Tag Archives: 60Plus In Omaha

Vaccines for Seniors

October 29, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Vaccines are not only for children. That’s one of many confusions about vaccinations, says Dr. Mark Rupp, a professor and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“Certain vaccinations are very important for adults as they age in order to maintain their health,” he explains, “and especially important for those with chronic health conditions.”

Rupp says the most essential vaccines for seniors are for shingles, influenza, pneumococcal disease, and tetanus/Tdap.

Other common misconceptions concern the vaccines themselves. “People believe that if they get the influenza vaccine, for example, it will give them the flu,” he says. “But since it is made from a killed virus, not a live virus, there’s no way it can transfer the infection to you.” 

Meanwhile, misinformation has circulated in recent years about vaccinations causing certain illnesses or conditions, especially in children. “We may not fully understand what causes those conditions, but we do know there is absolutely no link between them and vaccines,” he says. 

A fraudulent study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield inaccurately linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to childhood autism in a now-retracted and discredited 1998 scientific paper. Unfortunately, the damage lingers still among conspiracy theorists. A movement of anti-science skeptics known as anti-vaxxers has led to increasing outbreaks of measles. 

“Vaccines aren’t perfect,” Rupp admits. “But they are our best weapon to protect us from horrible diseases.” As an example, he cites how vaccines for smallpox and polio have basically turned these devastating, life-threatening diseases into “medical curiosities” that are rarely seen today. “Viruses still remain in the world,” he adds, “and if we let our guard down, our children will experience these diseases just like our grandparents did.” 

Rupp believes we all need to be vaccinated because, “It’s the right thing to do…It’s called herd immunity,” he says, “where we form a protective bubble around those individuals who are immune-suppressed, for example, and cannot be given live-virus vaccines.” 

“All vaccines recommended for adults are carefully evaluated, and the benefit of getting them clearly outweighs the small risk of side effects or toxicity,” he says. The website of the Center for Disease Control also states that the current U.S. vaccine supply is the safest in history.

For those with chronic health conditions or high-risk factors, Rupp recommends talking with a doctor about additional or earlier vaccinations, and also to investigate which vaccines are covered by Medicare or other insurance providers. 


Recommended Vaccinations

Shingles

  • Recommended age: 50
  • Approved last year, the new vaccine Shingrix is a two-part injection given one to six months apart. 
  • Benefits over previous shingles vaccine:
    More effective in preventing shingles and complications from shingles (90-95 percent success rate compared with 50-60 percent); longer lasting immunity (four to five years); and doesn’t contain a live virus, so can be given to immune-suppressed patients.
  • Possible side effects include pain at injection site and low-grade fever. 

Influenza 

  • Recommended age: 6 months through adulthood, repeated yearly to keep up with changes in virus. 
  • New feature: no longer made from hen eggs, the vaccine is safe for individuals with egg allergies. 
  • Possible side effects include soreness at injection site, aches/pains, and low-grade fever. 

Pneumococcal 

  • Recommended age: 65 for healthy adults, younger for adults with diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or other chronic illness.

Tetanus/Tdap 

  • Recommended age: childhood through adulthood, with boosters every 10 years. 
  • One of those tetanus boosters should be the Tdap vaccine, which also protects against diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). 
  • The Tdap booster shot is especially important for grandparents, as whooping cough is very contagious and can be deadly for infants. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From Japanese-American Internment Camp to Boys Town

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Provided by Boys Town

Xenophobic fears ran wild after the Empire of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. promptly entered World War II, and nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated or incarcerated in internment camps across the country.

The Rev. Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, strived to calm the hysteria in part—while alleviating the trauma falling upon his fellow Americans—by sponsoring approximately 200 Japanese-Americans from internment camps to stay at his rural Nebraska campus for wayward and abandoned youths.

Among them were James and Margaret Takahashi and their three children.

They joined the individuals and families escaping to Boys Town from prison-like internment camps. Flanagan offered dozens of families a place to live and work until the war’s conclusion. Some remained in Nebraska long after the war. Many used Boys Town as a stopover before World War II military service or moving to other American cities and towns, says Boys Town historian Tom Lynch.

Few outsiders knew Boys Town was a safe harbor for Nisei (the Japanese word for North Americans whose parents were immigrants from Japan) who lost their homes, livelihoods, and civil rights in the fear-driven, government-mandated evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.

The oldest Takahashi child, Marilyn, was almost 6 when her family was uprooted from their Los Angeles home and way of life. Her gardener father lost his agricultural nursery.

“It was a very disruptive thing,” she recalls. “I was very upset by all of this. I can remember being confused and wondering what was going on and where are we going. I couldn’t understand all of it.”

