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.
A small, framed black-and-white photo hangs on the living room wall of the Rev. Clifford Stevens’ modest apartment, located on the south campus of Omaha’s famous Village of Boys Town. It shows Monsignor Edward J. Flanagan sitting at his desk, looking up at several teenage boys standing around him.
“That’s me, second from the right,” declares Stevens, pointing to a dark-haired, good-looking 16-year-old with a dimpled grin. “That picture was taken in 1942 to commemorate the school’s 25th anniversary, the year I came to Boys Town.”
As someone who knew the tall, affable Irish priest personally—and those numbers keep dwindling—Stevens never doubted his mentor and biggest champion would one day travel the road to sainthood.
“He was very warm and gentle, with the kindest smile I ever saw in my life,” says Stevens, still energetic and sharp at age 91. “He was very considerate and completely dedicated to the welfare of children.”
The longtime Omaha priest and prolific author recently discontinued presiding over daily Mass at Dowd Chapel, the Catholic house of worship on campus, to concentrate on writing his third biography of Father Flanagan. Stevens expects publication by the fall as part of Boys Town’s centennial celebration.
“Boys Town has been around 100 years and I’ve been part of it for 75 years,” he says with a mixture of pride and wonder.
Those who have benefited directly from the safe haven created by Father Flanagan for poor, orphaned, abused, neglected, or at-risk boys (the school opened its doors to girls in 1980) need no convincing of the priest’s Christ-like presence on earth. Convincing Rome, that’s another story. It takes years and enormous preparation, as dictated by ancient Catholic canon law.
Four boxes filled with leather-bound dossiers attesting to Father Flanagan’s “heroic virtue” arrived at the Holy See in Rome in June 2015, the result of a 2 1/2 year investigation into the priest’s life by the Omaha archdiocese.
“They literally put Father Flanagan’s whole life on trial here in Omaha,” explains Steve Wolf, a member of the Boys Town alumni group that helped ignite the quest for sainthood in 1999. “Everything that could possibly be known about Father Flanagan, through any number of sources, was all examined thoroughly.”
Although 2,000 names precede Father Flanagan’s on the list of sainthood causes, the boxes from Omaha have not sat idly in some Vatican room.
“We know the tribunal in Rome is reviewing the work of the Omaha archdiocese because they’ve been communicating with us here, trying to clarify information or asking for additional testimony,” Wolf says. “It’s absolutely an active, open case, and that’s encouraging.”
Will Rome agree Father Flanagan led a life so good and so holy in service to others that he put his own life in peril? Does he meet the requirement of “historic virtue?” Wolf, a 1980 graduate of Boys Town, sees no other conclusion.
“He received death threats many times because he was without prejudice or discrimination, integrating Boys Town with blacks and kids of Jewish faith,” he says. “The Ku Klux Klan once threatened to burn Boys Town down,” prompting Father Flanagan to respond, “What color is a man’s soul?”
If the case for sainthood didn’t exist, “[Omaha] Archbishop [George] Lucas would never have signed off on it and sent the boxes to Rome,” says Wolf, who readily admits Boys Town turned his life around. The father of five girls now heads The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion, an organization made up of alumni and lay Catholics that focuses on fundraising and forwarding the cause of sainthood through an international groundswell of support. Wolf credits the hard work of Boys Town historian Tom Lynch with enabling a speedy local investigation into Father Flanagan’s life.
“When I was hired by Boys Town 30 years ago as a graduate student in history, our archives weren’t organized,” explains Lynch, chairman of the historical commission that gathered written material for the sainthood cause. “We had about 2 million documents and half-a-million pictures just dumped in the building without rhyme or reason.”
Every day for more than 10 years, Lynch picked up pieces of paper, read them, then placed them in the proper category until the archives became a major resource center. Lynch and his “great crew of volunteers” eventually created a timeline accounting for nearly every day of the priest’s life, from his birth in Ballymoe, Ireland, in 1886, to his death from a heart attack in 1948 while on a goodwill trip to post-war Germany.
Lynch created the Hall of History, where thousands of visitors come every year to learn the story of Boys Town and the man who founded it. When the representative Rome sent to Omaha to investigate the sainthood request saw all the required material on display, he told Lynch, “You’ve taken about 25 years off the process.”
