Tag Archives: Fourth of July

Ralston Fourth of July Volunteer

July 19, 2017 by

Ralston, Omaha’s neighbor just south of Q Street, has a population of less than 7,300 for 364 days a year.  On Independence Day, the town’s Fourth of July celebration brings in approximately 40,000 people for its parade, fireworks display, and other events. Chamber of Commerce volunteer Dennis Leslie has been key to keeping it all running smoothly for years.  And the semi-retired local businessman loves it.

“The past three or four years I’ve been manning the phones on the Fourth of July in the (chamber) office,” he says. “Fielding questions like ‘When are the fireworks gonna start?’ ‘What time does the parade start?’ [and] ’Where can I park?’” Leslie knows the answers to all those questions and more. He also collects and tracks raffle ticket money that other volunteers hand in throughout the day, and helps out in any other way he can. In the past, he’s even worked on setting up the parade grandstands. The Chamber of Commerce staff (an office of two) say they rely and lean on him on the holiday, and throughout the year . . . even when he’s out of state.

“He probably knows more than I do,” says Tara Lea, former president of the Ralston Chamber, which presents the parade and other events. When she started at the chamber four-and-a-half years ago, Leslie had already been a dedicated volunteer for more than a dozen years. Besides putting in a 12-hour day on the Fourth of July, Leslie has been a person the chamber could tap to be at before- and after-work meetings, to assist with events, and to, well, haul stuff.  Leslie has worked for the moving company Chieftain Van Lines, located on Ralston’s Main Street, for more than 40 years.  Back in the 1970s, before his volunteering officially began, he helped out at the Fourth of July parade when it was still growing by being in it.    

  “They (parade organizers) actually called to see if we wanted to put a couple of our trucks in the parade. So two of us spiffed up our tractor trailers,” Leslie says. “We were the last ones to go through the parade.”

Leslie (who remains a vice president at Chieftain) spends less than half of the year in the Omaha metropolitan area. During the colder months he’s “out of state, southerly.”  But even when he’s not in Ralston, the chamber calls him, and he calls the chamber at least once a week. 

“This is a fun group.  Absolutely fun people,” he says. “[Even if] I’ve been gone for five months, I show up to the chamber luncheon…and it [is] like old home week seeing everybody.”

His volunteering passion was discovered when a former Ralston Chamber official asked him to join and help out.  He hadn’t thought of being a volunteer earlier because “[no] one ever asked us to be.”

And just like a dedicated volunteer, he says he can’t imagine not helping out, seeing people he likes, and supporting his community.  “Why not?” he says.  “It’s a good time.”

Visit ralstonareachamber.org for more information.

July/August 2017 Explore

Nebraska

The Good Living Tour July and August, various locations. The third-annual ambitious concert series, produced by Hear Nebraska, connects Nebraska talent to Nebraska towns, encouraging the growth of the state’s music industry. Concerts will be held in: Imperial (July 1), Red Cloud (July 15), McCook (July 29), Norfolk (Aug.4), Lyons (Aug. 18), and Hastings (Aug. 19).
hearnebraska.org

Slide the City July 1, at Benjamin Avenue and 25th Street, Norfolk. 1,000 feet (three football fields) of vinyl will create a family friendly slip-and-slide water party. 402-844-2000.
slidethecity.com

Fourth of July Celebration July 4 in downtown Seward. Recognized as “America’s Small Town Fourth of July City,” Seward has hosted an old-fashioned family celebration since 1868. The event attracts nearly 40,000 people and features a car show, grand parade, extravagant fireworks display, and live entertainment. 402-643-4189.
julyfourthseward.com

Summer Arts and Music Festival July 4 in downtown Fairbury. This summer festival includes a showcase of pottery, a blues party, and a wine and beer tasting room. 402-613-2064.
fairbury.com

John C. Fremont Days July 14-16 in downtown Fremont. Boasting new and old attractions, the 20th annual John C. Fremont Days will feature a Spam-cooking contest, live entertainment, a car and bike show, and more. 402-727-9428.
johncfremontdays.org

Nebraska Book Festival July 14-15 at Constellation Studios, 2055 O St., Lincoln. Providing an opportunity for participants to cultivate an understanding of literary history and culture in Nebraska, the festival celebrates Nebraska’s literary heritage and contemporary authors to stimulate public interest in books, reading, and writing. 402-472-7710.
bookfestival.nebraska.gov

Cornhusker State Games July 21-30, various locations in Lincoln and Omaha. Since 1985, the Cornhusker State Games has given people the chance to play. Competitions range from track and field, to chess, to mall-walking. 402-471-2544.
cornhuskerstategames.com

Cowboy Night July 21 at Stuhr Museum, 3133 W. U.S. Highway 34, Grand Island. An evening of cowboy activities returns. The event includes branding, roping games, a horse breaking demo, live music, and s’mores at the picturesque Rural Farmstead. 308-385-5316.
visitgrandisland.com

