Tag Archives: living

Home Away From Home

February 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Volunteer firefighters at the Bennington rural fire station believe saying, “It’s quiet,” could spell the difference between a boring night and one that ends badly.

When the firefighters’ beepers buzz, there is no telling what could be on the end of the call.

“I thought a GI bleed was the worst thing I’d ever smelled, but charred human flesh was worse,” Kim Miksich says.

As a volunteer firefighter for the past year, Miksich expects the unexpected.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that this petite blonde could strap on a 70-pound pack of gear and venture into the smoky darkness of a fire. Yet, a tough determination and reliance is obvious as she recalls her first training runs. Miksich’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature heated up just like the flickers of flame as she stepped into the pitch black. Even though she had an experienced firefighter to guide the way, it was still pretty scary.

Miksich, a 20-year veteran of nursing at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, realized at 41 years old that she no longer had a choice. She felt compelled to follow her dream of fighting fires, even if it meant not getting paid.

“I dove in headfirst and went for it,” Miksich says.

It was a longing Miksich harbored for almost 20 years. It took her almost a year to get in good enough shape to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test.

Miksich now volunteers at least three days of 12-hour shifts a month, staying overnight in the wide-open space of the station.

It was a huge life change. Married for 13 years, she would now have to spend nights away from her husband (who was supportive of her extra hours at the station). “He’s more worried about the dangerous aspects of the job,” she says.

Miksich, along with 44 other volunteers, covered 708 calls, 185 fires, and 523 rescues last year. All for free. Pride in service is evident all over the station, from the clean floors to the gleaming red, yellow, and blue firetrucks, to the smoke-stained coats.

The station—which opened in 2015—is immaculate. The cleanliness of the trucks and living quarters reflect this just as much as the hours the firefighters put in to save lives.

Assistant Chief Ben Tysor believes money normally spent on salaries can be spent on the facility, allowing them to better serve citizens.

It is a far cry from the former small white building down the street. It is no rinky-dink, country-bumpkin fire station. Donated by Darrell and Coe Leta Logemann, the warm brick of the building draws in visitors and volunteers. Tall, stately windows with squares outlined in bright red reflect the rustic scenery.

Opening the door, it feels a bit like a church. The stillness is a reminder of death, danger, and destruction. In the tribute room to the left, a pillar of the Twin Towers tilts to the side in a concrete frozen reminder of what could happen without courageous souls willing to risk their lives for others. The job, “a constant unknown,” matters as visitors stroll past a case filled with helmets, suits, and photos.

Fingers of sunlight reach out to an old hose cart, purchased in 1912 for $13 by the Village of Bennington (a historical reminder of those long-gone firefighters who remain part of the squad).

Chief Brent Jones continues this “family” feeling by staying in touch even with volunteers who have left.

“I spend a lot of time there. It is like a second home,” Jones says.

One of his toughest days recently included 10 calls in a 24-hour period. He hadn’t slept, so downtime in one of the black leather chairs created much-needed relaxation and peace. About eight of these same movie-style recliners are in one room facing a flat-screen television.

Firefighters can also make a meal in the vast kitchen complete with a center island. A stainless steel refrigerator and freezer filled with frozen pizzas, a slab of prime rib, or other items labeled with volunteers’ names fill the insides. Or they can help themselves to a pop from the fountain machine or fresh salted popcorn.

It’s meant to be a home away from home. Upstairs, eight bedrooms complete with bed, television, and desk give it a laid-back vibe. A full locker room comes in handy when someone comes in to use the modern weight room which overlooks the trucks (a reminder to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice—perhaps using the fireman’s pole behind a closed door).

Volunteers must meet three Mondays out of the month for emergency medical or fire training and business meetings. A big time commitment, but necessary.

“[Volunteering] is a disease. Once it is in your blood, you can’t get it out,” Jones says.

Jones, a 14-year volunteer, loves the challenge. But mainly, it is his way of serving the community. Jones spends 25 to 30 hours a week in Bennington, and about 56 hours on his regular job as a firefighter in Lincoln, where he has worked for the past 16 years. His wife also volunteers when she isn’t working as a paramedic with Midwest Medical Transport.

