Tag Archives: Omaha Magazine

Carmen Tapio

November 22, 2017 by

When former call center executive Carmen Tapio founded North End Teleservices in partnership with the Omaha Economic Development Corp., the site location was part of the strategy for success in a competitive, longstanding, and internationally known market. It also fit the company’s mission to create jobs and change lives.

“While there are many great call centers around the city, we were very intentional about placing North End Teleservices right here because this area has one of the highest unemployment rates in the city of Omaha,” she says. “It’s allowing people to work where they live.”

Less than two years after its September 2015 opening, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce named North End Teleservices the 2017 Small Business of the Year.

“We fill a high-touch, high-service niche in the contact center industry. We do exceptional work for our clients. That seems simplistic, but we talk about ‘earning the business every single day.’”

Tapio says she is proud of the loyalty and commitment of her team—many of them women—from which she expects to cultivate the next generation of industry leaders.

“It really is a family. We care about how we’re doing as a business, but we care about each other personally as well,” she says. Her employees not only gain marketable job skills, they learn about financial literacy and can access health care, tuition assistance, and other benefits.

“We talk to them about their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their careers. It’s not just about a job. It’s really about helping them create a vision for themselves,” she says.

1500 N. 24th St., Suite 111

Omaha, NE 68110

This sponsored content appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Downsizing Home Cameos

November 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne prepares a film, he not only auditions actors but locations, too.

The writer-director insists on actual locations whenever possible. When he films in his hometown of Omaha, he’s extra keen to get it right. Just as local homes brought authenticity to his films Citizen Ruth, Election, and About Schmidt, Omaha homes earned supporting roles for Payne’s new film Downsizing during a mid-April 2016 shoot here.

Omaha figures prominently in the sci-fi dramedy (starring Matt Damon) that played major festivals in Venice, Italy; Telluride, Colorado; and Toronto, Canada. Its first half establishes Damon’s character, Paul, as an Omaha Everyman. The script called for him to reside in an inner-city duplex and, thus, location scout Jamie Vesay and counterparts in Toronto, where much of the film was made, scoured prospective sites.

Two matching 1920s-era, two-story brick duplexes on Douglas Street (in Payne’s childhood Dundee neighborhood) stood in for Paul’s home.

The story has Paul and wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig) visit a suburban McMansion. Vesay scouted that, too.

Jamie Vesay

Two new large homes in Elkhorn’s Five Fountains neighborhood portrayed the for-sale property that Paul and Audrey visit.

Scenes were also shot outside La Casa Pizzaria, Creighton Prep (Payne’s alma mater), Jam’s in the Old Market and at Regency Court, and Omaha Steaks’ distribution center.

The story required a duplex with adjoining back decks to underscore the attachment Paul feels to his mother, who lives next door at one point. Payne loves physical comedy, and the director liked all the business of Paul entering-exiting various doors and navigating steps.

Events fast forward nine years to find Paul’s mother gone. He and Audrey now live in his mom’s old place, and he’s renting out his former unit. It’s a commentary on Paul’s limited horizons before his grand adventure.

Vesay says Payne also liked the Douglas properties for their small, steep front yards. A yard sale unfolds there that comically shows folks struggling with the tight quarters and severe pitch. Sealing the deal was the alley’s confluence of yards, fences, garages, light poles, wires, and its downtown view.

Carol Redwing lived at one of the two Douglas Street duplexes. The exterior of her residence was used for daytime and nighttime shots with Damon and Wiig. The unoccupied unit next door was leased by the production. The same arrangement was used at the other duplex on Douglas Street, where interiors were shot in a unit doubling for the on-screen duplex. More interiors were doubled in Toronto.

In suburban Five Points, Gretchen and Steven Twohig’s home became the McMansion exterior. The home of Ethan and Erin Evans became the interior. Vesay says the sea of cookie-cutter roofs visible from the development caught Payne’s eye.

