Tag Archives: Kara Schweiss

Homecoming

September 16, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

The origins of the first homecoming celebration are unclear. Baylor University, Southwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Missouri have all made claims, dating back to around 1910, that they originated the concept. 

Regardless of when and where it started at the college level, within a few decades high schools across the country were hosting fall celebrations tied to a football game and dance that welcomed graduates back to visit their alma maters.

Although certain traditional elements like the election of royalty and a pre-game pep rally can be found at nearly all homecomings, among local schools, there’s no one right way to celebrate this event. 

“We do quite a few different things; we’ve made homecoming more into a weeklong celebration rather than a Friday night celebration at a football game,” says Ralston High School Spirit Squads Sponsor Jordan Engel. 

Volleyball and softball games are incorporated, a “Mr. RHS” pageant for male students is a popular tradition, “spirit week” activities, and a pep rally are part of the fun, Engel explains. The middle school hosts its own spirit week concurrently, and in past years the school has organized activities for the residents of Ralston from a recreational fun run to a bonfire with s’mores. “We try to change it up each year for families of the students and the community,” she says. 

Jeremy Maskel, Ralston School District’s director of external relations and engagement, says the community involvement is especially important for the small, close-knit city. 

“I’m not native to the area but when I joined the district it really struck me—the amount of alumni who continue to live in district and send their own children to Ralston [High School],” he says. “That intergenerational pride is something I haven’t seen in any other school community I’ve been connected to. Last year we did our first alumni and family tailgate before the homecoming [football] game and we’re looking for ways we can continue to bring alumni in the community back to really celebrate the district and the high school during that week.”

Westside High School has made its homecoming week a districtwide event, says Meagan Van Gelder, a member of the board of education and immediate past-president of Westside Alumni Association. She was also the 1987 Westside homecoming queen.

“Part of our goal is to keep the connection alive for our graduations, so we have tried to create a pathway for alumni to return home, and one way we do that is [with] a homecoming tailgate the Friday before the football game. In the past we had it in the circular area of the parking lot. Recently we have moved it to the grassy area on the alumni house with a nice buffet dinner. There is a parade in the neighborhood around the high school. There is a pep rally that follows the parade, and [that] is when they announce the homecoming court. There are fireworks after the game.”

Millard School District has three high schools, and each organizes its own homecoming activities. Millard West Principal Greg Tiemann says, “We’ve kept the week relatively the same since the building opened in 1995.” In conjunction with the designated football game, the Millard West Student Council coordinates themed dress-up days, a pep rally, and the elections for junior and senior homecoming royalty. The activities are mainly for the students.

Millard North’s student council also coordinates a homecoming week featuring themed attire days, a dance the week of the football game, and other schoolwide events. This high school, however, has abandoned the practice of electing a homecoming court. 

“As a ‘No Place for Hate’ school, and out of concern for protecting students from being bullied or excluded, Millard North has not recognized royalty since 2010,” says principal Brian Begley. “Instead, they make a concerted effort to engage and involve all students in homecoming activities, including those with special needs.”

Bellevue Public Schools’ two high schools coordinate some activities but most of the festivities are school-specific. Amanda Oliver, the district’s director of communications, says parent and student groups are involved in planning.

“Bellevue East has brought back an old tradition, a homecoming parade, the last two years,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of alumni and former staff, long-time community members.”

Bellevue West now hosts a Unity Rally at the beginning of the school year. Although not technically a homecoming event, “It allows us to feature and highlight all our schools and all our kids, and we’ve seen the community piece behind that,” Oliver says.

Elkhorn also has two high schools that plan homecoming activities independently.

 “We have spirit days, a trivia competition about the school, a powder puff game and pep rally that introduces the homecoming court, the cheerleaders and dance team do a special dance and cheer at halftime together, Pinnacle Bank has a pep rally with hotdogs before the game, and the dance is Saturday night,” says Brooke Blythe, Elkhorn South’s cheer coordinator. She adds. “The middle schoolers always have their own section in the stands at the football game.”

According to Omaha Public Schools Marketing Director Monique Farmer, students at each of the district’s seven high schools organize their own homecoming events—and alumni are invited to them at many schools—and create unique traditions. Benson holds a classroom door decorating contest, Bryan has a pep rally at the stadium, Burke concentrates on targeted inclusion for special education students, and North and Northwest host parades. Last year, J.P. Lord School, an all-ages school for students with a variety of complex needs, hosted what Farmer believes to be its first homecoming dance. Parents were welcome and the evening’s culmination was the coronation of a king and queen. 

“That was pretty neat to see,” Farmer says.

