Tag Archives: featured

Art Farm

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Artist Cassia Kite has lived on the Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State for more than a decade, but her work remains rooted in the family farm near Auburn, Nebraska.

“I’m just so thankful of my upbringing. I love Nebraska,” Kite says. “I love the farm life. That’s probably the one reason why I’m constantly creating about it. I’m just homesick. I miss home.”

Her latest project, “Soundstitches,” captures the vibrant colors of her family farm in what Kite describes as an interdisciplinary, multimedia installation, and performance piece. Inspired by folk art, Kite created embroidered farm scenes. She then translated those images to music by assigning a musical note to each color, mapping out the music from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. The work leaves vast room for interpretation for the artists who engage with it.

This summer, Kite’s project will be featured at KANEKO as part of the fourth annual Under the Radar Festival (July 5-8). Her embroidery will be on display while the corresponding music is performed by professional musicians and a dancer. Festival director Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is excited to bring artists together to interpret Kite’s work, and she explains the piece will be presented in a way that is immersive so “the audience can walk around and experience the performance.”

“Since her piece is so open and improvisation-based, there won’t be a huge rehearsal process,” Bartlett says.

On its face, this project might seem a little outside Kite’s wheelhouse. She studied painting and sculpting in college and isn’t comfortable calling herself a folk artist, even though she loves folk art traditions. She took piano lessons for a short time as a child, and she played percussion instruments in a middle school band, but she doesn’t consider herself a musician. When it comes to “Soundstitches,” she says she’s more of a “translator” than a composer, converting colors into sound.

“It makes me feel very vulnerable in a way, too, and I think that’s good for growth,” Kite says. “This is about as honest a form as I’ll ever get.”

The project may be out of her comfort zone, but it’s also built on what she knows best—the rich hues and homespun imagery of Nebraska.

“Everything I create is a personal narrative,” she says.

Kite is an arts educator who teaches at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but she returns to Nebraska during the summer months. Her work is on display at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, and she’ll have a solo exhibition at the Schoolhouse Art Gallery in Brownville, Nebraska, starting in June. For Under the Radar, she’ll be one of several Nebraska-connected artists participating in the festival this summer. Bartlett explains that out of 30 to 40 acts each year, they try to reserve at least half of those spots for artists with ties to the state.

Kite is excited to have her work presented at KANEKO, especially in collaboration with Under the Radar. “I could not think of a better platform for this to happen,” she says, “because it really unifies the whole subject of the work.”

Visit cassiakite.com for more information.

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

If I Were King

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I have difficulty falling asleep because I obsess about one thing or another that happened during the day—like the lobby door at the dentist’s office that lacks a “push/pull” label, or the person ahead of me at the checkout line who was just staring at the card reader in amazement while the cashier and I twiddled our thumbs, or the local news anchor’s nightly grammatical error. While I am ruminating over these signs of the apocalypse, waiting for Morpheus to bless me, I play a little game in my head to distract my worried mind.

If I were King:

I would decree that everyone get more stickers.

Everybody loves stickers. I feel great when I get my “I Voted” sticker. My granddaughter likes smiley-face stickers, and my grandson is hooked on Ninjago (don’t ask; he lives in Japan). The point is, we humans love stickers. Our woolly ancestors, after bringing down a mastodon, would stick bits of its liver to their chests as a sign of their hunting prowess. I’m sure I read that somewhere. More stickers! We should get stickers like “I opened the door for somebody with an armful of packages,” or “I didn’t lose my temper with the kid at the drive-thru who forgot the ranch dip,” or “I parked inside the lines,” or “My hair looks good today.”

If I were King:

Cell phones would have to be converted to rotary dialing. Think about it: Texting would become impossible, distracted driving reduced, frustration with butt calls ended, and our memories would be improved because we’d have to remember numbers again. If you don’t remember somebody’s number, they’re not important to you anyway. There may even be health benefits as we strengthen our finger muscles. Think of it—a nation of healthier fingers. An added benefit: It would really make it hard to play irritating game apps. I hate you, Candy Crush.

If I were King:

FedEx guys would just leave the package on the porch and not ring the doorbell. It upsets the dog. ’Nuff said.

If I were King:

Naps would be required. Every day, all places of business, offices, factories, and telemarketers, would be required to close from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. As in, closed. Shut down. Not open. Everybody would have to take a nap. Why? Because, naps are good, and the King likes naps. I think the “Grouchy People Index” would drop. We’d all be happier. And after a few years’ practice, we’d be good enough nappers to send a team to the International Siesta Competition in Madrid. Snoozers are judged on sleeping position, loudest snore, and original costume. America needs to win this competition. Besides, I nap every day between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., and I like a little quiet. After all, I am the King.

Now back to sleep.

Wait…Can’t sleep…I’m worrying about my costume.

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

Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

A Cottage In The Woods

Photography by Tom Kessler

When the Marshall family approached architect Jared Gerber about designing their home, he met them at the future construction site just outside the city limits of Louisville, Nebraska.

“When I met with them, we immediately connected,” Gerber says. “They were looking for something very homey and comfortable.”