The exterior of the Twohig home where filming occurred

Long before the production reached out to residents, their homes were scouted from the street. When first contacted, they were wary. Once assured that the Hollywood scout was not a prankster, Vesay, Payne, and department heads came for closer looks. The locals only knew their places were in the running before receiving final confirmation.

When word leaked about the Downsizing dwellings, reporters and curiosity-seekers appeared.

“It was kind of surreal,” says Redwing, who has since moved.

During the shoot, Vesay says producers broke protocol and allowed civilians on set. “People got remarkably close,” he says. Residents who lent their homes to the cause got up-close-and-personal experiences themselves. It was eye-opening.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces and people,” Redwing says. “It was really cool.”

Ethan Evans says he was struck “by how many behind-the-scenes people it takes—it’s quite the production. It was kind of a circus and crazy for a while.”

Hollywood came calling, but as Gretchen Twohig noted, “There’s nothing glamorous or fancy about any of it. It’s just people working really hard to get a project done. You realize all this hard work and all these tiny moments have to come together to make a movie.” She and her husband have school-age children but opted not to take them out of classes for the filming. The Evans’ young children watched. Redwing and her son saw everything.

Twohig echoed the other residents in saying everyone from Payne to the stars to the grips were “down-to-earth, calm, warm, professional, and gracious.”

The Evans’ garage became a staging spot. That’s where the couple hung out with Payne, Damon, and Wiig.

The high-ceilinged, spacious home’s entryway, dining room, and kitchen got the shoot’s full attention.

“Besides moving furniture around to make room for lights, screens, and cameras—and taking pictures down— they sort of kept everything the way we had the house decorated,” Evans says, “It only took a few takes.”

The Evans and Twohigs met one another as a result of Hollywood casting their homes. They’ve compared notes about their Downsizing experiences.

Twohig says after hours of setup at her place, as crew adjusted window blinds and for-sale signs, moved cars in and out of the driveway, and took the family basketball hoop down, put it back up, and took it down again, the actual shoot was over in a flash.

At Redwing’s old duplex, crew did landscaping and made building touch-ups but left her recycling bin, tools, and other homey elements intact. She’s confident her old abode made the final cut since it’s such an essential location as the hero’s home. However, the Evans and Twohigs know their places are more incidental and therefore expendable.

“We’d be disappointed, but we knew going in it could very easily be cut,” Twohig says. “But it would sure be fun if it was there.”

Redwing spoke for everyone regarding anticipation for Downsizing’s December release. “I’m very eager to see it.”

Meanwhile, one of the Douglas duplexes’ exterior has been painted. Last summer, its empty units were under renovation. A real estate listing read: “Come live where Matt Damon filmed the movie Downsizing!”

Having glimpsed behind the magic curtain, Ethan Evans says, “I sort of watch movies differently now.” Although he’s certain that he’ll forget the mechanics of cameras, mics, booms, and clappers when he finally sees Downsizing.

One of the duplexes on Douglas Street where filming occurred.

Leo Adam Biga is the author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. Read more of his work at leoadambiga.com.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

The Pamphleteer

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Colleen Ramsey has always written what she knows: love, adoption, grief, and—more recently—aging.

“I have to feel something,” Ramsey says. “I have to have some emotion connected with it.”

At 85, Ramsey has self-published more than two dozen books. While most are shared with her friends and family, some are recommended reading for adoptive families at Catholic Charities and for grieving adults at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries.

Ramsey became a writer out of necessity. She battled depression in her early days of motherhood. Her psychologist prescribed writing. He told her to get up an hour early and write, write anything, even if it was just her name for an hour.

Though she was not a natural-born writer, she wrote. On her second day, she started jotting down things that were bugging her—and the words overflowed.

In her Ralston home, over hot tea, Ramsey recalls what writer Anna Quindlen wrote in a 2007 essay: “Writing is not just a legacy, but therapy. In the end, writers will write mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.

