Tag Archives: Lincoln

Revamped Radio

March 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the band Train came to Omaha’s Baxter Arena for a concert in December 2016, there were plenty of flashing lights and excited fans. “But when the lights go out and the audience starts screaming, there’s no rush like it in the world,” says Andy Ruback, general manager of NRG Media. Ruback knows a great deal about screaming fans—when a big concert comes to town the likelihood is that Ruback had his hand in the planning. His role as general manager has evolved over the years from managing radio stations to include managing events brought to town by NRG Media Live.

The business is a natural fit for NRG, which owns stations ranging from Power 106.9 to 1290 KOIL. The company was looking to the future for broadcasting and leaning toward live shows as a way to increase profitability. NRG used their strengths in connecting people to music to expand into the business of concert production. With the radio stations’ on-air talent knowing their listeners’ preferences, the media company naturally knew what acts had potential to bring in revenue, and which ones might not.

Ruback came to Omaha from Lincoln, where he served as general manager for their NRG stations. Upon his arrival at the NRG offices in Omaha in 2012, Ruback went full speed ahead. He says the intention was never to focus on live shows over radio shows; rather, he called his plans a method for “diversifying for growth.”

Concert production is a challenge that Ruback gladly accepted, but in it, found unique bumps in the road. Some of those bumps included special requirements, such as permits, that needed the legal team’s help. Shock rocker Alice Cooper, for example, required the team to acquire special insurance because of the pyrotechnics involved with his show. Ruback and his team figured out how to get the right insurance, and now know who to ask the next time someone wants to light up fireworks onstage.

Ruback says some of the more surprising challenges he and his team have faced come from smaller, more routine details.

“I would say it’s more about the crowd experience logistics,” Ruback says. “How do we try to work with the arenas to make sure there’s enough concessions on the floor? What should be the entry ticket price? What should be the price for the front row?”

Logistics is the simplest description for the business of producing concerts. Is the specific artist available at the time? Is there enough interest in this artist to fill the seats? Is a venue available on the day needed?

“We could have the great idea, and the right price, but there could be a UNO hockey game and a Lancers game on the night we want, and we’re out of luck,” Ruback says.

It is a revenue stream in which many community businesses desire to participate, and there are many ways for them to participate, including attaching their name to experiences such as meet-and-greets with the band before or after the show, and attaching their name to souvenirs. Attendees at the Train concert, for example, vied for flashing bracelets and cups branded with a sponsor’s logo. Signage prominently displayed throughout Baxter Arena featured sponsor logos.

The scenario is beneficial to everyone involved: the band gets to play to a well-attended venue, the fans get to enjoy the band, and the sponsors get to present their message in an effective way.

“On that day, no other media group is producing a concert,” Ruback says. “So you’re looking at content that advertisers want to be a part of, but no other client can do.”

The diversification proved wildly successful. Ruback says that since 2014, more than 100,000 people have attended an NRG Media Live event. Associate athletic director for University of Nebraska at Omaha Mike Kemp enjoys his business dealings with NRG Media Live and says that when Ruback puts on a concert at Baxter Arena “… it’s not just a concert—it’s an event. He has great vision and ideas and that’s the true charm of what he does.”

“I think NRG Media does a great job of engaging the community to get behind the events,” adds Kemp. NRG Media has the ability to promote coming shows using the radio stations on their roster and their strong social media presence. This equals solid attendance numbers at concerts and happy sponsors.

“Andy’s full of energy and great ideas,” Kemp says of Ruback. “He’s an honest guy with great enthusiasm for what he does.” Rubak’s vision has evolved NRG Media into much more than an organization simply running local radio stations. In fact, the next time there is a popular concert in town, there is an excellent chance that Ruback can be found there, smiling and enjoying the rush.

Visit nrgmedia.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

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

CJ Mills

December 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a fresh autumn night, chatter filled a Lincoln home-turned-music-venue. A few guests trickled through the front door. “No big deal,” CJ Mills thought. It was just a handful of people. Moments later, more appeared. The trickle turned to a flood. All of a sudden, there were 80 people jam-packed against the makeshift stage.

