Tag Archives: Bellevue University

A Timeline of Chinese in Omaha

March 2, 2018 by , and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chinese migration to Omaha began, indirectly, during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The “Old Gold Mountain” (i.e., the Chinese term for California) attracted a flood of unskilled laborers known as coolies. Nationwide, the Chinese population grew by leaps and bounds: from 758 (in 1850) to 35,565 (in 1860) to 104,468 (in 1880), according to U.S. Census data on the country’s foreign-born population.

Facing open hostility in the goldfields, many went to work in agriculture, mining, fisheries, started laundry or restaurant businesses, or joined construction of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The railway industry dispersed Chinese migrants throughout the American interior. With Union Pacific’s headquarters in Omaha, it’s likely that the railroad helped populate Omaha’s own early Chinatown. But documentation of Union Pacific’s role in attracting the city’s earliest Chinese residents remains scarce.

“We don’t have archival records of Union Pacific bringing Chinese labor to Omaha, but we’ve seen this pattern throughout cities and towns of the American West,” says Patricia LaBounty, curator of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. LaBounty spoke with Omaha Magazine while preparing a research presentation focused on the contribution of Chinese labor to Union Pacific.

Among the earliest documentation is an illustration of Chinese railroad laborers crossing the frozen Missouri River with Omaha’s sparse skyline in the background—including the old territorial capitol, now the site of Central High School (printed in the Jan. 22, 1870, edition of Harper’s Weekly). 

Mounting opposition to Chinese immigrant labor led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted immigration and banned citizenship. Many American Chinatowns dwindled and disappeared in subsequent years, with Chinese-American communities remaining staunchly Cantonese-speaking due to the early immigration from China’s southern regions. Post-World War II waves of Chinese immigrants predominantly spoke Mandarin, the language of mainland China and Taiwan.

The second wave of Chinese immigrants arriving in Omaha—and the U.S. in general—consisted of Chinese Nationalists and their families coming overseas after civil war split the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the communist People’s Republic of China.

A third wave of immigration followed normalization of U.S. diplomatic ties with Beijing during Richard Nixon’s presidency. This group included highly educated professionals, scientists, doctors, and students from the People’s Republic of China.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the number of students coming to U.S. universities (evident at the University of Nebraska system, Creighton, and Bellevue University) has steadily grown. Meanwhile, what could be considered a fourth wave of Chinese migration to North America has taken the form of wealthy Chinese looking to the U.S. for property and stock market investments.

May 10, 1869

Promontory, Utah—The driving of a ceremonial golden spike signals the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Chinese labor played a critical role in completing the eastbound Central Pacific that met with Union Pacific.

Jan. 22, 1870

Harper’s Weekly prints “Chinese Coolies Crossing the Missouri River” with Omaha pictured in the illustration. The article claims 250 Chinese laborers passed through Omaha to build a railroad in Texas.

Early documentation of Chinese labor passing through Omaha


The 1872/1873 Omaha City Directory lists Chinese laundries for the first time. There are two: “Yingalongjingjohn & Yingyang” between Farnam and Harney on 10th Street, and “Hong Lee” on Harney between 14th and 15th streets.

June 4, 1874

The Omaha Daily Bee reports on the burial of “Ting-a-ling” at Prospect Hill Cemetery, noted as the city’s first Chinese burial. His death is attributed to “too much ironing and ice cream.” The article explains that his remains will be exhumed after two years to be returned to China for final burial in accordance with traditional custom. The article also notes that the local Chinese population consists of 12 men and one woman.


Omaha has 14 Chinese residents.*


The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.

May 6, 1892

The national Methodist Episcopal Conference is held in Omaha. A speaker condemns the Chinese Exclusion Act for jeopardizing U.S. missionary work in China, denounces the U.S. president and Congress, and argues “that the Chinese had the same right to be here as other foreigners, notably the Irish” (according to the New York Times on May 7, 1892).


Omaha has 91* or 93 Chinese residents.**

Feb. 15, 1893

Dr. Gee Wo Chan goes to the Supreme Court of Nebraska for practicing medicine without a license. He will lose his case, but his traditional Chinese medicine practice continues. At the peak of his business, he operates storefront clinics in Omaha, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The Omaha Daily Bee frequently publishes full-page ads promoting that Dr. C. Gee Wo “the greatest doctor that China ever produced is in your city.” His 1892 marriage to a Caucasian woman in Chicago was reported in the Omaha Daily Bee. His life story will be featured in a free online book, Chinese Medicine in Post-Frontier America: A Tale of Three Chinese-American Doctors (published in 2016).

Dr. C. Gee Woh ad in June 7, 1891 Omaha Daily Bee

Aug. 31, 1894

An article in the Omaha Daily Bee covers a revolutionary meeting of 150 Chinese “from Denver, Cheyenne, Sioux City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and other surrounding towns within a radius of 200 miles,” who meet to discuss overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. Chinese revolutionaries draw support from overseas Chinese communities around the world. Years later, China’s Revolution of 1911 will overturn the country’s last dynasty and set in motion the establishment of the Republic of China.


The 1895 Omaha City Directory lists at least 21 Chinese-owned laundries (featuring names that appear to be Chinese).

Oct. 23, 1898

The Omaha World-Herald reports that 438 men, women, and children—including artists, performers, and cooks—were brought to the United States from China to help with the Chinese village at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. The expo allowed them to bypass the Chinese Exclusion Act restrictions. The newspaper alleges human trafficking and claims that women were sold into slavery or prostitution.


Omaha has 94* or 103 residents.**

Aug. 19, 1900

The Illustrated Bee publishes an article titled “Chinese in Omaha—Some Prominent Men,” which claims a Sunday school has offered English language education to Chinese youth since September 1885. Laundry is the chief occupation of local Chinese residents, and cleaners tuck “good luck mottoes” into fresh linens. Opium smoking is on the decline (allegedly the only crime in an otherwise “peaceable, quiet, and law-abiding” community). A sort of Chinese credit union offers loans to the immigrants at exorbitant rates. Joe Wah Lee is named as the community’s best English interpreter, the wealthiest local Chinese person, and the shrewd owner of Bon Ton Restaurant. Leo Mun, head of Quong Wah Co. is named the community’s most educated in Chinese but lacking in English skills.“Henry” Hong Sling is noted as affiliated with the community but based in Chicago where he is a railroad passenger agent.


Omaha has 53 Chinese residents.*

January 1912

Gin Chin opens the Mandarin Cafe at 1409 Douglas St.