Eventually, she decided her stories needed to be told. She and her husband had five teenagers, all adopted, under their roof, and her first book, We Touch Each Other’s Lives, deals with issues of adoption and family.

Her kids did not know where they came from because in those days adoption was kept secret.

“I wanted to give them their story,” she says, even when some of those stories involved seeking out birth parents.

It was an account of adoption from an angle that doesn’t often get told: the adoptive parent’s perspective. Catholic Charities has, with permission, reprinted and distributed We Touch Each Other’s Lives to families for 19 years.

“Colleen is a wonder,” says Sue Malloy, family services program director at Catholic Charities of Omaha. “She gives a voice to so many things that are a part of the adoption journey for people. She has a perspective unlike many other people. She just has this incredible intuition about the adoption journey.”

When her husband, Bob, passed away in 2005, Ramsey turned to writing again. This time to process her grief. Those were the hardest books to write, but also the most helpful for her.

Sharon Zehnder, director of aftercare at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries, keeps Ramsey’s writing on grief in the mortuary’s support group library and shares passages on the mortuary’s website. Zehnder says Ramsey’s words are extremely relatable to people.

“They can identify with so much that she has written,” Zehnder says.

Her writing has helped others, and for that, she’s grateful. “I like to share what’s helped me,” Ramsey says.

Since writing We Touch Each Other’s Lives, Ramsey has penned her memories of growing up in the 1930s and through World War II, discussed prayer in her writing, and written books for each of her grandchildren. She types all her books, searches through family photos for illustrations, and then begins the time-consuming process of printing her books at home, placing photos on pages gently with tape, and then binding them herself.

There may be easier ways to do it, but this is the “write” way for Ramsey.

This article is printed in the November/December 2017 issue of 60 Plus.

Shanketta Newsom’s National Poetry Slam Debut

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Shanketta Newsom describes the National Poetry Slam, she speaks of intense bouts in front of a panel of judges and a lively crowd.

In my mind, her passionate description conveys a scene akin to a gritty rap-battle competition, set in some abandoned building full of poets with stained sweaters reeking of their mom’s spaghetti (a la Eminem).

“It is nothing like that at all,” Newsom replies after hearing my absurd description. “The entire experience was beautiful, and the atmosphere was positive…I’d have to say that the poetry slam was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time!”

There goes my 8 Mile analogy.

Newsom is relatively new to the local spoken-word scene, a transplant with hometown roots in Sardis, Mississippi. Recruited by Union Pacific Railroad from alma mater Jackson State University in 2011, she eventually relocated to Omaha from Portland, Oregon, in 2014 to continue her career in marketing and sales.

She found herself drawn to local poetry showcases such as Verbal Gumbo at the Omaha Rockets Kanteen. Eventually, a friend’s encouragement coerced her to take the stage. She was hesitant at first, but the receptive audience inspired the performer within her.

As former captain of the Prancing J-Settes at Jackson State (the dance team that inspired Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” choreography), Newsom knows how to work a crowd.

“It was an awesome feeling and kind of therapeutic,” Newsom says, reminiscing on her first public foray into spoken-word poetry. “The local community is full of support, and I fell in love with the whole scene. I found myself coming back every month!”

Zedeka Poindexter is an established poet who holds the honor of being the first woman crowned Omaha “city champion” at the National Poetry Slam. As a slam master and organizer, she insists that Newsom’s voice is greatly needed for Omaha’s slam poetry team.

“Shanketta did incredibly well from the very beginning,” Poindexter says. “She was both a consistent performer and placed highly, so there was no question that she would make the team in April.”

After securing her spot on the national team, Newsom set about preparing for the competition, practicing daily in front of a mirror and a glass of fine wine.

She decided to use her most popular poems for the slam—a personal composition titled “This is Why” and a poem about life’s trials and tribulations titled “The Cycle.”

Sozos Coffee Shop in the Old Market would serve as her team’s preferred meeting place, where they could rent out space and let their creativity flow in the agreeable atmosphere.