She and her family joined hundreds of others in a makeshift holding camp at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Stables at the converted race track doubled as spare barracks. Food riots erupted.

By contrast, at Boys Town, the Takahashis were treated humanely and fairly, as the full citizens they were, with all the comforts and privileges of home.

“We felt welcomed and did not have fears about our environment. The German farmers nearby were friendly and kind,” remembers Marilyn Takahashi Fordney.

the Takahashi family outside their residence at Boys Town

The Takahashis were provided their own house and garden within the incorporated village of Boys Town’s boundaries. James, father of the family, worked as the grounds supervisor. The children attended school. The family celebrated major holidays—including unforgettable, bittersweet Christmases—in freedom, but still far from home.

None of it might have happened if Maryknoll priest Hugh Lavery, at a Japanese-American Catholic parish in L.A., hadn’t written Flanagan advocating on behalf of his congregation then being relocated in camps. Flanagan recognized the injustice. He also knew the internees included working-age men who could fill his war-depleted employee ranks. He had the heart, the need, the facilities, and the clout to broker their release from the Civil Exclusions Order signed into law by President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt.

Helping identify “good fits for Boys Town” was Patrick Okura, who ended up there himself, Lynch says. “It sort of started a pipeline to help bring people out,” and Flanagan “eventually took people of all different faiths,” not just internees from the Catholic parish that started the effort. “People from that parish went to the camps, and they met other Japanese-Americans, and they started communicating about this opportunity at Boys Town to get out of the camps.”

During her family’s four-month camp confinement, Marilyn’s parents heard that the famous Irish priest in Nebraska needed workers. James sent a letter making the case for himself and his family to come.

“People could leave if they had somewhere to go,” Marilyn says. “Permission didn’t come right away. It took writing back and forth for several months. Then, when we were all about to be moved to Amache [Granada War Relocation Center] in Colorado, the head of our camp sent a telegram to the War Relocation Authority. He received a telegram back with the necessary permission. We were released to Boys Town Sept. 5, 1942.”

Boys Town became legal sponsor for the new arrivals.

“It was very radical helping these people,” Lynch says. “Father thought it was his duty because they were good American citizens who should be treated well. But it wasn’t universally accepted. What made Boys Town unique is that we were way out in the country, so we were our own little bubble. Visitors really wouldn’t see the internees much. The men worked the farm or grounds. The women tended house. The kids were in school. But they were there all throughout the village.”

A similar effort unfolded at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where 100-plus Nisei students continued their college studies after the rude interruption caused by the “evacuation.”

During her Boys Town sojourn, Marilyn first attended a nearby one-room public school. She later attended a school on campus for workers’ children taught by a Polish Franciscan nun. Besides the standard subjects, the kids learned traditional Polish folk dances and crafts.

The Takahashis started their new life in an old farmhouse they later shared with other arrivals. Then Boys Town built a compound of brick houses for the workers and their families. “Single men lived in a dormitory on campus,” Lynch says. “Boys Town didn’t host many single women because Father would find jobs for them in Omaha, where they would stay with families they worked for as domestics.”

From Santa Anita, the Takahashi patriarch was allowed to go to L.A. to retrieve his truck and what stored family belongings he could transport. James drove to Nebraska to meet Margaret and the kids, who went ahead by train.

Marilyn’s initial impression of Flanagan was of Santa Claus with a cleric’s collar: “Father came to meet us at the station. He had this big brown bag of candy. I will always remember that candy. It was so thoughtful of him to give us that special treat.”

According to the Takahashi family’s file in the archives of the Boys Town Hall of History, Margaret said she was taken by Flanagan’s humanity, that she “could feel this warmth. I’ve never felt that from another human being. He was so full of love that it radiated out of him.”

According to Lynch, Flanagan considered the newcomers “part of the family of Boys Town.” They could access the entire campus or go into town freely.

Leaving altogether, though possible, was not a realistic option.

“They could leave at any time, if they really wanted to, but there was nowhere to go [without authorization]. They would have been detained and returned,” he says.

Marilyn’s experience of losing her home and living in a camp was dreadful. Going halfway across the country to live at Boys Town was an adventure. Her fondest memories there involve Christmas.

“Christmas and midnight Mass was very special at Boys Town,” she says. “It was something we looked forward to. I will always remember getting bundled up to face the blizzard-like winds. My father would carry each one of us to the truck. We would head off in the dead of night in that blasted cold to get to the church, which was dark except for the altar lights. The boys would be in a long line in their white and black cassocks, with red bows, each holding a big lit candle. They would begin to sing and come down the main aisle. It was an awesome sight and a special experience. The choir was exceptional. There was always one singer with a high-pitched voice who did a solo. It was amazing.”

