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Omaha’s Saint: Father Flanagan and the Cause for Canonization

February 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A small, framed black-and-white photo hangs on the living room wall of the Rev. Clifford Stevens’ modest apartment, located on the south campus of Omaha’s famous Village of Boys Town. It shows Monsignor Edward J. Flanagan sitting at his desk, looking up at several teenage boys standing around him.

“That’s me, second from the right,” declares Stevens, pointing to a dark-haired, good-looking 16-year-old with a dimpled grin. “That picture was taken in 1942 to commemorate the school’s 25th anniversary, the year I came to Boys Town.”

As someone who knew the tall, affable Irish priest personally—and those numbers keep dwindling—Stevens never doubted his mentor and biggest champion would one day travel the road to sainthood.

“He was very warm and gentle, with the kindest smile I ever saw in my life,” says Stevens, still energetic and sharp at age 91. “He was very considerate and completely dedicated to the welfare of children.”

The longtime Omaha priest and prolific author recently discontinued presiding over daily Mass at Dowd Chapel, the Catholic house of worship on campus, to concentrate on writing his third biography of Father Flanagan. Stevens expects publication by the fall as part of Boys Town’s centennial celebration.

“Boys Town has been around 100 years and I’ve been part of it for 75 years,” he says with a mixture of pride and wonder.

Those who have benefited directly from the safe haven created by Father Flanagan for poor, orphaned, abused, neglected, or at-risk boys (the school opened its doors to girls in 1980) need no convincing of the priest’s Christ-like presence on earth. Convincing Rome, that’s another story. It takes years and enormous preparation, as dictated by ancient Catholic canon law.

Four boxes filled with leather-bound dossiers attesting to Father Flanagan’s “heroic virtue” arrived at the Holy See in Rome in June 2015, the result of a 2 1/2 year investigation into the priest’s life by the Omaha archdiocese.

“They literally put Father Flanagan’s whole life on trial here in Omaha,” explains Steve Wolf, a member of the Boys Town alumni group that helped ignite the quest for sainthood in 1999. “Everything that could possibly be known about Father Flanagan, through any number of sources, was all examined thoroughly.”

Although 2,000 names precede Father Flanagan’s on the list of sainthood causes, the boxes from Omaha have not sat idly in some Vatican room.

“We know the tribunal in Rome is reviewing the work of the Omaha archdiocese because they’ve been communicating with us here, trying to clarify information or asking for additional testimony,” Wolf says. “It’s absolutely an active, open case, and that’s encouraging.”

Will Rome agree Father Flanagan led a life so good and so holy in service to others that he put his own life in peril? Does he meet the requirement of “historic virtue?” Wolf, a 1980 graduate of Boys Town, sees no other conclusion.

“He received death threats many times because he was without prejudice or discrimination, integrating Boys Town with blacks and kids of Jewish faith,” he says. “The Ku Klux Klan once threatened to burn Boys Town down,” prompting Father Flanagan to respond, “What color is a man’s soul?”

If the case for sainthood didn’t exist, “[Omaha] Archbishop [George] Lucas would never have signed off on it and sent the boxes to Rome,” says Wolf, who readily admits Boys Town turned his life around. The father of five girls now heads The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion, an organization made up of alumni and lay Catholics that focuses on fundraising and forwarding the cause of sainthood through an international groundswell of support. Wolf credits the hard work of Boys Town historian Tom Lynch with enabling a speedy local investigation into Father Flanagan’s life.

“When I was hired by Boys Town 30 years ago as a graduate student in history, our archives weren’t organized,” explains Lynch, chairman of the historical commission that gathered written material for the sainthood cause. “We had about 2 million documents and half-a-million pictures just dumped in the building without rhyme or reason.”

Every day for more than 10 years, Lynch picked up pieces of paper, read them, then placed them in the proper category until the archives became a major resource center. Lynch and his “great crew of volunteers” eventually created a timeline accounting for nearly every day of the priest’s life, from his birth in Ballymoe, Ireland, in 1886, to his death from a heart attack in 1948 while on a goodwill trip to post-war Germany.

Lynch created the Hall of History, where thousands of visitors come every year to learn the story of Boys Town and the man who founded it. When the representative Rome sent to Omaha to investigate the sainthood request saw all the required material on display, he told Lynch, “You’ve taken about 25 years off the process.”