Those closely involved in the cause, though sworn to secrecy, cautiously think all the requisites for beatification and canonization exist. A separate tribunal in Rome is examining two of the 17 alleged miracles attributed to Father Flanagan (after his death), where someone was cured after praying to him, defying medical explanation. If proved, the Vatican will declare him Blessed, followed by a declaration of sainthood.
Father Flanagan began his life with people praying to God on his behalf, offering up pleas for divine intervention. On the day he came into the world, Eddie Flanagan, the eighth of 11 children born to a sheep farmer and his wife in County Roscommon, Ireland, turned blue, then purple and started convulsing. The midwife told the family the baby wouldn’t last the night.
But Eddie’s grandfather, a veterinarian, unbuttoned his flannel shirt, wrapped the newborn in a blanket and held him against his chest. He paced in front of the large kitchen hearth all night, holding the baby close. By morning, the baby’s coloring had returned to normal. Prayers had been answered.
“We believe he was born prematurely, which would explain why the family was so worried those first few days,” says Wolf. It would also help explain why Eddie was susceptible to respiratory problems all his life—health so fragile it nearly derailed his deep desire to follow his older brother, Patrick, into the priesthood.
Illness forced him to leave the seminary twice, once in Yonkers, outside New York City, the other time in Rome. After nearly dying from double pneumonia while studying in New York, his brother Patrick, who had been dispatched from Ireland to minister in “the Middle Western Plains of Nebraska,” suggested Eddie stay with him in Omaha. “The air is clean and brisk here, where your lungs can heal,” wrote Patrick.
The younger Flanagan regained his health in Omaha, but “the archbishop didn’t want him! He thought he was too sickly to become a priest and wouldn’t let him study here,” says Stevens, shaking his head. “So he got a job as an accountant at the Cudahy meat packing plant in South Omaha. That’s where he acquired his business skills.”
The young man finally finished his seminary studies in the warmer climes of Innsbruck, Austria, and returned to Omaha after his ordination in 1912. Five years later, on Dec. 12, 1917, Father Flanagan opened his first Boys Home at 25th and Dodge streets. He had found his calling.
People who only know Father Flanagan from Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1938 movie Boys Town may understand his mission, “but they don’t know this man,” says Wolf. “He was a consultant to world leaders on youth care after World War II. Who did President Truman send to Japan and Germany—countries we had defeated—to assess the problem of displaced or orphaned children? A priest. This priest.”
Almost 70 years after his death, Father Flanagan can still reach out from beyond the grave and touch souls, Wolf believes. He experienced it personally.
Raised in Omaha as a Baptist by a single mom, Wolf had shrugged off all organized religion by the time he graduated from Boys Town, and he held a particular disdain for the Catholic Church. Wolf returned to campus for an alumni convention in 1999, shortly after the group announced plans to seek sainthood for their founder.
“I was sitting in the very last pew of Dowd Chapel for a special Mass that I felt obligated to attend,” he relates, “and I looked over my right shoulder and there’s Father Flanagan’s tomb right there in that little room. Suddenly, I was just overcome, almost crying. Here I am trying to do something to honor him, and I realized I’m not even the kind of kid he would have wanted me to be.”
At that moment, Wolf’s conversion to Catholicism began.
Even historian Tom Lynch, who has immersed himself in all things Flanagan his entire adult life, came away from the tribunal experience with renewed respect for the sanctity of Boys Town’s founder.
“People laughed at him, told him it would never work because he wanted to treat the kids humanely,” Lynch says. “There are no fences or gates around Boys Town. No physical punishment. He was very much their champion.”
As Omaha awaits a decision from Rome, which could take years, Father Flanagan’s legacy continues to better the lives of more than 2 million children and families, with outreach programs and medical services on 11 Boys Town campuses from New York to California.
Father Flanagan must have sensed that his belief in the basic goodness of children would bear fruit. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “… the work will continue, you see, whether I’m here or not, for it’s God’s work, not mine.”
July 13, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan born in Leabeg, County Roscommon, Ireland. Parents: John and Honora (Larkin) Flanagan.
July 18, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan baptized, St. Croan’s Catholic Church, Ballymoe, Ireland. Father Crofton officiated. Godparents: Patrick and Mary Jane Flanagan.
August 27, 1904 – Edward Joseph Flanagan arrived in United States aboard S.S. Celtic, White Star Line.
September 1906 – Edward Joseph Flanagan entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.
May 31, 1907 – Left St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.