Father Flanagan and children during Christmastime

Flanagan is part of her holiday memories, she says, as “he always made a point to come to our Christmas plays, and we would always take a photograph with him.” For the resident boy population, Flanagan “played” Santa by visiting their apartments and handing out gifts.

“We were happy at Christmas,” Marilyn says. “In the farmhouse, my father would cut a pine tree and bring it in, and the decorations were handmade and hand-painted cones with popcorn strung. He always did the final placement of things so that it looked perfect. We had wonderful Christmas days even though it was difficult to get toys because many things were not available due to the war.”

She continues: “We built an ice rink and would skate in front of the farmhouse or in front of the brick house. We even made an igloo one time. It got so tall the adults came out to help us close the top with the snow blocks because we were too little to reach it.”

Weather always factored in.

“The summers were extremely hot and the winters so severely cold,” she says. “We had never experienced snow. That was a tremendous adjustment for my parents. But, as children, we delighted in it. We’d run out and eat the snow with jam and build snowmen.”

Marilyn recalls visiting Santa at J.L. Brandeis & Sons department store in downtown Omaha with its fabulous Christmas window displays and North Pole Toy Land.

The Takahashis were content enough in their new life that they arranged for family and friends to join them there. Marilyn and family remained in Omaha for two years after the war (and anti-Japanese hysteria) ended.

“Eventually, my parents decided they couldn’t withstand that cold, and we headed back to California in 1947,” she says.

They endured tragedy at Boys Town when Marilyn’s younger brother contracted measles and encephalitis, falling into a coma that caused severe brain damage. His constant care was a burden for the poor family.

Another motivating factor for the family to leave was the father’s desire to work for himself again.

Leaving Boys Town just shy of age 12 was hard for Marilyn.

“I was heartbroken because I loved the snow and cold and all my friends there,” she says. “I did not want to go to California and live three families to a house and struggle. I knew what was coming. I also had a pet cat I was sad to leave. My pet dog Spunky that Boys Town gave me had passed on.”

Her parents had also bonded with some of the resident boys, and with some adult workers and their families.

“We went by Father Flanagan’s residence to say farewell, and he came out to bless us and to bless the truck we drove to the West Coast,” she says.

As an adult, Marilyn shared her story with archivists just as her parents did earlier.

“We considered ourselves fortunate,” Margaret told interviewer Evelyn Taylor with the California State University Japanese American Digitization Project in 2003. (This article for Omaha Magazine merged excerpts from that oral history with original interviews conducted over the telephone and
e-mail correspondence.) 

There are occasions when Marilyn’s internment past comes up in casual conversation. “It is amazing how few people know about this,” she says. “It is now mentioned in history books in schools, but it wasn’t for a long time.” 

When she brings up her Boys Town interlude, she says, “It is always a surprise and I am asked many questions.”

The retired medical assistant, educator, and author now runs family foundations supporting youth activities. She credits her many accomplishments to what the wartime years took away and bestowed.

“The internment made me an overachiever. Because I was the eldest and experienced so much, I have become actually the strongest of the siblings,” she says. “Nothing can stop me from reaching my goals.”

Her late parents also felt that the experience strengthened the family’s resilience. Margaret said, “I think from then on we were very strong. I don’t think anything could get us down.”

The kindness shown by Boys Town to relieve their plight made a deep impact.

“We are forever grateful Father Flanagan hired my father to take care of the grounds,” Marilyn says, “because it enabled us to get out of that internment situation.”

She came to view what Flanagan did for her family and others who had been interned as a humanitarian “rescue.”

Then there were the scholastic and life lessons learned.

“A Boys Town education gives you the tools needed to succeed in life,” she says.

Even though discrimination continued after the war, the lessons she learned during the internment and the Boys Town reprieve emboldened her.

“I am grateful that I went through the experience because it made me who I am today,” she adds.

Internees were granted reparations by the U.S. government under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Marilyn received $20,000, and she gave it all away. 

She divided the reparations money into equal parts for four recipients: two younger siblings who also grew up in poverty (but did not experience the internment camps of World War II), to create the Fordney Foundation (for helping future generations of ballroom dancers), and Boys Town.

Forty-four years after the Takahashis left their safe haven in Nebraska, Marilyn returned to Boys Town in 1991. During the visit, she made her donation to the place that gave her family a temporary home and renewed faith in mankind. 

Uchiyamada and Takahashi families with Father Flanagan in March 1944


James Takahashi’s Letter to Father Flanagan

Soon after arriving at Santa Anita Assembly Center, James Takahashi learned that Father Flanagan was hiring individuals with certain skills to work at Boys Town.

James hand-wrote an appeal to Flanagan asking to be considered. He provided references. The priest wrote Takahashi back requesting more information, including how many were in his family, and checked his references, all of whom spoke highly of “Jimmy,” as he was called, in letters they sent Flanagan.