Those closely involved in the cause, though sworn to secrecy, cautiously think all the requisites for beatification and canonization exist. A separate tribunal in Rome is examining two of the 17 alleged miracles attributed to Father Flanagan (after his death), where someone was cured after praying to him, defying medical explanation. If proved, the Vatican will declare him Blessed, followed by a declaration of sainthood.

Father Flanagan began his life with people praying to God on his behalf, offering up pleas for divine intervention. On the day he came into the world, Eddie Flanagan, the eighth of 11 children born to a sheep farmer and his wife in County Roscommon, Ireland, turned blue, then purple and started convulsing. The midwife told the family the baby wouldn’t last the night.

But Eddie’s grandfather, a veterinarian, unbuttoned his flannel shirt, wrapped the newborn in a blanket and held him against his chest. He paced in front of the large kitchen hearth all night, holding the baby close. By morning, the baby’s coloring had returned to normal. Prayers had been answered.

“We believe he was born prematurely, which would explain why the family was so worried those first few days,” says Wolf. It would also help explain why Eddie was susceptible to respiratory problems all his life—health so fragile it nearly derailed his deep desire to follow his older brother, Patrick, into the priesthood.

Illness forced him to leave the seminary twice, once in Yonkers, outside New York City, the other time in Rome. After nearly dying from double pneumonia while studying in New York, his brother Patrick, who had been dispatched from Ireland to minister in “the Middle Western Plains of Nebraska,” suggested Eddie stay with him in Omaha. “The air is clean and brisk here, where your lungs can heal,” wrote Patrick.

The younger Flanagan regained his health in Omaha, but “the archbishop didn’t want him! He thought he was too sickly to become a priest and wouldn’t let him study here,” says Stevens, shaking his head. “So he got a job as an accountant at the Cudahy meat packing plant in South Omaha. That’s where he acquired his business skills.”

The young man finally finished his seminary studies in the warmer climes of Innsbruck, Austria, and returned to Omaha after his ordination in 1912. Five years later, on Dec. 12, 1917, Father Flanagan opened his first Boys Home at 25th and Dodge streets. He had found his calling.

People who only know Father Flanagan from Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1938 movie Boys Town may understand his mission, “but they don’t know this man,” says Wolf. “He was a consultant to world leaders on youth care after World War II. Who did President Truman send to Japan and Germany—countries we had defeated—to assess the problem of displaced or orphaned children? A priest. This priest.”

Almost 70 years after his death, Father Flanagan can still reach out from beyond the grave and touch souls, Wolf believes. He experienced it personally.

Raised in Omaha as a Baptist by a single mom, Wolf had shrugged off all organized religion by the time he graduated from Boys Town, and he held a particular disdain for the Catholic Church. Wolf returned to campus for an alumni convention in 1999, shortly after the group announced plans to seek sainthood for their founder.

“I was sitting in the very last pew of Dowd Chapel for a special Mass that I felt obligated to attend,” he relates, “and I looked over my right shoulder and there’s Father Flanagan’s tomb right there in that little room. Suddenly, I was just overcome, almost crying. Here I am trying to do something to honor him, and I realized I’m not even the kind of kid he would have wanted me to be.”

At that moment, Wolf’s conversion to Catholicism began.

Even historian Tom Lynch, who has immersed himself in all things Flanagan his entire adult life, came away from the tribunal experience with renewed respect for the sanctity of Boys Town’s founder.

“People laughed at him, told him it would never work because he wanted to treat the kids humanely,” Lynch says. “There are no fences or gates around Boys Town. No physical punishment. He was very much their champion.”

As Omaha awaits a decision from Rome, which could take years, Father Flanagan’s legacy continues to better the lives of more than 2 million children and families, with outreach programs and medical services on 11 Boys Town campuses from New York to California.

Father Flanagan must have sensed that his belief in the basic goodness of children would bear fruit. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “… the work will continue, you see, whether I’m here or not, for it’s God’s work, not mine.”

Visit fatherflanagan.org for more information.

Timeline of Father Flanagans Life

July 13, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan born in Leabeg, County Roscommon, Ireland. Parents: John and Honora (Larkin) Flanagan.

July 18, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan baptized, St. Croan’s Catholic Church, Ballymoe, Ireland. Father Crofton officiated. Godparents: Patrick and Mary Jane Flanagan.

August 27, 1904 – Edward Joseph Flanagan arrived in United States aboard S.S. Celtic, White Star Line.

September 1906 – Edward Joseph Flanagan entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.

May 31, 1907 – Left St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.

