Tag Archives: Creighton Prep

The Origins of the Nebraska National Guard

May 15, 2017 by
Photography by contributed by Nebraska National Guard

Wanderings of a lame cow set in motion forces that led to the establishment of the Nebraska National Guard.

“It started when President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, creating the Nebraska Territory and opening the frontier to settlers. That summer, an ill-fated bovine wandered from a Utah-bound Mormon wagon train into a large Sioux camp southeast of Fort Laramie (at the time located within Nebraska Territory, now Wyoming), where it was subsequently killed and eaten by young tribesmen. Demanding the arrest of those responsible, the Mormons reported the incident to Lt. John Grattan, the inexperienced leader of Fort Laramie’s U.S. infantry regiment.

Chief Conquering Bear (Brulé Lakota) refused to surrender the young men who had killed the cow, explaining they had done nothing wrong; the cow had voluntarily entered their camp, and, besides, the supposedly guilty men were visitors belonging to another band of Lakota, the Miniconjou. Grattan’s regiment opened fire and mortally wounded Conquering Bear; however, the infantry proved no match for the Brulé warriors, who completely annihilated the military detachment, killing Grattan and his 29 men. Author Douglas Hartman explains the anecdote in his book, Nebraska’s Militia: The History of the Army and Air National Guard.

The “Grattan Massacre” (aka “the Mormon Cow War”)—and the federal government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises—incited bands of Sioux to continue terrorizing settlers on the Mormon and Oregon trails. To augment federal troops, on Dec. 23, 1854, acting Gov. Thomas Cuming issued a proclamation creating the Nebraska Territorial Militia, which later became the National Guard.

The proclamation recommended “the citizens of the territory organize, in their respective neighborhoods, into volunteer companies,” which were grouped into two regiments: one north of the Platte River and one south. Cuming further instructed, “Companies are not to use force in invading or pursuing hostile tribes, but only in self-defense, and then no longer than necessary.”

Funding did not exist, however, so the early militiamen were expected to provide their own arms and equipment. By spring 1855, the state’s first organized units were formed: the Fontanelle Rifles in the town of Fontanelle, some 40 miles north of Omaha, and the Otoe Rifles in Nebraska City. Nebraska Gov. Mark Izard ordered the Rifles to protect Fontanelle, Elkhorn City, and Tekamah after “the Sioux” killed two area settlers. The Indians were nowhere to be found when the militia arrived, so troops spent the summer catching large-channel catfish from the Elkhorn River while “protecting” settlers. This became known as the “Catfish War,” writes Hartman.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Nebraska militias became more involved in fighting against tribes, since most of the nation’s federal military was consumed by the war, says Jerry Meyer, historian for the Nebraska National Guard. Additionally, two Nebraska volunteer militia units fought for the Union in the Southeast.

When Nebraska achieved statehood March 1, 1867, it joined a nation in transition. With the war over, potential recruits had little interest in joining formal militia units, which the new state couldn’t afford to equip anyway.

Nebraska relied on loosely organized, independent militias until 1881, when legislation reorganized them into the Nebraska National Guard, increasing its role as a peacekeeper during times of civil unrest, settling conflicts with Native American tribes, and deploying the first Nebraska troops internationally for the Spanish-American War.

The Nebraska Militia of 1854-1867 wrote the opening chapters of an ongoing legacy of service to the nation, state, and communities. The tradition continues with today’s modern Nebraska Army and Air National Guard, says Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes, spokesman for the Guard’s Public Affairs office.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 10,000 Nebraska National guardsmen and airmen have supported missions overseas and within the United States. When not on federal active duty, the service members remain in Nebraska, available to local authorities during emergency situations.

The Guard was instrumental in protecting Omaha and other Nebraska communities, for example, during the 2011 Missouri River flood, which threatened Eppley Airfield and OPPD power plants. The summer-long flood closed numerous traffic bridges, making it impossible to cross the river for more than 100 miles between Sioux City and Omaha, and between Omaha and Kansas City. Hynes says guardsmen provided surveillance and bolstered levees, and they also provided security for evacuated homeowners.

