Tag Archives: 60PLUS

Gory, Ghastly, and Gruesome

October 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One day with attorney Marc Delman would barely scratch the surface of his mammoth collection of cultural artifacts. Objects from whimsical pop culture to evidence of man’s inhumanity are stashed in storage and displays at his home.

Autographs from all the Beatles (including John Lennon) and the Marx Brothers (including Zeppo) reside near a clown painting by rapist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, an autographed poem by cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson, and a box full of World Trade Center slag. 

Delman’s home, office, and storage space contain more than $250,000 worth of rock ’n’ roll/film memorabilia, medical oddities, “freak show” photos, coffins, funeral photos, medical equipment, and bones (dinosaur, mammoth, and human), along with artifacts from the Civil War, evidence from the Holocaust, American racial intolerance, and other crimes against humanity.

Delman’s fascination with the gory, ghastly, and gruesome started when he was only a kindergartner.

“My interest started at 5 when my parents took me to see The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. The movie exposed me to the world of dragons, cyclops, magicians, and a sword-wielding human skeleton,” Delman says. “From that point on, my whole world expanded. I dragged my parents to every museum, exhibition, and horror movie I could find.”

Although overwhelming now, the collection began humbly when, at just 6 years old, the future Omaha curator of curios spent two days marveling at dinosaur exhibits in New York City.

“I began to collect every dinosaur item I could find,” Delman says, adding that this fateful vacation jump-started his interest in the macabre. “A trip to the sideshow at Coney Island brought me to the world of freaks—the tattooed woman, the pinhead, the fat woman, the little person, the beating heart, the pickled baby in a jar.” 

Some of Delman’s evidentiary collection of racial intolerance includes a 100-year-old Ku Klux Klan hood, slave shackles, anti-semitic literature from the Third Reich, and racist American pulp magazines. Among the most chilling of these items is a set of eyeglasses from the Warsaw Ghetto, taken from a man en route to a concentration camp.

“I’ve gone out of my way to collect these things,” he says. “The reason I save them is because they are history. If I didn’t save them, they could be lost forever. These things won’t be sold. They are all going to museums.” 

 

The collection is priceless to Delman, who says his family thinks it might be time to unload some things, but he admits that his search continues. He is still looking for two items: lost “Spider Pit” footage from 1933’s King Kong and a genuine “pickled punk,” a deformed fetus in a jar of formaldehyde used in old
carnival sideshows.

“For me, the search is the best part of collecting,” Delman says. “My interests lie in the realm of wonderment and a quest for knowledge. I like to collect the macabre because of its oddness, the deformities, the textures of different items. What most people fear I find interesting and want to examine why.” 


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

The Crow and the Artist

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

There is a flock of metaphorical crows hovering over Andy Acker. Crow-related artworks, meanwhile, have taken over the Omaha-born artist’s home studio in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

The 69-year-old Acker creates bizarre sculptures out of carvings and miscellaneous domestic detritus: keys, old coins, nuts, bolts, and other random bits. 

A figurative painter earlier in his art career, he cuts a striking figure himself at just over 6 feet tall, slender, with glistening white hair and beard, a boyish smile, and mesmerizing green eyes. 

Crows are now his figurative obsession. Acker says they started creeping into his work 20 years ago. 

He began crafting sculptural assemblages when he was working at Heartland Scenic Studios in Omaha. At first, they were just fun projects using leftover bits of wood from the carpenters in the studio. But the pieces eventually took on deeper artistic and philosophical significance for the artist.  

“I love to find art in our everydaysurroundings and to show others the beauty in a tree shadow, patterns in broken parking lot surfaces, peeling paint, or our sunsets,” says Acker, who moved to the Milwaukee area with his wife in 2013 to be closer to grandkids. 

He began seriously considering a career in art as a student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the late ’60s. He majored in art, dabbling in various mediums—oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, etc.  

After graduation, he joined his wife’s family business helping out at the New Tower Hotel in Omaha. Eventually, Acker found his way into teaching art at McMillan Junior High. He taught there for 10 years and adored his students. 

After teaching, he spent the subsequent decade painting large canvas backgrounds and building stage sets for local theaters, museums, commercial clients, and various other venues.