July 4, 1907 – John, Nora, and Edward Flanagan arrive in Omaha, Nebraska.

July 26, 1912 –  Edward Joseph Flanagan ordained by Bishop Elder for the Brixon Diocese in St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.

July 27, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Mass in the Jesuit Church at St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.

August 25, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at Holy Angels Church, Omaha, Nebraska.

September 5, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick Parish, O’Neill, Nebraska.

March 15, 1913 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick’s Church, Omaha (Pastor: John T. Smith).

February 2, 1915 – The Rev. John T. Smith died. Flanagan became acting pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish.

Mid-January 1916 – Father Flanagan opened the Workingmen’s Hotel in the Old Burlington Hotel, leased by St. Vincent de Paul Society.

July 9, 1916 – Father Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Philomena Parish, Omaha, Nebraska (Pastor: James W. Stenson).

Early September 1916 – Father Flanagan moved Workingmen’s Hotel to Livesay Flats where he could care for 300 men.

December 12, 1917 – Founded Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home.

December 12, 1917 – Flanagan celebrated last Mass as assistant pastor, St. Philomena. Relieved of all parish duties.

May 8, 1919 – Flanagan became a citizen of United States of America.

February 24, 1920 – Articles of Incorporation for Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home filed with state of Nebraska.

Summer 1921 – Began construction of five buildings on Overlook Farm: two school buildings, two dormitories, and a refectory/dining hall.

October 17-22, 1921 – Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home moved to Overlook Farm.

July 2, 1922 – Elected president of Omaha Welfare Board.

September 1925 – Inauguration of periodical radio broadcasts for Father Flanagan broadcast over WOAW, sponsored by Woodmen of the World Insurance.

March 1927 – Father Flanagan moved into new home, Father Flanagan House.

October 12, 1930 – Radio program ”Voice of the Homeless Boy” expanded outside of Omaha.

October 23, 1937 – Flanagan appointed Domestic Prelate with title of “Right Reverend Monsignor” by His Holiness, Pope Pius XI.

November 21, 1937 – Investiture service for Father Flanagan to Monsignor, Boys Town Auditorium.

December 2, 1937 – Appointed to Childrens’ Committee of National Conference of Catholic Charities.

February 20, 1939 – Honorary Life Member of the Boys’ Republic of Arlington, Virginia.

June 26, 1939 – Father Flanagan received First Annual Humanitarian Award from Variety Clubs International. Presented by founder, John W. Harris, at Fontenelle Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska.

November 1939 – Father Flanagan appointed to Board of Diocesan Consultors to succeed Monsignor A. M. Colaneri.

April 2, 1941 – Father Flanagan appointed by governor of California to Governor’s Committee on the Whittier State School.

May 27, 1942 – Father Flanagan received certificate for Distinguished Service on Behalf of the National War Savings Program, U.S. Treasury Department.

November 3, 1942 – Father Flanagan began weeklong war bond tour, during which he sold almost $3 million in bonds.

February 1944 – Father Flanagan made life member of the National Humanitarian Award Committee, Variety Clubs International.

September 5, 1944 – Certificate of Service from U.S. Navy, Letter from Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal to Father Flanagan.

October 17, 1944 – Father Flanagan received letter naming him Number One War Dad in America by the National Council, American War Dads.

February 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan named to National Panel for Study of Juvenile Delinquency Problems by U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark.

April 7, 1946 – Father Flanagan appointed member of the Naval Civilian Committee by Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal.

November 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan received the Kiwanis Medal for Distinguished Service from Kiwanis Club of Lincoln, Nebraska.

February 28, 1947 – Father Flanagan received an invitation from Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to tour Japan on behalf of war orphans, etc.

April 7, 1947 – Father Flanagan left Omaha for Japan and Korea at invitation of Secretary of War Robert Patterson and General Douglas MacArthur regarding juvenile welfare.

July 8-11, 1947 – Father Flanagan went to Washington, D.C., to report to Secretary of War and Navy and President Harry S. Truman.

May 15, 1948 – Died, Berlin, Germany.

May 17, 1948 – Funeral for Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan in Berlin Cathedral. Conrad Cardinal V on Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, officiated.

May 21, 1948 – Funeral for Edward Joseph Flanagan in The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Dowd Memorial Chapel, Boys Town, Nebraska.

Steps Toward Canonization

by Thomas Lynch

Attaining sainthood follows three phases and four steps of recognition. The phases are pre-diocesan, diocesan, and Roman. The levels of recognition are (in sequential order) Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint.

