Tag Archives: Douglas County

Angling For Safe-To-Eat Fish

May 25, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Eating wild-caught fish from rivers, streams, and dam sites is almost as fun as catching them. But consuming too much of certain fish species is not advised. Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other pollutants can bioaccumulate inside some fish swimming in local waterways.

That doesn’t mean folks shouldn’t eat wild-caught fish—it just means that consumers should know what, how much, and how often they’re eating fish with potential trace amounts of contaminants.

A list of contaminated waters is maintained on the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality’s website. The department warns against long-term consumption of more than “eight ounces per week” of designated species of fish.

Mercury is a natural element in the environment, but it is often released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury that finds its way into local bodies of water can be transformed into methylmercury, which can then be absorbed by the aquatic life living there.

Mercury exposure affects nervous system and brain development. Developing fetuses and small children are the most affected, so parents and pregnant women should be cautious of mercury. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), on the other hand, are carcinogenic.

Testing for Pollutants

Greg Michl says the benefits of eating wild-caught fish outweigh the cons of mercury contamination, so long as one exercises proper precautions.

Michl has worked for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for almost 27 years. As coordinator of the Nebraska Fish Tissue Program, he conducts investigations into surface water quality issues.

Methylmercury and PCB contamination in fish tissues are his primary concern. Michl says it’s easier to analyze bioconcentrations of these contaminants in fish tissues than it is to analyze in the water itself.

“We use fish as a surrogate,” says Michl, who is responsible for collecting tissue samples.

He uses electrofishing equipment to stun the fish before taking tissue samples—small biopsy plugs from near the dorsal spine—before returning the fish safely to the water. An Environmental Protection Agency lab then tests the samples, Michl assesses the data, and he reports his findings.

Methylmercury and PCB contamination appear to be under control in Nebraska. PCBs were first produced and marketed in the United States beginning in 1929.

PCBs gained widespread use as coolants and lubricants because of their remarkable insulating capacities and flame-retardant nature. Unfortunately, PCBs are extremely persistent in the environment and “bioconcentrate” within the food chain. As with methylymercury, fish absorb PCBs as they feed in contaminated waterbodies.

Fortunately, Michl reports that PCB concentrations in fish tissue are on the decline and only a few locations are still under advisory. EPA regulations banned the manufacture and use of PCBs in the late 1970s. Michl expects to see many PCB contamination sites fall off the radar in time.

As for mercury, “The U.S. has a pretty good system in place for regulating what goes into the air,” Michl says, “but eradicating contamination would have to be a worldwide effort. The U.S. can’t do it alone.”

Michl says methylmercury has been detected almost everywhere across the state of Nebraska “primarily in reservoirs and lakes,” and “we see it in some riverine systems’ fish.”

Beware of Predatory Fish

Sue Dempsey says there is “no solution at this time” to methylmercury contamination in local waters. For 25 years she has been a risk assessor and toxicologist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services in the Public Health division.

Her job, in part, is to help protect Nebraska citizens from contaminants in fisheries. “We monitor the fish and issue guidelines for fish consumption and ingestion,” she says. “We advise people on which species to choose.”

On methylmercury, she says bioaccumulation is a concern: “Big fish eat little fish, and it goes up the food chain.” She also warns that regional contaminants, such as pesticides, are a pollution concern for fisheries.

Nevertheless, she fishes, eats fish, and recommends others do the same while taking proper precautions. Dempsey’s advice on selecting and portioning fish to avoid contamination can be found in her “Eat Safe Fish in Nebraska” brochure, which she encourages the public to read.

Regarding wild-caught Nebraska fish, Dempsey says, “I’m big on moderation.” Her brochure advises that bluegill, crappie, perch, and rainbow trout have the lowest concentrations of methylmercury contamination. Catfish are acceptable, walleye and pike should be limited, and bass are not recommended.

Michl advises anglers to watch out for predator catfish such as the flathead, as they have higher concentrations of methylmercury than do channel catfish, which scavenge for food. But that does not mean avoid them entirely.

Dempsey says PCBs store in fat tissue of fish. “PCBs can be removed easily by removing portions and by baking,” she says. Baking allows the fat to drip away from the fish. Mercury appears throughout the entire fish.

