Tag Archives: Gretna

Busy as a Bee

September 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Sedlacek’s family farm—90 acres of gently rolling fields and wooded Nebraska land—sits barely a mile outside of Gretna’s busy shopping district. Life is much simpler there, with the beauty of mature corn stalks, the sweet-tart blueberries and raspberries ready for picking, and the steady buzzing of honeybees.

Beekeeping, for the Sedlaceks, is not a novelty but a way of life.

Ryan is the sixth generation of his family to keep bees. In fact, his grandfather, Bill Sedlacek, says his own grandfather cared for bees long before the Sedlacek farm was settled 75 years ago.

“My interest in bees has been around my whole life,” Ryan says. “My earliest memory is making frames for the bees to live in for their hives and checking on them with my grandpa.”

Never mind that Ryan and his father are allergic to bees. Such inconveniences don’t stop him from caring for 18 hives on the Sedlacek Farm and two neighboring farms.

Their bees are key in pollinating the crops and orchards for miles around. “Bees travel eight square miles,” he explains. “All the bees you see here are mine.”

Last year, the farm’s hives produced 34 gallons of honey, which was a good year. The year before, only 12 gallons of honey were harvested, as wet and rainy conditions limited the availability of pollen and kept the bees in the hives.

Out of 14 grandchildren, Ryan is the only one to take to beekeeping. Since age 8, Ryan has learned about honeybees and the Russian and Italian varieties that he and his grandfather keep.

“I love watching and caring for bees just because you’re making a difference in everything around you,” he says. “You might not have bees in the area [but you] might have a fruit tree. It grows nothing every year. Then you put a beehive next to it and the tree grows the biggest apricots…so big and healthy.”

Ryan shares his passion and knowledge of bees with others through the 4-H Agriculture Innovators Experience program, which has focused on honeybees and pollinators. At a national conference in Washington, D.C., during 2016, he learned more about pollinators and their role in agriculture. Since then, he has worked with the 4-H program statewide to offer the Honeybee Challenge and educate other youth. For his work and excitement about bees and agriculture, Ryan was named 4-H King of Douglas and Sarpy counties.

On what seemed the hottest day of summer, Ryan’s faithful dog Tucker—whom grandma calls Bingo—follows his every move. And, boy, does Ryan move fast, going almost effortlessly from one chore to the next, from repairing fences to feeding his pets (goats, pigs, horses, geese, chickens, and ducks). After quickly filling watering cans for the animals, Ryan goes to check on the bees.

Beekeeping kicks off in the spring as the bees start to produce honey after the first flowers bloom. The worker bees gather pollen and water for the hive, and they generally live four to six weeks in the spring and summer months.

“Bees will literally work themselves to death,” he says while opening the lid of a white wooden box. “You must be gentle when going into a hive. Otherwise, you can kill bees. Always be gentle and be aware of your surroundings.”

Ryan wedges a metal tool between wooden slats, sliding a frame out of the hive to reveal the bees at work. Inside the hive, bees build a comb of wax where the queen will lay eggs and honey will be stored. Each hive has one queen, which can live for up to five years. The other bees are workers and drones—all of which serve a purpose to build a healthy and active hive.

Ryan and his grandfather check the hives periodically over the summer to see how they are producing. As fall begins, the family harvests honeycomb and makes honey. The pasteurization process separates the comb and other impurities from the honey, which the family then sells at the farm. In winter, the bees live off the honey stored in the hive and a tray of a sugar-water mixture the Sedlaceks make to supplement the bees’ diet.

Life in rural Gretna with his parents, Mike and Trish Sedlacek, has been good for the 18-year-old recent Gretna High graduate.

His parents and grandparents demonstrated how farmers are stewards of the land. They taught him to conserve water, repair farm equipment, and protect the environment while maximizing the land’s sustainable yield.

Few of his classmates share such passion for agriculture, however. Of the 243 Gretna seniors in Ryan’s 2017 graduating class, Ryan says he’s the only one to pursue a career in agriculture (not including three who plan to pursue veterinary science degrees).

In the fall, Ryan starts an undergraduate degree in animal science at the University of Nebraska-­Lincoln, and he plans to continue his family’s beekeeping legacy. 

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information about 4-H in the Omaha metro.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Sarpy, Sarpy, Sarpy!

