Tag Archives: Mexico

Bill Gonzalez

April 6, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chat with Bill Gonzalez for a short while and one thing becomes clear: It really is hard to keep a good man down.

Nearly 20 years ago, Gonzalez was down. In August 1999, while working at an Omaha warehouse, Gonzalez tripped while crossing over a machine. Its drive belt caught his leg, shattering it from his knee down and damaging his back. Despite a handful of operations on his leg and back, Gonzalez was disabled.

“I couldn’t do physical work anymore,” he says, “and I didn’t have the skills to do anything else.”

He was homebound but realized that wasn’t the way he wanted to spend the rest of his life.

“That’s a quick way to die,” he says. “I had to get out of the house and do something other than sitting home eating painkillers and going nuts.”

A newspaper article noting that the Durham Museum was seeking volunteers for its archives department changed all that. Gonzalez thought back to his days at now-defunct Omaha St. Joseph High School when, during his senior year, someone presented photos of Omaha from the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection, then in the possession of KMTV (Channel 3).

“I was just blown away seeing these old pictures of what Omaha used to look like. I always remembered that.”

From the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection, this 1911 image was taken on top of the Union Pacific Railroad Building at 14th & Dodge streets looking east.

Now the collection was on permanent loan to the Durham. Gonzalez, who lives just 2 minutes from the museum, wanted in. He joined the Durham as a volunteer March 15, 2005, working one day a week.

“As soon as I started working here I knew I’d found a home,” Gonzalez says. “I just kept coming back.”

Soon he was working four days a week. After a couple years, the museum hired him on a permanent basis as photo archive associate with its curatorial and education services. Today he oversees collections totaling more than 1 million photographs of Omaha from the 1860s to 1990s—from its rise as a frontier town with shanties on the banks of the muddy Missouri River to a sophisticated metropolis with a bustling downtown straddling those same banks. Many of the photos are digitized and available through the museum’s website. Gonzalez has written many of their descriptions. 

  When a visitor comes to the museum seeking a specific photo, Gonzalez is the man they turn to. He already possesses great personal recall of the city. Though his parents were immigrants from Mexico, 67-year-old Gonzalez was born and raised in South Omaha.

“A lot of stuff, I know what I’m looking at. The younger interns don’t have an idea,” he says of decades-old Omaha scenes and long-gone iconic structures from his youth. “Someone said I’m the organic memory of archives. I guess that’s true.”

Using that memory and his knowledge of Durham’s vast photo archive helps him connect people to pictures, past to present.

“The best part, the part that really gets me high, is when I find a picture that a person has some kind of emotional attachment to,” Gonzalez says. “A lot of the pictures we have are really family pictures of people. They mean something to somebody.”

They’ve got a good man to find them.

Visit durhammuseum.org for more information.

Favorite Old Omaha Photos

What are Bill Gonzalez’s favorite photos in Durham archive? He has many. Among his favorites, he includes: an aerial of Omaha taken in 1947 and looking west from the museum, formerly Union Station. “A spectacular shot,” he says. Another, from the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection, was taken on top of the former Union Pacific headquarters near 14th and Dodge streets and looks southeast. “A lot of what you’re looking at is no longer here,” he says.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Baller Artist

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Kids need a community that shows them they can be successful and invests in their success,”

-Aaryon Williams

With an international basketball career spanning Peru, Denmark, Iceland, and Mexico, most 30-year-olds might be tempted to coast. Not Aaryon “Bird” Williams. The prolific artist and arts supporter is in the legacy construction business.

aayronwilliams3Williams has directed well-known local mural projects, such as the Terence Crawford Mural (inside Miller Park Elementary) and the Love Mural (at 24th and Lake streets behind Love’s Jazz and Art Center). He’s a spoken word artist and regular at Verbal Gumbo at House of Loom. His painting “The Butterfly and the Bee,” a tribute to Muhammad Ali pictured in victory over Joe Frazier, was unveiled at Carver Bank, where Williams puts his art management education to use as a program director.

