Tag Archives: featured

January/February 2019 Between the Lines

January 3, 2019 by
Photography by provided

Alicia Hollins Senior Sales Coordinator

Alicia has worked at Omaha Magazine for 11 years as Gil Cohen’s assistant. She is currently the senior sales coordinator, helping Gil with customer service, ad work, and sales. She loves the creative and collaborative atmosphere of magazine work. She also enjoys collaborating on house projects with her husband, Trevor. She is the president-elect of the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Alumnae Board and an active volunteer at Loveland Elementary. She enjoys researching her family tree, and has even received a certificate from Boston University in genealogical research. All of this happens while she is fielding an array of constant questions from her amazing 8-year-old, Logan.

 

Anthony FlottContributing Writer

Anthony fell in love with magazines in grade school when his carpenter father gave him a large box of old Sports Illustrated magazines found on a job site. Later, Anthony also worked in construction, laid asphalt, and cut trees for various family-owned enterprises. Eventually, he decided on a career where he could avoid physical exertion and workplaces equipped only with outhouses. He earned communication degrees from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and worked three years for the Papillion Times Newspaper Group. For 25 years since then, he’s been editor of the award-winning UNO Magazine. He’s also a widely published magazine freelance writer and has taught magazine editing and writing classes at UNO. He is married with four children.

 

Justine YoungEditorial Intern

Justine is a senior at UNO studying English, with a focus on creative nonfiction writing and absolutely no intention of becoming a teacher. Armed with a limited attention span, a fleeting passion for almost any subject, and a deep appreciation of ice cream, she hopes to one day write a great novel, or at the very least, a plethora of mediocre books. When she is not studying or visiting her family in rural Iowa, you can find her swing dancing, recruiting friends for a good old-fashioned game of bingo, or reading anything by Ann Patchett. Despite her Iowa roots, she considers Omaha home, and she works hard to convince locals that the word “bag” should be pronounced “beg.”

 

Megan FabryEditorial Intern

Megan is pursuing degrees in journalism and English at UNO. Born and raised in Omaha, this one-third of triplets spent much of her childhood hanging out with her other two-thirds, and their older brother. Megan graduated in 2014 from Millard West High School, where she was a copy editor for the yearbook. She is the arts and entertainment editor for UNO’s newspaper, The Gateway, and she hopes to continue contributing to the student-run publication until she graduates. In her spare time, Megan enjoys reading anything she can get her hands on, watching historical documentaries, and spending time with family.


This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Trimming the Trees

December 28, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Trees require maintenance or they can depreciate a property. Knowing when and how to trim them is critical. (It is important to note that this article discusses landscaping trees, whether deciduous or coniferous. Fruit trees require special pruning methods.)

First, tree owners should recognize that trimming or pruning trees harms them. A tree is a living, breathing organism. “Every time we prune, we are wounding a tree,” says Scott Evans, an arborist with the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties. “Every cut needs to have a purpose.”

Evans says that science once recommended trimming trees in the winter, but now recommends spring as the optimal time for tree maintenance.

“One of the first publications which talked about changing the time was 2004,” he says. “It was published in European Forestry Resources. It was kind of slow to catch on over here. I first heard about these pruning practices in 2015.”

Evans says the new best practice is to avoid trimming most trees in the winter, when the cold affects a tree’s growth. New science says the active spring growth helps the tree recover from the damage caused by cutting.

“We want to have those cells actively growing so they can start sealing as soon as possible,” he says.

The method of cutting is also important. “A good clean cut really allows the tree to respond quicker to the healing process,” Evans says.

Evans recommends pruning only for reasons of safety or a tree’s health. Dead or damaged branches should be managed so they don’t fall off the tree. Falling branches can hurt people, property, and the tree itself by ripping off the bark. When bark falls off, it cannot grow back. The water-conducting tissue that lies directly below the bark could then be damaged when a limb falls off, meaning the portion above the damage may not get the water it needs.

