Tag Archives: Council Bluffs

A Glamorous, Functional Basement Remodel

August 14, 2017 by
Photography by Tom Grady

Seeking a grand basement remodel, a client came to me with hopes of creating a unified space with smaller intimate areas instead of an open floor plan. The original space felt very disconnected with no visual interest.

My solution focused on two separate spaces of the floor plan. Both sections of the basement would feature multiple functions: one area revolved around a sunken kitchenette/bar, and the other was an empty space transformed into a theater/display area.

The first part of the challenge was to create a properly lit display while providing storage within the bar area. We needed to add a dynamic visual element without altering the integrity of the existing brick veneer.

Our solution was to add horizontal reclaimed wood panels that pull the whole space together while providing a pub-like entertaining area. The resulting contemporary space makes use of layers of depth and dimension to provide a central focal point for social gatherings.

The asymmetrical design of the sunken bar area is enhanced with LED lighting, which further enhances the sophisticated environment. Bespoke finishes infuse rustic charm into the modern basement, forming the perfect union of domestic utility and alluring elegance. Displayed sentimental objects stand in harmonious contrast with time-worn salvaged materials and the interplay of light and shadow.

A large circle on the bar wall offers a crucial design element unifying the space. The scale of the circle balances the weightiness of the massive bar. Radiant light offsets and enhances the circle, giving the illusion that it is floating in air. The circle’s LED under-lit shelves provides plenty of space for the liquor bottles, and the offset shelving allows for additional personal items to be displayed.

By adding the walnut shell and lights to the existing metallic wood console table, it became repurposed and connected to the bar area.

Two guitars on an adjacent wall, mounted on a wooden circle, became a piece of art grounding the empty space leading to the guest bathroom.

To satisfy the clients, who are avid sports fans, the most challenging part of the basement’s theater space was to showcase their collection of jerseys while allowing the ability to watch multiple televisions at once. At the center of this design, I strived to cultivate a sensory experience that transcends the utilitarian functionality of the theater setting. Contemporary aesthetics find a careful balance of personal whims and fancies in the second of the basement’s main spaces. Relaxing here, the homeowners feel like they are in a high-end Las Vegas casino private suite while watching their favorite teams play.

The design conceptualization for the theater and display area stems from a faithful adherence to well-defined boundaries. JaDecor wall covering offers remarkable appearance with excellent acoustical properties. The round custom fiber optics and the dark-oak Melinga panels in the ceiling add spectacular visual interest to the space that once was a rectangle tray.

I really wanted the sports theater walls to properly light their jersey collection—which changes annually—while not interfering with the theater environment. Back-lighting the twelve individual panels with LED strip lights cleverly works into the overall aesthetic. The picture lights illuminate the symmetry of the jerseys and provide a side drop for the TV wall.

The purposeful ornamentation of the jerseys provides a dramatic display satisfying even the most discerning homeowner.

The experience of the finished project is such an amazing space to entertain and enjoy life with family and friends.

From the bar to the theater, and across the entire basement, the overall design embodies simplicity and modern functionality, leaving a lasting impression that makes you want to enjoy the space in good company.

The end result achieves the client’s goal of balancing personal expression and functional glamour with youthful exuberance. It is a welcoming space for any time of the day—and any season—for many years to come.

Visit artisticodesign.net to see more of the designer’s work.

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

The Goal 
Smasher

July 27, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Jose Soria’s summer vacation was not about sleeping in late and hanging out aimlessly. To the contrary, Soria spent the long, hot days of June, July, and August taking summer classes—not because he had to—but because he wanted to.

His preference for learning over spending his days at the beach began when he found out after his freshman year that his school offers students the opportunity to take college courses alongside their regular coursework. “I looked into the general education class requirements to get into the nursing program and started taking those,” he said. “I’d rather take them now instead of waiting to take them when I get to college.”

As a result, he’ll begin college with some of his required classes already completed, decreasing the overall time, and money, he’ll spend in college before he can begin his career.

He enjoys the opportunity to take these classes now while still in high school. He says this program is different from taking AP classes. “They’re similar to AP classes, but in AP classes you have to take an exam to see if you’re eligible for the college credit. What I’m doing now is [joint enrollment] with Iowa Western Community College.”

According to educateiowa.gov, the concurrent (or joint) enrollment program provides opportunities for high school students to enroll part-time in courses at or through community colleges. Per “Senior Year Plus,” concurrent enrollment courses are offered through contractual agreements between community colleges and school districts within their service area.

That means because Soria is a high-achieving high school student, he has taken courses ranging from college-level composition to intro to health care occupations, and the Council Bluffs School District paid the fees for those courses taken during the school year.

Soria hopes to go into the medicine field as a nurse, or working in surgery in some capacity. He’s drawn to the field because he wants the opportunity to “help a person out and make their day better.” His favorite classes are chemistry and health science, not surprisingly. He enjoys chemistry in particular because he is able to create something out of other things. Soria recently applied to volunteer at a local hospital and hopes to gain valuable experience in the medical field through volunteering.

