Tag Archives: Florence Mill

The Crow and the Artist

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

There is a flock of metaphorical crows hovering over Andy Acker. Crow-related artworks, meanwhile, have taken over the Omaha-born artist’s home studio in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

The 69-year-old Acker creates bizarre sculptures out of carvings and miscellaneous domestic detritus: keys, old coins, nuts, bolts, and other random bits. 

A figurative painter earlier in his art career, he cuts a striking figure himself at just over 6 feet tall, slender, with glistening white hair and beard, a boyish smile, and mesmerizing green eyes. 

Crows are now his figurative obsession. Acker says they started creeping into his work 20 years ago. 

He began crafting sculptural assemblages when he was working at Heartland Scenic Studios in Omaha. At first, they were just fun projects using leftover bits of wood from the carpenters in the studio. But the pieces eventually took on deeper artistic and philosophical significance for the artist.  

“I love to find art in our everydaysurroundings and to show others the beauty in a tree shadow, patterns in broken parking lot surfaces, peeling paint, or our sunsets,” says Acker, who moved to the Milwaukee area with his wife in 2013 to be closer to grandkids. 

He began seriously considering a career in art as a student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the late ’60s. He majored in art, dabbling in various mediums—oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, etc.  

After graduation, he joined his wife’s family business helping out at the New Tower Hotel in Omaha. Eventually, Acker found his way into teaching art at McMillan Junior High. He taught there for 10 years and adored his students. 

After teaching, he spent the subsequent decade painting large canvas backgrounds and building stage sets for local theaters, museums, commercial clients, and various other venues.

Starting during his time as a junior high school art teacher, Acker would draw cartoon caricatures of departing colleagues as going-away presents. All the co-workers would sign his poster-sized drawings.

“We would zing them with all the things they would say,” he says, explaining how the caricatures would roast the outgoing colleagues with funny quotes written onto the posters. “We had one teacher that would come into the teacher lounge and cuss about kids like a railroad worker. He hung it in his den, and it was popular. I also did that for retiring co-workers at Heartland Scenic Studios.”

Cartooning was another of Acker’s favorite artistic formats before the crows flew into the picture. “I used to always do our Christmas cards as cartoons, but even those have been taken over by the crows,” he says.

His interest in crows began in Omaha. One morning, while driving to McMillan to teach art classes, he heard a crow caw. It seemed to be following him. The bird flew alongside his car through several lights. Finally, it gave one last “caw, caw” and turned into a cemetery nearby the school. 

Acker went about his daily routine. But the crow’s cawing nagged in the back of his mind. He began to notice crows more and study their behavior as well as the historic place that the crow has in history, literature, and art.

A crow is often a symbol of either bad luck or death, but that is not always the case, he says. A crow may be a symbol of life, magic, and mysteries. The prophetic bird also symbolizes intelligence, flexibility, and destiny.

Soon, Acker started to notice crows appearing almost everywhere he journeyed. He began to study crows, and that eventually led to them appearing in his varied mediums of artwork—painted, sculpted, carved, and showcased in mixed-media assemblages.

In his art, the crow offers a reflection on the human condition, a foil for various universal struggles. For example, “Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man” shows the carved bird riding on a train engine. 

“My future is to continue to experiment with different media and characters from nature to explore human feelings of isolation and wonder, leading to bigger questions relating to our human condition,” Acker says. 

His work last showed in Omaha during a group exhibition, Tinkerbell’s Mausoleum: Assemblages from Whimsy to Macabre, at the historic Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery on July 1-Aug. 31. 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Aprons Through the Ages

July 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to the King James Version of the Bible, the use of aprons dates back to Adam and Eve:

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons,” Genesis 3:7.

That original apron made of fig leaves may be the only apron that isn’t represented in Donna Shonkwiler’s vintage collection. 

“I started collecting aprons because they take me back to my childhood days, when my mother and sisters and I wore them to do our chores together,” Shonkwiler recalls.

The apron collector lives in the Florence area but grew up in rural Brazil. Her missionary parents were poor (they had to clear the land to build their house, which had no indoor plumbing or electricity). Nevertheless, she has fond memories of those days. “It was a happy time for me, when life was simple,” Shonkwiler says 

Shonkwiler’s vast collection of aprons—most of which are carefully ironed and hanging on clothes racks—represents various time periods, locations, ethnic groups, and purposes. Included are aprons with names of states and countries. Some are indicative of particular cultures. Others are made for specific purposes. 

She has sturdy cotton aprons with pockets for crafts or gardening, as well as delicate and frilly aprons worn by the lady of the house for special occasions. Many of her aprons have elaborate embroidery, crochet, rickrack, lace, appliqué, and/or cross-stitching. Some have ladies’ hankies sewn onto them. 

“Aprons were a form of art that reflected a woman’s talent,” she explains, “each limited only by her imagination.” 

