Tag Archives: Joe Mancuso

Light Up Your Summer

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Mid-America Expositions

Nebraska may not be stereotypical wine country (Hello, California), nor does it play host to the world’s largest hot air balloon festival (that’s reserved for Albuquerque, N.M.). However, that hasn’t stopped Mike and Joe Mancuso from hosting a unique summer’s end event that combines the two in a family-friendly way. On the fringes of Omaha, wine is poured and balloons soar at the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival.

Attracting thousands of people each year, this is the event’s seventh anniversary. Happening August 9 and 10 at the Coventry Campus, just south of 204th and Q streets, this year promises an expanded event, with more wines to taste and enjoy and more family fun. The festival begins at 5 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday. General admission adult tickets can be purchased at the entrance for $7 and children 12 and under tickets are $5.

“Part of the success that we’ve seen with the Taste of Omaha event is the high interest in doing an event in the western part of the city,” says Mike Mancuso, president of Mid-America Expositions, the producer of both the balloon festival and foodie event. “We thought the best atmosphere would be with hot air balloons, which turned out to be a positive and enjoyable part of the event.”DSC_1341_web

Half the festival’s namesake focuses on wine and the ever-growing popularity of wine tastings. Wine connoisseurs, wine lovers, and those interested in trying something new interact with chefs while sampling the various Cornhusker state wines throughout the duration of the festival. A special wine and food presentation will be given at 6 p.m. each night. Tickets can be purchased prior for $12, and includes five wines to taste and a souvenir wine glass, or they can be purchased at the festival for $15.

“This is the one time we can put all the Nebraska wineries together at one place. Nebraska is known for having great soil and producing great crops. Why not grapes and making great wine?” Mancuso says.

Mac’s Creek Winery & Vineyards, out of Lexington, Neb., has been participating in the festival since day one, seven years ago. Joining as a way to reach the Omaha wine market, the high attendance and exceptional running of the event kept the vineyard coming back, says Seth McFarland, owner and vineyard manager.

“We have vastly different wines [from California]. We have different grapes, which gives us a different starting point in terms of behavior growth,” says McFarland. “We’re also Nebraskans, so we’re not afraid of hard work. That, combined with the unpredictable weather, promotes exceptional flavors.”

“This is the one time we can put all the Nebraska wineries together at one place.” – Mike Mancuso

With more than six million spectators attending hot air balloon festivals each year nationwide, Nebraska is throwing its hat into the ring as a premier hot air balloon destination. At the festival, guests can take a hot air balloon ride, as well as see the balloons dance to the musical beat of live performances and witness a balloon light show. The balloons launch at 7 p.m., with the “Balloon Glow” light show beginning at 9 p.m.

Veteran balloonist Mark Enholm will conduct these balloon rides and light shows. Returning this year to serve as balloonmeister, Enholm has been with the festival since its inception. “My job is to coordinate the different balloonists and balloon events,” he says. “All of them are commercial pilots, meaning they’re licensed to carry two or three guests per flight. The first year, we had five balloons participate. This year, we’ll have nine or 10; most are local, though we’ve added one from Des Moines and another from Missouri.”

Enholm credits Mother Nature for contributing to the festival’s growth over the years. “We’ve been very lucky with the weather,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get—rain, tornadoes, hail…In six years, we’ve been very successful in both our flights and the glows.”IMG_8070_web

He says the professionalism of the balloonists is also a factor. “The pilots go out of their way to make the rides fun and enjoyable. We don’t want riders white-knuckling it. The safety of our passengers is paramount.”

New to this year’s event is the Vintners’ Lunch. This special lunch, from noon until 2 p.m. on Saturday, focuses on supporting local businesses. Fresh, local foods will be paired with Nebraska wines by Omaha’s best chefs to provide a homegrown food experience for luncheon guests.

“Our VIP food and wine tastings have been so popular…we wanted to add another opportunity to add the wine to the food,” Mancuso says. “We thought since the vintners were staying with us overnight, it would be great for them to do a lunch before the last day of the event.”

That’s something Omahans can raise their glasses to.

For more information regarding the Vintners’ Lunch and the event itself, visit showofficeonline.com/nebraskawineballoonfestival.html.

The Mancusos

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a Monday afternoon in early March, Mike Mancuso steps out of the home office at CenturyLink Center Omaha and walks into the Great Hall of the arena. An exhibitor getting ready for the upcoming Triumph of Agriculture Expo sees Mike, one of the show’s managers, and immediately comes over to ask for help. Apparently, the space he has been given for his farm equipment display isn’t big enough. Could Mike come over and take a look? Mike puts an armful of papers and a can of pop on the floor, then disappears for a few minutes. When he returns, he picks up his papers and pop and continues to his original destination. Problem solved.

