Tag Archives: Elkhorn

A Model for 
Remodeling

June 20, 2018 by
Photography by Chris Ruhaak

Talk about adapting. 

Since last August, the Minderman home (located west of 204th Street where Elkhorn meets horse country) has been in the throes of an overhaul. The scope of the project—from top to bottom, stem to stern—could send HGTV’s popular remodeling hosts gasping for breath.  

Dr. David Minderman, a neonatologist at Methodist Women’s Hospital, his wife Maria, and their three children have spent the past year listening to a chorus of hammers, saws, and drills. They’ve stepped gingerly around torn-up floors and torn-down walls, reconfigured their living space three times, and have gotten to know managers at several nearby restaurants on a first-name basis. 

Upgrades to the 25-year-old, two-story stone home began innocently enough. 

“We knew when we bought the house five years ago that we would redo the kitchen,” Maria says. “It didn’t have enough natural light and the appliances were outdated. The powder rooms and master bath, which are also on the first floor, needed work.”

Before

One necessity led to another. Adding eight feet to he kitchen required doing the same to the basement. In addition, the natural stone fireplace in the living room malfunctioned and leaked.  The main staircase, which curved at the bottom, called for a redesign to facilitate walking to the new patio door. 

The Mindermans’ contractor, Greg Frazell of G. Lee Homes, understood the couple’s vision and mapped it all out, with one suggestion.

“Greg said it would be best to get the entire first floor and the partial basement remodel done all at once instead of in stages,” says Maria, who grew up on a farm in Honey Creek, Iowa. “So we brought everything we needed upstairs to the second floor. That’s where we lived for over seven months.”

 The five family members, including Olivia (15), Tristan (13), and Brooks (11), made do with one tub, a small plastic shower in a 5-by-8 foot bathroom, and a family room that doubled as David and Maria’s bedroom. 

Meals became Maria’s great adventure. 

A bar in a section of the basement not under construction became the family kitchen. Maria didn’t have a stove, but she added a toaster oven, an electric skillet, and an air fryer to the bar’s small refrigerator and even smaller sink. Mealtime may have been cramped, but it worked. 

Then Maria got that familiar glint in her eye.

“What would it cost to paint the bar area and put in a new sink and a granite top?” she wondered. 

It cost the family home-cooked meals. 

With the makeshift kitchen suddenly out of commission and no sink to wash dishes, the Mindermans dined out during the last month-and-a-half of the first-floor renovation. Hy-Vee’s Chinese buffet, Jimmy Johns, Chipotle (“the kids love anything with rice and chicken”), Mama’s Pizza, and lettuce wraps at Greenbelly filled the void. 

Construction crews came to the rescue of David and Maria’s waistlines in mid-March. They unveiled the main floor, just in time to enter the home in the Remodel Omaha Tour, sponsored by the Metro Omaha Builders Association. The public came away impressed.

Sunlight pours through new windows into the kitchen, which now shares an open floor plan with the adjoining sitting room. The kitchen addition, with its separate entrance off the driveway, contains a huge pantry, laundry room, and desk.

Walls and cabinets match in pale gray, accented with white trim. The panel-ready refrigerator mimics the cabinets, its wooden doors painted to match and adorned with the same hardware. 

The industrial stove’s Carrara marble backsplash, with an arabesque pattern cut from antique mirror, adds an intricate and delicate touch.

 The kitchen sink now rests inside a 10-foot-long center island, allowing the family to look into the sitting room and talk to each other or guests while cleaning up.  

A dark-stained beam fashioned out of barn wood runs along the ceiling above the island. A single light pendant with smoked glass, weathered iron, and a huge throwback Edison bulb hangs over the island—just two of many eye-catching touches Maria discovered while working closely with Angie Hall, design consultant with G. Lee Homes.

“We have very similar tastes,” says Hall, who also serves as project coordinator. “Maria didn’t want anything trendy that would date the house in a short time. The look is classic and comfortable with touches of rustic.”

Normalcy lasted only until the end of the home tour. By early April, the entire second floor was shut down for a complete overhaul.

This time, the family set up three beds in the newly refurbished basement and dragged bedding, all the kids’ clothes, and the necessary electronics downstairs. 

Did any family revolutions break out?

“My husband is a really easy-going person and the kids did really well,” Maria says. “But there were a few skirmishes about ‘mom and her stupid idea to remodel,’ after we had to stop sleepovers with their friends.”

True to her nurse’s training, Maria remains cool, calm, and loving, but holds fast to the plan. 

“I keep telling them to remember our motto: ‘No crying until August 2018.’” 

And if construction goes beyond that date?