Currently, the Nebraska Army National Guard is undergoing its largest force restructuring in 20 years. Affecting about 1,100 Nebraska soldiers–or roughly one in three–the changes are bringing in new military occupational specialties, such as engineering and military police.

The realignment will provide current soldiers and those interested in joining with better opportunities for personal and professional growth, from the time they enlist until the time they retire, without having to travel extensively from their hometown communities.

The Nebraska National Guard Museum, located in Seward, Nebraska, is a prime resource for National Guard history, research, and local entertainment. Visit nengm.org for more information about the museum.

Famous Omaha Guardsmen

Warren Buffett

Long before becoming the “Oracle of Omaha,” he was simply Corporal Buffett, enlisting with the Nebraska Army National Guard in 1951 after graduating from Columbia University. The future Berkshire Hathaway founder served six years as a pay specialist, telling the Prairie Soldier newspaper that his financial background probably had something to do with the assignment. One of about 70 members of the Omaha-based 34th Infantry Division Headquarters Company, Buffett told the newspaper of the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard that his fellow guardsmen were “as good of a group of guys that you could’ve found.”

Andrew Jackson Higgins

Expelled his senior year from Omaha’s Creighton Prep for brawling in the early 1900s, Higgins later was praised by President Dwight Eisenhower as the man who won World War II. He designed and built the “Higgins Boat,” a landing craft that unloaded troops across open beaches instead of at heavily guarded ports. This Allied attack strategy was pivotal to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Higgins served in the Nebraska Army National Guard, attaining the rank of first lieutenant, and learned about boat building and moving troops over water during militia maneuvers on the Platte River. A historical marker honors him in Columbus, Nebraska.

Visit ne.ng.mil to learn more about the Nebraska National Guard.

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

Keeping Up With Kasher

February 3, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Anyone who went to dances or homecoming festivities at Creighton Prep, Marian, Duchesne Academy, Cathedral, or other Omaha high schools from late-1989 through the early ’90s probably bounced their head to the beat of a cover band called The March Hares. At the time, no one realized they were witnessing one of the most original talents ever to come out of Omaha.

Tim Kasher,  “like most ragged teenage guitar players,” had already been bitten by the underground bug when he and four Prep mates, including Matt Maginn and Matt Oberst, older brother of future indie singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, formed the group. They performed covers of bands like The Clash, The Cure, and R.E.M. in public, while playing original music in one another’s basements.

“It was a good little business,” recalls Kasher fondly, from his home in Los Angeles. “We found what got us most excited and, instead of baseball, it was music.”

tim-kasherMore than 25 years later, music still gets the indie rocker excited and “out of bed every morning.”  He’s writing and recording original songs for his current bands, Cursive and The Good Life. He’s also using his degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to write screenplays and, as always, testing the limits of his vocal cords.

“It’s definitely getting tougher to push the voice,” admits Kasher, 42, whose nasal and sometimes pitchy cries of anguish make his voice unmistakable. “I long to be 20 again, when I could scream as much as I wanted to. I can’t mistreat it now.”

Kasher will have to pace himself this spring when he goes on tour promoting a new solo album, his third. Titled No Resolution, the album comes out in March and, according to Kasher, features the lush sounds of strings, which he helped arrange.

True to form, Kasher wrote and directed a low-budget, feature-length film of the same name that uses all the songs from the album. “The film No Resolution is about a couple in their 30s who get engaged because she’s pregnant,” Kasher explains. “It’s set over New Year’s Eve, an appropriate backdrop to expose that the guy isn’t quite ready.”

Omahans saw an early edit of the film during the Omaha Film Festival last March. The final cut comes out this summer. Unlike many of his lyrics, the movie contains no autobiographical details. A happy and devoted Kasher married an editor at L.A. Weekly about one year ago. The couple live in the Silver Lake neighborhood, where they mingle with a sizeable group of Omaha transplants.
The musician’s private contentment hasn’t tempered his desire for professional independence. With the new year comes an announcement sure to send tremors through Omaha’s indie sphere: Kasher now has his own record label called 15 Passenger, a nod to an old touring van.