Nov. 22, 1916

The Omaha World-Herald reports on the opening of a “new hall” for the Omaha Chinese Merchants Association at the first known site of the On Leong Tong (111 N. 12th St.). Leo Wing is president and Chue Fing Sue is secretary. The report claims there are 150 Chinese living in Omaha.

The former home of the On Leong Tong, photographed in 2018


Omaha has 126 Chinese residents.*

Sept. 16, 1920

Gin Chin opens the King Fong Cafe near 16th and Harney streets.

Photo from the September/October 2007 edition of Encounter Magazine


Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.*


Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a city directory is not printed in 1930. The 1931 Omaha City Directory lists at least eight Chinese laundromats remaining in Omaha (six are included under a “Chinese Laundry” category, two are listed as hand-laundries). Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.* “When the Depression came in, there was no more business,” says Jeanette Chin, wife of Carl Chin (Gin Chin’s son). “If families could save some money, they could go back (to China) and live like royalty.” She came to Omaha in 1942 from a prominent family in New York City’s Chinatown. Local Omaha papers claimed her 1942 marriage to Carl was the city’s “last arranged marriage.”

July 16, 1938

The Omaha World-Herald reports on firecrackers and festivities involved in the dedication of the relocated On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St. The article notes that the tong is raising funds for China’s fight against Japan in the war effort.


Omaha has 69 Chinese residents (44 native-born and 25 foreign-born).***


The year after the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed (1943) during World War II, Gen. Albert Wedemeyer takes command of U.S. forces in China, relieving Joseph Stillwell. Wedemeyer was born in Omaha in 1897. He was likely familiar with Omaha’s ethnic Chinese community as he attended Creighton Preparatory School (when the school was located near downtown on the Creighton University). In 1919 he went to West Point Academy. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Tientsin, China, where he learned to speak Mandarin and gained a deeper understanding of China’s turbulent political climate with the consolidation efforts by the Nationalists and the rise of the Communist movement.


The 1946 Omaha City Directory lists one business under the category “Laundries—Chinese” (Louie Chas at 209 S. 13th St.), and the name disappears in the next year’s directory. The Chinese laundry category vanishes from record in subsequent city directories.


Omaha has 106 Chinese residents.*


Omaha has 130 Chinese residents.****


Omaha has 186 Chinese residents.****


Joe Kuo and his wife, Alice, open the Great Wall Restaurant at 72nd and Farnam streets. The restaurant’s success will spawn other Great Wall restaurants downtown (at 11th and Farnam streets), near 84th and Center streets, at Oak View Mall, and in Council Bluffs. Kuo had graduated from Fort Hays State University in Kansas with a mathematics degree in 1972, but with a new family decided against doctoral studies to enter business as a restaurateur in New York City and Chicago before coming to Omaha. The Kuos were founding members of a Christian fellowship of Omaha Chinese (established in 1977), which started as a bible study group (officially renamed the “Omaha Christian Chinese Fellowship” in 1980, and again renamed as “Omaha Chinese Christian Church” in 1986). Kuo’s restaurants host bible study gatherings. The church’s founding minister, Pastor Job Lee, is married to Joe’s elder sister (Grace). The church fellowship serves as a center for Chinese language and culture education. The Kuo family will sponsor local Chinese cultural events, leading to the creation of the Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association.


Omaha has 374 Chinese residents.****

The Omaha Chinese Christian Fellowship rents space at First Presbyterian Church. A few years later, in 1983, the fellowship will relocate to First Christian Church on 66th and Dodge streets.


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association forms with the goal of bringing all Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese together, regardless of regional origins or political affiliation. The organization’s board includes Dennis Chin (a Bellevue Public School educator and Gin Chin’s grandson), his wife Betty Chin (a research organizer at Creighton and UNMC), and UNL engineering professor Bing Chen, among others. The association will eventually discontinue as political tensions mount and the community shifts to a predominantly mainland Chinese orientation.

From left: Dennis Chin, Betty Chin, and Bing Chen (at the Nebraska Chinese Association in 2018)


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association’s Chinese New Year celebration moves to UNO’s Milo Bail Student Center for a Chinese meal cooked by UNO chefs under the watchful eye of Joe Kuo followed by music, acrobatics, and dance performances at the Strauss Performing Arts Center. During its years of operation, the group also participates in the Omaha Ethnic Festival at the Civic Auditorium and hosts Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Dragon Boat Festival gatherings.


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church purchases its own building at 81st and Blondo streets.
Omaha has 553 Chinese residents.****


Mainland Chinese in Omaha are believed to organize local community events, including Lunar New Year gatherings. (Individuals known to be involved did not respond to Omaha Magazine’s request for comment.)


Omaha has 1,155 Chinese residents.****
In 2000, UNMC begins a formal faculty exchange program with Shanghai University. It is the first time the Chinese government has “awarded and funded a faculty exchange program between a Chinese medical school and [a] U.S. medical school.” In subsequent years, UNMC’s exchange programs with Chinese medical institutions continue to develop. By the year 2018, UNMC’s Asia Pacific Rim Development Program will have established partnerships with more than a dozen Chinese medical schools.


Creighton philosophy professor Jinmei Yuan begins annual student trips to China, supported by the Rev. John Schlegel (president of the university) and Soong Ching-Ling Foundation in China.  


Omaha-born filmmaker Alexander Payne is part of a group that buys King Fong Cafe from the Huey family that has managed the restaurant in the years following Gin Chin’s passing. Also in 2007, the Confucius Institute (which operates around the world teaching Chinese as a second language) opens at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the institute will become a key sponsor for holiday celebrations with the UNL chapter of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, Lincoln Chinese Cultural Association, the Asian Community Center in Lincoln, and the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association/Nebraska Chinese Association.


In 2008, Creighton’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions establishes a three-month Rehabilitation International Summer Program. By 2014, the university will establish the China Honors Interprofessional Program for medical students and health care professionals in China. Partner schools will include 10 universities across China (along with universities in five other countries).

May 2008

The Omaha Chinese Culture Association establishes in the wake of China’s tragic 2008 Sichuan earthquakes. In China, more than 69,000 are confirmed dead and 5 million people are displaced. Bellevue University’s director of global partnerships in Asia, Julie Verebely, was born in the area devastated by the quake. Verebely knew her home was affected, but she didn’t know how badly. She couldn’t contact any friends or family in the province. “She called me up and said, ‘We need to do something. It’s my hometown,’” recalls Linda Steele, who works with Verebely at Bellevue. With a core group of more than 30 Chinese-Americans and Chinese expats, they arrange several fundraisers that accumulate more than $30,000. During their fundraising efforts, Ping Ye (a systems analyst at HDR) suggests to fellow volunteers that they organize as a continuing Chinese association. Ye is the Omaha Chinese Culture Association’s first president, followed by Mae Keith, and then Steele. John Zhang is the association’s first chairman of the board, followed by Hong Zheng.