So, the next time you’ve got a big Missouri River flathead on the line, and you have to decide whether to catch or release, consider the risk of contaminants when making your choice. I always advise catch-and-release of big catfish anyway. 

Fish Species and Pollutants of Concern in Local Waters

A 2015 report from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality warns of pollutants in 142 bodies of water across the state. Ten of the waterbodies are located in Douglas and Sarpy counties. The department’s list does not “ban eating fish” from the contaminated waters. Instead, the advisory urges consumers to limit long-term intake of specified fish species from the identified waterbodies “to eight ounces per week (for adults).”

Location—species—pollutant

Douglas County

  • Carter Lake—Largemouth Bass—PCBs
  • Prairie View Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Standing Bear Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Two Rivers Lake No. 1—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Zorinsky Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury

Sarpy County

  • Halleck Park Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury, Selenium
  • Offutt Lake—Channel Cat—PCBs
  • Walnut Creek Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Wehrspann Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • West Papillion Creek—Carp—PCBs, Mercury

For more information, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health produced the brochures “Eat Safe Fish in Nebraska” (dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/documents/fishbrochureenglish.pdf) and “Environmental Risk Assessment Fish Consumption Advisories 2016” (dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/pages/puh_enh_environmentalriskassessment_fishtissue.aspx), while the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has published 2015 results of its Regional Ambient Fish Tissue Program (deq.ne.gov/publica.nsf/pages/wat239).

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

Florence and the Political Machine

May 10, 2017 by
Photography by Provided by Douglas County Historical Society

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Omaha’s annexation of Florence—the historic and scenic riverfront community on the far northeast reaches of our city. The milestone warrants a look back at this contentious time in Florence’s history, when its rapidly rising southern neighbor unapologetically gobbled up the settlement despite the objections of many residents.

Why Annex Florence?

It helps to understand a bit of the community’s history. Best known as the site of Winter Quarters, the settlement for thousands of Mormon pioneers making their way West during the 1840s, Florence became a “city” in 1855 when Iowa businessman James C. Mitchell and his surveying team platted the land and officially incorporated.

Florence Kilbourn was the namesake of Florence, though her lineage is unclear. She has been referred to as the adopted niece of Mitchell’s wife or the granddaughter of Mitchell’s wife (depending on the historical account).

Mitchell recognized the busy frontier town’s big potential due to its convenient proximity to the Missouri River and frequent ferry service. The river’s narrow profile—at just 300 yards—and its solid-rock bottom just east of Florence also made it the most natural place to build a future bridge.

In the 1860s and ’70s, Florence grew into a bustling, young city. Early industry included a flour mill, brick manufacturing plant, lumber sawmill, and blacksmith shop, to name a few. Its population swelled well above 3,000, and its economy boomed.

Ana Somers, research specialist at the Douglas County Historical Society, says pressure for Omaha to annex surrounding municipalities really began in 1910 with the Greater Omaha Proclamation. “This was a direct response to the growth crises of 1910 that created a need to annex neighboring towns and villages,” Somers says.

But by early 1915, despite high tax levies, Florence began finding it fiscally difficult to meet community needs. Business leaders in Florence began fearing for the financial solvency of the city moving forward. At the same time, Omaha was building a strong reputation as a Midwestern hub of business and industry. Most members of the Omaha Commercial Club, an organization of area business owners and leaders, became proponents of Florence’s annexation for the “great savings to the taxpayers” it would provide through reduced redundancies in government, and they claimed such action would “provide residents with more benefits, not fewer.”

With the Merger Bill of 1915, the State of Nebraska passed a controversial law allowing Omaha to annex neighboring communities unilaterally, providing these areas lie adjacent to current city boundaries, are situated within Douglas County, and have fewer than 10,000 residents.

A legal battle followed, with representatives from Dundee and South Omaha opposing the decision. Omaha was poised to annex Florence, but lawsuits to the Nebraska Supreme Court left the possibility in limbo.

Some in Florence, fearing taxation without representation, were convinced to join the pro-annexation cause after being assured they would have a Florence representative in city government. The Omaha Commercial Club appointed a committee to explore annexation further, then held a public meeting in January 1916. According to newspaper accounts, 76 in attendance voted in favor, while only nine voted against it. Although the club had hoped to complete annexation by the May 1916 election, it took more than a year longer for it to come to fruition.