Branches that are crossed or rubbing should also be managed, Evans says, as they will eventually grow into each other, which can create a point for bacteria and decay to harm a tree. Likewise, rubbing creates an entryway for decay-causing organisms.

There are, however, a couple of reasons to trim trees in the winter. Evans notes that a major ice or snow event can damage branches, and those damaged branches should be managed as soon as possible, as further weather events could cause more significant problems. Evans says safety concerns, such as limbs hanging over houses and driveways, should also be immediately addressed in the winter.

There are two varieties of trees that still should be trimmed in the winter: oak, which is susceptible to oak wilt; and elm, which is susceptible to Dutch elm disease. Both diseases are transmitted to the trees via different types of beetles, which are attracted to fresh cuts on these trees. “Trim while the beetles are not actively out and about,” Evans says of oak and elm trees.

And homeowners trying to trim their own trees should keep their personal safety in mind at all times.

“If you have to lift a chainsaw over your head—call an arborist,” he says, noting that tree trimmers can do serious damage to a tree—or themselves. Additionally, having clean tools prevents transmission of disease. Evans recommends sanitizing cutting tools with a solution of 9-parts water to 1-part bleach.


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Scott Evans

Omaha Land Bank

Photography by Midland Pictures & Omaha Land Bank

Cities around the United States experience problems with blighted neighborhoods, in which certain houses and lots go from assets to deficits. Such sites often become magnets for vandals and vagrants.

Locally, some of these problems found an answer with the creation of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank in 2014. The nonprofit is funded in part by donations.

“The Land Bank was created for the City of Omaha by the Nebraska Legislature to be a catalyst for community development,” says OMLB Executive Director Marty Barnhart. “Our role is to address these distressed properties. Folks can donate properties to the Land Bank they no longer want to care for, or are no longer able to take care of.”

OMLB matches properties with buyers who demonstrate the vision and means to redevelop sites. Buyers get nine months to renovate a home, or two years to build on a vacant lot. The hope is that revitalization encourages neighbors to improve their own places. 

The first step is to acquire the properties, and that project takes time and money, especially when it comes to clearing a title on properties whose owners can’t be reached. As a subdivision of local government, OMLB has the power to cancel taxes and municipal liens levied against properties. It can bypass red tape to make purchasing and redevelopment go much quicker. It can also sell properties at lower prices, thus reducing the burden on purchasers to establish equity, borrow money, or make improvements.

“If you think about the city and the county, they could do the kind of things we do, but it would take ordinances, public meetings, and a lot of things to put through their boards,” Barnhart says. “It would take a whole lot longer than the Land Bank with our statuary authority.”

OMLB began selling property in early 2017. The available inventory is listed on its website. The 50-plus properties sold through last October went to “a variety of different individuals and partners,” Barnhart says. “We’ve seen single-family houses transformed and reoccupied.”

He acknowledges the sample size is too small yet to show ripple effects in neighborhoods. But there’s no doubt a long-abandoned house at 2002 Country Club Ave. that was an unsafe eyesore got saved from the rubble heap, redone, and reoccupied.

2002 Country Club Ave. (before)

“It was one of the first big success stories of the Land Bank,” says Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who serves District 1 where the house is located. “That had been a problem for that street for 20 years. We couldn’t find the owner. It was condemned. There were holes in the roof. Animals were in there. It never quite made the list, though, to be demolished. Eventually we did get it onto the list, not wanting to demolish it if we didn’t have to because it was otherwise a very nice property. But it was headed towards demolition until the Land Bank stepped in and finally got a response from the property owner, who was very grateful to sell.

“The Land Bank listed it for a fair, reasonable price and a young couple was able to buy it and rehab it. It’s in great shape today.”

Other transformations are in progress.

An OMLB presentation at their church convinced Carol Windrum and Tim Fickenscher to take on a single-family house redevelopment at 3155 Meredith Ave. Motivated to reverse blight, they used the Land Bank as a social entrepreneurship tool. They purchased the century-old property in January 2018 for $12,500. OMLB shepherded them through the makeover process—the couple’s first time renovating. That included helping find a contractor, who, at the couple’s behest, used as many recycled and reclaimed materials as possible.