Gretna Days July 27-30 in downtown Gretna. This tradition began over 50 years ago to thank the community through a picnic. Gretna Days now include a carnival, golf tournament, teen dance, craft show, fireworks show, and more. 402-378-6284.
gretnadays.com

Czech Days Aug. 4-6 in downtown Wilbur. People of all backgrounds will come to celebrate Czechoslovakian culture. Festivities range from traditional dancing to a duck and dumpling run. 402-821-2732.
nebraskaczechsofwilber.com

Haymarket in White Aug. 4 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, 400 Pinnacle Arena Dr., Lincoln. Guests to the third annual Haymarket in White Dinner & Dance will enjoy gourmet picnic fare and dance the night away. Attendees, who must dress in all white, come together to celebrate Lincoln and the Haymarket community. 402-904-4444.
pinnaclebankarena.com

Bruno Mars Aug. 7 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, 400 Pinnacle Arena Dr., Lincoln. The “24k Magic World Tour” is Mars’ first full-length tour since 2013. Mars, currently deemed one of the world’s most influential artists by Rolling Stone, has sold out shows throughout the world and has continued to impress fans of all ages. 402-904-4444.
pinnaclebankarena.com

A Very Berry Kool-Aid Days Bash Aug. 11-13 in Hastings. Kool-Aid Days celebrates the sugary drink invented by Edwin Perkins. Grab a glass of Kool-Aid at the World’s Largest Kool-Aid Stand, learn about Kool-Aid and other inventions of the 1920s, and more. 402-461-8405.
kool-aiddays.com

Capital City Ribfest Aug. 17-19 Pinnacle Bank Arena, 400 Pinnacle Arena Dr., Lincoln. The 21st annual Ribfest returns with loads of barbecue, sides, and music. 402-904-4444.
pinnaclebankarena.com

Eclipse Painting Night Aug. 18 at Cedar Hills Vineyard & Gardens, 48970 375th Road, Ravenna. A painting night in honor of the total solar eclipse will take place at the Cedar Hills Vineyard. Guests will paint the Howl at the Moon design. Wine and snacks will be available for purchase. 308-452-3181.
visitgrandisland.com

Kendrick Lamar Aug. 18 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, 400 Pinnacle Arena Dr., Lincoln. Lamar’s April-released album, Damn, has already gone platinum. Hailed by Rolling Stone as “the most gifted rapper of a generation,” Lamar has earned six Grammys, including one for best album. 402-904-4444.
pinnaclebankarena.com

Solar Eclipse Viewing Aug. 21 at Homestead National Monument, 8523 Nebraska Highway 4, Beatrice. The rare spectacle of the moon passing between the sun and the Earth turns the day into night. A total solar eclipse will cross the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. The park will host NASA programs and telescopes. 402-223-3514.
nps.gov

Brad Paisley Aug. 25 at the Nebraska State Fair—Fonner Park, 501 E. Fonner Park Road, Grand Island. Country singer Paisley will be joined by country artists Dustin Lynch, Chase Bryant, and Lindsay Ell. 308-382-1620.
visitgrandisland.com

Nebraska State Fair Aug. 25-Sept. 4 at Fonner Park, 501 E. Fonner Park Road, Grand Island. The 11-day event offers insights into the unique culture that is Nebraska. The fair includes a competitive livestock exhibition, carnival rides, first-class entertainment, and numerous food stands. 308-382-1620.
statefair.org

Iowa

Independence Day. July 4 at Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale. Learn how Independence Day was celebrated 100 years ago. Participate in pie-eating contests, foot races, spelling bees, watermelon seed spitting contests, and more. The day will also feature a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a Victorian street parade. 515-278-5286.
lhf.org

80/35 Music Festival July 7-8 at Western Gateway Park, 12th and Locust streets, Des Moines.  Headliners for the 10th anniversary of this music festival, named after the two interstates that cross through Des Moines, will include The Shins and MGMT.
2017.80-35.com

Ioway Culture Day July 15 at Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale. The Ioway Nation will come to the Farms to offer visitors an opportunity to experience how they built their homes, prepared food, and farmed. Guest presenters will share their knowledge of Native American culture and technology. 515-278-5286.
lhf.org

An American in ParisJuly 18 at Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines. The 2015 Tony Award-winning musical about an American soldier, a French girl, and a mysterious European city will enchant audiences of all ages. The show earned more awards than any other musical in the 2014-2015 season. 515-246-2300.
desmoinesperformingarts.org

National Balloon Classic July 28-Aug. 5 at Memorial Balloon Field, 15335 Jewell St., Indianola. Nearly 100 hot air balloons will paint the Iowa sky with brilliant colors, as live music plays on the ground beneath them. Events range from balloon races to balloon glows.
nationalballoonclassic.com

