the decision for Sandy to leave the Lottery Commission - and then September 11th happened. "It was almost as if God was tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to leave" As a state office Lottery mail was constantly being checked for Anthrax and she lived her life on "alert". "I was so upended by that, like everyone was and I knew this was it."
About a month later, Sandy gave notice and decided to go into her own business. "What a great time to start a business - right after 9-11." She started Sandy Lesko Communications where she is a "jack of all trades". She started off working for small businesses in need of marketing help.
Through the years, she and Ron have collaborated on video projects so this was the perfect time to do more of that, professionally. She is now a marketing, media-relations consultant.
She has been drawn a lot to non-profit organizations and a lot of her client list is in this genre. She received a call from the Diocese of Cleveland, Catholic Charities who hired her to do her marketing and media. The next year they went with a big firm, but 2007 called her back and she is now in her third year with them. They have kept the larger firm for some things, but she does strategic planning, media relations, and many creative marketing things that she just loves.
"It is just so rewarding to represent Catholic Charities, that's all I can say." Larry and Eva Dolan chaired Catholic Charities last year, and Sandy got to know them well. "I can't say enough about them. They are wonderful and I am so glad to call them friends."
Larry and Eva Dolan with Sandy Lesko
She says this is a great town. "It may be tough economic times, but people in this city always reach in their pockets and help out. People make fun of Cleveland and I always say that's good because maybe then no one else will move here."
Ron was born in Hollywood, California, but moved here when he was 12 and went to Northfield High School where he played football. He went to college in Santa Rosa on a football scholarship, until he was injured. He came back to Cleveland "and that was fortunate for him, because I met him!"
Sandy and Ron are both deeply ensconced in Cleveland and committed to family. Her parents eat dinner at her house every Sunday. "Ron is a foodie and an unbelievable cook. He is a saucier - we can eat something in the most expensive fancy restaurant and he can come home and recreate it. He's like the Emeril Lagasse of Cleveland. He and David Moss [TV 8 entertainment reporter] are huge foodies."
David Moss, Fox Entertainment reporter Brett, Sandy Lesko and Ron Mounts at the American Idol finals in Hollywood two years ago
Ron covered the O.J. Simpson trial in California and the John Demjanjuk trial in Israel among many other stories that involved travel. Once he became management, he decided he really did not want to do that anymore - except for a few select times. "He would call me on a satellite phone and say I'm in downtown Tel Aviv and I would say 'hurray for you - I'm looking at a poopy diaper!"
Two years in a row, he went to American Idol in Los Angeles and Sandy went with him. "We call David [Moss] the Mayor of L.A. because he knows everybody." She loved the trips but decided she did not want to do it again - it was too much like a zoo.
"Poor Paula and Randy and Simon. They come out and the media is there in hoards and they practically attack them. They have body guards and I just could not stand it. I could not live like that."
Sandy says she and Ron are both very non-confrontational so dealing with that kind of constant altercations would not appeal to them. Ron has worked with Carl Monday many times, and of course, when Carl gets "into it" with someone, they always go after the cameraman, which is Ron. They spend a lot of time with Carl and his wife. In fact, Carl is her son's godfather. "I adore Carl - he is a great guy."
Tim Taylor, Carl and Sandy Monday and Sandy Lesko at a recent Channel 8 reunion
Sandy has mentored many people, and loves to do that. She is just now discovering that she has had an impact on many people throughout her life -people she never knew about. As she ages, people seem more likely to tell her that she was a positive influence on them in some way.
She says her level of anger and stress has gone way down since she doesn't have to drive in rush hour any more. But she does get angry at certain things - especially hypocrisy and unethical people. "I'm talking about someone who will purposefully hurt another person or a group for whatever reason, I can't even think. I just can't understand it."
Now I'm just dealing with three teenagers. "I do so much laundry that I know when I die, if there's laundry then I'm in hell. That will be the biggest relief when I pass this life - no more laundry."
She tries very hard to instill the same work ethic, morals and values that her parents instilled in her. She tells her children "Ambition is important. But it is also important to realize the way you treat other people is even more important. Always try to remember it's a small world and we all need to take care of each other."
She tells her children about the importance of the relationships they build today and how they will affect them for years to come.
Sandy has maintained great friendships from as far back as 7th grade. "I am blessed with great friends. New ones since then and so many from back then." She says it is a challenge to keep up friendships over the years because everyone's lives change and evolve and people get busy with work and family. But she also believes that if you can maintain those friendships with "people who've known you forever and still like you" you are truly blessed."
Sandy Lesko, Ron Mounts and Bob Becker at the November 2007 launch party of friend John Gorman's book about radio station WMMS - The Buzzard
She says, "You didn't think you're worth anything in those days and these people stuck with you and made you realize you had value and still do." She also maintains great friendships from college.
Sandy and her family are "Church-going Catholics" and founding members of St. Mary Magdalene in Fairview Park. "We try our best to at the very least follow the tenets of the Church on how to live in the world."
When she was in high school, she was a candy-striper at Fairview Hospital. She helped pack lunches for the homeless, served meals at church and other community activities. She continues to go the extra mile for people to this day.
For example, she is active in Wigs for Kids - an organization that provides free wigs and hair pieces for kids with medical conditions. She has taught her children the tradition of helping out and giving back.
My father always told me that if you live your life expecting people to live up to your standards you will be constantly disappointed. It's not that I'm perfect - I am so far from perfect it is unbelievable, but as I have matured and aged and grown up, I have learned what is important and what is not. I choose which battles I am going to fight."
Sandy is a huge animal lover. (See photos of Sandy's 3 cats and dog).
"My mother always said I picked up stray people and animals - and it's true." She has four cats - two of which are eighteen year old strays, Callie and Carmel, who live in her garage with a heated bed.
When her last cat, Chaplin, had to be put down another cat, Charlie, who had been hanging around became part of her life. The fourth cat is Colby, a stray brought home by her son. She also has a three year old Sheltie, "Chip-Chop" or Chippy as he is known.
Sandy Lesko in the Cleveland snow - 2008
Sandy Lesko is one of the happiest people you will meet. She laughs out loud and without apology. She beams when she talks about her family and friends and comes close to blushing when she talks about how much she loves her husband.
She is smart, talented and down-to-earth. Sandy seems to have her priorities in order and has a healthy dose of the not-so-common common sense.
Sandy has a lot to share and is more than willing to share it. Time spent with Sandy Lesko is time well spent.
Listen to a brief (30 second) bit of advice from Sandy Lesko for young (and not-so-young) Cleveland Women
Profiled by Debbie Hanson (1/08)
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