Tag Archives: community

Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

February 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mary Current and her son, Anderson Current, started making hot sauce three years ago. She never planned on being a commercial food producer despite working the front and back of the house at restaurants, studying culinary arts, and being married to a retired food and beverage director. “It just kind of happened,” she says of Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce’s origins. One day this foodie and home gardener decided to make hot sauce from her bumper pepper crop. She had made pico de gallo and salsa, but never liquid hot sauce. Friends and family loved that first spicy concoction and wanted more.

Her four main sauces became habanero, jalapeño, datil, and chipotle, each with notes of poblano, anaheim, vinegar, citrus, garlic, and onion. Specialty sauces have followed. She only arrives at a recipe after much research and experimentation. Finding the right complementary combinations, she says, “is what I really like doing,” adding, “That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s like a gift.”

The initial strong reception got mother and son thinking, especially after the savory micro batches proved popular with Anderson’s friends in Colorado, where he lived with his wife, Constance. The couple worked for Whole Foods. When they moved to Omaha, Anderson helped his mom turn her food hobby into a business. Constance designed the logo with a Medusa-like head sprouting chili peppers. The two shopped the sauces around to trendy eateries like Block 16, and found that chefs and patrons also enjoyed the homemade spicy condiments.

Crazy Gringa has come a long way since Mary cooked and bottled the sauces at home and sold them out of the trunk of her car. Her condiments are now made in a commercial kitchen and are staples at the Omaha Farmers Market, select Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee stores, and some restaurants. She plans on keeping things small.

Working together allows the family more quality time, which is the main reason why Mary likes keeping it all in the family.

“When we make hot sauce, that’s our bonding time together,” Mary says of her and Anderson. Her husband, Doug, helps with receiving.

Mary also likes maintaining a small operation because it allows her to pour as much of her heart and soul into the operation as possible.

“It really is a labor of love. I’m never going to be rich, but I love to see the joy on people’s faces when we’re back at the Farmers Market and they say, ‘I can’t live without this hot sauce.’”

Just as Crazy Gringa showed up on store shelves, City Sprouts board president Albert Varas sought an area food manufacturer with whom he could partner. He realized these simple sauces with complex flavors have, as their base, items interns can grow and cultivate at the City Sprouts South garden at 20th and N streets. He contacted the Currents and found they shared a passion for building the local food culture.

The Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce maven partners with Omaha City Sprouts on a social entrepreneurship project that may spur more collaboration between for-profits like hers and the nonprofit urban agriculture organization.

City Sprouts South grows various peppers for Crazy Gringa’s signature hot sauces. The boutique company, in return, donates a percentage of sales over four summer weekends to support City Sprouts programs. Meanwhile, Crazy Gringa works with other local growers to supply the peppers City Sprouts can’t.

“We just hit if off,” Varas says. “They are all about community service, engagement, and sourcing hyper-local food with a mission behind it. It was always my dream we would partner on bringing a value-added product to market. It’s a great way to engage our interns.

“The relationship adds revenue and relevance to what we’re doing.”

Having the hand-grown peppers picked and processed in Omaha fits Crazy Gringa’s emphasis on fresh, local, and artisanal. Current also creates limited-run small batches for City Sprouts and other nonprofits to give away as gifts or prizes.

 

Anderson helped build the raised beds for the peppers at the site that community activists turned from a dumping ground to a garden.

Mary loves that her product helps a community-based ecosystem.

“So many kids don’t know where their produce comes from and City Sprouts helps educate them about how things grow,” she says. “Those interns learn how to garden, so they learn how to sustain themselves and their families. We’re happy to support good things in the community like this.”

Interns gain a sense of ownership in Crazy Gringa’s success.

Varas says, “The interns need something to do and something to believe in. One intern, Rafeal Quintanilla, is a mentee of mine and he really digs the idea that he has a stake in the finished product because he waters and cares for the peppers and harvests them. He has pride in being a part in creating this delicious hot sauce.”

The partnership with Crazy Gringa “has far exceeded my expectations,” Varas says, adding, “It’s not just transactional—it’s been an incredible reciprocal experience.”