When not studying or volunteering, Soria can be found exercising daily. “I walk or run every day,” he said, further demonstrating his ability to set a goal and work toward it.

His parents are from Mexico and were not able to finish high school. “They came to the U.S. to give us a better future,” he said. “This pushed me to become more independent and strive to get as much education as I can before I graduate.” Though he was born in Mexico, he has not yet visited there. Now an American citizen, his summers away from high school are full of “school, homework, and making sure I’m on track.” 

Soria has advice for anyone else who wants to accomplish their goals. “It doesn’t matter what your past is,” Soria says. “Always think ahead, and just because you’ve had a certain situation, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Do it for yourself.”

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

Rachel Halbmaier

July 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rachel Halbmaier is a woman with ideas, and she has the ability to convey these ideas in a way that makes people excited for what will come next. That’s why the former director of events and promotions for Lincoln’s entertainment district The Railyard is Greater Omaha Chamber’s Director of Riverfront Development for Missouri Commons. The job, which she accepted in February, is to oversee the activation of the riverfront area by increasing its usage for community events.

“I was uniquely qualified,” she admits, referencing her time in Lincoln. That position demanded that she plan and execute events while juggling the company’s social media and traditional promotions, and manage the staff of the Railyard Ice Rink and the Railyard Ambassadors.

“I have a lot I want to accomplish,” she says.

Donn Seidholz, chairman of the steering committee for Missouri Commons, revealed that more than 40 resumes from around the country were received for the position. “Clearly she was the heads-and-tails best pick,” he says. “She was absolutely the best choice for the job,” he says, adding that her “passion, excitement, and enthusiasm are infectious. We’re thrilled with Rachel.”

“We needed someone who could share the passion to activate the riverfront,” Seidholz says.

Halbmaier envisions events at the riverfront that will draw locals, and also compel people to travel here to attend. “We’re going to bring people together to make memories,” she predicted.

“I’d love to see a world-class festival down there, but I’d also like to see the space activated Monday through Friday as well. Maybe a music festival, or a food and wine festival. Or a triathlon, or a fashion show on the bridge, or maybe a pop-up dog park,” Halbmaier mused, overflowing with ideas on how to activate the available space. “I want to enhance what’s already there.”

Relationship-building is a critical part of this position, and she anticipates spending her first year connecting with community leaders and other people to understand what the riverfront can become while also fueling support for development. Growing up in Kenesaw, Nebraska, and attending school in Lincoln means that she didn’t necessarily have ample experience with the riverfront, but that is not an obstacle for her. Seidholz praises her proactive work ethic, stating, “She didn’t wait around for us to tell her what to do or who to meet.” Seidholz laughs and says that just when he thinks of someone with whom Halbmaier should meet, he finds out Halbmaier has already reached out to him or her. 

Her coming goals for the riverfront include bolstering the bond between Omaha and Council Bluffs, and “getting people down there and making them feel welcome.” Seidholz says Halbmaier can accomplish “just about anything,” and “has the full, undying support of everyone on the committee. The support has been unbelievable from Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.” This strong support, coupled with Halbmaier’s relentless drive, will most likely result in some great things to come for the riverfront.   

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

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

Home Is Where the Oven Is

July 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nicola Shartrand decides to spend a lazy summer morning with her two young children in their home near Lake Manawa, odds favor the happy trio baking sheets of cookies before noon in their newly renovated kitchen.

When she drives deeper into Council Bluffs to the family’s bakery, often with kids in tow, she makes hand-painted macarons, tortes, breads, cookies, and dozens of cupcakes, which then fill space in the display case, ready for public consumption.

And when John Shartrand takes the family across the Missouri to their restaurant that bears Nicola’s name, they no doubt top off the meal with Nicola’s award-winning Italian lemon cream cake.

The Shartrands’ life revolves around the food created in three different kitchens. The family travels back and forth along the routes that connect the points in their life: Nicola’s Italian Wine and Fare at 13th and Jackson streets in Omaha’s historic Old Market; Stay Sweet, Nicola’s—their bakery at 805 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs; and their gracious home in hues of gray on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The restaurant represents 15 years of ambition, hard work, and faith rewarded; the bakery, which opened in December, symbolizes dreams fulfilled; the new home kitchen has its own story, one with deep meaning for the family.

“John knew I had been putting in all these hours all these years at the restaurant, and he said, ‘You’re going to wake up one day and the kids will have graduated high school, and you will have missed the whole thing,’” Nicola recounts. “He said, ‘You love baking, you’re really good at it, why don’t you practice while you’re at home? Let me run the restaurant at night.’”