3155 Meredith Ave.

The house listed for $77,500 last fall, and Family Housing Advisory Services and mortgage lender Omaha 100 are helping identify prospective low-income candidates to get it sold.

In the Park Avenue area, Brenda and Kurt Robinson seized a chance to prevent another “hole” in the neighborhood when, courtesy of OMLB, they rescued a two-story, 130-year-old house at 2911 Woolworth Ave. for $25,000.

If not for their action, this house might have faced the same fate as others torn down in the area.

“It’s a great structure—super sound. There’s very little we had to do except extra bracing here and there. It’s got a lot of cool exterior features—corbels and fascia we’re working hard to keep. Previous owners maintained all the original woodwork, including cased openings. They were pretty sensitive to the original architecture—thank goodness,” says Brenda, who likes having OMLB as a partner.

2911 Woolworth Ave.

“The Land Bank has a mission I can get behind, keeping sturdy old houses alive as really cool places of history as well as homes for the future,” she says.

For greater impact, OMLB targets areas by assembling multiple properties and lots for development. That’s what the organization is doing in the area around 40th and Hamilton streets.

This once-picturesque neighborhood struggled with crime, litter, debris, high turnover, and ill-kept rentals. Since a slumlord relinquished problem properties there and new businesses went in, things have stabilized, says Walnut Hill Neighborhood Association President Murray Hayes. But vacant lots are still an issue.

Walnut Hill is also a focal point due to the Walnut Hill Reservoir, a 16-acre parcel owned by Metropolitan Utilities District. The Land Bank is asking MUD to donate the inactive site for redevelopment. MUD’s weighing what to do.

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray (District 2), who serves on the Land Bank’s board, says OMLB is ideally suited to be a player in the reservoir’s remaking because the nonprofit’s rules prevent a developer from letting it sit idle.

Barnhart feels OMLB could give a developer a deal that doesn’t require tax increment financing. By assembling and holding properties for developers with the right plans, he says, OMLB protects against speculators.

Gray adds that OMLB is well-poised to address Omaha’s affordable housing shortage in areas of need like this.

“We know we can get nonprofits to do affordable housing, but we’re trying to assemble enough property to entice private developers,” he says. “We’re working on creating solutions to help meet the financing burden developers might face trying to do affordable housing. If we leave it with nonprofits, we’re only going to get so many houses. If we can include the private development community, it increases our ability to get that done at scale.”

Festersen says a proposed city ordinance would create a new relationship whereby the city law department will foreclose on those liens. That will allow the Land Bank to get it back into productive reuse, and on the tax rolls, by purchasing the property. That, and the measures the Land Bank have already taken, are the reasons Gray says, “I think you’re going to see some major developments through the Land Bank in the next two to three years.”


Visit omahalandbank.org for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

2911 Woolworth Ave.

Camille Metoyer Moten

December 27, 2018 by
Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

Editor’s note: These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits. Click here for the full list of featured models. 


Camille Metoyer Moten, 64

“A life well lived” is the phrase I hope will fall from the lips of anyone describing me long after I’m gone.

My parents instilled in me a love of people and sensitivity to what is important in this life. That, along with the strength that comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ, has allowed me to be grateful for all of my triumphs and challenges. Our home was filled with music, love, and activism; my parents were involved in fighting for civil rights. This gave us the opportunity to learn that fighting for what is right is important, and it often means educating others.

I have learned to balance marriage, children, and a singing career, and have made giving back a priority in my life. My husband and I worked at Boys Town for 16 years as family teachers, giving love and structure to over 100 children. My career outside of singing included coordinating programs at the YWCA [now known in Omaha as the Women’s Center for Advancement], management at CommScope, and writing grants at Youth Care and Beyond. I have performed at the Omaha Community Playhouse, served on several boards at the YWCA, am the board president of Arts for All, and am president-elect of the downtown Rotary Club.