Westside alumni association Immediate Past-president & 1987 Westside homecoming queen


 

Written By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

Photos contributed by Glenwood Opinion-Tribune

Homecoming is a huge celebration for this town of 5,300, which more than doubles in size for one fall weekend each year.

“I’ve been in other school districts, and it’s frequently a presentation of the king and queen at the football game and a dance afterwards. This town, this week, is amazing,” says Glenwood Schools Superintendent Devin Embray.

Beyond the coronation of a king and queen, Glenwood recognizes its 25-year reunion class as the “honor class.” Most of the class members return for this weekend in which they are honored at the pep rally and circle the town square twice during the parade. They are also a part of the Saturday-night coronation ceremony, as the past student body president gives a speech to the senior class that is similar to a graduation speech.

While many homecoming parades feature the high school classes, clubs, and athletics along with a few politicians, Glenwood’s parade includes at least 180 entries, with class floats from kindergarten through seniors; class reunion floats from five-year through 50-year and higher, entries from homeschoolers and special interest groups such as tractor clubs, and more. 

Coronation is open to the public and includes the presentation of pages, scribes, and gift bearers along with the king and queen. The prior year’s king and queen come back and sit in their thrones before turning them over to the newly-crowned monarchs.

“I can’t even explain the coronation—you have to see it to believe it,” says high school principal Richard Hutchinson.

Glenwood’s homecoming also includes the Outcasts, which was started by a group of non-native residents who felt like outsiders. This group now crowns their own king and queen each year, has a float and royalty car in the parade, and holds a separate dinner and dance.

“There’s so many people within the town that play a big part in this,” says Hutchinson. “The band parents have been the ones that oversee the king and queen nominations. There are parents in charge of the coronation. We have [community members] that oversee the parade…It is a community event.”


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

The Perfect Lakeside Patio

August 22, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

By the time foundations were laid for the first few houses at the Big Sandy Lake development in 2005, all 85 lakeside lots had been sold. Dean Dougherty was one of the eager buyers. His four-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot home was completed in 2007, and he feels lucky to be part of the neighborhood. 

“The residents of Big Sandy are all considered family and friends,” says Dougherty, who also enjoys entertaining non-resident family and friends, too. His home has become a favorite go-to destination for outdoor gatherings from spring through most of the Husker football season. The lake is near the Platte River north of Ashland in Saunders County, so Dougherty’s visitors can make it in from Omaha in less than an hour, and his four grown children are his most frequent summer guests. 

Dougherty spends his workdays thinking about food—he’s the director of sales, commercial chain for Waypoint, a major food sales and marketing agency—so beautiful outdoor cooking and entertaining amenities were part of the planning for his lakefront property.

His outdoor kitchen—designed and installed by Heritage Builders of Lincoln—features a 1,100-square-inch grill, which Dougherty says he knew would be a focal point for gatherings. But Dougherty says he has been surprised to get more use out of his wood smoker and his electric smoker than he had originally anticipated. “We also use our outdoor fireplace for the later evening hours,” he says. 

Once the weather warms up each spring, Dougherty mounts a TV outside in a covered area, making it possible for guests to enjoy Nebraska games or other televised events and the outdoors at the same time. The covered area below an upper deck also provides a shaded space for guests to retreat from the sun on scorching summer days.  

The approximately 300-acre Big Sandy Lake is known for its clear water and sand bottom. The homes at Big Sandy offer beachfront access and lead out to docks, so guests can wander right out to the water from the patio to relax on the sand or enjoy some boating. 

Dougherty’s house was designed with a lower-level walkout to make outdoor cooking and entertaining easily accessible, and he says he’s found that because people want to gather there, the upper deck isn’t utilized nearly as much as he had envisioned when planning the house. 

Besides providing shade over the patio, the upper deck offers a private sitting area and a walkout for the upstairs of the home. Minor modifications in the future will expand the functionality of the deck space. 

“There is always a need for shade on hot summer days,” he says. “By 4 or 5 in the afternoon, after enjoying the lake all day, everyone’s had enough sun.” He’d also recommend one other consideration to anyone planning an outdoor cooking and entertainment area: “easy access to refreshments.”

Overall, Dougherty says, he’s pleased with the design and feels his outdoor space has served him well for the past 10 years and will continue to be functional for many years into the future. 

What’s his favorite part of lakeside living? “It’s being outside with family and friends and outdoor cooking,” Dougherty says.