The National Poetry Slam took place over the course of five days in early August, a beautiful time to be in Denver, Colorado. In addition to many poetry-inspired activities and workshops, each night’s competition took place at different venues throughout the city, providing participants a chance to soak up the city’s culture.

“It didn’t feel like a competition,” Newsom explains. “It was like performing in front of family, with everyone snapping and clapping. Even our competition showed us support.”

Newsom’s team would score a respectable second and fourth place in their preliminary bouts. Ultimately, they did not qualify for the semi-finals.

“We got a great crowd reaction,” she says. “There were a lot of good teams. It made me look at myself and realize that I’m good, but there is lots of room for improvement.”

With this year’s National Poetry Slam in the books, Newsom is excited to get ready for next year’s competition.

In the meantime, she auditioned for American Idol when the show stopped through Omaha in August. “Auditioning was a childhood dream, and I will defi- nitely try out again,” Newsom says.

Positive response from judges inspired her participation in the #BodakYellowChallenge online. Her freestyle rap video for the challenge went viral, with more than 270,000 views and counting.

Between now and the next National Poetry Slam, she plans to continue performing at local spoken word showcases, running her “I Heartbeat Dance, LLC” majorette camp (that she started in January 2017), and working with the Nebraska Writers Collective to provide after-school creative writing programs for high school students.

Visit newriters.org for more information about the Nebraska Writers Collective. Learn more about local spoken-word poetry events by following @VerbalGumbo on Facebook and Twitter.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Magazine.

Skeet’s Barbecue

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I was convinced that they were out of business.

Skeet’s Barbecue’s small internet footprint consisted of several online reviews and an unofficial Facebook page for “Skeet’s Ribs and Chicken.” The listed phone number was disconnected, and their opening hours were a mystery.

The restaurant sticks out like a sore thumb at the intersection of North 24th and Burdette streets. Across the street from the new, bright, and shiny Fair Deal Village MarketPlace, Skeet’s resembles an old shack.

The white paint on the side of the roof is almost completely chipped off, and the rest of the building is in desperate need of a face-lift. A pair of ragged signs proudly proclaims that “Skeet’s Carry Out” is “Omaha’s Finest Barbecue.”

Skeet’s has been a community landmark in North Omaha since 1952. In that time, the restaurant has gained renown for perfecting its sauce recipes and meat-smoking techniques.

They are open for customers when I drop by for lunch with a friend on a recent Wednesday.

Walking inside, we discover a bare-bones establishment. The atmosphere seems a bit like a food truck, but indoors. A sliding glass window separates customers from employees. The menu, printed on crisp white paper, is taped to the glass. Main entrées don’t venture outside of pork, ribs, or chicken. Side dishes introduce limited additional options (smoked beans, potato salad, macaroni salad, and extra bread).

An older gentleman walks out of the back room, looks at us, turns around, and returns to the back room. Five minutes later, he comes back to take our order.

Immediately after we order, he goes over to the prep station and puts together a half chicken dinner with a side of macaroni salad and a three-bone rib sandwich with a side of potato salad.

He grabs our meat selections out of their respective containers and paints a thick dark red sauce on top, drops the barbecue on two slices of Wonder bread, and sets the orders into white styrofoam to-go boxes. He tops each sandwich with an extra piece of bread. The macaroni and potato salads also come in white styrofoam containers. He packages the meals in separate plastic grocery bags and hands them off through the sliding window.

Back at my friend’s office, we unpack the bags. It is a magical, barbecue-slathered moment. Opening the take-out containers releases a succulent, smoky aroma that fills the room. We sample the mild and spicy sauces, and the meat easily falls off the bones.

The spicy barbecue sauce cloaks the chicken. Its flavor is so intense that our taste buds need a moment to regroup after a few bites. The mild sauce covering the ribs uses a ketchup base, which is subtle enough that the meat taste still comes through.