Mary Current concurs, vowing the relationship will continue as long as she’s in business. “It’s an amazing concept. They’re wonderful people to work with. I can’t think of a better place to give back your money.”

More collaborations like this one may be in the offing.

”I think this is a model that could and should be replicated,” Varas says. “My hope is that we will be able to recreate this next growing season with Crazy Gringa and possibly other food businesses.”

Visit crazygringahotsauce.com

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

What a Load of Garbage

When you hear the words “garbage collection,” you might think of a truck rolling into the neighborhood and a couple of guys hopping off to pick up your waiting bin(s).

It turns out that the Omaha metro area is one of the last places in this country where trash is collected that way.

Omaha mayor Jean Stothert wrote in a March 2016 press release, “I feel like our current service is way outdated.”

Efforts to modernize have been underway for some time now, according to an email from Justin Vetsch, 30, the Omaha senior district manager for Waste Management. Waste Management is the company that handles the City of Omaha’s garbage collection services.

“Back in November of 2016, upon the city’s request, Waste Management implemented a pilot program which showcases what a modernized collection system would look like, with automated trucks and standardized 96-gallon carts for trash and recycle,” Vetsch says. “This pilot program will conclude in April. The feedback and comments that Waste Management has received from residents indicates the pilot area is going well.”

Mike Shrader, 57, is the owner/manager of Premier Waste Solutions, a private company servicing Sarpy County, northern Cass County, and western Douglas County. He has been in the waste-collection industry since 1975 and hopes the city’s new system works as well as it has for his company.

“The vast majority of municipalities across the country use some form of a carted system,” Shrader says. The old model of collection, in which employees rode on the back of the truck and picked up the trash, has not been viable since the 1990s. “It’s hard to find individuals who are willing to do that kind of work, week in, week out.”

The Shrader family, looking for a different model, was introduced to an automated pickup system in Arizona, in which the garbage trucks use mechanical arms to pick up 96-gallon carts. What used to be a two- or three-person job now only needs a driver, and the carts hold about three times as much waste as a residential garbage can and can be wheeled around instead of lifted.

With the exceptions of the city of Omaha, Bellevue, Carter Lake, and Ralston, every other community in the area is what Shrader called a “carted community,” though there’s a pilot program underway now in Bellevue that is similar to the one in Omaha.

Overhauling the system is expensive, Shrader says, which is why it has not happened yet, but changing to this automated system brings with it a number of advantages.

Safety

“Not only is it more efficient for the hauler, in a sense of one-man crews, it’s also safer,” Shrader says. “When we look at the injuries across the nation … it’s usually the second or third person that’s on the truck.”

Aesthetics

When everyone in the neighborhood has the same carts, Shrader and Vetsch say, it gives the neighborhoods a sense of uniformity.

“A modernized system would also include easy wheeling, and standardized covered carts with lids, which are more aesthetically pleasing to have lined down neighborhoods versus loose bags and individually selected cans,” Vetsch says.

Environment

If you have ever had your trash can tip over in a stiff wind, then you know it is a hassle to retrieve trash strewn about your curb and lawn.

“The lids are attached, and they’re on wheels,” Shrader says. “They do a better job of withstanding some of the wind.”

The carts will still fall if the wind is strong enough, but they have an easier time remaining upright, and the lids help make them more “critter-proof,” Shrader says.

Vetsch pointed out that having fewer trucks on the road is good for the environment as well.

“As part of the current pilot, Waste Management is collecting the recycling in 96-gallon carts every other week,” he says. “With recycling collection every other week, it reduces truck traffic in the city’s residential neighborhoods, along with reduced emissions from fewer vehicles.”

Recycling

“Going with a cart system for the recycling is probably the bigger plus,” Shrader says. “Not only do you have a lid on your recycling cart, but you have the capacity of 95 gallons versus 18.”

“In most cases, the ability to have a cart with a lid for recycling dramatically improves recycling participation, as a household may be currently limited due to the recycling bin’s size,” Vetsch says.

The future of Omaha’s garbage collection has yet to be determined, of course. Like any new system, Vetsch says, there will probably be a sense of hesitation.