The pre-diocesan phase requires a spontaneous or groundswell of devotion. The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion initiated this first phase of the process.

Omaha archbishop George Lucas initiated the second phase by appointing a tribunal to investigate the life and virtues of Father Flanagan. This is the diocesan phase, during which the candidate is recognized as Servant of God. In a formal ceremony during June 2015, the archbishop advanced the cause to the Vatican for further investigation.

Currently, Father Flanagan is in the Roman phase. A tribunal appointed by the Vatican further investigates the life and virtues of Father Flanagan and the miracles associated with him. The canonization process takes many years. To be canonized a saint, there must be proof of at least two miracles attributed to Father Flanagan that have occurred after his death.

The Vatican determines whether he would be recognized as Venerable based on investigation of miracles attributed to Father Flanagan after his death. After being recognized as Venerable, additional miracles (miracles not already submitted for his canonization cause) must be submitted and verified for Father Flanagan to be formally recognized as Blessed. After the tribunal makes recommendations to the pope, he decides whether to declare the priest a saint of the church. Confirmation of sainthood is then scheduled for an official ceremony at a later date.

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

The Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation (NICF) President James Johnson Ph.D. is used to change. Dr. Johnson, his wife, Lesa, and his Harley-Davidson moved to Omaha four years ago, after serving respected stints at a handful of universities across the nation. Such positions included president of Ohio Valley University in West Virginia, and director of forensics and assistant to the provost at Texas A&M University.

The communication skills he has gained after a lifetime in education are making a difference in the lives of underprivileged college students in Nebraska. “We raise scholarship funds to help needy students in Nebraska attend Nebraska colleges, primarily independent colleges,” he says.

Founded in 1953, the NICF has a staff of three and is about to get a whole lot busier as they prepare to double their size and serve more schools. Currently, they raise scholarship funds for the students of Union College, Bellevue University, York College, and Hastings College.

Johnson says that, statistically, students who come out of independent colleges are hired quicker than state school graduates and they are promoted faster.


JamesJohnson1“I think it’s because of some of the types of students that private colleges attract and also smaller class size, smaller teacher/student ratio (that allows) more individual attention in the classroom,” he says.

Johnson says that the schools they currently work with are leaders in certain fields. “York, for example has an excellent teacher preparation program. Union has a very good physician assistants program with a waiting list on it. Bellevue is probably, in my opinion, one of the leaders in nontraditional programs. Hastings has such a vibrant legacy and heritage and history that speaks well for all of their programs.”

Since Johnson began his teaching career in 1983 as a professor of communication at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, he has seen the average age of a student increase.


“When I started teaching, the average age of a college student was about 23,” Johnson says. “Now the average age of the college student today is closer to 30. We have so many more adults going back to retrain or going back to make career changes.”

A recipient of the 2008 President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was presented by President George W. Bush, Johnson enjoys teaching and the relationships he has with students. He says he is able to fulfill his desire to teach through his leadership consulting firm, Ethos Leadership Group, where he serves as chief executive officer.

Johnson notes that the NICF has an annual golf tournament that has grown in attendance by 50 percent over the past four years. The tournament raises awareness and provides an opportunity for fundraising. NICF accepts donations from both corporate and individual donors.

“I enjoy being able to tell donors, when they write me a $1,000 check, that $1,000 is going to scholarships.”

Johnson has his eyes set on a big prize for the foundation—a fundraising challenge of $2.5 million. If NICF reaches that goal by the end of the year, an independent donor will match that sum, bringing the total to $5 million raised. Now that’s enough money for a lot of books.

Visit nicfonline.org for more information. B2B

Holly Barrett

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March/April 2015 Encounter.

Holly Barrett knows how to shovel horse manure. According to her father, this set Barrett up perfectly for politics. Once a professional horse trainer and dressage rider, Barrett brings a unique and upbeat attitude to her job as the director of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District (DID).

And she isn’t afraid to get dirty. Barrett may push down a filthy lever on a trash compactor during the day, and then put on a floor-length gown at night to rub elbows with the donors of the city. She is a basic black dress kind of girl. “It hides the dirt or dresses up,” Barrett says with a boisterous laugh. She is animated and refreshingly candid.

If you watch Parks and Recreation, you’ll see a little bit of Leslie Knope in Holly Barrett.

