Tag Archives: face

Jean Stothert

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Keith Binder

The corridor leading to the Omaha mayor’s office serves as a gallery for a long line of portraits of the city’s past mayors. It is a wall-to-wall boy’s club.

This day, the portrait of the city’s newest mayor is off at a photography studio waiting to be framed. But once it arrives, it will be an image long overdue on this wall.

It’s the first picture of a woman in the hallway on the third floor of the Civic Center.

“It was not an issue in the campaign, and it was not something I thought about,” says Mayor Jean Stothert as she sits at the conference table in her new office. “But yes, there’s no question I’m proud to be the first female mayor of Omaha.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘*-word.’” – Jean Stothert on women in politics

“Some of my biggest influences are those strong, pioneering women who broke new ground. I love Margaret Thatcher. I would love if someone called me The Iron Lady.”

So be it. Jean Stothert—The Iron Lady. It’s a name both friend and foe are likely to find fitting.

Conservative, like Thatcher. Driven. A homemaker from humble beginnings turned successful political figure. A tough, sometimes polarizing figure. A woman who can shrug off, and move on from, the sometimes vile comments only female political figures have to face.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘c-word,’” she says. It isn’t unusual for women in politics to be pushed to prove their “toughness.” So where is the “Iron” in the “Lady?” In Stothert’s case, not only did politics help galvanize her; so, too, did her years as an ICU nurse.

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Humble Roots

Stothert grew up in Wood River, Ill., outside St. Louis, “a refinery town where my dad worked at the refinery.”

He was not in a union, if you were wondering. Like Thatcher, Stothert—as she has proven already with the firefighter’s union—stands in vocal and firm opposition to some union interests.

The specs of her childhood home roll quickly off her tongue. “Tiny house—living room, kitchen, four kids, one bathroom,” Stothert shares. She’s clearly said this many times before. It is a counterpoint raised often in political spheres when people note that she lives with her surgeon husband in often-assumed-to-be-more-affluent-than-it-is Millard.

She walked to school, had a job, did volunteer work. She wanted to be a nurse “because it seemed like a good way to give back to the community.” While many of her friends chose to work in hospitals in more affluent parts of St. Louis, she chose to “be where I was most needed”—with the Trauma Center at St. Louis University Hospital in the heart of the city.

You have to become an Iron Lady to be a nurse in an inner-city trauma center.

“You see it all,” she says. “I’ve done CPR on hundreds of patients. I’ve opened people’s chests and done internal heart massage. I’ve wrapped up bodies and taken them to the morgue over and over again. That’s just how it is.

“I like the challenge of making a critically ill patient well. But sometimes, I’m not going to make that patient well. They’re going to die. The thing is, I never want to get that hard edge. You can do tough work without losing your humanity and compassion doing it.”

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From Homemaker to Politician

It was in this environment that she met trauma surgeon Joe Stothert.

After five years of dating, they married. In time, the couple moved to Seattle with his job. Then to Galveston, Texas, where the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Andrew, were born.

Then to Omaha, Neb., “in good part for the better schools,” Joe notes. With two young children and a husband with a job that took him away at all hours, Jean decided she would stay home with her children.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done.” – Joe Stothert

In little time, being an at-home mom entailed diving into work with her local parent-teacher organization. Joe says it was a natural fit for her.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done,” he says. “Then, as an ICU nurse, she was working with an immense amount of sophisticated mechanisms. She enjoyed that. I think she was quickly interested in the mechanisms of government.”

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Getting Out the Vote

Three years after the family arrived in Millard, three positions opened on the Millard School Board.

“There were 13 people running. A full field,” Stothert says. “I didn’t have much money, so I figured we’d have to hit the streets and knock on as many doors as we could. We won by a good bit. We learned right then how important it is to get out and talk to everyone you can.”

That shoe-leather, door-to-door campaigning with her and her supportive family at its core has been the key to her continued success. She served two more terms on the Millard School Board before her election to the Omaha City Council, which, she says, was a logical step.

“School boards are very much like city councils,” Stothert says. “You manage multi-million-dollar budgets, you have labor negotiations. It wasn’t much of a leap at all.”

During her time on the school board, she suffered her only loss so far in politics: a 2006 bid for the state legislature against Democrat Steve Lathrop.

It was one of the closest races in state history. Initially, it appeared Stothert had won by only a few votes. She celebrated with a small vacation with her husband. When she returned, she found out that after absentee votes were counted, she had lost by 14 votes. Stothert said the final margin—after some votes were contested—was five votes.

“So maybe you should have picked up 10 of your friends and driven [them] to the polls,” she recalls having wondered to herself. “Yes, I thought about it. But I truly believe we did the best we could. I think I learned more in losing than I did in winning. I also truly believe that things happen for a reason.”