Although downtime seems like a minimum, pranks are still played. Jacked up trucks, water dumped on heads, and snakes in the lockers are classic.

One firefighter laughs as he plans to scratch at the door of a co-worker who believes a ghost roams the station randomly leaving the showers and sinks running.

Some of the firefighters believe they bring the spirits back after a trip. Although it is possible, the building may just be too new.

“Just don’t say the word quiet,” Jones says again. “Something will happen.”

Visit benningtonfirerescue.com for more information.

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

Living Small to Live Large

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometimes to live large, you’ve got to live small—very small.

This, at least, is the working mantra of Kevin and Amanda Kohler, who occupy a 620 square-foot condo off of 16th and Farnam streets.

The Kohlers happily insist they have all the room they need.

“With a smaller space, you invest in the quality rather than the quantity of things,” Amanda says. “Everything in here, I like.”

 

When questioned why they downsized from a living place originally twice as large, the Kohlers explain their two main incentives—running a business and traveling comfortably. They own and operate the technology company KOVUS.

The couple traveled to 16 countries during the last five years, journeying throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. The logic is simple—
by spending less on a mortgage, the Kohlers save their income for a budget to travel at will.

Although the two admit they first thought downsizing would be temporary and challenging, they wound up hooked on traveling, which easily balanced out the predicaments of living on a small scale.

“I would rather live here and travel the world than live in a big city and be hamstrung,” Kevin says.

Despite travels to such exotic locales as India, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, Omaha remains the Kohlers’ consistent home base, especially since they enjoy owning a business here.

 

“There are so many people I can connect with here that have been beyond helpful in building our business,” Amanda says. “Every single person I reach out to or ask for advice is willing to help—it’s a very collaborative environment.”

Living in the heart of downtown, according to Kevin and Amanda, can be both inexpensive and accessible. The two share a car, but walk to dozens of restaurants or stores. Their building even offers an in-house coffee shop called Culprit.

The small space they inhabit is more than just a footnote to this convenience, however.

“[Living small] forces you into a more minimalistic lifestyle,” Amanda says. “Now that we have a 2-by-2 closet to store stuff, it forces you to be disciplined about the things you need. You have to be creative about how you purpose things.”

The cabinet in their living room doubles as a covert litterbox for Archie, their 20-pound cat, while the couple joke that an old clothes stool now dually serves as the communal scratching-post. The small closets divide into basins to stow shoes, clothes, camera equipment, and other items. The couple purchase good food, good wine, and experiences as opposed to mere “stuff.” Amanda enjoys buying books, but has forsaken paper in favor of eReader files.

The condo, despite the confined space, still manages to feel roomy and open. Using lots of natural light from big windows and keeping an abundance of home-grown plants creates an earthy ambiance against an urban backdrop. Small tokens from their travels, including “several wine bottles,” they joke, decorate surfaces. The condo’s main space includes a cedar chest that belonged to Amanda’s grandmother as well as a custom-made coffee table that easily seats four. The Kohlers give interior decorating credit to Jessica McKay at Birdhouse Interiors, although the pictures that adorn the walls are due to Amanda’s love of photographing their travels. In India, Amanda’s personal favorite travel-spot, she even took photographs from a hot-air balloon.

“I feel like you get better at traveling as you go, and we were able to really immerse ourselves in the culture,” Amanda says. “The people there couldn’t be more hospitable and generous.”

So what’s next on the Kohlers’ agenda? For starters, the couple plan to travel to Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda for three weeks during the holidays. Since a close friend who often traveled with them recently passed away, Kevin and Amanda explain they want to experience all they can while they’re young.

This means their home, for now, remains a small downtown condo.

20151123_bs_9891

Making the Old New Again

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sherri and John Obermiller decided their new downtown condo reminded them too much of the suburbs.

They should know. The couple moved in 2011 from their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home in the white-picket-fence-lined neighborhoods off 180th St. and West Center Road to the eclectic, artsy downtown for a reason, and it wasn’t perfection and modernity.

Obermiller2“It was time to downsize and just get rid of stuff,” Sherri says. “Plus, this gave me an excuse not to do yard work anymore.”

