Tag Archives: Benson High School

Have Marcey

September 14, 2017 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

When North Omaha native Marcey Yates talks about music, his face lights up and it’s as if everything makes sense in his world. From conversations swirling around hip-hop to his wild tales of past encounters with various artists, the 31-year-old lives and breathes his passion for music—and it all started at church.

Yates grew up on 49th and Fort streets, just north of Ames Avenue, where religion played an integral role in his community. The young Yates would often spend time with grandparents, who lived on 19th and Sprague streets, not too far from the home he shared with his mother and father. His grandfather was a pastor at the Church of God and Christ, and would routinely take him to service, where Yates started singing.

“I would say religion was big in my family and the black community,” Yates says. “It was definitely passed on through generations. Church got me into music on both sides of family, and it kept me in church until I was in high school. I sang in the choir.”

After graduating from Benson High School in 2003, he went on to take a few classes at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before leaving for Arizona, where he enrolled at the Conservatory School of Recording Arts and Sciences. By this time, his older brother Jeff had already introduced him to underground hip-hop and artists like Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan, Slum Village, Jay-Z, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. He felt it was time to learn how to make his own signature style of music and establish himself as a credible MC/producer.

“I wanted to focus more on the tech side of music and the other side of the industry,” he explains. “I learned how to make this a business and not just be a rapper. I was able to get a lot practice working on my skill and style doing shows. I got turned down in Arizona, but I had some great experiences. I met Canibus [rapper], who told me about his beef with LL Cool J, and once I was with Method Man passing around a joint in the VIP section.”

Shortly after, the self-proclaimed hip-hop head relocated back to Omaha in 2012. Since then has put much of his energy into the hip-hop collective Raleigh Science Project, which he founded in 2009.

“I established the Raleigh Science Project after my last son [Raleigh] was born,” he explains. “It started as my imprint for my music, but I expanded into a collective after bringing artists on board who shared my vision on hard work and good music. [We had] a focus on building up the hip-hop scene in a positive light, so I wanted to strip the negative vibe associated with hip-hop in my community. That means consistency, quality, showmanship, and being professional.”

The father of three is currently working on the annual New Generation Music Festival—now in its second year—an all-inclusive concert that promotes community awareness, drives traffic and support to other local nonprofits, and provides a platform to retain local talent.

“Our mission is to provide a world-class music festival that promotes inclusion and provides economic opportunities for local businesses, organizations and artists,” he says. “We want to cultivate local talent and artistry as a means to a more secure and sustainable economy in the urban core communities. There are so many resources out here that the people don’t know about because information isn’t made readily available
to everyone.”

Aside from the festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 16 at Aksarben’s Stinson Park, the busy creative is working on a documentary about the life and times of Marcey Yates, a solo EP, a mixtape series titled Chicken Soup, and the Flamboyant Gods II project with local rapper Mars Black.

“I’m constantly working on a new project,” he says. “I want to be one of the hardest-working guys in
the industry.

“Music is the only freedom that is really free,” he continues. “There are no rules to making music. It’s total creativity and a space you can go to anytime. Music is your life soundtrack for every genre in your life—from comedy to drama to suspense. When I get depressed or really bugged out, I create music to pull myself out of the sunken place. Everyone should have a creative hobby or passion because what is important to you, you will cherish and be passionate about.”

Visit op2mus.bandcamp.com to hear Yates’ work.

Isiah Gandy

August 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If there was a sport at Boys Town, Isiah Gandy didn’t just play it. He excelled at it.

As a high school freshman, he was instrumental in Boys Town’s push through the state basketball playoffs to win the 2006 championship, the school’s first title in 40 years.

As a senior quarterback, he led the Cowboys football team to the Class C-1 championship (although they lost the final game). 

He also ran cross country and participated in the triple jump and high jump in track and field. But his first—his strongest—sport was always basketball, a game he picked up on the local court near his childhood home of West Palm Beach, Florida.

“My dad played basketball, and we shot baskets in the backyard when I was a kid, so it’s something I’ve always loved,” says Gandy.

After Boys Town, he bounced around college programs. Following one year at Des Moines Area Community College, and two seasons on court with the UNO Mavericks, Gandy transferred to Minot State University in North Dakota for his junior and senior years.

Now, Gandy has the opportunity to play his favorite game in Omaha again—and get paid for it.

This fall, he will take the court with the newly formed Omaha Chargers of the National Basketball League of America. The first-year league starts this September with a short season ending in November.