She then turned her eye toward the Omaha City Council. She asked Joe if she should run. “I said ‘no,’” he says. “She ran anyway.”

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Taking on the Big Boys

She had no plans to run for mayor when she won her seat on the council, but, in time, she says, she “decided that we needed a change.”

In her race for mayor, her calls for smaller, more streamlined government resonated with voters. Her ground game grew considerably. At its core was a relentless door-to-door campaign by the entire Stothert family.

Joe took 10 vacation days prior to both the primary and the general election. Her son, who is pursuing an advanced degree at the University of South Florida, and her daughter, who works at Union Pacific, also joined in.

Stothert proudly showed off a framed photo of her and her husband in the middle of a residential street during one of the weekend campaign blitzes. The city was socked in by a blizzard that weekend. The Stotherts are wrapped in wet winterwear. Part of Jean’s hair is frozen and cocked sideways. Joe’s right thumb is protruding from a hole in his glove.

It’s a picture of resolve. They knocked on 15,000 doors. She says Joe helped push her on when she grew tired on the campaign trail. Joe insists, “She never would have gone on if she didn’t want to.” It’s also a picture, she jokes, of the Stotherts on a date. “We really have enjoyed those times together,” the mayor says.

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The Ugly Side of Politics

At times, the war of words during the campaign got brutal. Stothert, often characterized as a hardline conservative, can throw fire as well as she receives it. But particularly in the modern world of blogs, tweets, and every sort of website, the personal stabs at those in the public arena are often relentless and outrageous.

Stothert admits that, during the campaign, she failed to heed advice that she avoid reading all the attacks on her on the internet. Also, some of the nastiest—and most sexist—of the insults blew up into campaign issues she then had to address.

She boldly repeats two comments about her—one, a joke essentially about her being gang raped, and another about her being a stripper—that one would not expect to hear verbatim in an interview with the mayor.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her.” – State Senator Brad Ashford on Stothert

But there is often a flipside to such outlandish attacks. People get angry. In this election, Stothert admits, polls showed that a substantial number of women responded to the sexist attacks by moving into her camp.

Stothert says she’s not afraid of criticism. She invites it, as long as it’s civilized. But she knows now to avoid the constant barrage in cyberspace.

“It’s just not good for your mental health,” she says. “It wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health.” Her husband, as you might imagine, hasn’t handled some of the nastier or more personal criticisms with such a thick skin. “I don’t forgive and forget as easily,” Joe says. “She’s the one who can do that. Early on, she had it pegged. She told me the jabs were going to hurt me more than they would hurt her.”

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Tackling Tough Issues

The criticism is not going to ebb. She will continue to grapple with the powerful and vocal firefighter’s union. While sitting at her office’s conference table, she points to her desk. The gritty specifics of her proposed budget to streamline government “are sitting right over there,” she says.

She promises to cut government and cut taxes while improving government services. There are few political figures who have not claimed they could accomplish this feat. There are few who have.“We are going to succeed,” she says. “I have no doubt about that.”

If anyone can pull off this trick, it might be Stothert. State Sen. Brad Ashford, who ran against Stothert for mayor while also working with her on several issues on the state government level, says Stothert, while always civilized, is a tough and driven negotiator.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her,” Ashford says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, that’s how you make good policy.” In Ashford’s mind, Stothert’s best chance to save money while improving services will come “if she’s committed to consolidating” many services that both the county and city provide.

Jean and Joe with their family.

Finding Equilibrium

To keep a sense of balance, Stothert says, she knows she has to guard her personal time. She has a life outside the demands of the mayor’s office. “I love my home,” she says. “I’m pretty good at getting there, calming down, and shutting things off for a while.”

Her day is fairly regimented, as you might expect. She’s up at 5 a.m. After a usually healthy breakfast, she walks for 30 minutes on her treadmill, then takes her Australian Shepard, Ozzie (named after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith), for a one-mile walk.

Back at home, she watches little television beyond the news. Instead, she relaxes by reading “a lot of fiction.” Her favorite books: one from her childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird, and comedian Tina Fey’s Bossypants (the cover of which inspired our magazine cover concept and, yes, the mayor enthusiastically “suited up” for the photo shoot).

If she has the time, she loves to get in the kitchen. “My friends and I used to get Bon Appétit magazine and try things all the time,” she says. “I would consider myself a gourmet cook now. I enjoy any time I can cook something myself.”

“I’m pretty good at getting [home], calming down, and shutting things off for a while.” – Jean Stothert

If she can’t, she’s also a fan of numerous Omaha restaurants. One stands out though, she says, perhaps because she fell in love with the fresh fish dinners she ate during the family’s time living in Seattle.