Barrett brings 17 years of experience in relationship-based professions, including fundraising, politics, and public relations. Her latest stint was serving as the executive director of Denver’s LoDo area, its image growing considerably under her watchful eyes. “She (Barrett) is just what Omaha needs to make downtown the premier spot to visit, work, live and be entertained,” says Bill Owen, the board chair of the DID.

Barrett is excited to be part of a city at its tipping point—the sky’s the limit and Omaha is a wonderful canvas, she says. Transportation alternatives, improvement of parking, and activation of public spaces are ideas in the hopper. “We have to get Omahans to think of themselves as a big city,” Barrett says.

In order for this to happen, Barrett says the perspective and mentality of people here first has to change. If someone wants to stop by for a frosty mug of beer down in The Old Market on a hot day, he or she will drive around and around to find a parking meter. Meters are less expensive than an $8 parking lot.

Barrett says $8 for parking is probably the cheapest in the country, but understands it is important to work with parking lot vendors to lower rates to make them more reasonable. She has worked with one city lot, on 10th and Jackson Streets, to lower it to $1 an hour. Almost instantly, it was easier to find a meter because the lots were full. Plus, Omahans are still very much in love with their cars. “I have seen people drive four blocks to go from a meeting in The Old Market to come up to a meeting here,” Barrett says laughing until her face turns red. “And, in my mind, that is absolutely hilarious.”

She wants people to move easier and more efficiently downtown, but realizes the harsh Midwest weather permits this from happening. She walks pretty much everywhere, even on the coldest of days, bundled up in a coat. Barrett drives only for basic amenities or to see her horse, Poppy, in Papillion.

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Omar Arts & Events

January 17, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Our customers are looking for a different type of venue,” says Mark O’Leary, executive director of Omar Arts and Events. “Something other than four white walls. Something with timeless craftsmanship and impeccable attention to detail.”

In other words, those seeking Old World charm and character intermingled with modern amenities will find what they’re looking for at Midtown Omaha’s newest arts and events facility. “We fill a niche,” O’Leary explains, “for those planning mid-size to large events.” Everything from weddings to trade shows to fundraising galas will benefit from perks like state-of-the-art A/V equipment, two screens with HD projection, free Wi-Fi, plenty of free parking, and enhanced security.

As a life-long Omahan, O’Leary knows what people in Omaha, particularly Midtown, are looking for. After all, his family’s been here since the 1880s. It’s no small wonder that he also owns The Cornerstone Mansion Inn, Omaha’s only historic inn, located in the Offutt mansion. The inn also serves as an event facility, giving O’Leary the experience event planners will find at the Omar.

Newly opened in November 2013, the Omar will be known quickly as the premier event facility in town, if O’Leary has any say in the matter. “We want to be secure in knowing that we are our customers’ first choice in event venues,” he says, “and that if they go elsewhere, it’s only because we were already booked.” His plan to keep clients coming back is by taking care of every detail and helping them to make their events as memorable and distinctive as possible.

No doubt he’ll be able to see to that, given that he’s a hands-on operator at the Omar. O’Leary’s passion for involvement is evident in his ongoing love and participation in theater. He produced and acted in the feature film For Love of Amy, directed by Ted Lange (Isaac from The Love Boat). For 10 years, he has served on the board of the John Beasley Theater and has produced and/or acted in more than 40 productions, including several national and local commercials.

His sense of timing and production will undoubtedly lead to your event putting its best foot forward at Omar Arts and Events.

Omar Arts & Events
4383 Nicholas St, Suite 230
Omaha 68131
402-905-9511
mark@omarbuilding.com
Executive Director/ Mark O’Leary

Renaissance Man

January 12, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Scholar, lawyer, professor, arts administrator, university dean. David Thompson has had all these professional titles, but he’s impossible to pin down with a simple job description.

Although he took the helm at KANEKO in July as executive director, it’s unlikely this position will similarly define or limit what he does. That’s because Thompson, who grew up in Bellevue, is a man driven by intellectual curiosity, academic rigor, and a constant desire to learn. This is evident in everything he has accomplished.

After receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, he earned a master’s degree in literature and Victorian Studies at Oxford University before receiving a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from Northwestern University. As disparate as these fields may seem, each enhanced the other and strengthened Thompson’s ability to work across unrelated disciplines.

“I enjoy exercising different skills,” he explains. “I love the back and forth between practical applications and creative ideas. There are so many ways to make an impact. I find it invigorating.”

His career trajectory likewise allowed him to engage in dynamic back-and-forths.