Hinterland Music Festival Aug. 4-5  at Saints Amphitheater, 3357 St. Charles Road, St. Charles. Held in a rural escape outside of Des Moines, Hinterland features a blend of music, camping, art, craft vendors, family engagement, and more. Headliners include The Head and the Heart and alt-J. 515-975-7830.
hinterlandiowa.com

Iowa State Fair Aug. 10-20 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, E. 30th Street and E. University Avenue, Des Moines. Attracting more than 1 million people from around the world, Iowa’s salute to the best the state can offer includes exhibits ranging from livestock to doll houses, along with entertainment and achievement. Don’t forget the food! The 2016 fair offered more than 80 options that could be eaten on a stick. The fair is included in the New York Times best-selling travel book 1,000 Places to See Before you Die. 515-262-3111.
iowastatefair.org

Missouri

KC RiverFest July 4 at Berkley Riverfront Park, Kansas City. This Independence Day event for all ages includes 14 food trucks, two stages for musical acts, children’s crafts, and fireworks. 816-559-3750.
kcriverfest.com

OneRepublic July 7 at Sprint Center,1407 Grand Blvd., Kansas City. Since their breakout smash single “Apologize,” OneRepublic has been taking over Billboard charts. Their newest album, Oh My, was released in the fall of 2016 and debuted at No. 3  on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart. 816-949-7100.
sprintcenter.com/events

Footloose The MusicalJuly 7-9 at Missouri Theater, 717 Edmond St., St. Joseph. The Oscar and Tony-nominated musical will dazzle audiences for two nights. The musical follows Ren, a dance-loving kid from Chicago, who moves to a small farming town where dancing isn’t legal. The musical celebrates open minds, dancing, and the wisdom of listening to young people. 816-271-4628.
stjomo.com

Queen + Adam Lambert July 9 at Sprint Center, 1407 Grand Blvd., Kansas City. Since their first meeting on American Idol in 2009, Queen and Adam Lambert have created a successful combination. The concert will feature Queen favorites, including “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 816-949-7100.
sprintcenter.com

National Teddy Bear Picnic Day July 10 at Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., Kansas City. This will be the city’s first celebration of National Teddy Bear Picnic Day. Families are invited to come to the front lawn of the museum with their own picnics, blankets, and teddy bears. 816-513-0720.
kcparks.org

Murder in Maui, a Mystery Dinner July 22 at Robidoux Landing Playhouse, 103 Francis St., St. Joseph. Guests will work through clues to find out who is the murderer in the room. Two actors will be at the dinner to lead guests through a night of mystery and suspense. 816-901-9100.
stjomo.com

Food Truck Brunch July 23 and Aug. 20 at the Roasterie, 1204 W. 27th St., Kansas City. The monthly Food Truck Brunch is a family-friendly event that encompasses an assortment of local food trucks, live music, and games. 816-931-4000.
theroasterie.com

Green Day Aug. 11 at Sprint Center, 1407 Grand Blvd., Kansas City. Green Day’s legacy continues with their Revolution Radio tour. Their show will feature a mix of classic Green Day songs and their recent hits, including “Still Breathing.” 816-949-7100.
sprintcenter.com

Kinky Boots Aug. 18-20 at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road, Kansas City. Featuring songs by Grammy-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper, the musical, based on the movie of the same name, celebrates the friendships that can be discovered and the belief that you can change the world when you change your mind. 816-363-7827.
kcstarlight.com

Trails West Festival Aug. 18-21 in Civic Center Park, St. Joseph. Labeled a “total eclipse of the arts,” Trails West delivers a weekend of music, entertainment, and visual arts. 816-233-8467.
stjomo.com

Rockin’ on the River Aug. 26 at Remington Nature Center, 1502 McArthur Dr., St. Joseph. A night of food, drinks, and fireworks will take place on the Missouri riverfront. Guests will also hear music from Casey Brett and Blue Oyster Culture Club. 816-271-5499.
stjomo.com

Lionel Richie with Mariah Carey Aug. 27 at Sprint Center, 1407 Grand Blvd., Kansas City. Music icon Lionel Richie had to postpone his spring “All The Hits Tour” due to an injury. He is now back on the road, bringing with him Grammy Award-winning artist Mariah Carey. 816-949-7100.
sprintcenter.com

Kansas

Heartland Art Guild International Miniature Paintings and Sculptures Art Show July 3-Aug. 4 at Miami County Historical Museum, 12 E. Peoria St., Paola. The 13th annual art show will feature more than 78 artists from around the world and more than 250 works of art. The catch is that paintings and sculptures can be no larger than 5” x 5” making this free art show very unique. 913-294-4940.
artkc.com