Even train cars full of anti-annexation protestors from Florence, Benson, South Omaha and elsewhere flooding the state capitol in Lincoln during hearings could not kill the law. The fight dragged on for two years, until Feb. 14, 1917, when the Nebraska Supreme Court finally dismissed a lawsuit on behalf of the once-independent Dundee.

Confirmation of the new law was a welcome development to then-mayor of Omaha James Dahlman, or “Cowboy Jim,” as he was called, who saw it as a prime opportunity for his administration to grow the city quickly and gain tax revenue. The law allowed for the huge expansion of Omaha later that year with the annexation of Florence and Benson on June 6, 1917, while sealing the fate of South Omaha and Dundee.

According to an article in the Omaha World-Herald dated June 10, 1917, city officials reported the annexation of Florence and Benson expanded the city to 38 square miles. For reference, the present-day City of Omaha occupies roughly 127 square miles (according to the U.S. Census in 2010). Boundaries of the former City of Florence had been Read Street, 40th Street, Florence Heights Boulevard, and the Missouri River.

During subsequent years, the annexation law has been nicknamed “Omaha’s secret weapon,” allowing for continual expansion of its city limits, year after year.

The Dissenters

Not all of Florence was convinced annexation was the best option. Among those in opposition: Florence’s mayor, Freeman Tucker, was concerned for the “political integrity of the village.” He vowed to take his fight against annexation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (though he never did). Another dissenter was Dr. Carr, a prominent local dentist and investor who feared that annexation would reduce the likelihood that Florence would be the site of a promised river bridge, says Rosemary Allen, a longtime member of the Florence Historical Foundation.

“There were concerns about a lot of promises [made by the city] not being delivered on, including security and safety services, such as a rescue squad. And, in fact, a lot was promised but never materialized,” Allen says.

“As I recall, the citizens of Florence didn’t end up having much to say about it all. It was just sort of pushed through. It was a very contentious thing,” she explains. “I do know there were a lot of residents who weren’t happy about it one bit, with some public meetings almost erupting into fist fights. And even years later, there were those that remained bitter about it.”

Allen says residents of Florence were also fearful that annexation would mean the loss of the community’s identity and important history. And in fact, through the years, many of the historic structures from its pioneer town days fell to ruin from neglect, fire, or normal decay.

Years later, it became the mission of the Florence Historical Foundation to keep its historic sites alive and maintain community pride—a mission the foundation has found great success with, preserving many historic landmarks, including the Fire Barn, Keirle House, Depot Museum, Bank of Florence, and Mormon Bridge Toll House. The foundation coordinates the annual Florence Days every May as well as other entertainment and holiday events.

The independently restored Florence Mill and another community group, Florence Futures, also collaborate on community and heritage initiatives. The neighborhood on North 30th Street has witnessed an uptick in activity in recent years, thanks in part to a lively restaurant scene. Blooming flowers (planted by the Northern Lights Garden Club) accent the booming streetscape.

The North Omaha Commercial Club—no relation to the historic Omaha Commercial Club that advocated for Florence’s annexation—is one of Omaha’s oldest civic groups, where Florence business owners meet regularly to discuss ways to keep the corridor alive and thriving. All celebrate the small-town and family-friendly feel of this unique river city community.

Despite being in the shadow of the Big O for nearly a century, Florence maintains an identity and appeal all its own.

Florence Days takes place on the second full weekend of May, with a parade Saturday. Visit historicflorence.org for more information. Archival resources provided by the Omaha Public Library archives of the Omaha World-Herald (omahalibrary.org) and the Douglas County Historical Society (douglascohistory.org).

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

What a Load of Garbage

April 20, 2017 by

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.

Underdogs and Frontrunners in the Omaha Mayoral Race

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Christopher Geary photos by Bill Sitzmann, all others contributed

Running for the office of Omaha mayor seems surprisingly accessible for any registered voter age 25 or older who is an Omaha resident of six months or more: Pay a $100 filing fee, complete a notarized candidate filing form and a statement of financial interests form, and submit a petition signed by 1,000 registered Omaha voters.