July 4, 1907 – John, Nora, and Edward Flanagan arrive in Omaha, Nebraska.
July 26, 1912 – Edward Joseph Flanagan ordained by Bishop Elder for the Brixon Diocese in St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.
July 27, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Mass in the Jesuit Church at St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.
August 25, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at Holy Angels Church, Omaha, Nebraska.
September 5, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick Parish, O’Neill, Nebraska.
March 15, 1913 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick’s Church, Omaha (Pastor: John T. Smith).
February 2, 1915 – The Rev. John T. Smith died. Flanagan became acting pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish.
Mid-January 1916 – Father Flanagan opened the Workingmen’s Hotel in the Old Burlington Hotel, leased by St. Vincent de Paul Society.
July 9, 1916 – Father Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Philomena Parish, Omaha, Nebraska (Pastor: James W. Stenson).
Early September 1916 – Father Flanagan moved Workingmen’s Hotel to Livesay Flats where he could care for 300 men.
December 12, 1917 – Founded Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home.
December 12, 1917 – Flanagan celebrated last Mass as assistant pastor, St. Philomena. Relieved of all parish duties.
May 8, 1919 – Flanagan became a citizen of United States of America.
February 24, 1920 – Articles of Incorporation for Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home filed with state of Nebraska.
Summer 1921 – Began construction of five buildings on Overlook Farm: two school buildings, two dormitories, and a refectory/dining hall.
October 17-22, 1921 – Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home moved to Overlook Farm.
July 2, 1922 – Elected president of Omaha Welfare Board.
September 1925 – Inauguration of periodical radio broadcasts for Father Flanagan broadcast over WOAW, sponsored by Woodmen of the World Insurance.
March 1927 – Father Flanagan moved into new home, Father Flanagan House.
October 12, 1930 – Radio program ”Voice of the Homeless Boy” expanded outside of Omaha.
October 23, 1937 – Flanagan appointed Domestic Prelate with title of “Right Reverend Monsignor” by His Holiness, Pope Pius XI.
November 21, 1937 – Investiture service for Father Flanagan to Monsignor, Boys Town Auditorium.
December 2, 1937 – Appointed to Childrens’ Committee of National Conference of Catholic Charities.
February 20, 1939 – Honorary Life Member of the Boys’ Republic of Arlington, Virginia.
June 26, 1939 – Father Flanagan received First Annual Humanitarian Award from Variety Clubs International. Presented by founder, John W. Harris, at Fontenelle Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska.
November 1939 – Father Flanagan appointed to Board of Diocesan Consultors to succeed Monsignor A. M. Colaneri.
April 2, 1941 – Father Flanagan appointed by governor of California to Governor’s Committee on the Whittier State School.
May 27, 1942 – Father Flanagan received certificate for Distinguished Service on Behalf of the National War Savings Program, U.S. Treasury Department.
November 3, 1942 – Father Flanagan began weeklong war bond tour, during which he sold almost $3 million in bonds.
February 1944 – Father Flanagan made life member of the National Humanitarian Award Committee, Variety Clubs International.
September 5, 1944 – Certificate of Service from U.S. Navy, Letter from Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal to Father Flanagan.
October 17, 1944 – Father Flanagan received letter naming him Number One War Dad in America by the National Council, American War Dads.
February 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan named to National Panel for Study of Juvenile Delinquency Problems by U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark.
April 7, 1946 – Father Flanagan appointed member of the Naval Civilian Committee by Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal.
November 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan received the Kiwanis Medal for Distinguished Service from Kiwanis Club of Lincoln, Nebraska.
February 28, 1947 – Father Flanagan received an invitation from Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to tour Japan on behalf of war orphans, etc.
April 7, 1947 – Father Flanagan left Omaha for Japan and Korea at invitation of Secretary of War Robert Patterson and General Douglas MacArthur regarding juvenile welfare.
July 8-11, 1947 – Father Flanagan went to Washington, D.C., to report to Secretary of War and Navy and President Harry S. Truman.
May 15, 1948 – Died, Berlin, Germany.
May 17, 1948 – Funeral for Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan in Berlin Cathedral. Conrad Cardinal V on Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, officiated.
May 21, 1948 – Funeral for Edward Joseph Flanagan in The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Dowd Memorial Chapel, Boys Town, Nebraska.