Junk ‘N Donuts Swap Meet July 8 & Aug. 12 at Louisburg Cider Mill, 14730 KS-68, Louisburg. 50-plus vendors will head to the mill to sell everything from antiques to new crafts, from food to gifts. Live music will be provided, as well as a country store featuring its famous apple cider donuts. 913-837-5202.
louisburgcidermill.com

Big & Rich July 14 at Warnock Lake, 17862 274th Road, Atchison. This country-western duo is the headliner for this concert, which is part of the Amelia Earhart Festival. Also performing are Cam and Erik Dylan. 800-234-1854.
visitatchison.com/event/lakefest

Amelia Earhart Festival July 13-15 in Atchison. This annual event celebrate Atchison’s most famous aviatrix. The festival includes “Grandfather Earhart’s” ice cream social, a carnival, “Breakfast with the Books” by authors about Amelia, a crafts fair, and flyovers; and it finishes with the “Concert in the Sky” fireworks show. 1-800-234-1854.
visitatchison.com

Tiblow Days Aug. 17-19 in downtown Bonner Springs. The three-day festival features the “Smokin’ On Oak” barbecue competition, a carnival, mayor’s banquet, craft and food booths, live music, parades, car shows, and more. 913-422-1020.
bsedwchamber.org

Blacksmith and Pioneer Days Aug. 19-20 at Transue Brothers Blacksmith and Wagon Shop, 309 Main St., Summerfield. The two-day event features blacksmithing, Dutch oven cooking, butter making, and other traditional activities. Guests can expect old-fashioned ice cream, wood carving, skull painting, and marble blowing. 402-520-0644.
transueblacksmith.org


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

Together A Greater Good

December 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A mobile-friendly app created by two Omaha marketing pros has made giving to local charities easy for shoppers around town.

When folks download and use the Together A Greater Good app, they can scan their purchases from local participating businesses—including Big Mama’s Kitchen, The Bookworm, and Greenstreet Cycles—and donate a portion of the receipt amount to charities like American Cancer Society, the Open Door Mission, or a local school.

TAGG, founded in 2012, is the brainchild of Holly Baker and Leslie Fischer. Baker and Fischer studied marketing and business (Baker at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fischer at the University of Nebraska-Omaha). The two met in 2007 while working at another startup, GiftCertificates.com. Although the two worked together for less than a year, the hectic, frenzied work environment helped forge a future partnership.

“You kind of bond through chaos,” Fischer says.

After leaving GiftCertificates.com, Fischer worked for the construction company EAD. While at EAD, Fischer juggled administrative, human resources, and marketing duties.

Coincidentally, both Baker and Fischer were pregnant around the same time while employed in their respective former jobs (Fischer at EAD, Baker at Qualia Clinical Services). Their gestations corresponded to the genesis of TAGG. When Baker was pregnant with her first child, she heard that Qualia was shuttering its Omaha operations. Around that time, Fischer asked Baker to help with some projects at EAD. And while Fischer was on maternity leave, she began brainstorming business ideas. One idea came from constantly being barraged by “cute kids wanting to sell stuff” for fundraising.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this…”

– Leslie Fischer

Fischer says she remembers Baker saying, “Doesn’t there have to be a better way than this poor kid schlepping through all the neighborhoods?”

For Fischer and Baker, the Groupon business model kept coming up. The popular web coupon site Groupon offers different deals for products, services, and events. Specifically, Fischer and Baker were interested in taking Groupon’s voucher system for deals and applying it to fundraising. From early 2011 until May 2012, Baker and Fischer kept bouncing ideas around.

In May 2012, Baker and Fischer quit their jobs to devote all of their resources into launching TAGG.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this,’” Fischer says.

Baker was pregnant at the time.

“I thought I was going to have a miscarriage from stress,” Baker says.


tagg1For most businesses, the first year of operation comes with a few horror stories. For Baker and Fischer, theirs revolved around the key component of TAGG—its website. After quitting in May 2012, Baker and Fischer planned to launch TAGG around the Fourth of July of that year. Unfortunately, the website developer, who was working in Colorado, hadn’t completed the back-end work for the website.

“I ended up spending the Fourth of July on the phone with our lawyer to get our code from this guy,” Fischer says.

Fischer and Baker agreed it was best to scrap the design and start fresh. They relaunched that fall.

Since launching, TAGG has gained 175 businesses committed to donating 5 percent of customers’ scanned receipts to local charities. Twenty thousand people have downloaded the TAGG app. And TAGG now operates out of a West Omaha office, a far cry from kitchen table conversations that created TAGG.

“It feels like forever ago, and yesterday at the same time,” Fischer says.

Visit togetheragreatergood.com for more information.