In 2013, I discovered I had breast cancer, but with my faith and the support of family and friends, I sailed through that episode of my life without a hitch.

I am most proud of my two grown children, my grandson, and of being married for 42 years. I am so blessed.

Happiness is such a fleeting emotion; I focus on the underlying joy within my soul that comes from my relationship with Christ. I am happy when I am singing, and hopefully I impart happiness to my audiences.

My advice for living life is exactly that—live life. I continue to live, set new goals, and focus on doing good in the world.

I have released my third CD; all were recorded from age 54 to 64. If someone told me I was too old to do that, I didn’t hear them. It’s too late to go back now.


This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

 

Sketches of Omaha

December 19, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

A watercolor print featuring Joslyn Castle is the centerpiece of a young couple’s remodeled living room in the Dundee neighborhood. The image is a reminder of their wedding day and the location where they married.

The artist responsible, Julia Mason, doesn’t know the couple. But she’s happy her work can evoke this sentimental feeling. “It makes me feel proud and happy that I can create nostalgia for someone else,” she says.

It’s not the first time that a sighting of Mason’s artwork has come back to her with a personal anecdote attached. Mason’s friends often snap photos of her art in the wild and send evidence back to her. Sometimes they notice a print hanging in someone’s home; other times they notify her of a print gifted to some dislocated Omahan longing for familiar scenery.

“It’s exciting, and it makes me feel happy to see my work popping up someplace I wasn’t intending,” Mason says.

The daughter of mixed media and metal artist Vicki Mason of Plattsmouth, she appreciates the beautiful masonry patterns found around Omaha as she walks to the farmers market downtown, and she is fascinated by details in older architecture.

“Just by walking, you can observe a lot more character from a building than you would driving,” she says.

Although best known for her sketches of local neighborhoods, Mason says world travel has inspired her Omaha-centric work.

While studying secondary education with an emphasis in art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a two-week summer study abroad experience took her to the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, Scotland National Gallery, and traipsing through Britain’s many beautiful cathedrals.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, she discovered the work of Glasgow artist Libby Walker. She bought a print—a detailed pen drawing of a local scene—to remind her of the city, and she has since purchased more of Walker’s work for display in her home.

Mason kept a journal to document the trip, and the journal inspired her first solo art show at Paperdoll in Benson. “I started with showing at Benson First Friday, and that gave me the confidence to start making art for other people,” she says.

The travel bug bit again, and she went to Costa Rica for four months to study at Veritas University. At the end of the trip, she organized an art show at a local cafe. She presented observational drawings of her neighborhood and images of fruit and flowers from her host family’s residence. She titled the show, Costa Rica Through My Eyes.

“I like to remember the places I have been through my art collection,” she says. “I wanted to bring that kind of nostalgic experience to our community.”

After Costa Rica, she decided to try her hand at depicting Omaha’s beloved local scenes. Her first print consisted of a montage of Dundee scenes. She now has prints for many of Omaha’s older neighborhoods, which are available for sale at Hutch in Midtown Crossing, at local pop-up markets throughout town, and her website.

Travel remains a major source of inspiration for Mason. She recently returned from a leisure trip to Hawaii where she gravitated toward local illustrators that represent the community in their work.

When traveling, Mason always carries a travel journal with her to draw and paint from observation. “I think of it like a souvenir,” she says. “Drawing and painting the waves of North Shore was a new experience for me, so it was a bit of a challenge with the moving waves. I always feel like a better person after painting than I do before sitting down. It recharges me.”

Three years into her teaching career as a traveling art teacher at Beals and Indian Hill elementary schools, Mason decided to go full-time as an artist. “If I fail, I always have a career to fall back on. Now I get to work in my yoga pants and listen to podcasts as I paint. It’s the dream,” she says, adding that she continues to substitute teach for Omaha Public Schools.

She says that life is too short to be unhappy in your career and has this advice for others seeking to start their own business: “Build your small business with your full-time job, and when you are ready, find a way to supplement your business part-time until it thrives on its own.”