“The Twisted Cork has wonderful halibut and salmon,” she says. “I just love the food of the Pacific Northwest when it is done well.”

Then it’s five hours or so of sleep, the morning exercise, and off to another day as The Iron Lady.

“I’m a very black-and-white person,” she says. “I’m a very determined person.”

Meaning?

“We will achieve better services for less money,” she says. “We are not reducing city service, and we are going to balance the budget. This is what the people of this city have asked me to do, so that is what we’re going to get done.”

Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Summer is in full swing in the metro, bringing the kind of heat that make us all want to scream for some good old-fashioned ice cream. Jeannie Ohira and Joseph Pittack, the brother-sister duo and proud owners of Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream at 12th and Howard streets, can accommodate those cravings with their all-natural ice cream available in some tantalizing and daring flavors.

Both Omaha natives, Ohira and Pittack began their ice cream careers by working at Ted and Wally’s under previous owners Dave Kirschenman and Julie Gilbert. In 2001, Kirschenman and Gilbert decided to sell the shop and Ohira and Pittack were up for the adventure.

“I called Joe, who had moved to Lincoln to go to school to become an English teacher, and said ‘Hey, do you want to come back, try to get a loan, and run this?’” Ohira says.20130506_bs_3374_Web

Her brother was onboard, and the two quickly rolled up their sleeves, staying faithful to the founding philosophy of quality and community but making some modifications along the way. The partnership proved to be not only ambitious but successful, too. Under Ohira and Pittack’s ownership, the shop switched to using all-natural ingredients purchased fresh from local merchants. In order to accomplish this, they created their own recipe for the ice cream base to replace the previous one purchased from Hiland Dairy. The result was a more costly and labor-intensive process but one that has earned awards for Ted and Wally’s, as well as loyal customers both locally and out-of-state.

“It’s a product we make in-house, made from scratch, and nobody else has our recipe,” Pittack says. “Ted and Wally’s in the Old Market has been doing it since 1986, so it’s an Omaha tradition. We have generations of people that come in here now.”

Ted and Wally’s unique flavors are what garner the most attention. Sure, the shop offers traditional flavors, such as chocolate and vanilla, but Ohira and Pittack tend to showcase more creative selections they’ve invented themselves. Sometimes, shop employees and the public chime in with flavors they’d like to see.20130506_bs_3379_Web

To date, Ohira and Pittack have created more than 1,000 ice cream flavors, not including variations. Some public favorites include Monica’s Unicorn Farts, a cotton candy-marshmallow-cake mix with Lucky Charms and sprinkles. Suggested by a Ted and Wally’s employee, the flavor was a big hit, as was Mr. Cigar, a cigar-flavored ice cream celebrating the birthday of Mr. Cigar at S.G. Roi Tobacconist. Another customer favorite is Quit Yer Job and Eat Chocolate, a concoction of chocolate mousse ice cream with chocolate chips, brownies, and Oreos. But those flavors, albeit tasty, are tame compared to some of the other creations Ohira and Pittack have come up with.

Some of the more unusual flavors have been bacon, fish, and prime rib. Sriracha ice cream has been on the chalked menu board, as well as jalapeño. Recently, Ohira created a new flavor featuring grilled octopus, which, she admits, “is probably not going to be a big seller.”20130506_bs_3462_Web

As for what inspires these nontraditional flavors, everything is game. Sometimes, a friend’s story will spark an idea; other times, it’s a book. Ohira says she must’ve created at least 100 new flavors after reading Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. But most of all, Ohira and Pittack credit their culturally diverse family—as well as their own preferences for variety and newness—with being big inspirations for Ted and Wally’s unique selection.

“I get bored doing the regular stuff and like to try different things,” Ohira says. “I remember people used to say that we have weird flavors. One of those was cotton candy, which isn’t that far out there. But now it’s way more fun and people are a lot more receptive.”

Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream
1120 Jackson St.
402-341-5827
tedandwallys.com

Storm Chasers’ Mighty Mascot

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Having a job that you love is the ideal. Luckily for Kevin Lake, he stumbled into his dream job five years ago at a job fair, and he’s never looked back.

The interview process wasn’t what one might refer to as typical. Lake had to audition by dressing up in costume and interacting with people along 13th Street from Rosenblatt Stadium all the way down to the zoo. Lake is a mascot for the Omaha Storm Chasers.20130506_bs_3725_web

Depending on the day and event, Lake has been known to play all three Omaha Storm Chasers’ mascots, including Stormy, Vortex, and Casey. No matter which mascot he plays, however, Lake has no trouble coming up with various antics to entertain the crowd, from initiating a mascot dance-off during a rain delay to leading fans in the latest dance craze from atop the bar in the Jim Beam Club. Another crowd favorite: “I try to do a flip in the Stormy costume on top of the dugout. He’s a little bigger guy, so the crowd enjoys watching that,” Lake shares. And while he doesn’t always visit a specific section, Lake makes a point of circulating the crowd and stepping into the suites during games.