According to Shonkwiler, aprons had many uses beyond protecting clothes while cooking. “We used aprons to collect eggs from the chicken coops and vegetables from the garden,” she says, “in addition to drying a child’s tears and wiping a perspiring brow.” Also, some were made with extra padding at the edges so they could double as hot pads. “Most grandmas and moms were seamstresses out of necessity, and passed down their talents to their children at an early age.” 

Although primarily consisting of women’s aprons, her collection does include some
barbecue aprons for men. 

Shonkwiler’s 35 years of collecting has resulted in “probably” 400 aprons, mostly all handmade, and amazingly, no two alike. She has cultivated the collection through flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. A few of them date to the early 1900s. 

Her favorite apron holds special meaning, as it was made by her mother. The eyelet full apron (meaning it includes a front bib) was sewn especially for Shonkwiler.

Shonkwiler’s unique collection has never been on display…until now. An exhibit of her aprons kicked off the annual Florence Days celebration on May 12. Family Ties: Art of the Apron will remain on display (with some of the aprons available for sale) at the Florence Mill ArtLoft through July 15. The eyelet apron, a cherished memento normally tucked safely away in a cedar chest, is part of the display.

After a 47-year career as a respiratory therapist, Shonkwiler is enjoying her retirement. “I’ve loved collecting aprons all these years,” she says. “Now it’s time to share my collection with others, so they can enjoy them, too.”


Visit the Florence Mill on Facebook at @theflorencemill for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

July/August 2018 Family & More Calendar

June 20, 2018 by and

Family & More

Farmers Markets

Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring fresh produce will find plenty of options in the area, along with artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and craft items.

• Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets) 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays.

• Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park) 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursdays.

• Gifford Park (33rd and California streets) 5-8 p.m. Fridays.

• Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.) 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.

• Old Market (11th and Jackson streets) 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays. 

• Papillion (84th and Lincoln streets) 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays.

• Rockbrook Village (2800 S. 110th Court) 4-7 p.m. Thursdays.

• Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets) 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Free Movies

Laugh, cry and relax with classic movies under the stars this summer. Bring a blanket or chair, and enjoy the show. All movies begin at dusk.

• Flix at the Chef (Behind Dairy Chef in Elkhorn, 3223 N. 204th St.): July 14, Aug. 11.

• Midtown Crossing (Turner Park, 3110 Farnam St.): Mondays through July 30.

• Movies in the Park (Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, IA): Fridays through Aug. 10.

• SumTur Starlight Movies (SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th St., Papillion). Aug. 3, 10.

Midtown Crossing Monday Night Movies: through July 30

The Great American Lobster Fest
Through July 1 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. The Midwest’s largest lobster and seafood festival comes to Council Bluffs. Enjoy live lobster, live music, family-friendly games, activities, shopping, and more. Noon. Admission: $5 adults, free for children 12 and under. 773-754-7105.
americanlobsterfest.com

Get Fit in the Park
Sundays through Oct. 14 in Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. Enjoy the sunshine and direction of professional fitness instructors with yoga and Zumba classes. 10 a.m. Admission: free. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Kids Funfare
Thursdays through July 26 at Center Court, 120 Regency Parkway. Kids will enjoy a variety of local, family-friendly entertainment Each week is something different. 10 a.m. Admission: free. 402-506-4376.
regencycourtomaha.com

Midwest Paranormal History/Ghost Tour
Fridays and Saturdays through October at various locations in Omaha. Learn of the macabre legends, lore, and haunted history of Omaha through stories of the sites and reports of paranormal activity. Time based on sunset. Admission: $10-$20. 402-953-9670.
mphtours.com

Leashes at Lauritzen
July 2,9; Aug. 6, 13 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Dogs are welcome to explore the grounds and enjoy the outdoors. Heel for family photos, learn about local dog-related non-profits, and enjoy treats/samples. 5-8 p.m. Admission: $10 adults, $5 for children or dogs, free for garden members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Ralston Fourth of July Festival
July 3-4 at Independence Square, 77th and Main streets. One of the biggest Fourth of July celebrations in the Metro area features a fun walk/run, a quilt show, children’s parade, live music, a full-scale parade and fire department water fights. Event times vary. Admission: free (entry fees required for some activities). 402-339-7737.
ralstonareachamber.org

Red, White and Zoo!
July 4 at Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. This special event includes bounce houses, music, and special animal encounters. The first 800 people will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $21.95 adults 12+, $15.95 children 3-11, free to children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors, active-duty military, and children of active-duty military. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Yoga in the Garden
Every Thursday in July and August at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Come to the gardens and practice yoga with a trained instructor. People of all abilities are welcome to participate. Times vary. Admission: $15 for non-members; $10 for members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Omaha Beer Fest
July 6-7 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Enjoy unlimited 2-oz. samples of craft beers, ciders, and meads from 60 participating breweries, along with Beer Academy Sessions and live music. 6-9 p.m. Tickets: $35 advanced, $40 at the door, $75 VIP. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

RiverFest
July 6-7 at Haworth Park, 2502 Payne Dr., Bellevue. This regional festival has live music, a beer garden, a kids zone, fireworks, helicopter rides, and a state champion barbecue competition. 3 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Saturday. Admission: $1. 402-898-3000.
bellevuenebraska.com