Since making the entrepreneurial leap of faith, demand for work has filled her calendar. “Inventory is something I am always trying to keep up with,” she says, adding that prices are intentionally reasonable. She wants her work to be accessible to all, and she receives orders from Oregon, New York, South Dakota, and across the country.

“It’s reaching a bigger audience than I ever anticipated,” she says. “I am happy that so many are connecting with it. Omahans are everywhere!”


Visit juliamasonart.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Conscientious Consciousness of Chikadibia Ebirim

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chikadibia Ebirim greets me with a hug in the lobby of the Union for Contemporary Art. “Peace to you, queen,” he says, and we travel into his studio—one of the perks of being named to the Union’s 2018 Inside/Outside Fellowship Program.

His space is eclectic and decorated with a variety of records, art show fliers, equipment, and “CHI” cut in large blocky cardboard letters above his desk. CHI refers to his name and his start-up fashion label. His multidisciplinary resume jumps from passion project to passion project: music recording, video production, photography, modeling, clothing design, art curating, and more.

“[Omaha] is a hidden pocket that contains a special something you pull out real sly to give to someone,” Ebirim says. “We have these hot spots of compacted and condensed culture. My theory about Omaha is that we’re so unknown and want to be known that we have such big dreams and shoot higher than artists in mainstream cities. There are precious jewels here.”

Some precious jewels he names include Watie White, Jun Kaneko, Lady Scientist, and Jocelyn. 

The 24-year-old’s first foray into the arts came at nine months old, when he played baby Jesus in a church play. During his time at Buffett Middle School, he began exploring the potential of digital art while playing on his mom’s laptop.

Art is a welcome part of his family. His grandfather, Thomas Palmerton, crafted the gorilla sculptures zoo visitors often pose with on trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Until his death in 2015, Palmerton was a steadfast supporter of his grandson’s artistic endeavors.

The up-and-coming multimedia artist never enrolled in college, though Ebirim has sat in a variety of college classes throughout the years. In turn, he believes his work is based on his personal consciousness rather than predictable academic themes.

“Everything I perceive in this world comes through my mind,” Ebirim says. “Whatever my mind observes my body going through [is what] inspires me to create. And my body, being identified as a black man, goes through different things in this society. My identity has to do with the development and history of this world, and tapping into that moves me in different ways.”

 A few of Ebirim’s music videos—including his “Black Lives Matter”—won top honors from the 2017 Elkhorn Valley BEA D7 Film & Media Conference at Metropolitan Community College. However, his inspirations are not all social and political. He says his artwork is an examination of the beauty surrounding him, a craft he calls “tapping into my feminine energy.”

“Anything that is a minority sticks out to me,” Ebirim says. “Flowers in a big-ass field of grass, you know? Feminine energy and the black experience are always made smaller in this world, and I’m inspired to expand that.”

Ebirim says he hopes to bridge the gap between identities through music, aiming to appreciate the dualities of his experience as an African-American with recent lineage from Nigeria, born and raised in North Omaha with diverse European-American heritage from his mother’s side of the family.

“Being multiracial, I’m more understanding to the racial divides and racial ignorance that each of my ethnicities seem to face,” he says, adding that he still encounters racism on a daily basis.

He vividly recalls an early childhood experience with racism. It occurred when he was 6 years old and living in Auburn, Nebraska. “I was beat up with a branch by a teenager in the middle of my street on a summer day,” he says. The teen shouted racial profanities and death threats while beating the young Ebirim.

His cultural experiences inform his worldview and develop a signature approach to every piece of art he makes. He says his individuality is present in many different techniques: sound textures in recording, “multiplexes” in video production, and call-and-response in performance.

Most importantly, though, his swagger says it all.

“People might know me for my walk,” Ebirim says, easily towering over most of his peers. “I put a bounce in my walk. It’s a mixture of my pain as a black man—my gangsta lean—but also my grooviness, my happiness, and my beauty of life.”