Steps Toward Canonization
by Thomas Lynch
Attaining sainthood follows three phases and four steps of recognition. The phases are pre-diocesan, diocesan, and Roman. The levels of recognition are (in sequential order) Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint.
The pre-diocesan phase requires a spontaneous or groundswell of devotion. The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion initiated this first phase of the process.
Omaha archbishop George Lucas initiated the second phase by appointing a tribunal to investigate the life and virtues of Father Flanagan. This is the diocesan phase, during which the candidate is recognized as Servant of God. In a formal ceremony during June 2015, the archbishop advanced the cause to the Vatican for further investigation.
Currently, Father Flanagan is in the Roman phase. A tribunal appointed by the Vatican further investigates the life and virtues of Father Flanagan and the miracles associated with him. The canonization process takes many years. To be canonized a saint, there must be proof of at least two miracles attributed to Father Flanagan that have occurred after his death.
The Vatican determines whether he would be recognized as Venerable based on investigation of miracles attributed to Father Flanagan after his death. After being recognized as Venerable, additional miracles (miracles not already submitted for his canonization cause) must be submitted and verified for Father Flanagan to be formally recognized as Blessed. After the tribunal makes recommendations to the pope, he decides whether to declare the priest a saint of the church. Confirmation of sainthood is then scheduled for an official ceremony at a later date.
This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.
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.”
The poet Longfellow famously wrote, “Into each life some rain must fall.” By that logic, Omaha poet Traci Schacht has survived a series of torrential downpours.
At age 12, Schacht’s mentally ill mother left her negligent father, forcing Schacht to care for herself. That same year, she would turn her first trick and enter her first foster home.
“It was an easy way to make money, but I was too young to know what it all meant,” she says. “To me, it just meant food—chicken versus corn flakes. The cops picked me up and that’s when ‘home’ changed from home to group homes to foster homes.”
Though they’ve since reconciled, Schacht vividly recalls being rejected by her mother, who swiftly remarried and took in her siblings but told a troubled 13-year-old Schacht that she wasn’t welcome.
“My family didn’t want me. That’s when I changed, stopped caring, became violent,” says Schacht, who also escalated her experimentation with drugs. “I so badly wanted my mom to rescue me, to come hug me, tell me everything would be okay. I was so scared and alone.”
She was headed to lockup when Boys Town accepted her, moving Schacht in a better direction. After graduating she attended Nebraska Wesleyan, earning a theater degree.
Next, Schacht moved around a lot—Chicago, Houston, San Francisco—but the places she’s been emotionally and intellectually are the most compelling parts of her story. For example, she traveled vast distances politically, from serving as V.P. of the college Young Republicans in Nebraska to fighting against the death penalty with “a bunch of Marxists” in San Francisco.
In 2007, back in Omaha, the storm continued. Schacht survived a horrible car wreck that crushed her legs, arm, and part of her neck. Her legs were saved but she had trouble walking. In 2010, Schacht requested and received a right leg below-knee amputation, hoping to resume some favorite activities like kayaking as a result. After a subsequent total knee replacement went wrong and infection set in, the leg was amputated above-knee.
“I just bawled. I didn’t want to be an above-knee amputee because it’s harder to walk and you can’t do everything. But eventually I got this cool, computerized leg,” Schacht says, hiking up a pant leg to proudly display the high-tech limb she got in 2013. “Now I’m walking, after years in a wheelchair. I’m
Schacht’s also grateful for a fateful meeting with a medical van driver who, in the course of transporting her home from the hospital, changed her life.
“He offered to read me a poem he’d written,” says Schacht. “I thought, ‘Oh no, this is gonna be some cheesy poetry.’ But it was this awesome, political slam poetry I hadn’t heard before, and I loved it.”
Schacht befriended the driver, who convinced her to try writing poetry. He saw skill in her work and encouraged her to perform the piece at Verbal Gumbo, a monthly open mic welcoming “various artistic expressions.”
“[My poem] was met with such wonderful warmth, and they said I should do another,” says Schacht. “So I did another, and then another, and another, and have continued since.”
Schacht’s discovery of her talent at performing rhythmic, defiant, evocative slam poetry added great joy to her life, but she still wrestled with personal demons. Schacht, a Gemini, says she has two sides, one wanting to perform and another bent on withdrawal. She plotted suicide and eventually had a PTSD break—a bottom from which to rise.