As the March/April issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, 10 individuals had taken out paperwork from the Douglas County Election Commission (the first step to getting on the ballot in hopes of being elected to the nonpartisan office that pays $102,312 annually for a four-year term starting in June). But in the months before the election, only about half of the potential candidates had developed and promoted detailed campaign platforms through polished websites, social media channels, and savvy media relations efforts. Several of those receiving less pronounced media attention have articulated core issues that range from legalizing marijuana, to improving the lives of local lower- and middle-income families, to touting free speech.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian W. Kruse says it’s unlikely all 10 will make it to the ballot for the April 4 primary based on precedent: Although seven candidates qualified for the 2013 primary, there were just five in 2009, only two in both 2005 and 2001, and three in 1997. (The two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the general election, May 9 this cycle.) Self-promotion isn’t the only challenge for potential candidates, Kruse says.

“Especially with the mayoral candidates, we do hear quite a bit how hard it is to get 1,000 signatures that are accepted. It takes work, you know?” he says. Some well-meaning signers are discovered during the painstaking verification process to not be registered to vote or not registered in the correct jurisdiction, he explains. Candidates are encouraged to obtain extra signatures and complete paperwork well before the March 3 filing deadline. If time allows, they can correct paperwork errors or omissions or even gather more signatures if they come up short or cut it close.

“We would feel terrible if someone turned theirs in on March 3 and they had 995 signatures, because there’s nothing they can do at that point,” he says. “In our office, we will certify to 110 percent. We try to turn them around pretty quickly; the mayor (incumbent Jean Stothert) turned her signatures in on a Wednesday, and we were done by Friday afternoon. Often candidates will call and check with us on how it’s going, and we’ll give them updates. We try to be as customer service-friendly as possible … We’re here to serve the voters and the citizens of Douglas County.”

Christopher Geary, a martial arts teacher/studio owner and former Marine, is a newcomer to the mayoral race. He and the current mayor were the first to meet the credentials needed to appear on the ballot, receiving confirmation from the commission Jan. 6.

 

“I feel that service to others is not only something people should do, but it’s an obligation we all should embrace. I have run for office before and I feel that now is the perfect time to serve the City of Omaha, which has been my home for three decades … Omaha is an awesome city with a fantastic history and people. The diversity of communities and how we come together in hard times is really inspiring,” Geary says. “I have a vision for Omaha that brings government, business, and citizens together to improve living conditions for everyone by increasing job opportunities, helping businesses grow and prosper, and provide training for those seeking employment.”

Geary has made the unusual decision to not accept campaign contributions. “I think a candidate for any office should be free and clear of anyone or any group that would try to manipulate them once they are in office,” he says.

He also will not participate in debates, he adds. “Political debates end up being personal attacks on one another and rarely stay on point. Candidates will only say what people want to hear with memorized speeches and can easily stump the other candidates with facts they don’t have access to. Voters that watch or listen to these debates will not receive the necessary information to make informed decisions regarding his or her candidate.”

Mayoral candidate Taylor Royal

Another mayoral hopeful, certified public accountant Taylor Royal, is entirely new to politics.

“I have always had the heart to serve the public and make my hometown better for everyone, but the urgency to run for mayor originated when I moved back to Omaha two years ago,” he says, explaining that he was impressed with the business climate and other opportunities in Dallas, where he lived for four years as he earned his master’s degree and launched his career.

“Moving back to Omaha in 2015 was a different story. The same old problems that plagued our city when I was growing up were still prevalent, and new problems were surfacing,” Royal says. “I want to be mayor of Omaha to create a more business-friendly and community-friendly Omaha. I believe my new vision for Omaha will join our community together to solve our challenges and make Omaha the place to be for families and businesses.”

Royal received early media attention for his proposal to build a football stadium and bring an NFL team to Omaha, but his platform also includes unlocking new sources of revenue, looking for strategic opportunities to outsource, improving street maintenance, and revitalizing North Omaha. Citizens have been receptive, he says.

“My campaign experience to date has been a confirmation of what I already knew about the people in Omaha,” he says. “Omaha is a city filled with people who display unmatched hospitality and incredible diversity, and my candidacy has received a warm welcome from the residents.”