“I really hope this pilot program works for them,” Shrader says. “It’s like coming out of the Dark Ages.

“If the city would accept that program, I think they’re going to be very, very happy with that for a long, long time.”

Visit wasteline.org for more information.

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

Buy Omaha Profile

Our industry is too often focused on the completion of transactions as the measure of success.  At OMNE Partners, we build relationships by providing best-in-class real estate services and looking beyond a single transaction. We believe in treating our clients’ businesses as our own, with great care and end-to-end attention to detail, which only exists in a true partnership.

My career in commercial real estate began at the Omaha-based, family-owned real estate development firm the Slosburg Company. I was fortunate to work closely with the partners of the firm—their knowledge and advice was invaluable. From there, I moved to the Lund Co. Once again, I was fortunate to work with great people. John Lund and the other founders of the firm, Rich Secor and Jerry Kelley, were significant influences from day one. Working directly for Jason Fisher, Lund Co.’s president, I learned how leadership influences company culture and open communication fosters loyalty.

People who work at OMNE Partners can expect a culture that is committed to collaboration across departments. Everyone here is aware of how important they are to our success. We are very intentional about it. We recently implemented regularly scheduled, very brief (as quick as five minutes), company-wide update meetings. The purpose is to open the lines of communication and ensure everyone is working together outside of what is articulated in an organizational chart. We openly discuss company goals and the specific impact achievement will have on the firm.

One of the tasks we completed through our rebranding was the definition and expression of our principles.  What resulted was the beginning of what would become our manifesto. There is one line that sums it up well: “At our core, we care deeply about each other and the community we live and work within.”

TJ and his wife, Kate, have been married for 13 years and have three boys: Max, Ted, and Gus.

B2B

OMNE Partners
13340 California St., No. 100
Omaha, NE 68154
402-697-8899
omnepartners.com

 

Revamped Radio

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the band Train came to Omaha’s Baxter Arena for a concert in December 2016, there were plenty of flashing lights and excited fans. “But when the lights go out and the audience starts screaming, there’s no rush like it in the world,” says Andy Ruback, general manager of NRG Media. Ruback knows a great deal about screaming fans—when a big concert comes to town the likelihood is that Ruback had his hand in the planning. His role as general manager has evolved over the years from managing radio stations to include managing events brought to town by NRG Media Live.

The business is a natural fit for NRG, which owns stations ranging from Power 106.9 to 1290 KOIL. The company was looking to the future for broadcasting and leaning toward live shows as a way to increase profitability. NRG used their strengths in connecting people to music to expand into the business of concert production. With the radio stations’ on-air talent knowing their listeners’ preferences, the media company naturally knew what acts had potential to bring in revenue, and which ones might not.

Ruback came to Omaha from Lincoln, where he served as general manager for their NRG stations. Upon his arrival at the NRG offices in Omaha in 2012, Ruback went full speed ahead. He says the intention was never to focus on live shows over radio shows; rather, he called his plans a method for “diversifying for growth.”

Concert production is a challenge that Ruback gladly accepted, but in it, found unique bumps in the road. Some of those bumps included special requirements, such as permits, that needed the legal team’s help. Shock rocker Alice Cooper, for example, required the team to acquire special insurance because of the pyrotechnics involved with his show. Ruback and his team figured out how to get the right insurance, and now know who to ask the next time someone wants to light up fireworks onstage.

Ruback says some of the more surprising challenges he and his team have faced come from smaller, more routine details.

“I would say it’s more about the crowd experience logistics,” Ruback says. “How do we try to work with the arenas to make sure there’s enough concessions on the floor? What should be the entry ticket price? What should be the price for the front row?”

Logistics is the simplest description for the business of producing concerts. Is the specific artist available at the time? Is there enough interest in this artist to fill the seats? Is a venue available on the day needed?

“We could have the great idea, and the right price, but there could be a UNO hockey game and a Lancers game on the night we want, and we’re out of luck,” Ruback says.