March 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 1999, an online-banking company with a nonsensical name built a sprawling operation center next to the I-80 corridor on the edge of Papillion. Baffled passing commuters wondered how long a company named “PayPal” could possibly survive.

Six years later—to the delight of the region’s outdoor enthusiasts—Cabela’s opened a 128,000-square-foot sportsmen’s paradise that transformed the Cornhusker Street exit along I-80 into a bustling retail hotspot.

As the companies moved into the area, so did the employees, and the shoppers. Once boasting only sleepy rural charms, quaint main streets, and Offutt Air Force Base mystique, Nebraska’s smallest county by land mass is now also its fastest growing.

Indeed, while the rest of the state lost 3% of its population (or 55,000 people) between 2010 and 2014, Sarpy County added 13,000 people—an 8% increase.

How did it happen? Is there something to be learned by Nebraska’s other 92 counties?

Sarpy’s formula was a mix of nature and nurture: Aggressive leaders with vision and a willingness to deal. The good fortune of having open land next to a major metropolitan area and one of the nation’s major east-west corridors. Lots of nearby suburbanites with cash. Also, an educated work force within driving distance.

Baseball-Field

It was a perfect economic storm that even pulled off the outrageous and unthinkable: Dragging the Omaha Royals into the suburban Sarpy playground of the Omaha Stormchasers.

And now, in 2016, it’s all about synergy. Momentum. Winning begets more winning.

Ernie Goss, a Creighton University professor of economics, says that when county leaders are successful in building a concentration of development like the one in Sarpy County, it becomes a catalyst for more growth.

“There’s the impact of what we call clustering, Goss says.

The perpetual motion machine is paying off for the county and state. PayPal alone generated $736,930.00 in tax revenue in 2014, more than any other commercial business in the region.

Goss says the presence of PayPal and Cabela’s, among others, has undoubtedly propelled more development. After all, people want to be where the jobs and rooftops are.

There’s a lot to be said for clustering and that’s what we’re seeing out there,” he says.

Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista, developed in 2004, has brought in tourism dollars from conventions and weddings. Those tourism dollars also mean more people viewing the city, which builds awareness of the hotel and convention center, which, of course, increases chances that people will spread the word to other shoppers and convention organizers.

Goss says the boom will continue as long as the benefits of providing essential services—such as sewers and roads—in support of new development exceeds the marginal costs. Once those infrastructure elements are in place, he says, the marginal costs tend to decrease and that, in turn, spurs more development.

“It’s the initial development that’s very costly in providing things like fire and police services and other government services.”

Typically, he says, providing services becomes cheaper as the area grows more densely populated. That’s what’s happening in Sarpy County, where a growing resident and business tax base is helping make development cost effective.

The area also benefits from ready access to interstate highways that feed into the Omaha-Lincoln metroplex. Goss says Sarpy is situated just enough outside the urban congestion sprawl to give it a semi-country, away-from-it-all appeal while being near enough to still share in the big city orbit.

Holy-Family-Shrine

“It has a lot to do with interstate access,” he says.

And convenience.

“A lot of folks out west of Omaha find it easier driving to a conference at the Embassy Suites in La Vista than having to drive to the Embassy Suites in the Old Market,” Goss says. “That’s certainly part of it.”

All this growth, too, has come amid a national economy that has generally lagged. But, as the economy sputters, interest rates remain low. In the environment of the last decade, the cost and major development has remained lower as interest rates continue to hover around 4%.

The surge is not slowing.

La Vista anticipates yet another spike once the Nebraska Multisport Complex is built on 184 acres to encompass a natatorium with Olympic regulation pools, an indoor-outdoor tennis center, and soccer fields with field turf and lighting. The facilities will be available to local teams, clubs, schools, and nonprofits. Hosting regional-national tournaments is a massive money generator as families follow players for long weekends of play. Projections estimate the complex would generate $17.8 million in new economic impact and attracting 1.2 million visitors annually.

The win streak extended down the road to the edge of Gretna, where the massive Nebraska Crossing Outlets defied the doubters by doing $140 million in sales in its first year of operation. Within a year of its 2013 opening, the $112 million, 335,000-square-foot mall featuring buzz-worthy brand name stores was planning a major expansion. A new $15 million complex of stores is scheduled to open by Christmas.

Karen Gibler, president of the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce, says there soon will be announcements about coming neighborhoods and businesses spurred by the new Highway 34 bridge, 84th Street developments, new I-80 exits, and planned sewer and transportation projects.