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Lake says he especially enjoys Friday and Saturday nights at Werner Park (home to the Storm Chasers since 2011) because there are typically more fans in attendance to entertain. Additionally, Bark in the Park is an event where fans are invited to bring their furry friends to enjoy a game. “It’s fun watching a dog’s reaction [to me in costume]. You have to move in slowly and be cautious so you don’t get bit,” Lake says.

Lake doesn’t just dress up for games. He also wears the costumes to outside benefit appearances, at which he’s made some of his favorite memories. Being a mascot has given him opportunities to get up close and personal with some local celebrities including Warren Buffett, whose hand Lake got to shake at a game. “He may have all the money in the world, but he was nice enough to shake my hand and have a conversation with people,” Lake remembers.20130506_bs_3522_web

One of the greatest challenges of being a mascot is navigating in-costume, Lake says. The tunnel vision the costumes create has caused Lake to accidentally step on children or run into people because he’s unable to see side-to-side or up-and-down. Additionally, the heat can be nearly unbearable on summer days, especially with all of the physical activity that comes with the job. Still, the pros far outweigh the cons, and even physical activity in a heavy costume under the blazing-hot sun has its benefits, he says. “I gained 5-10 pounds in the off-season and got out of shape. It’s nice to get back into the routine of the season so I can shed the pounds,” Lake confesses.

Christian Gray

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As director of inCOMMON, a nonprofit organization located at 13th and William streets, Christian Gray thrives on building relationships in the Omaha community. Growing up in the affluent suburbs of Orange County, Calif., Gray was rarely exposed to the hardships many Americans face, but somehow he got the message that material wealth is not what life is about.

“When I began to juxtapose a wealthy lifestyle with the lifestyle of millions around the world, and even here locally in the United States, it began to bother me,” Gray admits. “It began to make me uneasy about what life is, and I began asking questions like ‘What is the purpose of life? Is it to be comfortable? Successful?’ I began to challenge a lot of those notions that I think were just part of the culture growing up.”

After graduating from the University of Arizona, where he met his wife, Sonya, Gray began seeking out places where he could help. His passion for helping the poor has taken him from Romania to India to South Africa and back to the U.S. During the process, he had time to really self-reflect on the bigger picture.

“I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think the purpose of life is to live wholly and richly,” he says. “That doesn’t mean you have a ton of stuff or even a ton of success. It means you’re an authentic person, and you care about other people, and you’re part of a greater global community and humanity. I think that’s the answer. I think the way we go about that all looks differently. Locations can change and reflect how we can live that out. I think that’s the purpose of life, to really be a part of enriching the global community.”20130321_bs_8688

Once settled in Omaha, Gray got to work on inCOMMON, which specializes in uniting and strengthening vulnerable neighborhoods. He spearheads many subsidiary programs, such as The Listening Project and Neighbors United.

inCOMMON incorporates Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) practices into its work. ABCD is a best-practice that dates back to the 1970s. “We try to build upon a neighborhood’s pre-existing strengths,” he explains. “We have the Listening Project, where we train volunteers to go into the community and hear from its residents and try to build solutions to their problems.”

As a result of information gathered from The Listening Project around the Park Avenue neighborhood, inCOMMON is preparing to open a community center in June called Park Avenue Commons. Located on the corner of Park Avenue and Woolworth Street, the dilapidated Acme Rug and Carpet Cleaning building is getting a new life as a part of Gray’s vision.

“When I began to juxtapose a wealthy lifestyle with the lifestyle of millions around the world, and even here locally in the United States, it began to bother me.”

“I had a growing compassion for the condition of people that are poor, and I wanted to be a part of creating better futures for our communities in that way,” Gray says. “Park Avenue Commons will provide easier access to social services, emergency and preventative services, and a place to come together as a community.”

Gray has many dedicated volunteers that share the same passion for helping the less fortunate. For example, Omaha resident Leslie Wells is gearing up for a recycling program, in which he provides bikes for the homeless to collect recyclables from downtown businesses. Gray emphasizes it’s about building those relationships in order to cultivate community development and empowerment.

“‘The single greatest cause for sustained poverty is isolation,’” he says, quoting Dr. Robert Lupton of FCS Urban Ministries. “If we look at poverty, at least in an urban context, as people living in an isolated community that are cut off from opportunities, then relationships are key because they allow people to bridge outside their limited ranges to a greater opportunity. Strong neighborhoods require that people know each other and people are cooperative with one another and working to solve problems together. The key to overcoming poverty is to have residents that know each other and work together.”