It is a revenue stream in which many community businesses desire to participate, and there are many ways for them to participate, including attaching their name to experiences such as meet-and-greets with the band before or after the show, and attaching their name to souvenirs. Attendees at the Train concert, for example, vied for flashing bracelets and cups branded with a sponsor’s logo. Signage prominently displayed throughout Baxter Arena featured sponsor logos.

The scenario is beneficial to everyone involved: the band gets to play to a well-attended venue, the fans get to enjoy the band, and the sponsors get to present their message in an effective way.

“On that day, no other media group is producing a concert,” Ruback says. “So you’re looking at content that advertisers want to be a part of, but no other client can do.”

The diversification proved wildly successful. Ruback says that since 2014, more than 100,000 people have attended an NRG Media Live event. Associate athletic director for University of Nebraska at Omaha Mike Kemp enjoys his business dealings with NRG Media Live and says that when Ruback puts on a concert at Baxter Arena “… it’s not just a concert—it’s an event. He has great vision and ideas and that’s the true charm of what he does.”

“I think NRG Media does a great job of engaging the community to get behind the events,” adds Kemp. NRG Media has the ability to promote coming shows using the radio stations on their roster and their strong social media presence. This equals solid attendance numbers at concerts and happy sponsors.

“Andy’s full of energy and great ideas,” Kemp says of Ruback. “He’s an honest guy with great enthusiasm for what he does.” Rubak’s vision has evolved NRG Media into much more than an organization simply running local radio stations. In fact, the next time there is a popular concert in town, there is an excellent chance that Ruback can be found there, smiling and enjoying the rush.

Visit nrgmedia.com for more information.

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

From The Editor

February 23, 2017 by

B2B Magazine started 2017 by highlighting the many successful women in business around Omaha, and this issue, we bring you the best of the city for business needs.

This contest is a bit different from the Best of Omaha, where the ballot is published online so anyone in the community can choose their favorites. In the Best of B2B contest, the winners are nominated on ballots printed in the 20,000 copies of the winter issue. Each issue of the magazine contained a ballot—a chance for readers to vote on favorite businesses that cater to the local business community (for example: business lunch, carpet cleaning, and much more).

• • •

How many of us can truly say we love our work? I do, actually. I look forward to coming to the office. A big part of this is that I work with an incredible team of creatives and salespeople, and one lizard. Yes, lizard—Spike the bearded dragon. Spike came to visit a couple of years ago when the publisher and his family left for Europe, and he has been with us since. He’s docile, usually sitting under his heat lamp hanging around. Sometimes when I am really feeling overwhelmed, I walk downstairs to his aquarium and watch him for a moment, sunning himself, enjoying life.

In the spring issue, we bring you the story of Envoy, which keep cats, dogs, and even a hedgehog in the office. Employees keep treats for the fur-ployees at their desks, and if one of the pets turns up missing, the whole office helps in finding their special friend.

What about you? Do you have a pet in your office? Does your office allow you to bring your pets to work? Or do you vote nay to keeping or having pets in the office? Does the fur or the smell bother you? Follow us on social media and join the conversation (@omahamagazine on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).

We also have other incredible articles in this issue. Like many forms of traditional media, radio is looking for alternate ways to increase revenue. NRG Media has found new business opportunities through concerts.

Ride-sharing has become a popular trend in the past several years. While people are more prone to call for an Uber in a coastal city where the cost of owning a car is prohibitive, Omaha does offer alternatives to jumping into your own vehicle when you want to go somewhere. One of those alternatives is Zipcar. This car-sharing service allows users to access one of several fleet vehicles in the area by reserving a time and date for a car. The vehicle is then available for the reserver to use by the hour or the day.

And if you need to go outside of the city, traveling to Silicon Valley just became a bit easier by flying on United Airlines’ nonstop flights between Omaha and San Francisco.

This issue of B2B, like all issues, proves to be an adventure. I hope you enjoy it.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is associate editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Lenten Fish Fries

Photography by Joshua Foo

Lent in Omaha—a time of repentance and moderation for devout Catholics—is synonymous with crowded lines of happy, drunken people waiting for heaping piles of deep-fried fish.

