Tag Archives: featured

Dave’s World

May 4, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Prolific painter and tattooist Dave Koenig says people often ask him, “How do you develop a style?” or, more precisely, “How did you develop your style?”

For an artist who is known and recognized from Omaha all the way to Chaudes-Aigues, France, for his particular brushstroke and trail of ink, Koenig humbly says he doesn’t recognize a certain style in his work. He just sees himself as someone who draws “the same stuff everybody else draws.”

“I’m not the most technically refined tattooer, and I’m not the most technically refined artist. But I tend to try to pull a level of emotion, on a subconscious level, to every piece I draw,” Koenig says. “And I feel like that creates something different.”

His colleague of more than 10 years and co-worker at Tenth Sanctum Tattoo (1010 S. 10th St.), Tobias Caballero, says one element that contributes to Koenig’s style is his use of line. “If you look at his lines, you’ll be able to see Dave in it,” Caballero says. “It’s almost like watching Bruce Lee fight. You can tell that Bruce Lee has found the best of everything and combined it into his fighting. It’s the same way Dave has compiled this formula of how he creates art.”

Koenig says line work is a crucial component to some of his most requested work—like tattoos of his signature female figures. “The lines that you put on them—say it’s the hair, or where their eyes or mouth are—it has to be exact,” he says. “The line has to count. One slight off with one of those lines, it can completely change the emotion of the piece. I like to take the time to refine each of them.”

Before he began tattooing, or started taking his painting too seriously, Koenig says it was his graffiti-style art he was known for. It is, in fact, what got his foot in the door to begin apprenticing at his first tattoo shop 17 years ago.

“He learned really young in life that style is something he valued,” Caballero says. “It all started when he was doing his graffiti and he started integrating that into his tattoos, and that influenced his paintings, and then he just simply continued to refine it, and it turned into something only he can do now. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Influenced by Japanese and American traditional tattooing styles, as well as a mix of art nouveau and art deco, Koenig has crafted a signature look that is not only recognizable but also heavily sought after.

Koenig’s tattoo regulars and hopefuls are so obsessed with his work that they will wait—often lengthy periods—to obtain their very own Dave Koenig masterpiece. His tattooing schedule, on average, is booked out at a staggering 18-24 months.

His artwork can be found screen-printed on shirts at Curbside Clothing (505 S. 11th St.), illustrated on the beer cans at Brickway Brewery & Distillery (1116 Jackson St.), hanging on the walls of bars and businesses, and covering the bodies of his devoted tattoo clients. It can also be found across Europe and South America, in tattoo magazines and books, and hanging on walls around small towns in France and Italy.

The charm of his personal brand of art has proven strong. In 2016, Koenig was asked to design the poster for the 2016 Chaudes-Aigues tattoo convention in France. For the poster, he created his own rendition of the town’s coat of arms. The Chaudes-Aigues family, whom the town is named after, was so seduced with his vision that they adopted his work to use as the new version of their family crest.

When Zac Triemert, owner of Brickway, decided to open the brewery in 2013, he says Koenig was the first person he thought of to incorporate into the business’ branding. He was hired to create the artwork for Brickway’s logo, signage, and the labels on their Bison Series beer.

“His work is iconic. You can’t see Dave’s work without knowing that is absolutely Dave Koenig’s work,” Triemert says. “And I love his style. It’s really fun, strong, and aggressive.”

Caballero dubs Koenig’s work as difficult to describe with mere words. He says it has to be seen to be understood.

“He’s found the perfect combination of understanding technique as well as understanding how to be loose with his work—as well as understanding color theory,” Caballero says. “He’s kind of created a perfect storm for himself where he doesn’t wind up in a place where he’s repeating himself. He’s always working toward becoming better, and he’s managed something he’s built into his own personal empire.”

Despite his ever-growing fan base and unending praise, Koenig never boasts about his success. The way he sees it, he’s still “just some Omaha kid” and says he’s “blessed and happy people like my work.”