And so the original home kitchen became a laboratory for perfecting and tweaking popular dishes served at Nicola’s Italian Wine and Fare, creating new dishes, and developing recipes for baked goods. Nicola experimented for six months on the lemon cake “because Martha Stewart said every restaurant should offer something lemony.” Once perfected, the light, moist, not-too-sweet lemon cake exploded on the scene. As a result, demand for all her baked goods exploded.

So did the family kitchen.

“I pretty much destroyed it from overuse,” Nicola says, laughing as she proceeds to list a litany of problems. “We went through every single major appliance. The cabinet doors fell off from constant opening and closing. The stove went out. We needed a bigger refrigerator. And it was a really cramped working space.”

For Nicola’s birthday two years ago, John announced he would build her a new kitchen. “I wear many belts,” he quips.

The couple used a computer program offered by an assemble-it-yourself home furnishings store to measure, design, and order the materials for the new kitchen. The transaction could have gone better.

“They told us our plans were too ambitious, that we were out of our league,” John says. And when it came time to lug 279 flat boxes out of the store, “they said they wouldn’t help me.”

Undeterred, John loaded a U-Haul truck by himself, drove home, and emptied every little chrome knob and handle, every shelf, drawer, door, and cabinet from the containers. It only took a month to transform the culinary space.

They painted the new cabinetry gray to match the wall coloring. The cabinetry—above and below the long kitchen counter—helps provide 50 percent more storage space than before.

A narrow floor-to-ceiling pantry pulls out shelves and drawers to hold foodstuffs categorized by cans, bottles, and paper, “so nothing gets lost inside it,” Nicola says. Two bottles of industrial-size Worcestershire sauce appear prominently in front, as does a gallon of olive oil, which she affectionately refers to as “the best stuff on earth.”

A backsplash made of off-white, 3-by-6-inch glazed subway tiles provides a simple, clean, classic look.

The couple complemented the backsplash tile by placing an off-white, solid slab of quartz on top of the kitchen island, located in the middle of the open floor plan.

Underneath, a cabinet with 20 drawers of different depths neatly holds everything from dozens of spatulas (Nicola keeps breaking them) and half-used bags of fennel seeds to large pots and pans.

A two-door stainless steel KitchenAid refrigerator shares the kitchen’s color scheme with its gray interior, and the double-oven stove “makes cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family really easy,” Nicola says.

The doting husband’s wish for his wife, to spend more time with Stavros, 9, and Gigi, 7, has resulted in personal growth for Nicola. Her stay-at-home baking experiments proved so popular she now supplies other restaurants and coffee shops with her sweets. She also takes special orders.

The extra income enabled John and Nicola, who both grew up in Omaha, to purchase a brick-and-mortar commercial space in Council Bluffs last November, which handyman John transformed into a full-service coffee bar and bakery. With its commercial-grade mixers and appliances, Stay Sweet, Nicola’s has taken over as the primary baking site.

John now works 14-hour days. He opens the bakery to start the espresso machine and bake muffins, intersects with Nicola and the kids in the afternoon, then crosses the bridge to oversee the restaurant.

The reward for all this hard work: a happy family.

Visit nicolasintheoldmarket.com and staysweetnicolas.com for more information about Nicola Shartrand’s culinary enterprises.

From left: Stavros, Nicola, and Gigi Shartrand.

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

2017 May/June Family & More

May 1, 2017 by and

Farmers Markets
Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring to eat fresh produce without digging in the dirt themselves will find plenty of options around the area. Along with produce, shoppers will find artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and even craft items.

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays starting May 7.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting May 4.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays starting June 3.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays starting June 4.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Papillion (Washington St. and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 31.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Weekend: May 5-7 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. Shareholders in the company created by Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett can learn about their year’s earnings at this annual meeting, which brings thousands of people to Omaha from around the world. The weekend events include the “Invest in Yourself” 5K run on May 7, a bridge tournament, shopping at various stores associated with Berkshire Hathaway, and much more.
berkshirehathaway.com

Cinco de Mayo parade: May 6 along 24th St. from D to L streets. This dazzling parade—one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Midwest—features floats, marching bands, and more. Rain or shine. 9 a.m. Admission: free. info@cincodemayoomaha.com.
cincodemayoomaha.com

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska: May 6-7, 13-14 at Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St. Step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor with full contact sword play and equestrian jousting, six unique performance locations, 100+ costumed characters, and free make-and-take crafts for kids. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $13 adults, $8 children (12 and under). 402-331-5500.
renfestnebraska.com

SECOND Annual Food Truck Rodeo Spring Edition: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The second annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo will be held all day Saturday, giving attendees the entire day to sample the fine foods from local food trucks. There will be 15-20 food trucks, along with a DJ, beer garden, multiple outdoor bars, and outdoor seating on Military Avenue in Benson. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Celebrate CB: May 12-20 in Council Bluffs (various locations). Hop across the river for a full week of festivities. Opening night includes a free concert by Taxi Driver. The last day includes a parade followed by a day of music, kids’ activities, and a carnival. Friday’s big event, Barbecue in the Bluffs, has been chosen as one of 50 events for the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s Great American Cookout, which will inform and entertain people who enjoy learning more about barbecuing and grilling on all levels. 712-396-2494.
celebratecb.com