Linda Steele


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church moves to its current location at 4618 S. 139th St.


Omaha has 1,437 Chinese residents.****

Feb. 3, 2009

The first Lunar New Year Gala is hosted by the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association at Christ Community Church. Locations will change in later years: Millard North High School in 2010, Burke High School in 2011-2012, Westside High School in 2013, Westside Middle School in 2015-2017, and Burke again in 2018.

April 2009

In April, an Omaha delegation visits Yantai (in Shandong province) at the invitation of the mayor of the northeastern Chinese city. In October, Yantai officials will visit Omaha to sign a letter of intent to become “sister cities.” In June 2010, Omaha’s Mayor Jim Suttle will visit Yantai, China, in a trip to establish Omaha and Yantai as “sister cities.”

Oct. 3, 2009

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts the first annual Mid-Autumn Chinese Cultural Festival at Zorinsky Lake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

June 4, 2011

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts its first annual Dragon Boat Festival on a Missouri River cruise.


Bellevue University establishes a partnership with Guangzhou College of Commerce in 2012. The first group of Chinese students will arrive in 2015. Also in 2012, the UNO College of Business Administration begins annual study trips to China.

August 2012

During a visit to China, Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman announces the state will open a trade office in China.


The UNO College of Business Administration hosts a China Conference focused on US-China economic relations and business partnerships. The conference continues for a second year in 2014.

March 18, 2013

Ceremonies in Nebraska and Shanghai are held to announce the opening of the Nebraska Center China in Shanghai. Upon taking office in 2015, Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to foster China-Nebraska trade relations with trade trips in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The Omaha Chamber also participates in overseas trips to China on an annual basis.

May 2014

An estimated 1,000 Chinese investors visit Omaha for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. In China, the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett is known as “the God of Stock Investing.” The number of Chinese visitors to Omaha during the shareholder meeting will continue to grow every year. An estimated 2,000-3,000 Chinese investors will visit Omaha for the shareholder meeting in 2016.


The Nebraska Chinese Association replaces the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association under the leadership of local Omaha businessman Hong Zheng (owner of the Asian Market) and its president Linda Steele (an adjunct professor Bellevue University).

Hong Zheng

April 2016

Lion Dancers help the Nebraska Chinese Association celebrate the grand opening of the Nebraska Chinese Center in the site of a former church at 8206 Blondo St. The center offers language classes, cooking classes, a farmers’ market, tai chi exercise programs, and other cultural events.


King Fong Cafe closes “temporarily.”

May 2017

The annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting continues to draw more Chinese visitors every year. Buses take Chinese tour groups to Warren Buffett’s home in Dundee for photographs. In 2017, Linda Steele estimates that there are 3,000-4,000 Chinese visitors. A gala dinner hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association introduces overseas investors and local businesses. Steele expects 5,000 Chinese visitors for the Berkshire meeting in 2018.

June 14, 2017

Forty boxes of beef arrive in China from Greater Omaha Packing Co. The Omaha-headquartered business has emerged as an industry leader in reopening U.S. beef exports to China. It is the first shipment of U.S. beef to China since 2003 (following a mad cow scare that halted imports).

November 2017

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes the historic status of the On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St.


In the 2017/2018 academic year, Bellevue University has 258 overseas Chinese students; UNMC has 96 students from mainland China; UNO has 124 overseas Chinese students; Creighton has 36.

March 3, 2018

The 10th anniversary of the Lunar New Year Gala hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association/Omaha Chinese Cultural Association takes place at Burke High School. Of the approximately 200 volunteers organizing the gala, 100 are overseas Chinese students. The association’s members include close to 800 people.

Nebraska Chinese Association board members from left: Grant Wu, Hong Zheng, May Yap, Jun White, Linda Steele, Li Li, Sarah Luo, Qiuming Zhu, Ping Ye, Jenny McAtee

*Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society

**Source: An Almanac of Nebraska: Nationality, Ethnic, and Racial Groups (published in 1975)

***Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska Library Commission

****Source: U.S. Census data provided by University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research

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

See other Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:

Omaha’s Korean Connection

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Korean restaurants in Omaha have strong ties to the military community.

While many Offutt Air Force Base staffers developed penchants for Korean cuisine during Air Force deployments to South Korea, there are also many military spouses who relocated to Omaha from Korea. Some of these spouses have opened local restaurants.

The Korean Grill is a prime example. Its owner, Henim Stimson, used to operate a restaurant in Seoul. Her husband, Air Force veteran Scott Stimson, now helps her in the kitchen at 1408 Harlan Drive in Bellevue.

They often serve couples with similar U.S. military and Korean backgrounds.

While eating dinner recently at the Korean Grill, Cody Scott (an active-duty Air Force veteran) and his wife, Gi (who is originally from Tongyeong, South Korea), share their suggestions for finding authentic Korean food in the greater Omaha metro.

Cody grew up in Tennessee, and he studied Korean in California. The couple met after Cody relocated to Omaha. “We met at Maru Sushi and Korean Grill. Gi was working there as a waitress,” Cody says. They married in 2013 and reside in Bellevue.

The Scotts listed the Korean Grill as their favorite in Omaha. The restaurant’s lunch combo meals and to-go boxes attract a lot of military personnel and many Chinese students from nearby Bellevue University.

Suji’s offers a wide variety of dishes.

Eating Like a Korean

Korean meals are typically served with a variety of “banchan” (side dishes) in small portions. All banchan is communal. Featuring a wide range of seasonal vegetables, roots, tofu, or small seafood, banchan can be fermented, pickled, lightly seasoned, or braised in sauce. Kimchi, fermented napa cabbage, is the most common type of banchan.

While many associate Korean food with Korean barbecue—thinly sliced meat dishes (both marinated and unmarinated) and vegetables cooked on a built-in table grill or a portable grill—rice, noodles, soup, and stew remain staples of Korean cuisine.

One of the most iconic offerings in Korean cuisine, “budae-jjigae” (army stew), is a spicy soup with Spam meat, hot dogs (or other scraps of meat), tofu, instant noodles, mixed vegetables, and sometimes a piece of Kraft cheese.

