Tag Archives: Millard

Adam Devine Chugs the Big Red Kool-Aid

September 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is an all-out prank war in the office. After one of three slacker telemarketer friends/roommates got a big promotion, the other two conspired to humble his inflated ego (by stealing the car keys and clamping a bike lock around his neck before an important client meeting). 

While pretending to be busy as their distraught bud arrives late to the office, Adam Devine—playing his character Adam DeMamp in the Comedy Central series Workaholics—makes a passing reference to his home state over the phone: “I’m gonna go ahead and get two dozen throwing stars out to your residence in Bellevue, Nebraska. You’re gonna enjoy that, Mr. Johnson. Thank you, OK, I love you, too.” he says before hanging up. Then the on-screen office pranking escalates further.

The throwing stars reference was merely a small personal touch to the ridiculous storyline of  “The Promotion,” the fourth episode in season one of a series dedicated to zany office antics and often-intoxicated misadventures of three cubicle-mates (played by Devine and his real-life friends, roommates, and co-creators of the show). Name-dropping Bellevue was a subtlety to the script from Devine that connects his breakout role in the show back to his roots in The Good Life. 

“It’s just specificity,” Devine says. “In comedy, it really helps—instead of just saying some generic town or being vague—to use an exact place. I know a lot of Nebraska town names, and they’re always at the tip of my tongue. It’s always fun to rep Nebraska when you get a chance, too. Why not? Go Big Red!” 

Devine’s fans in Nebraska can delight from the occasional references to Nebraska littered throughout his creative works. Meanwhile, any media-consuming Nebraskans who are unaware that the actor grew up in Omaha are likely familiar with his characters in Workaholics, the Pitch Perfect franchise, or other notable roles.

Workaholics concluded its run after seven seasons in March 2017, as Devine and his partners decided it was time to move on to other projects. A cursory look at his TV and film credits, however, shows that Devine truly is a “workaholic.” 

Between 2013 and 2018, he appeared regularly on the ABC sitcom Modern Family as “Andy.” He starred in and co-wrote Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central between 2013 and 2016 (a stand-up comedy show that he co-directed and co-created with fellow “Workaholic” Kyle Newacheck), starred in Pitch Perfect 1 and 2 as the egotistical leader of an all-male a cappella group (2012 and 2015), starred opposite Zac Efron in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016), voiced a mammoth in the animated film Ice Age: Collision Course (2016), voiced the Flash in The Lego Batman Movie (2017), and hosted the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards. But that’s only naming a few of the projects from his young yet jam-packed filmography. 

Recently, online streaming platforms have become an important avenue for finding his latest projects. Not only can viewers binge all seven seasons of Workaholics on Hulu, Netflix also released two films in 2018 that showcase his writing, producing, and directing in addition to his starring on the screen: the rom-com When We First Met (February) and the raunchy action-comedy Game Over, Man! (March). In August, after this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press, Netflix also planned to debut The Package, a film that Devine co-produced with Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, and Newacheck of Workaholics. The movie tells the story of teenagers on a camping trip that devolves into a mission to save their friend’s “most prized [anatomical] possession.” 

Of course, Devine was not always such a big-shot comedian/actor. In fact, he wasn’t even originally from Nebraska—though he considers Omaha his hometown (a fact that Omaha Magazine heartily endorses). He was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and moved to Millard when he was about 10 years old. 

“It was 1994, and we [Nebraska football] were just dominant at that time,” he says. “I remember watching the Orange Bowl with my dad and a bunch of his friends and just a bunch of people from the neighborhood, and just being in awe of how much people loved the Huskers and how much it meant for people and how exciting it was to put on all the gear [red-and-white shirts with the team’s logo] and watch the Huskers play.”

If the Huskers had sucked, Devine admits, he might not have been such an enthusiastic convert. But it was like watching Michael Jordan play for the Chicago Bulls. “It was fun to watch because we won absolutely every time, and you know, that solidified it for me,” he says. “And now I still watch every game. I’m waiting for us to regain our glory because I already drank the Big Red Kool-Aid. Once you drink it, there’s no going back.” 

When he first moved to Omaha, he was just a kid trying to fit in. Mom-dictated fashion choices didn’t help. He had previously attended a Catholic elementary school in eastern Iowa where uniforms were mandatory—navy blue pants with a shirt tucked in—and that’s what she made him wear for his first day of class at Millard Public Schools.

“After that, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do anything I can to fit in,’” he recalls. “I noticed Husker gear was a very popular thing to wear, so I was like, ‘I have to get decked out, Mom, and she was like, ‘You’re not even a Husker fan. We’re from Iowa,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t care, we’re buying the gear. I’m not wearing the turtleneck again.’” 

The ’94 Orange Bowl came a few months after his family’s relocation. Devine made friends and settled into the start of a stereotypical suburban Omaha childhood. Until one summer day, a collision with destiny changed his life. Destiny, in this case, was a 42-ton truck that ran him over as he crossed the street to catch up with a friend going to buy candy at a neighborhood gas station. 

Devine’s world went black. He woke up two weeks later. “They told me that I probably would have died if I didn’t have my bike on the right-hand side of my body,” he says, adding that the local news coverage of the accident showed a gnarly scene with the bike crumpled like a pretzel. “I kind of fell underneath it and got spit out, as opposed to taking the full hit myself.” 

Physical recovery was many years in the making. Although disabled in the aftermath of the accident, Devine was a sponge for the sublime awesomeness of Nebraska football in its 1990s heyday. Tom Osborne’s Huskers squads helped sustain his soul. Bedridden and incapacitated during the ’95 national championship, he was limping around on crutches by the time the Huskers clinched another national championship in ’97. Thousands of fans once again gathered in the city’s major intersections to pump their fists and shout the “Go Big Red” call and response ad infinitum. Devine was there, and he loved it.

“It was the most mayhem I’d ever seen,” he says. “What I love about Omaha—and what I love about Nebraska and the Midwest in general—is that it was mayhem, and everyone was having a great time, but everyone was so cool and so polite and really open and giving. Here I am, a little boy on crutches, and I’m crutching around out there, and no one stole my crutches to use them as timber to start a fire [laughing], which I feel in most other cities it would have been, ‘Hey kid, give me that, I gotta bash in this window and quickly steal this TV as we start this liquor store on fire.’” 

His role with Workaholics and Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central would eventually make partying a visible part of his on-screen persona. But the mass of Huskers fans celebrating a national championship was his first epic party (or at least, his first big party that did not involve rollerblades, bowling, and a lot of pizza). Women were flashing boobs in jubilation. He and his friends had sneaked beer from the cooler at home and felt buzzed for the first time. He was having the time of his life. “I was such a little kid,” he says. “I didn’t really know where I was. If I wasn’t on Millard Avenue, I was probably thinking, ‘Oh my, we are MILES from home. I’m in the big city!’”

Unfortunately, he never had a chance to explore his own athletic prowess in Omaha. The cement truck of destiny smashed Devine’s dreams of advancing from peewee football to the Blackshirts of UNL. Nevertheless, he kept his athletic ambition alive by lowering the rim of his driveway basketball hoop and pretending he was Michael Jordan. Then, every year of high school, he would try out for the Millard South basketball team. 

“I really just wanted to make the team, and I tried really hard,” he says. “But our team was pretty good throughout my high school life, and I ran like a 17-minute mile at that point because I was just relearning how to walk. So there was no way that I was going to make the cut. But I tried out every year…For whatever reason, players had to buy the shoes before you actually knew if you made the team or not, so I always bought the shoes. Finally, my senior year during tryouts, the coach yelled over to me like ‘Devine!’ and I was thinking, ‘Uh oh, he’s calling me up! He’s gonna say I’m the sixth man! I’m coming off the bench, here I go!’ and he’s like, ‘You don’t need to buy the shoes.’ I’m sure my mom appreciated the brutal honesty because she did not want to buy those shoes. I still think I did, though, I still think I got that last pair.” 