Quit Aging Yourself

March 25, 2013 by

Every year, we spend tons of money to keep our faces looking youthful and tight. But what we don’t realize is that some of our bad beauty habits are actually making us look older than we are. Here are some seemingly “no-brainer” tips that will help you keep your face looking young and beautiful without spending a fortune on anti-aging products:

Find the Right Foundation.

Every woman has been guilty of those embarrassing foundation lines at some point in her life. What you might not know is that the appearance of those lines is usually a signal that you’re not using the right kind or color of foundation. Even worse, using the wrong foundation can speed up the process of aging of your skin. The best way to prevent both of these problems is to find the best foundation for your skin.

Before you even think about brands, you need to determine what kind of foundation works best with your skin type. Have dry skin? Look for “moisturizing” or “hydrating” foundations. Have oily skin? Look for “oil-free” or “matte” foundations. Have a combination of oily and dry skin? Look for “cream-to-powder” foundations. Or if that seems like too much of a hassle, look for mineral foundations, which go great with any skin type—especially sensitive skin.

After determining the right kind of foundation, you need to match the color to your skin tone. Despite what you might have heard about testing the color on your wrist, the best place to test a foundation color is actually on your jawline, as this is the area where foundation is most noticeable (Remember those lines?). Make sure you’re as close to natural light as possible—like outside or near a window—while testing colors since indoor lighting can make you choose to dark of a color. Whichever color blends or disappears into your skin tone during the test is the color you should get.

Don’t Overpluck Your Brows.

Some women prefer professional eyebrow threading or waxing. But for those of us that prefer to save cash and time, plucking is the way to go. The only problem with plucking is that, too often, we overpluck our brows, giving us an aged look. Actually, the fuller the brow, the more youthful you look. Now, “fuller” doesn’t mean you let your eyebrows go ungroomed—just don’t pluck them too thin.

Before plucking, wash your face, brush your brows up and out with a brow brush (a clean toothbrush works, too), and sit near a window with a good mirror. To determine your brow thickness, use an eye pencil and draw a line along the bottom edge of your brow, following the fullest, natural shape. Any hairs that fall below this line are okay to pluck. The general rule with plucking is to make sure your brow begins in line with the inner corner of your eye and ends in line diagonally with the bottom edge of your nose and the outer corner of your eye. You can use a ruler (or your tweezers, if they’re long enough) to check if everything is aligned. Any hairs outside of these measurements can be removed.

If your brows are naturally too-thin, or if you’ve overplucked and are trying to grow your brows back out, use powder or an eyebrow pencil to fill in the shape. Just make sure to match the powder or eyebrow pencil shade to your natural hair color so you don’t age yourself any further—or look like a cartoon villain.

Remove Makeup and Wash Your Face.

It’s hard to get in the habit of removing our makeup and washing our faces every night when we’re tired and just want to get in bed. But not removing your makeup or washing your face is one of the quickest ways to age your skin. Just think about the fact that the average woman today begins wearing makeup at age 12 and wears makeup into her 70s and 80s. That’s long-term damage.

If you don’t use all-natural makeup, there are tons of harsh chemicals in your makeup that can damage your skin. Not to mention your skin is exposed to dirt, pollution, and germs throughout the day. Imagine all of those things collecting on your pillows as you sleep. If you think that’s gross, then why are you leaving those things on your face? At night, the skin needs oxygen to repair the damage done throughout the day. With your pores clogged, your skin can’t go through its natural exfoliation.

Also, our eyes start showing age the earliest because the skin around them is the thinnest. Going to bed with your makeup on dries the skin around your eyes out and weakens the hairs in your eyebrows and eyelashes, causing them to thin and fall out. Remember—it’s a lot easier to remove your makeup and wash your face than it is to undo aging and regrow your eyebrows and eyelashes.

Becka’s Back

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The unmistakable voice that many in Omaha have come to love (or, if we’re honest, love to hate) has returned to the airwaves. In January, radio talk show host and Benson High School grad Tom Becka found himself in a familiar seat back in Dundee. (Not a Dundee Dell barstool; although, Becka is known to wax poetic on the air about his love for the Dell’s single malt scotch selection.)

Many recently remember Becka from his weekday afternoon show on KFAB (1110 AM), located in the heart of Dundee. But in October 2011, the decision was made to end Becka’s tenure with KFAB and its parent company, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. Becka insists the decision was issued not locally, but at the corporate level: “I didn’t fit their line-item formula.”

Becka then headed north for about a year, landing a job as program director for an FM talk station in Fargo, N.D. But not long after Becka set up shop, he was lured back to Omaha, sort of, hosting an afternoon talk show on KKAR (1290 AM). KKAR is owned by NRG Media and located in Becka’s old stomping grounds near 50th and Dodge streets. He pulled double-duty for several months: waking pre-dawn to host a morning talk show, managing the radio station and all its moving parts, and then prepping for his two-hour afternoon show in Omaha (broadcasting from a makeshift studio fashioned in his West Fargo apartment).