Vintage Market Days of Omaha: May 12-14 at Chance Ridge Event Center, 506 Skyline Road. This upscale, vintage-inspired market hosts more than 100 vendors with original art, antiques, handmade treasures, jewelry, and clothing. The event also includes live music and food trucks. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10 Friday (early buying event); $5 Saturday/Sunday; free for children 12 and under. Tickets good for re-entry all weekend. 918-955-6215.
omaha.vintagemarketdays.com

Florence Days: May 13-14 in downtown Florence, 30th St. between State St. and I-680 N. This area, once its own town, was annexed by Omaha 100 years ago but still retains its own small-town feeling. Events held in conjunction with this festival include a parade, art displays, talks at the historic Florence Mill, a melodrama, and more. 402-451-4737.
historicflorence.org

An Evening with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: May 15 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. During his lecture, the award-winning astrophysicist will answer questions from the audience and talk about topics in his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which will also be given to each audience member. 7 p.m. Tickets: $65-$225. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Helicopter Day: May 27 at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway. Visitors can watch while helicopters fly over the horizon and land right in front of them. Inside the museum, visitors can participate in a drone workshop and family-friendly activities. 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Memorial Day Weekend: May 27-29 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. The zoo will offer special entertainment, including bounce houses, airbrush tattoos, and animal presentations. The first 800 people to walk through the gates will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 children (ages 3-11), free for members and children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors (age 65 and older) or active military members and their children. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Taste of Omaha: June 2-4 at the Omaha riverfront. Omaha’s annual outdoor summer food event showcases outstanding restaurants, live entertainment, and family fun. Activities will take place daily at the Heartland of America Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, and River’s Edge Park. Times vary. Admission: free, but tickets must be purchased for food and carnival rides. 402-346-5412.
showofficeonline.com

Countryside Village Art Fair: June 3-4 at Countryside Village Shopping Center, 8722 Countryside Plaza. This fair showcases a mix of styles, perspectives, and media. The artwork selection inspires casual visitors to start art collections, and connoisseurs to add to existing collections. Established in 1969, the Countryside Village Art Fair is a cornerstone of the art world in Omaha. Admission: free. 402-391-2200.
countryside-village.com

Annual Veterans Appreciation Rally: June 4 at the North Omaha Airport, 11919 N. 72nd St. This family-friendly event features classic cars, motorcycles, and airplanes on display to honor veterans. Activities include raffles and skydiving shows. Airplanes begin flying at noon, weather permitting. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free, but a $5 donation is requested. 402-714-4269.
facebook.com/heroesoftheheartlandfoundation

Omaha’s Ninth Annual Largest Pizza Review: June 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Pizza will be available from around 15 different restaurants for pizza lovers to sample and vote for their favorites. Judging will be conducted by Food & Spirits Magazine’s panel of judges, also featuring live music. A portion of proceeds go to scholarships for culinary students at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College. 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

St. Lucia Italian Festival: June 8-11 at Lewis & Clark Landing, 515 N. Riverfront Drive. Omaha’s Italian community celebrates Italian culture with this annual festival. Events include a bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, entertainment by the Santa Lucia festival band and others, and plenty of food. Admission: free, but tickets required for food and carnival rides. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. June 8, 5 p.m.-midnight June 9, noon-midnight June 10, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 11. 402-342-6632
santaluciafestival.com

Omaha Beer Fest: June 9-10 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Hundreds of American craft beers, 80 breweries, live music, a homebrewer expo, VIP lounge, food vendors, contests, and more. Rain or shine. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. June 10. Admission: general admission $35 in advance, $45 at the door; VIP $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Designated drivers pay $10 at the door. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

Junkstock: June 9-11 at Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Road Dr. This three-day festival features vintage finds, unique antiques, and artisan food and goods. Help celebrate the fifth year of Junkstock, featuring more than 150 vendors and 15 food trucks, along with a variety of bands playing on the Junkstock Stage throughout the weekend. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 online, $10 at the gate, $20 for weekend pass, free for children (12 and under). 402-765-8651.
junkstock.com

Omaha Summer Arts Festival: June 9-11 along Farnam St. from 10th to 15th streets. The festival features 135 of the nation’s finest visual artists, a stage with continuous musical performances, a hands-on children’s fair, and a wide variety of food vendors. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 11a.m.-5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
summerarts.org

Sand in the City: June 9-11 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. On Friday, 12 corporate teams will compete to build extravagant sand sculptures. On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can vote for their favorite sculpture, build their own sandcastle, play in the kids’ zone, and hear live entertainment. All proceeds benefit the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. June 10, and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-451-0787.
sandinthecityomaha.com