In his roles in Workaholics and Pitch Perfect, Devine played characters oozing with overconfidence. These performances were shaped by his own youthful experiences deflecting hostility from occasional bullies. Humor, he found, was the great defensive strategy. 

“The thing about bullies that always made me laugh is they’re usually the dumbest guy in the room; they’re never the smartest,” he says. “It’s funny, when playing a character like that, to have this braggadocio, that confidence, when you’re really an idiot masking all your insecurities. That’s what bullies are. They’re insecure about something, and that’s why they’re lashing out. Because they don’t want everyone to think they’re not cool, or to acknowledge whatever they’re insecure about. So they mask it by bullying someone else. I played that role a lot with Adam DeMamp on Workaholics. I created the character, and I loved playing it because he was so confident. But with his friends, he would cry in front of them and be super sad and be like, ‘No one likes me!’ because that’s what he’s really thinking. But when he goes out, he tries to act like the most confident, coolest guy, which usually backfires—which is what it does for most people when they try to act like something they’re not.” 

Making gag phone calls to a now-defunct Omaha radio station, KDGE-FM 101.9 “The Edge,” gave Devine his earliest exposure to comedic performance for the general public. He was just having fun, not thinking of it as any sort of career development. But it was. 

“After I had my accident, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do anything,” he says. “So I would call into The Edge every day and do different voices and impressions. The DJs liked it, so I kept calling back. I would be writing bits at school in class and run home, well, not ‘run’ but aggressively crutch home or have someone push me up a hill in a wheelchair home, and then do my bits on the radio. I remember they were like, ‘Hey, you’re calling every day, we want you to be a color commentary guy on the radio station. We’ll think of bits for you to do every day and we’ll pay you. This could be your job, you call in every day anyway.’ And I was like, ‘This is great!’ so I went down to The Edge headquarters in the Old Market. My mom had to drive me all the way down there, I was 12 or 13 years old at this point and in a wheelchair. My mom pushes me in, and the guys are like, ‘What, we thought you were an adult!’ Because I never talked with them out of character, I would just be in character 100 percent of the time, and they were like, ‘Well, we can’t hire you, but what we can do is give you free concert tickets and free CDs to any events we throw.’ For the next couple of years, I got dozens and dozens of free concert tickets, which, at that age—13 and 14 years old—is better than any amount of money that they could have given. I would roll to Rockfest, Edgefest, and all the local rock shows put on by The Edge with 15 to 20 people. Which was a good way to have kids not make fun of you or punk you, since I was just getting over being crippled.”

Doing the bits on the radio gave him ammunition to negate the would-be meanness of monstrous middle schoolers. After all, the only thing these kids wanted more than making fun of someone else was getting to go to a concert for free. He had the power, like Devine intervention.  

Three different telemarketing jobs during high school, likewise, gave him more unexpected fodder for his eventual foray into mainstream comedy and his role on Workaholics. But when he was working in his cubicle, he was just trying to pass the time. 

For Professional Research Consultants, he conducted surveys over the phone for health care companies. “It was pretty straight forward,” he says. “You just had to have a polite voice on the phone, and people for the most part were like, ‘Yeah, my hospital stay was good,’ and you could take it from there. That being said, I would definitely change my voice for which part of the country I was calling. If I was calling the South, I would have a Southern accent [he says with a Southern drawl], and then if I was calling New York [he says with a Bronx accent], I would use more of a East Coast thing, and I would change my name to sound more New York. I remember my boss took me in and was like, ‘You’re doing great, just don’t change your name and your voice. You should not do that. Use your regular voice everywhere that we’re calling.’” 

Selling meat for Omaha Steaks was more difficult. “Because as much as steaks are delicious and everyone likes steak, and Omaha Steaks is a great name brand, if you’re not hungry for steak, you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I should buy $500 in steaks right now,’” Devine says. “So it was a lot of me taking a piece of paper and wiggling it in front of the phone and going, ‘What’s this?’ and then acting like I’m talking to someone else and going like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe this. The boss just brought this to me from upstairs’—there were no upstairs; it was a one-story building—‘and we are going to give you this amazing discount.’ It was the exact same discount we were going to give everybody else. But this was my sales technique, and it worked.” 

The third of his telemarketing jobs was the worst. It was a company that sold everything from knives to Time-Life Books over the phone. “That was the worst phone job because, have you ever wanted to buy a Time-Life Book in your life? No. No one has,” he says imagining the poor souls who got stuck receiving the books month after month and having to scatter them around the house everytime Grandma came to visit. Grandparents, it seems, were a solid target for sales.   

There were classes that helped his comedy and acting career along the way, too. He enrolled in the theater arts program at Millard South during his freshman year. But it wasn’t until his junior year that he began to take the school’s theater program more seriously.

“My drama teacher at Millard South High School, Robin Baker, was just awesome,” Devine says. “She was cool, and she knew people that were actually working actors in Hollywood and people who were producers and writers and people that were actually doing it—not just on the small level, but actually making careers out of it.” 

Baker helped him to believe that he could do it, too. She saw that Devine enjoyed making videos, and she encouraged him by showing the videos during classes or at rehearsals. He had focused only on comedy in his first three years of high school. But, at her urging, he began to branch out from comedy to dramatic roles in his senior year.

“OK, this is what I want to do,” he realized. “My legs aren’t going to suddenly super-heal, and I’m not going to be the freak athlete that I once thought I was, so I should do something else.” So, Devine took parts in five plays his senior year. 

“She was like, ‘For comedians, the reason they’re usually funny is they have a depth of emotion that they can easily tap into, and that lends itself to being a good dramatic actor,’” Devine says of his high school drama teacher. “She gave me a shot at doing some more dramatic stuff, so I ran with it. She gave me the confidence to move out to Hollywood and pursue a real career. And to her credit, during my senior year, when I was telling my parents that I wanted to move to L.A. and try to give acting and comedy a real go, she told them that she thought that I had the chops to make it. And that gave my parents the confidence to allow me to go.”

Off to California he went. Devine applied to UCLA and was accepted, but didn’t have enough money to cover tuition. He ended up studying at Orange Coast Community College, thinking he might transfer the credits to another California university afterward. Soon after enrolling at the community college, Devine met Blake Anderson and Kyle Newacheck (two of the four core members of Workaholics).

“On day one of improv class at the community college, I just kind of clicked with them,” Devine says. “Blake, as you know from Workaholics, ends up having these long, beautiful, luscious locks that the ladies just adore. But at that time he had the cutest little afro, very Justin Guarini-esque, and he was super funny, so I kind of latched on to him and we started writing comedy together. After a couple years, I realized that I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted to do comedy full-time. Kyle, who plays Carl the drug dealer on Workaholics, who directed many of the episodes for us on Workaholics, he moved up [to L.A. from Orange County] to go to film school, and at that time I was like, ‘I’m going to move up as well and really start to take my comedy/acting career seriously.’”

Devine never graduated from Orange Coast Community College, though he speaks highly of the school. He didn’t want to take the math and science credits needed to complete a degree. He only took improv, creative writing, screenwriting, and the classes that he thought would make him better at the job he actually wanted to do. 

That strategy doesn’t work out for everyone, he admits: “I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. But I really put my nose down. I was determined that this is what I’m gonna do, and I’m gonna do it full-steam ahead. Luckily things kind of clicked into place for me.” 

Devine intervention strikes again. Two years after moving to Orange County, the 20-year-old aspiring comedian took a job at the Hollywood Improv Comedy Club in L.A. He was just answering phones and working the door. Nevertheless, he considers it to be his first break. 