But the sale of the Fargo radio station gave Becka an opportunity to return to Omaha and pursue radio full-time…once again, in his beloved Dundee. “The Tom Becka Show” airs from 2 to 6 p.m. on 1290 AM, now dubbed the Mighty 1290 KOIL. “I am genuinely excited about helping rebuild this legendary radio station,” Becka says. “By working at 1290 KOIL…I can focus on what is happening here in Omaha, and not have to worry about what they say at the home office in Texas.”

“I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

KFAB was Becka’s home not once, but twice. He launched his talk radio career at “the 50,000-watt blowtorch” in 1994, but left five years later for an on-air job in Kansas City. He returned to Omaha (and KFAB) in 2004, where he remained until his termination in 2011.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Becka moved to Omaha his junior year of high school. (“When you move outside of Omaha and tell people your high school mascot was a bunny, they think you’re making it up.”) He studied at UNO and was active with the university’s radio station, KVNO (90.7 FM).

Although talk radio would become his wheelhouse, Becka fell hard when he discovered rock and roll. An AM Cleveland DJ by the name of Jerry G played popular tracks overnight. “He was the king of Cleveland Top 40 radio. Even though I was supposed to be asleep, I would hide a radio under the blankets and listen until late at night,” he recalls. “I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

Becka’s voice has become his signature statement: fast, high-pitched, loud, and always laced with his own opinion, whether listeners like it or not.

His career has been spent in an industry rife with obstacle, ratings, and setbacks. Becka says he has learned perseverance, adapting to change, and how to maintain friendships when lines are drawn in the sand. “I have fond memories of my time at KFAB and a lot of respect for my friends who are still working there,” Becka says. “But I am really excited about competing against them. I like to think of it as a football player who has been traded to another team. My job is to beat them, but we can remain friends off the field.”

Dan Urban

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even while pursuing a degree in physics at the University of San Diego, Omaha native Dan Urban always knew he would build a career around his love of horses.

So after graduating college in 2006, he moved back to Nebraska to do just that. Urban serves as a trainer, instructor, and co-owner at Quail Run Horse Centre. His parents, Jim and Patrice, opened the facility near 220th and West Maple Road more than 25 years ago, and it’s where Urban nurtured his passion for equestrian sports, including show jumping.

The sport will be in the spotlight this spring when Omaha hosts The International, an equestrian jumping competition. Now in its second year, the event takes place April 12-13 at the CenturyLink Center Omaha downtown. Organizers are expecting about 200 horses, 135 to 150 professional and amateur riders, and thousands of spectators.

Urban, 29, will be among the local riders. He’s excited about getting the chance to compete at home instead of having to travel to Kansas City, Des Moines, and other cities.25 January 2013- Dan Urban is photographed at Quail Run for Omaha Magazine.

A graduate of Skutt Catholic High School, Urban has been riding horses since he was 4. He loves equestrian sports because of the thrill of competition and the unique partnership between horse and rider.

“Once you get horses in your blood,” he says, “it’s hard to get it out.”

Urban travels all over the country to compete in show jumping, sometimes as much as two weeks out of the month. In May 2012, he and his horse, Astro Boy, won the Grand Prix title at the Midstates Horse Show in Mason City, Iowa.

There’s a great deal of work involved before hitting the competition ring. To build stamina and strength and bring horses to peak fitness and readiness, they undergo various technical exercises, jumps, and other techniques.

“Just like any athlete, you want to make sure they’re in top fitness,” he says.

“Once you get horses in your blood, it’s hard to get it out.”

At Quail Run, Urban spends a good chunk of his day riding and keeping horses in shape. The farm offers acres of trails as well as indoor and outdoor riding arenas. He also gives lessons to riders of all ages and skill levels. Teaching is one of his favorite parts of his work.

In addition to competing at The International, Urban, along with many of his family members, will help with event setup, promotional activities, and other aspects. Bringing high-level equestrian events like the International to Omaha, he says, helps increase awareness and generates interest in horse sports to a wider audience.

25 January 2013- Dan Urban is photographed at Quail Run for Omaha Magazine.

Omahan Lisa Roskens, The International’s chairman of the board, says Urban’s horsemanship and character make him a wonderful representative of the sport.

“For a professional in a sport that takes so much guts, he is very quiet and thoughtful, not brash or full of bravado,” Roskens says. “His down-to-earth approach, combined with a good sense of humor and good horsemanship, make him very effective. He works hard, he’s kind and compassionate to his clients and horses, and really deserves a shot at the spotlight.”