This is the life Mike and his two older brothers, Bob, Jr., and Joe, have willingly chosen. It is the life their father, Bob Mancuso, Sr., carved out for himself and the family he cherishes back in 1964, when his three sons were babies. The Mancuso family is the force behind Mid-America Expositions, Inc., producer of trade shows, expos, fairs, and festivals in the metro. For nearly 50 years, Mid-America has kept products rolling and people strolling through Omaha’s numerous indoor and outdoor venues with events like the Farm and Ag Expo, Omaha Home & Garden Expo, Taste of Omaha, and the Omaha Products Show for Business and Industry—events that have become long-standing traditions, drawing families from all over the Midwest.

Despite a diverse slate of productions, Mid-America adheres to a simple driving philosophy: “We bring business and people together,” states Bob, Jr. “The Ag Expo helps farm businesses, the Taste of Omaha helps restaurants…Our aim is to make businesses successful.”

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

It’s no coincidence that the ascent of Omaha on the national stage parallels the transformation of Bob, Sr., from an athlete and teacher to a business-savvy entrepreneur whose deep devotion, keen vision, and strong faith in the city he loves changed the way marketing is done around here.

“Our family is rooted in Omaha,” says Bob, Sr., proudly. “My father and mother were both born and raised here. The Mancusos seldom got out of Omaha to go to school.” Except for him.

A standout wrestler at Omaha Central, Bob, Sr., scored a full ride to Kansas State and majored in phys. ed. and biological science. His teaching and coaching career began in 1956 at the old Bellevue High School. Coach Mancuso’s impact was immediate and startling. He molded a group of teenagers from a small, Class B school into state wrestling champions his very first year—Bellevue’s first championship ever, in any sport. The wins kept piling up.

Bellevue also produced the love of his life. A pretty young waitress who worked in her parents’ café across the street from the high school caught Bob, Sr.’s eye early on. In 1958, Dona Marie Hansen and Robert Mancuso were united in marriage.

Meanwhile, the coach’s impressive record at Bellevue caught the attention of a lot of eyes in Lincoln. In 1961, Bob, Sr., became head wrestling coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where his squads did well but were dwarfed by the large shadow cast by the football program.

“I was making $4,000 a year. My family didn’t need much to live on. But I kept thinking about my future and wondering, ‘Am I going to sit on a stool the rest of my life?’”

The answer came from Bob, Sr.’s older brother, the late Charles Mancuso, who at the time ran Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, Rosenblatt Stadium, and the Orpheum Theater. “Charlie told me I should quit the coaching business. He wanted more activities at the Civic, and he wanted me to help him.”

 “We bring business and people together…Our aim is to make businesses successful.” – Bob Mancuso, Jr.

After talking it over with his wife, Bob, Sr., joined with former AkSarBen General Manager Jake Isaacson and talent agency head Don Romeo to form Mid-America Expositions. The Mancuso magic struck again. “Our first event was Queen For A Day, with host Jack Bailey,” Bob, Sr., remembers as if it were yesterday. “The show broadcast live from Omaha for a week. Women stood in line around the auditorium to get in.”

Over 50,000 women swarmed the Civic during that week in late September of 1964, not only to see one of early TV’s iconic shows with its classic “applause meter” that determined the winner, but to also visit the Food Festival and Housewives Fair that accompanied it. Omaha had never seen a production on this scale before. “[Changing careers] was a good move for me,” says the elder Mancuso, who will turn 80 in September. “The future was wide open for aggressive people in the events market.”

Today, Mid-America Expositions produces between 12 and 15 shows a year, many at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, and they are a family affair. Each son joined their father one by one after pursuing their own corporate careers. Mike came aboard in 1988, followed by Bob, Jr., in 2005, and Joe in 2007. The love and respect each son carries for their father is evident in everything they say and do. They get emotional when trying to put into words what his legacy means to them.

“Dad has been a great example to me,” says Joe. “I have pretty much modeled everything I’ve ever wanted to do off of him—the way he has handled his life and lived his life.”

All three sons are fine athletes like their father and have been instrumental in adding the Outland Trophy Award Dinner, the Health, Wellness, and Fitness Expo, and the Corporate Cycling Challenge to the roster of events.

Next on the agenda: the 16th Annual Taste of Omaha May 31-June 2 at the riverfront, followed by the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival August 9-10.

As for the future, “We want to continue making our events stronger and greater,” says Mike. “We want to keep them good for the city of Omaha and the people of Omaha.”