“I’ve always had a hunger for basketball,” says Gandy, who has been coaching at his high school alma mater for the past two basketball seasons. “I love the work—the grind—involved with playing basketball and playing it well.

Teams on the Chargers’ schedule are located in Sioux City, Kansas City, and Sioux Falls, and home games will be played at Ralston Arena.

As a shooting guard, Gandy joins a squad with deep ties to the local community. Head coach Rodney Buford played basketball at Creighton University before an NBA career. Point guard C.J. Carter graduated from Omaha Benson High School, was an all-star at UNO, and played professional basketball in Macedonia last season. Shooting guard James Parrott hails from Omaha, and several other teammates have links to regional basketball programs.

Gandy initially came to Omaha via Boys Town when he was 15, and he excelled right away on and off the court.

“Boys Town was a great experience for me because I learned a lot of things that I didn’t get to do in a single-parent home in Florida,” says Gandy. “We never sat down to eat as a family at home, but we did at Boys Town, and that meant something to me. Overall, it was a good experience.”

While he’s excited to play before an audience that he considers to be his home crowd, Gandy also hopes to parlay his playing time with the Chargers into a chance at international pro leagues.

“I found out about the league in April when a friend sent me a link, and I was interested right away,” he says. “This is going to be a great opportunity to see the support the community gives to its sports teams on a professional level.”

Visit omahachargers.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

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Speak, Memory

January 19, 2015 by

I’ve written before about Omaha not being a city of six degrees of separation, but instead being one
of maybe two or three degrees at most. I found out once again how true that was in the steamy confines of a local swimming pool.

A recent Saturday morning found me up at Monroe Middle School working on a story about legendary swimming instructor Rose Baker. She’s been teaching for over half a century and I knew that finding a second-generation parent would be important for that piece, meaning that I was looking for a young parent who was once taught by Baker and was now having his or her kids learn from the same seasoned pro.

It was perhaps no huge surprise to find two such parents at the pool that day. The two degrees of separation here was the fact that both happened to be high school classmates of my eldest son, Eric, the father of my grandkids, Easton (5) and Barrett (3).

The last time I saw Raye Sullivan (nee Bowen), she was probably in a cheerleader get-up across the parking lot at Benson High School. Now she has four kids of her own. Brian Neu was there as well. He was an inner-circle member of the group of kids my son hung out with.

Memory is a funny thing. I tend to remember my kids’ now-adult friends as specimens preserved in a deep freeze. Neu, for example, will forever be a carefree 16-year-old. He will forever be tucked away in my noggin’ as part of the gang of teen guys whose thirst for playful adventures (misadventures?) is now the stuff of family legend.

But Neu isn’t 16 any more. He is now 33. He has a wife and two daughters. He’s trusted to be an electrician, fiddling around with all kinds of dangerous juice. He has a mortgage. He thinks about bills and college for the kids. He’s even probably somewhere along the way learned to pick up his room and put the milk back in the fridge.

That’s the funny thing about memory. It frames how we see and process the world around us, but it is rarely accurate in any true sense and can sometimes be decades out of date, leaving in this case gaping holes in my brain’s Brian and Raye data files.

All of which takes me back to my own grandkids. They are flesh and blood only when we are together in the here and now. The moment we separate they are, like it or not, nothing more than an amalgam of memories, nothing more than electrical impulses ricocheting around in my unreliable noodle.

Which just doesn’t seem fair at all.

I want them to have a corporeal existence outside of and independent of the artificial constructs suggested by my metaphysical meanderings. I don’t want to bank on the often iffy faculty of memory as the only tool which serves to define my grandkids.

I want them to be more. I want them to be real.

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Spit and Polish Patriotism

July 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When local teens talk about hitting the beach this summer, images of carefree days splashing around at Fun-Plex may come to mind. Katie Glessman aims higher. The beach she’s hitting isn’t just any old Omaha beach, but the Omaha Beach…as in the one in France.

The Benson High School student, a member of the school’s vaunted JROTC program, will travel to Normandy with a cadre of Bunnies to represent America during ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

“To represent Benson, the state of Nebraska, and the military at the D-Day events is pretty special,” says Glessman, whose recently bestowed title of Battalion Commander will make her the ranking member of the school’s JROTC program when her senior year begins in August.

Glessman and her band of brothers (and sisters) will, among other duties, parade past a reviewing stand populated by President Barak Obama and the heads of state from England, France, Canada, and Germany. Pretty heady stuff, but the most emotional part of the journey, she says, will unfold in hushed tones in a different area of the famous battlefield.

“All those crosses,” says the soldier who will be confronted with row after row of them at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. “That’s what is most important to me about this trip. All of those little white crosses.”