Candidate Heath Mello, who comes into the mayoral race fresh from two terms in the Nebraska Legislature, says engagement is key to winning an election.

“Looking back, I was probably most surprised by how important it was to spend more time knocking on doors and meeting with voters than doing anything else. Spending quality time with people in their homes, churches, and senior centers proved to be so much more meaningful to me throughout the campaign than any speech, fundraiser, meeting, or parade,” he says, estimating that he knocked on more than 12,000 doors in his first race alone.

Engagement then transfers to successfully serving the public, he adds.

“I worked hard for eight years as a state senator to keep that kind of personal engagement through town halls, neighborhood roundtables, knocking on doors, and proactively connecting with neighbors,” he says. And he’s taking that approach through his bid for Omaha mayor with a platform that includes plans to reduce crime, improve city services, create jobs, and foster collaboration.

“From Belvedere to Deer Park, Blackstone to Elkhorn, and everywhere in between, I am continuing to knock on doors and visit with small businesses to learn more about how Omahans want to help shape our great city for the next 20 years and how we can collectively create a smarter, more innovative city.”

Incumbent Stothert emphasizes safety of Omaha’s citizens as her top priority in her bid for re-election. “There is no issue we work harder on than reducing crime and apprehending and prosecuting those who commit crimes. I am proud of our police department and our work with community partners to make Omaha a safer community.”

Her motivation for running again is simple: “I love my job, and it is a privilege to serve as mayor.” Stothert notes, however, that running for re-election has both advantages and challenges.

“During the past 3 1/2 years, we have provided leadership, accomplished priorities, and worked with partners on community projects. This experience provides me the opportunity to highlight what we have accomplished, something you can’t provide as a first-time candidate,” she says. On the other hand, “Four years ago, I could spend most my time campaigning by meeting voters throughout the city and visiting people in their homes. While I am doing that again during this election, I also know my work and commitments as mayor must come first. Even though I have less time to campaign, I believe the best politics is doing a good job so we work hard to make sure Omaha is on the right track.”

Information on the election process or candidates is readily available, Kruse says, and he’s hoping for a good turnout for both the primary and general elections with 182 polling places open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visit votedouglascounty.com or call 402-444-VOTE to reach the Douglas County Election Commission for more information.

TEN MAYORAL HOPEFULS

As of press time, 10 prospective candidates had begun the paperwork process to enter the mayoral race. To appear on the ballot, they must obtain and file 1,000 signatures from registered voters who reside in Omaha by March 3. Contact information is based on Douglas County Election Commission public records and online information (listed alphabetically by surname).

Bernard Choping

  • Phone: 402-917-5149

Mark Elworth

  • Phone: 402-812-1600
  • E-mail: markelworthjr@aol.com
  • Twitter: @markjr4gov

Christopher Geary

  • Phone: 402-905-6865
  • Website: geary2017.com
  • E-mail: christophergeary@gmail.com

J.B. Medlock

  • Phone: 402-302-0000 and 402-213-2095

Heath Mello

  • Website: heathmello.com
  • E-mail: info@heathmello.com
  • Twitter: @heathmello

Ean Mikale

  • Website: mikaleformayor.com
  • Twitter: @mikaleformayor

Taylor Royal

  • Website: taylorjroyal.com
  • E-mail: royalformayor@gmail.com

Jean Stothert

  • Phone: 402-506-6623
    Website: jeanstothert.com
  • E-mail: info@jeanstothert.com
  • Twitter: @jean_stothert

Mort Sullivan

  • Website: mortsullivan.com
  • E-mail: mdsullivan@cisusa.info

Jerome Wallace

  • Phone: 314-495-0545

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

 

Battling for Veterans

December 3, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As members of the Greatest Generation, today’s military veterans were drilled about the value of discipline. While discipline is often synonymous with a do-it-yourself attitude, when it comes to receiving their military benefits, those who have served also need to have the discipline to make sure they are receiving all of the benefits entitled to them from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Care advocate David Olney is one of the people fighting on the front lines to make sure veterans are doing just that.