An astonished Mills stood two feet from the standing-room-only crowd. “I couldn’t breathe,” recalls the 31-year-old singer from Omaha. “I went out the side door to take a few deep breaths.”

The moment was surreal.

This was all new to her. The jam-packed house party. The live acoustic sessions. The impromptu performances and scheduled studio time.

Life as a new musician moves fast—a constant hustle.

Three years earlier, Mills (a self-proclaimed introvert) could have never fathomed performing in front of other people. Yet, her soulful, bluesy-folk voice has garnered quite the reputation as a crowd-pleaser. Singing her most cherished words—short poems in lyrical form—only heightened the level of intimacy.

cjmills1Mills has a profound gift for turning raw expressions of human frailness into something bordering on sacred. There’s something about her voice that commands complete attention. She can make a song cry.

She began singing in church as a young child. “I had always been singing since I was a kid. My family was very religious…Because I could sing, I was always made to,” says Mills, who began writing poetry during her early years.

“As a kid, I was huge into reading,” she says. “When I did something well, my mom would take me to the library or buy me a book.”

Soon after, Mills felt compelled to write her own short stories, which turned into poetry she later sang. That was, perhaps, her earliest simultaneous personal and artistic growth.

As a teen, singing wasn’t much of a highlight. She attended Marian High School, then ran track at Kansas State University, but was injured her junior year. While weightlifting, she squatted heavy one day and suffered a bulging disc. “Only time heals that wound,” she says.

Six months to be exact. With all the down time, she saw a decorative ukulele and taught herself how to play. She progressed to a guitar rather quickly. “I didn’t like the way it was strung,” she says of the first right-handed guitar she purchased, “so I flipped it upside down and restrung it so I could play it left-handed.”

Ambidexterity is kind of her thing. “I’m pretty even-handed. I write with both hands,” she says. “[But] I could not play that guitar. I don’t know why. Seemed so odd to me. After a month of trying, I Googled how to restring it.”

In terms of playing chords, she learned by listening to others. She was influenced by the stylings of Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, and Tracy Chapman. “Simple chords, yet, powerful lyrics,” she says. Their music spoke volumes to how Mills hoped to be perceived as an artist someday. Writing songs was a natural next step.

Mills graduated from college, then went on to the workforce. She became a health inspector, not the restaurant kind. More like the Breaking Bad kind. Off stage, she has been sent to investigate meth labs.

Mills has been playing live music for about three years, and with a band for one year. The band—featuring Mitch Towne, David Hawkins, and Max Stehr—has been a great collaboration of like minds, she says.

Mills began to develop her own individual style after college. Blending a mixture of reggae, folk storytelling, jazz melodies, and atmospheric harmonies. She performed her first show at Pizza Shoppe Collective in December 2013. There, she met All Young Girls Are Machine Guns frontwoman Rebecca Lowry, who took to Mills. She asked her to take the stage with her at a local venue.

Now for the whirlwind. Mills released her illuminating debut EP Quiet in 2015, which appeared on multiple lists of the year’s best Nebraska releases. She played the inaugural Femme Fest (organized by Lowry) that same year and returned as the festival’s headliner on Sept. 2.

Since then, Mills has stayed busy playing shows in Omaha and Lincoln. The music newcomer was featured at this year’s Maha Music Festival. Most notably, Mills was nominated for two Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards: Best Singer-Songwriter and Artist of the Year.

Although she’s insanely talented, she’s modest and humble. “The only time I feel comfortable with music is when I’m by myself creating music or on stage playing it,” she says.

Back to that special autumn night. Mills turned that ordinary Lincoln house party into a musical theater.

She composed herself before stepping back on stage, frenetically rapping as she moved through her song “Retail Star” before launching into “I Can’t Be.”

Visit soundcloud.com/cjmillsmusic for more information.

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Obviously Omaha

February 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Obviously Omaha goes on the road this month to explore Lincoln’s historic Haymarket district. Heading down for a basketball game or concert at Pinnacle Bank Arena? Here’s a guide to our favorite galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and boutiques.