The Scotts order budae-jjigae and several of their other favorites while speaking with Omaha Magazine. The stew comes in a huge portion, best suited for two to share.

“Army stew” is an invention of South Koreans after the Korean War. As food shortages persisted, locals scrambled up surplus processed meats from the U.S. military and cooked them in a spicy soup with kimchi. Its standard ingredient—Spam meat—is beloved in South Korea. During Lunar New Year, the pork product is often packaged in a fancy box and given away as a gift.

“Gimbap” (Korean sushi) is another of the Scotts’ favorites. Gi explains the dish is akin to Korean takeout food; they would eat it on the go or at picnics. Unlike its Japanese cousin, the rice in gimbap is not seasoned with vinegar but salt and sesame oil. It does not require dipping in soy sauce or wasabi. To prevent leftover gimbap from drying out overnight, Gi suggests leaving the sushi rolls on the counter instead of in the refrigerator.

“Japchae” (a sweet potato starch noodle stir-fry) is another beloved Korean dish. Although usually served as a side dish, japchae can also be a stand-alone dish eaten with rice.

Korean Restaurants Around Town

First-timers to Korean food should take a quick crash course at Korean Grill. You will find a selection of assorted dishes displayed in a food-warmer cabinet; the owner readily offers honest advice and a generous portion to guarantee a good dining experience.

Cody recommends ordering “galbitang”—a clear soup with beef short ribs—and “doenjang-jjigae”—a spicy (if made traditionally), fermented soybean paste stew. Korean Grill offers three other famous dishes—“sundae,” a Korean-style blood sausage; “kkori gomtang,” an oxtail soup; and “jokbal,” a steamed pig feet dish. Those items are “hidden from the menu,” so diners must order in advance for such delicacies.

Gi’s top three picks for Korean eateries are Korean Grill, Korea King, and Maru. Rather than ordering soup, her go-to dishes usually contain some seafood, such as octopus.

Korea King offers communal family-style Korean food. The chef there used to work at Maru. “Their ‘ojingeo-bokkeum’ [spicy stir-fried squid], ‘kkori gomtang’ [oxtail soup] and ‘chicken bulgogi’ [bulgogi is a grilled meat dish] are good,” Gi says. “Maru, on the other hand, serves personal-size dishes. I like their chicken bulgogi, ‘jjamppong’ [Korean spicy seafood noodle soup], and ‘jajangmyeon’ [Korean black bean sauce noodles].”

“Go to Korean Grill for soup; go to Korean House Restaurant for grilled meat,” Cody advises. Korean House Restaurant is located right outside of Offutt Air Force Base and is known for its great prices. Cody recommends its grilled beef. You can also find Korean street food “tteok-bokki” (spicy Korean rice cake stir-fry) there. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and between 5 and 8 p.m.

Suji’s Korean Grill has recently reinvented its entire menu and introduced Korean built-in table grills to the Aksarben area. Cody says he has not been to the restaurant since its updates, but he used to enjoy the “Chipotle-style” Korean food Suji’s offered.

The 2.0 version of Suji’s is booming with business. On any given weeknight, a steady stream of diners awaits to feast on its $35-per-person endless Korean barbecue, which begins with a platter of high-quality fresh meats, including rib-eye, chicken breast, pork belly, flank steak, pork jowl, and brisket; complemented with a steamed egg dish, banchan, and bowls of rice. A picture of the meal on social media will guarantee meat envy.

In Ralston, you will find authentic Korean food at Korea Garden. Its banchan is all house-made and tastes delicious. Although the Scotts had not tried Korea Garden at the time of our interview, I highly recommend an order of the “nakji bokkeum” (stir-fried baby octopus) at Korea Garden.

Local Korean Eats

Korean Grill
1408 Harlan Drive
Bellevue, NE 68005

Korean House Restaurant
2413 Lincoln Road
Bellevue, NE 68005

Korea King
4719 S. 96th St.
Omaha, NE 68127

Korea Garden Restaurant
5352 S. 72nd St.
Ralston, NE 6812

Maru Korean & Sushi Restaurant
5032 S. 108th St.
Omaha, NE 68137

Suji’s Korean Grill
1303 S. 72nd St., No. 101
Omaha, NE 68124

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A selection of dishes from Suji’s.

Mural Man

June 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Visual artist Mike Giron’s creative life spans studio practice, teaching, and working with A Midsummer’s Mural and South Omaha Mural Project teams.

“In my studio work, I have no idea what’s going to happen—I just go. I’m not forcing or insisting on anything. The work creates itself in some crazy way,” Giron says. “When it comes to murals, it’s a lot more deliberate. You have to propose a design before you begin. So, I live in these two different worlds, and I think it’s keeping me balanced.”

The New Orleans native came to Omaha in the early 1990s by way of Colorado, where he met his ex-wife, an Omaha native. After her father died, the couple moved here with the intent of restoring her family home, selling it, and returning to Colorado. But Omaha proved a good place to raise their two children, so they stayed.

Giron, 45, taught art at Bellevue University and ran the campus gallery. Today, he’s a Metropolitan Community College adjunct instructor.

Without knowing it, he prepared to be a muralist through his experience painting Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans. Walls are not so different from float structures—they’re big and imperfect. And just as he used cut-out panels on floats, he does the same with murals.

“The Polish mural is the clearest example,” he says. “There was a downspout, a chimney, and a fence around an air conditioning unit, and we used cut-outs to hide those things. It gave a 3D pop-up look effect. It also breaks the frame to extend beyond the box of the building.”

Patience is a virtue for a muralist.

“Murals take a long time—maybe two months,” he says. “Unless you really practice your Zen, you’ve got to make it enjoyable to keep on doing it every day.”

The social contract of public art and the collaborative nature of murals means you’d better like people. He does. You’d better like working big, too.

“Once you experience large-scale production, it’s hard to go back to small paintings,” he says. “Although I still consider myself a studio painter, there’s also something about doing large work. You can’t help but see a wall and go, ‘Oh, that would be perfect for this statement.’ And then the physicality of the work feels good. You’re carrying stuff all the time; you’re up and down ladders. The brush strokes are not just a flick of the wrist.”

But Giron says the real reason he and his fellow muralists do it is because “we’re channeling the voices of people who can’t do this, and we take pride in that.” He says, “We feel good about delivering something that people feel does express them.”

The process for the South Omaha murals involves deep community immersion.