Starting during his time as a junior high school art teacher, Acker would draw cartoon caricatures of departing colleagues as going-away presents. All the co-workers would sign his poster-sized drawings.

“We would zing them with all the things they would say,” he says, explaining how the caricatures would roast the outgoing colleagues with funny quotes written onto the posters. “We had one teacher that would come into the teacher lounge and cuss about kids like a railroad worker. He hung it in his den, and it was popular. I also did that for retiring co-workers at Heartland Scenic Studios.”

Cartooning was another of Acker’s favorite artistic formats before the crows flew into the picture. “I used to always do our Christmas cards as cartoons, but even those have been taken over by the crows,” he says.

His interest in crows began in Omaha. One morning, while driving to McMillan to teach art classes, he heard a crow caw. It seemed to be following him. The bird flew alongside his car through several lights. Finally, it gave one last “caw, caw” and turned into a cemetery nearby the school. 

Acker went about his daily routine. But the crow’s cawing nagged in the back of his mind. He began to notice crows more and study their behavior as well as the historic place that the crow has in history, literature, and art.

A crow is often a symbol of either bad luck or death, but that is not always the case, he says. A crow may be a symbol of life, magic, and mysteries. The prophetic bird also symbolizes intelligence, flexibility, and destiny.

Soon, Acker started to notice crows appearing almost everywhere he journeyed. He began to study crows, and that eventually led to them appearing in his varied mediums of artwork—painted, sculpted, carved, and showcased in mixed-media assemblages.

In his art, the crow offers a reflection on the human condition, a foil for various universal struggles. For example, “Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man” shows the carved bird riding on a train engine. 

“My future is to continue to experiment with different media and characters from nature to explore human feelings of isolation and wonder, leading to bigger questions relating to our human condition,” Acker says. 

His work last showed in Omaha during a group exhibition, Tinkerbell’s Mausoleum: Assemblages from Whimsy to Macabre, at the historic Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery on July 1-Aug. 31. 


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

Meriwether Lewis Suicide or Assassination

October 1, 2018 by and
Photography by Karissa Jobman
Illustration by Derek Joy

Kira Gale upset the historical establishment when she argued that the death of Meriwether Lewis was the result of assassination, not suicide. 

Research into the explorers Lewis and (William) Clark consumed her life, up until the very end. She died in Omaha on May 13 at age 76. On her deathbed, she finished the final page of her last book. 

Gale, 76, had written and self-published four books related to the early American explorers on her River Junction Press. She advocated an assassination theory in Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation (co-authored with James E. Starrs), published in 2009 and reissued in 2012 with new evidence.

Her faith in the conspiracy was rooted in research. Gale studied coroner reports, exhumation findings, and private letters. She was drawn to the story of Lewis—and his suspicious death—and she devoted years to pursuing the elusive truth.

The Conspiracy Theory

Lewis was a dashing Virginian who displayed gifts as an outdoorsman, naturalist, and leader. He served with the Virginia Militia, then joined the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of captain in 1800. During his military service, he met Clark—one of his commanding officers. 

The ambitious Lewis was eventually appointed as an aide by then-President Thomas Jefferson. As the United States nearly doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson commissioned an expedition to the nation’s new holdings and western reaches. He turned to Lewis to lead the 1804-1806 trek. Lewis then named Clark his second in command.

Lewis was 29 years old when he took command of this epic journey, and he would be dead less than three years after its completion. The circumstances of his death were still in dispute more than 200 years later when Gale—a self-taught historian who never finished college (she was one year shy of an English degree)—threw herself in the middle of the debate.

The basic facts of this still-unsolved mystery are that he died of two gunshot wounds on Oct. 11, 1809, in the Grinder’s Stand tavern on the Natchez Trace (a historic trail) near Hohenwald, Tennessee. The area was known to be a hazardous way-stop where robbers preyed on unsuspecting travelers. Conversely, there were reports that Lewis was under great strain and in serious debt. 

The mainstream consensus among historians is that he attempted to take his own life en route to his final destination.  Or was it a botched robbery and murder? Or maybe there was a darker plot? 