Although humble about his impact on the art and tattoo scene, his talent and appeal are undeniable. He has managed to captivate audiences around the globe with his technical skill, knack for detail, and ability to evoke striking emotion.

Now that he has created his own strong sense of brand, Koenig says, it’s on to his next goal: How to help the world through his art?

“The whole point is ‘What’s your legacy?’,” Koenig says. “I just draw pictures; how do you help everything as a whole through drawing pictures? It’s the tracks we leave behind that people remember forever. You’ve got to make sure to leave some big tracks and make sure they’re walking in the right direction.”

dkoenigart.com

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

Obviously Omaha

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

Food and drink are an important part of summertime festivals and cultural events. Celebrations across Omaha’s diverse communities ensure a wide selection of new and interesting things to try. Here are a few options to explore.

Dancers at Omaha’s beloved South Omaha festival

Cinco de Mayo
May 5-7
South 24th Street, from D to L streets

Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1962, during the Franco-Mexican War. But in the United States, the holiday has become a general celebration of Mexican culture. Chalupas—small tortillas lightly fried and topped with salsa, onion, and shredded chicken or beef—are a common dish in Puebla. During the festivities in South Omaha, there will also be plenty of tacos, tortas, and other treats (Mexican ice cream, horchata, and specialty drinks). 
cincodemayoomaha.com

Taste of Omaha provides food choices for everyone.

Taste of Omaha
June 2-4
Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing

Taste of Omaha is a must-try on the city’s culinary calendar. The three-day food and entertainment extravaganza celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2017. Taste’s smorgasbord gives people a chance to try foods from India, various parts of Africa, Japan, Mexico, and elsewhere, along with several local farm-to-fork options. Taste of Omaha’s signature alcoholic drink, “River Breeze,” is made from coconut-flavored vodka mixed with cranberry and pineapple juices.
showofficeonline.com/TasteHome

Cool off on a hot summer’s night with Italian gelato

Santa Lucia Festival
June 8-11
Lewis & Clark Landing

Founded in 1925 by Grazia Bonafede Caniglia, this festival emulates the traditions of the Santa Lucia Festival in Carlentini, Sicily. Italian food is one of the festival’s highlights. Favorites include sausage or meatball sandwiches and Sicilian-style pizza by the Pizza Boys of Santa Lucia. Pasta lovers can carb-load on fried ravioli, mostaccioli, and much more.
santaluciafestival.com

Shaved ice is a favorite among kids at Omaha Summer Arts Festival

Omaha Summer Arts Festival
June 9-11
Farnam Street, 10th to 15th streets

Gator on a stick, anyone? In addition to traditional festival favorites—cotton candy, funnel cakes, and fresh-squeezed lemonade—the Summer Arts Festival also boasts seafood dishes, noodle bowls, and other foods to satisfy artistically inspired hunger. Snow cones help kids cool down, while adults can enjoy watermelon/grapefruit shandy, vanilla cream ale, black cherry hard soda, or a hard sparkling water.
summerarts.org

Take us out to the ball games, where you can chow down on traditional favorites as well as unique eats.

College World Series
June 16-27/28
TD Ameritrade Park

Each year brings new treats to Omaha’s favorite baseball event. Last year’s lineup of concession offerings at CWS included foot-long taquitos for $18; “mangia fries,” french fries coated in Italian seasoning and topped with cheese sauce, pepperoni, banana peppers, and diced tomatoes; and the “Reuben sausage,” a tubular version of Omaha’s favorite deli meat topped with sauerkraut and dressing served in a pumpernickel bun. Starting in 2016, the NCAA allowed beer and wine sales at the event. Cheers!
cwsomaha.com

Pack a picnic and come to the green for theatrics, and theater.