Parishioners and non-churchgoers alike rejoice with the approach of Ash Wednesday. Non-Catholics who have never joined in the fun should not hesitate. All are welcome. Lenten fish fries (complete with raffles, pickle cards, and bake sales) are the biggest fundraising event of the year for many Catholic churches, schools, and charities in Omaha.

The beer-infused Friday fry-day gatherings are a popular annual ritual in Midwestern cities with robust Catholic communities. Omaha’s large Catholic population means that several dozen churches will host fish fries throughout the 40 days of Lenten fast (six weeks). Meanwhile, there are plenty of other community groups, such as the local Disabled American Veterans, hosting their own Lenten fish fries.

Some start the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Most begin after Ash Wednesday formally initiates the Lenten season. Some conclude after only a few weeks; others continue for the entire duration of the Lenten fast, including Good Friday two days before Easter.

Not all of them are bacchanals, with children running wild while parents and young adults socialize. A few are alcohol-free. But all are genuine family-friendly celebrations of community.

Expect to spend a few hours standing and waiting in line at Omaha’s most-popular fish fries. The long wait—and the chance to meet new friends while drinking beer—is sometimes the most fun part of the evening.

Omaha Magazine has compiled a list of six must-try fish fries for every week during Lent. But the list is hardly exhaustive. Other excellent fish fries are plentiful in the Omaha area. For those in a hurry, seeking out lesser-known gatherings might even save on the wait time. Or you might just discover a new Lenten favorite.

HOLY NAME CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

2901 Fontenelle Blvd., Omaha, NE 68104 . 402.451.6622 . holynameomaha.org

Omaha’s oldest Lenten fish fry event, the Holy Name “Fryday” is famous for its jam-packed line, fried Alaskan pollock, french fries, coleslaw, and Rotella’s bread. The BYOB line makes the event especially unique for the 21-and-over crowd. Those arriving at 6 p.m. can expect to find a line stretching out the church, through the adjacent Holy Name Elementary School, and circling around the building. A wait time of three hours is not unusual. The initiated come prepared with coolers full of beer to sustain drinking through the long wait. Upon entering the main building, a free cup of beer is offered. Another free cup of beer is offered if there’s a line out the cafeteria. More beer is sold inside the cafeteria, and a storeroom accommodates winter coats and coolers. Nebraska politicians are known to make appearances at the event, which averages an attendance of 2,300 people per night. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7

MARY OUR QUEEN CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

3405 S. 118th St., Omaha, NE 68144 . 402.333.8662 . maryourqueenchurch.com

A packed line meanders through the halls of Mary Our Queen School, where intermittent refreshment tables allow visitors to replenish their beer pitchers/cups in one of Omaha’s most-popular Lenten fish fries. Young volunteers walk up and down the school’s hallway to collect emptied pitchers. Popcorn is available in the line near the cafeteria. A drive-through allows motorists to avoid the packed halls. Food options include: fried or baked fish, macaroni and cheese, spudsters, fries, coleslaw, bread, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH OF ELKHORN (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

20500 West Maple Road, Elkhorn, NE 68022 . 402.289.4289 . stpatselkhorn.org

The fish fry at St. Patrick’s features fried or baked catfish and/or pollock. Margaritas and a variety of beers offer a change of pace from the adult beverages typically available at area fish fries. Cheese pizza, fries, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and dessert round out the available food options. There’s a drive-through, and there are clowns and face-painting for the kids inside. Fridays (5-9:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. VINCENT DE PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH

14330 Eagle Run Drive, Omaha, NE 68164 . 402.496.7988 . svdpomaha.org

A cheerful and welcoming atmosphere radiates from the jam-packed line snaking through the halls of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. The event features $3 cups, $8 bottles of wine, and $8 pitchers of Boulevard, Lucky Bucket, or Bud Light beer. For those seeking better quality beer on the cheap, St. Vincent de Paul’s fish fry is an excellent choice. Food options include fried or baked fish, cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and fries or baked potato, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Credit cards accepted. Fridays (5:30-8:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. JOHN’S GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH

602 Park Ave., Omaha, NE 68105 . 402.345.7103 . stjohnsgreekorthodox.org

Alcohol is not sold at the event; however, St. John’s offers possibly the most delicious food available at any Omaha area Lenten fish fry. The church also offers historic tours of its Byzantine-style building from 5:30-6:30 p.m. A kitchen full of volunteers (some of whom grew up in Greece and migrated to the United States) cook and serve plaki—a Greek baked cod with Mediterranean sauce. Also available: panko-fried cod, breaded-fried shrimp, baked salmon, and vegetable moussaka (an eggplant lasagna), spanakopita (a pie filled with spinach and feta cheese), and piropita (cheese baked in phyllo dough). Specialty cheesecakes and baklava sundaes await at the dessert bar. Fridays (4:30 to 8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

HOLY GHOST CATHOLIC CHURCH

5219 S. 53rd St., Omaha, NE 68117 . 402.731.3176 . holyghostomaha.com

Clam chowder is one of the unique offerings at Holy Ghost Parish’s annual Lenten fish fry. The varied menu offers: shrimp, baked or fried cod, macaroni and cheese, or a combo dinner. Each dinner comes with baked potato, salad, fruit bar, and a drink. Beer, margaritas, and “watermelons” (a mixed drink) are sold. While the line is long, the wait is neither the longest nor the most beer-soaked in town. Expedited takeout service is available at the west end of the church. Fridays (4-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7.

W. Dale Clark Library: A Reflection of Omaha

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Why  are  libraries  relevant? For Rem Koolhaas, international architect and designer of one of America’s premier libraries in Seattle, “in an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and, more importantly, the curatorship of their content that makes the library vital.”

This compelling principle of curation—a thoughtful way of organizing and presenting content—is how the Omaha Public Library’s W. Dale Clark branch promotes free public access to multimedia information, programming, and assets inside and outside the four walls of  215 S. 15th St. The library’s architecture, in turn, is both a container for, and reflection of, the community of Omaha at large.
Omaha’s first permanent public library opened in 1877 at 18th and Harney streets. Designed by Thomas Kimball, it was Omaha’s first building dedicated solely to a public library. However, with a capacity of 46,000 books and drastically out of sync with modern needs, the library outgrew this historic building after World War II. Often referred to as “the worst library in America” and “the horror on Harney Street,” city and library officials began contemplating a new building and the role a new central library would have in defining the cultural core of Omaha in the late 1950s.

While some branches of the Omaha Public Library system are named after locations, others are named after prominent city leaders and/or major funders. The central library branch is named after W. Dale Clark, a long-time banker, civic leader, and Omaha World-Herald board member. It is no coincidence then that during the development of this new central branch, the Omaha World-Herald was often a soapbox for the library’s necessity as a cultural anchor. A June 9, 1957, article explained, “a library should offer the opportunity for enlightened citizenship and the continuing education and cultural advancement necessary to a working democracy.” This sentiment held true for W. Dale Clark as well.

Although Clark did not live to see the completion of his library branch, which began construction in 1975, the 124,500-square-foot Bedford limestone monolith opened on March 9, 1977. Architects John Latenser & Sons of Omaha designed the $7 million open-plan building to accommodate 350 patrons and 400,000 volumes (the current collection is 500,000+ volumes). The Omaha World-Herald defined the opening as “the greatest event in Omaha’s history.”

Little has changed architecturally to the branch since 1977, although its surroundings continue to take shape—the neighborhood is part of a six-block $15 million revitalization plan.

The striated five-story W. Dale Clark Library opens laterally east and west and features a 110-foot bridge on the west entrance that spans a parking moat below for 48 cars, special facilities for audio-visual materials, a large open atrium, contemporary art gallery, and significant art collection including Catherine Ferguson’s sculpture Totem and an Olga de Amaral tapestry. The central library maintains practical roles to store government documents, house the ever-growing genealogy department, and to be a repository for community history.

In a building nearly 40 years old, how has the Omaha Public Library advanced into the digital age—an age where traditional media is seen as almost cliché? The answer is quite simple: curated in-person programing.

