Tag Archives: Gil Cohen

The Vesparados

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

They call themselves the Vesparados and they are, indeed, a wild bunch—wild about their Vespa scooters.

About 20 owners of the iconic Italian scooter belong to a loosely knit social group that meets at least once a week, sometimes more in good weather, to tool around Omaha and enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. Rides usually end with libations, dinner, or both.

If the name Vespa doesn’t ring a bell, think Gregory Peck vrooming through the crowded streets of the Eternal City with a laughing Audrey Hepburn on the back of his scooter in 1952’s Roman Holiday. Thanks to the Oscar®-winning film, Americans fell in love with the Vespa.

First manufactured by Piaggio & Co. in 1946 for easy and economical transportation in decimated post-War Italy, the Vespa remains better suited for boulevards and byways, not highways.

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“Most Vespas can reach 80 miles per hour,” says Gil Cohen, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Omaha Magazine. “But I wouldn’t suggest keeping it up there for very long. We don’t travel on interstates.”

The Vesparados come from a wide range of professions. But when the helmets go on, each rider assumes their Vespa persona.

“Everybody has a handle,” explains Cohen. “I’m ‘Jersey.’”

On a recent summer evening, the South Jersey native sat astride his red Vespa GTS 250 waiting for others to gather at a Fiat dealership at West Dodge and 180th streets for a cool, twilight ride along the nearby Lincoln Highway. Cohen’s GTS series scooter features Vespa’s trademark pressed-steel unibody, flat floorboard, and prominent front, but with today’s technology. True to the original premise of economy and affordability, the Vespa averages about 65-70 miles-per-gallon and costs around $7,000 tops, with smaller scooters in the $3,000-4,000 range.

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Ten riders eventually joined Cohen, including new Vesparado Todd Lemke, breezing in on a GTS 300 scooter.

“I had to have a bigger bike than Gil’s,” laughs the publisher of Omaha Magazine, who hasn’t gotten a handle on his handle yet. Lemke has always loved “anything with two wheels and a motor,” and finds the Vespa a natural extension of his motorcycle and dirt bike hobbies.

The parking lot, now filled with Vespas in hues of blue, red, green, and brown, crackled with laughter, indicating long-standing friendships among the participants. Husband-and-wife dentists Bill and JoAnn Kathrein, a.k.a. “Tito” and “Cupcake,” shared good-natured ribbing with longtime friend Dr. Bill Bucy, a dentist who lives in Auburn, Neb., and stores his Vespa in Omaha.

Joining in on the conversations were Spencer “Dragon” Jacobs of Badger Body and Truck and his girlfriend, Kathy Anthes; Dr. George “Doc” Perlebach; Wells Fargo Financial advisor Denis “Ballanca” Roberts; Omaha attorney Dan Smith, clearly enjoying his first Vesparado outing; architect Steve “Itchy” Ginn (no question asked, no explanation offered), whose new GTV series “retro” scooter has the headlight attached to the front fender; and David “Blazer” Parsow, looking very dapper in a crisp, white shirt and black sport jacket. “It comes from being in the clothing business,” deadpans the president of Parsow’s Fashions.

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The riders motored single file down the Lincoln Highway toward Elkhorn and stopped at a plaque commemorating the centennial of the transcontinental roadway. Placed neatly side-by-side, the scooters looked like a multi-colored, metallic chorus line; their owners looked like they were having a blast.

Vespa may mean “wasp” in Italian, but to the Vesparados it means “let’s buzz around.” 

DOI Gala

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Downtown Omaha Inc.

Since the founding of Downtown Omaha Inc. in 1967 as a nonprofit, privately funded corporation, the DOI has followed its mission statement “to inform, promote, and unite the downtown community.” Its ultimate goal: creating a world-class place for living, working, leisure, and the arts.

Its board is composed primarily of presidents and CEOs from downtown businesses, though everyone in the downtown area—from merchants to workers to residents—is encouraged to become involved in activities that make Downtown Omaha a better place. The Holiday Lights Festival, the Heartland Walk for Warmth, and the new Wayfinding project are just a few of the efforts supported by DOI that have created economic opportunities for area businesses, supported local charities, and spawned new traditions for countless Omahans.

Beginning in 1997, Downtown Omaha Inc. has recognized individuals, associations, and corporations in different categories for contributing to the growth of Downtown Omaha at its biannual Gala event. A list of past DOI Outstanding Achievement Winners reads like a “Who’s Who” of Omaha: Holland Performing Arts Center, Midtown Crossing, Hal Daub, River City Rodeo, and Joslyn Sculpture Garden, to name a few.

The DOI will recognize 2013 honorees at its Gala event held at the Downtown DoubleTree Hotel on January 26th. Winners include:

  • Architectural Planning – Don Prochaska of Old Market Place
  • Economic Development – America First Real Estate Group, DICON General Contractors, and Holland Basham Architects for the L14 Flats
  • Cultural Arts & Entertainment – Omaha Children’s Museum
  • Spirit of Community – Paula Steenson of Paula Presents!
  • Visionary Pioneer – Frank McGree of Goodwill
  • Special Events/Festivals – Bobby Mancuso for Taste of Omaha
  • Adaptive Reuse/Restoration – Scottish Rite

Award recipient Paula Steenson, owner of Paula Presents!, an event planning and graphic/web design firm based in Omaha, is an active member of the DOI, serving as vice president of the group and coordinator of this year’s Gala. She’s also reaped big rewards from being involved with the organization. “DOI has been a huge part of my professional life the last 15 years,” she says. “It’s given me the opportunity to meet and work with many of the people and businesses downtown and to grow my business.”

Aggie DeRozza serves as secretary on DOI’s Board and also has great things to say about her involvement: “I’ve been with Bass & Associates for the last 18 years and our company has been a member of DOI during the entire time. DOI is instrumental in bringing quality programs and networking to its members monthly. It is a wonderful networking opportunity for companies and you find that you are conducting business with many of the people you meet there.”

The theme for this year’s Gala is “Back to the ’50s,” and will feature ’50s music, a silent auction, a menu reminiscent of the ’50s, and Omaha Publications’ own Gil Cohen as emcee. A ’50s era costume contest will also be held with mystery judges. Proceeds from the event will support
Downtown Omaha Inc.’s future endeavors to help downtown businesses and organizations grow.

Speaking of the DOI Gala, DeRozza said, “It promises to be a fun event!”

The DOI Gala 2013 will take place at the DoubleTree Hotel, 1616 Dodge St., at 5:30 p.m. For more information about becoming an event sponsor, activities, or the organization, visit downtownomahainc.org or call 402-341-3700. Tickets are $75 each. RSVP no later than Jan. 22.