Seth McMillan

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Seth McMillan, is a self-proclaimed “accounting nerd” by day at Infogroup and by night he’s owner and renaissance man of the quirky downtown men’s boutique McLovin on 10th and Mason streets.

McMillan considers himself an intense and multifaceted person, which definitely lends itself to his careers in two vastly different fields. “I am an economics nerd, and I like to read biographies, but I also like to watch stupid teen comedies, and I enjoy people. I think you just need a bit of different things in your life.”

Having his hand in a multitude of pots is something McMillan says is not a new lifestyle for him. “Work is great, and the store is off to a good start, and I’m happy, but it’s a struggle to balance. It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s really fun.”

Originally from East Tennessee, the University of Memphis graduate studied both accounting and music. He earned his stripes in accounting at PricewaterhouseCoopers firm in Atlanta before being recruited to act as Director of Revenue Accounting at Infogroup here in Omaha.

His path to Omaha wasn’t intentional, McMillan says. “I knew that I wanted to have a segue job into being an entrepreneur. I saw that I could do all these things in my current job that would help me get the skills I need while I’m figuring out my segue.”

McMillan gives big compliments to his boss at Infogroup for allowing him these opportunities to pursue his passions. “I think he’s very progressive and sensitive to unique situations…and he has a really high tolerance.”

“I didn’t know retail, but what I do know is fun, and I do know how to engage people.”

Since moving to Omaha in June of 2011, McMillan has settled in nicely. “In January [of last year] was when things really started cooking. I bought a truck, a piano, and my partner came into my life. All of these things I’ve always wanted started happening.”

McMillan says he also fulfilled a life-long passion of being an entrepreneur with McLovin. “I had never had an interest in retail prior. It was principal, supply, and demand. I didn’t know retail, but what I do know is fun, and I do know how to engage people.”

Brian Williams, a friend of McMillan’s and one of his best customers, says it’s his personality and passion that have made his transition into his jobs as well as into the community so smooth and rewarding. “It’s his drive more than anything. He puts in a lot of hours, and I don’t know how he does it,” Williams says.

“One of my mottos is whatever you do, add value,” McMillan says. That seems to be his plan not only for his career but as a larger plan for Omaha.

McMillan says that down the road, he hopes to help brand the area south of the Old Market, where his shop lies, as well as brand Omaha as a whole. “We need to recruit more young professionals here, so they don’t move to Chicago, Denver, New York, or Los Angeles. The way to do that is to do cool things here. We need to have fun, and we need to invite more people to the party.”

“He’s not afraid of new challenges like bringing a new business to Omaha,” Williams says. “He’s very driven and outspoken.”

McMillan says what he wants to do is simple. “If I can help take care of people’s needs along with helping elevate Omaha’s cool-factor, it’s enough for me. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun.”

Joslyn Art Museum Docents

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you don’t know the names, you recognize the faces. Visitors to Joslyn Art Museum on 24th and Dodge streets enjoy the tours offered by well-trained docents, and aficionados have their favorite guides. Surely, the face at the top of that list belongs to Norma Fuller. Last year she led well over 100 tours, and she’s been at it since 1970.

“I love it here,” she says simply. In addition to the Education Department, museum areas that have felt the “Norma touch” include the Board of Governors, Acquisition Committee, and Joslyn Art Museum Association (JAMA). Norma and husband Jim will be moving to Wyoming this spring; to say she’ll be missed is a monumental understatement.

When Fuller answered a newspaper ad for Joslyn docents 42 years ago, there was no Department of Education. Art enthusiasts planned tours among themselves over lunch, sharing tips, information, and friendship. She’d arrived three days prior, in tears over leaving Washington, D.C., a Masters in Art History program at Georgetown University, and studio classes at the Corcoran. What she found at Joslyn was “an oasis.”

“The Docent Program has so much to offer,” she says. Ask any of the docents, and their responses will be similar: The program inspires a love of art and learning, and a desire to share that passion with others; camaraderie; special opportunities and activities, plus discounts in the museum shop and cafe.20130116_bs_1058 copy

Susie Severson, Director of Adult Programs (including docent training), says, “In many respects, docents are the ‘face’ of the Museum—often the first warm welcome, the first smile, the first impression visitors have to the Museum and its collections. Last year—a record-setting year in terms of attendance—Joslyn docents conducted over 1400 individual tours. Within the past six months alone, they served over 7200 visitors. This quick reflection on the numbers confirms the docents’ role as amazing public servants. They are respected beyond measure.” But she cautions that it is a serious commitment. Candidates must complete a two-year series of classes in art history, touring techniques, and the Joslyn collection. Information and a downloadable application form (deadline August 23) are available at the website.

