If you ask Sudbury’s Arts and Culture insiders who has great stories to tell, chances are they’ll tell you to track down Richard Mende. A retired teacher, musician and professional travel photographer, Richard is often out of town; unless, of course, the Jazz Festival is on!
I caught up with Richard the week before the Jazz Festival, shortly after his latest adventure in Montana. He let me pepper him with questions about Sudbury and laughed as I challenged him to articulate some of the best things about our community.
Read on to find out how people make all the difference and why you should never wear plaid if you’re looking to blend in!
- Why do you choose Sudbury?
Forty-six years ago, I came to Sudbury from Kitchener for work. Now I often leave Sudbury in order to travel the world, but always come back. Why? I have four grandchildren here. Well, four by blood but many other ‘grandchildren’ that I’ve acquired over the years through my work as a teacher and community involvement, especially with snapd when I was photographing many events and fundraisers in the community. I suppose I’m a bit like Sudbury’s Grandpa.
- What's your favourite spot in town?
Bell Park. Without question. It was the first place in Sudbury to grab my attention 46 years ago. Now I’m there every morning taking photos. It isn’t simply a beautiful place. It is alive with festivals year round. I have fond memories of being there as a performer and an audience member. Even though I’ve already published one book of photos, Mornings in Bell Park, I still love to take and share moments from this spectacular urban park.
- What about getting out of town, where do you escape to?
Despite deep connections to Sudbury, Montana and Alaska are my favourite places in the world. I’ve been to Montana 15 times and am already planning my next trip. The mountains are magic and people are extremely friendly and welcoming. On my very first trip to Butte, when I was a total stranger, every person said good morning to me when I passed them on the street!
- When family comes to visit, what's the one thing you insist they do/see?
Movies! My oldest son lives on Manitoulin so movie theatres are novel. It’s become a family tradition to take in movies on the big screen whenever he’s in town. And Bell Park, of course, where I take the grandkids to the playground.
- What do you think is the greatest misconception about Sudbury?
Many Canadians still don’t know about the re-greening. When I was much younger, I took a trip from North Bay to the Sault. Driving through Sudbury… Coniston at the time was black for mile after mile. People who’ve experienced this blackness have it etched in their minds. They don’t realize how much the city has changed.
- Who's your favourite Sudburian of all time?
This is the hardest question! There are so many wonderful people who are from Sudbury, so many who are still here! Carmen Simmons. She probably earned that title for being the inspiration behind Jazz Fest. Jazz Fest is the most important thing to happen in Sudbury, or at least one of the most important. Carmen and I were colleagues at Cambrian College when she brought the idea of a jazz festival to the community and persisted until it became reality. I suppose that is the main reason why she’s my favourite Sudburian but this really has to be the toughest question I’ve had to answer!
- Greatest Sudbury icon?
Science North! Not only is it such a recognizable presence on the landscape but it truly is a world-class science centre. It is a beacon for the city, the region, the country and beyond.
- Stripes or plaid? Why?
Plaid! [laughs] Undoubtedly plaid. Summer is the only time when I don’t wear a lot of plaid. There’s a warmth and informality of plaid that I love. One time I was in Ottawa to see the Sudbury Wolves play. The arena was packed with a crowd of about nine thousand people. After the first period an old friend came up to me and said that he was sitting on the opposite side of the ice and spotted me because I was wearing the “Sudbury Dinner Jacket” [laughs again!].
- Drive or fly? Why?
I always drove until recently. Driving is the best way to spot good photos waiting to be taken. Now, since I am almost 75 years old, I’ll fly from now on. Even though I definitely prefer to drive. I once spent 6.5 weeks driving to Alaska.
- Hotel or camp? Why?
No doubt about that! I love the comforts of home while travelling. I used to go to music festivals and camp in the 70’s but a hot shower has a strong appeal!
- What tip do you have for people who are considering going to this year's Jazz Fest?
The Jazz Walk is definitely not to be missed! The prices are so reasonable and the venues are so close together, you don’t have to be a jazz aficionado or local Sudburian to have an incredible experience at the Jazz Fest.
To read more about Richard and his passion for Sudbury Jazz Festival, visit www.facebook.com/richard.mende.92.
Every month we talk to someone new, encouraging them to share their secrets, insights and suggestions. Read all the Cultural Spotlights on sudburydiscoveries.ca. Share your own ideas, tips and Sudbury favourites or simply read those of others on Facebook, twitter and instagram.