Maria thinks for a minute before answering with typical wry humor, “Then, we’ll talk about it.”


Visit omahasbuilder.com for more information about the home’s contractor, G. Lee Homes.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Home. 

A Cathedral for Cooking

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most first-time attendees at Crème de la Crème instructional cooking events enter chef Paula Dreesen’s home as if they are crossing the threshold of a church. Perhaps overly aware of their guest status, they edge in on padded feet and speak in hushed whispers, the kind usually reserved for the gentle echoes of a house of worship.

“They may enter as strangers,” the gregarious Dreesen says with a broad smile, “but they leave as friends. That’s what good food and good conversation does. It draws people together.” 

But the night I became a parishioner at Crème de la Crème was different. And loud.

It was Dreesen’s 150th event, and all the other cooks-in-waiting were repeat guests, longtime disciples with as many as five previous evenings under the belts of their aprons. The only icebreaking required this time around involved that which was needed for a decidedly less than pious procession of mojitos which ushered in the evening.

Teaching, now so seemingly natural for the outgoing Dreesen, was an evolutionary process paralleling the arc of her life in food.

“My mom started me in the kitchen when I was a little girl,” the chef says, “and I worked in and around the restaurant industry for 35 years. Cooking has always meant so much more to me; so much more than just food.” 

After years of being asked by friends for help or advice in the kitchen, she began informal instructional sessions in her previous home, then launched her Crème de la Crème business plan three years ago in the sprawling 1,000-square-foot kitchen of a new home that was designed specifically for such group culinary gatherings.

“People always ask me why I never opened a restaurant of my own,” the chef says, “but I don’t think I have that in me, the seven-day commitment and endless hours that go into making a restaurant work. What I do have is a husband [Dr. Adrian Dreesen], five kids, and a dog. Crème de la Crème is the perfect fit…the perfect way to find and express my creativity and share it with others in a fun, social environment.”

Several globetrotting themes are available for Crème de la Crème soirees and, taking the farm-to-table philosophy to its logical extreme, Dreesen rotates her menus based on the availability of bounty from her expansive backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards perched high on a hill overlooking the Elkhorn River in West Omaha.

Crowd favorites include such Mexican menus as “Casa de Crème” and “A Tale of Two Tacos.” Italian is also popular with her “Pizza Party” and “Cozy Italian” evenings. 

And, in tribute to Dreesen’s culinary idol, Julia Child, there’s even a more highbrow “French Crème Countryside” menu for pilgrims in search of new frontiers.

Dreesen also offers the “Crème Conquest,” a hit with corporate clients that use the experience as a team-building exercise. Groups are split into teams and given a set of selected ingredients, but no recipe. The challenge is to guess the secret recipe from which the ingredients are derived. Even if the food sleuths fail to solve the underlying mystery, they get to battle it out, Iron Chef-style, in devising and preparing a delicious meal to be shared by their co-workers.

But it was the “Grillin’ Cuban Style” menu on tap for the night I attended, where anxious students took turns in preparing pineapple mojitos, mojo-grilled chicken with black beans and crispy sweet plantains, all followed by a decadent tres leches cake.

Although I was present as a journalistic observer—and my culinary prowess is pretty much limited to melting Velveeta—I was also invited to participate.

My assigned task, perhaps mercifully, was to blend the tres leches ingredients into a velvety symphony of num-num-numiness ready for the oven. Based on the baking, cooling, and refrigeration time called for in the recipe, I had accurately surmised that Dreesen had prepared a cake, the one we would later be eating, a day in advance, but I was still resolved to approach my job as if I were engaged in the sacramental rite of turning flour and eggs into manna from heaven. My apron, not to mention my nascent reputation as a capable hand in the kitchen, emerged unscathed. High fives all around.

Dreesen is often asked to take her show into other people’s homes, but now it’s her turn to speak in hushed, reverent tones.

“It’s doing it here that makes it meaningful for me,” she explains. “Cooking right here. Cooking with family helping me. Not just in any kitchen but in my kitchen. It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”


Visit cremedelacremeomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Home. 

Going to the Fair for 140+ Years

Photography by Douglas County Historical Society
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

4-H played a big part in Tracy Behnken’s youth. The Nebraska Extension educator, who grew up on a dairy farm near Bennington, showed dairy cattle and participated in horticulture and entomology competitions from the age of 8 to 18.

So when the Douglas County Fair rolled around each year, Behnken and her siblings filled with excitement. “I’m the youngest of four, and we all showed [livestock] and looked forward to fair time. We’d spend morning ‘til night there, caring for our animals. My cousins were there, and I got to see many of my classmates. And we’d get to see kids from across the county…reconnect with friends we’d made.” 