“The new album is on it. We also have all our master reels for Cursive, so we’re going to be releasing our back catalog, along with new stuff” he says. “We’re not planning on getting into the game of taking big gambles on new artists. Just self-releasing.”

What about Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, the label formed and grown, in part, from Kasher’s talent? “Saddle Creek is alive and well. We’re just transitioning over.”

With a new album, new film, and a new record label, the beat goes on for Tim Kasher.

Visit timkasher.com for more information.

The Man Who Invented the College Football Playoff

December 28, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are scripts,but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation. It’s improv. You get into character and run with it.

Larry Culpepper is either delusional or a consummate bullshitter, claiming, among other whoppers, that he created the College Football Playoff. He is raucous, chippy, and self-absorbed. His hair, shirt, visor, and flip-up glasses scream 1976. He’s a guy you’d buy a pop from, but likely shy away from having a beer with.

But Culpepper, the fictional character brought to life by actor/improv pro Jim Connor, is an increasingly beloved traveling minstrel who now transcends the Dr. Pepper brand he was created to peddle. Three years after his birth in an ad campaign with a potentially short leash, Culpepper now is mobbed by fans during live appearances; is part of a 10-part, football-season-long ad series; is the face of Dr. Pepper’s $35 million sponsorship of the College Football Playoff; and, increasingly, is a media darling beyond the confines of paid advertising slots.

For marketing purposes, Culpepper is from nowhere in particular. But in late August, Culpepper appeared on ESPN’s College Football Live and was asked to give his prediction for the playoff’s final four teams. His answer: Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Nebraska (fresh off their losing season).

“Nebraska?” One commentator scoffed, before asking a cohort, “Is he from Nebraska or something?”

larryculpepper2Culpepper isn’t, but Connor is. For the Omaha native and Husker fan, that moment on ESPN illuminates why he has enjoyed playing Culpepper so much. “There are scripts, but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation,” Connor says during a call from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s improv. You get into character and run with it. It’s a great time.”

Connor, the youngest of seven children (“which explains my personality right there,” he says), attended Creighton Prep, where, along with classmate Alexander Payne, he performed with the school’s improv acting troupe. He remembers one gig in particular that fueled his passion for the rush and satisfaction of successfully winging it for a crowd. “It was for a local service group,” he says. “We did some silly birthing scene, and the women in the group—you know, who had some experience with such a thing—really had a good time with it. It’s so cool when you connect with an audience.”

Connor was a gifted ham and public speaker. He served as vice president of the student council at Prep, wrote and acted in pep rally skits, and even placed first place for Humorous Interpretation at the National Forensic League’s National Speech Tournament in Minnesota.

After what he described as a “difficult” freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (“it just wasn’t for me”), he transferred to Saint John’s University in Minnesota. After college, he moved to Boston and worked as a carpenter while performing in theater and short films, then moved to Denver to pursue his MFA in acting at the famed National Theatre Conservatory.

The goal, “was never to get famous,” he says. “I just wanted to make a living being an actor. I wanted acting to be my full-time job.”

A dream of tens of thousands who have moved to Los Angeles. And while at 54, Connor is no household name, he has succeeded at stringing together enough commercials and small parts to make acting his career.

Besides nearly 150 commercials, his film credits include Watchmen, Meet Dave, Blades of Glory, The Onion Movie, Home Invasion, and Horrible Bosses 2. Alexander Payne asked his old friend to give the drunken wedding-reception toast in About Schmidt.

He also had numerous recurring roles in television comedies such as Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Scrubs, and The King of Queens.

In 2014, Connor and about 500 other actors auditioned for the role of the Dr. Pepper concessionaire in a national ad campaign targeting college football fans. Actors were given latitude to define the character and riff. Connor created an amalgam of “a lot of people I’ve known” to create Culpepper, a loud, proud, gregarious huckster who seems to actually believe—in the face of constantly presented information to the contrary—that he created the four-team college football playoff system.