Here is the text of the original letter James wrote (references excluded):

Dear Father Flanagan,

Today in camp I heard that you are asking for some Japanese gardeners. I am very interested as I have been a gardener and nurseryman in Los Angeles for the past five years.

Just before the evacuation, I was gardener at St. Mary’s Academy in Los Angeles. I re-landscaped the grounds and put in several lawns. 

I am 30 years old of Japanese ancestry but was born and educated in this country. I was converted to the Catholic faith by my wife, who is half Irish and half Japanese. 

I studied soil, plants, insect control, and landscape architecture at Los Angeles City College, and am confident that I would be able to handle any gardening problem.

I would be so grateful if you would consider me for this position.

Very sincerely,

James Takahashi


Visit csujad.com for more information about the California State University Japanese-American History Digitization Project.

Visit boystown.org for more information about Boys Town.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Toshio “James” and Margaret Takahashi with their children at the Boys Town Farm, 1944

 

The Queen of Omaha Ice

Photography by Bill Sitzmann and provided

The ice rink is smooth like glass. A young woman glides across the surface, breaking it in with her skates’ sharp blades. Across the rink, her coach watches closely, analyzing
each move. 

Barbara Foster has been working at the Tim Moylan Tranquility Iceplex as a coach since it first opened in November 1995. Throughout her extensive career, she has coached students as young as 2 and as old as 82.

Foster was born and raised in the small mining community of Noranda, in Canada’s Quebec province. She attributes her perfectionist tendencies to her no-nonsense upbringing. 

Named after Barbara Ann Scott—a Canadian Olympic gold medalist and world champion in figure skating—there was little doubt that she would become comfortable at the rink.

Her father put her on the ice for the first time when she was only 2 years old, during the intermission of a local hockey game. Her first pair of skates were actually hockey skates. 

Dad was a high school principal and also refereed games in his spare time. He laced up her tiny skates, and she was a natural on the ice from the very beginning. Foster’s parents knew then that she would live up to her namesake. 

As a young student of figure skating, she trained with coaches in the summer, but was left to practice on her own during the brutal Canadian winters. She trained at a recreational rink, where she would come in through the back door and practice before school every morning.

Photo provided. Foster coaching a senior student.

When she was 14, she began training with Hans Gerschwiler, a World Figure Skating Champion and silver medalist at the 1948 Winter Olympics. When Gerschwiler moved to the United States in 1960, he asked Foster’s parents for permission to take her with him to continue her training. 

“He was an incredible skater for a long time,” Foster says. 

Foster trained with Gerschwiler in New Jersey and eventually became a teacher for his young students. While there, she developed a passion for coaching.

“The best part about teaching is the relationships,” Foster says with a smile. “There is no better job, and I get a lot of satisfaction from feeling that I’ve impacted my students.”

Since her days in New Jersey, she has coached all around the Midwest, Australia, and New Zealand. A perfectionist by nature, she stood out from other coaches and pushed her students to achieve the goals they placed for themselves. She eventually settled down in Omaha with husband Larry Foster, who retired from his job as the director of Council Bluffs Parks in August.

As a 74-year-old retired coach, she still enjoys teaching students of all ages, but she says she does not miss the rigorous seven-day training schedule she once lived by. 

In the past five years, she has undergone numerous procedures, including two back surgeries, total knee replacement, and treatment for a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder. But she refuses to let these procedures discourage her.

After knee surgery this past February, she was in Boston to support two of her students who went to the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Nationals in April. After her first back surgery in 2013, she was lacing up her skates again after three weeks of recovery (instead of the three months that doctors had expected to be necessary). 

Photo provided. Foster and her coaching mentor.

While teaching has always been a passion of hers, there is one passion that surpasses all others: her family. As a grandmother of nine, she is often on the road to visit her grandchildren, who are scattered across the country from Jacksonville, Florida, to  Olathe, Kansas, to Takoma Park, Maryland. 

Each summer, the grandchildren make a trek to Nebraska for one of their favorite annual events: “Camp Nana.” Foster started Camp Nana when the oldest grandchildren were toddlers. The parents drop off the grandkids for two weeks of fun-filled activities and bonding time.

“I never had an opportunity to be connected to my cousins,” Foster says. “I just really wanted to make sure that I could provide that opportunity for my grandkids.”

For the last 23 years, Foster has worked with youth and adult hockey players, and she even worked with the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team to help correct players’ skating technique. 

“Figure skaters have techniques that even hockey coaches don’t quite understand,” Foster says. “It really helps if you can break it down and help them get the most out of their legs while their body is still handling a puck.”