Williams is tall and charming, especially when talking about his passions. He looks equally at ease suited up in the VIP room or paint-splattered in the studio. But when speaking of the past, he looks down as if haunted.

“Born” and “failed” are the two most significant words Williams associates with his old hometown: Gary, Indiana. According to the Department of Justice, Gary is one of six American pilot communities targeted by the federal government for nationally publicized civil rights abuses. A model American ghetto. Not exactly the land of opportunity for a young black man.

“I failed there, miserably,” Williams says of his time in Gary. “After my older sister died of lupus, I moved to Omaha on my 18th birthday by Greyhound. I had no money, no friends, a small group of family members, and a high school GPA of 0.56 as an incoming senior.”

“After my older sister died of lupus, I moved to Omaha on my 18th birthday by Greyhound.”

-Aaryon Williams

Fortune reversed itself when Williams enrolled at North High School in 2004. There, unlike in Gary, he got the palpable sense that people wanted him to do well, motivating him to do better than an F average.

aayronwilliams2“I met teachers and administrators who actually wanted to see me succeed. That was important. Kids need a community that shows them they can be successful and invests in their success,” says Williams. “I became the star of our basketball team, one of the leading art students of my class, sang solo for high school a cappella men’s group, and scored a 3.25 GPA my first semester. Turned out, I wasn’t as incompetent as I thought.”

That formative time changed his life, and working with Omaha youth has been a priority for Williams ever since. He’s worked for Girls, Inc., the UNMC Wesley House Leadership Academy, Impact One gang intervention, and Omaha City Sprouts Garden to name a few.

“I always had a passion for working with kids and inner-city youth,” says Williams. “I stepped away from basketball in 2010 because I’m about more than how high I can jump.”

Williams is founder and director of FLIYE Arts Company, a group providing resources and support to talented young artists. “It’s an acronym that stands for ‘Focused, Liberated, Intelligent, Youthful, Extraordinary.’ It’s a combination I used while transitioning from Gary to inspire and encourage myself.”

Williams is also founder and director of the FLIYE Arts Youth Development (FAYD) after school mentoring program at Omaha North High where kids have lined up to learn from metro area experts.

“FAYD specializes in building better artists and intellectuals through mentoring. We want kids at North—and eventually at other Omaha high schools—to have the chance to meet and learn from people who can help them achieve their goals. Kids need a community support system to be successful, and that’s what we give them.”

Visit facebook.com/fliyeartsco for more information. Omaha

aayronwilliams1

The Matriarch Behind the Scenes

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The bright flavors and colors of Hidalgo, Mexico, pop at family-owned and operated Maria Bonita Mexican Cuisine. Matriarch and head chef Miriam Lopez authentically re-creates the food she recalls from her native land.

Tropical floral motifs by Omaha artist Mike Giron decorate the 5132 L St. restaurant, as well as the family’s two food trucks.

“The colors not only inspire us and make us remember where we come from but also transmit some of our culture and the way we envision life, which is colorful and positive,” eldest daughter Itzel Lopez says. “Our culture is really within us.”

She and her two sisters help mom continue a proud legacy of strong, accomplished Latinas.

Miriam and husband Miguel opened the eatery in 2011 at 20th Street and Missouri Avenue. Business boomed before Miguel fell ill.

“He was our backbone,” Itzel says. “For us, family’s always been more important than business, so we said, ‘Let’s take a break and get our dad where he needs
to be.'”

miriamlopez1Maria Bonita closed; however, the customers refused to leave. Itzel says, “Our customers really didn’t let us go, but the only way we could continue what we’d started was to go on wheels. So, we acquired our first food truck right in 2011, and in 2014 we acquired our second food truck.”

A new brick and mortar was sought to serve sit-down diners and to prep-host catering gigs. Thus, the former Sizzler site became the new Maria Bonita in 2015.