Shakespeare on the Green
June 22-July 9 (weekends)
Elmwood Park

Nebraska Shakespeare is putting on dinner and a show with its annual Shakespeare on the Green. Several local food trucks will dish up their fare at this free event. In true Shakespeare fashion, pizza vendors will have a variety of cleverly named dishes relating to the night’s performance. This event allows spectators to pack their own picnics, including beer or wine if desired.
nebraskashakespeare.com

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

The Return of the Midnight Movies

Illustration by Derek Joy

Let’s respect our inverted pyramid and get this out of the way: 4925 Dodge St., née the Dundee Theater, will once again play movies at midnight. They will be regular affairs, maybe/maybe not weekly, and they will be appropriately subversive.

But they’re not going to attempt to recreate the showings that took place there every weekend from 2000 till 2013, when the theater “closed for renovations” (but everyone sort of understood that was that).

It’s probably for the best.

Because part of what made those midnight shows great, let’s admit, was that they took place in that time between cars and bars: when a generation of millennials learned the world was their oyster, when they were amenable to going anywhere, but piddling few places would let them in.

Even now, most theaters’ “late” showings start before 11 p.m., the same time it becomes illegal to step foot in city parks. Come 11:30 p.m., unless there’s a concert somewhere, your options are a lone donut shop and a slew of diner chains, convenience stores, and Wal-Marts. It’s a bleak affair. There are even reports of teenagers gathering in parking lots, like those Polish wood ants that made a go of it in an abandoned nuclear bunker.

With that backdrop, knowing the basics of supply and demand, it’s little wonder that midnight movies were such a success. Midnight movies had long been off-again/on-again during the life of the Dundee Theater. But their most recent incarnation began in 2000, when two employees approached owner Denny Moran with the idea.

“An old theater like the Dundee just sort of screams MIDNIGHT MOVIES,” says former manager Matt Brown.

Moran agreed, but only as an experiment, only for a couple months.

The crowd shifted depending on the film. Fight Club brought the meatballs, Nightmare Before Christmas turned out the Hot Topic set. Sometimes parents would come with their kids. Then, there were the loner old guys clutching dog-eared sci-fi paperbacks.

To a kid, the city felt cold and conservative and corporate, says Jon Tvrdik, an Omaha filmmaker. Midnight movies were a blinking neon XXX sign in a town of church marquees. Tvrdik and his friends basked in the oppositionality.

“It was a nod from the establishment—which was any business that didn’t sell records—almost as if to say, ‘We see you out there, weirdos of all stripes, and we have a home for you and your cinema obsessions at night,’” Tvrdik says.

After two months, the good outweighed the bad. Midnight movies stuck.

Slowly, they evolved into more than just movies shown at a time when most people are hitting the hay.

One night Brown was showing a new employee, Jon Sours, the theater’s collection of trailers. Inexplicably, there were several for Changing Lanes, that overwrought 2002 movie that premised a whole plot out of Samuel Jackson getting into a fender bender with Ben Affleck. As the movie trailer’s narrator describes it: “An ambitious attorney. A desperate father. They had no reason to meet—until today.”

Sours insisted that this was one of the better bad trailers, and made the case for playing it before each and every midnight movie. Brown upped the ante, suggesting they play it twice.

And things sort of snowballed from there. Before long, they were playing it three or four times, upside down, in the wrong aspect ratio, backward.

The audience ate it up. Soon, they were shouting out lines from the film by memory.

“I felt like a proud father,” Sours says.

“Film,” by the way, means film. As in 35 mm. The Dundee Theater never went digital. The adherence to analog made for all sorts of charming hijinks. During Goodfellas, for example, the projector went haywire, so every scene became a weird game of Where’s Waldo? (Except with dangling microphones instead of a bespectacled guy in stripes).

It also meant that every week brought new and exciting questions about just how badly things could go wrong.

Film reels arrived to the theater scratched, spliced, and re-spliced. They were missing frames and wrapped thick with tape. And that was when they came at all. The delivery company lost a print of Jaws the day it was supposed to show, and staff had to scramble when the last remaining copy of Say Anything was destroyed; but sometimes the best ideas are borne of necessity—that night, they dug up a copy of Changing Lanes.