Although she considers herself retired, she does still instruct a few students (teaching two days a week instead of seven). Even aside from her teaching, Foster says she would be at Tranquility Iceplex at some point every day doing a variety of jobs and chores that need to be completed: mounting figure skate blades, selling equipment at the rink’s pro shop, and fitting customers with new skates.

“It’s allowed me to have a lot of diversity,” Foster says. “So even at this age, where I’m not actively teaching, I have lots of other interests that keep me involved with the rink and the people in it, which is the fun part.”

Foster says she is never bored because of all the activities she has taken on. She works at the rink, teaches lessons, spends time with friends and does Pilates, which helps align her spine and strengthens her back.

“I am really looking forward to skating again,” says Foster, who gets on the ice with her students for instruction but is not attempting toe jumps, double axels, or triple lutzes. “After my knee replacement, I’m struggling to be able to demonstrate the power that correct technique can generate. I think that as everything settles down, I would like to get myself feeling really comfortable again on the ice.”

Foster is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. She holds students to her own high standard of excellence, too. They shouldn’t expect coddling or ego-stroking. If that’s what a student wants, then Foster says, “you’re with the wrong coach.” 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

November/December 2018 60 Plus Opener

October 16, 2018 by

‘Tis the season for snowbirds to fly south. It’s hard for me to imagine being a snowbird, though. I genuinely enjoy Nebraska’s winter months: the blowing snow, beautiful scenery, and families gathered for holidays.

These days, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas is arriving earlier every year. Santa’s face appears in promotions around town as soon as we clean off Thanksgiving dinner plates. Nevertheless, my heart warms with anticipation for candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

But not everyone in the Lemke family is—in the words of Bing Crosby—“dreaming of a white Christmas.” One of my granddaughters will be traveling to Japan, taking advantage of her school’s winter break. Japan is still in the northern hemisphere, and it can get quite cold in the winter. This granddaughter, Sarah Lemke, must take after me—not being a snowbird and all. (She is a contributing photographer with Omaha Magazine.)

Japan is a truly remarkable country, and I feel so blessed to have traveled to Japan on multiple occasions over the years.

Although Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, the holiday is celebrated by many throughout the country. Devout Christians may shudder at the thought, but it’s true that Christmas has become a commercial holiday (enjoyed even by those who do not observe the date’s religious significance) all over the world.

In Japan, there are many unique Christmas variations that American travelers—including my granddaughter—may discover to be delicious. Local restaurants have capitalized on the occasion to create Christmas ramen (designed to look like a Christmas tree), sashimi Christmas cakes (with raw fish), and seasonal bento boxes (lunch boxes produced with artistic flair).

It came as a surprise to me, but Kentucky Fried Chicken is a beloved Christmas dinner in Japan, thanks to the long-running marketing campaign “Kentucky for Christmas” (which the American fast-food franchise launched in 1974).

Call me old-fashioned, but when I gather with family and friends for Christmas, I think I’ll stick with a more traditional family dinner spread.

Merry Christmas! 

Gwen Lemke

Contributing Editor


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

September/October 2018 60Plus Opener

September 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, and everything looks dazzling with the brilliant foliage of jewel-like green, yellow, orange, red, amber, and gold.

It’s a great time for guests to visit Nebraska.

This fall is also special for the Lemke family. My oldest grandson, William Lemke, and his fiancée, Susannah Kosty, are getting married. The wedding will be at the beautiful St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church in downtown Omaha (with a reception at The Durham Museum) on Sept. 29.

I’m looking forward to the event, celebrating with family and friends, and welcoming Susannah into our family.

From the Omaha Magazine family to yours, we hope you enjoy the season. 


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Don Hilpipre

August 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stella’s Bar & Grill is paradise for burger-lovers. So, it should come as no surprise that the Bellevue eatery’s most loyal regular has been eating at Stella’s for more than 60 years. 

It’s not just any burger joint. On one wall there is the Wall of Fame, covered with photos of the rare conquerors of Stella’s signature food challenge, “The Stellanator” (a 4.75-pound burger stacked with six patties, six eggs, 12 pieces of bacon, peanut butter, and a host of other toppings all pinned between buns with a skewer). And of course, there is also the Wall of Shame for those unable to complete the monstrous burger with a side of fries within 45 minutes.

Confronted with the burger joint’s legendary reputation, a newcomer could easily overlook another of the restaurant’s famous staples—an elderly gentleman perched on the same black barstool day after day. His name is Don Hilpipre, better known as Stella’s most loyal customer.

Often wearing a baseball cap with statements like “U.S. Navy Retired,” the 92-year-old Hilpipre returns to the restaurant like clockwork—usually around midday, then again in late afternoon. Stella’s place in his daily routine has remained unchanged for a decade. 