Sharon Jackson learned firsthand the challenge and the rewards during her second year of training. She’d chosen to study an 18th-century painting by Peyron but was disheartened to find what little information she could was in French. Remembering that Fuller offered a tour in French, she asked for help. Though the two had never met, Fuller translated the primary document, reviewed Jackson’s paper, and offered tips for its presentation. “She went way beyond expectations,” says Jackson. “She became a mentor.” Fuller responded, “That’s what docents do; we help each other.”

Docents bring varied backgrounds to the program, so you’re sure to find someone who can pronounce Danish names, explain lithography, or connect an art style to its political environment. Most docents relish study. Jane Precella, Joslyn’s retail manager, says, “I’ve seen Norma in the cafe studying for a tour like a grad student cramming for an exam.” Yet there’s variety in preparation, too. One docent always watched Saturday morning TV so that she was up on the latest superheroes.

“She went way beyond expectations. She became a mentor.” – Sharon Jackson, Joslyn Art Museum docent

Creative expression is another perk of the program. Docents delight in tailoring a tour, step by step, as they listen to their particular group, and some docents develop customized tours. Fuller has found special satisfaction in two adult programs, Art Encounters and Visualizing Literature Book Club. “Making just the right connection is as euphoric to me as making just the right brush stroke,” she says.

As Fuller’s time of making her mark on the Joslyn nears an end, Director Jack Becker comments, “Norma is a remarkable and talented person who for over 40 years has shared her love, passion, and knowledge of the visual arts to literally thousands and thousands of lucky individuals. Omaha owes her a huge thanks, and Joslyn Art Museum will miss her talent and inspiration.”

The next time you take a tour at Joslyn, put a name with the face and enjoy the unique perspective your docent brings to the tour. You’ll never get another just like it.

Karen Sokolof Javitch

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The image of Karen Sokolof Javitch singing and camping it up on YouTube in the music video of her song, “I’m Not Obama’s Babe” doesn’t square with the unassuming, quietly engaging, makeup-less woman who buys flavored water at her favorite coffee shop. Not surprising, since there are many facets to the Omaha native: singer, songwriter, author, playwright, radio host, advocate, teacher, wife, mother, daughter, philanthropist.

Music is actually Karen’s second act. After earning a degree at the University of Texas, she began as a teacher of visually impaired children, a career inspired by her late mother, Ruth Sokolof. “My mother taught blind children for years. Everyone loved her. Film Streams Theater is named after her.”

It wasn’t until Karen’s own three children were in school that her life headed in a different direction. “It was around 1993. I was talking to a friend of mine, Jim Conant, and he said he had just written the book for a musical, but he hadn’t written any of the songs. And I said to him, ‘Um, can I try this?’”

Karen proved to be a natural at writing both the words and the lyrics to 13 songs for the production entitled Love! At The Café! The show ran for about seven weeks at a small venue in Benson. “It was like a faucet turned on in my brain. The lyrics came first, and then I could hear the music in my head to go with them.”

Karen next collaborated with her good friend, local actress and author Elaine Jabenis, to write more shows, including the tribute Princess Diana, The Musical. Another key player in Karen’s success, Chuck Penington of Manheim Steamroller, orchestrates her music. Whether a song is catchy, rhythmic, and Broadway-like, or a touching ballad, Karen’s melodies stay with the listener.

“It was like a faucet turned on in my brain. The lyrics came first, and then I could hear the music in my head to go with them.”

Where did her talent come from? “My father, Phil, was a song-and-dance man before he became a successful businessman. He tried his luck in Chicago when he was 17. He finally realized he couldn’t be the next Frank Sinatra.”

Phil Sokolof would later use some of his fortune from his drywall company to wage a one-man crusade against cholesterol—a decades-long fight that resulted in nutrition information on food packaging.

Karen has written hundreds of songs, penned four musicals, and released 13 CDs, singing on many of them. While she should be swimming in royalties, the Westside High graduate has instead followed her parents’ legacy of giving back to their community.

“All proceeds from my music go to charities, mostly in Nebraska,” says Karen.

Does she make any money at all?

“Well, let’s just say my goal is to break even,” she says with a smile.

Over the past 20 years, Karen has raised over $300,000 in service to others. One project in particular remains dear to her heart. The “Nebraska Celebrities Sing for Sight” CD, for which she wrote most of the music and lyrics and featuring 20 celebrities from the area (including a terrific country vocal from former U.S. Senator Ben Nelson), raised money for visually impaired children. The man who couldn’t compete with Frank Sinatra also sings a track.

“Dad was alive when I started to do my music. He was very proud.”

Karen’s CDs can be found at the Nebraska Furniture Mart or online at CD Baby. Her radio show, “It’s the Beat!” with Jody Vinci, airs Saturdays at noon on KOIL 1290.