God save the pumpkin: One Raleigh resident’s Halloween tradition

By Meg Hardesty

When a celebrity dies, Kenny Krause receives a text message.

“It becomes a little bit morbid, because whenever someone dies, my first reaction is always like sad that they passed away,” his daughter, Katherine, laughed. “And my second thought is always – without fail – like I wonder if that is pumpkin worthy.”

His friends and neighbors in his Raleigh, North Carolina neighborhood nag him about his annual tradition.

“Good pumpkin.” 

“Oh, surely this will be the pumpkin.”

Kenny Krause is no artist. He neither draws nor paints. He doesn’t dabble in any other artistic medium except pumpkin.

Every Halloween, Kenny picks a celebrity who passed away in the previous year and carves his or her picture into a pumpkin. Neighbors and friends spend the year predicting and guessing whose face will be on the pumpkin come Oct. 31.

This year, a number of universally known celebrities died: Bob Saget, Olivia Newton John, Loretta Lynn and Queen Elizabeth II, to name a few.

Kenny’s pumpkin boils down to a choice; there can only be one.

So who will it be this year?

The magic behind it all

Each year on Oct. 31, Kenny sits in his sunroom with eye goggles on and a Dremel drill in hand. Elbows deep in it, he guts the pumpkin, ridding it of its pulp and seeds. His shaving and drilling are precise, and no surgeon could match his meticulous methods. 

From years of practice, he’s perfected his concoction of two-thirds water and one-third bleach that he soaks the pumpkin in. The bleach keeps it from rotting before the big reveal on Halloween. If one side is drooping, Kenny might add some shading for more support. But, it can’t be shaved down too thin or it will droop. It’s a race against time for Kenny.

He uses a computer software program to generate a pattern of the celebrity and reduces it down to three colors. When carved onto the surface, these three parts become pumpkin, shaved pumpkin or no pumpkin at all.

After years of perfecting his craft, Kenny knows what works and what doesn’t.

Selecting each year’s celebrity 

Kenny carved his first celebrity pumpkin when Johnny Cash died in 2003.

Kenny is an avid country-western fan, so he found a jack-o-lantern pattern for Johnny Cash “out in lonely internet land.”

In the following years, Kenny found patterns on the internet for Ray Charles, Johnny Carson, Steve Irwin and Luciano Pavarotti. All became pumpkin worthy, each in his respective year.

In Kenny’s opinion, no one of any prominence died in 2008, and there wasn’t a new pattern on the internet for him to use.

Creating the pattern for the celebrity’s face has become his biggest time consumer, making it an operation.

When Kenny selects the celebrity for a pumpkin, he believes the person has to span generations and interests.

“He’s a big baseball fan, and if somebody kind of obscure to the lay person dies – but it’s a real big baseball guy – I kind of have to talk him off the ledge going ‘nobody is going to know who that is,’” his wife, Leigh, said. “I mean he did do Ernie Banks one year. Ernie Banks is not just your normal baseball character.”

He stays away from politicians and suicides, although he did make an exception for Robin Williams in 2014. He avoids anything controversial or divisive, and often takes input from his daughters, Eliza and Katherine. But, he doesn’t always take their advice.

“When Amy Winehouse died – and I’m a big Amy Winehouse fan – I was so upset that she wasn’t the pumpkin,” Katherine said. “I remember being so upset at the time because that was my suggestion, and he didn’t take it.”

Amy Winehouse died in 2011; Elizabeth Taylor beat her for the pumpkin.

A neighborly affair

Neighbors and friends can suggest, plead and text all they want to. However, Kenny usually keeps it a secret until the reveal on Halloween night.

“I would always try and creep by the sunroom, and he would put things up so that I couldn’t see,” Katherine said. “Our neighbors would always ask us and try and get it out of us, but joke was on them because we didn’t know either, so it was kind of funny.”

Part of the spectacle of Kenny’s annual pumpkin is the secrecy; it’s all part of the fun. Katherine even suspects Kenny gets paranoid sometimes and carves from their basement.

Karen Rindge, Kenny’s former next-door neighbor, said she’s already heard who the pumpkin is this year.

“I told my husband, ‘Ooh, I got the word! I already know who it’s going to be!’” Karen laughed, admitting that there is a sneak peak some years. “Sometimes, I think since we were next-door neighbors, he couldn’t help himself, and he had to let somebody know.”

For each pumpkin, Kenny tries to find music to correspond with the person’s life.

