Best Of


Best of the Inland Northwest Reader's Poll | 2015


David Condon is the kind of civic leader common in many cities: Born and raised, moved away for college (and in his case, military service), and returned to raise a family. The businessman-turned-congressional staffer for Cathy McMorris Rodgers-turned-elected leader recently announced his bid to seek a second term. If he pulls off a win, he'd distinguish himself from his mayoral counterparts of the past. No Spokane mayor has won a second term since 1973. (SCOTT A. LEADINGHAM)

2nd PLACE: Ben Stuckart, Spokane City Council President; 3rd PLACE: Kevin Parker, 6th District State Representative; NORTH IDAHO'S BEST: Steve Widmyer, Coeur d'Alene mayor


Inlander readers may know Ben Bradley from his time making macchiatos at one of Spokane's most notable downtown coffee shops — or from moonlighting in several bands. When not playing music at night, the Folkinception drummer can be found at Atticus brewing cappuccinos — his favorite drink to make. He previously won this award in 2012, before leaving Atticus and returning last fall. Upon winning again, he says his version of an Oscar acceptance speech would be "an arbitrary rant about barista rights." Then he thinks for a moment. "Or I'd beat-box," he says. (SAL)

2nd PLACE: Desmond Boston, Chaps; 3rd PLACE: Kaiti Blom, Revel 77; NORTH IDAHO'S BEST: Saige Ihrig, Bakery by the Lake

Best TV Anchorperson | STEPHANIE VIGIL, KHQ

At KHQ, the volume goes up to (at least) 11. That's not just a Spinal Tap reference anymore. For now it's the number of years Stephanie Vigil has won best anchorperson. This July marks her 18th year in Spokane after moving from California. Clearly it was a good move, given how Inland Northwest TV viewers have taken to her — and she to them. With her win streak intact, Vigil thanks the people who keep her here, despite offers from other, larger-market stations. "The people here in the Northwest are some of the friendliest people I've ever met," she says. (SAL)

2nd PLACE: Nadine Woodward, KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Randy Shaw, KREM

Annie Kuster
Shannon Hall has been at Lakeland for nearly 21 years.


Lakeland Principal Conrad Underdahl wants to say that English teacher Shannon Hall is one of a kind, but he stops himself. He realizes that's not quite accurate.

"She's a twin," he says. "She's an identical twin, and her sister teaches on the staff as well."

But she is, Underdahl says, an amazing teacher: "Kids are just drawn to her. At lunch they'll be in her room, talking to her." He credits the school's leap in test scores, at least partly, to teachers like her.

Hall's been at Lakeland, in Rathdrum, Idaho, for nearly 21 years. She was an administrator for a few years, Underdahl says, but soon was back in the classroom, where she thrived. As Idaho, like most Western states, struggles to send its high school graduates to college, Hall helped start the "college academy," a dual-enrollment program. On top of that, she competes in triathlons and serves as the school's cross-country coach.

A lot of English teachers talk a big game about reading, but Hall puts it into practice. Each class, each day, has 10 minutes set aside as free reading time. And she joins her students in reading. "When all my students were reading Twilight, I read Twilight," Hall says. Not because she expected Twilight to be great literature, but because she wanted to be able to talk with her students about it.

She doesn't just dive into metaphor, diction and symbolism with her students, she grapples with the way the themes of each book reverberate in the present. So when her class read To Kill a Mockingbird, you bet they all talked about racism, about Michael Brown in Ferguson and discrimination all around the world. And since there are no women on the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird, they talk about that, too. "That brings up a discussion of sexism," Hall says.

It's all about relevance. When Hall was teaching a remedial class, for example, she had the class begin writing an essay together on the minimum wage, because many of her students were working minimum-wage jobs. "That is relevant to them," says Hall.

Her assistance doesn't stop once they're finished with her classes, either. "Former students come in and get help academically," Hall says. "On a weekly basis, I write at least two letters of recommendation."