Visit bigsandylake.net for more information on the lakeside neighborhood.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Woodmen of the World

August 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Woodmen name has graced a downtown Omaha skyscraper for nearly 50 years, but the organization behind it, WoodmenLife, also stands tall with nearly $11 billion in assets, $38.5 billion of life insurance in force, and an A-plus/superior rating by the independent agency A.M. Best. Since its 19th-century beginnings, WoodmenLife has also built a towering history of philanthropy and service to the community. 

“WoodmenLife was founded in 1890 to provide financial security for families while making a difference in their community. As a not-for-profit fraternal organization, we’re able to offer competitive life insurance and cash-accumulating products,” President and CEO Pat Dees says. “When I say, ‘fraternal,’ it’s a not-so-common word, but it’s a description of our business model. My modern definition of ‘fraternal’ is ‘to find an unmet need in the community and purpose yourself to find a way to meet it.’ That’s the guidance that we give our individual local chapters throughout the U.S.”

Brook Bench is director of City of Omaha Parks, Recreation, and Public Property, which has benefitted from Woodmen’s beneficence through the donation of American flags. Woodmen has donated more than 3 million American flags to parks, schools, churches, and other civic organizations.

“WoodmenLife’s American flag donations have enhanced our parks for years. We are so fortunate to have brand-new American flags we can display in our parks to honor veterans and show patriotism towards our country,” Bench says.

Although the range of activities is too extensive to enumerate, Dees says WoodmenLife focuses its support in three primary areas: family, community, and patriotic endeavors.  

One example of supporting family is the WoodmenLife Focus Forward Scholarship program for WoodmenLife members and families. Applicants who meet basic eligibility criteria are considered for awards based on factors including volunteer activity, work history, career goals, and patriotism. 

“We created this two years ago to support their futures and a chance to get ahead,” he says. “This is one of the unique benefits of being a member of WoodmenLife that extends to families.”

One community-oriented activity specific to Omaha was providing funding to the Omaha Police Department Mounted Patrol. 

“WoodmenLife has generously donated funding to be used towards the purchase of new horses for the Omaha Police Mounted Patrol Unit,” says Sgt. Joseph Svacina of the OPD Mounted Patrol. “Several horses have been retired, creating a need for quality replacements. The Omaha Police Department welcomes and appreciates this relationship and financial support from our partners at WoodmenLife. This level of corporate support is invaluable in our growing city, particularly our evolving downtown riverfront area and entertainment district. We look forward to growing this relationship, as well as maintaining a highly professional mounted patrol unit.”

“We adopted a focus on a national scale to fight hunger,” he says. “One of the more powerful things we can offer is, that, because we have nearly 700,000 members throughout the country, we mobilize them for volunteer efforts in local food pantries, or to raise funds, or to have canned food drives to support food pantries. In just the last few years [since 2015] we have collected 627,337 pounds of food and donated $1,117,120 for community food banks.”

Even after more than a century of giving, the people of WoodmenLife continue to look for ways of serving others, Dees says. Because like a tall building, WoodmenLife was built on a strong foundation—of giving, Dees says. 

“There are so many ways we connect with the community. It’s part of our founding principles,” he says. “It is who we are.”


Visit woodmenlife.org for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Pat Dees, president and CEO of WoodmenLife

Entrepreneurs of the Great Recession

July 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even the Great Depression couldn’t keep some entrepreneurs down. Enduring companies and brands including Sony Music, Westin Hotels, Allstate, Rubbermaid, Ray-Ban, and Tyson Foods all originated during the economic downturn in the early 20th century. Similarly, the period of economic recession that began a decade ago didn’t stop several local entrepreneurs from starting businesses during a time when numerous companies were floundering or failing.  

Kirt Jones was already a business owner when 2008 began. He had started Jones Construction in 2005 under a strong market climate, which may have helped him achieve financial stability, but, ironically, did not foster rapid growth. 

“[That] made it very hard to find lots to build houses on in good developments. Simultaneously, banks were not interested in working with a new company to provide construction lending,” he says. 

He started Castle Brook Builders in 2008 not knowing a market crash was around the corner.

“The change to Castle Brook Builders was for marketing purposes. We wanted to bring brand awareness to the company by developing name recognition to the Omaha area. We started before the market crash, but we accelerated growth during the downturn,” he says. “When the market did slow down, banks paid more attention to our strong financial position and land developers were willing to listen to my proposals on multiple lot purchases. I developed a successful business model from these long-term lot purchase agreements, providing higher profitability for Castle Brook Builders.”

The timing was advantageous but Jones says other factors also contributed to his success during a time when so many of his competitors struggled. 