“I’ve been coming up here every day for about 10 years now,” Hilpipre says, beaming with pride. “But I first came here around 1953. I remember Stella [aka Estelle Francois Sullivan Tobler, the restaurant’s original owner] making her hamburgers. Really, just the old-timers can say that.” 

Hilpipre, a native of Minnesota, discovered his love for burgers and the city of Omaha after moving here in the mid-1950s. Before his move to “The Beef State,” Hilpipre proudly served six years in the U.S. Navy and then went looking for his next adventure. 

His search for adventure led to the state of Nebraska. He worked as a postman in South Omaha for 28 years and treated himself to an occasional burger during his lunch breaks. That’s how his bond with Stella’s was born. 

He became a twice-a-day regular 10 years ago, upon moving into Harmony Court Retirement Apartments in Bellevue. Since then, he’s rarely missed the chance to sip a cold beer, nibble on a burger, and keep employees company. 

“He comes in normally twice a day,” says Stella’s co-owner, Pam Francois (the great-great-niece of the original Stella). “In the afternoons, he orders two Budweisers, gets hugs from all the girls, and then gets handshakes from all the guys.” 

If for some reason the loyal customer doesn’t show up, Stella’s staff will call him or check with his assisted living facility to make sure everything is OK. 

Overall, Hilpipre estimates he has eaten just about everything on the menu. He enjoys the burgers, chicken strips, and even the chili, but acknowledges that he does have a regular order: one Stella Staple Burger, no bun. 

But he has never tried the Stellanator challenge. Hilpipre says he doesn’t want to lose, and he knows he can’t eat that much.

While he’s quick to admit he loves the food, that isn’t the only thing that keeps him coming back. 

“I love everything here, but especially the girls,” he says with a grin. “They like me and I like them. I’ve got to give every one of them a hug before I leave.” 

For Hilpipre and those associated with the restaurant, being at Stella’s is as much about the food as it is about the family atmosphere. Overall, Hilpipre is just as much a part of Stella’s as the grease on the grill. 

“He’s part of the family,” Francois says. “He’s a reminder that you have to sometimes slow down and be that special person in someone’s life.”  


Visit stellasbarandgrill.com for more information about the restaurant.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

The Evolution of Omaha Farmers Market

August 1, 2018 by
Photography by provided by Vic Gutman & Associates

It’s 8:30 a.m. and shoppers are standing by the Ed Welchert Produce stall in Aksarben Village on any given Sunday in the summer. The Omaha Farmers Market won’t open for another 30 minutes, giving Donna and Ed Welchert (and their team of employees) precious minutes to finish setting up the stand. At 9 a.m., it’s time to sell. 

The Welcherts have been a staple of the Omaha Farmers Market since it began downtown 25 years ago. The locations and days of the week have changed—and the crowds have grown—as the market gradually evolved into a refined citywide network of markets with corporate sponsors.

Omaha Farmers Market began in 1994 with a small group of vendors in the Old Market. At the time, Ed Welchert had been farming land north of Omaha with his family for decades, selling his produce wholesale direct to stores like Foodway and Baker’s. When the Welcherts heard about the concept of an outdoor bazaar starting in the Old Market, they figured they ought to check it out. 

Not knowing what to expect, they sent one employee with a card table and a couple of wicker baskets full of produce. It fit in one pickup truck.

“It was a slow start,” remembers Donna, recalling how their employee brought almost all of the produce back to the farm that day.

“The people started coming, and kept coming, and kept coming,” Donna says. Her husband estimates it was a good 10 years before things really picked up, and when they did, it just jumped in attendance, he says. 

Kent Cisar, an Omaha native, started shopping at the Omaha Farmers Market around that time. 

“I loved the vibe of the market back then,” he recalls. “I think the early days of the market for me was shopping with friends who were committed to buying local, high-quality items.”

It wasn’t the first time farmers sold their goods in the Old Market. Agrarians originally sold fruits and vegetables wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores at the City Market. It was a bustling trade in the 1880s, but the growth of grocery store warehouses ended the market in 1964. Ed vaguely recalls traveling with his father, Ray Welchert, to the City Market. Ray was a vendor there, as was Ed’s grandfather. 

In time, the third generation of Welcherts saw their stand grow along with the Omaha Farmers Market. The Welcherts eventually needed to bring three trucks for equipment and produce. 

As Ed Welchert Produce brought more crops, the Omaha Farmers Market added more vendors and locations. The downtown farmers market has expanded to more than 90 booths. In 2010, the Omaha Farmers Market added a second location, Aksarben Village, on Sundays. The Sunday market now has more than 115 vendor booths. A third, smaller Omaha Farmers Market runs on Wednesdays in July and August at Charles Drew Health Center.