LOOK

If art and design is your thing, check out the Burkholder Project’s three levels of galleries and the newly installed Gallery Alley, a pedestrian gateway featuring the work of various artists. Redeveloped in 1987, The Burkholder Project is best described as “an art colony in one building.” If photography is more your cup of tea, check out the Michael Forsberg gallery just around the corner.

EAT

Lincoln’s Haymarket is practically overflowing with delicious bites. For some contemporary American fare, try a burger at Leadbelly or check out Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill, which claims to be the first brewpub in Nebraska. For something more exotic, try a taste of India at The Oven or some yellow curry at Blue Orchid Thai Restaurant, located right behind the Grand Manse. Need something to really surprise your taste buds? Head over to Buzzard Billy’s for some alligator tail and other Cajun cuisine.

DRINK

Between the rooftop deck and lively atmosphere, no game day is complete without a stop at Barry’s. Formerly the Arlington House hotel, you’ll be setting foot in the same place where a waggish Oscar Wilde stayed when he visited Lincoln in 1882. If it’s your first time in town, grab a Moscow mule at Tavern on the Square, also a local favorite. Now trending and located just across from Pinnacle Bank Arena are Longwell’s and Gate 25.

INDULGE

It’s a sin to leave Lincoln without savoring a couple scoops of ice cream at Ivanna Cone. Fittingly located in the Creamery Building, look for the line that often extends out the door—or just follow the mouthwatering scent of fresh-baked waffle cones. If it’s too chilly to enjoy a cone, satisfy your sweet tooth at Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop in The Railyard.

SHOP

It’s hard to leave the Haymarket without a shopping bag or two. Drop by Forever Faithful Boutique and cozy up in an infinity scarf or head over to KD Designs for unique, handcrafted jewelry pieces created by a local mother-daughter duo. Don’t forget to stop by Letter Bee Paperie and check out the beautiful stationery on your way out.

UNWIND

The Haymarket may seem to be all go-go-go, but there are also nooks of calm and quietude. Relax at Indigo Bridge Books on P Street by snagging something from the book exchange or enjoy some grub from the in-house café. Some of the best people-watching may be found over at The Mill. Order a café au lait and park it on a rustic bench. Even if you’re lost in thought, the creaky wood floors announce the arrival of quirky characters who contribute to the quintessential coffeeshop ambience of The Mill.

Visit lincolnhaymarket.org to learn more.

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One Piece at a Time

September 25, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The address is 201 F St.; but, like the hidden gem it is, one accesses it by driving down D (as in diamond) street. F St. itself is a dead end, a quiet, leafy spot full of little bungalows.

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The diamond is owned by Clint! (yes, legally, Clint!) Runge, founder of youth marketing agency Archrival. This square brick building, which Runge refers to as “The Loft,” started as a grocery store run by German-Russian immigrant H.J. Amen in a neighborhood once populated by a group of ethnic Germans who once lived in Russia.

Runge, who studied architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, bought the building from former professor Carl Matthews. Runge has since used it as his ever-evolving playground.

“This place was raw,” Runge says of viewing the building for the first time. “A doorway was a hole. The basement was full of chains and hooks from its days as a butcher shop. For the last 10 years, I have been making it a place to live, one piece at a time.”

This included, as Runge says, “getting the creep out.” He cemented the basement and made it more desirable, even as a storage space. Runge kept true, however, to the building’s origin. A large bone saw sits in the basement, partially due to its heft. In the kitchen is a large cast-iron basin once used for boiling freshly killed chickens alongside the butcher block, now repurposed as a prep island. A smoking room off the kitchen retains its charred walls, and the smell of smoked meat permeates
the room.

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The space includes many nods to the graphic side of his business. A walled off area is implanted with Warhol-esque stacks of soap boxes and other consumer products. The double doors leading to the main living space display vintage cigarette advertising.

Another pop art feature is the wall of toilet paper behind the commode. The blue-tile bathroom also features a two-feet-deep tub and a nearly 24-inch-wide industrial-themed showerhead.