The facilitators for this community-driven programing are the 78 library staff at the W. Dale Clark branch. With a web of knowledge and resources, Emily Getzschman, the marketing manager for OPL acknowledges, “the staff are our greatest asset.” They fulfill the library’s tagline “open your world” by connecting dots—many of which are obvious (GED training, citizenship assistance, computer training, and literacy classes) and others that seem more disparate (STD screening, a toy lending library, speed dating, a culinary conference, and facilitated conversations around contemporary topics) all under a major OPL tenet of non-discrimination. As Amy Mather, adult services manager, says, “the library allows a smooth transition where a barrier may be to connect people with ideas.” In many instances, the library is filling voids in the public domain with this free niche programming—all of which is community driven.

Since its beginning, some have questioned the role and need for the Omaha Public Library—a story that continues to play out today. These opposing views undermine the very role of the public library as a space to define, beyond hierarchies, the community of Omaha.

It is a privilege and right to use the Omaha Public Library, which is free and open to all of the public. Everyone and anyone has access to its curated network of resources. The potency of programming, outreach, and staff reverberates beyond its architecture and stated mission placing OPL at the frontier of relevancy. As Mather says, “this is your library.”
omahapubliclibrary.org/w-dale-clark-library 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Mike and Lynne Purdy’s Electrochromic Dream Home

February 20, 2017 by
Photography by Colin Conces

It’s immediately clear that Lynne and Mike Purdy’s beautiful northwest Omaha home is something special. However, the longer you stay, the more you zero in on the many small-yet-mighty details that make it so.

“It’s those little details that make it just right,” Lynne says. “There’s a reason for everything we did design-wise, and there isn’t one thing we’d change.”

That includes everything from smart windows and touch faucets to 18-foot ceilings, a shades-of-grey palette, pocket doors, waterfall counters, hidden kitchen outlets, a programmable doorbell, a fireplace in the wall that serves two rooms, and bathroom drawers customized to the sizes of Lynne’s hair products, among other distinct aesthetic and utilitarian touches.

The Purdys, who met on a fortuitous blind date in 1977, are self-described “empty nesters” and transitioned to their home in Deer Creek Highlands in March 2016, after breaking ground one year prior. Mike, an architect and president of Purdy & Slack Architects, designed the home based upon he and Lynne’s extensive, collaborative exploration of what they wanted in their next home.

First, the couple knew they wanted to live on a golf course, so when they found a Deer Creek Highlands lot they were smitten with, they persevered in attaining it. The community is home to the third nine of the Arnold Palmer-designed Players Club at Deer Creek golf course.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better neighborhood or better neighbors,” says Lynne.

Mike’s design was informed by the logistics of the site.

“Lynne wanted an open plan with our master suite adjacent, so we had the floor plan in mind,” he says. “I wanted to keep the views of the golf course, plus the sun in the wintertime comes up on the axis of the large window and the great room.”

Mike refined his design until it was everything the Purdys wanted and he received approval from the neighborhood’s architectural review committee.

“The challenge was creating something unique and contemporary, but not so radical it wouldn’t blend with the neighborhood, and also something that facilitated the way we want to live,” Mike says.

Mike also designed the Purdys’ previous home, where they raised sons Bryan and Keith and lived for 28 years, but the couple says it was a family house, not an empty-nester house.

“It was a beautiful home, but our family grew, then left. Our current home is an adult house, but still with room for the kids to come visit,” Lynne says.

Indeed, the downstairs bedrooms, family room, and walk-out patio are designed to welcome Bryan, Keith, and their own expanding families, including Keith’s 4-year-old identical twin daughters, whom Lynne says “love coming to Gaga and Papa’s house.”

Mike embraced his creative side while designing the home.

“With architecture, you try to get a reaction from people,” he says. “It’s like a piece of art—meant to draw out emotion and create conversation. That’s what I tried to do with the house.”

“One of the design elements I wanted to do was to hide the front door so there’s a little bit of mystery as you approach the house the first time,” Mike says of the slightly obscured front door that bucks street-facing tradition. “It creates a different experience, and then you make the turn into this big space, so it’s kind of a surprise.”