“Even though it’s not like a true Hollywood break, I got to see comics like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Fortune Feimster, Daniel Tosh, and all these guys from all different walks of life at the top of their game, these A-list comedians,” he says. “Second City, at that time, was connected to the Improv. It was right next door. If you worked at the Improv, you got half off of classes at Second City. So I was like, ‘This is perfect!’ I took as many classes over there as I possibly could.”

In the Second City musical improv class, Devine met Anders Holm, the fourth member of the yet-to-assemble Workaholics squad. A troupe associated with the class was planning to go on tour and do corporate gigs. Singing musical improv at the Mead Paper Corp. turned out to be Devine’s first paying comedy gig.

Devine found Holm to be like the yin to his yang, or vice versa. “He actually was the first person I met who was a writer that was serious about writing,” Devine says. “He was more serious about writing than performing, and I was kind of the other way. I was performing so often and doing stand-up every night. I think he wanted to be more of a performer, and I wanted to be more of a writer, and we sort of helped each other. We started writing together, and then he joined my class, and we started to perform together.” 

YouTube was still a new phenomenon on the internet, and Devine saw an opportunity for his comedian friends to assemble like Voltron. “So I call my old friends Blake Anderson and Kyle Newacheck. I was living with Kyle at the time,” Devine says. “I was like, ‘We need to start making videos,’” as the only comedy-focused videos he was seeing on YouTube were from Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island crew. 

“I think we came out with about 80 videos in about two years,” Devine says, “That’s when we started to get the attention of Comedy Central, because we were putting out so much stuff, and at the same time, I was doing stand-up and I started to catch the attention of Comedy Central. They had me on Live at Gotham, which was the new faces show before Adam Devine’s House Party. So that was my first TV stand-up show.” 

The Comedy Central execs started watching all of their material on YouTube—which remains available under their group’s channel, Mail Order Comedy—then Devine says they were approached: “‘Oh, you guys can actually create something. Do you have any ideas for shows?’ And we were like, ‘We sure do.’” 

Gangster-rapping wizards were going to be the next big thing in comedy. Almost. “We went through a weird period where we created an entire album of us as gangster-rapping wizards from another realm,” he says. “I mean, you can buy the album, it’s called Purple Magic, I believe it’s on iTunes still. We thought it was awesome, and we were getting great feedback, and those were our first videos that went really viral. That was right around the same time Comedy Central asked about show ideas.”

They also had done a Mail Order Comedy web series that Devine says “was basically Workaholics before Workaholics,” and the executives had expressed interest in that concept of the guys living together and working together and getting into hijinks, “and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea, but what’s a better idea is us as gangster-rapping wizards from another realm that come to this realm to take over the rap game.’ And they’re like, ‘What? No. That’s a horrible idea. We do not want that.’ But we kept pitching it anyway. We pitched the lower level execs; they were like, ‘Great, don’t pitch that when you go to the vice president.’ So we’re like, ‘OK,’ and then we pitch it to the vice president, and they’re like, ‘Great, you’re going to pitch the president next week, do not pitch the wizard rap,’ So then we go there and we pitch Workaholics; she’s loving it, she’s like, ‘This is a really great idea. We’re excited about this.’ Then we pull the rug out from under ourselves, and we’re like, ‘Well, it’s great you’re excited about that, but what we really wanna do is…’ and pitch her the wizards. And she’s like, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’ Well, thank God the execs at Comedy Central were nice enough to just not go, ‘OK, you know what, just leave. Don’t come back. We’re trying to give you your shot, but you won’t shut up about wizards.’”

Whether or not the gangster-rapping wizards concept ever magically resurrects itself, Devine has remained plenty busy with other projects—minus his wand and Gandalf beard. “I’m coming off a whirlwind,” he says. “Last year I shot three movies and did a stand-up tour, a huge tour, and then I just promoted a bunch of those movies and was all over the country promoting, and went on a USO tour with my dad this last Christmas to Iraq and Afghanistan, and then went on a stand-up tour to Japan and Australia for about a month, and then here I am. This is like the first gasp of air these last couple weeks.” 

Back in his regular routine, he’s still on the grind. He describes a regular day as, “Waking up, then I usually have an interview or two, then some meetings with someone, and then I chug coffee and go do shows. I usually try to do a couple shows a night still.” 

His stand-up push is fodder for his next goal for his comedy career—a Netflix special, which Devine will be shooting this fall at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha. The discussion with Netflix was still under negotiation over the summer when Devine spoke with Omaha Magazine for this article. His desire to film the potential comedy special back in his Homaha once again demonstrates his genuine love of Nebraska. 

But that’s not all on the horizon for him. With an anticipated 2019 release on Disney’s new streaming platform, Devine stars in the upcoming family-friendly Disney film Magic Camp, where he plays a banker returning to the magic camp of his youth. 

Meanwhile, in July, HBO announced plans for a pilot for a new comedy series titled The Righteous Gemstones about a conflicted televangelist family by the name of Gemstone. Devine is signed on for the role of the family patriarch’s hardcore fundamentalist son bent on destroying Satan. 

Devine says he has several other undisclosed projects percolating, and he doesn’t see the term “workaholic” as a negative in his personal circumstances: “It’s not like I’m working so hard that I’m ignoring my family and not making it to a birthday dinner for someone I love, like ‘Sorry, he’s too busy working,’ while I’m just in the other room aggressively writing dick and fart jokes. Like, ‘I can’t make your birthday dinner! I must finish this perfect dick analogy!’ But no, I do work very hard, and that comes from being from the Midwest and having that mentality.” 

He attributes his work ethic to Midwestern parents and upbringing: “Seeing how hard my parents worked to take care of me and my sister, I knew in order to get this career up off the ground, I needed to work as hard as I possibly could. It really just comes down to, surround yourself with people that you think are smarter and more talented than you are, and then try to outwork anyone that you know. If you do that, even if you’re not the smartest or most talented, but you’re willing to work harder than anyone else you know, you can get smarter and you can get more talented. As long as you’re willing to put in the extra work. A lot of people aren’t. I used to work with some people who I thought, ‘These are the funniest people I’ve met in my life!’ and now they’re not even in the business because they weren’t willing to do the 15 shows a week and stay out until 4 a.m. driving around the country doing shows and staying up late to finish that script.”

He has worked as a comedian, writer, actor, voice actor, producer, and director for various projects over the years. But how would he like to be seen? “The thing is, I like doing all of it. I wouldn’t want to do just one thing,” he says. “I have friends that only do stand-up, that’s all they do. To me, I would get bored if I didn’t have other avenues to go down. I love acting. I love playing different roles. I would love to play some more dramatic roles, and do like Robin Williams did toward the end of his career. 

But then I also love producing, I love taking other people’s projects and ideas and using my connections that I’ve made through the years and helping them find money for the projects and actually helping get them made. I also would like to direct movies and have control over making a creative vision come to life. I love writing and coming up with this little nugget of an idea, this little morsel, and seeing it become a full-fledged movie or a TV show that has a life of its own. That is really gratifying, a very cool experience.” 

While experimenting in all aspects of creative production appeals to Devine, he also doesn’t mind letting it all hang out. Literally. As evidenced by his dropping his pants and jumping buck naked from a closet to surprise the armed mercenaries in Game Over, Man!, the Netflix film that Devine and all of his fellow Workaholics co-creators put together as a team. 

The concept for Game Over, Man! evolved from their writing “Office Campout,” their third episode of Workaholics, which first aired seven years ago on Comedy Central. The episode featured an attempted defense of their cubicle maze from nighttime invaders—inspired by the film Die Hard with psychedelic mushrooms. The plot of the Netflix film drives home the Die Hard inspiration even harder (with the trio working as hotel janitorial staff rather than telemarketers) with action combat scenes, mercenaries with automatic weapons, and a big boss, plus illicit substances. 