Behnken, 54, says a highlight was riding the Zipper carnival ride with friends, over and over again. She’d also go to the open-air auditorium and watch the song competition and fashion review show. “And I remember us girls trying to keep away from the 4-H boys who’d try to throw you in the stock tank,” she says, laughing. “They were an ornery bunch.”

The Douglas County Fair has created great memories like Behnken’s for countless Nebraskans for more than 140 years. And that longevity is no small feat, considering the changing landscape of the county, both geographically and culturally.

Just a couple of years ago, the fair appeared to be near an end. Its events and entertainment had been cut to the bone, attendance was dismal, and fair planners wondered if it could survive. 

1906 Douglas County Fair Ribbons

But today, with a new home and management, the fair is poised to make a comeback. So believes Matt Gunderson, chair of the Douglas County Fair Advisory Committee and president of Friends of Extension Foundation, which took over management this year. The 2018 fair will be held July 10 to 15 at Village Pointe in West Omaha and Chance Ridge Event Center in Elkhorn. Chance Ridge won’t have parking, so visitors will need to take weekend shuttles from lots at Village Pointe or Metropolitan Community College’s Elkhorn campus. 

To say that the fair has weathered many changes is an understatement. The first fair (in the area now known as Douglas County) was during 1858 in Saratoga prior to Nebraska statehood, according to the Douglas County Historical Society. But the official Douglas County Fair got its start on a parcel of land in Waterloo in the mid-1800s. A portion of property taxes paid by Nebraska landowners went to the Douglas County Agricultural Society, which initially funded the fair. 

“County fairs started as a means for the rural population to showcase what they’d done all year,” says Vernon Waldren, executive director of the Friends of Extension Foundation. “The farmers came out to show the quality crops they’d grown, compare the size of their melons, and show off their best livestock.”

“Eventually they added home economics—baking, sewing, and other domestics. Then 4-H started in 1902 and became part of Extension, and joined the fair with the goal of educating people about these things.” 

The fair steadily grew, adding musical acts, carnival games and rides, and other family fun. Held in late summer, the event lasted from five to 10 days. The fair stayed in Waterloo for over a century, until the fairgrounds were sold.

In 1988, the Douglas County Fair relocated to Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, with the Knights of Aksarben taking over management. The tract of land—bounded by 50th to 72nd and Leavenworth to Center streets—seemed a good fit, offering an indoor arena, a racetrack, and stables with plenty of room for exhibits, livestock, rides, and a midway. The location also brought the action closer to the population center, though not all were happy about the fair leaving a small-town setting. Participation by both 4-H and open-class competitors grew, as events were opened to kids from outside counties. The late-July fair was a boon to the city. 

In 2003, following the sale of Ak-Sar-Ben for development, the fair was forced to move again, this time settling at the Qwest Center Omaha in downtown. The fair combined with the River City Rodeo & Stock Show to become a four-day event in late September. The urban venue did not appeal to many traditional fair-goers, as events were moved indoors, and many complained the fair had lost its identity. But there was no denying the high turnout. “There were as many as 100,000 people in attendance during those four days,” Gunderson says.

The first few years at the Qwest Center (eventually renamed the CenturyLink Center), the fair offered carnival rides in the parking lot. “But economics dictated that that end pretty quick,” says Eddie Biwer, another Friends of Extension Foundation board member. “Too expensive.” 

“Also, the 4-H presence at the [Douglas County] fair was dropped,” Waldren says. “[The kids] went to the Sarpy County Fair. There were still open-class persons exhibiting, but not in those numbers.”

To keep the fair relevant in its new city setting, organizers recognized it had to become more diverse, Gunderson says. “We began hosting chess tournaments and robotics competitions. We worked to become more inclusive.” 

Douglas County Fair McArdle exhibit, 1910

In 2016, the Knights of Aksarben ended its oversight, and the rodeo/stock show parted ways with the fair. Management was turned over to the Douglas County Fair Foundation. During this uncertain time, the group chose to scale the fair back to three days in late July and sought out an inexpensive venue, choosing Crossroads Mall at 72nd and Dodge streets. Mostly vacant, the mall housed most of the fair events indoors, with a few bounce houses and a small petting zoo in an outside lot. 

The bare-bones fair offered some live music, a magic show, a Disney film screening, and the traditional cake and quilt shows. But without carnival rides and livestock events (rabbits and chickens were showcased indoors), the fair proved lackluster and had disappointing attendance. Fair organizers knew big changes had to come for it to survive.