“I have a financial background, so developing long-term strategies and partnerships allowed me to rise above the competition with stronger sales and profits. We invested some of this profit into creating and continuing our brand awareness,” he explains.

Having been through the economic downturn, he says he is ready now for anything that happens in the next 10 years and beyond. 

“Reputation is very important in the Omaha market. We have worked very hard to establish strong relationships and partnerships with other respectable homebuilders and land developers in the area. This will provide CBB a very strong competitive advantage far into the future,” he says. 

Chris Hughes’ IT job was eliminated in 2009 as a result of the economic downturn, and he needed to create another source of income after landing a job that brought in about one-third of the salary he once commanded.

“I was obviously looking for any other avenue, and I was making tote [bags] in my basement to sell on Etsy,” he says. “That started to take off for me, so this decision to launch Artifact was partly due to timing and largely due to necessity…I’m pretty risk-averse in general and the idea of entrepreneurship—it would not have been my first pick.” 

The well-crafted bags he sold on Etsy for extra cash became a big hit, and he officially launched Artifact Bags in 2010, when the economy was slowly starting to turn. It is thriving today. Looking back, Hughes says that, although he may have felt then like circumstances forced his hand a bit, waiting for the economy to turn around would have actually been a misstep.   

“I think it’s becoming more and more difficult to do what I’m doing. The market is more saturated with people who are doing similar products or business models to what I’m doing,” he says. “I was on the bleeding edge of it and there was a time, with e-commerce, where Google was at a point where I was able to really leverage my standing in Google search in a way that was more democratic and didn’t require as much capital as it would require now to pay for that space.” 

The frustration he encountered in trying to find a new job turned out to be somewhat motivational, he adds. 

“When you’re backed in a corner and you’re trying to tell people what you’re capable of, there comes a point when you give up and you demonstrate what you’re capable of, through entrepreneurship or just doing your own thing. And I think that it speaks more than just your own self-speculation about what you think you can do for some company,” he explains. “Everybody’s got an idea written down on a napkin somewhere, but execution is everything. I’ve met a lot of people along the way through the eight years of doing Artifact, and I hear tons of great ideas all the time, but they don’t mean anything. A great idea that is never executed is worse than an average one that someone works their butt off to try to get out there in the world.” 


For more information, visit artifactbags.com and castlebrookbuildersomaha.com.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Chris Hughes

Kids Otter Know

June 10, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Summer camps with swimming activities will certainly have safety practices in place, but parents should take steps ahead of time to help their children be safer in and around pools and lakes. According to Tracy Stratman, recreation manager for the City of Omaha Parks and Recreation Department, water safety begins before anyone enters the water.

“You don’t even have to be by a body of water; you learn about the dangers and how to be responsible in and around water,” she says. “Water safety should be taught as the child grows like any other safety discussion we have with our children.”

Stratman recommends that families review pool regulations and swimming rules, including such particulars as depth boundaries, the distance between the child and an adult, and which fixtures (i.e., diving boards, slides, fountains) are permitted, along with the appropriate activities for each.

Formal water safety instruction offered by the city and other sources emphasizes rules. Jenny Holweger, YMCA of Greater Omaha’s vice president of program development, says that YMCA water safety and swim lessons have recently been modified, including stronger emphasis on out-of-pool guidelines that also promote safety.

“We’ve decided we should be intentional about teaching things like asking permission from an adult to get into the water and other fundamentals,” she says. “We have been teaching kids to swim for 175 years; it evolves over time. We always concentrated on personal safety and rescue skills, but the water safety skills we have honed in on for participants now are very practical. And they’re things all kids, all adults—everyone—should know.”

Another important concept for parents to practice, and teach, is respect for others in any public swimming facility or beach. That can mean taking turns on slides and diving boards; not shoving, splashing, or dunking other children; and even curbing exuberant shrieking and yelling.

“It’s just being cognizant of those who are around you,” Holweger says. “Just being aware of your surroundings and who else is in that space, and being polite and courteous.”

“Kids are all out for fun,” Stratman says. “But I do think most people use common sense and etiquette, and respect shared facilities and use them properly—just realize there are other people using them as well. You don’t want to impede on anyone’s enjoyment, and you don’t want them impeding on yours. It’s everybody’s space.”

Basic instruction should start when children are introduced to water, Holweger says. The YMCA even offers parent-and-child classes for families with children as young as six months old. These classes emphasize fun and safety. The City of Omaha provides similar classes along with Josh the Otter Water Safety & Awareness program and Float 4 Life training.

Traditional swim lessons are suitable for children over age 3 and focus on more advanced activities like strokes, breathing techniques, and rescue skills.