The old City Market (bottom right) predated the 25-year-old Omaha Farmers Market downtown.

Cisar has his favorite vendors. He first bought bacon from North Star Neighbors. When they stopped vending, he discovered Crooked Creek Farms. When they switched to selling only at Aksarben Village, Cisar sought them out there.

“The Aksarben Market is now the better market. There’s more vendors, a bit more space, and since it’s centrally located, on nice days it’s jammed, which I like,” Cisar says. “But if you want to get [specific] items, you better get there before 10 a.m., otherwise [they] may be gone. The Downtown Market isn’t as busy with patrons or vendors these days, but it’s still home. I love the Aksarben area and what it’s done for our city, but nothing can replicate the vibe of brick, old buildings and fresh food of the downtown market.”

Other local farmers markets not affiliated with the officially branded “Omaha Farmers Market” include the Florence Mill Farmers Market (on Sundays at the Florence Mill), the Benson Farmers Market (normally held on Saturdays, but discontinued in 2018 after the loss of the Benson market location), and the Village Pointe Farmers Market (Saturdays).

The Welcherts tried to sell at both the Old Market and Aksarben Village locations, but “it about killed us,” Donna says. After 21 years in the Old Market, the Welcherts switched to just Sundays in Aksarben.

The Welcherts typically sell green beans and potatoes. In recent years, they began diversifying their offerings as they noticed younger customers’ changing preferences.

“The younger crowd is more health conscious,” Ed says. 

Donna noticed the shift in customers, too. The first year they brought kohlrabi, she says just the older customers knew what to do with it. “Over the next two years, you saw this huge shift when younger people came and asked for it.”

Count Cisar among the crowd of novelty-seeking shoppers. 

“I think my favorite days of shopping at the market are when I go down with an open mind and let the items I see do the talking,” Cisar says. “I’m always attracted to things I haven’t seen before, like a unique eggplant, squash, or [other] vegetable, and I like asking the vendor how to use it, how it tastes—and, if I was successful, I tell them about it
next week.”  


Vic Gutman & Associates manages Omaha Farmers Market, which hosts vendors selling fresh produce at the Old Market (Saturdays), Aksarben Village (Sundays), and Charles Drew Health Center (Wednesdays) in the summer, in addition to other specialty markets throughout the year. Visit omahafarmersmarket.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha.

Downtown’s old City Market

Ironman Chef Paul Braunschweiler

July 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chef Paul Braunschweiler of Brushi started cooking when he was 6 years old, living in Switzerland with his family. 

Although Braunschweiler claims he wasn’t “sporty” growing up, he did enjoy participating in track up until he enrolled in culinary school and became too busy for extracurricular activities. Now an official Ironman with three completed Ironman triathlons under his belt and numerous other races to his credit, Braunschweiler admits that “being in tune” with his body’s dietary needs has helped his race performance. 

“Your body tells you what it needs,” he says. “You have to listen to your body.” He doesn’t follow a strict protocol when it comes to his day-to-day eating, nor does he switch things up pre- or post-race. What he eats largely depends on what he feels like eating. Luckily for Braunschweiler, he has the well-stocked kitchen at Brushi at his disposal. “I can eat what I want. I can just walk around and open the fridge,” he says, gesturing toward the busy Brushi kitchen. 

Though many racers swear by “carb-loading” right before a race, Braunschweiler sticks with what his body craves. “I eat what I want; I don’t change my diet at race time a lot.” When asked what a typical day-before-a-race meal might look like for him, he replies, “We get fresh fish from Hawaii every week, so that’s what I’d eat. I eat a lot of salmon.” As for his pre-race nourishment, “I don’t eat a lot before a race—maybe a sports drink and a banana.” Post-race, his go-to meal is “a big bowl of salad with lots of marinated salmon and cucumbers and avocados.” He says his body does crave protein after a race, so if he doesn’t feel like salmon he might have some beef or other meat protein. 

Does eating whatever he wants work for Braunschweiler as an athlete? Yes—although his penchant for fresh, nutrient-rich food likely helps. Giving in to cravings won’t work for all racers. But it works for Braunschweiler because he enjoys healthy foods and occasionally allows for splurges so he doesn’t feel deprived. “Allow yourself to splurge a little bit,” he advises fellow racers. “We can do this because we are so active.”

He wasn’t always so active. It wasn’t until after his divorce that he delved into the racing world. “I needed to do something for myself after my divorce,” he says. “I saw people rollerblading and running at Lake Zorinsky, and I decided to start running again. I signed up for the Des Moines Marathon and liked it—I did pretty well even though it’s a little hilly.”