Gibler cites many reasons why investors and residents choose to work and live there:

“Quality of education and life keeps residents looking to move into our area,” she says. “This growth has opened the eyes of developers. Our leadership in the cities and county are a contributing factor. Land availability and easy access to good highways and the interstate make it easy to access from around the area.” Smart planning helps, as do plentiful jobs and affordable home prices. And people feel safe.”

That success has brought recognition. Papillion now ranks second on Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live for its high median income ($75,000), job growth (10%), thriving cultural life, and great access to the big-city amenities of Omaha.

National awards show up in national magazines and websites. People and companies looking for good homes read about this happenin’ place called Sarpy County in Nebraska.

And so, the wheels of progress keep on turning.

Once you can get it going, Goss says, “one activity draws another activity or one company draws another company.

“They have it all going in the right direction right now,” Goss says.

Sumtur-copy

RV Sweet RV

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Fritz and Cheryl Steinhoff spent a lifetime teaching high school students, their longest tenure in Scribner, Neb. Fritz taught agriculture while Cheryl shared her talents as a music and piano teacher. They raised two sons. In 2005, when both were in their mid-50s, they started thinking about retirement and started looking at recreational vehicles.

“We like to travel, so we thought it would be a great way to do it,” says Fritz.

Three years ago, they made good on their plan, sold their “stick and brick house” and now spend half the year—the cold half—in their home-on-wheels in Mesa, Ariz. When the snow and frost are gone, the warm Nebraska weather beckons them back home where they set up at the KOA campsite in Gretna to be close their sons and grandchildren.

Dr. Marvin Johnson and Joy Johnson met in a mental hospital in Clarinda, Iowa, almost 40 years ago.

“That’s appropriate, don’t you think?” cracks Joy, who goes on to explain that Dr. Marv was the chaplain there while Joy conducted a program on death and dying. “I teamed up with the chaplain, and then we really teamed up!”

The couple founded Centering Corporation, the oldest and largest bereavement resource center in the country. As authors and lecturers on the grieving process, their lives were busy enough. But then Joy had to go and write a series of successful mystery/comedy novels set in Omaha called The Boob Girls (Burned Out Old Broads), which forced a change in their lifestyle.

“We lived in the Mayfair Building at 12th and Howard in Omaha,” says Joy. “We were on the road so much because of my Boob Girls speaking engagements that we decided to go full-time in an RV.”

The Johnsons use Orlando as a base of operation during the winter and return to Nebraska in April, staying off I-80 at the Pine Grove RV Park in Greenwood.

Dr. Marvin and Joy Johnson with their travel companion, Barney, at a campsite in Orlando, Fla.

Dr. Marvin and Joy Johnson with their travel companion, Barney, at a campsite in Orlando, Fla.

Linda and Dean Erickson, both in their mid-60s, are busy downsizing and getting their duplex in Blair, Neb., ready to sell. Years of weekend camping in state parks in Nebraska and Iowa as members of the local Jayco Club led them to the next stage in their lives.

“We’ve decided to go RVing full-time,” explains Linda, who retired in February from the local phone company, while Dean finished up a long career in the HVAC industry. They are the parents of two sets of twins, born nine years apart.

“We’ll probably be in Texas or Arizona pretty soon,” says Dean. “We’re looking at RV sites around McCallum, Texas. From what I understand, there are hundreds of RV parks within 50 miles of there.”

The three couples don’t know each other personally, but they have a lot in common. They are among the estimated 30 million RV enthusiasts in this country, according to the Recreational Vehicle Information Association. The mobile home of choice for each couple is a fifth wheel—a large trailer that hitches onto the bed of a pickup truck and is towed. They love the freedom the RV lifestyle affords them.

All are instinctively outgoing and have no problem making new friends.

“We aren’t parked more than two minutes before 10 to 15 people will be knocking on our door. Doesn’t matter where we are,” says Fritz Steinhoff, who adorns their $85,000 Mobile Suite by DRV with Nebraska logos. “And you’d be surprised at all the people from the Dakotas and Iowa who are Husker fans.”

Perhaps the most endearing similarity among the couples is they still love each other.

“We aren’t parked more than two minutes before 10 to 15 people will be knocking on our door. Doesn’t matter where we are.” – Fritz Steinhoff

“[Marv and I] are great travel buddies,” says Joy Johnson, 75. “That’s the most important part. You have to enjoy each other.”