Lewis was buried on the property of the tavern, and his death was never investigated by law enforcement authorities. Roughly 40 years after the explorer’s death, the Tennessee State Commission authorized a gravesite monument in Lewis’ honor and exhumed his remains. The long-delayed medical examination was the only one that his corpse received. The commission’s final report concluded, “It seems to be more probable that he died at the hands of an assassin.”

In the 1990s, descendants of the explorer petitioned the government to exhume his body again from the national monument site now covering the property of Grinder’s Stand. The Department of Interior granted approval for opening his grave in 2008. But after an administrative change, the federal government reversed course and ruled against any future disruption of Lewis’ remains. 

Wading into Controversy

After examining the available records, Gale eventually rejected robbery/murder or suicide as possible causes of death. Although Lewis had a history of previous suicide attempts, was prone to depression, and—before embarking on his final trip through Tennessee—granted friends permission to distribute his property in the event of his death, Gale argued that Lewis was killed on the orders of General James Wilkinson. 

The motive? Greed.

She wrote: “I propose the motive for Lewis’ assassination was to prevent him from bringing information to Washington regarding crooked land deals involving Wilkinson and John Smith T, a mine operator in the lead mine district south of St. Louis. Wilkinson had been the first governor of Upper Louisiana in 1805-06. Lewis was bringing lead mine records to Washington. After his death, his papers were inventoried and bundled and entrusted to the care of Thomas Freeman, a Wilkinson associate. They arrived in Washington in total disorder.”

Gale assembled historical accounts and contemporary expert opinions that called into question the character of Wilkinson and Smith. The documents, she believed, pointed to foul play, forgery, and conspiracy.

“Wilkinson had a history of assassinating, or attempting to assassinate, people who were his rivals and possessed incriminating information that could jeopardize his career,” Gale wrote. “[Lewis] deserves to be remembered for his many accomplishments and for his true character. He was truly a man of ‘courage undaunted,’ as Thomas Jefferson described him. I admire him very much, and consider my time well spent in researching and writing about his life and death. He is one of the great American heroes.”

She went on C-SPAN and the History Channel asserting what to some was heresy. Nevertheless, she stuck to her guns in the face of skeptics, insisting that she had exposed Wilkinson—the man with the means and the motive to eliminate Lewis.

“She was pooh-poohed a lot in the Lewis and Clark world because of her, at the time, radical approach to Lewis’ death,” says friend and fellow Lewis and Clark “nerd” Shirley Enos.

Enos admired her tenaciousness: “She just never quit. She said, ‘To my dying day I will not believe this man committed suicide.’ She never gave up on it.”

“That was part of her basic character—very much so,” says Henry Gale, her husband of 58 years. “When she grabbed onto something, she didn’t let go. That applied to everything.” 

Together, they twice made cross-country drives in their Saturn sedan to trace Lewis and Clark’s expedition via highways. The result was Lewis and Clark Road Trips: Exploring the Trail Across America (published in 2006), featuring hundreds of handmade maps and tidbits about travel destinations.

Granddaughter Christy Jobman recalls the book as an effort involving the whole family: “My grandmother [Gale] employed my mom [Beth Jobman] to help her with the maps. She’d bring my preschool-aged sister and me over as they grappled with Adobe Illustrator. The knowledge of these two explorers is basically embedded into my DNA.”

An Unconventional Life

Henry and Kira Gale met as students at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier in Chicago. He was from the western suburbs; she was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Chicago’s Hyde Park. She was an informal student of liberal arts. He was fresh from the U.S. Army. 

She had graduated high school early, the only child of a social worker mother and union executive father (who was also the town historian of Rochester, New York). The couple married in 1960 and soon moved from Chicago to Omaha, where Henry taught physiology at Creighton University School of Medicine.

They relocated with daughter, Beth, and son, Bill, in tow. In middle school, Beth acquired her mother’s old bicycle (which Gale had lugged across Chicago, balancing two babies plus groceries on trips to and from the store). Growing up, Bill remembers their Omaha home featured “a pinball machine in the dining room, sculptures, film gear, and people over all the time discussing avant-garde, leading-edge stuff.” She essentially turned the family living room into a production studio and theater.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Kira and Henry Gale were Vietnam War draft counselors for conscientious objectors. She became an experimental filmmaker and produced far-out light and film shows for rock bands. She organized film series. She taught filmmaking in Omaha Public Schools as a Nebraska Arts Council visiting artist. She studied under noted sculptor Lee Lubbers and was a board member of his international SCOLA satellite
education network. 