When Michael Jackson died, he played “Thriller.” When Andy Griffith died, he played the Andy Griffith theme song. Neighbors anticipate whom they’re going to see on the pumpkin when they hear the music.

“I’ll always listen for the music,” his neighbor, Molly Simmons, said. “The year that Florence Henderson died, I was sitting over here and I could hear the Brady Bunch theme and I was like ‘Oh Lord he did Florence Henderson.’”

When Pavarotti died, opera music played all night long, accompanying the trick-or-treaters on Kenny’s doorstep.

“If you walk by our house on the street and you hear opera music on Halloween and you don’t know the tradition, you might be a little bit confused,” Katherine said “But, it pulls you in, I guess.”

Kenny has built a reputation and community around his pumpkins, bringing a lighthearted, fun and innocent occasion to the University Park neighborhood each year. 

 “They were always the neighborhood house where everybody gathered, and the pumpkin was the draw because everyone wanted to see the pumpkin,” Molly said.

Kenny and Leigh tag-team the celebration each year. Leigh prepares Brunswick stew and ham biscuits for their guests each year and hands out candy. Kenny serves beer and wine for adults and takes care of the pumpkin.

“I remember Halloween as getting home from school and we’re folding napkins, we’re getting soup ready, we’re working on the crockpot, Dad’s downstairs.” Katherine said. “It’s a whole production for sure.” 

Friends and family look forward to it. Kenny sends a picture of the pumpkin to his mother in Wisconsin, and she sends it out to more friends. Leigh sends it out to her father and his 88-year-old friends. Work friends in Wilmington and old high school friends text to ask about it. Even the head of Krispy Kreme texts Leigh each year asking who will be on the pumpkin.

“I get fussed at if I don’t get it on Facebook pretty early into the evening. I’m like, ‘Excuse me, I’m handing out candy,’” Leigh laughed.

To say it’s far-reaching sounds silly, but Kenny has added delight and tradition to his community for many years to come.

2022’s grand reveal

An animated Headless Harry stands to the left of the yard, removing its bloody head over and over. A blow-up coffin sits in the grass filled with beer and wine. Full-sized Snickers, Reese’s and Hershey bars lie on a fold out table next to the pumpkin. A British band plays over the speaker.

Kenny removes the tarp and lights a candle inside the pumpkin. Oohs and aahs fill the front yard.

None other than Queen Elizabeth II shines through the twinkle of the pumpkin.

God save the Queen. And the pumpkin.

Edited by Jane Durden and Mackenzie Frank

UNC-CH students and alumna reflect on Disney College Program experiences

By Anna Neil

While Jade Earnhardt did own items essential to a university student’s wardrobe, such as a school spirit shirt and basketball jersey, she made just as much use of a floor length, bubblegum pink dress during her time as a UNC-Chapel Hill student.

This easily distinguishable frock – with sheer pink sleeves, an off-the-shoulder neckline and a crown adorned with blue jewels – belonged to Princess Aurora, a character Earnhardt grew to know during her time in the Disney College Program.

Earnhardt, a UNC-CH alumna who graduated in spring 2022, spent two semesters in Orlando, Florida working at Walt Disney World Resort.

The Disney College Program allows students to work full time at Disney World, typically in a restaurant or gift shop. However, Earnhardt dreamed of landing a role as a face character since her eighth grade trip to the parks.

“I was just watching the little girls looking at princesses and just the gleam in their eyes, and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ And my mom was like, ‘Yeah, that would be so fun’. But I was like, ‘No, I literally want to do that,’” Earnhardt said.

Auditioning for her dream job

Earnhardt auditioned to be a face character – a character who does not wear a mask – three times in high school. By the time she entered her final audition the summer before her freshman year of college, the casting directors already knew her name.

Earnhardt did not hear back from the casting directors before school started, instead launching into her career as a UNC-CH student. However, as she sat in Davis Library during an ordinary October day, a ding in her email inbox alerted her that she had been selected to become part of Princess Aurora’s story.

“Does that mean you’re leaving?” Earnhardt’s roommate Nikki Salazar asked.

“I guess it does,” she responded.

Disney Auditions casts face characters based not only on performance, but the auditionee’s height and physique. This selectiveness makes it common for character prospects to go through the casting process and never hear back, Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt’s Disney career begins

With only one semester at UNC-CH under her belt, Earnhardt set out for Disney World to live alone in Florida. She was only 19 years old.