Last year, the Douglas County Fair Board moved the event to Chance Ridge Event Center in rural Elkhorn. The one-day July event was a trial run to see if the venue would suit the needs of the fair going forward. Its tagline was “Back to the Dirt,” referencing the fair’s return to the country and the basics of a county fair (minus the carnival rides). It had the regulars—quilts, bunnies, a “sugar arts” baking competition, as well as a progress show (a livestock event for youth to practice their showcasing skills for the state fair). Like in past years, all events were open class, meaning anyone could compete. A beer garden and music concert closed the event. Though the fair did not boast big numbers, competition entries were up and it was received well by attendees. 

The Friends of Extension Foundation is hoping to sign a multi-year contract with Chance Ridge to continue hosting the Douglas County Fair, Gunderson says. With the help of new sponsors and additional marketing this year, organizers hope to build on this momentum. 

This year’s event tagline is “Where Urban and Rural Meet,” as the fair focuses on educating fairgoers on how agriculture relates to all of us, as well as pathways to careers in agriculture.

“One-third of all industries in Omaha are tied to agriculture in some way,” Gunderson says. “You can work in IT, as an accountant, a welder, or in transportation, and still play a part in agriculture and food production.”

Adds Waldren: “Even if you don’t want to work in agriculture, there are skills we teach to help in everyday life, like how to pick fresh produce or selection of meat…[teaching] people how to be better consumers.”

Gunderson realizes that building the fair back to the size it once was is unlikely given the more urban nature of Douglas County, not to mention club sports, technology, and summer camps competing for kids’ attention. But he hopes parents will take the time out for the fair to “create those special memories with their kids and grandkids, and spur that fire and interest in agriculture. It’s great family time.” 


For more information, visit douglascountyfair.org and douglascohistory.org.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Cooped Up in the City

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raising chickens in the city has become more common in recent years due to the popularity of urban farming. 

Brett Kreifels, educator for the Nebraska Extension in Cass County (formerly of the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension), has been around poultry his whole life. He runs 4-H youth development for the county and has extensive education in livestock. His grandfather owned a hatchery in Springfield when he was a child. 

Kreifels says there is a trend in favor of urban farming and raising poultry in cities like Omaha because it’s fun and it teaches sustainability. Eggs are an added benefit. For some, it is comforting to know where their meat comes from.

To get started, he says it is important to know local regulations, noting that Omaha and Lincoln have different rules, and Omaha residents must follow both city and Douglas County rules. Much of Sarpy County does not allow chickens, with the exception of those raised by youth in 4-H programs.

Beka Doolittle raises chickens in a part of Elkhorn that is not annexed by the city but falls within Douglas County. She has a permit from the county, but also advises urban farmers to be aware of homeowners association covenants. She raises egg-laying chickens exclusively. Doolittle selected types that lay a variety of colored eggs—they look beautiful in cartons. If one of her birds were to stop laying, she would keep it as a pet. She says raising chickens teaches good life skills, and she enjoys passing them on to her 8-year-old daughter. She says caring for chickens is therapeutic, noting that their strange behavior always makes her laugh. 

Janine Brooks keeps chickens within Omaha city limits. She has many Seramas (a small breed of bantam chickens originally from Malaysia), and enjoys their eggs. It takes five of their eggs to equal one average chicken egg. Brooks says she got into chickens with her 31-year-old daughter, who is autistic. She says her daughter loves the chickens and also raises turkeys. Rearing poultry and watching them grow has been therapeutic for the family and keeps her daughter occupied. Brooks says chickens and turkeys are incredible pets, inexpensive to feed and maintain, and they are clean animals.   

Kreifels says there are no health concerns with raising poultry so long as you keep a clean coop. Otherwise there are risks of salmonella and E. coli. He recommends washing your eggs and your hands after handling chickens. He has been sick from his own birds on one occasion. He attributes it to lax hand-washing practices. “Don’t kiss your chickens,” he says, partly joking.

To get started in Omaha, Kreifels recommends first contacting the Douglas County Health Department. Let them know you are interested in raising chickens. They will want to know your lot size, whether or not you have a fenced-in yard, and what the coops look like. They will send someone out to inspect the facility. If they approve, they will tell you how many chickens you can have and issue you a permit.

It’s that simple. Raise chickens. Eat fresh eggs. Know where your meat comes from. Learn to nurture yourself by nurturing and respecting your food source.


Visit extension.unl.edu to learn more about the Nebraska Extension’s work with local agriculture and livestock.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Home. 