“We needed something to show, and we had been playing that trailer in ridicule for months,” Brown recalls. “I think some of our regular clientele were jazzed to show up and see that we were actually playing the film and not just the trailer four times in a row.”

For the most part, though, things were uneventful in the projection room. The real action was in the calamitous crowd. It was a party. A movie-watching party with a few hundred friends you didn’t know you had.

Rocky Horror Picture Show drew the costumed freaks. Purple Rain became impromptu karaoke, with people running to the front of the theater to take the lead on their favorite song. The Princess Bride was an odd communal script reading. And every now and then, during any movie, someone would kick over a clandestine bottle of something, and you’d have to listen as it slow-slow-slowly rolled all the way down the theater floor before coming to its merciful stop.

Maybe the end of the Dundee Theater was merciful, too.

Film Streams was competition, technically. But the truth is it was never close, and they were running up the score.

The Dundee had standing water in the basement and a heater rusting through. Film Streams had a brand new facility and a membership that paid to keep it shiny. The Dundee had day-glo  photocopies. Film Streams had a marketing budget.

The last midnight movie was The Room, widely considered one of the worst films ever made. It had been a regular in the repertoire.

Only about 150 people showed up that night—not at all capacity, and not even close to a record for a midnight showing.

But for Brown, who steered that ship for 13 years, it was the perfect payoff.

“They were so appreciative that we were taking some time to do a final screening of this weird little freak show movie that they all came to love, and they all came to party,” Brown says, fondly recalling the cult classic’s spoon-throwing ritual. “So many plastic spoons. It felt very communal. It was great.”

Even today, people tell Brown how much those movies meant. Their whole idea of cinema, their platonic ideal of a moviegoing experience, is based on seeing, say, Clockwork Orange or Fight Club at midnight at an art deco, formerly vaudeville theater in midtown Omaha.

Since announcing the acquisition of the Dundee, people have peppered Film Streams founder Rachel Jacobsen with questions about a reboot.

The first meeting with the Dundee neighborhood association was expected to be a dry to-do to discuss traffic flows and parking and other crushingly adult things.

Instead, people showed up specifically to advocate for the return of midnight movies.

Film Streams wants to pay respects to its predecessor, Jacobsen says, and midnight movies were a big part of what made the Dundee the Dundee. But she wants them to be different; she wants to dress up the basic concept in new clothes that are a little better fit for the new ownership.

She talks about a movie that might be the perfect balance—a French film with feminist undertones and cannibalism.

She could also open it up to “Members Select,” to let those dues-paying members pick the films they’d like to see.

Midnight movies are a big part of the theater’s recent history, sure. But Jacobsen seems well aware that much of the passion she hears could be standard-issue nostalgia.

“There’s not too many places that a teenager can go after midnight, someone under 21,” she says. “Maybe part of it is the age group that was going; they think of it as real glory days. We’re not going to try to recreate it. We couldn’t. But we’ll try to do our own version that honors the history.”

That’s no surprise to Brown.

“I seriously doubt they [Film Streams] are going to be laying out the red carpets for a bunch of 17-year-olds dressed like Frank N. Furter and Riff Raff with packs of hot dogs and bags of rice shoved down their pants to toss around,” Brown says. “I think that ship has sailed.”

Maybe it is all schmaltz for being young and dumb and the places that let you get away with it.

Tony Bonacci, a local film director, compares the midnight movies to that dive bar in stumbling distance from your front stoop. You know every nook and cranny and stain on the floor. You could pick the exact tone of green in the carpet off the Pantone color wheel. You nod to “Metaphorical Ed” who comes in after work and grabs his place at the bar, which is empty, because everyone else knows it belongs to “Ed,” too.

You love this place.

Then it goes under and is sold. Cheap draws give way to microbrews and craft cocktails. The new place is clean. There’s a great jukebox. The carpet is pried up and original hardwood restored. “Ed” found a new place to hone his alcoholism, and the new crowd is well-dressed and mannered.