“It all hit me at once and I just broke, and actually, that was a wonderful thing. I took the chance to finally stop and assess everything I’d experienced,” says Schacht, who credits good friends for crucial support.
“Omaha saved my life. Literally. The community here saved my life,” she says.
That life-saving support inspired Schacht to help others. She coaches Bryan and Northwest High Schools’ teams for the youth poetry festival “Louder Than a Bomb” and has worked with Poetry Out Loud Nebraska and Project Everlast, a group for former foster youth. She’s training to be an amputee peer support counselor and mental health first responder. Schacht is also finishing a book of poetry, tentatively titled Tequila, Twerking, and Other Things a One-legged Poet Should Never Do, and establishing a healing through poetry group.
“I’m blessed to use poetry for healing and to share that with others,” says Schacht. “I needed to heal myself from everything I’ve experienced in my life.”
Routinely taunted in childhood as “ugly girl,” Schacht performs lots of body-positive poetry.
“I worked really hard for this body and so did a lot of other people, so I want to be really proud of it,” she says.
Through her poetry and service to others, Schacht has found confidence and value in her accomplishments. She’s finally discovered that, as Longfellow also wrote, “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”
“It’s meaningful when people come up in tears telling me my words helped them. It’s a gift. When that healing happens and you can share that with others it’s amazing, and that’s what I’m about now,” she says. “I’m learning to let that help center myself and to realize that is success.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
Jennifer Nguyen is bright and soft-spoken. Sitting in the living room of her family teachers’ home on the Boys Town campus, the high school senior thoughtfully considers her answer before explaining why she chose to run for mayor of Boys Town.
“This is my home,” Jennifer says, after a moment. “I want to give back to Boys Town.”
In May, the 17-year-old was elected the 115th mayor of Boys Town. Nguyen and Vice Mayor Tessa Miller are only the second female mayor-vice mayor duo in Boys Town’s history.
Nguyen wants to serve the community, her home since she was 12, that has done so much for her. After she graduates from high school, she would like to attend Wayne State College and study business. The future looks bright, but it wasn’t always quite like this.
“It was tough,” Nguyen says. “For a while, I wasn’t sure I’d get past junior year.”
Her family teachers, Scott and Kim Kavanaugh, affirm her statement, saying they have seen a remarkable change in her over the past four and a half years they have known her. Like many kids her age, Nguyen had trouble in school and her grades suffered, but she turned things around in a remarkable way.
“We’re just so proud of her,” Scott says. “She strives for excellence in everything she does. It was tough there for a while, but now she gets upset when she gets a B.”
Still, when Nguyen first told them she wanted to run for mayor, the Kavanaughs were a bit surprised. It’s a lengthy, selective process. Nguyen, who has always been a little reserved and reluctant to speak up in a group, would have to give a speech before the entire student body.
“We asked her, ‘Do you really want to do this?’” Kim says.
But Nguyen was sure.
“Ever since we were in eighth grade, my friends and I talked about it,” she explains. It was something she really wanted and she was willing to put herself out there to accomplish it.
With help from the Kavanaughs, Nguyen got endorsements from her teachers and community director. They created posters and pamphlets. She prepared to address the entire student body. And on May 5, the students voted and Nguyen was elected the 2015-2016 mayor of Boys Town. She says she hopes other students will see her as a positive example.
“Being able to role model for others is really neat to me,” she says.
In addition to her new role as mayor, Nguyen is captain of the soccer team and a member of the color guard, student council, junior ROTC, and National Honors Society. Even with a busy schedule of school and extracurricular activities, she believes making time for service to others is important.
“Jennifer has always been a person who gives back,” Scott says. “She sees the needs of others.”
Boys Town founder Edward J. Flanagan conceived its student government system as a way for students to build character, citizenship, and a sense of community. In Nguyen, that legacy lives on.
“I want to make Boys Town feel like home for all of the students and encourage everyone to get involved.”
Kelli Rudman is no stranger to families with multiples. Her dad has a twin brother and she has a twin sister, so it is safe to say it’s a concept she is more than familiar with. But when she discovered she was pregnant with triplets, that familiarity was no match for the shock both Rudman and her husband, Nick, felt.
“We were completely surprised, shocked, and overwhelmed initially. We were kind of scared out of our minds. It took a good four to five weeks for the news to set in. There were many nights of not sleeping and lots of worries about complications and possibly having to go on bed rest,” says Rudman.