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It is a funky, fresh space, one to try out for a weekend. Runge himself has not lived there since 2013. He rents it to the curious via Airbnb.

“When I first walked in, my name was on a wall,” says Conjo Studios president Conrad Weaver of the vintage felt signboard Runge uses. “Having that welcome was really cool.”

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It is particularly busy during football season. “The first to rent it gets it,” Runge says. “Right after the Fourth of July people tend to start thinking about football, and I start getting calls. It is rented out every football game. This makes someone’s weekend. You can get to downtown without hitting a stoplight, or you can walk it in about 15 minutes.”

The space is so unique it was featured on the HGTV show You Live in What?

“One time I was on a plane, and the person next to me was watching the episode,” Runge says. “She turned to me and says ‘Is that you?’ ”

One thing that won’t happen when staying there—a boisterous, frat-style, all-night kegger. “I do not rent it for parties,” Runge says. “It is limited to four people.”

Each time someone stays there, however, it will look different.

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“The beauty of this space is I get to try things. Someone who was here a year and a half ago would see new tin ceilings and other things,” Runge says of the space that he is forever changing…one piece at a time.

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Circular Logic

December 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a good bookroom,” Mark Twain once quipped, “you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

This magnificent example of a “good bookroom” is found in a Lincoln home where the magic of reading is much appreciated.

Forming a turret on one corner of the home is this towering, double-decker circle of learning connected by a spiral staircase. Old World aesthetics merge with machine age materials as stainless steel is juxtaposed against the warm, lush grains of English Burl, forming a vibe that dwells at the intersection of the contemporary and the classic.

The famed architecture firm of Porphyrios and Associates in London designed the
ink-strewn space.

The homeowners estimate that their A-to-Z repository of the printed word houses a mere…oh, 10,000 volumes, give or take.

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Husker (Mom) Fever

September 4, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

If you’re anything like Stephanie Heibel, you haven’t stopped thinking “Huskers” since the end of last season. It’s my passion,” Heibel says. “Being a Husker fan is what everyone knows me for.”

How big a fan is she? Perhaps the biggest in the history of Husker football? Some supporting evidence:

Heibel took athletic training classes during her time at UNL. Once, back in the fall of 2000, she was helping a trainer tape the ankles of linebacker Carlos Polk. When Polk asked her who her favorite player was, she responded Matt Davison.

Polk said she only liked Davison because he was cute. “Which made me mad,” Heibel says. Heibel says she simply respected Davison as a player. “I told (Polk) I could prove him wrong.” Heibel asked Polk what sort of information he would expect a male fan to know. Probably some statistics, right? Heibel knew Davison’s first touchdown, where he was from, his total yards for his career. She even knew his stats from high school in Tecumseh, Neb. Polk couldn’t stump her with any question he asked.

After Polk consulted with a fellow player, Erwin Sweeney, Sweeney concluded it wasn’t too difficult to memorize one player’s stats. “So I respond with, ‘I know you are Erwin Sweeney No. 16, cornerback from Lincoln, Nebraska.’ I looked at Carlos and said, “You are Carlos Polk, No. 13, middle linebacker from Rockford, Illinois.” I went on to name the rest of the players along with their number, position, and where they were from, and ended with ‘I can start at No. 1. That’s Thunder Collins, running back from Los Angeles. I told them ‘I could go down the list numerically if you want.’”

Word of the Husker savant spread quickly. At Heibel’s next training session, she had several players approach her asking if she was the fan. “They said that they had heard about this girl who schooled Carlos and they wanted to meet her.”

Being a fanatic actually started when Heibel was young.  Her dad, she says, always told her that she was born a Husker, what with her scarlet hair and cream-colored skin.

Heibel has passed along the fever to her 3-year-old son, Lucas.  He loves when he gets to put his Husker stuff on, Heibel says.  Lucas was born in August, right at the beginning of the Husker football season. As a baby, when Husker games came on, “If he didn’t have his head pointed toward the screen, he would try to move it so he could.” Even his nursery is covered in Husker gear.

And while Heibel usually chooses a favorite player each season, her favorite player of all time is easily Matt Davison.