It’s a good bar. A great bar. You like it. Still, something nags.

“It’s just a totally different vibe,” Bonacci says. “It’s like, ‘Man, can’t we just have that back?’”

Tvrdik, though, thinks the updated version will be, well, a lot like the rest of us—older and wiser. Still out to have a good time, it’s just what constitutes a good time has changed: less like you’re staying up past your bedtime to watch something scandalous and more like your favorite professor is playing your favorite film.

“A more mature version of what it was,” Tvrdik says.

Visit filmstreams.org for more information.

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

In Their Own Words

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Members of the Greatest Generation tell their own stories in a locally produced documentary, 48 Stars. The in-progress film features personal testimonies from World War II veterans.

War buff Shawn Schmidt conceived the project. His co-director is Jill Anderson. The Omaha filmmakers are unlikely collaborators. He’s a holistic health care provider and former race car owner-driver. She’s a singer-actress. He’s unabashedly patriotic. She’s not. But they’re both committed to telling authentic stories of resilience.

They met while she was a patient under his care. After sharing CDs of her Celtic music, he was taken by her rendition of “Fare Thee Well.”

“It was not just the music, but Jill’s voice. That song fits everything this film has to say about that generation,” Schmidt says. “They’re disappearing, and the interviews we did are like their final swan song. It gave them a final chance to have their say about their country, their life, where America is today, where America is going.”

Originally hired as music director, Anderson’s role expanded. Filmmaker Aaron Zavitz joined the team as editor and creative consultant.

Forty-plus interviews were captured nationwide, mostly with veterans ranging across different military branches and racial-ethnic backgrounds. Some saw combat. Some didn’t. Civilians were also interviewed about their contributions and sacrifices, including women who lost spouses in the war. Even stories of conscientious objectors were cultivated. Subjects shared stories not only of the war, but of surviving the Great Depression that preceded World War II.

With principal photography completed, editing the many hours of footage is underway. The filmmakers are still seeking funding to finish the post-production process.

The film’s title refers to the number of stars—representing states—displayed on the American flag during World War II. Each interviewee is framed with or near a particular 48-starred flag that inspired the project. Schmidt rescued it from a junk store. On a visit to Pearl Harbor’s war memorials, he had the flag raised on the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.

He grew up respecting veterans like his late father, Richard W. Schmidt—a Navy Seabee in the Pacific theater. His father died without telling his story for posterity.

“It dawned on me I could interview other veterans and have them hold this flag, almost like a testimonial to what this piece of fabric is about,” Schmidt says.

He added that combat veterans’ accounts of warfare teem with emotion.

“There’s a distinct difference in energy, pain, and identification with their country and flag from the ones who did not have to kill. The ones who did kill are still hurting, and they’ll hurt till the day they die,” he says.

Whatever their job during the war, Anderson says, “There were discoveries with every new person we talked to. It’s humbling that people trust you with some of their most soulful experiences and memories.”

Schmidt says, “They opened up with stories sometimes they’d never shared with their family. I think, for a lot of them, it’s a catharsis.”

There are tales of love and loss, heroism and hate, improbable meetings, close calls, intersections with infamy, history, and fate.

Not all the attitudes expressed are sunny. Some folks became anti-war activists. Others returned home to endure Jim Crow bigotry.

Anderson says the film intentionally depoliticizes the flag: “It can’t be about God and country or honoring glory because that doesn’t match with the testimony.”

Schmidt feels an urgency to finish the project. “The generation that has the most to teach us is leaving,” he says.

He won’t rush it though.

“It’s a serious responsibility,” Schmidt says. “[The film] needs to honor these individuals who gave their time, and it’ll be done when it’s exactly right.”

Visit 48stars.org for more information.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Sixty-Plus, a periodical within Omaha Magazine.