For all of Culpepper’s failings, he’s also affable, wide-eyed, and childlike in his zeal for the job and the game, appealingly un-self-aware, and extremely clever. “Larry is a real guy, he’s a smart guy,” Connor says. “He’s just got some unusual ideas sometimes.”

larryculpepper1Among myriad other reasons why he claimed the Cornhuskers would make the playoffs: “Nebraska runs that classic passive-aggressive offense,” he told the ESPN crew. “They’re playin’ real nice, and then you’re like a puddle on the 50-yard line.”

It was inspired nonsense, which is the foundation to good improv, which is what Connor would love to spend the rest of his career getting paid a living wage to do.

Indeed, as Culpepper increasingly becomes a star beyond the confines of college-game broadcasts, as Dr. Pepper continues to expand the ad campaign (Connor’s character is now essentially the spokesman in football matters for the company, which AdWeek magazine estimated paid at least $35 million to be a “championship partner” in the College Football Playoff).

He is hoping to land more significant movie and television roles, especially in one of the increasing number of loosely scripted, improv-heavy comedies.

“I’m not going to get cast for scripted stuff in front of a studio audience,” he says. “That’s not what I’m built for.  Shows like Parks and Recreation—where you have space to work more freely with a talented group—that’s where I belong. That’s where I love to be.”

Visit larryculpepper.com for more information.

Andrew Easton

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Easton taught students how to create projects from wood. His son, Andrew W. Easton, taught students how to properly create a balance sheet and how to use their left pinkie fingers to type the letter “q.”

Andrew D. Easton, the third teacher in line to carry the family name, had no problem choosing a career.

“My dad and grandfather were inspirations to me,” he says. “Just seeing them being willing to serve other people, and being there for students and to help them with their pursuits.”

The current pedagogue answering to the name Mr. Easton educates young minds in ways vastly different from his forefathers.

While teaching English at Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, he realized his pupils needed stimulation and motivation. He began teaching from the school library, where they processed essays on computers or read books from the comfort of couches. Easton walked around the room and answered questions.

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“About three weeks in, some kids were done,” Easton says. “I asked those kids to get together and discuss the book (Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes). We had a competition in front of the principal. It made for a better use of their time.”

Those students who had not finished reading the book continued reading.

“That type of learning is called a flex model,” Easton says. “I didn’t know it at the time. I appreciated that we could get a lot of personal attention and one-on-one feedback.”

AndrewEaston1Four years ago, Easton and his wife moved to Omaha. Andrew found a job with Westside High School and expanded on his flex model. He arranged the classroom furniture to assemble different areas for group study or individual study, and created a goal sheet for his students. Then he experimented with videos to give students another choice of instruction.

Easton became like a high school student again, in order to create better videos.

“Matt Rasgorshek (a fellow Westside teacher) said he’d be happy to have me in his intro to video class,” Easton says. In order to learn, he forsook lunch for lectures, sitting alongside some of his English students.

“He wanted to know everything about video production,” says Rasgorshek, Westside’s former broadcast adviser now teaching at Creighton Prep. “Whenever he had an open period he would come in, take notes, ask questions. He’d come into my office and bounce ideas off of me.”

Easton had discovered a new passion, and by the end of the year, he made 40 videos to work into his teachings.

Some students desire a traditional learning format, however. When a student asked if he would lecture to her, Easton began lecturing to a small group while the others worked individually.

“The kids, he instantly hooked them,” says Rasgorshek. “All of them were engaged all the time. It was pretty cool to watch. Even in my classroom, the kids took to him.” FamilyGuide

Finding Purpose

October 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the outside, Dennis Circo’s Enterprise Center at 96th and L streets looks like a lot of other buildings under construction. But once you walk through the temporary entrance, you’re immediately struck by the intricate beauty of what is becoming one of the city’s most upscale office buildings.