“Same food, same concept, just bigger,” says Itzel.

They opened it with help from the Nebraska Enterprise Fund. With Miguel recuperating in Mexico, Miriam wants it to be like coming to the Lopez casa for “a home-cooked family meal,” adding, “The kitchen is the home of the home.”

“These are dishes my mom will cook at home,” Itzel says. “Everything my mom does she makes with love. Mom wants to see tables full of families enjoying a good dinner. That’s something we grew up with. Every Sunday after church we come and enjoy our own food here.”

Miriam says she doesn’t use “complicated recipes, processes, and ingredients,” adding, “This is very different—this is simple food the way I remember when I was a kid. My memories are all about food—about my mom all the time cooking for everybody.”

She inherited her mom’s cooking talent, and her folks paid for culinary training. She worked as a line cook in Mexico and America. “All the time I was learning—I learned a lot.” Even though the hours are long, she finds joy. “All the time people ask me, why you work so hard? But I don’t feel like I’m working. It’s special—that’s the difference. They think it’s for the money, but it’s not for the money. It’s passion. I love this. It’s my dream.”

Miriam’s college-educated daughters have jobs and lives of their own, and she wants them to be successful.

“It’s my faith for them. Happiness is everything.”

“We move by faith in our family,” says Itzel. “We’re just hard working women. All we have to do is just follow that.”

Itzel says she admires her mother’s “consistency and perseverance” and how “she molds the family to the same mission.”

“We’re a good team, each with different roles and strengths, all of us guided by Mom and her passion for food.”

Mother and daughter are “proud” their family of “Mexican transplants and language learners” has come so far here.

A rotating traditional Mexican buffet is served daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visit mariabonitaonline.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha

High on Jesus

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

The Front Range looms overhead as Dan and Dawne Broadfield sip their morning coffee. Towering at a height of 14,259 feet, the snow-capped Longs Peak is the highest point in the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Residing at an elevation of nearly 1.5 miles above sea level, the Broadfields live on the forested grounds of Covenant Heights. The year-round Christian camp is located nine miles south of Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the base of Longs Peak.

estespark6The parents are career missionaries and together have visited Haiti, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Belgium, and Holland, among others. As assistant director of facilities, Dan helps to maintain the 65-acre Covenant Heights, while Dawne home-schools their three children: 18-year-old Darby, 14-year-old Dakota, and 11-year-old Max.

Their days are filled with hiking, fishing, backpacking, paddleboarding, archery, and kayaking. They have unfettered access to high ropes, zip lines, and a climbing wall—perks of living at a wilderness retreat. The same activities draw campers from across the country.

If the weather is nice, Dan and Dawne say they might go six to eight hours without seeing their offspring, and that’s fine for both parents and frolicking children alike.

In summer, nighttime unveils an infinite heaven of twinkling stars, with the Milky Way shining down on three hammocks arranged in a triangular formation in the trees. Each hammock cradles a Broadfield child, peacefully sleeping.

estespark2

Once the weather turns chilly, they gather firewood for campfires. The winter season also brings snow-shoeing, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing.

Wildlife is an integral part of living at the campground, where animals also make their home. Coyotes, moose, and deer frequently wander through Covenant Heights. Herds of elk are common visitors; during the fall rut, the bulls’ high-pitched bugling will echo for miles.

“The other day, an elk walked through the middle of (the triangle of hammocks),” Dawne says. “Our youngest woke up and thought, ‘Uh, oh. This isn’t good.’ But the elk eventually moved along.”

estespark5The free-spirited mother of three does have one rule about sleeping outdoors. Her kids can’t have lipgloss, sunscreen, or other scented items in their pockets. Bears live in the neighborhood, and scented items or food will attract them. Dawne even brings her bird feeders inside at night so as not to attract unwelcome scavengers.