“The more you immerse and personally connect with the people on a street level, the more you’re going to be trusted by that community, and the more they’ll open up and allow you in,” he says.

The South O murals feature diverse looks.

“Some fall into naturalism, and others go into some other place,” he says, “That’s interesting to me because it’s not the same. Rather than a signature style, I would prefer they look like they were done by different people.”

They are. Giron works with Richard Harrison, Rebecca Van Orman, and Hugo Zamorano. Neighbors contribute stories and ideas at community meetings. Residents and students participate in paint days and attend unveiling celebrations.

The works are an extension of the new South Omaha Museum, whose director, historian Gary Kastrick, conceived the murals project. Giron serves on the museum board. He enjoys digging through Kastrick’s artifact collection and preparing exhibits, including a replica of an Omaha Stockyards pen.

The idea is for the museum, the murals, and Kastrick’s history tours to spark a South O renaissance keying off the district’s rich heritage and culture. Muralists like Giron share a bigger goal to “make Omaha a destination for public art.” He says murals are a great way to enhance the city’s visual aesthetic and to engage the community. Besides, he says, murals “demonstrate to the public there is an arts community here” in a visible way galleries cannot.

Giron is impressed by the Omaha arts explosion. “There’s so much going on and so many young artists hitting the scene making a big impact,” he says.

Meanwhile, he continues to create studio art. His series On the Brighter Side of Post-Apocalyptic Minimalism employed fire-singed materials to make their satirical marks.

“With the process-oriented stuff I’m doing now, there’s a huge amount of variety, even though I’m just using grids,” he says, explaining that his personal artworks have moved away from rules of perspective and representational dictates of realism.

“When you don’t use any of that, all you have is the process and the visual reality of things—line, shape, value, color, texture, and space,” he says. “When you start playing in that area, where there’s no limits in terms of defining what things should be or should look like, you find it’s actually inexhaustible.”

He intends to follow “the course of my curiosity,” adding, “If you are really free as an artist, then you just follow whatever’s interesting to you.”

New murals keep beckoning, though. “I get pulled into all this work. You set yourself up for a fall, but the fall is where all the good stuff happens,” he says.

Having completed Czech, Lithuanian, Polish, Mexican, Metropolitan Community College, and Magic City murals for the South O project, Giron and company are now working on a Croatian mural. Irish, Italian, African-American, and Stockyards murals are still to come.

Visit amidsummersmural.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Java Journey

April 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like many who guzzle black gold, Sagar Gurung started downing coffee purely for utilitarian reasons.

The taste—he could have done without.

Sagar Gurung

“I started for the caffeine,” Gurung says. “When I took that first sip, I said, ‘What the hell is this? It’s bitter.’ I would add a lot of sugar, milk, and cream to it.”

Gurung has come a long way in his java journey. He is the founder and part-owner of one of Omaha’s newest non-chain caffeine joints, Himalayan Java Coffee House. It launched in June 2016 at 329 S. 16th St., across from the Orpheum Theater on Harney Street.

Not that long ago, what Gurung knew about coffee didn’t amount to a hill of beans. He has worked as a business analyst (currently for Valmont Industries) after earning a degree in computer science from Bellevue University in 2004. Gurung was born in Chitwan, Nepal, but lived mostly in India until he moved to Omaha in the 10th grade to live with his older sister. He graduated from Omaha Gross High School.

He took regular trips back home to Nepal, and it was during one of those trips that he went from coffee novice to coffee aficionado. The spark was a visit to Himalayan Java Coffee, a franchise launched in 1999 by Gagan Pradhan and Anand Gurung in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Nepal is mostly a tea-loving country, but Pradhan and Anand Gurung were changing that with a concept utilizing small coffee farmers whose harvest had mostly been going outside the country. Nepalese farmers were more likely to grow millet or maize than they were coffee, which wasn’t introduced to the country until 1938 by a hermit who brought seeds from Myanmar (then Burma).

By the 1970s Nepalese farmers were beginning to pay attention to coffee as a serious cash crop. Today, it’s grown in nearly three dozen districts, thriving in one of the highest elevations in the world.

Pradhan and Anand Gurung, according to Sagar, “introduced coffee to Nepal,” showing countrymen how it should be planted, raised, roasted, brewed, and imbibed. Their efforts resonated—today, more than 20 Himalayan Java shops have been introduced in Nepal.

On Sagar’s first visit to Himalayan Java Coffee in Nepal, “I instantly loved everything they were doing,” he says. He began to lobby the duo to let him bring their brand and their coffee to his adopted homeland. He also proposed the idea to Nepalese friends who lived in Omaha, asking them to join as partners.

Finally, the founders relented. “I think they just wanted to make me stop bugging them.”

The Nepalese founders are more like “strategic partners” than they are franchisees, Sagar says, but the Omaha Himalayan Java buys all its coffee from its Nepalese counterpart.

It’s a competitive market in Omaha, dominated by national and local chains. Sagar says such competition only gave him more reason to launch Himalayan Java here. And none of the others in Omaha can offer the distinct Arabica flavor available in his store.

“Coffee has a natural tendency to embody its environment,” Sagar says. “So the taste you get is very unique to the area you grow in.”

He appears to have picked an ideal location for the startup. Customers come frequently from the Orpheum across the street, of course, but Himalayan Java also gets employees from nearby Union Pacific, First National, OPPD, other downtown businesses, students from Creighton and UNMC, and downtown denizens.

Himalayan Java offers a full complement of caffeinated beverages—espressos, cappuccinos, mochas, lattes, and more. The No. 1 seller, Sagar says, is the “Dark Roast 4.” The menu also includes sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Sagar says customer retention has been strong and that word-of-mouth marketing has helped  Himalayan Java enjoy 15- to 20-percent growth month over month. Enough that he’s had at least preliminary discussions about expanding to a second store.

He’s also heard from enough customers that he plans to introduce some home-cooking with a menu that should include Nepalese goat and chicken curry; “thukpa,” an intensely flavored noodle soup; and “momos,” spicy Nepalese dumplings typically filled with marinated minced meat.

“I want to introduce Nepali items you can’t get anywhere else in town,” he says.

For now, though, he’s intent on making sure Himalayan Java makes a name for itself with its roasts — something customers should recognize just steps inside.

“We are a coffee house, and it is a beautiful thing to walk into a store and the aroma hits you,” he says.

It took him a while to get there, but he says the taste is even better.

“Now I like my coffee dark with no sugar, no milk, or cream,” Sagar says. “I just love the way our coffee tastes.”