Did he get any grief from his parents over his family jewels flashing? “No,” he says. “I love my parents. They’re the best, they’re so supportive. My mom was sitting by me at the premiere. I was sitting in front of her actually. I didn’t want to sit right next to her. Then, as it’s happening [as his penis is bouncing on the screen], she’s going ‘Aww’ [in an affectionate motherly way], and then she kept going, ‘Well, this is funny. This is funny,’ which I think is her nervous way of not being like, ‘Ew, gross, why is my son’s dick out?’” 

Around the time that Game Over, Man! debuted on Netflix in spring 2018, the HBO series Westworld started its second season. One of the male actors in Westworld, Simon Quarterman, dropped his pants in the first episode for a full-frontal nude scene. Quarterman told New York Magazine’s Vulture that the experience was liberating and he urged other actors to try it. Well, Devine is all over that trend like a dog humping a leg. “We don’t coast,” as Omaha’s official slogan insists. We’re ahead of the curve. 

“Yeah, yeah we are,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not afraid to let it all hang out.” 

No one in the audience of the premiere was cheering “Go Big Red!” but it would have been a cute way to welcome the actor’s manicured manparts on the big screen.

Like any true Nebraskan, Devine remains a Husker fan in spite of the program’s struggles in recent years. He even had an opportunity to come and work out with the Huskers in 2016 while promoting the film Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

“I love going to Nebraska to promote movies,” he says. “It’s just fun for me, especially when I get to do cool stuff like going on the field and retrieving some punts—which was really much harder than it looks. Turns out, those guys are freak athletes. They gave me a jersey with my name on it, I got to run up and down the field, I got to take the passes, retrieve some punts, and I also got to go in the gym and get my swole on with the weight-training staff. Big shout-out to them, and thanks for the free gym membership. We were doing push-ups, stuff with the medicine ball, and they told me I could come back any time. I have yet to take them up on it, but I kind of want to go back for just a month and really abuse my privileges [laughing] make them be like, ‘You gotta go. We’re trying to work out here.’”

During that promo visit, he had a chance to talk one-on-one with then-Coach Mike Riley. The coach sat the actor down in his office for the recruitment talk. It was likely the closest Devine will ever comes to realizing his dream of playing for the Cornhuskers. 

“He’s a super nice guy,” he says of Riley. “You know, it’s sad because I don’t like it when people lose their jobs—they’ve got family they’re supporting, so that’s never a good thing—but at the same time, it just wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t working out…Coming off of Scott Frost’s [undefeated 2017] season at Central Florida, I think this was the right time to make the move.”  

A die-hard fan, Devine can’t conceal his excitement about coach Frost’s shakeup of the storied football program, even if it’s merely for the morale of the fans. “Who knows what’s going to happen, especially the first couple seasons,” he says. “I think we have to give him time to adjust, but just as far as excitement about the team, thinking we have a shot, that goes a long way. We’re the Huskers, baby. You can’t count us out. It’s a Frost Warning!”

He’s not alone in his outlook on the 2018 season. Devine has witnessed the excitement from fellow roving residents of the Husker Nation all around the country, even overseas. He received a reminder in his adopted home in Southern California.

“This is going to sound like I’m a fancy asshole, but I have a beach house and have a Husker flag at the end of my dock,” he says, “and just the other day, this guy kept driving past and screaming something. I didn’t know what he was screaming. Finally, after he passed the fourth time, I hear him shout, ‘GOHHHHHHHHH BIHHHHHHG REHHHHHHHD,’ and then me and all my friends—I keep a real tight Nebraska/Omaha crew—we all hollered back with the classic call and response: Go Big Red!” 


Follow Adam Devine on Instagram (@andybovine) and Twitter (@adamdevine).

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Kutashes

June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Gabe Kutash, 10, loves playing basketball in his driveway. He often plays in his big yard, rides his bike around the cul-de-sac with his brother, and walks to school with his siblings.

Gabe really likes living in Omaha. “There’s so much room to play outside!” he says, throwing his arms into the air. “It’s great!”

Gabe and his parents, Jeff and Jessica Kutash, moved into their Baywood home almost three years ago. It’s very different from the 1200-square-foot, 1920s-era home they once owned in Oakland, California.

“It was just above a mid-range home for Oakland,” Jessica says. “I was so shocked when we were able to move here and get over four times as much space for a far lower mortgage—even including the renovations we did. It’s awesome.”

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For Kutash, it wasn’t the size of the house, but the quality of the high school that was the first priority in choosing their neighborhood. Millard won. Jeff and Jessica’s three children will one day attend Millard West High.

“Outstanding schools, so much parental involvement, so encouraging and supportive,” she says. “And it is a public school. We were looking at three private school educations had we stayed in Oakland.”

They loved the layout and location of their new home. The bigger challenge was bringing it up to date, and creating a living space that fit their tastes and lifestyle. Oh, and actually having enough furniture. Kutash estimates her existing furniture filled only about 25 percent of her new house. Rather than tackling multi-colored cabinets, and cotton candy pink spaces on her own, Jeff and Jessica enlisted the services of designer Julie Hockney.

“I saw her work in Omaha Magazine, actually. I loved one of her featured makeovers. So I gave her a call,” Kutash says. “She’s amazing. When we walked through the house, she had great ideas. She listened to us and really ‘got’ us. I came to trust her so much that she picked out most of the accessories without me.”

The main level of the home flows easily from room to room with few walls, so the first priority was to create elements of color and design that gently stitched the rooms together seamlessly. The first challenge was the kitchen. The previous owners favored a Tuscan look:  burnt orange walls, light oak flooring, and ornate fixtures. The upper cabinets were white, the lower cabinets stained—a tiled backsplash with yellow undertones just below.

Kutash was skeptical that Hockney could soften the yellow tones in the polished granite countertops. There are a lot of countertops—both the standard “L” plus a large island. “It was overwhelming. I really didn’t want to have the expense of replacing those countertops. It was one of those times I had to trust Julie.”

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Hockney did her magic. All white cabinets, a new backsplash, all new handles and knobs, and voila! She managed to take away the yellow tones and the orange walls.  She picked a light greyish blue as the field color for most of the rooms. Inconsistent wood colors throughout the lower level were painted a deep, rich brown. The fireplaces got new brickwork, and the staircases, which were once the same light oak as the ocean of flooring, were painted to complement the room: white, with dark brown steps. Overstuffed or overly traditional elements gave way to a fresher, uncluttered, and modern look. One thing that remained consistent was the deep and charming plantation blinds along the north side of the house.

While the main living areas are beautiful, Kutash’s favorite room is the main floor master bedroom. “The suite feels as big as our whole house was in Oakland,” She says. The walls are “new gray” with a wide horizontal navy stripe behind the headboard. “It’s the room that takes my breath away every time. I just love it.”

Upstairs, each child has his or her own space. The boys share a bathroom, and the cotton candy-colored walls are gone. “Gabe can actually leave his Lego projects on the floor overnight,” Kutash says. “There was never room for that before, or a swing set. I giggled when we were able to finally buy a swing set for the children.”

In asking the children their favorite part of the house, the basement wins, hands down. A playroom with a mirrored wall offers the young gymnast a way to check posture on the portable balance beam, or for her brothers to blow off steam with the arsenal of Nerf guns. The basement’s guest room and entertainment space houses much of the California furniture. 

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“We made a number of trips to Nebraska Furniture Mart with Julie,” Kutash says. “We were able to find things on clearance too!”

Jessica and Jeff are thrilled with their decision to move to Omaha. They love the culture, the arts, and the philanthropic nature of the city. This aspect is especially significant to Jeff, who leads the Peter Kiewit Foundation. Most of all, they love the sense of community.