College World Series Opening Day: June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. Before the series starts, come to the park for a day full of events, including team autograph sessions, practices, Olympic-style opening ceremonies, a concert, and fireworks. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

College World Series: June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. One of Omaha’s biggest traditions returns for the 67th time. Baseball fans of all ages can enjoy Fan Fest, a NCAA-sanctioned festival that includes giveaways, interactive games, and special appearances. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

Bank of the West Celebrates America 2017: June 30 at Memorial Park, 6605 Underwood Ave. Bring blankets or chairs and relax in the park while celebrating with thousands of others at the 27th annual pre-Fourth of July tradition—featuring a concert and fireworks show. This year’s headlining act is Kool and the Gang. Admission: free. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
celebratesamerica.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Wicked Omaha

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Musty newspapers, photos, archives, public records, presentations, and endless hours of research. Sure, the life of a modern folk historian sounds glamorous, but it’s not all like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In many ways, history is an occupation reserved only for those obsessive truth-seekers disconnected from their place on the space-time continuum.

Local historian, author, teacher, and Glenwood native Ryan Roenfeld has been making history entertaining for nigh on two decades. The 44-year-old nontraditional UNO student describes himself as a “hick-from-the-sticks.” A quasi-Luddite with a passion for the past, he doesn’t have a cell phone but he uses Facebook.

“I don’t know how I got so interested in history,” Roenfeld says. “Most folks see history as dry and dull, but it’s not. It really is—good, bad, or indifferent—the story of why things are the way they are.”

While decrying the modern age, Roenfeld helped popularize one of Omaha’s most frequented social media sites: Chuck Martens’ “Forgotten Omaha” Facebook page.

As one of three administrators, Roenfeld has seen “Forgotten Omaha” grow to more than 45,000 likes over the last year.

“I was surprised at the interest. Omahans didn’t know as much of their history as I thought,” says Roenfeld, who also teaches classes on Omaha history for Metropolitan Community College at Do Space. “History really is the story of us all, and I like telling people their stories.”

A folksy populist with an encyclopedic knowledge of colorful locals and criminals, Roenfeld tells the lesser-known tales of underrepresented populations, colorful characters, and swept-under scandals. He has self-published a dozen books and contributed to many articles on topics ranging from old postcards, railroads, steamboating, and local 19th-century brewers. To date, his most popular book has been Tinhorn Gamblers and Dirty Prostitutes, a colorful history of vice in Council Bluffs, which offers a glimpse at the city’s exploitation of prostitutes in the late 19th century.

“The highlights are always the lowlifes,” Roenfeld says. “People like hearing stories of cowboy shoot-outs in the street. People think the Old West happened in Arizona, but this area was really the archetype for every Wild West trope.”

The popularity of Western depravity was also obvious to Roenfeld’s publisher, The History Press. Roenfeld’s latest book, Wicked Omaha (not to be confused with David Bristow’s book, Dirty, Wicked Town [Omaha], published by Caxton Press in 2000), looks closely at “Hell’s Half-Acre,” Omaha’s red-light district in the 1880s.

Hell’s Half-Acre stretched from the Missouri River to 16th Street and from Douglas to Cuming streets. The city portrayed in Roenfeld’s Wicked Omaha makes all the stereotypes of Deadwood seem trite.

“People don’t realize that anything went in Hell’s Half-Acre,” Roenfeld says. “It was a different Omaha, when the saloons ran all night and strangers were victimized by every scheme going, all right downtown, nothing secret about it. Brothels were illegal, but ran in the open. There was drug addiction, suicide, and systematic exploitation. Prostitutes paid ‘fines’ monthly to keep operating. If they couldn’t pay, the city gave them a few weeks before they were hauled in front of a judge to either pay up or get shut up.”

Wicked Omaha made its debut Thursday, March 9, at the UNO Criss Library’s Read Local Author Showcase. Roenfeld plans to present his book at Omaha’s W. Dale Clark library May 6. The book is sold at The Bookworm, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and elsewhere.

Visit arcadiapublishing.com for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.

10 Cheap Things to do in Omaha This Summer

This is going to be no ordinary summer in Omaha, and the best part is, you won’t have to budget much to enjoy it with your family. There are inexpensive and free activities throughout the metro, from a pool with a pirate ship to a trail that leads to a waterfall. There are indoor and outdoor film series for families, as well as free festivals. Here are 10 ideas for cheap fun in Omaha.

1. Spraygrounds

For free water fun, head to one of the city parks with a sprayground: Benson Park, Fontenelle Park, Kountze Park, Orchard Park, Seymour Smith Park, Upland, Morton, Westwood Heights, and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza. These spraygrounds are great because they’re also near playgrounds. You can find additional outdoor fountains and spraygrounds that cost no admission to play in at Omaha Children’s Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Shadow Lake Towne Center, and the First National Bank Tower.