He’s hoping more and more Omahans will agree.

Visit himalayanjavausa.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June edition of The Encounter.

The Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation (NICF) President James Johnson Ph.D. is used to change. Dr. Johnson, his wife, Lesa, and his Harley-Davidson moved to Omaha four years ago, after serving respected stints at a handful of universities across the nation. Such positions included president of Ohio Valley University in West Virginia, and director of forensics and assistant to the provost at Texas A&M University.

The communication skills he has gained after a lifetime in education are making a difference in the lives of underprivileged college students in Nebraska. “We raise scholarship funds to help needy students in Nebraska attend Nebraska colleges, primarily independent colleges,” he says.

Founded in 1953, the NICF has a staff of three and is about to get a whole lot busier as they prepare to double their size and serve more schools. Currently, they raise scholarship funds for the students of Union College, Bellevue University, York College, and Hastings College.

Johnson says that, statistically, students who come out of independent colleges are hired quicker than state school graduates and they are promoted faster.

JamesJohnson1“I think it’s because of some of the types of students that private colleges attract and also smaller class size, smaller teacher/student ratio (that allows) more individual attention in the classroom,” he says.

Johnson says that the schools they currently work with are leaders in certain fields. “York, for example has an excellent teacher preparation program. Union has a very good physician assistants program with a waiting list on it. Bellevue is probably, in my opinion, one of the leaders in nontraditional programs. Hastings has such a vibrant legacy and heritage and history that speaks well for all of their programs.”

Since Johnson began his teaching career in 1983 as a professor of communication at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, he has seen the average age of a student increase.

“When I started teaching, the average age of a college student was about 23,” Johnson says. “Now the average age of the college student today is closer to 30. We have so many more adults going back to retrain or going back to make career changes.”

A recipient of the 2008 President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was presented by President George W. Bush, Johnson enjoys teaching and the relationships he has with students. He says he is able to fulfill his desire to teach through his leadership consulting firm, Ethos Leadership Group, where he serves as chief executive officer.

Johnson notes that the NICF has an annual golf tournament that has grown in attendance by 50 percent over the past four years. The tournament raises awareness and provides an opportunity for fundraising. NICF accepts donations from both corporate and individual donors.

“I enjoy being able to tell donors, when they write me a $1,000 check, that $1,000 is going to scholarships.”

Johnson has his eyes set on a big prize for the foundation—a fundraising challenge of $2.5 million. If NICF reaches that goal by the end of the year, an independent donor will match that sum, bringing the total to $5 million raised. Now that’s enough money for a lot of books.

Visit nicfonline.org for more information. B2B

Mission,Passion, & Joy

August 18, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Roger Garcia has a lot of work to do—relationships to build, programs to create, grants to obtain, and people to help.

Yet the 29-year-old dismisses the notion that his role is “work.” He prefers words like mission, passion, and joy; all of which compelled Garcia on his daily commute to Lincoln’s outreach center for Hispanic and Latin Americans.

Garcia served as director of Lincoln’s El Centro de las Americas from 2012 until recently, when he accepted a similar role as the executive director of Centro Latino of Council Bluffs. Although Garcia is happy to “work” closer to his wife, Yanira, and their south Omaha home, his drive to help the community still borders on obsessive.

In each person that Garcia helps, he sees the struggle that his mother, Margarita, endured decades ago.

Initially an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, Margarita gained a path to citizenship through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Roger’s father, a documented Mexican immigrant, was psychologically abusive and controlling. By 1994, Margarita had enough of him and Los Angeles. She took her youngest of three sons and left for the third and final time.

She grabbed 8-year-old Roger and packed up the few things she owned. Somehow, she coaxed a beat-up old Buick nearly 1,500 miles eastward into Nebraska. She eventually landed in Columbus for a job with the meatpacking industry. Holding only one job satisfied neither her work ethic nor demands on her pocketbook. She took up welding, baking, even cosmetology—whatever it took. Today, her knees are shot, but she owns and manages three rental properties between Omaha and Columbus.

Roger-Garcia-2“She loves this country, and she worked her butt off,” says Garcia, who remembers his mother going to work at 4 a.m. so she could get him to school every morning during her break. “People like my mom just want to work hard and provide for their family.”

The people who come through Garcia’s door are reminiscent of his mother. They are looking for the same things. They want a better life for their children. They don’t readily ask for handouts, he says.

Garcia’s commitment to the region’s Latino community runs deeper than esteem and pride for his mother’s accomplishments. He grew up in rural Nebraska. He feels compelled to help those enduring similar experiences.

He encountered racism in childhood. Once, a pair of white adults accosted Garcia and his fourth-grade classmate with racial slurs. The adults kicked the kids off their bicycles. Such experiences motivated a short-lived denunciation of his heritage in the fifth grade. “I said, ‘No, I’m not Mexican. I’m not Honduran,’” says Garcia, clearly pained by the memory. “I didn’t want to be discriminated against.”

Thanks to music, Garcia eventually found solace and comfort in his own skin. “Through American rock music, I learned that it doesn’t matter how you look,” he says.

His sense of ethnic identity became more complex while pursuing dual degrees in psychology and Latino/Latin American studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The occasional volunteer worker at the Omaha Boys and Girls Club found his calling. By the time he finished his undergraduate studies, he had earned UNO’s vice chancellor award for student leadership.

He moved on to Bellevue University to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, and became more immersed in Omaha’s Latino community. He met with elected officials, served as a community liaison for then-Mayor Jim Suttle, and met with other college campus groups and leaders.

He joined El Centro de las Americas in Lincoln as the center’s director and quickly elevated it to new heights. Beatty Brasch, the executive director of Lincoln’s Center for People in Need and a board member of El Centro, laments Garcia’s recent departure.

“He did a remarkable job. He brought the community together and developed programs there for a lot of people,” she says. “We’re sorry he’s leaving. I wish he stayed.”

His list of accomplishments garnered a new accolade in 2015 when he was listed as one of the Jaycees’ Ten Outstanding Young Omahans in the 83rd annual TOYO! awards.

That’s what happens when a passion becomes “a calling on a spiritual level.”

As Garcia and his future wife, Yanira, built their relationship, they also forged a deeper connection to their Christian faith.

“On our first date he asked me if I would ever date anybody who wasn’t a believer,” she says. “I said, ‘No.’”

Two years later, in 2015, they were married, and Roger is now pursuing a doctorate in theology with an eye toward possibly launching his own ministry.

Until then, there is indeed a lot to be done, but none of it should be confused with toil.