She loves life amongst the animals. In fact, her animal-watching pastime vaguely reminds her of childhood years spent in Omaha. “We went to the Henry Doorly Zoo about every two weeks,” says the one-time Omahan. Dawne’s father served in the Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base for three years, when she was in fifth through eighth grades.

Her adult life unfolded away from Omaha. Before relocating to Colorado in 2015, Dawne and Dan were living in San Antonio, Texas, where they ran an art gallery and online networking platform for artists called ArtLife.

“Here we are now in Estes Park because we felt like we ran out of space in San Antonio. We wanted to become more of a starving artists community,” says Dan. “We want to develop an artists community up here. I want to create a safe space for people to come and hone their skills. It’s the idea of not being in their normal circumstances.”

estespark4Surrounded by natural abundance, the family feels rich. Not so when it comes to the latest technological amenities. They have a satellite television, the only reliable phone is a landline, and mobile internet service is patchy from camp.

Dawne says “there’s a 20-minute window about twice a day” for internet access. An avid photographer, she posts almost daily on Instagram from her smartphone during those limited windows of online accessibility.

Her photo stream documents their neighbors, mostly the wildlife (@adeltadawne). “We have lots of moose that hang out,” she says. “The elk, the deer, the eagles, and then I sprinkle in family stuff.” If it is necessary to check something online, they head to a coffeeshop or the library in town. Dan and Dawne enjoy their wireless existence. “I kind of like the idea of being disconnected,” Dan says.

Christian wilderness retreats have a rich history on the Front Range near Covenant Heights. Even before Colorado was a state, missionaries were spreading the gospel across the landscape.

estespark3Summer encampments for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) date back to the 1890s. The YMCA summer campsite from 1908 remains the site of the modern-day YMCA of the Rockies. Today, the organization hosts Christian gap-year programs for 18-to-24 year olds “seeking personal and spiritual growth while working in a seasonal job at Snow Mountain Ranch.”

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park into existence, and the nationwide National Park Service came into being the following year (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016).

Covenant Heights arrived on the scene in the early 1930s through the fellowship of the Covenant Young Peoples and Sunday School Conference of Colorado and Wyoming. The coalition of Rocky Mountain churches sought to give “a concerted effort to provide inspiration, Christian fellowship, and evangelism for the young people of the churches in Colorado and Wyoming,” according to its website. Covenant Heights’ current permanent campsite became operational in 1948.

Separate from the YMCA or Covenant Heights, the nonprofit Wind River Ministries also runs the ongoing Wind River Ranch, a “Christian Family Guest Ranch Resort”complete with dude ranch.

Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination, the sweeping mountain vistas are inspiring throughout the vicinity of Estes Park.

In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, residents of Estes Park voted to block the opening of recreational and medicinal dispensaries within the limits of town and Larimer County. It was a strategic move to preserve the region’s wholesome reputation as a family destination. Meanwhile, federal marijuana laws reign supreme over Rocky Mountain National Park and other federally owned lands.

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

Visit covenantheights.org for more information.

estespark1

Mission,Passion, & Joy

August 18, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Roger Garcia has a lot of work to do—relationships to build, programs to create, grants to obtain, and people to help.

Yet the 29-year-old dismisses the notion that his role is “work.” He prefers words like mission, passion, and joy; all of which compelled Garcia on his daily commute to Lincoln’s outreach center for Hispanic and Latin Americans.

Garcia served as director of Lincoln’s El Centro de las Americas from 2012 until recently, when he accepted a similar role as the executive director of Centro Latino of Council Bluffs. Although Garcia is happy to “work” closer to his wife, Yanira, and their south Omaha home, his drive to help the community still borders on obsessive.

In each person that Garcia helps, he sees the struggle that his mother, Margarita, endured decades ago.

Initially an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, Margarita gained a path to citizenship through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Roger’s father, a documented Mexican immigrant, was psychologically abusive and controlling. By 1994, Margarita had enough of him and Los Angeles. She took her youngest of three sons and left for the third and final time.