Scott Blake

October 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Scott Blake looks giddy as he weaves between traffic on 72nd and Pacific streets. He holds a tattered and discolored “now hiring” sign covered by a piece of cardboard—which he calls his “security blanket”—and his dark, disheveled beard frames a mischievous grin. In place of the ragged employment sign stands a provocative work of street art reminiscent of old-fashioned directional street signs. But instead of pointing viewers to local streets or nearby towns, his sign details distances to Benghazi (5,951 miles), Gaza (6,512 miles), and Guantanamo (1,920 miles) in crisp black letters. A three-dimensional star-spangled bomb tops his message like a star on a Christmas tree.

Blake is no stranger to unique and controversial art. Born in Florida in 1976, he first received widespread recognition for his Y2K-inspired barcode art, a project that has become increasingly interactive thanks to the emergence of smartphones and barcode-reading apps. His barcode portraits range from Jesus to Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee, and others.

His 9/11 Flipbook project also garnered national attention, which allowed him to donate proceeds to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, the Red Cross, and other charities. His work has been featured in publications like Adbusters, FHM, and The New York Times, and has been exhibited as far away as London, Paris, and Vienna. His accolades include several Adobe Design Achievement Awards, and a 2009 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Best New Media Artist. But his controversial and covert signpost project is less likely to earn him any official recognition.

The current iteration of the street sign project has been ongoing for about a year. Blake cites two primary sources of inspiration. First, a San Franciscan friend who painted directions to Guantanamo Bay on driftwood. “I get a lot of my ideas from talking with people,” he explains, “but I also go the extra mile—I take it and do this, that, and the other, and make it specifically about Omaha.” Blake initially utilized wood for his own signposts but soon realized that the ubiquitous “we buy houses for cash” signs lining streets and cluttering medians were “like Omaha driftwood” begging to be repurposed.

His second—and more personal—source of inspiration is the iconic signpost from M*A*S*H, the show from the 1970s that features a fictional team of doctors stationed in South Korea during the Korean War. The sign in M*A*S*H points to locations like Boston, San Francisco, and Coney Island, places that represent home for the characters, but Blake’s signposts flip this idea on its head. “I’m already home,” Blake says, “so I want to know where the wars are at—I want to remind people where the boogeyman is.” He also notes that many of the locations have American bases and personnel: “In a way, I actually am pointing to a little piece of America.”

Blake’s process has become part of his daily routine. He takes his signposts with him when he runs errands, and he makes mental notes when he sees “Omaha driftwood” ripe for pilfering. He prefers outdated or illegally placed signs and avoids those that are political, charitable, or artistic in nature. The collected signs are taken to his home studio where they are painted white, cut into arrows, and labeled before being placed into the back of his car to await installment on one of Omaha’s major thoroughfares.

Blake argues that this kind of thought-provoking public art is particularly important when both major presidential candidates treat military intervention as a matter of course. “I consider (our ongoing) wars to be illegal and unjustified and I’m obviously anti-war,” he explains. “There’s no way I’m going to stop the wars; but at the same time, I’m not going to roll over. You can’t be against something—you can’t subvert something—without talking about it.”

Responses to the signposts have been mixed. “Is it weird to think that the bombs are cute?” asks Sarah Johnson, owner of Omaha Bicycle Co. Many locals have expressed confusion over the signposts’ ambiguous nature. An employee of SignIT (a local company that provides the materials for the star-spangled bombs) asked, “Is this a Fourth of July sign?” The conversation about Blake’s public art has even extended to the digital world. Reddit user ZOUG posted that the works are “Not much of a statement if no one understands what they are saying.”

But Blake isn’t too worried about these reactions: “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you for the war or are you against it?’ My number one thing is to get people thinking. I’m just reminding people that, whether they’re for or against the wars, these things are happening.” Blake has considered crafting signposts with directions to Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino, and other American cities affected by domestic terrorism and civil unrest, but for now he’s content with his current project.

“I’ll stop when the wars stop.”

Visit barcodeart.com for more information.

Encounter

scottblake1

Fat BBQ Shack

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Barbecue is gaining in popularity. It has become so popular that Europeans now consider barbecue to be the cuisine of America. I am OK with that. Real barbecue does not come from that thing on your deck used to create char marks on steaks. Real barbecue refers to the culinary style that involves slowly cooking tough, inexpensive cuts of meat over hardwood charcoal until they become tender, smoky, and delicious.

FatShack1Barbecuing is not easy. It’s an art form, and good barbecue technique is something that takes people years to master. Fat BBQ Shack owner Cary Dunn has perfected his style of barbecue. The original Fat Shack started as a food truck and has since become a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 30th and Webber streets. It’s easy to figure out where the restaurant is in the Webber Place shopping center, since the line often stretches out the door.

The inside of the restaurant is nothing fancy, but it’s clean and serviceable. Most folks might refer to the place as a barbecue joint. It’s a small place that looks smaller because it is usually packed. Wood chairs surround lacquered wood tabletops. A roll of paper towels and two bottles of the Fat Shack’s housemade barbecue sauce top each table. You order at the counter from a well laid-out menu board. Then you can either take your barbecue to go or eat it there—if you can find a table.