“It’s what we should all be doing as believers,” he says. “It’s not an obligation. It’s a joy. It’s a joy to spread His love.”

Visit sucentrolatino.com for more information.


June 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was printed in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Many job seekers from Omaha’s inner-city neighborhoods currently think La Vista might as well be Lincoln—or Egypt. That may not be the case much longer. Linda Dugan, vice president of Global Operations at PayPal, has spearheaded a plan to connect PayPal’s suburban office complex with new hires from North Omaha.

A cohort of 28 new customer service employees began using a pilot transportation program to travel to and from PayPal on May 4.

Dugan explains the program’s logic: “Our idea is that if transportation is a barrier, and we can provide a service from the North Omaha community out to our La Vista office and provide return transportation, then we’re going to help enable them to have a really rewarding career with PayPal; and at the same time bring talented and highly engaged team members into our organization.”

Dugan has pondered transportation accessibility for some time. During board meetings for the Sarpy County Economic Development Council, she listened to other La Vista area businesses lament how some potential hires are logistically incapable of considering job opportunities in Omaha’s outer suburbs.

“Not everyone has a car, not everyone can drive, but we do have the expectation of attendance,” Dugan says. “If their car might not make it 40 miles back and forth every day, they self-select themselves out of consideration. Hopefully by solving this (problem of accessibility), we will get some teammates who want to commit to us because we are willing to commit to them.”

Many people want to commit to PayPal because of their extensive benefits.

“I would put our benefits up against anyone in the community and believe that ours would still exceed,” she says, speaking from a conference room in the first of PayPal’s two adjacent offices, which house 2,500 employees (working in customer service, technical support, fraud prevention, corporate communications, and other capacities).

The company’s comprehensive benefits package begins on new employees’ first day and covers everything from family to pets. PayPal also offers tuition reimbursement, and Bellevue University teaches accelerated degree courses in undergraduate and graduate levels after regular business hours at the La Vista office.

No matter how good PayPal’s employment benefits might be, unreliable transportation could force job candidates out of the talent pool.

“I am so hopeful that our pilot can prove what I think it can, that by removing the barrier of transportation we can get really great talent that wants the career opportunities,” says Dugan.

The north Omaha transportation program resulted from a brainstorming session with her boss, John McCabe. “We were talking about opportunities and talent, and I proposed an idea of addressing possible barriers in the community for transportation,” Dugan says.

He liked the idea. McCabe agreed to fund a nine-month pilot program. Dugan’s next phone call was to David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. She explained how she hoped to incentivize talent acquisition from north Omaha with PayPal-funded complementary transportation.

“He was amazing!” Dugan says of Brown. More community outreach followed. Brown’s team helped PayPal network with agencies, keeping a pulse on the employment needs of Omaha’s inner-city community.

Representatives from Goodwill and the Urban League joined the discussion, followed two months later by Metro Transit, Omaha’s public transportation provider. The coalition eventually developed a blueprint for a transportation program that allows PayPal to leverage the Urban League and Goodwill’s talent pool while coordinating routes with Omaha’s existing busing infrastructure.

They organized two job fairs during March in north Omaha. Soon after, the company began extending job offers. PayPal’s buses would depart from the North Omaha Transit Center (near 30th and Ames), which is already connected to other bus lines throughout Omaha’s inner-city neighborhoods.

“Our hope is that this cohort demonstrates the same level of engagement that we have received from our talent from across the community, and that will help us see if we are on the right track,” says Dugan. “We are really hopeful that it will make a difference, that it will be great for our customers and great for the community.”

Dugan has deep family roots in the north Omaha community. Her grandmother was a member of Omaha North High School’s first graduating class. Dugan, her brother, and her parents also graduated from the school.

Now she’s able to give back to the Omaha neighborhood that nurtured her.

“It’s all about community,” she says. “Go Vikings!”


The Law of the Land

June 9, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in Summer 2015 edition of B2B.

The awards and accolades keep coming Deryl Hamann’s way, but the 82-year-old Omaha attorney has a decisively modest take. “You stay around long enough and they have to recognize you.”

The latest honor was the 2014 Douglas E. Parrott Faith in Action Award from Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. Hamann is grateful and humbled by the recognition, but, he feels he isn’t doing anything extra. In fact, he’s enjoying the slower pace these days.

“I come to the office every day, but I don’t work very hard,” Hamann says from his office high up in the Woodmen of the World building. “Mostly I just ferry my wife around.”

Hamann still has some long-time clients he tends to. And he is always there to offer up advice as needed to the younger attorneys at Baird Holm, the firm he’s been with since 1959.

Yes, the praise is nice and all, but that’s not what drives Hamann. He’s still the Iowa farm boy who worked his way through law school and went on to become one of the state’s most respected experts on banking and corporate law, not to mention the CEO of a large banking organization. Hamann says he is driven by the satisfaction that comes from showing up to work each day and serving his clients.

It’s a work ethic learned on the dusty farmlands of his north-central Iowa youth.

Hamann learned early on that there is no substitute for hard work. If asked about the accolades, you’ll get some pleasant comments. But talk to him about those early years managing the local drive-in north of Fort Dodge, Iowa, or clerking for U.S. District Judge Robert Van Pelt, and you’ll get a sense of what drove Hamann to success.

The combination of work ethic and intelligence led Hamann into the banking business in 1971 with the purchase of a small bank in southern Iowa. That led to him becoming the chairman and chief executive officer of Great Western Bank, which grew to over 100 locations in six states before selling in 2008.

Hamann is also a trustee and past president of the Nebraska State Bar Association; former chairman of the board of trustees at Bellevue University; a director of the University of Nebraska Foundation and chairman of its Investment Committee; and, also, former chairman of the Bethphage Foundation. In 2011, he was designated Corporate Lawyer of the Year in Omaha by Best Lawyers in America.

“Those were pretty busy years,” he says of balancing his career and raising four children, and later, three stepchildren.

Hamann graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1956 as an undergraduate. He received his law degree in 1958, the same year he clerked for Judge Van Pelt, a man who he says had a big impact on him and his career path. “The phrase ‘a gentleman and a scholar’ could have been invented just for him,” Hamann says.

Hamann recalls his first job, cutting cockleburs with a corn knife and helping with the chores around the little farm “a quarter mile down a mud lane just off a gravel road.”

Growing up during the Great Depression taught Hamann the value in helping others. And in treating other people right. “There is great satisfaction in being able to help someone in need, especially when you grow up without much,” he says. “Back then, things were not that lush.”