The pair looked at five or six buildings before deciding the 902 Dodge Street condos were a natural fit for them. The building is located close enough to walk to yoga classes or sushi restaurants, but far enough from the bustle of the Old Market. “We don’t always like to be in the crowd, but we like to be near it,” Sherri says. “We enjoy being anonymous in a sea of people.”

An available condo on the fifth floor was too small and in need of a facelift, but the Obermillers saw its potential. Their first act as new owners? Asking their neighbor what amount of money it would take for him to move. Their new home instantly doubled in size.

To further construct their vision for the space, they enlisted the help of Stephanie Basham, principal designer and owner of Group One Interiors, and Don Stormberg, owner of Stormberg Construction. The couple rented and lived in a unit on the second floor of the building as Basham and Stormberg’s teams worked to renovate the condo to the Obermillers’ standards.

Obermiller3“It’s always challenging to work in a space that people are inhabiting during construction,” Basham says. “The Obermillers have a finely tuned sense of contemporary style and an appreciation for urban modernism. And to top that, John and Sherri value attention to detail, which is a dream for a designer.”

From using lime green as an accent color to matching the gray of the exposed concrete ceiling to the condo’s columns, the detailed design was inspired from the Obermillers’ travels to metropolises like New York City.

Obermiller4

To make the home feel larger, Basham took advantage of the high ceilings and crafted a floating translucent cloud above the kitchen island. The focal point of the home, the cloud creates a sense of separation between the kitchen and adjacent rooms without impeding the view. Local fabricators and installers used frosted acrylic to have the effect of tinted glass without the weight. This fixture is a personal favorite of the Obermillers.

“The cloud above and countertop below have the same steel lines, so they mirror one another,” Sherri says. “We strived for symmetry throughout our home.”

Following nearly a year of renovations, only the cherrywood cabinets in the kitchen remain in the now-2,400-square-foot condo.  An entire patio was removed; new floors and appliances were installed; iron-welded, artisan-crafted barn doors were mounted; and rooms were ornamented in furniture from as far away as Sweden. The result is a simple, contemporary design that’s entirely unique to the Obermillers.

Obermiller5

The Obermillers saw not only the potential of their condo but the value of the downtown area as well. While the CenturyLink Center was the major draw north of Dodge Street when the Obermillers first moved downtown, the area will soon be home to HDR’s high-rise headquarters and a collection of newly developed apartments, offices, and entertainment space.

“We are incredibly excited about this development and what’s next,” John says.

Obermiller6Embracing an urban lifestyle is a hot trend, yet the Obermillers aren’t concerned with following or setting trends. Instead, their new home serves as a space for them to reinvigorate their story together.

“We can walk to the trails by the pedestrian bridge or quickly go to the restaurants in the Old Market. It’s fun and incredible,” Sherri says. “It feels like we live in a much bigger city than what Omaha really is.”

When the Obermillers aren’t watching Nebraska sunsets melt behind the Woodman and First National from their building’s rooftop terrace, they enjoy a different view from their living room window. They look down onto the interstates weaving under and over themselves, roads looping and stretching in different directions. An image the Obermillers agree is beautiful. Just below the roads and between the urban sprawl of Omaha and Council Bluffs lies the river.

“We always thought at this point in our life we’d have a condo overlooking Lake Michigan,” John says. “Living happily next to the Missouri River in downtown Omaha? Well, that’s just the next
best thing.”

Obermiller1

Going with the Flow

August 30, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Southeast of Tekamah, Neb., Jack Savage savors a chunk of watermelon as he peers out over the Missouri River from his picture window. Prairie grass and sapling cottonwoods undulate in the foreground. Just above eye level, purple martins flitter around a Colonial-style birdhouse. That roiling, fickle river flows deceptively placid through the middle ground. Farmland and a stand of mature cottonwoods in the riparian plain of Iowa take the eye to the Loess Hills far beyond.

This is a vantage point he designed more than two decades ago and, with occasional help from Nature, one that has been evolving ever since. The noted architect, arguably the biggest single influence on the skyline of Omaha, designed his dream home in his dream space fully expecting that Change would visit.