Douglas County Fair
July 10-15 at multiple locations: Village Pointe Shopping Center (17305 Davenport St.), Chance Ridge Event Center (506 Skyline Road, Elkhorn), Metropolitan Community College (10407 State St.). Enjoy food, displays, and attractions at the Douglas County Fair’s new multi-location venues. Organizers are creating an event focused on education and community to blend urban and rural family fun. Parking is not available at Chance Ridge. Shuttles will transport the public from Village Pointe and MCC. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-516-5826.
douglascountyfair.org

American Solar Challenge Kickoff Event
July 13-14 at Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center, 601 Riverfront Drive. Teams in the American Solar Challenge will start their 1,700+ mile journey to Oregon in Omaha. Food, music, historical re-enactors, and cultural demonstrations will be a part of the event, along with displays of the vehicles making the trek. 3-7 p.m. Friday; 8-10 a.m. Saturday. Admission: free. 402-661-1804.
americansolarchallenge.org

O Comic Con
July 13-15 at Mid-America Center, 1 Arena Way, Council Bluffs. Fans can meet actors, artists, and writers. Panels, merchandise and crowds of people dressed as favorite characters will be in attendance at this event. Noon-8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $30-$35, or $55 for a three-day pass. 712-323-0536.
ocomiccon.com

O Comic Con: July 13-15

Rhythm Weekend: Omaha Jazz and Tap Dance Festival
July 12-15 at Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 38, 201 S. 24th St. Enjoy a weekend full of workshops, dance battles, showcases, history, and more. Master tap and jazz dancers from around the world will share their passion. Times vary. Tickets: $30-$250. 402-208-3006.
jitterbugs.org

Brew at the Zoo
July 14 at the Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. Patrons (21+ only) can sample four limited-edition beers, and enjoy food, animal encounters, and live music. 8-11 p.m. Admission: $70 members, $80 non-members, $120 VIP. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

The Color Run 5K
July 14 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. The popular traveling 5K comes back to Omaha. Participants run the route, while paint powder colors the streets—and the runners. 8-11 a.m. Runner tickets: $14.99 children 5 and under, $24.99-$49.99 adults. No charge to watch the race. 402-341-1500.
thecolorrun.com

Railroad Days
July 14-15, various locations. This family-friendly festival celebrates all things trains and tracks. Locations include The Durham Museum, Lauritzen Gardens, Union Pacific Railroad Museum, RailsWest Railroad Museum, and General Dodge House. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $15 pass for two adults and two children. 402-444-5071.
omaharailroaddays.com

LGBT Wedding Expo
July 15 at Sheraton Omaha Hotel, 655 N. 108th Ave. Browse, mingle, and connect with local wedding professionals and leave with plenty of ideas. 12:30-3:30 p.m. Admission: free. 402-496-0850.
rainbowweddingnetwork.com

Pinnacle Bank Golf Championship
July 16-22 at The Club at Indian Creek, 3825 N. 202 St. The PGA tour is back with the Web.com Tour, featuring 156 golfers and 72 holes. The top 25 money winners will advance to the PGA tour. Times vary. Admission: $10-$40. 402-991-2525.
thepinnaclebankchampionship.com

Turner Park Night Market
July 27, Aug. 31 at Turner Park in Midtown Crossing, 3110 Farnam St. Omaha Farmer’s Market teams up with Turner Park to feature local artisans, vendors, activities, food, and more. Local nonprofits will also engage in the festivities to showcase their service opportunities. 6-10 p.m. Admission: free. 402-351-5954.
midtowncrossing.com

Benson Days
July 28-29 in Benson, Maple St. between 58th and 63rd streets. This family-friendly event celebrates Benson’s creative culture. Activities include a pancake breakfast, a parade, artists, vendors, food trucks, live music, and more. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: free.
bensondays.com

Benson Days: July 28-29

Nebraska Asian Festival
July 28 at Lewis and Clark Landing, 345 Riverfront Drive. Enjoy food, activities, and cultural performances at this family-oriented event about Asian heritage. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Admission: $5; free for children under 12. 402-216-9081.
nebraskaasianfestival.com

New American Arts Festival
Aug. 3 in Benson, Military Ave. and Maple St. Celebrate the arts, ideas, and cultures of Omaha’s refugee and immigrant communities with workshops, performances, art, food, and music. 4-11 p.m. Admission: free. 402-203-5488.
bensonfirstfriday.com

Canvas and Chocolates
Aug. 4 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Participants can paint under the direction of a trained artist while snacking on themed chocolates. Art supplies and treats are provided. Noon-2 p.m. Tickets: $49. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

River’s Edge Taco Fest
Aug. 4 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. This festival will showcase 20 of the metro’s best taco-centric restaurants, local and national music artists, and a Chihuahua race. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $25 day of event, $100 VIP.
riversedgetacofest.com