The potato salad’s strong mustard flavor balances against potatoes, onions, and other ingredients. But the macaroni salad is more palatable to my preference, with a slightly sweet sauce coating the noodles.

Skeet’s offers its customers a great deal on good barbecue. The portions are large, and the cost for our two meals is just over $15.

Overall, Skeet’s staff pour all of their attention in producing good quality barbecue at a reasonable price. Although the service, ambiance, and the appearance of the building are questionable, the food is delicious. At Skeet’s, it is all about good old-fashioned barbecue.

2201 N. 24TH ST.
Food: 4 stars
Service: 1.5 stars
Price: $
Overall: 4 stars

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Omaha’s Fire-Eating Santa

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tom Plith—the jolly old man with the snowy white beard—can often be seen breathing fire for a mesmerized audience outside the Imaginarium downtown. During the holiday season, he can be found laughing with a herd of small children and their parents in his elaborately decorated and bubble-filled Santa’s Workshop.

Plith’s unorthodox retirement has been nothing short of magical. Along with his fire- breathing Santa skills, he also works as head clown at one of Omaha’s most successful clown companies. (Yes, Omaha has multiple clown companies—at least four.)

Born in Amarillo, Texas, the story of Plith’s career begins in Saigon, South Vietnam.

Though he can’t say much about his military service, Plith will admit that he only carried a weapon twice: “Both times they told me if I had any trouble, they’d bring me some bullets.” After Saigon, he moved to Fort Ritchie, Maryland, where he held a Cosmic security clearance level with the Army Signal Corps. He insists that all he heard were voice levels during the Paris Peace Accords (they were too busy monitoring signal quality and volume to make sense of actual discussions).

After four years in military telecommunications, Plith got his master’s degree in social work from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and opened Blue Valley, a private treatment center for troubled youth in Valley, Nebraska. He and his wife, Rose, ran the facility for 12 years before moving to Omaha after their two daughters graduated high school.

With his naturally white beard, Plith was enjoying dinner at a local restaurant when someone approached him to ask if he was Mr. Claus himself. Twenty years later, Plith and his family have made Santa’s Workshop in Countryside Village one of Omaha’s most popular Santa experiences.

This Santa’s background in psychiatric social work sets him apart—Plith is an expert in soothing children and working with families to create not just a photo, but a joyous holiday memory for parents and children alike. Plith works with more than 300 families each season, including several days committed for work with The Autism Society and for military families.

Plith’s social work experience also helps him to continue staying active in the clown business. Educated at Omaha’s Wild Clowndom, he adopted the clown name RoliPoli. As RoliPoli, he organizes about 15 face painters, stilt walkers, and balloon twisters to run A Company of Fantastic Clowns. The company works with many local charity organizations and youth events to provide safe and hilarious entertainment at Werner Park, Boys Town, and elsewhere throughout the metro.

Omahans not familiar with Plith as Santa, or RoliPoli, may know him as the fire eater in the Old Market. A typical show consists of jokes and magic tricks he performs alongside “Phillip the Tip Bucket” in between mouthfuls of flames.

The show ends with the old man taking a swig out of a soda bottle and using a burning wand to exhale a dazzling cloud of fire into the night sky. The actual contents of the bottle are a mystery, though many suspect it is not actually full of Mountain Dew.

Depending on the weather, Plith often finds himself entertaining a crowd of 20 or more people, but he is happy to perform for any passersby. Plith has been performing fire- eating shows, sometimes alongside one of his four grandchildren, for two years. One might think he learned the skill from a professional.

“Oh, [it was] just a fella in the neighborhood,” Plith says. He had been interested in fire eating for years, but “didn’t have the nerve” until he was in his 60s.

When asked the burning question of whether he eats fire in his Santa suit, Plith chuckles and shakes his head. “I have to stop eating fire in early November, because when you eat fire you do singe your mustache. I have to have my full mustache for the Santa season.”