“A majority of seniors have worked very hard in their lifetime, especially veterans,” says Olney. “And their legacy is the hard work they’ve done and are passing on to their heirs. A part of that legacy is taking advantage of the things that they have accomplished during their lifetime and are eligible for, and I think that’s very important.”

Under the VA, there are two types of disability income benefits available for veterans who served on active duty—pension and compensation. The pension program benefits are tied to disabilities that are not service-related, while compensation benefits are tied to disabilities that are service-related.

No matter what kind of benefits veterans or their family members are looking to apply for, Olney says to start early. Benefits-seekers can either go to an accredited agent, such as Olney, or to their local VA county service officer. In the case of Douglas County residents, that would be Bernie Brosnihan.

Both Olney and Brosnihan say their consultations last about 60-90 minutes. From there, Olney will send clients to their local VA office to fill out the necessary paperwork. Brosnihan says that once the initial claim is filed, it usually takes about six months to hear back from the state VA office. With a multitude of different pension income benefits available, and different qualifications for each, it’s important that veterans turn to someone who is VA accredited to maximize their potential pension or compensation benefits.

“Let’s take a veteran whose 70% disabled, Says Olney. “He turns 70, so he could now be considered unemployable, and that automatically makes him 100% disabled. There are many examples like that where we automatically see an increase in benefits. Unless you stop by and visit your veteran’s service officer every year, you aren’t going to see this.”

Additionally, it’s not just veterans who should be checking in. Widows and widowers of veterans can be eligible to receive death pension or dependents indemnity compensation (DIC). Sons and daughters who act as caretakers for their veteran parent can also receive payment through an aid and attendance allowance for disabled veterans.

Both Brosnihan and Olney agree that, no matter what information veterans might have heard or been told about, it is their responsibility to take advantage of them, and not ignore them.

“World War II veterans in particular had this attitude of bucking up,” says Brosnihan. “So many of these people missed out on benefits they could have gotten.”

For questions about their benefits eligibility, veterans can contact the Douglas County Veterans’ Service Office at 402-444-7180.

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Nancy Wilson-Hintz

January 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

NOVA Treatment Community’s mission is to be passionate about providing treatment services, education programs, and foster care services for children, adolescents, adults, and families, as well as help empower individuals and families to experience a life without substance use, family turmoil, and other problems that adversely affect their lives. This is a mission that NOVA’s newest executive director, Nancy Wilson-Hintz, is excited to be a part of.

The Omaha native and Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School alumna has always loved volunteer work, feeling it’s important to give back to the community in which she lives. Her favorite volunteer work is anything involving advocacy for those who are unable to advocate for themselves—especially working with vulnerable children and adults. Such advocacy led to her graduation from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Public Affairs and Community Services/Criminal Justice and into volunteering with the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, which oversees child abuse and neglect cases in the child welfare and court systems.

“It is an honor to work with all of the devoted professional people who make it possible for individuals seeking empowerment to have that opportunity.”

Wilson-Hintz worked as a juvenile probation officer and then an adult probation officer for Nebraska State Probation until 1998 when she switched to the nonprofit world. She became the founder and first executive director for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) of Douglas County, a nonprofit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. CASA volunteers act as a child’s voice in and out of the courtroom, ensuring that the child is receiving all necessary services.

She explains that she chose the nonprofit career path because she believes strongly in “working for the greater good.”In 2006, Wilson-Hintz was asked to be on the NOVA Board of Directors by another board member who was also a CASA volunteer. “Serving on the NOVA Board of Directors provided me with great insight into the workings and mission of the organization. It also helped in transitioning to the NOVA executive director position last fall and taking over the legacy of Eleanor Devlin, NOVA’s founder and executive director of almost 30 years.”

NOVA—which stands for New Options, Values, and Achievements—is a treatment community with adolescent and adult residential programs for substance abuse and mental health problems, outpatient and intensive outpatient services, and foster care services for those who need the support and tools to live a safe, comfortable life.

Wilson-Hintz with NOVA dog, Chance.

Wilson-Hintz with NOVA dog, Chance.

As executive director, Wilson-Hintz says she looks forward to increasing public awareness and funding sources regarding the variety of behavioral health programs and services NOVA offers. “I’m [also] looking forward to networking with NOVA staff, board of directors, funders, and other community organizations that provide behavioral health services,” she says. “It is an honor to work with all of the devoted professional people who make it possible for individuals seeking empowerment to have that opportunity.”