“It’s so amazing how much people care. They care about their schools. They care about their city. They care about each other. This is where we belong.” OmahaHome

Radical Simplicity

November 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ron Dotzler grew up in defiance. The small town of Defiance, Iowa, that is.

“I’ve been rebellious ever since,” he says with a chuckle.

That’s a good thing for his home of the last four decades—a city some have referred to as the most dangerous place in America to be black.

According to a 2014 report by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., research and advocacy center, 30 black people were murdered in Nebraska in 2011, the latest year for which data was available. Of them, 27 were murdered in Omaha. That put the state’s black homicide rate at 34.4 per 100,000 people—twice the national average. And in Omaha alone, Dotzler points out, the FBI reports an average of 23,000 major felony incidents each year.

Dotzler has seen the devastation firsthand. Four years after moving to north Omaha, two girls in his neighborhood were murdered. That’s what got his defiant nature fighting back.

“That was kind of the straw that broke my back,” Dotzler says. “I felt like God was saying to me, ‘Ron, will you give me your life so other children won’t have their lives cut by violence?’”

The murders made him ever more committed to Abide, the inner-city nonprofit he and his wife, Twany, had launched in 1989.

Abide works “one neighborhood at a time,” helping develop healthy communities through four main foci: community building, family support programs, housing, and partnerships. It has become one of the most successful—and increasingly well-known—nonprofits affecting change in Omaha.

But significant change didn’t come until 2007, when Abide altered its strategy. Most importantly, Abide began a holistic, grassroots tactic of “adopting” neighborhoods. With partners and volunteer power, the nonprofit began mowing lawns, cleaning litter, fixing abandoned properties, and more. They got to know neighbors personally. Relationships were built and change followed. People felt safer. Crime went down.

Law enforcement officers wanted to know what was happening. They were pointed to Abide. “The police showed up and said, ‘We don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s working,’” Dotzler says.

With help from partner Lifegate Church, Abide has since adopted more than 100 neighborhoods with help from 15 partners and more than 8,000 volunteers each year. They have targeted 600 other neighborhoods to adopt.

Abide also establishes “Lighthouses,” abandoned homes that are fixed up and occupied by families. More than 30 Lighthouses have been established since 2009.

It has three community centers and offers family support and employee development programs, plus basketball and swimming programs for children. It throws block parties, hosts grill-outs, and stages Easter egg hunts. Abide’s annual budget has grown to nearly $1.5 million.

Dotzler, 57, is board president. Son Josh, the former Creighton University basketball star, now is Abide CEO. Three other Dotzler children—Ron and Twany have 14 total—also are employees. Abide has 24 full-timers and 11 who work as paid, part-time interns. The organization’s work has earned recognition from Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Dotzler says Abide doesn’t “market itself as the savior” of north Omaha. “We’re just one entity” among others working to make things better, he says. They’re just trying to “put the neighbor back in the hood.”

And those neighbors include Dotzler and his family.

Abide headquarters is a former Immanuel Hospital boiler facility on Fowler Street. The building doubles as the Dotzler home.

The family originally moved to north Omaha from Millard in 1988. Dotzler had worked as a chemical engineer in the computer industry but felt called “to really invest in the lives of others.” To him, that meant mission work overseas. The Dotzlers sold their house and many of their possessions, but needed a temporary place to live before deciding where they would serve. A friend said he could stay rent-free at his house in north Omaha—if Dotzler fixed it up while he was there. It needed more than a bit of work.

“I had grown up around pests, but not roaches like I saw in that house,” he says.

He was more shocked, though, by what he saw outside. “I started seeing the brokenness of lives like I’d never experienced before,” he says. “I saw more police in a couple weeks living in north Omaha than I saw in my whole life. I’d never dialed 911, and suddenly it began to be on my speed dial.”

In north Omaha today, he says, nine out of 10 homes are headed by a single parent. And at least 70 percent of families, he estimates, don’t own their own homes.

That’s radically unlike his childhood home in Defiance, Iowa, a small, rural community halfway between Denison and Harlan.

“I grew up with a mom and dad in the household, and the whole culture surrounding you had that kind of parental influence,” he says. “There was an infrastructure in rural Iowa. You were on the same page. There was a culture of understanding. We were all working toward the same things.

“In urban settings the autonomy is so greatly individualized and independence is so great that you don’t have those connections anymore.”

Before moving to north Omaha, Dotzler says he was “cold, callous, judgmental, and critical” of those living in the inner city.

No longer.

Now, he abides with them.

“We’ll never see the brokenness of crime and violence transformed,” Dotzler says, “until the brokenness of crime and violence transforms us.”

Visit abideomaha.org to learn more.

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Denise Fackler

September 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Denise Fackler is cool.

That is, if cool still means what it meant when the singer-songwriter was touring coffeehouses as a teenager in the ‘60s, or later helicoptering over the war-torn jungles of South Vietnam. The Omaha native even dashed off at 19 to marry her guitar-shredding flame, Lightnin’ Lyle, whose long locks made him an ill-fitted suitor in her parents’ eyes.

Yeah, the 62-year-old is pretty cool.

Of course, a duet with John Denver, a rock performance with Ted Nugent, and two improbable encounters with Lou Rawls and Ed Sullivan doesn’t hurt either.

At the very least, Fackler’s life can surely gussy up a diner — Shirley’s Diner in Millard, to be exact, which she’s owned with her husband, Lyle “Doug” Fackler, for 22 years.

“We decided to do something different,” Fackler says, reflecting on her transition from musician to business owner. “We needed something a little more secure.”

Adorned with relics from less certain times, to call Shirley’s a mausoleum would be a big mistake. The memories Fackler has amassed in the form of photographs, newspaper clippings and other miscellany are very much alive to tell her story.

Above the diner’s booths and tables, a guitar case displays the name, “We, the Living,” the three-piece folkadelic act she says she helped found in junior high. At 14, Fackler and her bandmates, Nikki Lycan and Salli Evans, signed to a local agency and began playing out-of-town gigs.

“We were good. We did three-part harmony,” she says. “We just practiced so much after school everyday, that you just get good — you get good at anything you practice at,” just like the wonder that is the diner’s Stick-to-Your-Ribs Chili.

Like all good things, the band eventually petered out, but a lingering war and its disheartened U.S. troops still required their musical prowess. A framed letter and photograph hanging just outside the diner’s kitchen reminds Fackler of her tours with the USO through Vietnam and Thailand.

“I’m most proud of that in my life,” she says with watery eyes. “I remember the sad faces of those boys—never smiling. I had no idea what they were going through every day.”

And then there’s Fackler’s youngest son, filmmaker/musician Nik, 29, whose framed movie poster for Lovely, Still, starring Martin Landau and Ellen Barkin—both Oscar-winners—proudly decorates the opposite wall. The director wrote the film’s script in high school and credits his mother for encouraging him to write at a young age.

“It didn’t matter what the story was about or how it ended, just that it was created,” Nik says. “Because of her, it became a habit to create.”

Perhaps as a form of continued maternal support—and amping up her hipster quotient three more notches—Denise has even provided background vocals while performing on the Waiting Room stage with her son’s ethereal art-rock band, InDreama.

Yep, in this or any other decade, Denise Fackler is just that cool.   

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Linden Estates

December 5, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It originally carried the decidedly blah designation of “SID 353,” but Linden Estates is now among Omaha’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Known for its approximately 120 stunning luxury homes that sit on large, exquisitely landscaped lots, the properties start at 3,000 square feet and more than a few attain the classification of “mansion,” with the largest topping out at 23,000 square feet.