Braunschweiler has progressed from “doing pretty well” to consistently winning in his age division at every race in which he competes. At nearly 67 years old, he’s diversified his racing because “marathons are hard on the body.” Triathlons are his race of choice nowadays. His advice to other racers is, “You have to make time to train. You can achieve so much with your will.”  


Visit raceomaha.com for more information about the Omaha Triathlon. Visit brushiomaha.com for chef Paul Braunschweiler’s restaurant in Omaha.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

Aprons Through the Ages

July 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to the King James Version of the Bible, the use of aprons dates back to Adam and Eve:

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons,” Genesis 3:7.

That original apron made of fig leaves may be the only apron that isn’t represented in Donna Shonkwiler’s vintage collection. 

“I started collecting aprons because they take me back to my childhood days, when my mother and sisters and I wore them to do our chores together,” Shonkwiler recalls.

The apron collector lives in the Florence area but grew up in rural Brazil. Her missionary parents were poor (they had to clear the land to build their house, which had no indoor plumbing or electricity). Nevertheless, she has fond memories of those days. “It was a happy time for me, when life was simple,” Shonkwiler says 

Shonkwiler’s vast collection of aprons—most of which are carefully ironed and hanging on clothes racks—represents various time periods, locations, ethnic groups, and purposes. Included are aprons with names of states and countries. Some are indicative of particular cultures. Others are made for specific purposes. 

She has sturdy cotton aprons with pockets for crafts or gardening, as well as delicate and frilly aprons worn by the lady of the house for special occasions. Many of her aprons have elaborate embroidery, crochet, rickrack, lace, appliqué, and/or cross-stitching. Some have ladies’ hankies sewn onto them. 

“Aprons were a form of art that reflected a woman’s talent,” she explains, “each limited only by her imagination.” 

According to Shonkwiler, aprons had many uses beyond protecting clothes while cooking. “We used aprons to collect eggs from the chicken coops and vegetables from the garden,” she says, “in addition to drying a child’s tears and wiping a perspiring brow.” Also, some were made with extra padding at the edges so they could double as hot pads. “Most grandmas and moms were seamstresses out of necessity, and passed down their talents to their children at an early age.” 

Although primarily consisting of women’s aprons, her collection does include some
barbecue aprons for men. 

Shonkwiler’s 35 years of collecting has resulted in “probably” 400 aprons, mostly all handmade, and amazingly, no two alike. She has cultivated the collection through flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. A few of them date to the early 1900s. 

Her favorite apron holds special meaning, as it was made by her mother. The eyelet full apron (meaning it includes a front bib) was sewn especially for Shonkwiler.

Shonkwiler’s unique collection has never been on display…until now. An exhibit of her aprons kicked off the annual Florence Days celebration on May 12. Family Ties: Art of the Apron will remain on display (with some of the aprons available for sale) at the Florence Mill ArtLoft through July 15. The eyelet apron, a cherished memento normally tucked safely away in a cedar chest, is part of the display.

After a 47-year career as a respiratory therapist, Shonkwiler is enjoying her retirement. “I’ve loved collecting aprons all these years,” she says. “Now it’s time to share my collection with others, so they can enjoy them, too.”


Visit the Florence Mill on Facebook at @theflorencemill for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

60Plus Opener

June 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since this is our food issue, I wanted to share a recipe that has been passed down through
generations of my family.

I remember Grandmother Johnson (my mother’s mother) coming for long summer and Christmastime visits. Her parents, Grandfather Johnson, and his parents were all born in Sweden. But Grandmother Johnson was born in Clay County, Nebraska.

She was an exceptional seamstress. Grandmother Johnson would sew beautiful dresses for my two sisters and me. It was from her that I learned to love fashion and style. She was also a great cook. Although she had some recipes I wasn’t fond of—such as lutefisk (made from aged stockfish or dried/salted whitefish soaked in lye)—she always made Swedish pancakes for breakfast during her visits. They were easy to prepare, and she taught us how to make them as children.

Swedish pancakes

Ingredients:
4 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 pinch salt                   

Instructions:
1. Preheat skillet to medium heat.
2. In a large bowl, beat eggs with wire whisk.
3. Mix in milk, flour, sugar, salt, and melted butter.
4. Pour thin layer on skillet and spread to edges.
5. Cook until top appears dry.
6. Cut into two or four sections and flip with spatula.
7. Cook for another two minutes (or until golden brown).
8. Roll up each pancake and serve with fresh fruit or butter and syrup.

At Christmas, she made pretty and delicious decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread men, snowballs (a Swedish heirloom cookie), Swedish meatballs, and lutefisk. But pancakes are the sort of dish that goes well with any breakfast occasion.

Maybe I’ll make some pancakes for the Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day! 


Gwen Lemke, Contributing Editor for 60Plus In Omaha