If you’re a diehard fan, you’ll understand her first reason for liking Davison: The first Husker game she ever attended was Nebraska versus Missouri in 1997. That was the game in which Davison made perhaps the most famous catch in Cornhusker history.

Her favorite number is 3 (Davison’s jersey number). She buys a No. 3 jersey every season for Lucas to wear for game days. She has her ticket from that game with Davison’s signature on it. She has a signed 16 x 20 picture of him from when she met him at fan day as a freshman.

Her collection of Husker memorabilia goes on and on.

“I still even have my pompom that I had at the game,” she says.   

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If Hearing Is Believing

February 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Do you hear what Angie and Andrew Norman hear?

If so, that’s the symphony of the Cornhusker state’s stacked arsenal of music makers. And if you don’t hear it now, you will, because they’re working to ensure that everyone recognizes these sweet (or punk, or country, or polka) sounds.

The Normans co-founded Hear Nebraska in 2010 as a “nonprofit cultural organization that cultivates the state’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community.”

Both were longtime students of regional culture; Andrew even worked at local newsweelies. When he needed a master’s project at Michigan State, Angie pitched the idea of a publication covering Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes as one. The concept stuck and blossomed into an even larger 
project: a nonprofit.

“We realized Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes were both super strong and great bands in both cities weren’t getting as much attention as they warranted nationally,” says Andrew. “We wanted to include Omaha, Lincoln, and Nebraska in general. It was just all these scattered voices, so we tried to gather them and speak through one confident, strong voice.”

And that voice is being heard, in Nebraska and beyond. A full 40 percent of HN’s website traffic comes from outside of Nebraska and seven percent of traffic is international. “Our mission is to make Nebraska an internationally known cultural destination,” says Andrew, “so I think that statistic really indicates that we’re doing something to reach that goal.”

Angie adds that “HN has received shout-outs from Garrison Keillor and has been featured on Al-Jazeera English.”

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“We want to tie the broader creative to HN, because we want to promote people making cool stuff in Nebraska,” Andrew says. “To support the musicians, the venues, the businesses involved—it all fits and works together. Around here all of these entities support each other.”

Andrew says that’s what makes Nebraska such an attractive location.

“There’s a sense that people want to collaborate. It’s such a good environment to be in when you’re trying to create art,” he says.

HN is known for executing unique, imaginative events that merge music and community. Angie’s favorites were the “An Evening” series of fundraisers, featuring meals from famed vegan chef and Omaha transplant Isa Chandra Moskowitz and music from such local heavies as Simon Joyner and The Mynabirds.

“It combines food, music, and community in an intimate setting,” says Angie. “The environment is amazing, and they are just such special shows.”

Andrew’s favorite was the NET-televised “HN Live at the 1200 Club” with Digital Leather, Big Harp, and Kill County.

“It was amazing,” Andrew says. “The state of the art [Holland Performing Arts Center] room, three amazing bands on stage, teaming with Omaha Performing Arts and NET, two absolute top-tier organizations in the state who represent what we strive to become…it was extremely flattering, encouraging, 
and motivating.”

Andrew described watching the sound check and imagined a kid from rural Nebraska watching the program and thinking, “This is possible. You can go for it and make your own sound.”

The Normans want HN to “grow smart.” They’re working to “focus on the foundation to make sure that we continue to grow and last,” says Andrew.

Five years from now the Normans hope HN will host regular showcases across the state featuring Nebraska music. Other goals include a physical space, more paid contributors, residencies, being one of the premier music websites in the country, and, as Andrew puts it, for everyone in the state to have a favorite Nebraska band “in the same way they love Husker football.”

In December HN released its second compilation on vinyl accompanied by a digital download. Such notables as Tim Kasher, McCarthy Trenching, Simon Joyner, Universe Contest, and Conchance are a few of the artists highlighting the eclectic collection.

They’re relaunching the HN site in 2014 and are at work on HN Radio, a web app/music player to feature Nebraska music, interviews, reviews, and other content. The effort is funded in part by the Nebraska Arts Council and Omaha Venture Group.