Angling For Safe-To-Eat Fish

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

Testing for Pollutants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Predatory Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish Species and Pollutants of Concern in Local Waters

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

Location—species—pollutant

Douglas County

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

Sarpy County

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

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

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

Reach for the Stars

College has become increasingly expensive. A semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha now costs more than $3,000, leaving many parents—and students—wondering how to increase their ROI on college expenditure.

One of the best ways is to go into a profession that relies on science, technology, education, or mathematical knowledge.

Young people with a bachelor’s degree and with three or fewer years of experience in their field earn less than $40,000, according to a study conducted last year by Forbes, but those in STEM occupations can earn much more. One of the highest paid STEM positions, a petroleum engineer, can earn more than $85,000 with only three years’ experience and a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, those lucrative loan-repayment-worthy STEM professions are underrepresented by minority and women employees. Stereotypes persist, discouraging possible candidates based on the misconception that STEM fields of study are “hard” or “boring” or “unwelcoming.”

Neal Grandgenett, the Dr. George and Sally Haddix Community Chair of STEM Education at UNO, says it’s not hard to break those stereotypes. Engaging students in camps or extracurricular activities can be effective in establishing an interest in these fields.

“I think it’s critical that parents give kids the ability to get into some of these fun camps,” Grandgenett says. “There’s fun things like rocketry and robotics. They’d be better off doing that than getting kids into more traditional math camps.”

Part of the problem, Grandgenett says, is that the camp titles do not reflect experiences that are seen as great resume-builders. Parents who want to accelerate their students in their studies may actually benefit from allowing their student(s) to delve deeper into a subject.

“Parents may gravitate away from something like “The Science of Zombies,” because it doesn’t sound useful, but it might have practical applications,” Grandgenett says. “They might talk about disease transmission and how to prevent it. The title of the camp may not be reflective of how applicable to the STEM fields it really is.”

Even throughout the school year, Grandgenett says, there are a lot of ways that students can become interested in these fields. One way is to attend speaking engagements that are open to the public. Omaha Performing Arts, for example, showcases “National Geographic Live,” in which noted researchers, writers, and photographers spend an evening discussing their adventures. These guest speakers can make STEM subjects sound exciting.

As well as being fun, Connie O’Brien, director of the Aim for the Stars summer math and science camps at UNO, says making sure boys and girls are given an equal chance to succeed in these areas is essential.

O’Brien says, “In the last 10-15 years, we have caught on to the fact that we need to teach in ways that catch [girls’] brains. When we give kids a rocket to build, for example, boys will pull out one item, then another, then start putting the two pieces together. Girls take out all the pieces and make a picture in their minds, then assemble the project.”

Women make up 73 percent of all employees in the social and life sciences, such as psychology and biology, but make up less than 30 percent of employees in many of the physical sciences, such as engineering.

“I was expected to get a college degree in nursing or teaching,” O’Brien says. “That didn’t work for me.”

It didn’t work for Allison Sambol, either. Sambol is an environmental scientist at Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, and a prime example of using a college degree to dive into a STEM career.

“I am a geographer. I went to college and I took all general studies, and my geography course was my favorite,” Sambol says. “When I graduated, I was looking for jobs; I looked for anything that had consulting in the title.”

Eventually, Sambol realized that her work decisions affected many aspects of people’s lives, and she began to see the benefits to sticking with environmental science.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m researching physical settings,” Sambol explains. “What’s around it? What type of things might affect building it? Does it contain contaminated soil or groundwater? Wetlands, do they need to be mitigated? Are there permits that needs to be maintained?”

Being in a STEM-based career, however, does not mean that she researches alone all day.

“Part of my job is in development,” Sambol says. “Working with my clients, developing relationships, and determining communities’ problems, and how people can solve those problems.”

The possibilities for a student who becomes interested in STEM subjects are limitless. Those working with computers, specifically, are much needed in Omaha and nationwide.

“The number of computer science positions is far outpacing the number of graduates we will have in those careers,” Grandgenett says. “One in five positions in computer science will not be filled due to not having the people with the skills.”