She grabbed 8-year-old Roger and packed up the few things she owned. Somehow, she coaxed a beat-up old Buick nearly 1,500 miles eastward into Nebraska. She eventually landed in Columbus for a job with the meatpacking industry. Holding only one job satisfied neither her work ethic nor demands on her pocketbook. She took up welding, baking, even cosmetology—whatever it took. Today, her knees are shot, but she owns and manages three rental properties between Omaha and Columbus.

Roger-Garcia-2“She loves this country, and she worked her butt off,” says Garcia, who remembers his mother going to work at 4 a.m. so she could get him to school every morning during her break. “People like my mom just want to work hard and provide for their family.”

The people who come through Garcia’s door are reminiscent of his mother. They are looking for the same things. They want a better life for their children. They don’t readily ask for handouts, he says.

Garcia’s commitment to the region’s Latino community runs deeper than esteem and pride for his mother’s accomplishments. He grew up in rural Nebraska. He feels compelled to help those enduring similar experiences.

He encountered racism in childhood. Once, a pair of white adults accosted Garcia and his fourth-grade classmate with racial slurs. The adults kicked the kids off their bicycles. Such experiences motivated a short-lived denunciation of his heritage in the fifth grade. “I said, ‘No, I’m not Mexican. I’m not Honduran,’” says Garcia, clearly pained by the memory. “I didn’t want to be discriminated against.”

Thanks to music, Garcia eventually found solace and comfort in his own skin. “Through American rock music, I learned that it doesn’t matter how you look,” he says.

His sense of ethnic identity became more complex while pursuing dual degrees in psychology and Latino/Latin American studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The occasional volunteer worker at the Omaha Boys and Girls Club found his calling. By the time he finished his undergraduate studies, he had earned UNO’s vice chancellor award for student leadership.

He moved on to Bellevue University to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, and became more immersed in Omaha’s Latino community. He met with elected officials, served as a community liaison for then-Mayor Jim Suttle, and met with other college campus groups and leaders.

He joined El Centro de las Americas in Lincoln as the center’s director and quickly elevated it to new heights. Beatty Brasch, the executive director of Lincoln’s Center for People in Need and a board member of El Centro, laments Garcia’s recent departure.

“He did a remarkable job. He brought the community together and developed programs there for a lot of people,” she says. “We’re sorry he’s leaving. I wish he stayed.”

His list of accomplishments garnered a new accolade in 2015 when he was listed as one of the Jaycees’ Ten Outstanding Young Omahans in the 83rd annual TOYO! awards.

That’s what happens when a passion becomes “a calling on a spiritual level.”

As Garcia and his future wife, Yanira, built their relationship, they also forged a deeper connection to their Christian faith.

“On our first date he asked me if I would ever date anybody who wasn’t a believer,” she says. “I said, ‘No.’”

Two years later, in 2015, they were married, and Roger is now pursuing a doctorate in theology with an eye toward possibly launching his own ministry.

Until then, there is indeed a lot to be done, but none of it should be confused with toil.

“It’s what we should all be doing as believers,” he says. “It’s not an obligation. It’s a joy. It’s a joy to spread His love.”

Visit sucentrolatino.com for more information.

Retirement on the Road

July 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in 60-Plus June/July 2015 edition.

Fritz Sampson says he likes to travel slowly, but the words “travel” and “slowly” can conjure up thoughts of lounging over three hour-long dinners in Italy, or spending an entire afternoon wandering through a village in France.

For 65-year-old Fritz, “traveling slowly” means moving about 200 miles a day across Europe and Asia by motorcycle.

Last March, Fritz undertook a 115-day motorcycle journey through southern Europe, the former Soviet bloc, and Mongolia; but his plans were cut short by more than three weeks after an accident
in Mongolia.

It’s an itinerary that sounds crazy, but, when explained calmly by Fritz, seems perfectly reasonable.

“Whether it’s breaking a shoulder, or getting stopped by police, or running out of food, things are going to happen,” Fritz says. “And that’s why you take the trip, because it’s an adventure.”