As Omaha invests in the young nonprofit, the Normans continue to invest in Omaha.

“We want to be an example of people who enjoy living here and cultivate a beautiful life here,” says Angie. “We hope that more people will look here and see opportunities.”

“We moved back and bought a house here,” says Andrew of the Benson home the couple shares with their adorable pup, Polly. “A large goal of Hear Nebraska is to stop the brain drain. I think Omaha, and Nebraska, in general, is just a really great place to start something.”

And on the topic of “starting something,” the couple is now awaiting their most ambitious of projects: a baby Norman due in 
early 2014.

Gridiron Hero Becomes Mentor and Coach

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Eric Francis Photography and Ted Kirk

What former Nebraska Cornhusker Steven Warren remembers most from his days playing football is not a particular game or plays, but rather the camaraderie among his teammates—along with key tenants such as persistence, integrity, and trustworthiness. These were experiences and traits that would serve Warren well later in life.

Recruited out of Springfield, Mo., he recalls Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne paying Warren and his family a visit in their living room the same week Big Red won the 1995 national championship. Warren accepted a UNL football scholarship and packed his bags for Lincoln.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

“Nebraska football was No. 1; it was everywhere,” Warren recalls. “And being a part of it was like being a part of The Beatles.”

Freshman year was both a culture shock and an athletic shock for Warren: rigorous practices alongside the fame of being a Cornhusker. “There was so much temptation because of what you were part of. But you also had to learn time management,” he adds.

While playing for Nebraska, Warren found himself developing close friendships with other players and families in and around Lincoln. Oftentimes, parents would seek Warren out to speak with their children about setting goals, planning for the future, and living one’s dream.

Warren left Nebraska as a 3rd round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2000 NFL Draft. Thirteen weeks into his rookie year, Warren was sidelined with an injury and told he would miss the remainder of the season. He stayed in Green Bay, undergoing rigorous rehabilitation and training. He returned to the Packers for one more season before moving to the AFL, first playing for the San Jose Sabercats and, later, the Arizona Rattlers. At each of his AFL stints, Warren suffered separate injuries. “That’s when I realized my body was trying to tell me something,” he recalls.

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Warren returned to University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finished his sociology degree in 2004. After graduation, he had a decision to make. His wife, Heidi, is from Columbus, so staying in Nebraska certainly seemed like an option. And being a Nebraska alumni opened many doors for Warren. Former Huskers often pursued successful careers after leaving the field.

But a sales job or related opportunities just didn’t feel right.

“I always liked helping others, and I worked with mentors while at Nebraska,” Warren shares. At his Lincoln home near 30th and Y streets, some of Warren’s fondest memories were sitting on his porch and talking with children and teens who lived in the neighborhood.

That feeling never left him, which is why today he is president and founder of D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Relationships through Education, Athletics, Mentoring). It’s an Omaha-based nonprofit mentoring organization that reaches out to young men enrolled in middle school.

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“Seven years ago, everything for D.R.E.A.M. just fell into place: the pieces, the people. It was meant to be,” Warren says.

D.R.E.A.M. began in 2006 as an after-school program at Walnut Hill Elementary School at 43rd and Charles streets. Five volunteers met regularly with 20 at-risk students. Today, the program has expanded to several Omaha schools and added a chapter in Springfield, Mo., Warren’s hometown. In all, the program serves about 300 boys.

D.R.E.A.M. finds its success from 40 volunteers who spend three to five hours each week at an assigned school throughout the academic year. The theme is simple: becoming a man.

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“Our volunteers work with seventh- and eighth-grade students each school year teaching them the positive attributes of being a man: respect, responsibility, relationship building, establishing rapport,” Warren says. “All of these lessons I learned from football at Nebraska and our peer counseling.”

D.R.E.A.M. teaches young men that it’s okay (even encouraged) to be successful in school. College-age mentors serve as living, breathing examples of the success that comes with hard work, dedication, and diligence.

Teena Foster, an Omaha Public Schools site director at McMillan Magnet Center Middle School, has worked alongside Warren and his college-age volunteers since last fall. Foster says she continues to see growth in the seventh- and eighth-grade students who participate in D.R.E.A.M. each week. And she knows Warren is the driving force.