Riverfront ribFest
Aug. 9-12 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. Barbecue, games, and rides are featured in this event, which includes six award-winning barbecue teams bringing ribs to the riverfront and music by Travis Tritt, Uncle Kracker, the Spin Doctors, and more. Sunday activities include a church service and horse show. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $5 adults (until 3 p.m.), $10 after 3 p.m.; $5 kids (age 16 and under).
riverfrontribfest.com

Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air and Space Show
Aug. 10-12 at Offutt Air Force Base, 205 Looking Glass Ave. F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II demonstration teams will headline this show, which is back after a one-year hiatus. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free. 402-294-8880.
offuttairshow.com

High Vibe Festival
Aug. 11 at Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. Good vibes abound with activities such as a 5K run, live music, yoga all day, workshops, and plant-based food. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Tickets: $10-$108. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival
Aug. 10-11 at Coventry Campus, 204th and Q streets. Sip Nebraska wines and enjoy hot air balloon launches. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 3-11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $14-$19 adults; $7 children under 12; free for children 5 and under. 402-346-8003.
new.showofficeonline.com

Omaha Comic Book Convention
Aug. 12 at Comfort Inn & Suites Central, 7007 Grover St. Comic book lovers from near and far are invited to present and purchase comic books and collectible items like action figures and trading cards. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free. 309-657-1599.
epguides.com/comics

Big Omaha
Aug. 16-17 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The Big Omaha conference continues to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. In tandem with the Maha Music Festival, the conference will include keynote speakers, special guests, networking opportunities, and a notable opening party for the weekend. Party TBA Thursday, conference 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday with music festival afterwards. Tickets: $250-$325.
mahamusicfestival.com

Omaha’s Original Greek Festival
Aug. 17-19 at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 602 Park Ave. Live music, folk dancing, authentic Greek cuisine, a Greek boutique, and more. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $3. 402-345-7103.
greekfestomaha.com

Terrain Racing: Omaha
Aug. 18 at the Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St., Papillion. This 5K and obstacle course allows participants to embrace the mess and enjoy a fun,  hands-on workout. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets: $35-$100. 402-331-5500.
terrainracing.com

Omaha Fashion Week
Aug. 20-25 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The country’s fifth largest fashion event features more than 40 designers, 400 models, and hundreds of creations. 6-10 p.m. Admission: $40-$80. 402-937-1061.
omahafashionweek.com

Millard Days
Aug. 21-26 at Andersen Park, 136th and Q streets. This full week of activities includes a parade, a carnival, a beer garden, horse shows, and live music. Times vary. Admission: free ($25 for carnival). 402-697-5258.
millarddays.com

Dundee Day
Aug. 25 in the Dundee neighborhood, 50th Street and Underwood Ave. The day includes the Rundee 5K, a pancake tent, parade, beer garden, vendors, a farmers market, and live music. 8:30 a.m. Admission: free. 678-873-4591.
dundee-memorialpark.org

SeptemberFest
Starting Aug. 31 at CenturyLink Center Omaha, 455 N. 10th St. Lot D. This “Salute to Labor” festival offers four days of entertainment, educational and artistic displays, a carnival, Omaha’s largest parade, a beer garden, a Kiddie Kingdom, and food. Times vary. Admission: $5 per person, per day. The parade is free to attend. 402-341-1500.
septemberfestomaha.org


Event times and details may change.
Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Florence and the Political Machine

May 10, 2017 by
Photography by Provided by Douglas County Historical Society

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Omaha’s annexation of Florence—the historic and scenic riverfront community on the far northeast reaches of our city. The milestone warrants a look back at this contentious time in Florence’s history, when its rapidly rising southern neighbor unapologetically gobbled up the settlement despite the objections of many residents.

Why Annex Florence?

It helps to understand a bit of the community’s history. Best known as the site of Winter Quarters, the settlement for thousands of Mormon pioneers making their way West during the 1840s, Florence became a “city” in 1855 when Iowa businessman James C. Mitchell and his surveying team platted the land and officially incorporated.

Florence Kilbourn was the namesake of Florence, though her lineage is unclear. She has been referred to as the adopted niece of Mitchell’s wife or the granddaughter of Mitchell’s wife (depending on the historical account).

Mitchell recognized the busy frontier town’s big potential due to its convenient proximity to the Missouri River and frequent ferry service. The river’s narrow profile—at just 300 yards—and its solid-rock bottom just east of Florence also made it the most natural place to build a future bridge.

In the 1860s and ’70s, Florence grew into a bustling, young city. Early industry included a flour mill, brick manufacturing plant, lumber sawmill, and blacksmith shop, to name a few. Its population swelled well above 3,000, and its economy boomed.

Ana Somers, research specialist at the Douglas County Historical Society, says pressure for Omaha to annex surrounding municipalities really began in 1910 with the Greater Omaha Proclamation. “This was a direct response to the growth crises of 1910 that created a need to annex neighboring towns and villages,” Somers says.