After attaining his law degree, he joined Sachnoff & Weaver in Chicago, where he practiced securities and intellectual property law. He soon realized that his interests were in the nonprofit world, and in 2004 he became Associate Director of Gift Planning at the famed University of Chicago, where he learned about the inner workings of successful cultural organizations. Pivotal in Thompson’s professional development, however, was his subsequent position as Associate Dean for Planning & Programs in the school’s Humanities Division.

“It was a fantastic opportunity,” he recalls. One of his most impressive accomplishments was his role in the creation of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, which opened last year. “I was on the steering committee for a $100-million interdisciplinary facility,” says Thompson. “It was one of the most exciting projects of my career.”

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In 2008, Thompson broadened his experience by serving as Director of Development & Strategic Initiatives at Chicago-Kent College of Law before becoming a consultant specializing in assisting non- and for-profit organizations with integrated approaches to strategic planning and resource development.

Throughout each of these transitions, Thompson remained engaged with the community. He regularly taught students of all ages, participated in public discussions on such topics as the arts and environmental sustainability, and served on several boards, including the National Public Housing Museum, 3Arts, and the Resource Center. Through all these experiences, he developed a unique expertise that makes it possible to pull together multiple skills in law, business, art, strategic planning, and operations.

Despite living outside Nebraska for almost three decades, Thompson maintained close ties, and in March he returned to assist his family, which still lives in Bellevue.

Serendipitously, KANEKO, which is dedicated to exploring the creative process, was hiring a new executive director. Thompson sought out the job description and found it meshed with his professional interests. “My background is automatically interdisciplinary,” he says. “I’m interested in everything from how to revitalize neighborhoods to how the brain works.”

Thompson’s ability to think broadly was compelling to KANEKO. Board members Robert and Polina Schlott note how impressed the organization was with his background. “We wanted someone who would be a perfect fit,” explains Polina. “There are so many facets involved in being an executive director of a creative foundation. You need business skills and an understanding of creativity—not to mention academic experience. It’s difficult to find that all in one person.”

Bob agrees. “That’s why David’s an awfully good fit. He can fulfill a variety of different tasks, and that’s exactly what we were looking for.”

Adam Price, who became the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art’s new executive director last March, also began his career as an attorney and knows how a background outside the arts can contribute to strengthening an arts institution.

“Our backgrounds give us different approaches,” he observes. “They are different, and that can be exciting. I think it’s great for KANEKO and great for the cultural scene.”

Thompson is also looking forward to contributing to that scene. “I feel fortunate that KANEKO is still small enough that I can be involved in areas such as fundraising and curatorial programs,” he says.

Fundraising comprises one of his first major duties and presents the exciting challenge of dramatically transforming the organization. He is overseeing KANEKO’s capital campaign, which will add a 20-foot-wide atrium across its front entrance and extend the 30,000-square-foot facility by another 5,500. This, says Thompson, will help make KANEKO a major cultural center in Omaha. “We will provide a better sense of the organization as a vital part of the community,” he observes. “There are so many ideas that come into play here. I see us becoming involved in areas we’ve maybe not been before and thinking about our role in the community in a new way.”

The opportunity to accomplish these goals has come at precisely the right moment for Thompson. He turned 50 last August, an age that for him is highly symbolic.

“I have a strong desire to reach a kind of professional peak during this decade,” he explains, “and to feel like I am having a meaningful, positive impact on the organization that employs me and on my community.”

The writer is the Communications Manager for the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Restoring Hearts Celebration

October 4, 2013 by
Photography by Mitchell Warren

In the spring of 2013, young men and women from Omaha Home for Boys programs spent 18 weeks learning, laughing, and collaborating on the restoration of MishMash, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle rebuilt as part of the nationally recognized Helping with Horsepower™ Bike Rebuild program. With the steadfast support of Jeremy and Mike Colchin, the father-son duo from Black Rose Machine Shop, MishMash was transformed into a stunningly patriotic motorcycle.

By late spring/early summer, MishMash was ready to travel around the state of Nebraska (and western Iowa) to spread the word about the Home and share a message of hope. MishMash heralded the Omaha Home for Boys mission and message at parades, fairs, football games, various community events, conferences, and concerts. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who hadn’t seen the motorcycle or heard about the youth at the Omaha Home for Boys and this life-changing project.

Several months later, the raffle winner of MishMash—Jeff Waddington of Bennington—was selected to the roaring applause of more than 450 Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts™ Celebration attendees. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin delivered a breathtaking, inspirational speech to supporters, community members, and friends—some old, many new—of the Omaha Home for Boys.