The menu is quite extensive for a barbecue joint. The Fat Shack has a large selection of sandwiches, burgers, hand-breaded seafood, and, of course, smoked meat dinners with all the sides. The meats include brisket, pulled pork, ribs, rib tips, sausage, smoked turkey, and smoked half chickens. The sides include baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn on the cob, fresh-cut fries, fried okra, collard greens, and homemade potato chips.

On a recent visit, I braved the crowds and ordered a “Three Meat Dinner” ($14.99) which comes with two sides and choice of sliced bread or cornbread. I ordered brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Brisket must be the chef’s specialty. It had a crisp black exterior, pink inner smoke ring, and a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It tastes incredible. The pulled pork is also good, but not on the same level as the brisket. The rib meat falls off the bones and tasted great, but I like ribs to stick on the bones a little more. For sides, I had the macaroni and cheese, and the collard greens. The macaroni and cheese is amazing—easily the best I know of in Omaha. The collard greens are also a real treat, perfectly seasoned and braised with smoky bacon. I also sampled the cornbread, which was hot, moist, and yummy.

FatShack3On another lunchtime visit, I tried the “Carolina Sandwich” ($7.99). This giant sandwich is piled high with moist smoked pork then topped with a vinaigrette pepper sauce and their crisp, creamy coleslaw. The combination is incredible, definitely a must-try. I also tried “The Shack Attack” ($8.99). This gluttonous dish is a giant mound of fresh-cut fries, nacho cheese sauce, choice of meat (I went with the brisket), barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing, jalapeños, and chives. If this does not fill you up, nothing will. I have never enjoyed stuffing myself more than with this decadent and delicious pile of a meal.

If you’re getting the feeling that I like the Fat Shack, then you are right. The Fat Shack has moved itself to the No. 1 spot on my list of favorite barbecue joints, and that is really saying something. You owe it to yourself to go give it try.

FatShack2

Their Own Private Sanctuary

June 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tom and Dania Schleff’s beautiful, mission-inspired home in Elkhorn’s The Sanctuary is sprawling. At approximately 5,000 square feet, with four bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms, the house is well set up for the couple’s visitors.

They even welcome some regular visitors who show up uninvited, bring a lot of friends, scavenge for food, and never express the least bit of gratitude for the hospitality.

“We’ve seen as many as 23 deer right in the backyard, and we see turkeys and foxes and skunks and owls,” Tom Schleff says. “We have a lot of wildlife.”

Sanctuary-Home-2

After all, The Sanctuary is a sprawling development surrounded by the Elkhorn River, and a mature forested area. The neighborhood also contains several large preserved common areas, and natural water features.

With a wall of large, south-facing windows, and a screened three-season porch perfect for morning coffee or evening cocktails, the Schleffs relish their year-round views of wildlife and nature. Tom says he enjoys the environment so much he doesn’t mind mowing the large lot (he uses a push mower, unlike most of the neighbors).   

“We love the trees. We’re on the outer edge of town, so we’re away from the hustle and bustle,” Tom Schleff says.

“And with that, the beautiful sky, whether you see the moonrise or sunset,” Dania Schleff adds. She says The Sanctuary, located near 190th and West Center Road, is far enough from the city to be free from most light pollution. “On a clear night, when you look straight up, the sky is full of stars,” Tom says.

The interior of the house reflects the Schleffs’ love of nature as well. Houseplants bring a touch of green to many of its rooms. Accents and art commonly represent themes relating to the great outdoors. The three-season room—one of Dania’s favorite spaces—has wood-paneled walls and comfortable wicker furniture. The house is decorated in warm, earthy tones with wood trim. Much of the house is furnished with pieces from Stickley, a furniture manufacturer known for simple designs, natural materials, and colorations that emphasize the beauty of wood.

Sanctuary-Home-3

“It’s not ornate or curvy,” Tom Schleff says, adding that the organic look of the furnishings nicely complements the home’s incredible site.

The away-from-it-all locale of the Schleff house is reminiscent of Tom Schleff’s upbringing in the Nebraska town of Morrill near the Wyoming border. By contrast, it’s a far cry from his wife’s early life. Dania Schleff, formerly Dania Inguanzo, arrived on American shores from Cuba on July 4, 1962. “The Fourth of July is a very special day for us,” she says. Her mother, three siblings, and the rest of the family relocated to Burwell, Nebraska, in January 1963.

Sanctuary-4

“There we encountered snow for the first time…it was quite the shock,” Dania says. “The Nebraska people were very welcoming, and we were immersed in the culture and the language. Here we are years later.”

Nebraska proved to be a wonderful place for the family to start a new life. Dania followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a teacher. She taught elementary-level Spanish for many years, and is now retired. Higher education was an important goal instilled in her by her mother, and Dania and her siblings all earned advanced degrees, she explains. Higher education also led to another major life event: she met her future husband while both were attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (the Schleffs continue to enthusiastically follow Husker football today).