2. Festivals
Free summer festivals in Omaha have kid-friendly aspects to them, while introducing new things to see, hear, and taste. Dance at a music series like Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing and Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. The Omaha Summer Arts Festival has an entire area dedicated to children’s activities.  Shakespeare on the Green has a tent of costumes for children to try on. Taste of Omaha is free, but you’ll want to buy tickets for food and rides.

3. Hikes

For the price of park admission, an adventure awaits on a nearby trail. One kid favorite is an easy trail that leads to a waterfall at Platte River State Park just outside of Omaha. Head to Hummel Park to search for the staircase that always baffles its climbers—no one can settle on how many steps there are. For a gem hidden in the middle of the city, visit Heron Haven Nature Center just northeast of 120th and Maple streets.

4. Unique Pools

Swimming is fun no matter where you go, but some local pools offer some fun extras worth checking out. The popular city pool at Lake Zorinsky has waterslides and a fun splash. Cross over the Missouri River to Council Bluffs to visit the city pool, Pirates Cove Pool, where kids can play around a pirate ship and use two waterslides. Head indoors to the Salvation Army Kroc Center and check out the newly renovated pool and waterslide.

5.   Explore the Old Market

The Old Market has so many things for kids to see, hear, and taste. On Saturday mornings, stroll the bustling farmers market. Visit any day of the week and you’ll likely encounter musicians playing music and charming horse-drawn carriages. Kids love the Old Market Candy Shop and Hollywood Candy. Head to The Passageway for toy store Le Wonderment, and then go on a hunt for the Zodiac Garden hidden behind an art gallery there.

6.  Downtown Fun

There’s more fun just beyond the Old Market. Slide down the big slides at Gene Leahy Mall. At Heartland of America Park, you may catch a gondolier offering inexpensive rides around the lake. Cross the “The Bob” pedestrian bridge to take that iconic picture standing on the state line. The building at the base of the bridge is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters, which has a visitor’s center with free kid-friendly activities.

7. Bowl or Skate for Free

There are two national programs for children to sign up for that get them free rentals at local venues. Kids Bowl Free allows kids to have two free games each day all summer long. Shoe rental may not be included. Kids Skate Free is a similar program. SkateDaze participates in this program that allows children 12 and younger to skate for free once a day all summer long. The skate rental fee isn’t included.

8. Family Movies Series

Ruth Sokolof Theater at Film Streams has a great series for families, and children’s tickets are only $2.50. They show a mix of classics and first runs. Large chain theaters often have film series during the summer featuring slightly older movies at a discounted price. Check your closest Marcus Theatre and AMC Theatre to see if they’re participating. Check the calendar of events for Midtown Crossing and Sumtur Amphitheater to see when they show free outdoor movies.

9. Fan Fest

Feel like you’re a part of the NCAA Men’s College World Series experience for free at Fan Fest right outside the stadium. You can get into the spirit by playing interactive games, taking a photo with the trophy, meeting players, and soaking up the atmosphere. Fan Fest is open through the run of the series. Go to Open Day Celebration to catch batting practices and autograph sessions, concluding with the opening ceremony and fireworks. That’s all free, too.

10. Fort Atkinson

On the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, May through October, head to Fort Atkinson to see interactive historic recreations depicting life 200 years ago. Children can complete a scavenger hunt, earning a little treat at the General Store for finishing it. Actors shoot off a cannon during the re-enactment, which is cool for some kids and too loud for others. A state park permit is needed to get into the park to see the re-enactments. 

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

 

How Omaha Railroaded Council Bluffs

April 6, 2017 by
Photography by Provided by Union Pacific Museum

Thirteen years before Nebraska achieved statehood in 1867, a group of Council Bluffs businessmen helped establish “Omaha City.” They didn’t view Omaha as a rival to Council Bluffs; rather, they saw Omaha as a prime route for the transcontinental railroad—and a road to riches. Their efforts laid the groundwork for the nation’s most ambitious construction project, while forever forging a unique bond between the two cities and Union Pacific.

The saga begins in the 1850s, when Dr. Thomas Clark Durant and Henry Farnam partner to construct a rail extension across Iowa, called the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad. They subsequently commission Grenville M. Dodge to explore possible routes for a transcontinental railroad between the Missouri River and Salt Lake Valley.

 It’s a difficult decade for Omaha—a bank panic in 1857 wipes out investors, and the city’s population declines. Then, the Civil War ignites in 1861. Desperate to unite the country east to west, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. It OKs land grants to attract private capital for construction and authorizes UP’s origin at a point on Iowa’s western boundary, to be approved by the president.

Motivated by his large interest in the M&M, Durant is determined to link his Iowa rail extension with the transcontinental initiative, says Patricia LaBounty, collections manager at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. By Oct. 30, 1863, Durant is elected UP’s director and vice president, taking nearly complete control of the enterprise. He appoints Peter A. Dey as UP’s chief engineer (Dey had surveyed the M&M with Dodge) to further explore four possible connections alongside the Missouri River, including Omaha and Bellevue.