Ugly Yellow and Violet Vividity

June 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all started with a knee injury. In 2006, things for the now-24-year-old Jenna Johnson came to a screeching halt when the soccer enthusiast was subjected to multiple surgeries to repair her ACL. While she healed, the Sioux City, Iowa, native discovered her passion for painting. 

“It was the making of something from nothing that grabbed me,” she explains. 

In 2001, Johnson and her family moved to Elkhorn for a job opportunity. She says that, although she received a quality education and played a multitude of sports, she always felt like something was missing.  

“It was exactly what you’d imagine it to be like,” Johnson says. “I had numerous friends. I felt safe, but in a way I also felt boxed in, possibly due to the lack of diversity.” 

When Johnson graduated from Elkhorn South High School in 2012, the self-taught artist moved east and got a studio at Hot Shops downtown, a goal she’d had since she was a teenager. 

“I participated in a high school show that is held there once a year,” she explains. “During our tour, I’d get lost in the building and imagine what it would be like to be an artist there. Now that I have been a resident for almost six years, Hot Shops has given me much wisdom about the art community. With the knowledge of my fellow artists, I’ve gained the skills necessary to keep my business going.” 

Over the years, those fellow artists have taught her how to build and stretch a canvas, and explain, sell, and critique her work. She’s also learned imperative lessons about success and failure, so it’s not surprising Johnson’s current focus is people, done in an unconventional mustardy yellow and shades of violet.  

She initially chose that shade of yellow because she wanted to make an ugly painting to “get it out of her system.” But once she saw it next to the violet, her imagination exploded. The result was a new experience for her.

“People are my favorite right now,” she says. “I hate painting faces, but I love how the two colors simplify the subject. I am infatuated with these two colored portraits [in particular]. All [of them] are large so it is fun to step up to one and stare into the subject’s soul.”

“Ask me this again in a year, I’m sure it will change,” she adds. 

Although she has other hobbies like traveling, hiking, and yoga, Johnson can’t picture her life without working as an artist. 

“I ask myself this question at least once a week and the answer is always the same—I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe cut hair? It terrifies me to imagine doing anything but painting.”

Johnson’s permanent installations can be found throughout Omaha at businesses such as TD Ameritrade (commissioned while she was still in high school) and LinkedIn. Living paycheck to paycheck, she appreciates each and every time someone buys her work. 

“It feels wonderful,” she says. “Since this is my only job, any sale is a good sale.” 

Down the line, Johnson envisions her art breaking out of the Omaha scene, but she insists, “If I am still happily painting in the future, I have succeeded.” 


Visit jennajart.com for more information about the artist. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Wood Works

February 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all began with a Hail Mary pass to get Graham Nabity enrolled at Elkhorn High School in time for football season.

In 2010, David and Kim Nabity hastily moved from their 5,000-square-foot Pacific Hollow home to a 2,700-square-foot, 1965 Elkhorn home just in time for Graham to suit up that fall. With three of the seven Nabity children still under the roof at the time, David says they “sardined” themselves into the new, smaller home.

“The whole point was moving in with enough time for [Graham] to start at Elkhorn, so we always knew at some point we’d do something different with the house, but it took us six years to finally get to the place where we had the design we wanted and were ready to do it,” says David, an Omaha native who grew up in the Benson area.

At the tail end of 2017, after 15 months away for a massive remodeling project, David and Kim finally moved back into their gorgeous, fully redone (now 3,800-square-foot) Elkhorn home that makes heavy use of gorgeous reclaimed barnwood. Why so long? Well, that whole “fully redone” part ended up being much more involved than initially expected.

The first order of business was clearing the ample lot from its excess of uninviting flora.

“The woods were so thick when we moved in you couldn’t even walk through them—it was just dead trees, thickets, poison oak vines, thorn bushes…It took me two years to clean the grounds so we had a meadow,” David says. “By about year four, I’d cleared out all the trees so we could see the beautiful river valley view we have now.” 

From August 2016 through December 2017, the Nabitys moved in with their son, Justin, planning to simply skin the outside and inside of the home, “leave the sticks and the roof, and add on the garage and extension.” But simple was not in the cards for the Nabitys.

The framers reviewed the plans and the house, indicated the plan was not possible, and recommended tearing down the south side of the house. The Nabitys agreed to that, only to discover that the house also lacked headers over the doors and windows, and the frame was not bolted to the foundation. Ultimately, they took the house all the way down to the foundation and built back up from there—thus the unintended 15-month diversion to dwelling in Justin’s unfinished basement.

In January 2017, the Nabitys parted ways with the original general contractor and David took over the project, with no prior construction or homebuilding experience.

“Since I’d never built a house before or been a general contractor, I was flying blind,” he says. “I had to really trust and rely on my subcontractors because I was in uncharted territory.”