“A lot of people thought I was insane for leaving my freshman year,” Earnhardt said. “Because basically, if you want to study abroad or anything, you do that your sophomore year, never your freshman year.”

Just as Earnhardt had waited years to be cast, guests at the parks had waited just as long to meet the beloved Princess Aurora. On her first day, a 5-year-old girl in a matching pink dress offered her blanket to the princess as a gift.

“I was doing the twirl, and I was just looking around. And this little girl comes up from the back and just rams into me,” Earnhardt said. “She’s like, ‘Princess Aurora! You’re my favorite princess. I’ve waited 6 years and I’m 5 years old.’”

A range of student opportunities

Tucker Watson, a UNC-CH junior majoring in sports administration, completed the Disney College Program during the second semester of his sophomore year. Unlike Earnhardt, he attended to learn about the Walt Disney Company as a business, hoping to one day own a company himself.

Watson spent his semester selling lightsabers and droids at Galaxy’s Edge, a Star Wars-themed gift shop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Although Watson was focused on the inner workings of the business, he found opportunities to immerse himself in the magic.

“We had a whole day of training that was just based off of coming up from our stories of living on the land and stuff like that,” Watson said. “And so that was really, really cool getting to kind of immerse yourself into Star Wars and kind of become a character.”

Watson attended the Disney College Program alongside UNC-CH junior Taryn Knudsen, a nursing major and friend of Earnhardt’s. Knudsen appreciated the diverse environment at the parks, as it was different from the small town she grew up in.

“Within Disney World, you have so much diversity and you’re gonna come into contact with every different kind of person that there possibly is,” Knudsen said. “And so, I think learning about different cultures and perspectives while we were there was really important for me.”

Knudsen worked at Amorette’s Patisserie in Disney Springs, where she made crepes and educated customers on their pastry offerings. In her free time, she enjoyed riding Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and meeting Cinderella, another princess Earnhardt grew to know.

Logistics behind the Disney magic

Earnhardt refers to herself as a friend to Princess Aurora and Cinderella, terminology that Disney employees use to separate themselves from the characters and avoid suggesting that someone is simply dressing up. These meticulous efforts protect the magic.

Earnhardt’s process to put on her dress and accessories and make it to her set location took a total of one hour. With this fast turnaround, she would often put on her foundation makeup before coming to work.

Outside of twirling across Disney’s Magic Kingdom to greet guests, Earnhardt took several academic courses while in the program. One of these classes was about marketing, connecting directly to her advertising and public relations major at UNC-CH.

Bidding farewell to Princess Aurora

After her semester in the Disney College Program, Earnhardt was hired to work seasonally and stayed in Florida for the remainder of 2019. When she came home on Dec. 24, she expected to see Disney World again in the spring. Instead, she and approximately 28,000 others were laid off due to the pandemic.

“I feel like I didn’t really appreciate my last shift, you know,” Earnhardt said. “I was like, ‘Oh, last shift and then my flight is tomorrow,’ you know. I was just kind of going through the motions just because I was just so used to it.”

By 2020, Earnhardt was back at UNC-CH, wearing school spirit shirts and her basketball jersey. Since graduating, she has traded this wardrobe for a blazer, working as an account strategist at a Colorado marketing agency. And while she no longer sees Princess Aurora every day, Earnhardt will always remember walking with her “once upon a dream.”

Edited by: Mackenzie Frank and Jane Durden

‘Two heart surgeries deep’: one UNC student’s journey across the finish line

By Guillermo Molero

Sept. 15, 2022

It’s 11 p.m. on a school night, but Hannah Collett doesn’t care.

The air outside is heavy and humid, but she’s still in her oversized sweatshirt, running around the turf at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hooker Fields. She’s been running down there for an hour, and she’ll keep running for at least one more. 

Hannah’s been preparing to compete in the TCS New York City Marathon this November. But every day, she runs the risk that her heart might stop before she even reaches the starting line.

Hannah started running in the summer before she started high school to get into better shape. When she started, she thought it was awful. But the more she ran, she started to appreciate how awful it was.

And even though she didn’t love running yet, she wanted to get better at it.

One evening that July 2016, she heard her dad telling her mom that he’d just run 4.8 miles. Hannah had never run more than three. Once she heard him say that, she knew she had to run five. 

That same day, Hannah left home at 1 p.m. and started running. She didn’t bring any water. She didn’t tell anyone else where she was going. She didn’t say how long she’d be gone. She just ran. 