Each state was invited to send its top JROTC unit to France, and it’s no surprise that the legendary program at Benson, where a full 12 percent of the student body suits up for drills, was selected.

“Our JROTC program is a living, breathing testament to the strong tradition of excellence at Benson High School,” says Principal Anita Harkins-Baldwin.

Over 99% of Benson JROTC cadets graduate, says First Sergeant (Ret.) Daniel Falcon. Omaha Public Schools’ four-year graduation rate in 2013 was a troubling 77.8 percent. Benson’s number was 73.6 percent.

“My thing is working with kids,” says Falcon, who served 24 years in the Army before beginning a 15-year affiliation with the Benson JROTC program. “We have saved a lot of young people from the street with JROTC. Our kids learn structure. They learn responsibility. They learn leadership. Iraq. Afghanistan. Germany. Korea. I’m proud that our cadets have gone on to defend their country all over the world.”

Unlike so many people her age, Glessman has a solid roadmap to a future, one that will be in service to the loftiest of patriotic ideals. She enlisted as a reservist less than a month after her 17th birthday last December. One week after her return from France, she’ll be off to basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In between, Glessman has her sights set on the application process for the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she hopes to study law.

The military covets recruits like Glessman, she of the seemingly cool, calm, and collected demeanor. So is there anything this kid can’t handle?

“All those planes!” says the young lady whose first-ever flight will be the one she boards to hop across the pond to France. “And then the return flight! And then the flight to basic training! Don’t know how that’s going to go for me. We’ll see!”

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Becka’s Back

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The unmistakable voice that many in Omaha have come to love (or, if we’re honest, love to hate) has returned to the airwaves. In January, radio talk show host and Benson High School grad Tom Becka found himself in a familiar seat back in Dundee. (Not a Dundee Dell barstool; although, Becka is known to wax poetic on the air about his love for the Dell’s single malt scotch selection.)

Many recently remember Becka from his weekday afternoon show on KFAB (1110 AM), located in the heart of Dundee. But in October 2011, the decision was made to end Becka’s tenure with KFAB and its parent company, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. Becka insists the decision was issued not locally, but at the corporate level: “I didn’t fit their line-item formula.”

Becka then headed north for about a year, landing a job as program director for an FM talk station in Fargo, N.D. But not long after Becka set up shop, he was lured back to Omaha, sort of, hosting an afternoon talk show on KKAR (1290 AM). KKAR is owned by NRG Media and located in Becka’s old stomping grounds near 50th and Dodge streets. He pulled double-duty for several months: waking pre-dawn to host a morning talk show, managing the radio station and all its moving parts, and then prepping for his two-hour afternoon show in Omaha (broadcasting from a makeshift studio fashioned in his West Fargo apartment).

But the sale of the Fargo radio station gave Becka an opportunity to return to Omaha and pursue radio full-time…once again, in his beloved Dundee. “The Tom Becka Show” airs from 2 to 6 p.m. on 1290 AM, now dubbed the Mighty 1290 KOIL. “I am genuinely excited about helping rebuild this legendary radio station,” Becka says. “By working at 1290 KOIL…I can focus on what is happening here in Omaha, and not have to worry about what they say at the home office in Texas.”

“I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

KFAB was Becka’s home not once, but twice. He launched his talk radio career at “the 50,000-watt blowtorch” in 1994, but left five years later for an on-air job in Kansas City. He returned to Omaha (and KFAB) in 2004, where he remained until his termination in 2011.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Becka moved to Omaha his junior year of high school. (“When you move outside of Omaha and tell people your high school mascot was a bunny, they think you’re making it up.”) He studied at UNO and was active with the university’s radio station, KVNO (90.7 FM).

Although talk radio would become his wheelhouse, Becka fell hard when he discovered rock and roll. An AM Cleveland DJ by the name of Jerry G played popular tracks overnight. “He was the king of Cleveland Top 40 radio. Even though I was supposed to be asleep, I would hide a radio under the blankets and listen until late at night,” he recalls. “I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

Becka’s voice has become his signature statement: fast, high-pitched, loud, and always laced with his own opinion, whether listeners like it or not.

His career has been spent in an industry rife with obstacle, ratings, and setbacks. Becka says he has learned perseverance, adapting to change, and how to maintain friendships when lines are drawn in the sand. “I have fond memories of my time at KFAB and a lot of respect for my friends who are still working there,” Becka says. “But I am really excited about competing against them. I like to think of it as a football player who has been traded to another team. My job is to beat them, but we can remain friends off the field.”