But by early 1915, despite high tax levies, Florence began finding it fiscally difficult to meet community needs. Business leaders in Florence began fearing for the financial solvency of the city moving forward. At the same time, Omaha was building a strong reputation as a Midwestern hub of business and industry. Most members of the Omaha Commercial Club, an organization of area business owners and leaders, became proponents of Florence’s annexation for the “great savings to the taxpayers” it would provide through reduced redundancies in government, and they claimed such action would “provide residents with more benefits, not fewer.”

With the Merger Bill of 1915, the State of Nebraska passed a controversial law allowing Omaha to annex neighboring communities unilaterally, providing these areas lie adjacent to current city boundaries, are situated within Douglas County, and have fewer than 10,000 residents.

A legal battle followed, with representatives from Dundee and South Omaha opposing the decision. Omaha was poised to annex Florence, but lawsuits to the Nebraska Supreme Court left the possibility in limbo.

Some in Florence, fearing taxation without representation, were convinced to join the pro-annexation cause after being assured they would have a Florence representative in city government. The Omaha Commercial Club appointed a committee to explore annexation further, then held a public meeting in January 1916. According to newspaper accounts, 76 in attendance voted in favor, while only nine voted against it. Although the club had hoped to complete annexation by the May 1916 election, it took more than a year longer for it to come to fruition.

Even train cars full of anti-annexation protestors from Florence, Benson, South Omaha and elsewhere flooding the state capitol in Lincoln during hearings could not kill the law. The fight dragged on for two years, until Feb. 14, 1917, when the Nebraska Supreme Court finally dismissed a lawsuit on behalf of the once-independent Dundee.

Confirmation of the new law was a welcome development to then-mayor of Omaha James Dahlman, or “Cowboy Jim,” as he was called, who saw it as a prime opportunity for his administration to grow the city quickly and gain tax revenue. The law allowed for the huge expansion of Omaha later that year with the annexation of Florence and Benson on June 6, 1917, while sealing the fate of South Omaha and Dundee.

According to an article in the Omaha World-Herald dated June 10, 1917, city officials reported the annexation of Florence and Benson expanded the city to 38 square miles. For reference, the present-day City of Omaha occupies roughly 127 square miles (according to the U.S. Census in 2010). Boundaries of the former City of Florence had been Read Street, 40th Street, Florence Heights Boulevard, and the Missouri River.

During subsequent years, the annexation law has been nicknamed “Omaha’s secret weapon,” allowing for continual expansion of its city limits, year after year.

The Dissenters

Not all of Florence was convinced annexation was the best option. Among those in opposition: Florence’s mayor, Freeman Tucker, was concerned for the “political integrity of the village.” He vowed to take his fight against annexation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (though he never did). Another dissenter was Dr. Carr, a prominent local dentist and investor who feared that annexation would reduce the likelihood that Florence would be the site of a promised river bridge, says Rosemary Allen, a longtime member of the Florence Historical Foundation.

“There were concerns about a lot of promises [made by the city] not being delivered on, including security and safety services, such as a rescue squad. And, in fact, a lot was promised but never materialized,” Allen says.

“As I recall, the citizens of Florence didn’t end up having much to say about it all. It was just sort of pushed through. It was a very contentious thing,” she explains. “I do know there were a lot of residents who weren’t happy about it one bit, with some public meetings almost erupting into fist fights. And even years later, there were those that remained bitter about it.”

Allen says residents of Florence were also fearful that annexation would mean the loss of the community’s identity and important history. And in fact, through the years, many of the historic structures from its pioneer town days fell to ruin from neglect, fire, or normal decay.

Years later, it became the mission of the Florence Historical Foundation to keep its historic sites alive and maintain community pride—a mission the foundation has found great success with, preserving many historic landmarks, including the Fire Barn, Keirle House, Depot Museum, Bank of Florence, and Mormon Bridge Toll House. The foundation coordinates the annual Florence Days every May as well as other entertainment and holiday events.

The independently restored Florence Mill and another community group, Florence Futures, also collaborate on community and heritage initiatives. The neighborhood on North 30th Street has witnessed an uptick in activity in recent years, thanks in part to a lively restaurant scene. Blooming flowers (planted by the Northern Lights Garden Club) accent the booming streetscape.

The North Omaha Commercial Club—no relation to the historic Omaha Commercial Club that advocated for Florence’s annexation—is one of Omaha’s oldest civic groups, where Florence business owners meet regularly to discuss ways to keep the corridor alive and thriving. All celebrate the small-town and family-friendly feel of this unique river city community.

Despite being in the shadow of the Big O for nearly a century, Florence maintains an identity and appeal all its own.

Florence Days takes place on the second full weekend of May, with a parade Saturday. Visit historicflorence.org for more information. Archival resources provided by the Omaha Public Library archives of the Omaha World-Herald (omahalibrary.org) and the Douglas County Historical Society (douglascohistory.org).

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

2017 May/June Family & More

May 1, 2017 by and

Farmers Markets
Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring to eat fresh produce without digging in the dirt themselves will find plenty of options around the area. Along with produce, shoppers will find artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and even craft items.