But what David lacked in experience, he made up for in vision and vigor.

“Our vision for the house was rustic meets elegance; for the home to feel warm and friendly,” David says. “It’s kind of a Cape Cod look meets mountain home. Over the years, Kim and I visited places like Beaver Creek, Colorado, and Whistler in Canada, and we love the mountain home look of housing in those areas. Since we’re on a hill overlooking the river valley, we wanted to bring that mountain home feel to the house and felt like the barnwood would do the job. We couldn’t be more thrilled with [the result]. It’s exactly what I envisioned it would become.”       

In the meantime, Graham had indeed played football for Elkhorn, and then UNL, before graduating college and partnering in Nebraska Barnwood with David’s friend Tom Day, who had a massive supply of reclaimed barnwood.

“They build barnwood tables, desks, other pieces of furniture, and I bought all my barnwood from their company,” David says. “I picked up the wood, brought it home, power-washed and sanded every board, and stained, painted, or put a clear poly on every board that’s in the house. [Kim] and I worked side by side on that.”

The result is lovely, with a variety of barnwood featured throughout the home, from David’s Western/cowboy-themed office with a horse-worn, notched barn beam and striking multicolored boards in a repeating 8-inch, 4-inch, 6-inch pattern, to the airy, open floor plan living/dining/kitchen area, to the French mountain resort-esque family room with natural stone fireplace, to the stunning master suite, and beyond.

Every inch of the home is appointed with thoughtful care for details like doorknobs, hinges, and other hardware to add subtle elegance, as well as strategic use of knotty alder for certain doors and trim areas to mimic the rustic barnwood charisma. Corresponding colors and themes are found throughout the house.

“Every room’s a little different, and I use the barnwood differently in every room, but I tried to tie all the metals and wood together,” David says. “A lot of thought went into each space as far as how we [executed] to get the look we wanted.”

Ultimately, David says the end result was worth the wait, and though much of the remodel could’ve been achieved with any wood, he and Kim love the way their use of reclaimed barnwood lends character and warms up the home.

“God provides a seed, you plant it in the ground, and it grows into a tree. Then that tree provides fruit or shade until it comes time for the tree to die or be harvested. Then you cut the tree down and can shape the wood into so many different things. But once you stain it and put it at its rightful place, it just lives forever,” he says. “It’s a really phenomenal natural thing, when you think about it. If you take that concept to an old barn, the wood is old, tired, worn, used…yet it still maintains that character, and when you bring it back to life by power-washing, sanding, and staining it, something really special happens. It goes way beyond just being a piece of shiplap; there’s much more to it. It’s an amazing thing.”

Visit nebraskabarnwood.com for more information about Nebraska Barnwood and the reclaimed wood used in the Nabitys’ Elkhorn home.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Main Street Studios

September 1, 2017 by
Photography by Katie Anderson

This sponsored content appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/omahamagazine_1017_2_125/60

Main Street Studios owner Tyler Curnes saw a need for a vibrant artists’ community in Elkhorn, not only as an area native but also as an artist. He knew the area was ready for a gallery featuring local artists producing stunning art in a variety of media. He was right—the venue is so sought-after that Main Street Studios has a waiting list for artists’ studio space.

The artists who currently have studio space at Main Street Studios represent an eclectic group: an acrylic painter, a bronze sculptor, a silversmith, and a glass artist. The varied media represented is intentional. “The gallery is appealing to walk through and see,” says Curnes, explaining that he selected each artist by first ensuring they “have high energy and quality art.”

High energy is important for Main Street Studios artists, since they all work around a rotating schedule to ensure an artist is always present at the gallery to answer visitor questions or even to demonstrate their work in action. Guests can watch Curnes manipulate glass, turning it into art right before their eyes. “People can see artists work and talk with them about their art since there is always an artist on duty,” says Curnes, adding that there is something special and powerful about meeting an artist before purchasing a piece as it adds to the overall experience.

A monthly meeting of the Main Street Studios artists ensures that everyone has a say in how the gallery is presented. They frequently change the look of the gallery to present a new experience to everyone who walks through the door, even if they are frequent visitors. “We recently redid the entire gallery,” says Curnes—the process took 20 hours.

Creativity can flourish in a place where artists work together. “It’s less like a job and more like a community or a family,” says Curnes. “It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true. The other artists are like a sounding board to critique my work.” He said that it’s easy for artists to experience stagnation in their work when they don’t have input from other artists.