The first thing visitors will notice upon entering—after the Purdys’ adorably petite white pup Holly—is the 16-foot-wide, 18-foot-high, attention-commanding window that overlooks the golf course from the rear of the house. What you wouldn’t immediately notice or know is that the window panes are SageGlass, an electrochromic glass that can be set to various levels of tint via an app. The window can be dimmed by row or pane, or even programmed to react to the level of sun or clouds.

“It’s a commercial-grade glass we’re putting in some of our office buildings. They don’t require blinds and save energy from heat gain,” Mike says. “In wintertime we keep ours mostly clear to maximize the heat gain. In summertime we keep it pretty dim so it doesn’t heat up the home as much.”

Mike estimates that within 20 years most new windows in homes will be this type of dynamic glass.

“It’s newer technology, but I expect it’ll become standard and you’ll find it in the houses of the future,” he says.

Whether through the giant window or from the glass-railed cantilever deck outside, the Purdy home’s crown jewel is the incredible, ever-changing view that’s shown Lynne and Mike sublime sunrises; pop-up “lakes” born of hard rains and golf course curves; wildlife like ducks, hawks, and frogs; and confused golfers seeking errant balls.

“We’ve enjoyed every season here,” says Lynne. “In the morning I have my coffee and look out the windows … it’s just beautiful all the time, whether it’s a layer of snow or a sunny summer day. And relaxing on the deck after a stressful day is the best. In the summer we’re out there every night.”

Speaking of nighttime, Lynne says the home is prettiest after sunset when the flameless candles and decorative lit-glass spheres she’s placed throughout the house turn on. Just like everything else, that’s by design.

“You come home at night, and you want a relaxing space space. The soft light gives you that,” she says. “That’s also typically when you entertain, and I want everyone to feel relaxed and at home when they visit.”

Visit purdyandslack.com for more information about the homeowner’s architectural firm.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Laura Kirschenbaum

January 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laura Kirshenbaum is a straight-A student, but it is not good grades that her mother talks about first when describing her daughter’s scholarly accomplishments.

“It’s comments that teachers make. It’s wonderful hearing about how she treats others and how she is respectful to teachers. They say that she’s an active listener in class, that she’s kind and courteous. That’s what I’m proud about,” Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum says. “You may have it in your DNA that these things are easier than for other people, or you learn at a faster pace. That may be a gift with you, but what do you do with it? Some people may have an ego with it, but Laura doesn’t. She’s grateful for what she has and is highly motivated.”

Kirshenbaum, an eighth-grader at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in the Omaha Public School District, admits to being a fast learner but says her excellent grades in her honors classes don’t come effortlessly. “I work hard for that,” she says.

And she definitely prefers some subjects over others. “My top subject would definitely be math,” she says. “But I love science, too: chemistry, physics, and astronomy.”

Kirshenbaum has no shortcuts to academic success to share, she says. Being a good student means being diligent: finishing the assignments, completing the reading, following directions. It also helps to have good organizational skills that ensure she’s always prepared. “I turn homework in on time and I try to stay on top of things,” she explains. “I’m proud of that.”

She even enjoys learning outside of the classroom, watching informational YouTube channels in her spare time, and competing in multiple academic events like Quiz Bowl, Science Bowl, Math Counts, Academic Pentathlon, and Book Blasters. She has an artistic side, too, that brings some balance to student life—Kirshenbaum is active in dance (ballet, modern, and jazz) and plays the violin, even performing in the orchestra pit for Omaha Public Schools’ summer musical Peter Pan in 2016.

“I also do a lot of acting,” she adds. “I’ve been in a lot of the school plays, and I’ve done some community theater as well.”

She’s even managed to make time for volleyball and local volunteering at a food bank and a homeless shelter. Two summers ago, she was a classroom helper at Jackson Elementary School. Because she’s an honors student, she is also eligible to tutor fellow students. “I like being able to help others,” she says.

Kirshenbaum says her future plans absolutely include college, which her mother and father (Matt Kirshenbaum) like to hear. It may be a little early to start choosing a particular institution, but judging by the scholarly aptitude she’s demonstrated so far, it’s clear that she’s going to be able to take her pick of schools—and programs of study—upon graduation four years from now.

“I see myself becoming a chemist,” she says. “Or a college professor in math or science.”

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.