In 1981, Tom co-founded Professional Research Consultants, an Omaha-based healthcare research and marketing firm where he now serves as principal/senior vice president.

“I work in west Omaha, and it’s very easy for me commute to work,” he says, pointing out yet another advantage of living on the outskirts of town.

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The Schleffs’ spacious home was designed with entertainment and visitors in mind. They especially enjoy hosting their family—daughter Jana and son-in-law Dustin Rose; and daughter Kendra, son-in-law Mark Kleinschmidt, and granddaughter Easton Emilia (whose middle name honors her Cuban great-grandmother). The house is welcoming and child-friendly, it also harbors one special feature especially appealing to young visitors.

“Behind a bookcase in the hall, we have a hidden staircase that leads to the upstairs level,” Diana says. “Right now we use it as a guest bedroom suite with a living room, but someday we’ll turn it into a grandkids’ fun space.”

The upstairs is a quiet area with the great room purposely set up without a television. The designated space for entertaining is in the home’s lower level, which features amenities including the TV and a bar. The home also includes a small workshop for Tom, which Dania jokingly refers to as his ‘man cave.’

The Schleffs are quick to credit the various professionals who helped them bring their ideas to life before and during the 2011 build.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Tom says. “A lot of people say that building a home is stressful, but it was the first home that we built, so maybe we were just naïve. It was very easy.”

Dania agrees, saying there was no stress or arguing involved. “It was pretty much a smooth process,” she says.

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J.E. George Boulevard

July 3, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Home.

If you’re looking to experience a small-town parade in the middle of Omaha, look no further. This summer marks the 65th annual J.E. George Boulevard Fourth of July Parade. The parade was founded in 1950 by residents Bob and Lu Adwers.

Children don festive costumes in the Americana theme, dress up their dogs, and grab wagons, tricycles, and other forms of transportation for a joyous display of patriotic pride.

Breakfast

J.E. George Boulevard is a stately, tree-lined thoroughfare just north of Memorial Park. It gets its namesake from early Omaha real estate developer John Edward George. According to the Douglas County Historical Society, he was a member of the city planning commission who played a big role in the St. Mary’s Avenue grading project.

League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha President Peggy Adair participated in the parade for her first time last year. “I’m from west Omaha and I love this. It’s like old home. It just makes you smile to be here,” she says.

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Many local politicians also join in the fun by marching in the parade wearing brightly colored campaign slogan tees and passing out stickers.

Each year there is a grand marshal and special guests invited. Past grand marshals have included longtime J.E. George Boulevard resident Barbara Raffensperger and Godfather’s Pizza founder Willy Thiesen. Past special guests included TV personalities Bill Randby and Gary Kerr, and radio personality Tom Becka. The J.E. George Navy Band has also been a popular attraction of the parade since the 1980s.

Each year Sandy Wray of Elkhorn attends the parade with her sister, Terry Price. Price is a J.E. George Boulevard resident who is active in the community and serves as the Neighborhood Watch point person. “I think it’s just great that we honor our country,” Wray says.

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“It’s a good way, I think, for the kids to learn some traditions about our country and keep that alive instead of thinking it’s just a way for them to party.”

The parade begins to assemble at 9:30 a.m. at the corner of J.E. George Boulevard and Western Avenue. The parade begins at 10 a.m. and moves south down J.E. George Boulevard, ending with a celebration at Memorial Park. Prizes are awarded at the baseball diamond for best costumes and floats.

Joe Pepitone of Bloom Companion Care has been emceeing the parade for more than five years. “All of the kids have a great time. It’s really important that they get a chance to showcase their hard work, putting together their floats and their costumes, and get a prize,” Pepitone says.

“It’s really all about the kids,” he reflects.

Spectator

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Paint the Sky

June 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in summer 2015 B2B.

If you’ve ever been dazzled by fireworks at TD Ameritrade Park or Memorial Stadium, you know Paint the Sky Productions.

Owner Ted Kallhof has coordinated some of the area’s largest fireworks displays for the past 15 years. A pyrotechnician since 1985, Kallhof started Paint the Sky Productions (a subsidiary of nationwide J&M Displays) as a way to make extra money doing something he loves. Today, the company includes 65 part-time employees who put on more than 130 events each year.

Walking the grounds of Kallhof’s 25-acre rural Council Bluffs property, you would never suspect that at times there are thousands of pounds of explosives tucked away out of sight. Next to the chicken coop, not far from the dilapidated old barn Kallhof is in the process of demolishing, stand storage containers housing enough explosives to light up the sky like the Fourth of July.

In the fireworks business, safety must be of the utmost concern, and Kallhof employs strict measures to ensure his operations are safe. He could not take me near any of the storage facilities, saying, “We can’t even make the address public, because of the amount of explosives out here.”