He throws up two fingers in a peace sign and pats his heart. “Black lives matter,” he says. “It’s more than a hashtag.”


Visit chikadibiaebirim.com for more information, including details about his new EP (COMPOS MENTIS?), which debuted at a Union for Contemporary Art listening party Nov. 17.


This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Trust Issues

August 3, 2016 by

The data is overwhelming. Employee retention depends on one question: Do team members trust their team leader?

In a virtually full-employment market like Omaha, trust is obviously an issue worth discussing.

Trust doesn’t just determine success in recruiting and retention. Current research proves trust determines success with all popular business goals including engagement, culture, high-performance, etc.

Trust is the key to successful relationships between team leaders and team members. In truly high performance, fully-engaged business cultures, trust is also essential to relationships with all constituents: customers, community, investors, government, the media, etc.

Stephen Covey says it best, “trust is the highest form of human motivation It brings out the very best in people.”

No company can claim 100 percent trust in all relationships with all audiences. No. The highest performing companies with the most engaged employees (and communities, investors, etc.) are laser-focused on building, maintaining, and deepening trust.

As difficult as it may seem to define trust, let alone intentionally create it, there are mountains of research defining the conditions necessary for trust to be developed in business which can be distilled to two key principles:

1. Professional Competence

Professionally competent leaders aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable or experienced individuals on their teams. However, team members are confident that these leaders know enough to consistently ask good questions, make good decisions, provide good direction, and recognize and address good (and bad) performance in real time.

2. Personal Character.

From a psychological perspective, personal character allows team members to trust that their leader will not allow them to be harmed, especially when they are vulnerable. Trusted leaders don’t allow gossip, and never engage in it. They “have the backs” of their teammates in all situations.

There are three specific components of personal character that team members must observe in their leaders before they can trust them:

a) Honesty

Honesty goes well beyond telling the truth. It means the intent to be transparent and “real” at all times—to communicate clearly and completely. Trusted leaders don’t hoard information. They are authentic, genuine, and are willing to have difficult conversations.                                   

b) Consistency

Consistent adherence to personal values allows team members to predict their leaders reactions and behaviors. Predictability is essential to trust. Fairness in decision-making is another key aspect of consistency. Trusted leaders don’t play favorites. Team members can count on them to put principles before personalities.

c) Concern

A concerned leader is not easily swayed by an emotional appeal or grants every wish to be popular. On the contrary, concerned leaders are willing to not only want what’s best for team members, but also hold them accountable to perform at the highest possible standard.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Dolphin Pose

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dolphin pose strengthens the arms and shoulders, tones the abdomen, stretches the hamstrings, and reverses blood flow.

1. Begin on hands and knees. Place your knees directly below your hips, and your wrists directly under your shoulders.

2. Lower the forearms to the ground.

3. Press all four corners of your hands firmly into the ground, and move the shoulders out of the ears by pressing them down the back.

4. Pull the naval in towards the spine.

5. Curl your toes under and press up.

6. Press the floor away with your forearms, push the hips back, and straighten the legs while reaching the heels towards the ground (you may need to keep a micro bend in the knees if your hamstrings are tight).

7. Let your head hang freely and breathe deeply for 10 breaths.

8. Bring knees to the ground, let the big toes touch together, and press back into child’s pose, with the arms extended in front of the head, palms face down on the ground.

9. Breathe deeply for 10 breaths.

10. Repeat two to three times.

Yoga1

That’s Amore

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Leo Fascianella was a poor Italian teenager from Sicily when he left home in 1972. He arrived in the United States with no English skills, $50 in his pockets, and a love for cooking. He sought a better life with better opportunities, and that’s what he found in Omaha.

After 14 years working in various roles at local restaurants, he opened his own business, Pasta Amore e Fantasia. The popular Rockbrook Village restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. “I thought it might last 10 years,” Fascianella says. “I never imagined 30 years.”