“I can pull something out of the kiln and ask everyone else, ‘What’s missing?’ The other artists help me step out of my comfort zone and become a better artist.” Curnes also says that he and the bronze artist soon plan to co-op some art, collaborating in a way that only happens when a group of artists form a tight-knit group.

There is simply nowhere else like Main Street Studios in the Elkhorn/West Omaha area. It’s a place that is worth a visit by anyone who appreciates art—in particular, art that is locally produced. Speak with the artists and find out about their inspirations and muses, elevating each piece to a more personal level.

Another artist will join the group in September, bringing the total number of artists with work space at Main Street Studios to five. Their spring and winter open houses are excellent opportunities to meet all the artists and view their work. Other events are held throughout the year, or one can simply stop in during regular business hours to chat with an artist and view all the amazing art at Main Street Studios.

2610 NORTH MAIN ST. ELKHORN, NE 68022
402-452-3088
MAINSTREETSTUDIOS2610.COM

What’s That Thing

October 13, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Shakespeare wrote of love and betrayal. Tolkien of hobbits and wizards. Steinbeck and Faulkner of the indomitable American spirit.

Layne Yahnke writes about his VW Thing.

Yes, the two-wheel-drive, off-road convertible military vehicle first manufactured for the West German Army as “Type 181” in 1968. VW churned them out until 1983, including two years in the United States when marketed as “The Thing.”

Yahnke got his Thing in 2000 for $5,500. He’s lovingly restored it, most importantly giving it a peppy new motor that makes it Autobahn-worthy.

There’s only one other Thing in Omaha and Yahnke gets lots of second and third looks when he’s whipping down the Dodge Street Expressway from his Elkhorn home. Especially when the doors are off and windshield is down.

Everyone wants to know about…the Thing.

Thus Yahnke penned, “It Takes a Village to Build a VW Thing,” an ode to those who helped him with his beloved ride—his sons, Omaha VW Club members, engine and body shops, and parts stores.

“I wrote that right after the engine transplant,” says Yahnke, an Omaha native and vice president at Essex Corp., provider of senior living communities. “I guess I was moved. I get so many inquiries about it and I really feel so fondly about it.”

It’s not his first Thing. Yahnke and his wife of 38 years, Pam, owned one before their four children came along. As the kids have come and gone, so have the cars.

Lots of them.

Layne and Pam Yahnke

Layne and Pam Yahnke

 

Yahnke figures he has owned 60 automobiles in his life. His car fancy began as a kid growing up in Dundee where a friend’s dad spent his spare time restoring English cars. Yahnke spent hours in his garage and developed a love for Triumphs and MGs. His first car purchase was a 1962 Triumph for $425 in 1972. It wasn’t long, though, until he sold it at a profit.

“That’s what kicked off the buying and selling of English cars,” he says. “I discovered I could enjoy my transportation, but then as soon as someone wanted to buy it for more than I paid for it, out it went.”

These days, you never know what will be parked in the Yahnke driveway. Currently, there’s a Honda pickup, a VW Jetta, VW Multivan, and a 2001 Audi TT Quatro Convertible—purchased in apropos silver for his 25th wedding anniversary.

It’s the Thing he most enjoys driving. He logs about 1,000 miles on it each year. Most of those have come topless—Yahnke long ago gave it away to another Thing enthusiast and now only drives it sans roof.

“Anyone who sees this car has only seen it top-down,” he says. “I just got caught once in the rain, and that was probably a month ago. The cool thing about the Thing is you leave it out in the sun and it dries out and is ready to go.”

It says, “Summer is here,” Yahnke says.

“People speed up all the time to try to figure out what it is. It’s just a happy car and it’s so darn versatile. It puts smiles on peoples’ faces.”

Yahnke-1

 

Life’s a Beach

May 13, 2015 by
Photography by John Gawley

This article was published in Omaha Magazine’s May/June 2015 issue.

A day at the beach has a different meaning for Lauren Sieckmann than it does for most folks. For the majority it conjures images of sun, sand, and fun; vibes of recreation and relaxation. But for 21-year-old Sieckmann—college student, sports and fitness model, and pro volleyball player-in-training—the beach means all work and all play.

“Everything I do with school, training, and modeling, is fun for me,” says Sieckmann. It doesn’t feel like a job. It’s just what I do. It’s a way of life.”

Sieckmann, a University of Southern California junior, grew up in Elkhorn and began playing volleyball around age 12, late for those who aspire to greatness in the sport. She quickly drew many accolades, including a national title with the Nebraska Elite 121s club team and being named Nebraska High School Gatorade Player of the Year after leading Marian High to a 2009 Class A state title. Sieckmann transferred to Elkhorn South to graduate a semester early and kickstart her career at UNL. But after a semester in Lincoln playing indoor volleyball, she decided that what had been her dream wasn’t the right fit.