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

 

Mexican
 Perfection

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Anthony Bourdain was asked what food trend he would like to see in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), he said, “I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food. I think it’s the most undervalued, underappreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential.”

At Hook & Lime Tacos + Tequila, North Downtown’s newest addition, you will find that top-quality Mexican food and all kinds of potential, though you won’t necessarily have to pay more for it.

Owner Robbie Malm says after selling his share in Dudley’s Pizza and Tavern, he wanted to do something smaller and more creative. With a little help from his wife, Erin, and his brother, Tim Malm, he has done just that.

Hook & Lime’s menu has a selection of a la carte tacos, small plates, and tortas, all for under $20.

But if you do want to spend some money and have a more decadent experience, you can try the family-style tacos or the tasting menu (with or without tequila).

For the family-style tacos, you can choose between the whole fish, which is currently fried, striped bass, or bone-in barbacoa, which is cooked for 72 hours, crisped in the oven, and sent to the table for you to pick apart.

Head chef Alex Sorens says the tasting menu is something he’s excited about because it gives his crew the opportunity to create dishes and test things out. If they’re good, they’ll go on the next tasting menu.

“It’s stuff that we wouldn’t normally serve to the public,” he says. “It will be a select amount of these things, and when we run out, we run out.”

The menu features a lot of fish, hence the “hook” in Hook & Lime. Sorens says he gets their fish from Seattle Fish Co. out of Kansas City, Missouri. He uses their program Whole Boat Harvest for some of the dishes, like the ceviche. The program sells the “leftover” fish from hauls, fish that would normally go to waste because they’re not as well-known as others.

“The reason for that is because I’m trying to do my part to not be in that same group that’s using all those super popular, over-fished species that are going on endangered lists right now.”

Sorens also tries to support other environmentally conscious businesses, getting a lot of their ingredients from local producers like Plum Creek Farms and Jon’s Naturals.

Malm says these are things you might normally only find at “higher-end, white tablecloth places.” He says their goal is to make that food available to everyone.

“We have this amazing menu, these amazing items, that we’re able to bring to people who normally wouldn’t get to experience them,” he says. “We’re trying to take that food, that approach of sourcing locally and treating these items with respect, and make it more approachable. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a suit and tie or flip-flops, we welcome everybody here.”

Malm says he has been “very, very fortunate” in finding the team to do that.

“Everyone seems to be really excited about their role in this,” he says. “So I quickly found out that my best role is really to enable them to just dive in.”

This enthusiasm extends to the front of the house, where bar manager Brian van Egmond works to create original cocktails using ingredients made in house.

“It’s a fusion between speed and craft,” he says. There will be a couple margaritas available on tap, but the fresh juices are added after they’re poured.

So far, van Egmond says they’ve made their own orange brandy, orange liquor, syrups, and crème de cassis. He is currently working on a strawberry tequila for their strawberry margaritas. They also have a hibiscus-infused reposado, which is used to make the Roselle cocktail.

“That’s one I think both Negroni and Cosmo fans will appreciate.”

Van Egmond says they also have a well-curated spirits list, and plenty of beers to offer, including many from local breweries. There are also several wine options.

Of course, if what you’re really looking for is some straight up, premium tequila, Hook & Lime has you covered.

“Tequila is my favorite thing to drink,” Malm says. “It is my favorite thing to drink,” he repeats, laughing. “And I’m a fairly recent convert.”

But once he fell in love with tequila, it became a little bit of an obsession. He talks excitedly about touring tequila distilleries in Mexico with his wife. He says they toured five different spots, including Cuervo and Herradura.

The restaurant’s offerings reflect his enthusiasm, with more than 100 tequilas on their list and four different styles of flights available if you want to do a little sampling before you commit.

“They say there’s no zealot like a convert,” Malm says. “And that is definitely true when it comes to tequila.”

Undoubtedly, Hook & Lime will do their share in creating converts, both to tequila and to a greater appreciation of top-quality Mexican food.