The Enterprise Center once housed Circo’s company, Precision Industries Inc., a longtime Omaha company that was a giant on the international scene of integrated supply-chain management and industrial distribution. It served dozens of the country’s top Fortune 500 corporations. Circo sold the company in 2007 but retained numerous properties throughout Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee. The sale was surprising, he says now, since the company was never actually for sale.

Circo said he was hesitant to sell the company—it defined who he was. But when the eventual buyer, DXP Enterprises, came to him with an offer and met every demand Circo could raise, he decided the time might be right to sell.

“I was one of those people who I thought would die at my desk,” he says. “I was traveling four days a week, putting in a lot of hours, and my health wasn’t great.”

The sale, though fortuitous since it happened just months before the country’s headfirst dive into recession, was hard on Circo. Harder than he ever imagined it would be.

“I was like those football players who retire and then get lost in the foggy wilderness,” he says. “They don’t know what to do with themselves. The game defines who they were.”

The company was founded in 1945 by his father, Sebastian “Seb” Circo, who died in 2005. The company had survived tough times, particularly in the early 2000s. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, one of Precision’s clients, Delta Air Lines, went bankrupt. Several large steel mills that Precision worked with closed.

Precision Industries defined Circo for most of his life. He started driving the delivery truck during the summer as a 16-year-old and joined the company full-time after graduating from Creighton University when sales were at $2.9 million. He saw it grow to $300 million annually when it sold.

The company’s 700 employees were family to Circo. He says he was close to selling Precision in 2005 after his father’s death, but couldn’t do it. But in 2007, Circo’s thinking began to change.

“I looked in the mirror and thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to do,” he says.

The years following the sale affected Circo in ways he didn’t expect. For several years, he says, he suffered from an identity crisis. The Enterprise Center project, buildings in other states, and the new challenges they bring has helped to re-energize Circo.

Space in the Center, which already has tenants working in the building’s first of three planned phases, already is in high demand. Circo marveled how Mark Simonson, vice president of marketing and management, leased all 30 available spaces in the first phase in less than 45 days. During a tour of the building the two joked that a lot of those customers didn’t need much prodding to sign on—simply walking into the building and seeing the interior often was enough.

“This is a different concept in Omaha, a total concierge environment, where all services are provided,” Simonson says. “We’ve taken it to a different level, a level of elegance that isn’t offered elsewhere in Omaha.”

Circo and Simonson agreed that it helped that Omaha’s business community knows Precision Industries and the Circo family had over 60 years of service and success in the industrial community, and that this new venture would be a first-class operation.

The interior features lots of wood, crown molding, high ceilings, granite, marble floors, and an event room that will handle up to 100 guests.

Tenants also have access to a full-time, live receptionist, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, high-definition video teleconferencing capabilities, and full-time IT support. There are board rooms, conference rooms, and event rooms. A variety of floor plans is available, and tenants can choose between furnished and unfurnished offices.

Tenants can choose from long and short-term leases. In addition, the building is located on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares and is only minutes from the interstate. Among the early tenants are AFLAC, a mediator, and a number of insurance agents and attorneys. The second and third phases are about 90 days away from completion. The building will house about 160 offices and cost about $4.5 million to renovate.

“It’s been a fun project,” Circo says. “It has genuinely rejuvenated me.”

The Enterprise Center isn’t all that has kept Circo on the move lately. Over the last few years, he has become more open about his philanthropic ventures. In May, the Dennis P. Circo ‘65 Memorial Plaza at Creighton Prep was dedicated. Circo, a graduate of Prep, noticed the name of Circo’s mother’s first husband, John Cantoni, was missing from a wall memorial honoring Prep grads who had died in battle along with 333 Jesuit Priests, Brothers, teachers and mentors. From there grew into a larger outdoor memorial that he funded. Circo’s mother, Olive, passed away in July.

Circo also sponsors 55 scholarships that allow minority students to attend private schools across the metro. The scholarships cover all their costs. Photos of many of those students are displayed prominently in his office area inside the Enterprise Center.