According to Sampson and his wife of 40 years, Mary, he always had a daring spirit.

“That’s what I loved him for, was his sense of adventure,” Mary says. “No one is comparable to Fritz—he’s all out for the experience.

The couple met on the Model United Nations Team at Creighton University and married in 1975, right out of college. They, and their two children, moved to Germany in 1998 while Fritz pursued a degree in international tax law. His career took him everywhere from China to Belize; but he still craved different ways to see the world.

Fritz2

A long-distance cyclist, he rode for years all over the United States. But as he aged, he turned to a new mode of transportation: motorcycling.

He bought a new Harley Davidson in 2007, and in 2008 rode with his son, Marty, from Omaha to Tierra del Fuego, an island chain off the southernmost point of South America.

“One of the reasons I do this—I like meeting people on the road,” Fritz says.

After his South American excursion, Fritz was itching to do a similar trip elsewhere. He read about two motorcycle adventures on travel blogs that looked really interesting—one to the Russian far east, another in outer Mongolia—and decided to combine the two by retiring and traveling to 17 countries. He planned to begin in Ireland, meet Mary in Turkey, and eventually end up in Mongolia and Russia, but had no other itinerary.

That meant he spent a week in Bulgaria because he felt like it. He chose to go to Kazakhstan instead of Turkmenistan because he met a fellow motorcyclist who was headed there. And when he told local policemen in Turkey the name of the hostel where he was staying, they told him he shouldn’t sleep there and took him to a friend’s house, where they hosted a barbecue for him.

He also had a run-in with corrupt police in Azerbaijan, lost 22 pounds, and experienced that fateful fall in Mongolia that cut his trip short and left him with a broken shoulder.

There’s only one thing he’s cutting out of his routine: off-roading on his motorcycle, which led to his accident. But he still wants to ride on motorcycle trips across the continental United States, Alaska, and Mexico.

After all, he says, those are “easy” rides.

Fritz3

 

Fritz 1

Nicole 
Carrillo

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March 2015 HerFamily.

Nicole Carrillo says she can make friends anywhere. Even at the airport.

Case in point: On a chilly night in November, Nicole stood with her fellow Thrive Club members at Eppley Airfield holding colorful signs. Nicole’s read “WELCOME TO OMAHA!” with the O’s shaped like hearts. Moments later, wild applause, laughter, and some tears erupted from the relatives, students, and coaches gathered for this moment.

Nicole’s soon-to-be-new friends were a refugee family just arriving from Burma. Marisol, Nicole’s mother and one of the sponsors of Thrive, was overwhelmed as tears flooded her eyes. “It was life- changing,” Marisol recalls.

Members of the Thrive Club, along with Lutheran Family Services, provided a cozy home environment for the immigrant family in an apartment volunteer’s chocked full of groceries, clothes, and furniture.

Nicole, a junior at Northwest High School, had filled out a grant to present to her principal, Thomas Lee, to do something for a family that would be lost in a foreign world.

Emigrating is hard, scary, often emotionally draining. Nicole’s empathy stems from hearing the story of her parents. Marisol, a native of Mexico, left for the United States in her teens to pursue a cosmetics license. It was difficult, she says, but she argues she had it easier than her husband Joel, who she would later meet in English classes.

Joel started his first job in the “worst town you can think of”—Aguascalientes, Mexico. He loaded heavy bricks into trucks and, along with 15 or so other boys, sold them house-to-house. He was five at the time. Joel came to the United States when he was 15. Later, he worked 60 to 70 hours a week while attending college classes at night, sometimes even taking a course during his lunch hour.

Nicole sees what her parents had to go through—all their hard work. So she strives to be the best. As a 4.0 student, Nicole is currently right behind her best friend for the top spot on the GPA ladder. “It has been a long steady fight,” she says, “but it’s all in good fun.” However, like most high achievers, Nicole gets upset if she receives a B on a test or paper, but her parents do not.