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays starting May 7.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting May 4.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays starting June 3.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays starting June 4.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Papillion (Washington St. and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 31.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Weekend: May 5-7 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. Shareholders in the company created by Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett can learn about their year’s earnings at this annual meeting, which brings thousands of people to Omaha from around the world. The weekend events include the “Invest in Yourself” 5K run on May 7, a bridge tournament, shopping at various stores associated with Berkshire Hathaway, and much more.
berkshirehathaway.com

Cinco de Mayo parade: May 6 along 24th St. from D to L streets. This dazzling parade—one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Midwest—features floats, marching bands, and more. Rain or shine. 9 a.m. Admission: free. info@cincodemayoomaha.com.
cincodemayoomaha.com

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska: May 6-7, 13-14 at Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St. Step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor with full contact sword play and equestrian jousting, six unique performance locations, 100+ costumed characters, and free make-and-take crafts for kids. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $13 adults, $8 children (12 and under). 402-331-5500.
renfestnebraska.com

SECOND Annual Food Truck Rodeo Spring Edition: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The second annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo will be held all day Saturday, giving attendees the entire day to sample the fine foods from local food trucks. There will be 15-20 food trucks, along with a DJ, beer garden, multiple outdoor bars, and outdoor seating on Military Avenue in Benson. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Celebrate CB: May 12-20 in Council Bluffs (various locations). Hop across the river for a full week of festivities. Opening night includes a free concert by Taxi Driver. The last day includes a parade followed by a day of music, kids’ activities, and a carnival. Friday’s big event, Barbecue in the Bluffs, has been chosen as one of 50 events for the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s Great American Cookout, which will inform and entertain people who enjoy learning more about barbecuing and grilling on all levels. 712-396-2494.
celebratecb.com

Vintage Market Days of Omaha: May 12-14 at Chance Ridge Event Center, 506 Skyline Road. This upscale, vintage-inspired market hosts more than 100 vendors with original art, antiques, handmade treasures, jewelry, and clothing. The event also includes live music and food trucks. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10 Friday (early buying event); $5 Saturday/Sunday; free for children 12 and under. Tickets good for re-entry all weekend. 918-955-6215.
omaha.vintagemarketdays.com

Florence Days: May 13-14 in downtown Florence, 30th St. between State St. and I-680 N. This area, once its own town, was annexed by Omaha 100 years ago but still retains its own small-town feeling. Events held in conjunction with this festival include a parade, art displays, talks at the historic Florence Mill, a melodrama, and more. 402-451-4737.
historicflorence.org

An Evening with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: May 15 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. During his lecture, the award-winning astrophysicist will answer questions from the audience and talk about topics in his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which will also be given to each audience member. 7 p.m. Tickets: $65-$225. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Helicopter Day: May 27 at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway. Visitors can watch while helicopters fly over the horizon and land right in front of them. Inside the museum, visitors can participate in a drone workshop and family-friendly activities. 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Memorial Day Weekend: May 27-29 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. The zoo will offer special entertainment, including bounce houses, airbrush tattoos, and animal presentations. The first 800 people to walk through the gates will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 children (ages 3-11), free for members and children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors (age 65 and older) or active military members and their children. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Taste of Omaha: June 2-4 at the Omaha riverfront. Omaha’s annual outdoor summer food event showcases outstanding restaurants, live entertainment, and family fun. Activities will take place daily at the Heartland of America Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, and River’s Edge Park. Times vary. Admission: free, but tickets must be purchased for food and carnival rides. 402-346-5412.
showofficeonline.com

Countryside Village Art Fair: June 3-4 at Countryside Village Shopping Center, 8722 Countryside Plaza. This fair showcases a mix of styles, perspectives, and media. The artwork selection inspires casual visitors to start art collections, and connoisseurs to add to existing collections. Established in 1969, the Countryside Village Art Fair is a cornerstone of the art world in Omaha. Admission: free. 402-391-2200.
countryside-village.com

Annual Veterans Appreciation Rally: June 4 at the North Omaha Airport, 11919 N. 72nd St. This family-friendly event features classic cars, motorcycles, and airplanes on display to honor veterans. Activities include raffles and skydiving shows. Airplanes begin flying at noon, weather permitting. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free, but a $5 donation is requested. 402-714-4269.
facebook.com/heroesoftheheartlandfoundation

Omaha’s Ninth Annual Largest Pizza Review: June 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Pizza will be available from around 15 different restaurants for pizza lovers to sample and vote for their favorites. Judging will be conducted by Food & Spirits Magazine’s panel of judges, also featuring live music. A portion of proceeds go to scholarships for culinary students at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College. 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

St. Lucia Italian Festival: June 8-11 at Lewis & Clark Landing, 515 N. Riverfront Drive. Omaha’s Italian community celebrates Italian culture with this annual festival. Events include a bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, entertainment by the Santa Lucia festival band and others, and plenty of food. Admission: free, but tickets required for food and carnival rides. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. June 8, 5 p.m.-midnight June 9, noon-midnight June 10, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 11. 402-342-6632
santaluciafestival.com