“The beauty of the neighborhood is that you didn’t have one builder going in there with a specific style,” says Deb Cizek, of the Cizek Group with Prudential Ambassador Real Estate. “You had the individual taste of the owners who contracted with these builders. You have some contemporary homes in there, some traditional, you have some Tuscan—just a beautiful mix of architecture.”

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Cizek has been in real estate more than 25 years, and as a realtor who specializes in high-end properties, she knows Linden Estates particularly well. “It will go anywhere from half a million to multi-million, and everything seems to blend just fine,” she says.

The residents themselves also blend well, says Kim Syslo, who’s been in the neighborhood for about a year. There are homes with play structures side-by-side with homes that feature stately courtyards or pristine gardens, and Syslo says her young family has felt at home from the beginning. “We have friendly neighbors who are so kind to my kids,” she says. “Children really are welcome—we’ve been thrilled with the neighborhood.”

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John Belford, president of Linden Estates’ board of directors, agrees that, as the neighborhood enters its third decade, it has become more diverse in recent years. “There’s definitely been a lot of turnover. We’ve had a lot of new kids come into the neighborhood, young kids from 2 to 14. There are also people who are retired with no kids as well. Everyone 
gets along.”

“It’s a pretty good mix,” Cizek agrees, “and that’s what you want in a neighborhood.”

Located in the area of 144th and Dodge, Linden Estates is close to West Omaha business parks, retail developments, and 
other amenities.

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“We used to think 72nd was the heart of the city, and now it’s 132nd,” Cizek says. “Everything is easy to get to. It is a phenomenal location: easy access to downtown, easy access to the interstate.”

“There are a lot of restaurants and grocery stores and amenities that are within 10 minutes,” 15-year resident Nancy 
Hultquist adds.

Linden Estates is in the Millard Public Schools district, so neighborhood children generally attend Ezra Millard Elementary, Kiewit Middle School, and Millard North High School. Catholic schools St. Vincent de Paul and St. Wenceslaus are also nearby. Belford, who is the parent of three high-school students and also has one in college, says, “I’m fortunate to live here. It’s been great for our family, and it’s a great location—between 132nd and 144th and Dodge to Maple, we have everything we need.”

Linden Estates was annexed by the City of Omaha in 2008, Belford says. There is also a Linden Estates Second Addition, but although the two neighborhoods are adjacent, they are independent developments and even managed by separate home-
owners associations.

“Linden Estates is, in my opinion, probably the premier neighborhood in the city,” Cizek says. “It has stood out for twenty years.”

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Not only has the natural maturation of the community’s trees enhanced the look of Linden Estates over the years, the April hailstorms that came through West Omaha this year had an unexpected silver lining—many of the homes now sport new roofs, which has refreshed the neighborhood. “You have homes in there that look like they’re brand-new again,” Cizek explains.

The new roofs will also be a perfect canvas for the elaborate holiday light displays for which Linden Estates has become known.

“It’s always been like that since we’ve been here,” Hultquist says of the collective enthusiasm for holiday decor. “Everyone really puts up a lot of lights and celebrates the holidays. It’s a very festive environment not only for the homeowners, but also for Omahans to enjoy. I think when you go out to look at Christmas lights, this is one of the neighborhoods 
you go through.”

Even the entrance to Linden Estates is welcoming, Belford says. “The homeowners association started putting up lights about 10 years ago at the main entrance at 144th Street and Hamilton. The homeowners were already putting lots of lights up, so we decided to enhance the holiday season by adding lights.”

Linden Estates is an active neighborhood year-round. Even the surrounding areas are pedestrian-friendly, Hultquist says, with plenty of paths, parks, and even a small reservoir near the First National Business Park.

“In the morning, you see children walking to school, and after school, you see more people walking their dogs, children riding bikes,” she says. “There’s just more activity with more families and younger children in the neighborhood.”

Jean Stothert

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Keith Binder

The corridor leading to the Omaha mayor’s office serves as a gallery for a long line of portraits of the city’s past mayors. It is a wall-to-wall boy’s club.

This day, the portrait of the city’s newest mayor is off at a photography studio waiting to be framed. But once it arrives, it will be an image long overdue on this wall.

It’s the first picture of a woman in the hallway on the third floor of the Civic Center.

“It was not an issue in the campaign, and it was not something I thought about,” says Mayor Jean Stothert as she sits at the conference table in her new office. “But yes, there’s no question I’m proud to be the first female mayor of Omaha.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘*-word.’” – Jean Stothert on women in politics

“Some of my biggest influences are those strong, pioneering women who broke new ground. I love Margaret Thatcher. I would love if someone called me The Iron Lady.”

So be it. Jean Stothert—The Iron Lady. It’s a name both friend and foe are likely to find fitting.

Conservative, like Thatcher. Driven. A homemaker from humble beginnings turned successful political figure. A tough, sometimes polarizing figure. A woman who can shrug off, and move on from, the sometimes vile comments only female political figures have to face.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘c-word,’” she says. It isn’t unusual for women in politics to be pushed to prove their “toughness.” So where is the “Iron” in the “Lady?” In Stothert’s case, not only did politics help galvanize her; so, too, did her years as an ICU nurse.

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Humble Roots

Stothert grew up in Wood River, Ill., outside St. Louis, “a refinery town where my dad worked at the refinery.”

He was not in a union, if you were wondering. Like Thatcher, Stothert—as she has proven already with the firefighter’s union—stands in vocal and firm opposition to some union interests.

The specs of her childhood home roll quickly off her tongue. “Tiny house—living room, kitchen, four kids, one bathroom,” Stothert shares. She’s clearly said this many times before. It is a counterpoint raised often in political spheres when people note that she lives with her surgeon husband in often-assumed-to-be-more-affluent-than-it-is Millard.

She walked to school, had a job, did volunteer work. She wanted to be a nurse “because it seemed like a good way to give back to the community.” While many of her friends chose to work in hospitals in more affluent parts of St. Louis, she chose to “be where I was most needed”—with the Trauma Center at St. Louis University Hospital in the heart of the city.

You have to become an Iron Lady to be a nurse in an inner-city trauma center.

“You see it all,” she says. “I’ve done CPR on hundreds of patients. I’ve opened people’s chests and done internal heart massage. I’ve wrapped up bodies and taken them to the morgue over and over again. That’s just how it is.

“I like the challenge of making a critically ill patient well. But sometimes, I’m not going to make that patient well. They’re going to die. The thing is, I never want to get that hard edge. You can do tough work without losing your humanity and compassion doing it.”

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From Homemaker to Politician

It was in this environment that she met trauma surgeon Joe Stothert.

After five years of dating, they married. In time, the couple moved to Seattle with his job. Then to Galveston, Texas, where the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Andrew, were born.

Then to Omaha, Neb., “in good part for the better schools,” Joe notes. With two young children and a husband with a job that took him away at all hours, Jean decided she would stay home with her children.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done.” – Joe Stothert

In little time, being an at-home mom entailed diving into work with her local parent-teacher organization. Joe says it was a natural fit for her.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done,” he says. “Then, as an ICU nurse, she was working with an immense amount of sophisticated mechanisms. She enjoyed that. I think she was quickly interested in the mechanisms of government.”

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Getting Out the Vote

Three years after the family arrived in Millard, three positions opened on the Millard School Board.

“There were 13 people running. A full field,” Stothert says. “I didn’t have much money, so I figured we’d have to hit the streets and knock on as many doors as we could. We won by a good bit. We learned right then how important it is to get out and talk to everyone you can.”

That shoe-leather, door-to-door campaigning with her and her supportive family at its core has been the key to her continued success. She served two more terms on the Millard School Board before her election to the Omaha City Council, which, she says, was a logical step.