Retired now, Savage’s more than half-century career helped nudge Omaha from big-shouldered market town to budding metropolis. Woodman Tower, Omaha Douglas Civic Center, ConAgra Twin Towers, Union Pacific Headquarters, the Mutual of Omaha Dome Addition. He’s had a hand in dozens more iconic structures. In 1975, Savage even led the groundbreaking renovation of the Orpheum Theater.

Drive the lonely gravel road for several miles from Highway 75, wind in through cottonwoods along the river and you arrive at a structure that, knowing some of his groundbreaking work, is almost anti-climactic at first glance. It looks like a farmhouse with common ag-land out buildings.

The mastery is in the details, for one, in the crafted open-space livability and flexibility, absolutely paramount in Savage’s mind when he thought of his ideal living space. Openness. Light. Views in all directions. A connection to this land, now a federally designated conservation easement. A place he could decorate in tune with his wildly eclectic tastes and penchant for whim buys and new hobbies. This is not a modern masterpiece of design. It’s a place that fits this particular guy and his peculiar menagerie of interests.

“When you’re younger, you’re trying to make your name and impress people with new things and bold ideas,” he says. “I wanted a Nebraska feel here, something comfortable that fit this place and fit me. I don’t have to impress anyone out here. It’s just my little corner of the world.”

Eclectic and evolving. Early on, Savage went on a bit of a salvaging binge. The carriage house brags a cupola from a fallen barn, for one. Most notably, perhaps, visitors pass through the dark oak doorway and dual coat closets that once graced the entry to the law offices of William Jennings Bryan.

Next to the small antique table where Savage eats his breakfast sits both a banjo and a ukulele. The furniture throughout the house comes from myriad design eras. Look closely, though, and you realize many of the pieces (and works of art) could just as easily be displayed in a museum.

His reading chair, which also looks out over the river, is surrounded by books that range from beginning music guides to the grand tomes of literature. Currently, Savage says, he is using the solitude of this perch to “try to figure out” Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. “I think I’m getting some of it,” he says sheepishly.

“There’s a big difference between solitude and loneliness,” he says. “Solitude is peace. This is my place of solitude.” As part of that solitude, Savage has cultivated a preserve. “With that Conservation Easement designation, this will be a lovely habitat for birds, animals, and fish forever.”

This refuge, both for the architect and fauna, was always designed to evolve. It weathered the great flood of 2011. (The house stayed dry. The road to the property had to be rebuilt, utilities restored. Savage still is chain-sawing downed and dead trees). The work has had unintended benefits, he says. “You haul a chainsaw around a lot, you get in shape.” (Savage even whips out his bicep for his guest. Pretty dang buff for an 83-year-old).

A side room designed as a small theater has morphed into a first-story bedroom. He has increasingly lost interest in television. At the same time, he wanted a sleeping space on the first floor. He has reconfigured several spaces for the enjoyment of his grandkids.

His favorite space all along, though, has been the picture-window view of the river. Savage even purchased land across the river so “it couldn’t become a dump I had to look at.” When he first saw this piece of land while hunting back in the late 1980s, this spot was where he imagined himself at sunset reading a book, ham-handing a new instrument, or chewing on concepts of space/time.

“I love it,” he says. “Lovely solitude. It just feels right.” 

 20140804_bs_6072

 

A Tropical Paradise

July 20, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the road, Roseanne and Mike Kielians’ house looks like a roof with no house under it. Just a roof. The houses to the left and right look like houses. But it appears as if the Kielians bought a roof, then ran out of money for the stuff underneath it.

Fear not. Just park the car and walk down the steps beside the roof. As you descend, a lake appears before you and an actual house—a lovely contemporary beach house—appears beneath that once lonely roof.

From the lake at Hawaiian Village south of Papillion the Kielians’ semi earth home takes on a very different look. From this angle, perched on the lake’s high bank line, it’s more like some contemporary cliff dwelling. Thanks to the one-story-tall water feature Mike built in 2002, the house gives a slight tip of the hat to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

Whatever, if any, the grand influences for this unique home, it’s a special place for its owners, who purchased the 33-year-old home in 1998.

“It’s our paradise,” says Roseanne, who, like her husband, Mike, is retired. “We fish, boat, listen to the waterfall, anything. It’s peaceful or rollicking—whatever you want it to be.”

