Tag Archives: anniversary

100 Years Strong

August 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Bryant-Fisher family reunion celebrates an important milestone in 2017—its 100th anniversary. The three-day reunion event will conclude with a final day of festivities in Elmwood Park.

The “Dozens of Cousins,” named for the 12 branches of the prodigious African-American family, will gather in Omaha on Sunday, Aug. 13, to eat, converse, and renew bonds of kinship while reinvigorating ties to local neighborhood roots.

The first reunion was a picnic in 1917 held at Mandan Park in South Omaha, where family roots run deep. Mandan hosted the picnic for 74 years. Its trails, gardens, and river views offered scenic backdrops. The park is also near the family’s homestead at 15th Street and Berry Avenue, and Graceland Park Cemetery (where many relatives are buried).

The picnic, which goes on rain or shine, relocated to Carter Lake in the 1990s and has since gone to various locales. It is coming to Elmwood Park for the first time this year.

Hours before the picnic, a dawn fish fry kicks things off. With bellies full of fried food, the descendants of Emma Early head for a family worship service followed by the picnic.

Always present is a star-studded menu of from-scratch American comfort and soul food staples: ribs, fried chicken, lasagna, collard greens, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, potato salad, and more.

The family’s different branches provide tents under which they set up their family feasts. Monique Henry belongs to the Gray tent and says everyone waits for her first cousin Danielle Nauden’s peach cobbler to arrive on the table.

The meals may be the highlight, but the day also includes games, foot races, a dance contest, and a pie/cake baking contest, which Henry says is mainly for the teenagers. The baking contest garners between 20 and 50 entries, depending on the size of the reunion.

Competitions are an intense part of the picnic gathering.

Film-television actress Gabrielle Union, the star of hit BET drama Being Mary Jane, is a descendant who grew up with the reunions. She understands what’s at stake.

“Having a chance to compete against your cousins in front of your family is huge,” Union says. “Some top athletes are in our family, so the races are like the Olympics. Each section of the family is like a country sending their best athletes. You trained for it.”

Union vividly recalls her most memorable race: “I wore my hair in braids but tucked under a cap. I won the race, and then somebody shouted, ‘That’s a boy,” thinking this fast little dynamo couldn’t possibly have been a girl, and I whipped off my cap like, ‘I’m a girl!’”

Although the large family has expanded and dispersed across Omaha and nationwide—and descendants of Emma Early Bryant-Fisher now number in the thousands—the picnic has remained in Omaha the second Sunday of August as a perennial ties-that-bind feast.

Union returns as her schedule allows. The actress grew up in northeast Omaha, attending St. Benedict the Moor. She often visited relatives in South O, where the home of matriarch Emma (a street is named after her) remained in the family.

Union introduced NBA superstar husband Dwyane Wade to the reunion last year. “It was important for me for Dwyane to come experience it,” she says. “No one I know has a family reunion of the scale, scope, and length we have. It’s pretty incredible. It says a lot about the endurance and strength of our family. It’s a testament to the importance of family, sticking together, and the strength that comes out of a family that recognizes its rich history and celebrates it.”

A tradition of this duration is rare for African-Americans given the historic struggles that disrupted many families. Bryant-Fisher descendant Susan Prater James says, “The reason for celebrating the 100th is that we’re still able to be together after everything our ancestors went through.”

“There’s nothing I can complain about [in terms of facing] adversity [that] someone in my family has not only experienced but fought through, and not just survived but thrived,” Union says. “I come from a long line of incredibly strong, powerful, and resilient strivers, and I pull from that daily.

We recognize our uniqueness and specialness, and we never take that for granted. I think with each passing year it just gets stronger and stronger.”

The family tree gets updated with a new history book every five years. “Dozens of Cousins” social media sites keep the grapevine buzzing. The family migrated from South Omaha to North Omaha many years ago, and also once had its own North O clubhouse at 21st and Wirt streets. The Dozens of Cousins, Inc. became a 501c3 in 2016.

A century of gatherings doesn’t just happen.

“We get together all the time, and anytime we get together it’s a celebration,” says Bryant-Fisher descendant Sherri Wright-Harris. “We love on one another. Family has always been instilled as the most important thing you have in this life. This is a part of the fabric that makes us who we are.”

“We don’t know anything different,” says Henry, another Bryant-
Fisher descendant.

“That’s ingrained from the time you’re born into the legacy,” family historian Arlett Brooks says. “My mother committed to her mother, and I committed to her to carry this tradition on. This is my love, my passion. I just think it’s important to share your history, and I want our youth to know the importance of this and to treasure what we have because this is not a common thing.”

The reunion has evolved from a one-day picnic to include: a river boat cruise, skate party, memorial ride (on a trolley or bus) to visit important family sites, banquet dinner-dance, and a talent showcase. Milestone years such as this one include a Saturday parade. Headquarters for the 2017 reunion will be situated at the Old Market Embassy Suites.