Erich Hover

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Erich Hover still speaks of his father, Ed, in a tone of respect, describing him as a “big, strong, tall, handsome, six-foot-two guy” who liked to fish and hunt, play racquetball, and work in his garden.

“My dad was always strong for us…he always wanted to provide for us…he never wanted us to think that there was anything wrong with him,” Hover says.

But the younger Hover, an actor and producer, will be telling a different story about his father on the big screen. At 62, Ed Hover is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease only four years after his initial symptoms and diagnosis, typifying the early-onset form of the disease (his son prefers the term “younger-onset”) as being particularly aggressive and swift. Erich Hover is currently in pre-production for a feature film that will be based on his family’s experience.

“We want to shed some light on Alzheimer’s disease, and we also want to portray a family that’s sticking together through a very difficult situation. We want to tell an uplifting story…it’s important to me for it not to have to be a downer,” Hover says.

The Hover family at Erich's brother's wedding, 2011. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

The Hover family at Erich’s brother’s wedding, 2011. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

Hover, who graduated from Omaha Benson High School in 1998, launched his acting career eight years ago, appearing in local commercials for Horseshoe Casino, Regency Court, and the Iowa Lottery (he is still remembered for bursting out of a bucket, doused in black oil). In 2006, he left his full-time real estate position and relocated to Los Angeles. Among other films, he’s appeared in 2009’s For the Love of Amy (beloved Omaha actor John Beasley was a lead), and he also had a small role in 2011’s Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt.

The feature film will be his first project serving as a producer, and Hover credits his education over his acting experience with getting him there. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2002 with a degree in organizational communication and a minor in marketing.

“Communications and marketing is kind of what this business is. A film never gets seen unless you find ways of marketing it,” he explains. “It absolutely helped me having that degree. It gave me the confidence that I can go out and produce something,
 create something.”

Hover, who already visits Omaha frequently to see family, says he made a deliberate choice to film in the area, with shooting likely to begin next spring, if not this fall. Local actors will be included in the cast, and he’s also partnering with some of the same Omahans “in the business” who helped him along in his acting career, including filmmaker Derek Baker, Manya Nogg of Actors Etc., and businessman/executive producer Jeff Burton. The three will share producing credits with him.

“We want to shed some light on Alzheimer’s disease, and we also want to portray a family that’s sticking together through a very difficult situation.”

“[Omaha’s] where I was born and raised, and it’s important to me to be able to bring a project back here. And it’s a personal story about me and my family, so I want to keep it as close to home as possible,” he says.

Hover is also excited to have others he’s grown to respect attached to his project. “Jay Giannone, who has acted in such movies as Gone Baby Gone, The Departed, the recently-released Safe, and the upcoming The Iceman, will act in the film, produce with me, and write the screenplay with Eric Watson based on my story,” he said. “Eric will write and direct the film. His credits include Pi (which won The Sundance Film Festival), Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain.”

His movie, in which Hover plays the lead character, is close to home in other ways, too. The film is filled with personal references, from a 1950s pickup truck that refuses to start to dogs with the names of real Hover family pets.

“The people in the film are parallel to my family, and the major elements are actual real-life occurrences my family has gone through,” Hover says. “Even the dialog—the conversations between me and my father—are from things my dad and I have actually said to each other in real life.”

Ironically, Ed Hover watched his mother, now 93, struggle with Alzheimer’s before his own diagnosis. His son says he is acutely aware that the odds of being a third-generation sufferer are significant.

Hover with actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the set of Moneyball. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

Hover with actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the set of Moneyball. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

“I don’t want to live my life in fear, so I want to create something that can help find a cure,” he says. “I don’t have millions that I can donate to research, I’m not a doctor who can be in a lab finding a cure…I’m an actor and a producer, and if I can put something up on the screen that can reach a large audience, well, then, that can increase awareness and hopefully motivate people to take action with their time and their donations to research.”

His family, who is depicted in the movie, has been behind him from the beginning, Hover says.
“I really couldn’t have done this without my parents’ and brothers’ blessing. I mean, we’re talking about something that’s happening with our family, with our father,” Hover says. “My father’s in a place where I don’t know if he’s really exactly aware of what we’re doing, but he has always been supportive of my career…If my dad would have said ‘No, don’t do this movie about me,’ I would not have done it; I would have respected his wishes.

“The fact that he’s in this place where [Alzheimer’s disease] has been so aggressive and he’s so far along with it, I feel like I have to do this for him to honor him and to help other people, including my own family.”