“School boards are very much like city councils,” Stothert says. “You manage multi-million-dollar budgets, you have labor negotiations. It wasn’t much of a leap at all.”

During her time on the school board, she suffered her only loss so far in politics: a 2006 bid for the state legislature against Democrat Steve Lathrop.

It was one of the closest races in state history. Initially, it appeared Stothert had won by only a few votes. She celebrated with a small vacation with her husband. When she returned, she found out that after absentee votes were counted, she had lost by 14 votes. Stothert said the final margin—after some votes were contested—was five votes.

“So maybe you should have picked up 10 of your friends and driven [them] to the polls,” she recalls having wondered to herself. “Yes, I thought about it. But I truly believe we did the best we could. I think I learned more in losing than I did in winning. I also truly believe that things happen for a reason.”

She then turned her eye toward the Omaha City Council. She asked Joe if she should run. “I said ‘no,’” he says. “She ran anyway.”

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Taking on the Big Boys

She had no plans to run for mayor when she won her seat on the council, but, in time, she says, she “decided that we needed a change.”

In her race for mayor, her calls for smaller, more streamlined government resonated with voters. Her ground game grew considerably. At its core was a relentless door-to-door campaign by the entire Stothert family.

Joe took 10 vacation days prior to both the primary and the general election. Her son, who is pursuing an advanced degree at the University of South Florida, and her daughter, who works at Union Pacific, also joined in.

Stothert proudly showed off a framed photo of her and her husband in the middle of a residential street during one of the weekend campaign blitzes. The city was socked in by a blizzard that weekend. The Stotherts are wrapped in wet winterwear. Part of Jean’s hair is frozen and cocked sideways. Joe’s right thumb is protruding from a hole in his glove.

It’s a picture of resolve. They knocked on 15,000 doors. She says Joe helped push her on when she grew tired on the campaign trail. Joe insists, “She never would have gone on if she didn’t want to.” It’s also a picture, she jokes, of the Stotherts on a date. “We really have enjoyed those times together,” the mayor says.

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The Ugly Side of Politics

At times, the war of words during the campaign got brutal. Stothert, often characterized as a hardline conservative, can throw fire as well as she receives it. But particularly in the modern world of blogs, tweets, and every sort of website, the personal stabs at those in the public arena are often relentless and outrageous.

Stothert admits that, during the campaign, she failed to heed advice that she avoid reading all the attacks on her on the internet. Also, some of the nastiest—and most sexist—of the insults blew up into campaign issues she then had to address.

She boldly repeats two comments about her—one, a joke essentially about her being gang raped, and another about her being a stripper—that one would not expect to hear verbatim in an interview with the mayor.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her.” – State Senator Brad Ashford on Stothert

But there is often a flipside to such outlandish attacks. People get angry. In this election, Stothert admits, polls showed that a substantial number of women responded to the sexist attacks by moving into her camp.

Stothert says she’s not afraid of criticism. She invites it, as long as it’s civilized. But she knows now to avoid the constant barrage in cyberspace.

“It’s just not good for your mental health,” she says. “It wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health.” Her husband, as you might imagine, hasn’t handled some of the nastier or more personal criticisms with such a thick skin. “I don’t forgive and forget as easily,” Joe says. “She’s the one who can do that. Early on, she had it pegged. She told me the jabs were going to hurt me more than they would hurt her.”

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Tackling Tough Issues

The criticism is not going to ebb. She will continue to grapple with the powerful and vocal firefighter’s union. While sitting at her office’s conference table, she points to her desk. The gritty specifics of her proposed budget to streamline government “are sitting right over there,” she says.

She promises to cut government and cut taxes while improving government services. There are few political figures who have not claimed they could accomplish this feat. There are few who have.“We are going to succeed,” she says. “I have no doubt about that.”

If anyone can pull off this trick, it might be Stothert. State Sen. Brad Ashford, who ran against Stothert for mayor while also working with her on several issues on the state government level, says Stothert, while always civilized, is a tough and driven negotiator.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her,” Ashford says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, that’s how you make good policy.” In Ashford’s mind, Stothert’s best chance to save money while improving services will come “if she’s committed to consolidating” many services that both the county and city provide.

Jean and Joe with their family.

Finding Equilibrium

To keep a sense of balance, Stothert says, she knows she has to guard her personal time. She has a life outside the demands of the mayor’s office. “I love my home,” she says. “I’m pretty good at getting there, calming down, and shutting things off for a while.”

Her day is fairly regimented, as you might expect. She’s up at 5 a.m. After a usually healthy breakfast, she walks for 30 minutes on her treadmill, then takes her Australian Shepard, Ozzie (named after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith), for a one-mile walk.

Back at home, she watches little television beyond the news. Instead, she relaxes by reading “a lot of fiction.” Her favorite books: one from her childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird, and comedian Tina Fey’s Bossypants (the cover of which inspired our magazine cover concept and, yes, the mayor enthusiastically “suited up” for the photo shoot).

If she has the time, she loves to get in the kitchen. “My friends and I used to get Bon Appétit magazine and try things all the time,” she says. “I would consider myself a gourmet cook now. I enjoy any time I can cook something myself.”

“I’m pretty good at getting [home], calming down, and shutting things off for a while.” – Jean Stothert

If she can’t, she’s also a fan of numerous Omaha restaurants. One stands out though, she says, perhaps because she fell in love with the fresh fish dinners she ate during the family’s time living in Seattle.

“The Twisted Cork has wonderful halibut and salmon,” she says. “I just love the food of the Pacific Northwest when it is done well.”

Then it’s five hours or so of sleep, the morning exercise, and off to another day as The Iron Lady.

“I’m a very black-and-white person,” she says. “I’m a very determined person.”

Meaning?

“We will achieve better services for less money,” she says. “We are not reducing city service, and we are going to balance the budget. This is what the people of this city have asked me to do, so that is what we’re going to get done.”

E-Cigs

March 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With the implementation of Omaha’s indoor smoking ban in 2006, electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) have become a popular option for many patrons in local bars and businesses. Kiosks in the mall have started selling the so-called “better for you” cigarettes, and even Jake’s Cigars and Spirits in Benson and House of Loom in Downtown Omaha now sell and allow customers to smoke e-cigs.

Each bar has its own rules about e-cigs; it’s up to the owner’s discretion whether e-cig smoking in their establishment is allowed. Bar owner Tim Addison of Addy’s Bar and Grill in Millard says smoking e-cigs in his business is permissible, though he prefers those with e-cigs go outside “like everyone else.” Addy’s is a family-friendly place, he says, and he feels smoking e-cigs indoors just looks bad. Addison cites a regular customer who comes in often for lunch: “He smokes electronic cigarettes, but he still goes outside out of routine.”

The occasionally disposable but usually rechargeable e-cigs are a battery-powered nicotine delivery system that simulates the act of smoking a traditional cigarette. E-cigs use a mixture of vapor, flavoring, and nicotine to create a smoking affect, and some even have a light at the end that glows when inhaled, mimicking a real cigarette. The controversy surrounding e-cigs, however, is this: while makers claim they help some people quit smoking, they are still not considered a safe alternative to smoking by many health professionals. According to WebMD, e-cigs have different levels of nicotine, so in theory they can be used to lessen one’s addiction to cigarettes, or even help them quit. Unlike Chantix or the Nicotine patch, however, e-cigs are not FDA-approved as smoking cessation aids.

Marketers of e-cigs appeal to the smoking masses with brands like Njoy, Vapor4Life, and Blu Cigs (which is endorsed by actor Stephen Dorff). Blu Cigs offers flavored versions as well, like Magnificent Menth, Vivid Vanilla, and Pina Colada. Njoy even has a disposable version called One Joy. Despite their popularity, the jury is still out on the safety of e-cigs. But as Joy Fortuna from Pcmag.com writes, “E-cigs may help you decrease your dependence on nicotine…It is conceivable that a self-managed program of nicotine step-down might lead to a drug-free lifestyle.”