Omaha Beer Fest: June 9-10 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Hundreds of American craft beers, 80 breweries, live music, a homebrewer expo, VIP lounge, food vendors, contests, and more. Rain or shine. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. June 10. Admission: general admission $35 in advance, $45 at the door; VIP $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Designated drivers pay $10 at the door. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

Junkstock: June 9-11 at Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Road Dr. This three-day festival features vintage finds, unique antiques, and artisan food and goods. Help celebrate the fifth year of Junkstock, featuring more than 150 vendors and 15 food trucks, along with a variety of bands playing on the Junkstock Stage throughout the weekend. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 online, $10 at the gate, $20 for weekend pass, free for children (12 and under). 402-765-8651.
junkstock.com

Omaha Summer Arts Festival: June 9-11 along Farnam St. from 10th to 15th streets. The festival features 135 of the nation’s finest visual artists, a stage with continuous musical performances, a hands-on children’s fair, and a wide variety of food vendors. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 11a.m.-5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
summerarts.org

Sand in the City: June 9-11 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. On Friday, 12 corporate teams will compete to build extravagant sand sculptures. On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can vote for their favorite sculpture, build their own sandcastle, play in the kids’ zone, and hear live entertainment. All proceeds benefit the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. June 10, and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-451-0787.
sandinthecityomaha.com

College World Series Opening Day: June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. Before the series starts, come to the park for a day full of events, including team autograph sessions, practices, Olympic-style opening ceremonies, a concert, and fireworks. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

College World Series: June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. One of Omaha’s biggest traditions returns for the 67th time. Baseball fans of all ages can enjoy Fan Fest, a NCAA-sanctioned festival that includes giveaways, interactive games, and special appearances. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

Bank of the West Celebrates America 2017: June 30 at Memorial Park, 6605 Underwood Ave. Bring blankets or chairs and relax in the park while celebrating with thousands of others at the 27th annual pre-Fourth of July tradition—featuring a concert and fireworks show. This year’s headlining act is Kool and the Gang. Admission: free. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
celebratesamerica.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

A Little Black Berry Farm

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Rachel Joy

These days, countless products claim to slow the process of aging and avert health concerns. What if the solution was as simple as a little black berry? Kurt and Tina Geschwender think that may just be the case.

The Geschwenders’ introduction to this wonder fruit came by way of chance. In 2010, Kurt was at a neighborhood picnic where his friend, chiropractor Bill Caster, introduced him to a cancer survivor who told him about the health benefits of aronia berries. Kurt’s interest was piqued, and he decided to do his own research on the fruit (which is also known as a chokeberry).

Although neither Kurt nor Tina ever suffered from cancer, they have lost multiple loved ones to the disease and live a health-conscious lifestyle. As they further researched aronia berries, they became convinced that they had discovered an untapped market with incredible healing potential.

Studies claim aronia berries improve circulation, balance blood pressure, and assist in decreasing inflammation in the body. Even more research has come through recently, but there remains a lot to be learned about the positive effects of this unique berry.

Geschwenders1The Geschwenders decided to take the leap into berry farming. They knew they could use land on their property to cultivate bushes. Five years and 1,500 bushes later, they can barely keep up with the demand for their product.

Outside of their agricultural startup, the Geschwenders  run a successful real estate company. With such busy lives, Kurt jokes that the berries made him question his sanity in the beginning. After all, the crops required him to wake at the crack of dawn to water each row by hand.

Still, Tina and Kurt are clearly passionate about educating the public and providing something that helps members of their community take charge of their health. Tina says she welcomes public inquiries about the berries by phone at 402-451-5300.

This year, the Geschwenders experimented with a new berry-picking strategy. The regulars at the Florence Mill Farmer’s Market set up a booth to collect names and contact information from folks interested in picking berries.

Berry ripening varies by year, typically occurring between late-July and mid-August. When the fruit was ripe, they notified their contact list that the “you-pick” season had begun. They charged $2.50 per pound and donated 50 cents from each pound to the Florence Mill Farmer’s Market.

Aronia berries have officially caught on as one of America’s favorite new superfoods, and the Midwest has become the hub for this booming industry. The North America Aronia Cooperative was formed in Omaha in early 2014 and includes 10 surrounding states. Some of the nation’s largest distributors also grow in the area.

Native to North America, the berries thrive in the Midwest. Once on the vine, it takes three weeks for them to ripen. Once ripe, they roll off the vines easily.

On their own, the berries taste tart yet bittersweet. It’s no wonder; these tiny berries have the highest recorded antioxidant level of any fruit. Red wine drinkers may appreciate their sharp quality, but anyone can enjoy the many recipes that include aronia berries.

Tina says she does not eat them on their own but uses them as a versatile ingredient. She turns to cookbooks, and her own experiments, to discover new ways of working them into her diet.

“Any baking I do, I use aronia berries. They mix really well with other fruit.” The recommended daily dose is 15 to 20 berries, but Tina says she will add more to her morning smoothie, “because if a little is good, a lot is better.”