She became an Old Market counter-culture fixture. All the while, she kept an abundant garden and prepared amazing home-cooked meals for the family. 

In the ’80s, she photographed Mari Sandoz’s Sandhills homestead, and the images toured the state as a Nebraska Humanities exhibition. Enamored with iconic Nebraska authors, Gale also organized the first Nebraska Book Festival in 1991 (now in its 25th year after missing a few years over the decades).

Gale’s daughter, Beth, says her mother always had a new project in the works. “She was a museum-quality painter, and she was developing apps to go with books before I’d ever heard of an application for a smartphone,” Beth says, adding that her own six children benefited from their grandmother’s eclecticism.

“For years she took them on outings every Saturday,” Beth says. “They would go to powwows, museums, libraries, bookstores, parks. She loved cooking for them at her house.”

On top of her dedication to family and personal writing projects, Gale was an entrepreneur and cheerleader for fellow creatives. She published several other local writers, including The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies (fiction by Connie Spittler), Kids Around the Globe (a children’s series by Mary Duda), as well as the updated edition of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film (by Leo Adam Biga, reissued in 2013). 

But the Lewis assassination theory—and the documents supporting it—is what most drove her.

Undaunted Courage

“She’d get so excited about some new twist she discovered in her proof,” Enos recalls. “She would call me about it, and I would question what she was saying. It helped her clear her thinking.”

Enos was happy to help. “She always had something you could do,” she says. “That got to be a joke among our mutual friends. But it was such an affectionate thing. That was just Kira.”

Gale could be blunt when speaking her mind. She could monopolize a conversation when sharing her enthusiasms. But she could also be sweet, generous, and encouraging.

“She was never a person who sat still. She was always finding something new,” her husband, Henry, says. “Even when she got interested in history and looked backward in time, she found new things in old things.”

Cancer came as a surprise to the whole family. Her daughter was visiting from Texas in March, and she saw her mother busy as ever. Then, over the phone, Gale said she wasn’t feeling well—something about her liver. Beth came back to Omaha again in April when her mother was going to the hospital. She went in and checked herself out after a day, but was readmitted the following day. 

Then the doctors ran tests. The diagnosis: terminal colon cancer. It had spread to her liver, too. 

“My mother was extremely optimistic in her outlook in life, even when undergoing tests at Methodist Hospital,” Bill says. “There was a day in the hospital when a look crossed her face—a realization that she wasn’t going to beat this. It took about 30 seconds for her to process this, and then she started with, ‘OK, I’ve got this, this, and this I need to accomplish.’ She didn’t wallow in any pity for herself. She didn’t bemoan her situation.”

The doctors gave her two weeks. “The doctor said it was past the point of treatment,” Beth recalls.

Over the phone, she broke the news of her illness to friends and associates while still at Methodist Hospital. Her calls went something like: “I’m dying…I’m in the hospital…many things to do… important business to take
care of.”

She went into hospice after about four weeks. “At hospice, every day she was losing a little bit more of herself,” Bill says. “She requested, ‘Set me in the chair and give me my computer’ to write the final portion of her book. She had very little strength left. It was sheer will. She typed every period, she crossed every ‘t,’ she dotted every ‘i.’ I had never seen anything like that in my life. When she got done with it, she said, ‘Do not change a word of this, do not change the margins, this is the way it goes out.’ She basically gave it everything she had. It was absolutely incredible the concentration she put together to achieve it.”

In hospice, visitors were limited not for medical reasons, but because her workdays were limited. And she had a book to finish. Although diminished by the late stages of cancer, Henry saw his wife’s determination in classic form: “She had a goal in mind—she wanted to finish the book and she did, which was just like her.”

After a week in hospice, she closed her eyes for the last time.

One Last Book

Before dying, Gale requested her friend Paul Ehrenberger—who she had mentored over five decades as he experimented with rock music and filmmaking before finding his calling as a social justice minister—to organize and preside over a June 10 memorial service at River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs.