That shock soon turned into excitement, and as families do, the Rudmans started preparing. First on the list was sharing the news with their daughter, Millie. Now, Millie, being only 1 at the time may have hindered full comprehension of what was actually going on, but the excitement continued all the same. Particularly when Kelli and Nick found out all three triplets were boys, a set of identical and one fraternal.
“We got excited thinking about how unique it would be,” Kelli explains. “When we found out it would be three boys we thought that was especially great since we already had a girl. We dreamed they would be the best of friends.”
The preparations continued and next on their list were some pretty important items.
“We bought a mini van and a La-Z-Boy recliner in the same week. Those are two things we never thought we would own,” Kelly says.
Once transportation and relaxation were taken care of, Kelli and Nick began the task of finding quality childcare and secured two exceptional nannies, which made the idea of returning to work less intimidating.
Kelli works as an ENT physician for Boys Town and Nick is an attorney with Baird Holm. They were both fairly new to their jobs when they found out about the triplets. The family had just moved to Omaha from Milwaukee where Kelli completed her residency. Kelli is an Omaha native and was happy to move closer to family.
Family would play an important role once the triplets made their arrival. That day came last December 1, five days earlier than the doctors had planned. Kelli was 35 weeks pregnant and had worked full time up until the last few weeks. The Rudmans welcomed Max Nicholas, Jackson Ronald, and Hutchinson Kent, and were beyond thrilled that each boy was born in good health.
“They didn’t have any problems. They just had to grow and learn to drink from a bottle on their own. They were in the NICU for just three weeks and got to come home within days of each other. Jack wasn’t supposed to come home until after Christmas, but we got a call on Christmas Eve saying he was ready. We rushed up there and surprised my family by having all three boys home when they walked in our house. My mom and dad started to cry. It was the best Christmas present ever.”
The entire family has adjusted very well, even Millie, who loves helping her brothers when they lose their pacifiers.
“It’s been really great. We have just accepted that for the first year we will have people around all the time to help. Since I am a twin, I am more excited for the triplets because you realize how close you are with your twin sibling. I am so excited for them to have that bond.”
This article published in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.
Chris and Lori Mathsen received a surprise phone call recently that reminded them why their planned one-year stay as live-in family teachers at Boys Town has stretched into 26 memory-filled years
The Mathsens hadn’t heard from this particular young man—one of nearly 200 teenage boys to move through their family home on the West Dodge Road campus—for more than 20 years. If they did hear from him again, they figured he wouldn’t say much.
“He didn’t do anything to really stand out while he was here,” says Chris, “Nothing too crazy. Nothing that positive. He was only vaguely interested in what was happening.”
All those years later, the young man reached out.
He couldn’t believe the Mathsens were still at Boys Town, still overseeing the same house full of teenagers, still with the same Michael Jordan poster that has survived countless Nerf gun wars and sometimes less playful confrontations in the home’s spacious basement.
The young man, now married with two children, had a message that never gets old to those dedicating their lives to helping troubled teens.
“He told us his time here totally changed his life, and he doesn’t know where he would be without it,” Chris says. “We had no idea, especially with him. There is power in that.”
Indeed there is, so much so that Lori Mathsen, who took a one-year sabbatical from earning a Ph.D. to obtain real-life experience, turned it into 25-plus years of helping teenage boys turn from trouble to sports, music, ROTC, good grades, and a brighter future.
So much so that Chris shut down his roofing company and went to Creighton University for an MBA that’s still waiting to be deployed while the Mathsens raise their 11-year-old son, Karsten, and 10-year-old daughter, Kari, in a house full of boys who are learning what it’s like to be treated like family in a place they can call home.
“There have been plenty of times when we ask ourselves, ‘What have we done?’” Lori says. “Let’s take a normal job…and have some privacy…and not get cussed out by kids. But then there are always special kids that you think, ‘I want to stick around to see that kid through.’ Then another one grabs your heart,” and the Mathsens repeat the process. “You bond with them and they bond with you. They ask us sometimes, ‘Are you going to leave before I graduate?’ We don’t want to let them down.”
The Mathsens have certainly passed the perseverance test. The average tenure of Boys Town’s live-in family teachers is around three years. Life with young people who need to reshape behaviors and relationships can get intense. “We’re on a treadmill that never stops,” Lori says. “We don’t like to be bored, and there’s no danger of that.”