The property is 11 acres with varying terrain features. Open spaces coupled with the surrounding wooded areas gave an ideal opportunity for a secluded paradise.

Gerber doesn’t typically design homes for acreages. He normally works in a city setting, and city lots confine an architect to design within a limited area. The expanse of the Marshalls’ land granted a variety of options for positioning the home and integrating the structure into the landscape.

“We really wanted to have a modern interpretation of a classic farmhouse,” says homeowner K.B. Marshall. “But we also wanted a house that complemented the land it was going to be built on.”

The product of the Marshalls’ vision and Gerber’s expertise was a house set far enough back on the property to be isolated by trees with a design that conjured the idea of a modern-day cottage.

“We recognized the house is maybe a little bit out of character for the local area,” Marshall says. “We didn’t want to have something that was an eyesore or really stood out.”

Built on the edge of town, the house is hidden on a forested plot. A gravel road winds back behind the dense foliage. Drive down the path through the trees, and the spectacular residence emerges.

“It’s kind of a journey. You get little glimpses, little pieces of it as you’re driving through there,” Gerber says. “It’s a nice approach to the house. It’s what I’ve always kind of liked about it.”

The front of the house is framed by its rural setting. Visitors’ eyes are immediately drawn to the red door, which stands out against the exterior’s softer white and blue colors.

Gerber wanted to keep the functionality of the home while maintaining its coziness. Striking this balance motivated Gerber’s architectural design, which led to some changes in the Marshalls’ original requests.

One feature the Marshalls wanted was a four-car garage attached to the house. But Gerber believed this would infringe on the coziness they were seeking. He feared that such a large garage would produce a strange, lopsided appearance. He didn’t want the gargantuan garage to dominate the presence of the house, which he wanted to be the focal point.

“What I ended up doing was breaking it [apart],” Gerber says. “So we had a two-car garage attached to the house, and then another two-car garage that was a detached garage.”

These two garages mirror each other as they stand face to face. In the space between, Gerber designed a paved area that connected to the driveway. The new style preserved the welcoming domestic appearance, while retaining the desired garage space.

The home’s interior continues to uphold a cozy and functional balance first introduced with the exterior design. Gerber strived to create a living space that would serve the needs of the Marshalls and their two sons.

“What I like to call this is ‘cottagey’—which technically is not really a style,” Gerber says. “Cottagey is more of a feeling or a concept of what a house conveys.”

The living room showcases a cathedral ceiling and large fireplace. The feeling emulated by the home’s primary living space is one of versatility. Ideally, one can feel comfortable spending time alone in the spacious area or hosting a group of guests.

The staircase tower connecting each level of the house was a favorite design feature for both Gerber and Marshall. The tower holds a wide, open-style staircase that winds from the basement to the main level to the second story. Windows on all sides of the tower showcase the surrounding natural splendor.

The kitchen-dining area was designed to be a hub of family activity, where they could gather for meals and kids could work on homework during the academic year. A mix of light fixtures and a series of enormous windows illuminates the space. Throughout the house, lighting was a major emphasis of Gerber’s design.

The house also has a secret. A hidden room behind a “Scooby-Doo” door, as Marshall described it, quickly became a favorite feature for his children. The entrance to the room is concealed by a bookshelf, making it unnoticeable to visitors when it is closed.

It is no secret that the house does not fit any single textbook architectural style. But that’s also part of its charm. “Everyone likes to plug all the different styles into a particular category, and I think a lot of times houses don’t fit truly into each category,” Gerber says.

Visit gerberarchitecture.com for more information.

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

A Professor in Motion Stays in Motion

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sun barely penetrated the narrows of the canyon. Kris Berg, Ph.D., scrambled over dusty red rock, carefully avoiding the steep cliffs that plunged down 50 yards on either side of him. History and geology combined with each footprint he left behind.

While most come to Las Vegas to roll the dice, Berg would rather hike with his wife in the outdoors, taking in the natural beauties of the world (which he accomplished during a recent winter trip).

Berg is a self-described exercise nut. The physical fitness bug struck him at a young age. When Berg was just 12 years old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Rather than a healthy boy, people saw him as fragile and sick. In high school, Berg’s coach even kicked him off the football team.

“I’ll show you. I’ll be so healthy that no one would do that again,” Berg thought.

After his family moved, a new doctor told Berg to experiment. So Berg lived his life, not letting diabetes limit his physical abilities.

“Exercise is such a powerful thing,” he says. “People are always looking for a magic pill. It’s right in front of us.”

He played multiple sports in high school and college. The science behind it all stimulated and fascinated him. With a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Missouri in hand, Berg began teaching at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“Top to bottom, front to back, he is enthusiastic,” former student Robert Buresh says.

Kris Berg, Ph.D.

UNO had no laboratory at the time so Berg developed one with the backing of the dean. Berg, a prolific researcher, made ties with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He developed an exercise physiology lab geared toward an investigative-driven program which would look at the human body from a scientific angle.