The reunion’s Friday night formal banquet means new outfits and hair-dos. But renewing blood bonds is what counts. “It’s a way for young and old to reconnect with their roots and find a sense of belonging,” Prater James says.

Representing the various branches of the Bryant-Fisher family takes on added meaning over time.

“No matter how old you are, no matter how down you get, on that day everything seems to be looking better,” Marc Nichols says.

Cheryl Bowles says she “felt sick” the one reunion she skipped.

Arlett Brooks says she has never missed a reunion, and she’s not about to miss the 100th. “You only get the centennial one time,” Brooks says.

New this year will be a family history cookbook complete with recipes, stories, and photos. Catfish, spaghetti, greens, and cornbread are faves. The history cookbook is expected to be printed and ready for sale at the reunion.

Union says fun and food aside, the real attraction is “hearing the stories—the important stories, the silly stories—and learning the history before people are gone.”

Visit bryantfisherreunion.com for more information.

Monique Henry

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Omaha CVB

February 24, 2017 by

This year Boys Town celebrates its 100th year. The Los Angeles Times recently ranked Boys Town’s anniversary as one of the top-10 milestones of 2017, encouraging people to visit the historic landmark and “add cultural and historical heft to your 2017 travels.”

In 1917 Father Edward J. Flanagan, a 31-year old priest, borrowed $90 to rent a boarding house to take care of troubled and neglected children here in Omaha. Since then, Boys Town has grown into an international treasure. It now helps millions of people from across the globe. It is also one of Omaha’s best-known attractions, welcoming thousands of visitors—including presidents, first ladies, sports legends, and actors—each year.  And while the celebrity of Boys Town has certainly helped put it and Omaha on the map, it is the everyday visitor who is the constant. Visitors can explore chapels and gardens, tour Father Flanagan’s home, visit his tomb at Dowd Chapel, walk through the Hall of History, and even see the world’s largest ball of stamps. That’s right—Boys Town is home to a ball of stamps that weighs more than 600 pounds (talk about selfie gold). Boys Town offers daily tours, step-on guided tours for bus groups, and interactive tours where all you need is your smartphone. QR codes are strategically placed outside Boys Town attractions; scan the codes with your phone and instantly access facts, photos, and videos at each attraction.

With the canonization process underway, the prospect of Father Flanagan being named a saint has wide-ranging implications on Boys Town’s future and on Omaha as a visitor destination. In addition to the current $1.2 billion development being planned nearby, sainthood would mean even more growth on and around the Boys Town campus. Father Flanagan’s tomb would be honored in a new structure that would need to accommodate thousands of visitors a day.  Other developments may include a museum, shops, and possibly one or more hotels. With sainthood comes enhanced international awareness of this historic campus in the middle of the country and would make it and Omaha one of the newest destinations for religious pilgrimages.

It is an exciting time for this Omaha gem that will certainly leave lasting impressions well beyond the next 100 years.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

In the Middle of it All

December 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Leo A Daly

Chris Johnson graduated from college and looked left.

Then he looked right.

With sheepskin in hand—a degree in architecture from Iowa State—he went chasing his first job in the field.

But not at home.

“I thought the best design only occurred on the West Coast or East Coast,” Johnson says.
Turns out what he was looking for was right in front of him all along—Leo A Daly, one of the largest planning, architecture, engineering, interior design, and program management firms in the world.

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But Johnson, a native Omahan, didn’t know that Leo A Daly.

“It was almost embedded in me that they’re an Omaha firm just doing Omaha work,” Johnson says. “I wasn’t sure of their national or international design presence.”

He dug deeper.“Holy cow,” he recalls discovering, “there’s a great design firm right here doing things all over the world.”

Johnson joined Leo A Daly in 1990 and today is a vice president and managing principal in Omaha. His years with the firm are but one chapter in its extensive history. It was begun in 1915 by Leo A. Daly Sr. and remains in family hands with his grandson, Chairman and CEO Leo A. Daly III.

Early on, the firm indeed was Omaha-centric, its work featuring more than a handful of projects in and around the city for the Catholic church.

“Look at some of the turn-of-the-century Catholic churches and, more often than not, you’ll see Leo Daly on the cornerstone,” Johnson says.

But it was a much larger Catholic project that helped Leo A Daly become much larger—Boys Town.

The firm’s first major planning assignment came in 1922, creating the Boys Town master plan for Father Flanagan’s 160-acre campus that then was 10 miles west of Omaha. The relationship continues today as Leo A Daly has designed 90% of Boys Town buildings.

Leo a Daly's original rendering for Boys Town (1922).

Leo a Daly’s original rendering for Boys Town (1922).

Others in Omaha and beyond began to take notice.

“Boys Town really began to grow Leo Daly into a regional and national architecture and engineering firm,” Johnson says. That led to work for the healthcare market. Then came work for the federal government related to national defense.

Eventually, Leo A Daly went global. Today the privately held company’s portfolio includes projects in nearly 90 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Clients include public, private, and institutional organizations in sectors including aviation, commercial development, higher education, transit, and transportation. And while other firms in the industry increasingly become specialized, Leo A Daly has intentionally stayed multidisciplinary.