Along the Missouri River was a fitting location for the celebration of her life. After all, it was the route for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition, and the explorers had met with local tribes in the bluffs nearby.

She specified two songs be played at the service: the gospel hymn “It’s a Highway to Heaven” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.’” At the service, the music played; family and friends shared their fond memories. 

Beth says the family hopes to publish Gale’s final book (completed in hospice), Fifty Documents Related to the Assassination of Meriwether Lewis. 

“I think she’s up in heaven wanting the truth to be known about Lewis’ assassination, and she would like some closure on that,” Beth says. “Her mission was bigger than her book and herself. It’s not just about her. Whoever brings the truth to light, she would be happy that it is known.” 


Visit lewisassassination.com for more information. 

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

A Relic of Hinky Dinky

September 25, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the University of Nebraska Medical Center expands in midtown Omaha, it digs up memories for residents who have seen the city change from a big small town to a metropolitan area. Such was the case when UNMC announced in October 2016 that it had bought a lot on 42nd and Leavenworth streets on which stands an Omaha icon. To many, that building is “Charlie Graham Auto Body,” but to others, the building is synonymous with Hinky Dinky grocery stores.

The name Hinky Dinky brings a smile of recognition to many longtime Omahans. Although it sounds like part of a nursery rhyme, the name came from the World War I soldier’s song “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” which contained the chorus “hinky dinky parlez-vous.”

The stores were Omaha landmarks, beginning with the first one, which opened in 1925 at 24th and Vinton streets. They were eventually sprinkled throughout the city. 

The company was founded by the Newman family, longtime owners of grocery stores, starting in the 19th century with Baruch “Bernard” Neumann, who ran a general store in his small Hungarian village. His daughter, Fanny Neumann, came to the U.S. in the 1880s, where she met and married Moritz Newman. The couple ran M. Newman grocery store in Sioux City. Fanny and Moritz had four children: Jules, Henry, Albert, and Sally. After World War I, Jules opened a grocery store with a partner named Wohlner, eventually buying him out. Jules, along with his brothers and cousin Ben Silver, then started the Hinky-Dinky chain. 

That first store on Vinton Street was soon followed by others. As the company expanded during the mid-1920s, the owners rented their first warehouse at Ninth and Dodge streets. When they outgrew that warehouse, they bought a larger one at 11th and Jones streets. This one bordered Union Pacific railroad on one side, allowing them easy access to shipped-in supplies. 

In the 1930s, the chain faced several challenges. Soon after the 1929 stock market crash, Piggly Wiggly, a national chain with over 2,500 stores at that time, sued Hinky Dinky, claiming the name was too similar. The courts ruled this to be a weak argument and Hinky Dinky’s name remained. Hinky Dinky was also caught in an Omaha price war battle, in which Safeway began drastically slashing prices to drive other stores out of business. Yet another challenge was the house labels of the emerging supermarkets. These labels could far undersell the nationally advertised brands. In retaliation, Hinky Dinky, along with several other regional chains, developed their own private label called Topco. 

As the country was working its way out of the Depression, Hinky Dinky’s profits were increasing. The stores were able to offer nearly all their items in both private-label and advertised brands. And they operated the type of cash-and-carry grocery store people know today, as opposed to credit-and-delivery stores common at that time. At credit and delivery stores, clerks would take phone orders or lists, complete the order, and send the groceries out with employees to be delivered to customers at home.

The stores were pioneers in their markets. They were the first to offer customers wheeled shopping carts, wider aisles, and automated checkout counters. They also introduced frozen foods in open “coffin-style” sales cases, self-service meats from refrigerated cases, and automatic entrance doors. 

As early as the mid-1930s, Hinky Dinky’s share of the Omaha retail grocery market was at least 30 percent. The family-run grocery store continued to expand as Jules’ children reached adulthood.

Jules’ second son, E.R. “Bob” Newman, began working for Hinky Dinky when he was 14 and rode the streetcar to the warehouse to sort ration stamps. It was the beginning of a career for him, as he joined the business full-time after serving in the Korean War. 