He soon started a special exercise program for Type 1 and 2 diabetes. His own brother had passed away from the disease at 32. Berg spent years of his career dedicated to informing the public on the positives of exercise to help regulate blood sugar.

Berg’s interest never wavered. He tackled osteoporosis next. The Strong Bones Program was born, helping the elderly build up confidence and mobility to avoid falls.

“We were very fortunate Berg initiated this program,” Berg’s former colleague Josie Metal-Corbin says. Although a dancer and yoga enthusiast, 65-year-old Metal-Corbin took the class for the added strength training and sense of community. The classes soon combined into the Adult Fitness Program.

After four books, more than 200 articles, and 45 years at UNO, Berg hung up his tennis shoes last May and retired. However, retirement didn’t stop him from doing what he loves.

Berg still finds time to visit with graduate students who need his help on papers, and he spends two hours or so a day researching.

“I wanted to go on being physically active regardless of age,” Berg explains.

Long and lean at the age of 73, Berg follows a diverse workout plan. He smacks the ball around on the tennis court four or five days a week. The physical and mental “chess match” keeps him sharp. He also still shovels snow, pulls weeds, and hikes.

“I have a tremendous enjoyment of exercise. I never get bored,” Berg says.

At the gym, Berg avoids the machines, preferring resistance training (similar to his classes). He stresses the importance of maintaining coordination and mobility. His goal—for himself and for others—is to prevent age from becoming an obstacle to living life. 

The Adult Fitness Program is open to members of the general public age 50 and older. The supervised fitness class takes place twice a week at UNO’s Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) Building. The program costs $36 for three months; parking costs $54 for three months. Contact the UNO Exercise Physiology Lab at 402-554-3221 or exphyslab@unomaha.edu to enroll.

Visit unomaha.edu for more information.

Wicked Omaha

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Musty newspapers, photos, archives, public records, presentations, and endless hours of research. Sure, the life of a modern folk historian sounds glamorous, but it’s not all like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In many ways, history is an occupation reserved only for those obsessive truth-seekers disconnected from their place on the space-time continuum.

Local historian, author, teacher, and Glenwood native Ryan Roenfeld has been making history entertaining for nigh on two decades. The 44-year-old nontraditional UNO student describes himself as a “hick-from-the-sticks.” A quasi-Luddite with a passion for the past, he doesn’t have a cell phone but he uses Facebook.

“I don’t know how I got so interested in history,” Roenfeld says. “Most folks see history as dry and dull, but it’s not. It really is—good, bad, or indifferent—the story of why things are the way they are.”

While decrying the modern age, Roenfeld helped popularize one of Omaha’s most frequented social media sites: Chuck Martens’ “Forgotten Omaha” Facebook page.

As one of three administrators, Roenfeld has seen “Forgotten Omaha” grow to more than 45,000 likes over the last year.

“I was surprised at the interest. Omahans didn’t know as much of their history as I thought,” says Roenfeld, who also teaches classes on Omaha history for Metropolitan Community College at Do Space. “History really is the story of us all, and I like telling people their stories.”

A folksy populist with an encyclopedic knowledge of colorful locals and criminals, Roenfeld tells the lesser-known tales of underrepresented populations, colorful characters, and swept-under scandals. He has self-published a dozen books and contributed to many articles on topics ranging from old postcards, railroads, steamboating, and local 19th-century brewers. To date, his most popular book has been Tinhorn Gamblers and Dirty Prostitutes, a colorful history of vice in Council Bluffs, which offers a glimpse at the city’s exploitation of prostitutes in the late 19th century.

“The highlights are always the lowlifes,” Roenfeld says. “People like hearing stories of cowboy shoot-outs in the street. People think the Old West happened in Arizona, but this area was really the archetype for every Wild West trope.”

The popularity of Western depravity was also obvious to Roenfeld’s publisher, The History Press. Roenfeld’s latest book, Wicked Omaha (not to be confused with David Bristow’s book, Dirty, Wicked Town [Omaha], published by Caxton Press in 2000), looks closely at “Hell’s Half-Acre,” Omaha’s red-light district in the 1880s.

Hell’s Half-Acre stretched from the Missouri River to 16th Street and from Douglas to Cuming streets. The city portrayed in Roenfeld’s Wicked Omaha makes all the stereotypes of Deadwood seem trite.

“People don’t realize that anything went in Hell’s Half-Acre,” Roenfeld says. “It was a different Omaha, when the saloons ran all night and strangers were victimized by every scheme going, all right downtown, nothing secret about it. Brothels were illegal, but ran in the open. There was drug addiction, suicide, and systematic exploitation. Prostitutes paid ‘fines’ monthly to keep operating. If they couldn’t pay, the city gave them a few weeks before they were hauled in front of a judge to either pay up or get shut up.”

Wicked Omaha made its debut Thursday, March 9, at the UNO Criss Library’s Read Local Author Showcase. Roenfeld plans to present his book at Omaha’s W. Dale Clark library May 6. The book is sold at The Bookworm, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and elsewhere.

Visit arcadiapublishing.com for more information.

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

The Johnsons

Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

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

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

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.

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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.