Hook & Lime is open Sundays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

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

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

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

Woman-Owned Small Business Program

December 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“To be considered economically disadvantaged, the woman must meet three economic criteria: personal net worth must be less than $750,000 annually, adjusted gross income averaged over the last three years must be less than $350,000, and personal assets must be less than $6 million.”

-Lisa Tedesco

Have you ever considered that the U.S. government is the world’s largest customer? The government buys a wide variety of products and is required by law to provide opportunities for small business owners. Fortunately for women entrepreneurs in Nebraska, this massive opportunity is made easier thanks to the Women-Owned Small Business Program.

The program, which is implemented and administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, authorizes contracting officers to specifically limit or set aside certain requirements for competition solely amongst WOSBs or economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business, according to the administration’s website.

The WOSB program ensures a level playing field on which small business can compete for federal contracting opportunities.

“The program is still new enough that we haven’t seen quite the impact the program has had in Nebraska, but we predict it will continue to provide contracting opportunities for woman-owned businesses, particularly in those businesses and industries typically owned by men,” says Kathleen Piper, deputy district director of the Nebraska District Office of the Small Business Administration.

Other services offered by the SBA include contracting education and assistance, business development, and various business trainings for women wanting to start their own business.

“We have seen a trend of businesses being started by women that have traditionally been owned and run by men, particularly in construction and construction trades, cyber security, engineering, and facilities operation management,” Piper says.

Lisa Tedesco, lead business opportunity specialist at the SBA, says that in order to be considered for the program, a woman owner must be a 51 percent owner who controls the business on a full-time basis and be a U.S. citizen. “To be considered economically disadvantaged, the woman must meet three economic criteria: personal net worth must be less than $750,000 annually, adjusted gross income averaged over the last three years must be less than $350,000, and personal assets must be less than $6 million.”

Tedesco says there is no formal process for self-certifying as a woman-owned small business or an economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business: “Since it is a self-certifying program, the WOSB simply uploads the documentation providing eligibility into an SBA system, where it is housed if and when a contracting officer must verify eligibility prior to a WOSB award.”

“Starting a business is exciting, it can be financially rewarding, and it offers women a great deal of flexibility, but it is also risky, time-consuming, and a lot of hard work,” Piper says.

“The SBA and its network of resources partners (SCORE, the Nebraska Business Development Center, and REAP Women’s Business Center) exist to help business owners get free counseling, gain access to contracting programs, and obtain capital through SBA Guaranteed Loan Programs,” she explains.

Piper says Nebraska is full of opportunity for aspiring business owners. She mentions a robust lending community coupled with low interest rates that make this a good time to start a business.

She says that Nebraska’s business landscape is rich with things like excellent universities that are involved in world-class research with potential for new business and job growth. There are also multiple government contracting prospects thanks to the Offutt Air Force Base and United States Strategic Command, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and other federal agencies buying goods and services for delivery locally and around the globe.

“Business ownership is a journey, and it is one that women do not have to take alone,” Piper says.

If only self-made Omaha business owner Melissa Stephens of The Cordial Cherry had contacted the SBA, she says she would have saved herself a lot of time and money. “I’ve problem-solved a lot on my own, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I probably should have reached out to an organization like the SBA just to help me adjust,” Stephens says.

During her journey to bring Omaha exquisite and unique chocolate-covered cherries, Stephens discovered having passion for her craft is absolutely necessary. “It’s not all roses and daisies every day. In fact, more often than not, it’s discouraging,” she says.

Stephens says it’s crucial to have resources and guidance like those provided by the SBA.

Her years of creating her own support system of friends and family helped her in her business. “I think any time your business requires you to adapt, having that guidance helps you avoid pitfalls that cost you both time and money,” she says.

Luckily for Nebraska women entrepreneurs, a support system—in the form of the SBA and the WOSB Program—is just a mouse click or a phone call away.

Visit certify.sba.gov for more information.

wosbp1

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.