His culinary passion kicked in when he was about 5 or 6 years old. Every time his mom left the house, he’d hightail it into the kitchen. As a boy, he helped out in his grandparents’ small restaurant in Italy.

“I was always in and out of kitchens,” Fascianella says. And he’s still there, with no plans to leave anytime soon. “I love my job. I love it—the creativity of it.”

The chef and restaurateur takes satisfaction in seeing his guests enjoy the food that comes out of his kitchen, whether it is a plate of eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, cannelloni, tortellini, or another dish. In the restaurant’s early days, pasta and salads made up the bulk of the menu, but the offerings have grown over the years to include daily specials and several beef, chicken, and fish entrees.

LeoFascianella1Seafood dishes are among his favorites to prepare. At Pasta Amore, the seafood options include a lightly breaded calamari steak with a caper-lemon cream sauce, and linguine amore—mussels, clams, white fish, and shrimp over angel hair pasta with an herbed tomato broth, artichoke hearts, and spinach.

Many of the fresh herbs and vegetables that find their way into the restaurant’s menu items are grown by Fascianella and his wife, Pat. They plant basil, rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme, mint, and parsley at their Omaha home and at the restaurant. The couple also tend a vegetable garden at their family farm along the Elkhorn River.

Incorporating fresh, local produce and other ingredients whenever possible is important to Fascianella, whose cuisine combines a seasonal approach with traditional Italian flavors. He also strives to use the finest ingredients, whether it’s high-quality tomatoes, imported olive oil, or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

In addition to cooking and gardening, Fascianella enjoys fishing and spending time with his family. He and Pat married in 1989. They have an adult daughter and two adult sons. Pat helps run the restaurant, and the children have all worked there at one time or another.

Fascianella says he treasures moments such as gathering around the table with his wife and children to share Sunday meals. “My family makes me happy,” he says.

Traveling to his native Sicily at least once a year is another source of joy. The trips take him back to his roots and allow him to reconnect with relatives and immerse himself in the region’s world-famous food and wine. The annual trips also help spark new ideas for dishes to introduce at Pasta Amore.

In 2009, Fascianella was inducted into the Omaha Restaurant Association’s Hospitality Hall of Fame. What he enjoys most about working in the restaurant business is that it changes all the time. “If you want to innovate in business, you have to change.”

Omaha’s culinary scene is a lot different now than it was when Fascianella opened Pasta Amore three decades ago. Attitudes toward food have also changed. “People are more aware of food. There are lots of cooking shows. People are more interested in food and trying new things, not just your average spaghetti-and-meatballs,” he says.

For Fascianella, a willingness to adapt to changing consumer tastes and maintain an active role in the kitchen have been key to his restaurant’s success. “I’m in the kitchen. I cook my lunches and dinners, and the food is good.”

And he’s also proud of the fact that in his 30 years at Pasta Amore, he has never taken a sick day. The secret to staying healthy, he says, is good food and happiness. “You have to be happy in what you do.”

Now that’s amore.

Visit pastaamore.com for more information.

John Hargiss

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Master craftsman and stringed instrument maker John Hargiss learned the luthier skills he plies at his North Omaha shop from his late father, Verl. In the hardscrabble DIY culture coming from their roots in the southern Missouri hills and river bottoms, people made things by hand.

“I think the lower on the food chain you are, the more creative you become. I think you have to,” Hargiss says.

He observed his late father fashion tables and ax handles with ancestral tools and convert station wagons into El Caminos with nothing more than a lawnmower blade and a glue pot. Father and son once forged a guitar from a tree they felled, cut, and shaped together.

These days, the son’s hands are sure and nimble enough to earn him a tidy living at his own business, Hargiss Stringed Instruments. His shop is filled with precision tools—jigs, clamps—many of vintage variety.

JohnHargiss2Some specialized tools are similar to what dentists use. “I do almost the same thing—polish, grind, fill, recreate, redesign, restructure.”

Assorted wood, metal, and found objects are destined for repurposing.

“I have an incredible way of looking at something and going, ‘I can use that.’ Everything you see will be sold or used one way or the other.”