Times have changed, no doubt. But for Hamann, some things are constant, like the value of lessons one learns early on and, hopefully, never loses sight of.

Deryl Hamman

Battling the Effects of Fatherlessness

May 30, 2014 by

Tunette Powell is a local inspirational speaker, writer, and mother who is now guiding those affected by fatherlessness.

It’s a journey she knows all too well.

“My father was addicted to drugs,” Powell says, “and I grew up with my single mother. She had a limited education, so we struggled. It was very, very tough. My father was in and out of prison. If he wasn’t in prison, he was on the streets using drugs.”

Originally from San Antonio, Powell spent much of her childhood in trouble as well. From being kicked out of daycare to skipping many classes her senior year of high school, Powell went through it all. She graduated only by paying a fine and making up skipped days in Saturday classes.

The pattern continued after she graduated.

“I made a lot of reckless decisions, dropped out of college for awhile, and just kind of struggled to find my way,” she says. “But then I started writing. I got with some guys that were doing hip hop music, and I wrote about my father and how much it hurt me. I started connecting the pieces. All this time, a lot of my struggles were because I didn’t have my father. Because I didn’t see the connection there, I didn’t see that it mattered so much that I didn’t have him.”

The song that she wrote and the revelation that went along with the experience led her to the work she is doing now. Powell functions as CEO of The Truth Heals, a program that focuses on helping women and youth affected by fatherlessness find hope and healing. The program, which is getting off the ground through Powell’s nationwide motivational speaking on the topic, hosted its first six-week workshop in April.

The workshop focused on middle and high school girls growing up without fathers. It also catered to the single mothers who raise them.

“We want to show them that there is hope,” Powell says. “So there’s this idea that we cannot replace a father—and we know that—but what we can do is equip single mothers with the resources that they need to be able to stand in that gap.”

Based around the idea of “daddyless to destiny,” Powell hopes the workshops show these children and their single parents that they can still make it. Self-awareness, depersonalization, releasing, capacity building, and sustainability are all key elements of The Truth Heals programs.

“The biggest piece for us is that we feel you have to tell your story, let it go, and create a new story to tell,” Powell says of the method they like to call “TLC.”

Powell says it’s about doing what they can to help the kids create that new story.
Before the workshop became reality, the people at The Truth Heals offered and will continue to offer other services to single parents. Community donations allowed the organization to take five families shopping for kids’ holiday gifts. They’re doing Mother’s Day Makeovers for single moms and helping families with such out-of-pocket expenses as graduation caps and gowns and letterman’s jackets. Powell also does one-on-one mentoring with single parents and those affected by fatherlessness. Their goal is to help anyone that comes to them, no matter the age or situation.

To make all of this possible, The Truth Heals partners closely with many community organizations, including Teddy Bear Hollow, CP3O, Bellevue University, and Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare.
One of the major partnerships The Truth Heals has in place is with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. UNO has been responsible for helping spread awareness of the issue of fatherlessness through theater productions, their branch of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), and through individual help from professors.

Natalie Smith, a junior at UNO, got involved with The Truth Heals as an education specialist because of her mother, an academic advisor at UNO who is also helping the organization.

“My mom was a single mother,” Smith says. “I can automatically relate to the program in general and I feel a strong pull towards helping youth.”

Smith has been instrumental in coming up with continuing education ideas for youth after the six-week workshops end, as well as brainstorming other ways to help kids succeed in school. One focus is tutoring.

“We want them to have a place to come that’s close to home so they don’t have to travel too far, so we want to do it at the local libraries in their neighborhoods, in every part of town,” Smith says. “There’s a library in North Omaha, South Omaha, central … there’s a library, thank goodness, in every area, so we want them to be able to come to the library, have set hours, and be able to study, get tutoring, extra help, anything you need to get focused.”

The Truth Heals is a community effort. According to Powell, two thirds of the children in North Omaha are growing up without a father.

“We know that it’s a problem, we know that people are hurting, we know that the statistics show us that these kids are going to have to beat the odds, but we want to make beating the odds the norm,” Powell says. “So that’s why we need to put this in place. It’s about the community
coming together.”

Powering Across the Finish Line

January 6, 2014 by

It was man versus machine. An epic competition of tug-o-war. A true test of physical and mental strength. An all-out battle to the finish line where everyone who competed was a winner.

On May 18, Performance Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Bellevue hosted a truck pull for charity. Six local teams pulled heavyweight Ram trucks, competing to raise money for their favorite charities. The dealership gave away more than $4,000 in cash prizes at its first annual Performance Community Truck Pull. The grand prize of $1,500 went to the wrestling team from Bellevue East High School. The team raised money to support the costly medical treatments for their fellow East graduating senior, Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year.

Tyrone Williams, president and general manager of Performance, says the concept for the truck pull was devised by his managers and Carroll Communications. “We are having discussions about this being an annual event. I was looking for an event to introduce the dealership to the Bellevue community as well support the community,” he says. In a family-friendly atmosphere that boasted food, fun, and face painting, the dealership encouraged the community to not only support their favorite competing team but also to simply take a look around the new facility.

The team from Bellevue East High School pulls a 2500 Ram truck at the Performance Bellevue dealership to raise money for graduating senior Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma last year. East Principal Brad Stueve runs alongside the team cheering them on.

The team from Bellevue East High School pulls a 2500 Ram truck at the Performance Bellevue dealership to raise money for graduating senior Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma last year. East Principal Brad Stueve runs alongside the team cheering them on.

Performance ensured that none of the six competing teams walked away empty handed. Teams included Bellevue University, Bellevue East High School, Bellevue West High School, Bellevue Community Foundation, Offutt Police, and Bellevue Fire and Police. “The turnout was excellent, and the store donated over $4,200 to the charities. Carroll Communications, the Bellevue Chamber, and Mayor Rita Sanders were very instrumental in helping us pull the event off,” Williams says.

Matt Briggs, head coach of men’s soccer at Bellevue University, says he was grateful that his team competed in such a charitable cause. “We raised money for the Wounded Warrior Family Support group and raised $750,” he shares.

The Bellevue Community Foundation also competed, winning $250 to support the city of Bellevue. Mayor Sanders says she was thrilled with the funds raised and equally excited that they would be going toward the newly created Bellevue Community Foundation. “It came about through the City of Bellevue strategic plan,” she says. “I was tasked to start a community foundation so we can help the community raise money individually or privately. The Community Foundation can help aid with some of the support systems through the city.”