“It was wonderful working with my dad and brothers; we all shared the responsibilities,” Bob says.

In 1956, Jules realized that it was time for the next generation to take over. Oldest son C.M. “Nick” Newman became president, Bob became executive vice president, and youngest son Murray Newman began learning the buying end of the business.

This dominance in the Omaha grocery market continued until the mid-1960s. At its peak, Hinky Dinky had 18 stores in Omaha, three in Lincoln, four in Des Moines, and about 15 in smaller towns.

In 1972, Hinky Dinky was sold to the Cullum Company of Dallas, Texas. 

“It was sad, especially for my dad, but it was time,” Bob says.

After the change in ownership, the stores began losing money. Many were small and outdated, and funds that were promised to improve them never materialized. It also became increasingly difficult to compete against nonunion competition. New stores were opening throughout Omaha, and Baker’s gradually became the dominant chain in town. Cullum closed the chain’s last remaining 25 stores in 1985, just before Hinky Dinky’s 60th anniversary.

The name still makes many smile and also stirs fond memories. In fact, the Facebook page Forgotten Omaha has many loyal Hinky Dinky fans who swap stories, post photos, and compare sightings of former store buildings with a passionate, almost cult-like obsession.

Bruce McCorkindale, whose family shopped at the store on 84th Street and West Center Road, was 11 years old in 1971 when his mother won a Winnebago in a Hinky Dinky contest. And Amy Bielewicz, who started working at the 72nd and Dodge streets store in 1976, formed a friendship with Tom, a co-worker. Romance blossomed in the produce aisle and the couple have now been married over 20 years. 

The continued sentiments about the stores make Bob happy. “I’m a little surprised, but pleased,” he says. “I guess it means we must have done some things right.”

Although that former Hinky Dinky store on 42nd and Leavenworth streets best known for its glazed tiled front will not be around forever, previous Charlie Graham Auto Body owner Jim Champion says the neighborhood surrounding the area is part of what kept him in that old building.

“The area has always been very diverse,” Champion says, “which is one of the main reasons I liked having my business there. People from all walks of life were our customers.”

Charlie Graham Auto Body, which is now Great Plains Auto Body, is moving to the southeast corner of 42nd and Leavenworth streets, taking with it the iconic neon sign that Charlie Graham had installed on the art-deco building after he bought it in the late 1960s. Local devotees, including Champion, are excited that the much-loved Charlie Graham sign will be moved to the new building.

“As for the future, seeing the building go away will be sad,” Champion says, “but it has served the area well since 1942. It housed Charlie Graham Body and Service longer than it did Hinky Dinky, but it will always be known as ‘The old Hinky Dinky store.’ And rightfully so.” 


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

Like a Kid Again

September 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don Byers’ teammates on the Bellevue University golf team saw the notion of shooting your age—one of the rarest feats in the sport—as a canard of the wildest conceit.

But the athlete who played for one semester with the Bruins came within a mere stroke of doing just that last year during a golf vacation in Arizona.

That’s because Byers, who is 61 (and shot a 62 on a Par 62 course that day in the desert), had a four-decade advantage over most of his collegiate competitors.

This most unlikely of feel-good sports stories began with a chance meeting on the first tee of his home course, Champions Run, when he was introduced to Rob Brown, the school’s head golf coach and a friend of one of Byers’ golfing buddies. 

There was nothing senescent about Byers’ swing that day. He was crushing it—with drives of nearly 300 yards and playing well under par.

Brown came to learn that Byers was a former pitcher who had blown out his arm before ever taking the mound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball team back when Gerald R. Ford was in the White House. The coach playfully inquired as to whether Byers had any remaining college athletics eligibility.

But Brown, it turned out, wasn’t joking, and he discovered that Byers could play for Bellevue University because the Bruins play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. While the NCAA restricts student-athletes to playing within five years of graduating from high school, there is no such limit in the NAIA. So the longtime insurance agent, who lives in Elkhorn with his wife, Debra, enrolled at the university with an undeclared major and green goals.

Byers encountered several challenges in joining a team of students who could be his grandkids, the first being that he was no longer the lean, lanky, 6-foot-4-inch fire-baller of his youth. 