Durant lobbies Lincoln, who’s also inundated with requests to fix the origin at locations stretching from Sioux City, Iowa, to Kansas City. Judge John P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior in Lincoln’s cabinet, recalls Durant’s advice: “Now, the natural place for this terminal point is at the mouth of the Platte River, but Omaha is the principal town in Nebraska; the wealth of the territory is there, and the energies of the people radiate from there, and I think they ought to be considered, and the best thing is to start it from Omaha.”

After consulting with Dodge, on Nov. 17, 1863, President Lincoln writes his first executive order on the subject. To ensure the railroad builds a continuous rail line and bridge surmounting the Missouri River, he sets the starting point on the Iowa side, across from Omaha. But his language is somewhat ambiguous, and Durant seizes the opportunity to plan an elaborate ground-breaking ceremony—in Omaha.

Held in early December 1863, near the ferry landing at Seventh and Davenport streets, and featuring bands, cannons, and fireworks, the event attracts throngs of citizens. Writes David Bristow in A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha: “And so it was an act of great faith—right there in the middle of a bloody civil war—to begin the most ambitious and expensive building project the country had ever attempted. It began in Omaha—it was a day, as the Omaha Nebraskian put it, ‘to thank God and take courage.’”

On March 7, 1864, Lincoln pens a second, more formal executive order, again specifying the origin on Iowa’s boundary opposite Omaha. Construction languishes due to lack of financing during the war, so a second Congressional Act on July 2, 1864, creates additional land grant incentives. A map detailing the railroad’s first 100 miles west from Omaha is filed with the Interior Department later that year, which President Lincoln approves.

And then, amazingly, Durant flip-flops. Despite two presidential orders, the UP Board of Directors’ approval of the Omaha route and his initial support, he changes his mind. A new consulting engineer, Silas Seymour, has identified steep grades surrounding Omaha, so he and Durant seek to move the origination point to Bellevue.

“Just like Omaha, Bellevue has already authorized land grants to UP, provided it begin the railroad there,” LaBounty says, “and Durant continues playing both sides of the fence. By May 1865, he requests surveys on the Missouri-Bellevue route and the best location for mechanical shops at Bellevue or Fremont.”

Omahans are outraged. The anger is apparent in telegrams exchanged between Durant and Edward Creighton, president of First National Bank and founder of the university that bears his name. Due to the reroute, Durant says no buildings are needed in Omaha. He’s had “enough of interference” and threatens to “make application to the President to change the terminus.” Responds Creighton: “Omaha must be the only point of connection with the Missouri River. Without this, there will be trouble.”

The issue is resolved Sept. 23, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson approves an amended location in Omaha that addresses the grades through a circuitous route, and construction to the west finally begins. But the drama doesn’t end there.

Given Lincoln’s presidential orders, it was assumed the Missouri River bridge would be constructed between Council Bluffs and Omaha. But UP’s board of directors rumors otherwise. In March 1868, a prominent Omaha delegation, including Nebraska Gov. Alvin Saunders, businessman Ezra Millard, and Omaha Herald publisher Dr. George L. Miller travel to UP’s New York City corporate office to settle the issue. They are appalled, writes Bristol, when Dodge announces the board has selected Bellevue. Using a tried-and-true strategy, Omaha and Council Bluffs unite to offer the railroad land, rights-of-ways and money. The railroad accepts, and the $2.5 million iron bridge is completed in 1872.

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court settles the argument over the railroad’s origin point, establishing Milepost 0 in Council Bluffs. Both cities become transportation and business hubs, with a major rail yard and passenger transfer hotel in Council Bluffs, and Omaha home to UP’s operational headquarters and mechanical shops. Today the bond continues, with more than 4,000 Union Pacific employees in Omaha and Council Bluffs proudly serving the state and the nation.

Although Union Pacific is headquartered in downtown Omaha, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located in Council Bluffs. Visit uprrmuseum.org for more information about the railroad’s history.

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

Frank Carter

December 28, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed by Douglas County Historical Society

The story of Frank Carter—Omaha’s phantom sniper—is a histrionic tale of fear and madness gripping the city in the wake of a mysterious shooting spree.

For several weeks in February of 1926, the whole of Omaha was terrified. The first victim was a mechanic, William McDevitt, shot four to six times with a silenced .22 pistol. One shot went straight through his head, lodging behind his eye. McDevitt did not survive.

A few nights later, somebody shot through the windows of a pharmacy. Two nights later, a doctor named A.D. Searles was found shot to death in his office. Two other men claimed to have been shot on the same night as Searles. An officer opined to The Omaha World-Herald, saying, “My theory is that it is the work of a degenerate, probably suffering from a social disease.”

carter-frank-9277-edit-cmykAccording to The New York Times, city newspapers called for a blackout, as several of the victims had been shot through their windows at night. The sniper continued to fire through windows, and Omaha came to a standstill with residents terrified to exit their houses. The sniper was also responsible for shooting a Council Bluffs railroad detective, Ross Johnson, on Feb. 21. This was to be the end of his reign of terror. Johnson saw his shooter and described him.