One such devoted “professional” at NOVA with whom Wilson-Hintz works is actually a rescued Border Collie named Chance, who lives with one of NOVA’s Youth Residential Supervisors. “[Chance] was adopted from the Humane Society twice and then returned to the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue, where he lived in foster care for four months before NOVA’s staff adopted him,” she explains.

Chance was named such because he, too, was given a second chance in life to find a loving family and a safe home, which Wilson-Hintz believes makes him a perfect mascot for the organization. As someone who has always thought animals to be extremely helpful in therapy, Wilson-Hintz says that Chance has done an outstanding job making the kids who come to NOVA’s facility feel at home. “He runs to the door to greet the kids each morning, then checks in with staff and spends almost his whole time with the kids…He brings a sense of peace, love, and devotion to the NOVA community.”

“My ultimate goal is to save children and adults from falling through system cracks by ensuring that no one is denied behavioral health services.”

Second chances aren’t just for Chance and the people who come to NOVA though. Wilson-Hintz also displays her faith in second chances in her personal life, as she has adopted three dogs—Petey, Monty, and Jackie—and given them a loving home with her and husband Michael Hintz.

Wilson-Hintz adopted Petey, a 12-year-old Norfolk Terrier, from the Nebraska Humane Society when he was 3 after he was found sick and suffering from a gunshot wound on an Iowa highway in the middle of winter. But she says, he has fully recovered and has been her “inseparable buddy” ever since.

She found Monty, a 6-year-old Miniature Pinscher/Terrier mix, tied up to a dilapidated trailer in a small Nebraska town two years ago. “He was living in deplorable conditions, and it broke my heart to see the hurt and desperation in his eyes,” she says. “I asked if I could have Monty, and the owner agreed to let me take him.” She had planned to take Monty to the Humane Society, but when she brought him home, she fell in love with him.

Today, Wilson-Hintz and Monty are volunteers with Domesti-PUPS, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs, pet therapy programs, classroom dogs, and educational programs. “Monty and I currently go to a nursing home monthly to visit the residents there. Troubled adults and children quickly connect with Monty because, I believe, they instinctively know that he understands them.”20130108_bs_0027 copy

Her most recent addition was Jackie, a 2-year-old English Setter/Lab mix, whom she adopted from the Humane Society after being her foster parent for two weeks. “Jackie was one of the nine rescued pups from a breeder in Illinois. She was not socialized to humans and extremely fearful of everyone and everything. What I thought would just be a short foster care situation ended up being a permanent one.” According to Wilson-Hintz, Jackie’s social skills have gotten so good that she now acts just like a normal puppy, which means lots of destroyed remotes, cell phones, and shoes for Wilson-Hintz and her husband. But they’re always patient in working with her and enjoy watching her progress.

With such compassion for those who need help, both human and animal alike, there’s no doubt that Wilson-Hintz will continue to expand and better NOVA’s services as executive director. Over the next year specifically, she plans to focus on foster care awareness and foster parent recruitment, as there is a continuous need for stable homes for abused and neglected children who can’t live with their biological families. Although NOVA currently provides foster care homes and family support services, there’s also a great need to increase community outreach, which is why Wilson-Hintz is making foster care awareness one of her top priorities.

She has several plans for NOVA’s future as well. Her two main goals for the next five to 10 years are to broaden financial opportunities and increase program stability by building on past successes and implementing new forward-thinking options. “My ultimate goal is to save children and adults from falling through system cracks by ensuring that no one is denied behavioral health services simply because they do not qualify for funding through the state or other programs, do not have insurance, or are not able to pay out-of-pocket expenses.”

Jay Noddle

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“When people are relying on you, you better be prepared to show up with suggestions and a solution and go the extra mile. Leadership is about how you do when things are tough, not when they are easy.”

Tough was the word for 2008, adds real estate developer Jay Noddle. “I was wondering if every decision I made would turn out to be wrong when the economy crashed. We were working in a time of change. Suddenly, there were no experts in our industry…No one to ask because business hadn’t faced extreme economic challenges like those.”