This year, it seems, Inlander readers returned the favor.♦ (DANIEL WALTERS)

2nd PLACE: Randy James, science, North Central HS; 3rd PLACE: (tie) Mark Robbins, English, Lewis and Clark HS; Eric Woodard, English/film, Lewis and Clark HS

Best TV Weathercaster | TOM SHERRY, KREM

This category may soon need to be renamed "Best Weathercaster Who's Not Tom Sherry." With 20 wins, he's doing something right. Even though the Los Angeles native likes sun and warm weather, he's taken to the four seasons here and enjoys skiing (when we have a good winter with snow). When the winters are, you know, actual winters, Sherry says he still loves the Spokane region. "I found my little slice of paradise here," he says. (SAL)

2nd PLACE: Kris Crocker, KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Leslie Lowe, KHQ

Best TV Sportscaster | SAM ADAMS, KHQ

Depending on your taste for beer, you may or may not like Sam Adams the brewery. But if sports is your game in the Inland Northwest, Sam Adams the KHQ and SWX anchor will fit your fancy. Originally from the San Francisco area, he stopped in Arizona for a broadcast journalism degree before landing here, and he loves it (despite being an Arizona State Sun Devils fan). "This is one of the best sports towns you'll ever find," Adams says. "This is my dream job." (SAL)

2nd PLACE: Keith Osso, KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Darnay Tripp, KREM

Best Radio DJ or Team | DAVE, KEN & MOLLY, ZZU, 92.9 FM

As a girl growing up in the 1990s, Casey Lawrence recalls listening to the Breakfast Boys as part of her morning routine. These days she still listens to Dave Sposito and Ken Hopkins (the voices of the Breakfast Boys), now with the addition of Molly Allen. The Spokane resident's devotion to the radio team is so steadfast that "when I'm out of town, I listen to them on the radio station's app," Lawrence says. (LAURA JOHNSON)

2nd PLACE: Jay and Kevin, Coyote Country, 99.9 FM; 3rd PLACE: Derik and Jeff, Morning Stampede, 102 FM

Marshall Peterson
Thom Caraway is Spokane’s first Poet Laureate.


I'm looking out my window at Kendall Yards right now," says Thom Caraway, the poet Inlander readers ranked as their top local bard this year. Where many might see "shiny, new development" in the emergent farm-to-table eateries and modern urban condos, he sees other forces at work — particularly when this newly fashionable area is juxtaposed with old-school West Central across the street.

"To make any kind of art, you need contrast or conflict or tension. And I think Spokane provides that really effectively. You've got this beautiful river running through the middle of town, [but] you've also got industrial and residential development. Even something as microcosmic as this one little neighborhood is filled with tension."

That inspirational lode was partly what drew him back after he'd completed his graduate studies. He also wanted to bring attention to the local poetry scene, which had been "out of the limelight for so long."

"You have all these great academic poets who are teaching in universities, you have all these great slam poets and spoken-word poets, [and] then you've got just regular community folks who aren't affiliated with necessarily either camp, and they're all producing such really great, cool work from all spectrums," he says.

It was Caraway's advocacy that helped earn him the distinction of being appointed Spokane's first Poet Laureate in 2013. In addition to emceeing and organizing lit-related events as part of that role, last year he co-edited and published the Railtown Almanac, an anthology showcasing Spokane poetry, under his own Sage Hill Press imprint.

"I've never claimed and I still wouldn't claim to be the best poet in Spokane for sure, but being involved in the community and helping communities contact each other and develop things together has been the most important part of being Poet Laureate in Spokane. There were already so many great things happening here that I just had to provide a focal point, and tell the spotlight where to shine on these folks who were doing such cool things."

And being voted Best Poet of 2015? Caraway says the simple fact that the category even exists — not to mention its hotly contested second- and third-place ties — is validation of that advocacy and "a good sign of the vitality of poetry in Spokane." ♦ ( E.J. IANNELLI)

2nd PLACE: (tie) Mark Anderson, Christopher Howell; 3rd PLACE: (tie) Kurt Olson, Brett Ortler

Best Gonzaga Athlete | KEVIN PANGOS

We're reasonably certain that several voters were actually voting for Kevin Pangos' hair and not necessarily Kevin Pangos himself in this category. He pulled off the blow-dried, volume-added shag with great aplomb as he led Gonzaga to its best win total (to which they're still adding) in program history. The fiery point guard spent this campaign not as the team's leading scorer, as in past seasons, but rather as the conduit through which the offense operated. That would bum some natural shooters out, but not Pangos. The guy just wants to win. (MIKE BOOKEY)

2nd PLACE: Kyle Wiltjer; 3rd PLACE: Domantas Sabonis

Best Eastern Washington University Athlete | VERNON ADAMS, JR.