The Kielians most recent remodel came six years ago. As with so many updatings, the upscale contemporary kitchen was the priciest and most involved.

But here, the eye is most drawn to those falls cascading down the bank line as if an artesian spring bubbled up below the house’s foundation. Amazingly, the extensive water feature was a first-time project for Mike 12 years ago. The falls took him a couple months to build, his wife says. It quickly became a labor of love—with a bit of obsession thrown in.

“He was pretty focused on that once he got started,” she says. “It was his masterpiece. The whole family got involved with it, too. It was a major project for us all.”

To match the development’s playful Hawaiian theme (Perhaps a bit kitschy, a little out-of-place in Nebraska? Nah.), the Kielians added some tropical flourishes themselves. Most notably: The “Bumba Shack,” a thatched hut that sits next to the water where friends and family can gather for drinks and socializing.

This exotic feature, which Mike constructed as a surprise gift to his wife, is homage to a beach bar the family enjoyed while on a vacation to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

“The Bumba Shack kind of speaks to the whole mood of the place,” Roseanne says. “It’s fun, it’s casual. It’s just a very easy livin’ kind of place.”

small

 

The Greenhouse is why Marge Tilton stays downtown.

January 16, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s a chilly Wednesday evening in Downtown Omaha, and Marge Tilton is just coming home from a yoga class. It’s been a busy day for the 86-year-old personal assistant. While the temperature decreases and the Old Market’s hustle and bustle continues outside her building, Tilton sits in her warm loft in The Greenhouse without hearing a peep.

20131101_bs_0339

“Years ago,” she recalls, “there was a big sign on this building that read ‘If you lived here, you’d be home by now.’ That intrigued me, and so I decided to check it out.”

Tilton’s one bedroom, 720-square-foot loft boasts an open floor plan with a washer-dryer and access to an underground garage. Each loft is unique in its own way with high ceilings and exposed brick and piping. Sizes of the lofts range from 625 square feet to 1120. The building also features a fitness center and a security and intercom system. Most impressive though is its location across ConAgra Foods’ Downtown campus, a feature that has attracted an eclectic mix of residents from grad students to retirees.

20131101_bs_0356

“I feel like I don’t have to go out to be part of the action,” Tilton says. “I can just open my blinds, and it’s all right here. I feel like I’m a part of Downtown.”

Assistant Manager Mary Whittington says many of the building’s tenants share Tilton’s views on the property’s prime location. “It is in the middle of the Old Market,” she says. “For retired people, it gives them kind of a young feel, and for grad students, it’s the location that appeals to them as well.”

20131101_bs_0314

The lofts occupy the former McKesson-Robbins Warehouse on 9th and Farnam streets. It’s one of the few remnants of Jobbers Canyon, an industrial and warehouse district that solidified Omaha as a central hub for the transportation boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Also known as Nash Block, the nine-story, Renaissance Revival-style structure itself was designed by Thomas Rogers Kimball, the architect-in-chief of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. Kimball also designed such extraordinary Omaha structures as the St. Cecilia Cathedral, the St. Francis Cabrini Church, and the Downtown Omaha Public Library. Construction of the McKesson-Robbins Warehouse was funded by Catherine B. Nash—one of Omaha’s wealthy elite—and completed around 1905.

Tilton adores the history of the building and especially likes the way it was renovated to make lofts in the 1980s. These condos still have some of the best views in Omaha of Downtown and the Riverfront. Tilton takes advantage of that view every New Year’s Eve when she hosts a small party in her loft. She and her guests are able to watch the fireworks from the comfort of her fourth-floor space.

20131101_bs_0367

The parties shouldn’t be too much of a problem for other residents. “A lot of older buildings, especially warehouses, have very thin walls, and you can hear everything,” she says. “But I’ve never had a problem with noise since I’ve lived here.”

If she ever had an issue, Tilton says she is confident that management would take care of it right away. The responsive management, coupled with the sights of one of Omaha’s most alluring districts, is exactly why Tilton has lived in the Greenhouse for so long.

“I couldn’t be happier here,” she says. “Fourteen years later, I still get excited when I pull into the garage.”

The Yellow House

January 12, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

“You have to be a little crazy to live with 14 people,” says Josh Buckingham-Weibel, “but, for our family, it just works. And I personally have enjoyed every minute that we’ve lived together.”