On Feb. 22, about two weeks after the phantom sniper began shooting, police captured a sad-faced middle-aged man with a shock of black hair named Frank Carter. He was found 30 miles south of Council Bluffs, and he quickly admitted to the known crimes and more. He claimed it had been his intention to rob McDevitt and Searles, but he shot them instead. “I just get the inclination to shoot,” he said.

As it turned out, Frank Carter was not named Frank Carter at all. Instead, he was an Irish immigrant named Patrick Murphy with a criminal background, including a stretch in prison for killing cattle.
Carter proved to be a bit hysterical, insisting he had killed 43 people. No evidence of this has ever been found, and even the newsmen of the time were unimpressed.

The Lexington Herald wrote that “he ‘confessed’ to 43 murders to reporters, most of them obviously fictitious.” Carter’s lawyers pushed for an insanity defense while Carter gleefully threatened to escape, and then insisted he wanted to be executed, saying, “I am glad they don’t hang in this state, because I am anxious to see how it feels to be electrocuted.”

Carter got his wish on June 24, 1927, when he was put to death in the electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. “Be sure to fix this right so that it will get me the first time” he is reported to have told his guards as they strapped him into the electric chair.

His last words, according to witnesses: “Let the juice flow.” The San Diego Union tells the story a bit differently, claiming that his final words were “Turn on the ju—,” leaving incomplete his final statement because he was electrocuted while still speaking.

René Orduña

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to René Orduña, a restaurant’s dishwasher is as key as its chef. “He knows what’s coming back,” says the head chef of Dixie Quicks in Council Bluffs. “What people aren’t eating. So if I wanted to work for a restaurant, I’d get a job as a dishwasher and see what’s coming back. And if they’re not enjoying the food, then I wouldn’t stay there very long.”The good chefs, he says, will always check the plates coming back. To this day, a half-empty plate prompts Orduña to ask the waiter if a guest disliked a meal.

Orduña co-owns the Southern-style diner known as Dixie Quicks with his husband, Robert Gilmer. The restaurant has been open in one location or another since 1995. So if Orduña says it’s important to check the plates, he knows what he’s talking about.

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While the chef has worked in a variety of restaurants across the country (New Orleans. Atlanta. San Francisco. New York City), it’s fair to say he’s been in kitchens his entire life.

Orduña was 1 year old when his mother opened Howard’s Charro in South Omaha. He started making tamales on Wednesdays when he was 6. “Spreading the masa, putting the meat in them, putting them in boxes to freeze,” he recalls. As a young adult, he waited tables around town and cooked in a few kitchens as well. “The Golden Apple, worked at M’s,” he recites. From 1971 to 1973, he worked at the French Café in Downtown Omaha before he began traveling.

Today, both he and Gilmer are elbows deep in Dixie Quicks from dawn till dusk. Orduña cooks, serves, buses tables, washes dishes, and Gilmer handles the art of the attached RNG Gallery (“That’s Robert Newton Gilmer,” Orduña clarifies) and the restaurant’s books. “You don’t want him cooking, and you don’t want me doing books,” Orduña says with an emphatic wave of his hand.

Patrons of Dixie Quicks are probably okay with that arrangement. After taking their seats, guests walk over to the gigantic chalkboard menu to decide among Cajun, Southern, and Southwestern options. Orduña says he’s careful about revamping the menu. “Every time I take something off that board, somebody gets …” upset, he says. “It’s almost like I have to open another restaurant to try another menu.”

Do tell?

“Maybe someday,” he dodges coyly. He’s chalking it up to a dream right now, his desire to open several restaurants in one. “A Cajun restaurant. And a barbecue restaurant. And a pizza place. Kind of like a food court.” A place like that, Orduña thinks, would get freshly graduated culinary students used to working in a professional setting. “You can have fine dining anywhere, at any kind of place,” he insists.

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Personally, he favors what he calls the Iron Chef method. “I like going to my refrigerator, seeing what I have, and figuring it out. That’s what I do most days when I go shopping at the grocery store. That’s what usually makes up the menu.”

Has anything new and exciting come out of this experimentation?

“Oh gosh. Just about everything,” he says. “I start playing back there with spices and flavors and textures…” It’s handy that he and Gilmer live just above the restaurant. He could be tinkering in the kitchen at any time of day.

Today, it’s a broccoli cheese soup. “The cheese just looked good,” Orduña says. “And the broccoli was plentiful and gorgeous, and I thought, you know, it’s the perfect day
for soup.”

Article originally published in March/April 2014 in Omaha Magazine.

Update 11/18/2016: After a short battle with Stage 4 cancer, Rene passed away in November 2016. A celebration of Rene Orduna’s Life will b held this Sunday 11/20 at The Max from 4-8 pm