Even older inexperienced or marginal swimmers can learn survival techniques like “swim-float-swim” or “jump-push-turn-grab,” Holweger says. And non-swimmers can benefit from basic safety instruction, too.“ You do not have to be a water enthusiast.”

Many of the same rules and principles that make public pools more enjoyable also apply to spraygrounds, Stratman says. Adults should insist on respectful behavior like taking turns and forbid roughhousing. And safety is still an issue. “Even though there’s no standing water, there’s still risk.” Running can lead to falls, for instance. On hot summer days, the pavement of parking lots or walking paths leading to spraygrounds can burn bare feet.

Adults can also help protect children in and around water by being safe themselves, Stratman says.

“Adults need to be responsible around the water and be a good role model when it comes to water safety,” she says. “Saying ‘I know how to swim so I don’t need to wear a life jacket when I’m on a boat’ would be like saying, ‘I’m a good driver so I don’t need to wear a seat belt.’ Accidents happen.”

Teaching good safety practices and respect for others “makes being around water fun and enjoyable,” Holweger says. The learning experience can be fun, too, Stratman adds.

“We really encourage parents to be active swimmers with their children,” she says. “A pool or a sprayground is a perfect opportunity for a parent to engage with their child and play with them.”

Out of all the precautions adults—even young adults like camp counselors—can take to keep children safer in and around water, one rises above the rest.

“Adults should know that supervision is the No. 1 thing they can do to protect their kids around the water,” Holweger says.

“You cannot substitute adult supervision,” Stratman says. “[Adults] need to supervise children and watch and be vigilant.”


Visit parks.cityofomaha.org or metroymca.org for more information.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Young and Professional

March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After graduating from Omaha Northwest High School in 2009, Ashley Rae Turner says she was happy to leave town to pursue undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“I was definitely that person in high school who thought I was never going to be in Omaha again after I left,” she says.

By 2015, she was ready to return. Coming back, however, was contingent upon finding activities involving other young professionals and exploring civic opportunities for her peer group.

“If I could find a reason to stay, I would stay,” she says. “And I didn’t really want to have a mindset that, ‘this is temporary and then I’ll leave for somewhere else.’”

Realizing that several people in her peer group express similar concerns about a lack of opportunity, Turner became involved in community engagement through Urban League of Nebraska, where she joined the volunteer auxiliary group
ULN Young Professionals.

“From the very beginning I just saw an opportunity to improve Omaha for YPs [young professionals] but especially YPs of color,” Turner says.

Last year, Turner became a member of a community diversity and inclusion workgroup stemming from a joint effort of ULN and the Greater Omaha Chamber. The group aims to address key findings from a 2017 diversity and talent inclusion survey commissioned by the two organizations, including an area in which Turner has a special interest: technology and start-ups.

“It is one area I made sure was not overlooked in the survey recommendations, finding more ways to support black YP start-ups and helping them get funding,” Turner says.

Turner served as the programming co-chair for the Chamber’s 2018 YP Summit, held March 1 at CenturyLink Center.

YP Summit Chair Angel Starks says she called this year’s Summit planners “Dream Team 2018.”

“As chair, I couldn’t be more proud of my co-chairs, and especially of our programming. We enacted a speakers’ academy, we’ve done some things for our breakout speakers we’ve never done before, and I think we’ve set the tone for what’s to come,” she says. “That’s thanks to Ashley and her co-chair (Megan Flory Tommeraasen with Mutual of Omaha), specifically.”

In January, Turner also added volunteer engagement chair for the YP Council to her Chamber responsibilities.

She says she aspires to help foster a community in which YPs throughout Omaha feel welcomed, which hopefully will ultimately inspire them to become more engaged and involved. It’s all part of her mission to “be a voice for other YPs who aren’t necessarily at the table,” she says.

Last year, Turner began working for Borsheims as a content and marketing specialist, and one of the biggest contributions she’s made so far is executing a revamp of the company’s content marketing program, including establishing relationships with key influencers for future contributions and creating plans for new web features such as an education center and a lifestyle blog.

“It will be really robust content around Borsheims, around our vendors, and just around why we are the best at what we do and why you should choose Borsheims,” Turner says. “I really love social media. I love communicating and finding different ways to reach different individuals.”

In what little free time she has left, Turner also writes a food blog. And now she’s working with a partner to launch a lunchtime networking series for YPs, a channel that brings together her palette of talents and interests.

Whatever she does, Turner brings a sense of professionalism to her projects.

“It’s amazing that, although she’s involved in a lot of things, she brings quality to everything she touches,” Starks says.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.