Circo also has started numerous scholarships at Creighton University, his alma mater, in the name of some of the priests there. And in the Enterprise Center, Circo has donated space to one of his favorite nonprofits, Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and Delivery, which collects food donations with a truck and delivers it to Omaha’s needy.

Circo also gave Saving Grace the money to purchase the refrigerated truck that is used in gathering and delivering food donations.

He says that, for years, he helped charitable organizations behind the scenes, choosing to remain anonymous and shun attention for his giving. But, he says, that changed a few years ago after meeting with a priest at a school located in one of Omaha’s most impoverished areas.

“The priest told me a story about a well-known, very wealthy local Omaha businessman who he approached for a donation. The priest told this businessman that when he came to this particular school and neighborhood it was a very dark place with little or no hope for the students and he was trying to bring some hope there. He asked this kind and generous businessman if he would consider sponsoring one child all the way through high school up into college. The businessman told the priest, ‘No. I won’t do it for one student; I’ll do it for all students that meet certain minimum criteria.’”

Circo says that act of kindness was the inspiration for the Circo Scholarship Program.

“So you see, there is an upside to not remaining anonymous,” Circo says. “Generosity is contagious.”

 

Steve Gordon

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

Designer Steve Gordon’s urbanized sense for what’s in-vogue permeates his lifestyle and RDQLUS Creative signature work. He indulges a love for hip hop, sneakers, and bikes. He provides brand development, identity design, and creative direction services for corporate clients, big and small, near and far.

Growing up in the North Omaha projects, Gordon displayed an inquisitive mind and aptitude for art. Attending Omaha Creighton Prep exposed him to a larger world.

“I was encouraged to explore, and I think exploration is a major part of creativity and innovation,” he says. “All of that comes from the wide-open spaces of being able to reach and grasp at straws, get some things wrong. After I bought into that, so many things opened up. At Prep, I fell in love with architecture. It still drives a lot of the work I do. My work is a lot more structured than the free-form work of some other designers. Mine is very vertical and Art Deco influenced.”

His design endeavors shared time with his passions for music and competitive athletics. He “fell in love” with music as a kid and went on to success as a DJ, producer, and remixer. His skill as a triple jumper earned him scholarship offers from top colleges and universities. After two years as a Cornhusker in Lincoln, he transferred to the University of South Dakota, where he won multiple national titles. He was ranked among the world’s best.

Gordon with the shoes he designed for NIKEiD.

Gordon with the shoes he designed for NIKEiD.

His pursuit of an Olympic berth and a music career took him around the world. Back home, he worked corporate gigs before launching RDQLUS Creative in 2005.

“As an artist, you want that creative outlet to do something a bit more outside the box, something you’re passionate about,” he says of going the indie route.

The sneaker aficionado recently combined two of his passions when NIKEiD invited him to design shoes and to document the process online.

“I didn’t want to just put some pretty colors on a shoe, I wanted there to be some story, some branding. I’m very much into fashion, style, aesthetics, and athletics, and so I wanted to design a shoe that spoke to all of those things.

“Guys like myself, though we dress in denims and sneakers rather than wing-tips and a tie, we’re no less in tune with wanting to look sharp and present ourselves well.”

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He’s authored two books on freelance design for Rockport Publishers, whose Rock, Paper, Ink blog features his column, “Indie.” He also does public speaking gigs about design. He’s a big tweeter, too. “I love communicating with people.

“At times I wonder how I keep everything up in the air. All of the things I’m involved in, I really have a true belief they feed each other. Someone asked me once, ‘What is it you do for a living?’ and I said, ‘I hope my answer is always, I live for a living.’ What I do to sustain that, well, that’s a different story.”

This one-man shop embodies the independent creative class spirit of engaging community. “Design and creativity are not about art,” he says, “but communication. We’re visual problem solvers.” He says “the really fervent” way he worked to better himself as an athlete “is a lot of like how I still approach life in general,” adding, “If I could work so hard at something that was a game and that gave me fulfillment and made a lasting legacy for myself, then how can I not enjoy life that same way?”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.