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“Steve is dedicated to mentoring these young students,” Foster explains. “He’s always smiling, is always pleasant. So are his volunteers. They build great relationships with our students. Mentors are extremely important in these young lives.”

Warren’s belief in mentorship yielded a second program that also occupies much of his time. From his experiences as a student athlete, Warren launched Warren Academy in 2010. It’s designed to provide students (from elementary and middle school to high school and college) with leadership skills and character-building through athletics.

Warren Academy, however, isn’t just for students. Coaches and other leaders also participate to improve and refine a variety of leadership skills, both on and off of the field. Warren Academy programs include training sessions, camps, coaching clinics, nutritional counseling, education assistance, and mentoring. The athletic training component features speed, strength, and agility training programs. Warren says that once the organization has its own facility, Warren Academy’s offerings will expand to include fitness for adults and children of all ages.

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“Our goal is to become the primary training resource for field sports,” Warren adds. “That includes baseball, football, track, soccer, and lacrosse.”

Seems Warren’s best playing position is that of teacher. And he’s loving every minute of it.

Caption Throw Down

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all started Christmas 2011. Ten siblings each brought a few old photographs to the Carta family holiday party upon the urging of sister Kathy Peters. Sibling Susan Kruse wasn’t sure what they would use the photos for, but she knew her family could make a game out of them—she just didn’t know it would soon spark a business plan.

“There are 11 kids in our family, and we grew up playing games. I’m sure it kept our parents happy…we were out of their hair,” Kruse says with a smile, then glances at brother Mike Carta as she recounts how her company came into being.

A week after their family Christmas, Kruse invited her brother over for dinner and presented him with an idea. She wanted to turn the game that their family invented with those photos into something that everyone could play.

“Are you out of your mind? You want to start a company to do this?” laughs Carta as he recalls his initial reaction.

“Sure, it’ll be fun!” Kruse had responded.

On New Year’s Eve 2011, Dixie Moo Games, LLC, was born, along with their flagship game, Caption Throw Down. The game is a version of the entertainment that the Carta family had created just the week prior. Carta suggested they name the company in honor of their mother, lovingly nicknamed Dixie Moo. Kruse chose the game’s moniker.

“The best games are the ones where you make your own rules.” – Susan Kruse

Now in its second edition, Caption Throw Down is well on its way to becoming a game cupboard staple. To play, one player chooses a photograph from the stack provided, then displays it for all players to see. Each player then submits a funny, witty, or insightful caption for the photo. Finally, the individual who chose the photo selects their favorite submission. Winners of each round are awarded points, and the game continues as long as players remain engaged.

“The best games are the ones where you make your own rules,” Kruse says. For that reason, Caption Throw Down contains limited instructions and guarantees that no one has to be eliminated. “I didn’t like games where everyone [continues] playing while you had to sit out. It was no fun,” Kruse shares.

In addition to many of Kruse’s personal family photos that have made the cut, Caption Throw Down includes photos picked up at local antique stores and estate sales. “We can tell if we start laughing right away, it’s a keeper,” Carta adds. Dixie Moo Games also encourages home players to submit their own family photographs via the Dixie Moo website, granting permission for the photos to be used in future editions of the game.

While the family comes together to assemble the individual boxes, all game parts are printed separately around the Midwest. Their picture printer is in Lincoln, their labeler in Omaha, and their boxes are created in Ohio.

Company sales have been driven mostly by word of mouth, says Kruse, the sole owner of the company. She has arranged several Caption Throw Down game nights through local bars and churches, which have been a huge success. Additionally, she created a Facebook page (facebook.com/captionthrowdown), where she uploads pictures for anyone to caption.

Asked whether there are more games in the future of Dixie Moo, Kruse smiles and admits that while she does have ideas, she won’t be sharing them—one of the most difficult parts of having such a creative business, she says.

Caption Throw Down is available for sale online at dixiemoogames.com. The game can also be purchased at retail locations listed on the website.