Tina also lets Florence Mill market-goers sample her signature strawberry pecan aronia bread, a recipe she perfected over a two-year period. She swears she will never share the recipe: “It just took too long to get it right!”

The bread itself is extraordinarily moist, and dense without being heavy. It’s sweet, and the berries can clearly be noted, but the pecans and cinnamon cut through any tanginess, creating a more subtle, wholesome profile of flavors. Tina takes orders for the bread at the market, but her stock is limited. She light-heartedly laments that friends and family keep her busy with orders year-round.

America is still getting to know this super berry, but there is good reason to give it a try. The Geschwenders would be thrilled to share what they know, and may even dish out a new recipe or two, such as this one:

Tina’s Aronia Berry Breakfast Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup skim milk

1 banana

8 ounces (or one 8-ounce container) of cherry or blueberry Greek yogurt

1 cup of ice

15 to 20 aronia berries

Directions:

Blend all ingredients for one minute. Serve immediately in tall glasses.

Visit aroniacoop.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha

OJs Enchilada

August 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ground beef and cottage cheese on an enchilada. The combination sounds strange, but it tastes amazing.

Creamy, melted cottage cheese oozes over hearty meat and shredded lettuce, tucked into a flour tortilla. Douse the whole plate with ladles of finely chopped hot salsa (made fresh every day), and dig in.

The menu warns in all-caps: “GUARANTEED A GUT-BUSTER!” It stretches across the plate like a log, coated with a blanket of cheddar and sprinkled with black olive slices. Twin mounds of rice and refried beans huddle beside the delicious monstrosity.

OJs1Ever since I learned of cottage cheese enchiladas, OJ’s Cafe on the edge of the Missouri River has called to me like a siren song for fat kids.

Mexican food is fairly common in the Midwest nowadays, but OJ’s Cafe was a trendsetter. Located next to the Florence Mill, just south of I-680’s 30th Street exit near the Mormon Bridge, OJ’s wood-paneled facade harkens back to the days of the Wild West.

The recipe for cheese and beef enchiladas belonged to the owner’s mother. The owner, 70-year-old Olga Jane Martinez (whose married name is Vlcek) was born in Anaheim, California. She opened the cafe 40 years ago. Vlcek says they added the Western-style facade a few years after opening.

Mexican food was hard to find in Omaha back then. The restaurant was situated in the site of a former dairy that sold milk, eggs, ice cream, hamburger, and cheeseburgers. At first, Vlcek followed suit. She kept the menu and added a daily special. Mexican dishes were the Thursday and Friday special.

“Then customers started asking for more Mexican food,” Vlcek says. “I said, ‘You know what? I am going to try to make a business of this.’ So, I cut everything else (about a year after opening).”

OJ’s now offers a full menu with tacos, burritos, vegetarian options, nachos, and a wide range of Mexican fare. The kitchen will even switch out flour tortillas for corn upon request.

Walk inside OJ’s today and find heavy wooden lacquer tables and booths. Kitschy decorations abound. Ceramic suns cover one wall. Promotional mirrors for imported Mexican beer cover another. There’s a stained glass window with cacti and a sombrero, a crucifix, family photos, and lots of other trinkets contributing to the down-home atmosphere.

A waitress asks for our order. I know what I want, but ask her suggestion anyway. She recommends the cottage cheese and chicken enchilada. I pause for a moment. I didn’t know the meat choice could be switched. I take a risk. Chicken and cottage cheese it is.

When I order a plate of tortilla chips, I ask for a mix of corn and flour ($3.75) and a Pacifico on-tap ($3.75 glass) from an ample selection of Mexican beers. The beer arrives in a frosty mug. A margarita ($4) with salt on the rim follows with the entrée.

Word to the wise couple: Those with smaller appetites should consider splitting the enchilada ($10.25). After essentially chugging half of the dish, I slow to contemplate the merits of beef vs. chicken and cottage cheese. The chicken is fairly bland, aside from the rich cheesiness common to both. I still prefer the beef (which seems more savory, possibly cooked with more seasoning); however, I’m not disappointed. Being perfectly honest, I dump so much homemade salsa on my plate that it probably doesn’t matter what I’m eating.

OJs3To wrap up the meal, a sombrero ($5.50) arrives. Luckily, I’m eating with a dinner companion. We share the two heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream towering over a cinnamon and sugar-coated tortilla, all drizzled with Mexican caramel. 

Completely stuffed, I wonder about the origins of my favorite enchilada. Who better to ask than Olga Jane Vlcek herself. She still works at her namesake restaurant every day (OJ’s is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a mid-day break that closes the cafe from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

“That’s my signature enchilada,” Vlcek says of the beef and cottage cheese enchilada, which happens to be her favorite, too. The cottage cheese and beef enchilada was on the menu in the early days of OJ’s, but it wasn’t popular. “Ironically enough, I couldn’t sell them,” she says with a laugh. “People wouldn’t buy them, so I took it off the menu.” She made a commitment to herself that if her restaurant became established, she would bring back her mom’s enchilada recipe. And that’s exactly what she did. Omaha Magazine