In addition to instrument-making, he’s a silversmith, leather-worker, and welder. A travel guitar he designed, the Minstrel, has sold to renowned artists, yet he still views himself an apprentice indebted to his father.

“He was a craftsman. Everything I know how to create probably came from him. Everything I watched him do, I thought, ‘My hands were designed to do exactly what he’s doing.’ On his tombstone I had put, ‘A man who lived life through his hands.'”

Hargiss also absorbed rich musical influences.

“(I was) constantly around what we don’t see in the Midwest—banjo players, violin players, ukulele players, dulcimer players. There are a lot of musicians in that part of the world down there. Bluegrass. Rockabilly. Folkabilly. That would be our entertainment in the evenings—music, family, friends. Neighbors would show up with instruments and start playing. Growing up, that was our recreation.”

He feels a deep kinship to that music, and his father had a hand in his musical development.

“My daddy was a good musician, and he taught me to play music when I was about 9. By 11, I was already playing in little country and bluegrass bands. I can play a mandolin, a guitar, a banjo, a ukulele, but I’m pretty much a guitar player. And I sing and write music.”

Hargiss once made his livelihood performing. “I like playing music so much. It’s dangerous business because it will completely overpower you. I knew I needed to make a living, raise my children, and have a life, so playing music became my hobby. I worked corporate jobs, but I kept being pulled back. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. I’d no more get the tie and suit off than I’d be out in the garage making something else.”

JohnHargiss1It turned into his business.

Hargiss directly traces what he does to his father.

“I watched him repair a guitar he bought me at a yard sale. The strings were probably three inches off the finger board. I remember my daddy taking a cup of hot coffee and pouring it in the joint of that neck and him wobbling that neck off, and the next I knew he’d restrung that guitar. I think that’s when I knew that’s what I’m going to do.”

The memory of them making a guitar is still clear.

“The first guitar I built, me and my daddy cut a walnut tree, chopped it up, and we carved us a dreadnought—a traditional Martin-style guitar. I gave that to him and he played that up to the day he died.”

Aesthetics hold great appeal for Hargiss.

“I’m fascinated by architectural design in what I create and in what I make. I study it.”

He called on every ounce of his heritage to lovingly restore a vaudeville-house-turned-movie theater. It came attached to the North Omaha buildings off Hamilton and 40th streets that he purchased five years ago. The theater lay dormant and unseen for 65 years, like a time capsule, obscured by walls and ceilings added by property owners, before he and his girlfriend, Mary Thorsteinson, rediscovered it largely intact. The pair, who share an apartment behind the auditorium, restored the
building themselves.

Preservation is nothing new to Hargiss, who reclaimed historic buildings in Benson, where his business was previously located. He was delighted to find the theater at the North O site, but knew it meant major work.

“I’ve always had this passion for old things. When we found the theater, I remember saying, ‘This is going to be a big one.’”

Motivating the by-hand, labor-of-love project was the space’s “potential to be anything you want it to be.” He’s reopened the 40th Street Theatre as a live performance spot.

Hargiss is perpetually busy between instrument repairs and builds—he has a new commission to make a harp guitar—and keeping up his properties. Someone’s always coming in wanting to know how to do something, and he’s eager to pay forward what was passed on to him.

The thought of working for someone else is unthinkable.

“I get one hundred percent control of my creativity. I’m not stuck. I’m not governed by, ‘Well, you can’t do it this way.’ Of course I can because the sound this is going to produce is mine. When you get to control it, then you’re the CEO, the boss, the luthier, the repairman, the refinisher, the construction, the engineer, the architect. You’re all of these things at one time.”

Besides, he can’t help making things. “There’s a drive down in me someplace. Whatever I’m working on, I first of all have to see myself doing it. Then I go through this whole crazy second-guessing. And then the next thing I know it’s been created. Days later I’ll see it and go, ‘When did I do that?’ because it takes over me, and it completely consumes every thought I have. I just let everything else go.” Encounter

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