RHBP3_2

Matlin touched on the difficulties of growing up as a young child “who just happened to be deaf” with big dreams of being a star—fueled and supported by long-time friend Henry Winkler. It was a message that resounded well with youth, staff, and supporters alike—you can be anything you want to be, and anyone can make their goals and dreams into realities with hard work and dedication.

Youth also took to the stage, joining Mike DiGiacomo and Mary Nelson, hosts of KMTV-Channel 3’s The Morning Blend, to share their thoughts of the Helping with Horsepower™ project, along with their own dreams and goals.

It was a celebration as much about MishMash as it was about the youth at the Home—and a celebration everyone involved will remember!

With the help of supporters, the Home raised more than $30,000 from the bike’s raffle, selling more than 1,700 tickets. Funds will be used to facilitate the programs at the Omaha Home for Boys—directly and positively impacting the hundreds of youth touched by our programs.

Become a Home Partner and Supporter

With the success of this year’s Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts Celebration, staff at the Omaha Home for Boys are in full gear to prepare for next year’s Helping with Horsepower Bike Rebuild program. Stay tuned for more information to become a sponsor, donate to the bike rebuild project, and buy tickets to attend next year’s Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts!

To become a sponsor for next year’s bike rebuild, please contact Trish at 402-457-7165 or PHaniszewski@omahahomeforboys.org. For more information about Omaha Home for Boys, visit omahahomeforboys.org.

JDRF

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Diabetes has long been thought of as a single disease only suffered by the overweight, the unhealthy, the elderly, or those with family members who have had diabetes. And while that might be true of some people with the more common type 2 diabetes, it’s not the case with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

“Type 2 diabetes is very different from T1D, as it is considered preventable and treatable,” says Brevard Fraser, Executive Director of the JDRF Heartland Chapter, which includes both the Omaha and Council Bluffs areas. As it stands today, there are no biological cures for T1D, which is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It can occur at any age, and the exact cause is unknown.

Since its founding in 1970, JDRF has been behind T1D research funding, working to improve the lives of all people affected by accelerating progress on the search for a cure, better treatments, and ways to prevent T1D. Today, JDRF is the leading global organization focused on T1D research and has contributed more than $1.6 billion to finding a cure.

“Incidences of T1D are on the rise, and JDRF is the first stop of support for those just diagnosed,” Fraser explains. “We can provide education, mentors, outreach, and the opportunity to be a part of finding a cure, and so much more for those affected by T1D.”

Despite what many people think, Fraser and those affiliated with JDRF know that T1D is a very complicated disease. “From those who are diagnosed at 9 months to those living with T1D for over 40 years…The daily regimen [they] have to live with every day of their lives—it blew my mind away!”

One person who would agree with Fraser is Omahan Daron Smith, who was diagnosed with T1D in 1970—coincidentally, the same year JDRF was founded.

According to Smith, T1D is best understood by the illustration of an old teeter-totter. But instead of being a regular teeter-totter, this teeter-totter is held up by a pencil and has three wooden planks joining in the center. One of the planks represents food intake. Another represents insulin intake. The last represents the exercise, emotions, and stress in life. “I am attempting to keep a perfect balance of my blood sugar levels with all three of these [planks] hitting me at once, all day every day,” says Smith

Smith grew up in the Omaha area. After spending some time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he began his career at a young age, working for Better Business Equipment, a company started by his father, Coyner Smith, in 1968. When his father retired from the company in 2000, Smith took over as President.

“The funding raised by JDRF is making huge strides for the individuals who deal with this disease…There is significant progress toward a cure and much better treatment.” – Daron Smith

Despite his demanding career and raising 11-year-old son Joshua, Smith has a more overwhelming issue that constantly needs his attention—the injection of insulin into his body on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. A healthy pancreas will keep the body’s blood sugar level at about 80-100 all day regardless of activity, food intake, or stress. But for a person with T1D, like Smith, the levels must be managed in order to live. “My goal is to keep my blood sugar levels between 80 and 160. When my blood sugar levels get below 60, it causes major problems; and when it gets above 150, it will cause long-term, significant health issues, many of which are life-threatening.

“I decided a long time ago that I have to look at life with diabetes with a glass-half-full attitude.” Fortunately, Smith hasn’t had to rely solely on positivity to get him through the struggle.