Kallhof trains his employees on the property, holding week-long certification courses where they learn how to safely and effectively handle fireworks. Paint the Sky’s website boasts a perfect safety record across 750 events.

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“It’s changed a lot over the years,” Kallhof says. “Ten years ago, everything was lit by hand, but today it’s almost completely computerized. We only do five or six shows a year by hand, everything else is computer or wireless.”

Paint the Sky has created fireworks spectacles for every kind of event you can imagine—personal, corporate, municipal, and sports-related. Lots of sports-related events.

“We became an NCAA preferred vendor a few years ago,” Kallhof says. “I’m a lot busier now than before.” As an NCAA preferred vendor, Kallhof visits stadiums around the country to facilitate shows.

They also specialize in effects for television programs, like ABC’s In an Instant, which was recently filmed in the area.

Throughout the years, Kallhof says some events have been particularly memorable.

“We did a memorial service for a woman who had breast cancer,” he remembered. “I met her about six months before she passed away. She didn’t like that her family couldn’t enjoy themselves around her when she was sick, so she wanted it to be fun.” She was cremated and her ashes were shot up into the sky with the fireworks.

Omaha’s 150th birthday celebration in 2004 also stands out for Kallhof. Paint the Sky put on a display using 50,000 pounds of explosives deployed in eight minutes at three sites within a mile and a half of each other.

When you are working with something captivating that brings joy to so many, it feels good to give back. Kallhof says he enjoys working with groups like Molly’s Miracles, an organization for children battling brain cancer.

“We put on a free show for the kids every year,” he says. “It’s great to see their reactions.”

Kallhof plans to continue using his passion to make the world a brighter—much brighter—place, painting the sky one night at a time.

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Americana Meets Bohemia

June 29, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in July 2015 Her Family.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I have a bit of an obsession with American flags. They are all over my house, my keys, my clothes, etc. I consider my personal style to be a “Franken-style.” I start with some vintage Americana, stir in a pinch of natural history museum, throw in some grandma chic, and heck, why not mix in some hookah lounge?

This DIY project fits into any of these personalities (since I seem to have multiple). So, whether you are a free spirit, a shabby chic princess, or just looking for something for your kids Fourth of July party, this flag is sure to be a conversation piece.

Directions

Lightly mark the dowel rod 8 inches from the end on each side. This will give a guideline for centering the flag on the rod.

Cut out a 10×10” square of denim. I painted the stars by hand, but a star-shaped stencil or sponge may also be used if you seek a more refined look.

After the paint dries, align the left edge of the denim with the left-side mark on the rod and hot glue in place.

Cut the ribbons to varying lengths of about twice as long as you would like them to be. Fold ribbons around the wooden rod, and tie them in place until you reach the right-hand mark on the rod. Hot glue shorter pieces on the back side of the denim to complete the pattern.

Glue a ribbon across the top of the flag to conceal the knots and give the flag a finished look.

DIY-Kristen

DIY July 2015

 

Mom on the Rocks

Blowin’ up stuff. Yeehaw!

I’m from Texas, so the Fourth of July means we’re free to blow whatever we want up to smithereens.

So you can imagine my surprise when we moved here to the “Good Life.” I thought I had rid myself of the blow-stuff-up mentality. I thought wrong. Again.

I also thought upon leaving Texas behind, I’d be leaving all that football crazy in the rear view mirror. But, Texas doesn’t hold a candle to the sport of being a football fan or blowing up stuff quite like Nebraska.

At that time, he only legal explosions around our new home were controlled explosions in the mall parking lot.

We moved here when the kids were two years old. I’d get them tucked in and quietly tiptoe out of their rooms. Right after we’d get them to bed, KABLAMMO!!! Incessant M-80’s start, and then the mall fireworks that apparently aren’t just for the mall, started going off all around us. All I can think of is a war zone. Red Dawn was happening right then.

The kids started wailing, waking each other up. I wanted to just run outside and yell, “What the heck, y’all!?” But the word y’all would throw these usually docile Midwesterners off.

The muffled explosions were like some kind of Hunger Games filmed in Beirut in the 80’s.

Eventually, we gave in and just let the kids stay up to watch fireworks. Instead of a mall, we just set up lawn chairs up and looked down hill. We also relied on neighbors who blow up a month’s budget. It didn’t take long until Chris crossed over to the pro blow-stuff-up party. He insisted it was some rite of passage to teach kids how to light fireworks. You know, play with fire.

Eventually we succumbed to the pressures of the Good Life in warfare celebrating our independence. We found ourselves at friends’ parties celebrating America. In the end, it was not a mall, but we ended up driving to a location, letting others handle it.

I’ll never quite understand it.  But if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s liberating. Which is what we’re celebrating anyway, right?

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