The Johnsons also enjoy the company of their 125-pound Bernese Mountain dog, Barney. He happily sits in the backseat of their diesel-fueled Chevy pickup as it tows the 40-foot-long Jayco Pinnacle—a rolling testament to American engineering and design.

The hundreds of motor home manufacturers in the U.S. (Winnebago is still the largest) have listened closely to their customers since the recession hammered the industry. According to the RV Association, sales are surging again thanks, in part, to features like cherry cabinets, oodles of flat-screen TVs, convection ovens, top-quality countertops, surround-sound systems, satellite dishes, and washers and dryers. A standard floor plan for a fifth wheel includes living room, dining area, kitchen with an island, and a master bedroom with a full bathroom.

“We call it camping, but in reality we think it’s roughing it when we can’t get satellite reception,” chuckles Dean Erickson. Their upgrade to a $38,000 used, 37-foot Jayco Designer with four slides (rooms that slide outwards to expand living space once you’re parked) nearly resulted in disaster.

“First time out, I’m going down Nebraska Street (in Blair), and a guy passing by starts waving his arms like crazy. I stop and say, ‘What’s going on?’ And he says, ‘One of your slides is still out!’ Didn’t realize I had so many.”

What about the all-important economics of RVing vs. owning a home?

“We call it camping, but in reality we think it’s roughing it when we can’t get satellite reception.” – Dean Erickson

“It’s been fantastic,” says Fritz. “There are less taxes. No upkeep. And if the wind isn’t blowing at me, I can average 13 mpg.”

“Fuel economy has definitely gotten better over the years,” adds Dean, who figures he and Linda will be better off economically.

Short-term campers usually pay a flat fee to plug in at a site while those who stay in RV parks for long stretches have a meter and pay for electricity, along with rent of $300-$400 a month. Most commercial campgrounds provide Wi-Fi.

For those who still may be on the fence about the RV lifestyle, final words of wisdom from Joy Johnson: “If you don’t like the place you’re staying at, you can just leave.”

Mikala Vandenbroucke

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mikala Vandenbroucke, 28, grew up the oldest of three children in Gretna, Neb. Although she originally attended Northwest Missouri State for three years with a desire to become a nurse, she transferred to Cosmetology at Xenon International Academy in Omaha after being encouraged to make the switch by her parents and a friend who was a hairdresser.

“My parents knew since I was a child that [being a stylist] was what I was going to do,” she says. “I used to cut and color all of my Barbie dolls’ hair and was constantly playing dress-up in all kinds of outfits and playing with makeup.”

Vandenbroucke has been a licensed stylist for a little over five years and with Mod Studio Salon for about a year and a half. Her specialties are cuts, colors, and makeup, and she has a very diverse clientele ranging from women wanting short pixie cuts to long, layering shapes. “The majority of my clients are women, whom I find to be dynamic and independent, so I find inspiration from them and really enjoy our time spent together in the salon.”

 “Standing out in a group is not a bad thing for me!”

Through the course of her styling journey, Vandenbroucke has taught classes and worked trade shows for Rusk (whose products she currently represents), worked New York Fashion Week for the Nolcha group with Rusk, and worked with local clothing designer Eliana Smith for Omaha Fashion Week. “Lately, I’ve been shifting focus toward editorial styling…[In November] I had a four-page spread of work that I’d done with local talents in a salon industry publication that reaches over 100 countries,” she adds.

Vandenbroucke describes her own personal style as unique, colorful, edgy, and sexy. “I enjoy looking and dressing differently than my peers. Standing out in a group is not a bad thing for me!” She likes to wear her hair short and dark at the moment, but it often changes. Her makeup, however, stays very clean and fresh—but Vandenbroucke has been known to rock blue and green eyeshadow from time to time.

Her favorite styling products and tools include:

  • Naked 2 palette and Primer Potion from Urban Decay—“I take these two items with me everywhere, to every shoot and for every makeup application. The primer keeps your eyeshadow in place all day long with no creases, and the colors in that palette are versatile and also very beautiful.”
  • Volare V1 Blow Dryer from BaByliss Pro—“This thing is incredible! It’s an amazing blow dryer that I use on a daily basis in the salon and dries hair with an airflow of about 78mph…It’s like having a hurricane in your hand!”