“We want to think holistically about these facilities, both during design and when they are operational,” Johnson says. “We really learn a lot from each other as far as innovation.”

That’s helped give the firm staying power. So, too, has a quality staff, Johnson says, and a marketplace that rewards “quality and innovation,” a statement backed by more than 500 design awards.

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The company has more than 800 design and engineering professionals in 32 offices worldwide—Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Atlanta, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, an engineering, infrastructure consulting, and program management division of Leo A Daly, is in 18 cities.

But corporate headquarters remain in Omaha at almost its geographic center on Indian Hills Drive. The office boasts one of Omaha’s finest art collections, which has been amassed by the Daly family over the years.

“You’re really working in an atmosphere that elevates your game,” Johnson says of his surroundings.

Thank goodness for that Omaha presence. The city would be unrecognizable without such icons as First National Tower, Mutual of Omaha, Memorial Park, and other landmarks.

And Leo A Daly is building today the icons of tomorrow. Recent projects include the mixed-use development in downtown’s Capitol District, Nebraska Medical Center’s Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, and the relocation of Creighton University Medical Center to CHI’s Bergan Mercy Campus.

Also notable is the company’s transformation of the 1898 Burlington Passenger Station into a state-of-the-art television station for KETV. Among the project’s chief designers was Leo A Daly architect Sheila Ireland. Objectives included an initiative to keep the past visible where possible, allowing the building to tell its own story. Throughout the building are signs of the original 1898 Greek Revival design, its dramatic 1930s renovation, and updates from the 1950s. In one space, plaster from a bygone era has been cleverly framed as wall art. Even signs of the station’s 40-year vacancy remain visible.

Perhaps only a firm that’s been around nearly as long the station is wise enough, bold enough, to take such an approach.

“It’s exciting to work at a firm that has as much history with the city of Omaha as Leo Daly has,” Ireland says.

She hopes her work on the Burlington Station will help it last “hopefully for another 50 to 100 years.”

Chances are Leo A Daly will still be here—in the middle of it all.

Visit leoadaly.com to learn more.

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Omaha Press Club

October 29, 2013 by
Illustration by Jim Horan

While other city clubs have closed in defeat, the Omaha Press Club marks its 42nd anniversary on the 22nd floor of the First National Center in Downtown Omaha.

Does the club stay open because of the spectacular view from windows stretching to the ceiling? The glowing copper fireplace? The food?

Executive Director Steve Villamonte explains the club’s durability, even through a recession: “There is something going on all the time. The club offers events from lunch-and-learn opportunities to wine dinners to holiday buffets.”

Retired WOWT newscaster Gary Kerr and his committee hold monthly educational events. Sports forums at noon feature such topics as Nebraska football and 
Creighton basketball.

Each year, journalists are inducted into the OPC Hall of Fame. Their names are engraved on a plaque in the club’s Hall of History. Among the first inducted in 2008 were Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown (read more on Brown), NBC-TV’s Floyd Kalber, and legendary radio sportscaster Lyell Bremser.

The OPC Foundation’s annual Omaha Press Club Show, which raises funds for journalism scholarships, will be held next year on April 3.

The space’s premier event is the ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ dinner. When the club’s restaurant opened in 1971, members decided to celebrate the people who give journalists something to write about. Walls are now covered with caricature drawings of 
newsmakers’ faces.

The satirical artwork by artist Jim Horan (full disclosure…yes, the author is Jim’s wife, and she also serves on the organization’s board) is presented in fun as friends roast the subject. A zinger directed to Larry the Cable Guy is a sample of the teasing that honorees endure: “I’m happy to say fame has not gone to his [Larry’s] head, only to his waistline.”

The most recent honoree was Omaha Magazine publisher Todd Lemke.

The first caricature was that of fun-loving Omaha Mayor Gene Leahy. Nebraska football coach Bob Devaney followed him in 1972. Also that year, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew dropped by the club to see his ‘Face.’

Agnew had a love-hate relationship with the press, whom he once famously described as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” So it was with tongues in cheek that Omaha Press Club officers named a private room at the club the “Spiro Agnew Room.”

Among other well-known ‘Faces’ hanging on the club’s walls are Bob Gibson, Chuck Hagel, Tom Osborne, and Johnny Carson.

Horan said that his drawing of Warren Buffett is his favorite because of the billionaire’s unruly hair: “Warren looked at his caricature the night he roasted Walter Scott at a ‘Face’ event and quipped, ‘I’ve got to rethink that 25 cent tip for my barber.’”

The disappearance of Buffett’s ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ became national news in 2008. The New York Times and Forbes magazine were among media that published stories about the missing artwork. Omaha heaved a sigh of relief when the drawing was finally found.

On Sept. 9, the Lauritzen Room was dedicated to honor the First National Bank family that helped open the club 42 years ago.

“Without their continuing support,” Villamonte says, “it would have been difficult for us to succeed.”