The couple have grown to love their Boys Town life even more since their kids were born. The older boys in the home provide role models—good and, sometimes, bad. And there’s never a shortage of playmates as the Boys Town kids are almost always willing to shoot hoops or pool, battle at Just Dance, or strike up a wiffle ball game.
“When we go on vacation, before the week is even up our kids start asking, ‘I wonder what they’re doing at home? I wonder what’s going on with so-and-so?’ Chris says. “They told us, ‘We’ll be mad at you if we ever leave Boys Town,’ and they mean it.”
It’s all part of helping kids move from turmoil (home, school, the legal system) to a shot at a coveted place in the Mathsen “Hall of Fame.” That select group is represented by a large picture on a stairway wall. It’s an elite group—a coveted position reached by only four boys over the decades through demonstrating uncommon character, leadership, academic excellence, and extracurricular achievement.
There’s Robert, who graduated from Boys Town with a 4.0 GPA, three varsity sports letters, and no incidents on his record. And there’s Jay, who was identified by a police officer as a teen with potential but heading down the wrong path. He now serves as an assistant family teacher at Boys Town.
“We get to watch him come to work every day and give back what was given to him,” Chris says. “These kids can be the biggest pains in the hind end, but then something breaks through and you see a kid change and head the right direction. There aren’t many places where you get the opportunity to spend your life being part of that.”
“It’s a place for second chances,” Lori adds, “and maybe even third or fourth chances.”
The Mathsens view their time at Boys Town as one small part of something special that’s been happening for nearly a century at the place known for its iconic motto of “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.”
At this point in the year, after students have returned from summer break and have readjusted to the routine of school, some students may continue to struggle to keep up academically with their peers. Despite extra practice at home and individualized attention at school, some students require more time and attention before their abilities catch up with their potential.
The Boys Town Learning Academy, run by Boys Town’s Center for Behavioral Health,
uses research-supported strategies to help students catch up and realize their full potential.
The Learning Academy has two components: academic skills training (AST) and content area tutoring (CAT). Skills training is for students who need to improve foundational skills such as reading and math facts, and tutoring focuses on helping students in more advanced and specific subject areas.
Academic Skills Training
AST can help students develop skills in:
Reading: knowing letter sounds, recognizing letters, reading with few errors, and understanding what is read.
Writing: getting ideas on paper and using proper capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.
Math: identifying numbers, counting, and understanding math facts.
Spelling: spelling common words and memorizing word lists for tests.
Often when students struggle with basic skills, the curriculum keeps moving while they fall further behind, causing confusion and frustration for families. To catch students up, clients who visit the Learning Academy are assigned a trained interventionist who is supervised by a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in School Psychology.
Licensed psychologists develop an individualized plan that is monitored to promote student progress. In addition, the skills training program includes:
One-hour, individual sessions (frequency of sessions is determined based on the student’s needs).
Frequent parent meetings to share progress.
Training of parents, tutors, and teachers to carry out treatment and maintain progress over time.
Content Area Tutoring
The second component of the Learning Academy, tutoring, focuses on older students with subject-specific challenges in English, math, science, and social studies.
Before students begin attending tutoring sessions, they meet with a licensed psychologist who evaluates their strengths and needs to develop an individualized plan. Then each student is assigned a high school or college student who tutors them for one hour twice a week.
Sending your child to tutoring at the Learning Academy isn’t just going to improve grades for one class. Students will also receive training in specific skills to improve organization, note-taking, and prioritizing work and assignments for long-term projects. Learning Academy psychologists and tutors want students to walk away with an increased understanding of the subject they once struggled with, and the skills needed to be successful with challenging courses in the future.
Is the Learning Academy for You?
One of the unique things about the Learning Academy is that it is developed and supervised by licensed psychologists. As psychologists, they apply their training in research-supported academic and behavioral interventions to improve specific skills and to teach parents effective ways to support student learning and motivation. Both the Academic Skills Training and the Content Area Tutoring programs are goal-oriented, meaning Boys Town’s psychologists supervise and evaluate student progress on a regular basis. The Learning Academy provides an avenue for licensed psychologist to share some of the strategies that they know about with families in-need.
The Learning Academy is a service open to all students in Omaha and the surrounding areas. If you think your student would benefit from individualized academic attention, check out the
Learning Academy page on the Boys Town Pediatrics website, under the Counseling Services tab.