“I really wanted to try beach volleyball and venture out, so I decided to come to California,” says Sieckmann, who’s embraced the transition.

“It’s more ‘me’ than indoor and I love it,” she says. “You do it all in sand volleyball. It’s 2-on-2; you’re covering the whole court. I like the competitive nature, the atmosphere and environment and to practice at the beach all day…I can’t complain about that!”

Sieckmann played for USC last semester but now trains professionally in lieu of the school squad.

“Now I practice at the beach and train with Misty May,” she says.

That would be Misty May-Treanor, the retired pro beach volleyball player, three-time Olympic gold medalist, one of the most successful female players of all time, former volunteer assistant coach at USC, idol of volleyball girls everywhere—and now mentor to Sieckmann.

During offseason Sieckmann trains about twice weekly each with May-Treanor and other pro players with whom she scrimmages—which means hitting the beach four times weekly, in addition to school and her budding modeling career. Sieckmann recently signed with Sports Lifestyle Unlimited and had her first booking and shoot in February. Most recently she signed with modeling giant Wilhelmina International.

“[SLU] does lots of sports and fitness, lifestyle, and some fashion. It’s a bit of everything, and seemed like a good fit for me,” says Sieckmann, whose mother, Deb, was a fashion model.

In addition to volleyball aspirations, Sieckmann dreams of following in her mother’s footsteps.

“I always thought I’d get into [modeling] eventually,” she says. “One of my biggest goals with it is to represent being strong, fit, healthy, and beautiful—not just excessively thin.”

Sieckmann says she’s witnessed negative effects of body image issues and hopes that her work promotes a healthier body image among young girls.

“I want to make an impact with my modeling,” she says. “That’s why I’m going in the direction of sports and lifestyle work—to show girls that being strong and healthy is beautiful.”

LaurenSieckmann1

A Hidden Myth in Elkhorn

December 15, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On one late fall day, as most high school students were shuffled to and from sports practices, band rehearsals, and gatherings at friends’ houses, 15-year-old author Brandon Bauer was hard at work at a local Barnes & Noble signing copies of his first book, the Greek mythology-inspired A Hidden Myth. It’s a process that’s been more than four years in the making, but one that didn’t come as a surprise to the diligent teenage scribe.

Brandon, a sophomore at Elkhorn High School, released his first book of seven in his series, Heroes of Light, through Tate Publishing this October. The first entry, which will be available on Amazon and in some Barnes & Noble stores, follows the three main characters of Perseus, Hercules, and Athen, as they are pulled back in time by Kronos, the Lord of Time. The rest of the series will follow other characters in Greek mythology as they attempt to defeat the three Dark Prophecies set forth by the evil Kronos.

Despite the intense amount of work creating such a complex series entails, Brandon never had any doubts that he would finish his book. If there’s one trait that Brandon has, it’s focus, says his mother, Cathy.

“Even when he was a baby, you could put him in one spot, and he could play for hours,” Cathy says. “He had an imagination—he wasn’t all over the place like some other kids were, but he was focused.”

It’s this focus that has kept Brandon consumed with writing even as his life is constantly sidetracked by health issues. Brandon was born with a cleft palate, and has had approximately 10 to 15 surgeries to fix it during his lifetime. This December, he is also receiving surgery to treat his scoliosis. However none of these surgeries will set back the timeline of the release of Brandon’s future books.

According to Cathy, Brandon was bitten by the writing bug around age 9. While Brandon has written piles and piles of short stories over the years, he didn’t begin writing the Heroes of Light series until he was in sixth grade. Brandon had enjoyed reading Greek mythology and thought he had enough ideas that he could actually put together a book. But not just one book—Brandon knew from the beginning that he wanted to do a series of seven.

“I like long, complicated plots more,” Brandon says. “They keep me guessing more, and you’re more into the story.”

After numerous edits, Brandon and Cathy began reaching out to publishers in January. They heard back almost immediately from Tate Publishing, and signed a contract in February. After five more rounds of edits and selecting cover designs, Brandon received the first copy of his book in September. Now Cathy and Brandon are in the process of setting up book signings and presentations to schools to promote the series.

Brandon hopes to continue writing or to go into film production. He’s coy about what lies next for him—“I have some ideas”—but doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. He is already editing the second book in the Heroes of Light series, writing the third one, and has outlines for the fourth and fifth.

“Brandon is pretty laid-back, and he kind of goes with the flow,” Cathy says. “But it’s an accomplishment; I would never have been able to do this at his age.”

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