“With the funding that has been raised for diabetes research through JDRF, tools like the insulin pump and the Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) would not have happened…Before I switched my insulin delivery to an insulin pump, I would deliver the insulin through the use of syringes. I’ve estimated that, in my lifetime, I have taken over 25,000 insulin injections.” JDRF’s research is why Smith now uses some fairly sophisticated technology to stay on top of his diabetes. “I use an insulin pump to deliver my insulin, and I also use a CGM to monitor my blood sugar level, as well as a glucometer to verify my blood sugar levels.”

Smith is also blessed to be on the Heartland Chapter’s board of directors. Through that connection, he says that he has become aware of how close we are to finding more significant, life-altering technology for those with T1D. “The funding raised by JDRF is making huge strides for the individuals who deal with this disease…There is significant progress toward a cure and much better treatment.”

Although JDRF is growing nearer to a cure for T1D each year, Smith hopes it comes soon, as it saddens him to think about the parents who have to help their children take thousands of insulin shots and prick their fingers six to 10 times a day for their entire life.

Cindy Irvine, who has volunteered with the Heartland Chapter for the last 10 years and is a former president of the board, says she is fortunate to have not been one of those parents. Her younger son, Tyler, was diagnosed with T1D at 14, which initially gave her the desire to work with the organization.

Cindy Irvine's son Tyler has T1D. She also volunteers with and is a former board president of JDRF Heartland Chapter.

Cindy Irvine.

“We were actually very blessed because he was older when he was diagnosed,” she says. “We had a lot of support in the medical community, as well as in our social community. He was pretty much able to give himself his own shots, and he knew he had to test his blood sugar.” Although her son was well adjusted to the management of his T1D, it doesn’t mean Irvine wasn’t occasionally at his school reminding teachers or coaches of his diabetic needs.

“JDRF, especially the Heartland Chapter, is doing such a great job educating people about what T1D is through their outreach programs and events.” – Cindy Irvine

Today, her son is 24 and has kept himself quite busy. “He just spent a year in Thailand, he spent a semester abroad in Mexico, he went to the Dominican Republic through a Creighton University program, and he’s now studying to get his master’s degree in public health.” While her son has traveled, Irvine has been constantly working with him to make sure he is managing his diabetes properly. “I don’t think people understand. When you go abroad, the supplies you have to take are massive. We sent six months of insulin with him when he went to Thailand, and then my husband and I flew over for the next six months. [Tyler] carries around a lot of stuff. He started carrying a ‘murse,’ which he said stands for ‘man purse,’” she adds with a laugh.

Irvine believes that the Heartland Chapter has done so much to provide help for children with diabetes and their parents. “There are so many resources that you really can’t get anywhere else—information on how to fill out the forms for school to make sure they’re getting the right care or how to prepare a child to go to college, and there are great programs to help parents and kids go through the transition after the diagnosis.

“I think there’s a lot of preconceived ideas about what diabetes is,” adds Irvine. “JDRF, especially the Heartland Chapter, is doing such a great job educating people about what T1D is through their outreach programs and events.”

As the chapter grows, greater emphasis is being placed on outreach efforts. The Bag of Hope is an education and outreach program available through the chapter that is designed to reach young children and teenagers with diabetes and their families at the time of diagnosis. The Bag of Hope contains a comprehensive collection of educational and comforting materials for the entire family. The chapter’s long-range plans include the establishment of support groups covering topics from initial diagnosis to adolescence issues and beyond.

Each year, the Heartland Chapter also holds two annual fundraising events: Walk to Cure Diabetes and the Promise Gala. This year’s Walk to Cure Diabetes in August raised more than $750,000 for diabetes research and included not only the traditional walk but also a T1D 5K Dash. Like the Walk to Cure Diabetes, the Promise Gala is another large fundraising effort during the year. “Funds raised during the Fund a Cure portion of the evening go directly to research—not overhead or events costs or anything else,” explains Fraser. “We also educate those new to JDRF through video presentations on cutting-edge research, as well as the very personal stories of children, adults, and families living with the burden of T1D.”

The 16th Annual JDRF Promise Gala will be hosted at CenturyLink Center Omaha on February 23. The theme of the evening is “Hit T1D Out of the Park – We’re Bringing Home a Cure!” The event will start at 6pm with cocktails and a silent auction, followed by dinner and a special program. Dress code for the event is cocktail attire (black-tie optional).

For more information about the JDRF Heartland Chapter or to reserve tickets for this year’s Promise Gala, visit jdrf.org/omaha or call 402-397-2873.