When uniforms were issued, the father of three and grandfather of four explained, “Coach handed me a pair of 38-inch-waist pants, the largest size they come, and I just kind of stared at them. I hadn’t worn a 38 in, well, quite a while.”

The team’s winter training regimen incorporates CrossFit, and Byers’ return to college athletics led to him shedding 50 pounds the hard way.

“The whole floor around me was soaked at the end of our first workout,” he says, “but the other guys hadn’t even begun to break a sweat.” 

And it wasn’t the end of the workout, one of his teammates explained. “That was just the warm-up!” Byers recalls, “I could barely walk the next day.”

As he came back into fighting weight—and shape— he looked forward to contributing on the course. 

He played in three rounds in the spring 2018 semester: shooting 21 strokes over par in two rounds at the March 30-31 TPC Deere Run Invitational in Silvis, Illinois, then finishing seven strokes over par at the April 17 Midland University Spring Invitational.

Records on the subject are sketchy, but Byers is among the oldest players in any sport in the history of college athletics, and his back-to-school story was featured in Sports Illustrated, the Golf Channel, Golf Digest, ESPN’s website, and USA Today.

Although he only pursued collegiate golf for five months, Byers insists his quest was anything
but quixotic.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Byers says, “and this [was] no lark. My goal was to make the team and then make the starting five” on the squad of seven golfers. “I was treated like everyone else. I earned my place.”


Visit bubruins.com for more information.

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

60Plus Opener

August 21, 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 letter was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of  60Plus in Omaha. 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. 

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. 

Remember The Maine!

April 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Remember the Maine?

Press baron and Citizen Kane archetype William Randolph Hearst told us to do just that in 1898, but most have forgotten these days because we have so many other things to remember, like our Amazon Prime password and debit card pin number, let alone where we parked the car in the shopping mall parking lot.

In our defense, we do still remember Pearl Harbor and some of us even “remember the kind of September,” though revivals of The Fantasticks do seem to be thankfully decreasing in frequency.

Anyway, here’s a refresher. The USS Maine, an obsolete, poorly designed battleship, plagued by cost overruns during its construction—there is nothing new about military budget waste—sailed into Havana harbor to “show the flag.” That is, America wanted to show a little newfound muscle towards Spain, the last colonial power besides us left in the Western Hemisphere.

Well, our “muscle” sat there in the harbor for a couple of weeks until, tragically, it blew up along with 200 of its sailors. Immediately the American newspapers put forth the story that the Spaniards had treacherously used a mine to destroy the ship. Hence the headlines: “Remember the Maine!”

A nifty little war ensued. In short order, Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila and sank the Spanish Pacific fleet, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, in support of the African-American 10th Cavalry, charged up San Juan Hill in Cuba. (Teddy got all the press, of course.) Cuba was independent pending the later outcome of Michael Corleone’s casino scheme with Hyman Roth, and the Philippines, freed of its old Spanish overlords, were then happy to be governed by new American overlords. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Sorry, I can never resist tossing in a quote from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. It’s my thing. Stick with me, I know where I’m going.

So—“Remember the Maine”—remember? Well, the thing is, it wasn’t blown up by a mine at all. Most experts now agree that the cause of the fateful explosion was a fire in a coal bunker. Yes, our old friend coal. It was big in 1898. Sure glad we’ve moved on from the stuff here in the “modern” world. The slowly growing fire in one of the battleship’s coal bunkers eventually ignited the ship’s powder stores. Boom! War! History!

And where do you keep the powder, and ammunition for a big ship’s guns? According to Merriam-Webster, you keep that stuff in a “magazine.” In this case, a magazine that changed the course of a nation.

Which brings me to my point—I know, finally, right?—a magazine.

Happy milestone to Omaha Magazine. This issue marks the completion of 35 volumes in print. Has this magazine changed the world? Maybe it has, a little here, a little there. Change does occur when facts and inspiration can join forces. Thirty-five volumes highlighting the people, places, issues, and interests of our community; giving writers, journalists, artists, and leaders a forum where they can share and inform; giving our city and region a chance to look clearly at our triumphs and tribulations.

So, here’s to more explosions of art and ideas. Here’s to Omaha Magazine.

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.