Well, this is awkward. Vernon Adams, Jr. did indeed play quarterback for the Eagles last season, leading EWU into the quarterfinals of the FCS national championships and throwing for 35 touchdowns (including seven against Washington alone) in a season where he missed several games to a foot injury, but he's since announced that he's transferring to Oregon. Apparently, Eagle fans don't blame the guy for taking the opportunity to head up the nation's most exciting offense and chose to reward his memorable career. (MB)

2nd PLACE: Tyler Harvey; 3rd PLACE: Cooper Kupp

Best Washington State University Athlete | CONNOR HALLIDAY

The arm behind Coach Mike Leach's throw-it-as-much-as-we-can offense, Connor Halliday, a graduate of Spokane's Ferris High School, used some big passing games (including an NCAA-record 734 yards in a loss to Cal) his senior year to become the Cougars' all-time leading passer. But then in a game against USC in early November, Halliday broke two bones in his lower leg. It was an injury that made all of Cougar Nation cringe. Nevertheless, Halliday's excellent career at WSU is celebrated with this award. Maybe the wins didn't come as often as folks would have liked, but damn, can this kid throw the ball. Here's hoping we get to see him do it in the NFL. (MB)

2nd PLACE: Tia Presley; 3rd PLACE: DaVonté Lacy

Meghan Kirk
She’s special and she knows it.


A framed portrait of the brown-and-white tabby sits in a place of honor, just to the right of the prominent "Cash Only" sign above the barbershop's long, mirrored wall.

The photo's subject, Laney, usually lounges in a place of prominence, too — atop one of the plush, vinyl-covered barber chairs (sometimes in a warm lap, beneath the hairdressing cape), or curled up in the morning sun patch that hits the shoeshine chair (her "throne") in the shop's northeast window.

Sometimes, she'll sprawl out on the rug just inside the front door off Monroe Street, playfully blocking customers' paths (she's never once ventured outside near the busy arterial). Laney also likes to perch on the hairdressers' stands (especially Jody's, her buddy), daintily picking her paws over combs, shears, trimmers and clips.

On a typical Wednesday evening as men stop in after work for a trim, Laney is snoozing in her "room," a closet-sized office in the back set up solely to cater to the 10-year-old feline's needs. A cat-sized cutout in the bottom corner of the door lets her come and go as she pleases.

Laney doesn't know anything different — not that any other home would be better than this. She's been the resident cat of the nearly 60-year-old North Monroe barbershop since she was a kitten. Discovered abandoned with her two brothers by hairdresser Johannah Flambouras' daughter just down the block, Laney (the "runt") and her siblings were bottle-fed and miraculously survived their fragile early kittenhood. One day, Laney wandered into the shop and never left.

She's named after the nickname of Elaine Flambouras, wife of the barber shop's founder, Dan Flambouras. One of Laney's two brothers, Dio, was taken in by Johannah, and named in honor of Dan's nickname. (Dio died of a stroke about a year ago.)

After a decade as the shop's beloved resident cat (she's the successor to Princess, a fluffy orange tabby who lived there to the ripe age of 17), Laney has made countless friends and is truly doted upon by its staff. Donny buys her treats and food, and as one of the first employees to arrive each day, has the duty of serving Laney's breakfast. Jody never tires of playing games on the front rug with a rolled-up newspaper (Laney's favorite thing to playfully bite and claw at) and keeps a bag of chicken-flavored treats in her hairdressing stand.

Aside from the framed portrait (a gift from a photographer whose studio used to be just down the street), pictures of Laney's past 10 years are scattered throughout a massive photo collage of hundreds of Dan's Barber Shop customers covering the unmirrored sections of wall.

To the lithe and friendly tabby, this endless adoration is simply her life. Does she know she's locally "famous"?

"She's already infamous in her own way," Johannah says without hesitation. "She knows she's special." ♦ (CHEY SCOTT)

2nd PLACE: Charlie Schmidt's Keyboard Cat, "Bento"; 3rd PLACE: Robin Haynes' "Omar Little"

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