Annika and Stephen George have called many exciting places home—locales like Melbourne, London, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City—but, when it came time for them and their four children to put down roots, Omaha was the prime destination on their minds.
“Omaha has all that one needs, but without the challenges of most American cities—traffic, cost, lack of community and transient nature of culture, crime, crowds,” Stephen says.
Stephen and his wife, Annika, live at West Shores Lake in Waterloo, Nebraska, but it was the greater Omaha area that drew the Nebraska natives back when they decided to relocate their family from the San Francisco area to Omaha in 2010.
Columbus native Stephen, and Annika, originally from Fremont, knew each other peripherally for years before being set up in summer 2007 by a family member of Stephen’s who was friends with Annika. Before long, Annika and her two daughters, Kyra, now 15, and Briley, now 12, relocated to California to join Stephen, who’d resided in the Bay Area since 1995. The couple married in 2008 and soon welcomed another child, Rafe, now 8. Annika was pregnant with their son Vail, now 6, during the family’s move back to Nebraska. The family also includes Stephen’s adult daughter, Spencer, who attends Barnard College in New York City.
A stronger support network and solid educational opportunities for the kids topped Annika’s list of reasons for wanting to return to Nebraska.
“I’m very close with my family. My parents live in Fremont; in fact, they’re moving into a house that’s being built right over there,” Annika says, pointing at the nearby construction project through a large picture window which nicely frames a scenic view of the shimmering lake.
Annika credits her mother, Sheryl Bergstrom, for helping provide the kind of family support she so craved when the Georges lived in California. During the school year, Bergstrom comes over every morning to help get the kids up, dressed, and ready for school, and she also helps cart the kids to various after-school endeavors.
“Kyra is involved in theater, speech, all things high school; Briley is a competitive soccer player; and the boys are involved in Cub Scouts, soccer, basketball, and tennis,” says Annika. “My mom is a saint for all the help she gives.”
As for providing solid educational opportunities for the kids, the Georges were discouraged by the state of schools in California. This was evident when they began looking into preschools for Briley.
“When we first arrived in California, Briley needed to enroll in preschool. I reached out to as many places as I could, and each one said there was no possibility she’d get in, or even get on the waitlist in some cases, because everything was so full,” Annika says.
A few months later, Briley lucked into a spot at Kirk House Preschool (part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church), because it had one slot available for a girl. Briley jumped ahead of several boys to grab this chance.
This wasn’t the only discouraging factor. Annika and Stephen found the schools in California overcrowded and understaffed, with routine facility maintenance suffering, and arts and language programs buckling under budget cuts.
When it came time to move back, the family learned to look for schools early. Stephen, in fact, traveled to Omaha ahead of the move to scout schools. “We were looking for the best education opportunity for our children in Omaha,” Stephen says. The parents enrolled their young scholars at Brownell Talbot, where there was no waitlist, but the kids had to, and did, pass entrance exams.
Annika and Stephen agree they’ve found an optimum educational fit.
“You have to be an advocate for your kids,” says Annika, who stresses that she encountered great, well-meaning teachers in California, but they were simply overburdened and thus ill-equipped to provide a nuanced, well-rounded education for their children. “At Brownell, the teachers are also great advocates for them. They see the kids’ needs and gifts, and are there to support them.”
“We found Brownell Talbot to be on par with the best private schools in places I had lived, such as NYC, London, and San Francisco, but much more accessible for families,” Stephen says. “The school has a wonderful campus, excellent academic, artistic, and sports programs, caring and superb professionals, and a top-notch college placement program—all of which help position our children to be the best they can as they grow up and head to college.”
With a strong support system and the kids receiving a stellar education, Annika and Stephen are quite pleased with their decision to return to Nebraska.
“Omaha is a ‘big little town’ where families can focus on their careers and be active in their kids’ lives, plus it has unending resources—sports, community, academic—to help families to thrive,” says Stephen, founder of Omaha-based private equity investment firm Panorama Point Partners.
“Nebraska is truly a hidden gem,” Annika says. “People who haven’t lived elsewhere may not realize all that they have here—especially for family life.”
This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.
(from left) Rafe, 8; Vail, 6; Kyra, 15; Briley, 12