Buckingham-Weibel is a junior in college. On Jan. 15, 2009, just a few days before he turned 16, his three siblings and his mom moved into a house with his aunt and uncle and their five kids. A few months later, his uncle’s sister and brother-in-law joined them. Nine kids—now 10—and five adults have made a home in The Yellow House.

The oldest of the kids, Buckingham-
Weibel was all for it when the families were deciding to move in together. The benefits, in his eyes, included getting to see his family on a daily basis, having cousins who are essentially more like younger siblings, and getting to watch them all grow up. “And you learn so much from everybody else in the house,” he adds. “There’s a lot of different life experience that everyone has had, so there’s a lot to learn.”

The appeal of 
shared parenting

Was it kind of like having five parents? “Well, there’s a lot of accountability, and you really don’t get away with a whole lot,” he says.

That adjustment to the number of parents was one worry that his mom, Amy Lee, had when making this decision. Recently widowed, Lee had become a single parent. “I was concerned about them going from having two parents to one parent to three parents—or three adults in their life every day, nagging them about cleaning their room or whatever. And it ended up being more than three. It’s five,” she says with a laugh.

This idea of community living came about one day while Lee helped her sister with some childcare. “Eric had died almost two years earlier, in July of 2005,” Lee says of her late husband. “In that two years, my sister had two babies.” That’s in addition to the three kids her sister already had. “So she had needed help one day to take her kids to the doctor or something. And I had gone over and helped her.”

That day made her sister wish that Lee lived closer.

“Here I am, trying to figure out what it means to do life by myself. And here’s my sister trying to figure out how to deal with two small babies,” says Lee. “It was really just coming to this place of wanting to support each other. Moms with small kids get to feeling pretty isolated and alone. And moms who are widows get to feeling pretty isolated and alone.”

First the sisters talked about moving into the same neighborhood. However, when they started to look at the options, neither family’s needs could be accommodated in the other’s neighborhood. And that’s when the conversation turned to the two families buying a house together.

The hunt for a place that worked for everyone

“We did some reading, we did a lot, a lot, a lot of talking, and we did a lot of praying,” Lee remembers. “And we decided: We’ll commit to five years.”

The house-buying process took a year and a half—“plenty of time for people to back out; plenty of space for the conversations we needed to have,” says Lee.

Those conversations included drafting a mission statement and other community documents that were specific about things like no extramarital affairs, no alcohol or drug abuse, and what “safe touch” meant. This ensured that they were all on the same page to start out.

In that time, “we looked at, gosh, hundreds of houses. And I’m not joking,” says Lee. They put offers on five other houses that didn’t work out for one reason or another. “Then winter hit. A bunch of houses dropped in pricing, and this house came more into our price range.”

The 3,600-square footage includes six bedrooms and two and a half baths, with expansive front and back yards. “It’s definitely more space than I could ever take care of on my own,” says Lee. But it was perfect for a community living space. (And it’s even been approved by the Omaha Planning Department.)

Adults No. 4 and 5, Amanda and Chad Knihal, were invited to consider living in this community shortly thereafter. As a couple planning to have kids, “I was pretty confident that, if we had children, I would want to stay home with them,” says Amanda. “And the idea of having two other moms who were also at home at that time was really exciting.”

The two years that the Knihals originally committed to went quickly, and now it’s been almost five. The Knihals had a baby last August and have been getting a lot of questions about whether or not they’ll stay in The Yellow House. For now, anyway, Amanda says, “This is just where we live—this is home.”

The payoff of a family that’s closer than ever

Lee has loved having the Knihals around. Before they had a baby and became “real adults,” they were a great bridge between Lee and her teenagers. “Close enough to those teen years that they remember what it’s like, but adult enough to understand where I’m coming from,” Lee says.

And, as far as parenting goes, “I learn all the time from them—all four of them—even though I’ve been parenting longer,” Lee says.

“I really value that my kids get to live with other adults, especially married people. That they get to see two couples who love each other and who respect each other and who work together. They wouldn’t have gotten to see that if we didn’t do this. I think that’s really valuable in life,” Lee says, tears welling up. “On the flip side of that, it’s been surprising to me how that makes me miss Eric a lot, to watch that.”