“My parents are like ‘you are doing the best you can,’” Nicole says resting her hand on her cheek during a recent interview.. “Love them.”

Nicole says attending Northwest was one the best decisions she has ever made. “She is one of the best ambassadors for the school,” Lee says. Nicole is active in all aspects of the school, including student council, National Honor Society, and choir. She has won numerous community service awards and was one of five in the nation to be selected for the National Youth Advisory Council.

Nicole is now eager to show the Burmese family all the “simple things we take for granted” around Omaha—“like the mall and zoo,” she says.

“Nicole has the heart to help…to make a better world,” her mother says proudly.

20150120-6C1A6517

Q&A: Jason Decker

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Elite Landscaping

As a kid, Omahan Jason Decker was known as the neighborhood yard boy. Today, as owner of Elite Landscaping, he still spends most of his days working outdoors, creating and installing beautiful landscapes and outdoor entertaining spaces for homeowners. “I can’t picture myself doing anything other than this.”

Q: When did you first discover your love for working in the outdoors? How did you get your start in landscaping?

A: Growing up in Armbrust Acres, I mowed 15 yards a week all through grade school and made good money for a young kid. At 15, I started working for a local lawn and landscape contractor. While I worked for my old boss, I read many books on landscaping and learned trial by fire. My parents were always my guinea pigs. They were my first pond, patio, landscape design, fire pit, lighting job, etc. School was never my thing. I just loved being outside, the hard work, seeing the fruits of my labor, and interacting with people.7_BackyardFirepit_Web

Q: What education and training do you have in landscape design? Who were your mentors?

A: I graduated from Millard North High School in 2001 and then attended Metro Community College for one-and-a-half years, taking classes in advanced landscape design and plant knowledge. For the most part, I am self-taught. My mentors were definitely my father, Bob, and mother, Rose, who instilled in me great ethics and morals and taught me at a young age that hard work pays off. My mom continues to support me in my business as the company’s office manager.

IMG_8582_DxO_Web

Q: What kind of projects does Elite Landscaping take on? Who are your customers?

A: Our main area of work is in outdoor patio and pool projects. We are the main installer for Lumbermen’s high-end clients, and Bell Pools and New Wave Pools are great companies we work well with, referring business to each other. I do all my own landscape project work—meeting with each client, designing and bidding each job, then watching over the job site through completion. We only do around 15-20 projects a summer, and we continually keep in touch with clients, keeping their properties in peak shape with maintenance annuals, potting, and service work, etc. My customers are generally very hard-working professionals—small business owners, doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, executives for local businesses. They love their homes and yards and want them to be one-of-a-kind retreats where they can spend time relaxing and getting away from the rigors of work and enjoying family time. Ninety percent of my work is referral-based, while a few jobs are generated by my website and my exhibit at the Omaha Home Show.IMG_8731_DxO_Web

Q: What part of landscaping do you enjoy the most? What inspires your designs?

A: The most creative and enjoyable part is the design process—I’ve come up with some very unique and challenging designs, and I have a great team of guys who are very skilled and able to execute our designs well. Traveling is what inspires me! I travel about every six weeks, and at least once a year out of the country—Rio de Janeiro, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Miami, Las Vegas…It gives me something to look forward to, and it refreshes the mind and body.

IMG_8548_DxO_Web

Q: How do you enjoy your spare time?

Spending it with my girlfriend, Christie. She is the first woman who’s ever been able to get me away from work in the summer, our busiest time of year. We enjoy going to movies, sitting on the outdoor patio with friends for drinks, and dining out at Pitch Pizzeria, J’s on Jackson, M’s Pub, Roja, among others. We also like going downtown, and the Benson area is always fun. I also like to golf or just hang out with my bulldog, Diesel, and watch sporting events.

For a photo gallery of past projects or more info on Elite Landscaping, visit elitelandscapingomaha.com.