“I’m so stubborn,” Hannah said. “It’s just crazy. I’m an all-or-nothing person. Either 100 percent of my effort is going into something or zero percent. And when I’m in it, I’m in it.”

And when it came to running, she was in it. 

Hannah worked her way up to running several miles a day, gradually increasing her stamina throughout high school and upon her arrival to UNC-CH.

She’s often joined on her runs by Spencer Higgins, her girlfriend of one-and-a-half years. Spencer is no fan of running, so she usually tags along for Hannah’s longer treks on her bike, bringing along water and snacks to help replenish her partner’s energy. The two use the time to catch up, talking about their schoolwork or duties as midshipmen in UNC’s Naval ROTC battalion.  

An unexpected challenge

On Oct. 7, 2021, Hannah and Spencer embarked on one of their normal training sessions on Hooker Fields. This time, they were preparing for Hannah’s inaugural marathon in Durham at the end of the month. It was a lighter run than usual for Hannah, Spencer recalled. Suddenly, Hannah stopped in her tracks.

“Catch me,” Hannah said.

Spencer rushed under her and did just that, helping her to the ground. 

“Feel my pulse.”

Her heart was beating quickly — too quickly. It felt more like the heart rate of a rabbit or a baby bird, Spencer said. It didn’t feel human.

The pair weren’t sure what to make of the incident, though, and figured it must have been brought on by fatigue. Hannah decided to keep running, and continued to prepare for the marathon that Halloween. 

She went on to post a respectable time for an amateur, clocking in at just over five hours and eight minutes in her baggy UNC-CH t-shirt. She was the youngest competitor in the field at only 19-years-old, and later found out that she ran the race with a stress fracture in her right foot. 

Hannah’s injury didn’t keep her off her feet for long, with only a few weeks passing before she was able to return to her nightly runs. However, those nights were afflicted with more incidents like the one in early October. After consulting her girlfriend and her parents, Kelly and Rich Collett, Hannah made an appointment to see a cardiologist on her native Long Island, New York. 

Her parents didn’t realize the scope of the problem either, and let Hannah go to her appointment alone; a decision Kelly says they soon came to regret. 

Coping with a diagnosis

Hannah was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a rare condition that develops before birth and causes a faster heart rate. 

She got the phone number of the surgeon that would go on to perform her first surgery that same day, and passed it along to her parents.

“We had no idea how this all worked,” Kelly said. “We didn’t know what it would be or if she was going to be okay. We just didn’t know at that point in time. It was just a very scary little while.”

After her first heart surgery on Jan. 3, 2022, Hannah would get the news that the issue was far worse than doctors had thought. The structure of her heart had been so altered by the disease that the likelihood the syndrome would cause sudden cardiac death jumped from 1-in-200 to 1-in-20. And if that were to happen, there would be no saving her.

Spencer said Hannah usually tells jokes to try and cope with the difficult position her condition has put her in. As a certified EMT, though, Spencer knows how serious the situation really is.

“It’s more like, ‘Don’t let yourself think about it, and keep making jokes.’ It’s a facade,” Spencer said. “But, statistically speaking, running more increases the amount of time your heart beats. And increasing the number of heartbeats increases the likelihood that it’ll just stop.” 

Hannah says she often hears about how well she’s handling the situation, even from doctors. 

But she’s not. 

Hannah says she’s handling it extremely poorly. There are times when she can’t help but think about how she went from finishing a marathon and being in the best shape of her life to being diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. She can’t help but think about how she doesn’t know where she and her heart actually stand after an inconclusive surgery. And she can’t help but think about the chances, slim or not, that she might never see her family or friends again.\

How could she not?

After undergoing another surgery on June 1, doctors still aren’t sure whether her heart has fully recovered. But she isn’t going to let that stop her. She’s been training to race in New York City since her doctors cleared her to run. 

Hannah says she doesn’t want her heart to be the reason she doesn’t run the marathon – she doesn’t want to give her heart the satisfaction. 

“I know I had the heart condition when I ran the last marathon, but it doesn’t feel like that in a way,” Hannah said. “Now, I’m two heart surgeries deep, and I want to cross the finish line of my next 26.2 and prove to everybody — and, I guess, mostly to myself — that I’m OK.” 

When she laces up for one of the world’s most famous races, her parents will be watching from the sidelines. Kelly says it’s been hard not being able to look after her while she’s at school, but they’re excited to be back with their daughter soon. 

And when she crosses the finish line in November, that moment will mean everything. 

Edited by Jane Durden and Mackenzie Frank