As far as bar owner Tim Addison is concerned, he plans to use e-cigs to help him kick his own smoking habit “real soon.”

Millard Roadhouse

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If homemade comfort food is what you crave—think golden fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, and pork tenderloin—look no further than a historic eatery in southwest Omaha. Grab a friend or two (or more, there’s plenty of seating) and head to the Millard Roadhouse.

Just a stone’s throw from 132nd and L streets, the Millard Roadhouse has been serving up stick-to-your-ribs lunches, dinners, and Sunday brunches since its owner, Mark J. Kitson, opened the restaurant in 1997.

Mark Kitson, owner.

Mark Kitson, owner.

With more than 20 years experience working in the dining industry, Kitson says the Millard Roadhouse personally provides him with the perfect professional balance: great food with the opportunity to continually meet new people and routinely see familiar faces.

On a steamy Friday afternoon in early summer, Kitson chatted with a handful of regulars who have found a home at the Millard Roadhouse. The menu, along with the relaxed atmosphere, keep patrons coming back each week, Kitson says.

A spacious restaurant with room to hold upward of 350 guests (children eat free on Monday nights), the Millard Roadhouse’s signature red-checkered tablecloths and Americana décor can make any party, large or small, feel right at home. Its signature Husker Room is a popular pick for larger parties, especially during football season.

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Kitson adds that the Millard Roadhouse often hosts pre-nuptial dinners and other family celebrations. The reason?

“We are very accommodating,” he says. “We see family dinners of 20, 30 people. Sports teams, too. We can make our layout work, hosting parties of up to 70 people. When a big group arrives, we make it work—even if they don’t have reservations.”

And while the space provides a relaxed and casual dining atmosphere, it’s the food that keeps Millard Roadhouse fans hungry for more, meal after tasty meal. A quick scan of the menu will leave anyone with taste buds salivating for what’s sure to be a memorable meal.

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“Everything here is homemade,” Kitson says. “It’s all from scratch…our homestyle breading, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. We even have fresh-baked cookies.”

The onion rings are a popular appetizer, fried perfectly golden and served piping hot. During the summer months, fresh-baked pies are a signature dessert; apple and strawberry rhubarb are among the most-often ordered. Another decadent favorite is a dense (and delicious) chocolate and peanut butter pie, served atop thin ribbons of caramel with a pretty strawberry garnish.

Although the Millard Roadhouse’s broasted chicken dinner is a fan favorite, Kitson says his variety of steaks are always ordered, too: roasted prime rib, New York strips, and T-bones by Omaha Steaks, to name a few.

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The lunch buffet is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday; and the popular Sunday brunch menu (featuring both breakfast and lunch favorites) is also served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tradition is a big part of the Millard Roadhouse history. Kitson says that today’s regular customers started dining at the restaurant as children with their parents. Today, the children are all grown up, bringing in their own children for lunch and dinner. They stop by, too, for happy hour during the workweek, ordering up a variety of cocktail specials.

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The building itself is historic, as well. At more than 100 years old, the Millard Roadhouse space is actually a combination of three adjoining buildings. At various points during the past 100 years, the buildings housed a number of local businesses: a post office, another restaurant, a barber shop, café, even a hotel and speakeasy. And part of Millard’s surrounding brick streets remain intact, giving the neighborhood a small town feel.

“We are Millard,” Kitson says of his restaurant. “We’re in the hub of Millard. I love that we support our heritage and our roots here in Omaha.”

Millard Roadhouse
13325 Millard Ave.
402-891-9292
millardroadhouse.com

The Magnetts’ Dunsany Flats Condo

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

Charlie and Sherri Magnett were driving through Omaha’s Little Italy neighborhood when they spotted the vintage Dunsany Flats building near 10th and Pierce streets. It was built in 1901 to house railroad workers. They found their dream condo inside. The deck first caught their eye.

“The deck sold us on this condo,” says Sherri. A glass wall leads to a spacious deck with a ceiling fan, couch, and chairs. Their deck overlooks a “green” roof where living plants flourish. The colorful roof provides insulation for the garage below, keeping it warm in winter and cool in summer, as well as a pleasant view for condo owners.

Sherri Magnett admires her view of Little Italy.

Sherri Magnett admires her view of Little Italy.

Charlie and Sherri were so struck by what they saw, the Millard-area homeowners sold their place two years ago, then bought two Dunsany condos and melded them into an airy 1,900-square-foot home. A brick wall was removed and replaced with sliding oak doors that were the original unit’s front doors. Windows flood the rooms with natural light.

The original exposed brick walls and woodwork that were new the day the building opened more than a century ago were retained and restored during renovation. Ornamental iron flower boxes sit just outside the windows of the condos.

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The media room is wired for sound. Electronics are hidden in a closet to give the room an uncluttered look. Posters from movies popular with family members—which include daughter Page, 19, and son Chase, 22—hang from the walls. Each chose a favorite movie to feature: The Wizard of Oz (Charlie); Silence of the Lambs and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Sherri); Reservoir Dogs and Forrest Gump (Page); and Boondock Saints and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Chase).

Movies made in Nebraska are saluted in posters that line a hallway leading to the bedrooms of Page and Chase: Sideways, Election, Up in the Air, and About Schmidt. Reverend, a fluffy white puppy who lives with the Magnetts, appears not to have a favorite movie. We would have guessed 101 Dalmatians.

Son Chase spends a good chunk of time in the media room.

Son Chase spends a good chunk of time in the media room.

The couple invested in a system that uses a strip running along the upper wall with wires that hang down to hold the posters, making the hanging job easier. Also on the front hall walls are framed maps that Charlie collects. Shelving in the hallway was custom-made for them from 100-year-old salvaged wood.

They’ve had as many as 50 guests in their double condo. But it’s unlikely the neighbors were annoyed by noise. Acoustical flooring, 12-inch-thick masonry walls, and a sound-proofing system assure privacy and quiet. “You barely hear your own footsteps,” says Charlie.

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The custom-designed, European-style kitchen was Sherri’s project. Cabinet doors open accordion-style above the Corian counters. “The one thing Charlie wanted in the kitchen was an integrated kitchen sink (sink and countertop are formed together),” she says.

“We bought the appliances on eBay,” adds Sherri, who relishes a bargain.

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Bedroom closets feature backlit, glass doors. Lighting makes it easier to find clothing and shines through the glass for a soft light in the bedroom. An attic was added by the Magnetts to supplement the storage space already available. A metal ladder folds down to allow access to the attic, which doubles as a bedroom when Chase’s friends visit.

Before settling into the Little Italy neighborhood, Sherri checked City of Omaha plans and learned the area is targeted for revitalization. The Blue Barn Theatre’s new building is scheduled to go up by 2014 across the street from their condo.

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There’s a lot going on in walking distance. They can stroll to the Old Market, Durham Museum, and TD Ameritrade Park, where Charlie caught the College World Series. They can watch July 4th fireworks from Downtown Omaha and hear music from Stir Cove across the Missouri River.

Charlie now has only a seven-minute walk to Union Pacific headquarters where he is an engineer. Sherri’s commute to Peter Kiewit, where she is an IT worker, also is shorter than from Millard.

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They wanted to be closer to their jobs and closer to the center of action. “There’s so much to do. It’s a different lifestyle,” says Charlie. “We’ve been talking for five years about doing this.”

They found new friends and a lively neighborhood in Little Italy. The couple ride bikes and attend ball games with neighbors. Sherri and a friend won this year’s tournament on the neighborhood bocce court, even though she had never played.

“We know everybody by name,” says Sherri.