Lee’s biggest concern in all this was moving the kids out of the house that they lived in with their dad. “That place carried so many memories for them—for us all,” she says. “And it was hard. It was hard to leave there. They’d already been through a lot of change, and so to put them through another one…I was really concerned about that.”

When she asked the kids about it, they had some questions, but they seemed very positive and interested. And the ways that the cousins have bonded have made it all worthwhile.

“I had hoped that our kids would be close,” Lee says, “but I feel like they really have forged some strong friendships. That kind of stuff anchors you in life. When you have made movies and played games and roasted marshmallows and skated with sparklers on the ice rink in the back yard—what were we thinking? Oh my gosh.”

Traditions like these are what make a house a home, and The Yellow House has no shortage of them. Winter Olympics on that same ice rink, playing Sardines with all the lights off, and countless celebrations mark the passing years. Five will have come and gone in January.

“I’m really grateful for family who were willing to try something that, for our country, is out of the ordinary,” Lee says. “I know it’s not for everybody, but I think more people should try it.”

Peggy Pawloski

December 6, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“This is all I own,” Peggy Pawloski says, encompassing her 1,000-square-foot condo in the 1101 Jackson building with a sweep of her hand. The owner of LeWonderment, a gift store in the Old Market for children and dogs, shares the studio with her 8-year-old black standard Schnauzer, Isabella Rose. “She’s lovely in the store,” Pawloski brags affectionately. “She’s great with kids.”

The studio doesn’t have many options for lounging, but Pawloski loves to cuddle with Izzy on an enormous sectional facing the eastern windows. Even with the windows open, the quiet is remarkable and the view of the Loess Hills is stunning. “When I’m sitting here reading,” she says, “I can see all the airplanes taking off.” Living on the top floor means she can hear the rain sing on the building’s tin roof. She loves it, especially because her bedroom is a loft up a short flight of stairs, bringing her even closer to the sound.

The loft space is just large enough for her bed (that and the buttery leather sectional are the only two pieces of furniture she moved into the studio with) and a walk-in closet, complete with a compact washer/dryer. She keeps dishes and plates in a sideboard because she doesn’t have cupboards. She purchased the sideboard and the wall unit in the living area from IKEA. “I really have stripped down what I own and what I value,” Pawloski says. “It’s almost minimalist.” She laughs, knowing she’ll never quite reach that because of her love of books. During her previous career with Scholastic in New York, she had a collection of 3,000 children’s books.

20130429_bs_2714

The fairytale quality of children’s art and literature might be evident in the look of her shop, but her condo is all bold colors and simple silhouettes. A large abstract piece from internationally renowned local artist Steve Joy hangs above the sectional, and a Mid-Century womb chair and bar stools keep the studio’s feel sparse but colorful. The dining table and chairs are identical to ones found on the set of Mad Men.

Pawloski’s international travels with Scholastic enabled her to collect posters and art from around the world, which now hang in the dining and kitchen areas. “It’s the right change,” she says of her much more stationary life. “It’s the next metamorphosis.”

20130429_bs_2704

She calls her current routine living the dream: She gets up, walks the dog, and then she and Izzy go to work. They open LeWonderment just one block away at 11 a.m., and the two of them are there till 9 p.m., selling children’s books, dog treats, and helping clients design the perfect playroom through Pawloski’s latest venture, Play+Room by LeWonderment.

Pawloski’s daughter, Amy, and her son, Jason, are on the board of directors for the French-inspired gift shop, and her two granddaughters come work in the shop on weekends. She says she feels like the fairy godmother: “I have a charming life because of all the people involved in it.”

Cozily Chic

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the corner of her sunroom in the historic Mercer Hotel on 11th and Howard streets, Bonnie Leonhardt can see another of the six places she’s lived in downtown since 1985. “Houses scare me,” she says by way of explaining her affinity for condo living. “I like having all the people around me. You don’t even have to know them; just having them around is nice.”

20130528_bs_8022

The sunroom is part of a patio she had covered about five years ago. “Now it’s where we spend all our time,” she says, referring to husband Gail and her menagerie consisting of Henri the poodle, and cats Sophie and Xena. “It’s wonderful for fireworks, and my grandkids love it when it rains.”