Commitments were met and business improved, says Noddle, who believes his strength is strategic planning.

“Leadership is about how you do when things are tough, not when they are easy.”

“We ask, ‘What do you believe you need? Why do you feel that way? What are the differences between your wants and needs?’ We’re focused on helping organizations think through those decisions and develop a vision and a strategy that will help achieve that vision.”

After returning to his hometown of Omaha in 1987 following 10 years in Denver where he attended college and worked, he founded Pacific Realty. The company turned into Grubb & Ellis/Pacific Realty in 1997 when it became an independent affiliate of the national company. In 2003, he succeeded his father, Harlan Noddle, as president and CEO of Noddle Companies. The company has been involved in 125 office and retail projects coast to coast.

“All we have is our reputation built on what we accomplished,” Noddle says. “We make sure we work within our capabilities.”

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Think Big

Jay Noddle takes on the big jobs. The First National Tower that stretches 40 stories high. One Pacific Place. Gallup headquarters. But his most ambitious project sits in the middle of an historical Omaha neighborhood.

“Aksarben Village is probably as good of an example of collaboration and teamwork as I’ve seen in my career,” says Noddle. “City, county, state, university, neighborhood associations, and bankers came together and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

The 70-acre property near 67th and Center streets had been transferred by Douglas County to the nonprofit Aksarben Future Trust for development. Noddle was selected as the developer.

Omahans have an affection for the area that goes back to 1921, when the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben moved its racetrack and colosseum there. The finish line of the racetrack is now the lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott.

“Today, we have a vibrant, popular place woven into the community,” says Noddle, who looks out his office window and sees people walking, biking, and running.

The close vicinity of University of Nebraska-Omaha and College of Saint Mary encourages businesses to locate in the Village, he says. “The schools produce the workforce of the future.  Business and industry are always looking for the best and the brightest. Aksarben Village has opened a whole new world for UNO, which is aspiring to grow to 20,000 students by 2020.”

More development is underway in the Village.

  • Gordmans’ corporate offices will move into a new building near 67th and Frances streets during the first quarter of 2014. The retail chain is another example of why location near the university is a good match for business: Gordmans is active in the design of the UNO College of Business curriculum.
  • Courtyard by Marriott developers will open a Residence Inn in the Village in early 2014.
  • The first opportunity to own housing at Aksarben Village will happen in Summer 2014 at Residences in the Village.
  • More apartments—200—are joining the 400 already at the Village.
  • D.J.’s Dugout will have its own new building in March.
  • Waitt Company will relocate its headquarters to the newly built Aksarben Corporate Center, a joint venture with Waitt and the Noddle Companies.

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Jay at Play

When you look at what Noddle has accomplished, you ask, “When does he have time for a life?” As it turns out, he makes plenty of time for family and fun.

His youngest, Aaron, 13, attends eighth grade. Sam, 19, attends the University of Miami.  Rebecca, 21, is studying social work at UNO.

“I’m a soccer dad. And I like to cook.” Noddle also enjoys golfing, scuba diving, and running and describes himself as “a big car guy.”

With a busier schedule, the Husker fan has had to subdue his Big Red fever. “I was a road warrior for the Huskers…Never missed a game, home or away.”

“When we work creating places and activities, whether a park or a ballpark, people will come out of their buildings and interact.”

His wife, Kim, started a new business this year—The Art Room in Rockbrook Village. The former District 66 art teacher offers classes and workshops. “It’s been a dream of hers as long as I’ve known her. She’s loving it,” says her proud husband.

Noddle joins volunteer organizations by looking for a connection to his interests.

He serves on the UNMC board of advisors and supports the Eppley Cancer Center (“My father had cancer”). He has been president-elect and president of the Jewish Federation of Omaha (“That is our culture”) and is a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Omaha by Design is a special interest. “People think of sustainability as a liberal thing. But it’s not just recycling and green buildings. Sustainability promotes healthy living…Promotes interaction between people. When we work creating places and activities, whether a park or a ballpark, people will come out of their buildings and interact.”

“We work around the country, and Omaha is a special place,” says Noddle. “Unless you get beyond our borders, you don’t realize that.”