20130528_bs_8028

The Mercer Hotel condo is one of three downtown places Bonnie and Gail have renovated over the years. They moved in 10 years ago after someone asked if they’d sell their half-block-long condo in the old Howard Street Tavern. “We loved that place; I had no intention of ever selling,” Gail says. “But my wife blurted out this huge figure, and he said okay. I about fell out of my chair.”

20130528_bs_8061

Never fear, the Leonhardts have effortlessly instilled their joie de vivre into their current home. Every square inch of the renovated condo is charmingly utilized. Orchids, amaryllis, and paperwhites color the sunroom, cozy conversation areas pepper the common room, and the white walls and open layout keep the overall feel airy. No decorator is called in, “it’s just me,” Bonnie says, though she confesses that if she brings one more thing into the place, “I’ll be a star on Hoarders.” Chairs in particular are her weakness, as proven by the Louis Ghost chairs around a small dining table by the open kitchen. Gail approves of her selections. In general. “She has good taste in everything but wine,” he says.

20130528_bs_8018

The couple took out the too-tight lighthouse staircase up to the second floor in favor of one with a looser spiral and wider steps. An office, bathroom, and bedroom are sectioned off with their own doors, adding a new level of privacy the previously wide-open loft lacked.

20130528_bs_8057

The main changes to the downstairs are hardwood floors in place of carpeting and losing the galley layout of the kitchen. “I didn’t want to be in the kitchen by myself anymore,” Bonnie says. Now guests can chat with the chef over a simple island—a slab of marble atop a small Bombay chest. The marble is Carrara, she thinks. “I have chemo brain, and it’s just not coming to me.” Bonnie was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in April of 2012, prompting her to retire as a realtor from Pitney Bowes.

20130528_bs_8017

She and Gail, CEO of North Central Rehabilitation, do still entertain a lot, though the gatherings these days are mostly small groups of very close friends. “People come in and say the place looks so European,” Bonnie notes. “French, they say, but I don’t know. Let’s call it Early Junque.”

20130528_bs_8012

The description works only because an air of casual welcome pervades the look of downtown chic. It’s the type of place where you might arrive in Louboutin stilettos only to kick them off in a few minutes because you know it’s all right.

Zumba Instructor Iris Moreano

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Iris Moreano just can’t seem to sit still. The 66-year-old Zumba instructor keeps her days filled to the brim with such activities as exercising, gardening, and teaching. And she has no intention of slowing down any time soon.

Moreano moved to Omaha nine years ago with her husband shortly after he was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Living in a new town coupled with the new role of caretaker left her feeling a bit stressed. Not one to sit around and wallow in despair, she joined a gym to meet new people and relieve pressure. When the gym began offering Zumba classes, a total-body workout combining Latin and international rhythms with dance moves, Moreano signed up.

“I’m originally from Puerto Rico, so I grew up with that type of music: salsa, merengue, and cumbia,” she says. “It was a lot of fun, and I felt good afterwards.”

In 2007, Moreano became licensed to teach Zumba. While she currently teaches regular classes at Motion41 Dance studio at 125th and West Center streets, she also teaches at Curves in Elkhorn and at Fullerton Elementary School. All in all, Moreano teaches Zumba three to five days per week and substitutes when needed. But she has been known to teach six days per week with five classes each day.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to retire,” she says. “My age is just a number. It’s all about how you feel and live. Zumba is good for that because it’s like a party. I get e-mails from students saying that they can’t wait for the next class. So it feels good to help other people relieve their stress like I do mine.”

Moreano is also a full-time English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher assistant at Fullerton Elementary, a position she finds “very rewarding.” In her spare time, she enjoys reading and tending to her garden. As a walking (and dancing) testament to the benefits of an active lifestyle, Moreano credits her clean bill of health to her on-the-go schedule. As for other Omaha seniors looking to become more active, Moreano has some advice: “Keep your mind busy but don’t take things too hard,” she says. “Try to stay positive. Try to exercise, whether it’s just walking. Do it for you. You’ve got to keep healthy and take care of yourself before you can help anyone else.”