Santa’s Workshop opens in November and is available by appointment, which can be made by phone at 402-201-5804. A Company of Fantastic Clowns can be reached at 402-216-6568.


This article was printed in the November/December issue of Omaha Magazine.

Lenore Benolken

Photography by provided by Durham Museum

“The first one-man show to be exhibited at Joslyn Memorial by a woman is that of Lenore Benolhen, who paints more like a man than a woman,” wrote one local reporter.

The backhanded praise for the first solo exhibition by a woman at the venue (now known as Joslyn Art Museum) seems sexist by contemporary standards. Such gendered phrasing has faded from popular discourse—just like the artist herself.

Not much is known these days about the artist acclaimed for her “vigor, physical energy, and force” in the same Omaha World-Herald article published on Oct. 10, 1937.

Lenore (Ethel Williams) Benolken was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1896. She moved to Omaha with her parents at age 3, when her father, the Rev. Arthur Llewellyn Williams, became coadjutor-bishop of the Omaha Episcopal Diocese. She attended Brownell Hall (now Brownell-Talbot School) and studied under the famous Irish-born Omaha painter J. Laurie Wallace.

In 1918, Lenore married Irving W. Benolken (who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, served overseas in the military during World War I, and taught at the American University in France). Settling into married life in Omaha, they both became notable influencers in the local arts scene.

After Lenore painted an 18-by-4-foot mural showcasing modes of modern transportation for the walls of the Milwaukee Road train ticketing office in Omaha, a patronizing 1929 World-Herald article mentions that the mural was a Christmas surprise for her husband “to earn her own Christmas money that year.” The reporter goes on to write that Lenore credited her husband as her “unconscious” instructor and her inspiration as she juggled “duties of being wife to an artist, and mother to an energetic and not very artistic 8-year-old boy.” (That boy, Arthur Benolken, would grow up to be a priest like Lenore’s bishop father.)

Both spouses kept studios in their home at 5415 Western Ave. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom house built in 1826 still stands today. Her obituary eventually described the home as a “center of interest for art lovers.” Her husband worked for 33 years at the Klopp Printing and Lithograph Company, ending his career as the company’s vice president. Irving also served as an elected trustee of the Society of Liberal Arts, which controlled the Joslyn Memorial.

On multiple occasions, Lenore was chosen by the Joslyn Memorial committee to be among the artists representing Nebraska at Rockefeller Center’s All-American exhibit of paintings in New York City. She had received the honor twice by 1937, when she became the first artist to have her work exhibited as a one-woman show at Joslyn Memorial.

Besides being a portrait and landscape painter, Lenore was a noted art teacher. She taught at the Bellevue vocational school, offered classes to soldiers at Joslyn, and lectured at Omaha University. She also organized the Brush and Pencil Club, a sort of salon for art students and professionals.

Lenore often painted portraits of friends and well-known Omahans. Unfortunately, many of these historically important portraits have vanished.

Her depiction of Dr. William H. Betz, after whom Betz Elementary School and Betz Road are named, once hung in a Bellevue public building. Another of Lenore’s popular paintings was “Devce [maiden] of Czechoslovakia.” It’s a portrait of Omaha pianist Miss Elsie M. Ptak, who became a music teacher at Omaha University.

Lenore completed a portrait of Mrs. Jane Sullivan in 1941, and it hung in the Joslyn Memorial before being sent to her son and daughter, Dr. M. M. Sullivan and Miss Hannah Sullivan, in Spalding, Nebraska. Painted with the aid of tintypes and authentic costumes of the period, the portrait supposedly shows Mrs. Sullivan as a young woman in her Sunday best. Phone calls to Spalding (a town of 487 people) did not yield any leads on the whereabouts of the Sullivans or the painting.

Lenore’s father, Bishop Williams, worked closely with Monsignor Bernard Sinne (pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Church from 1904 to 1961). Lenore painted the monsignor’s portrait, another of her notable portrayals of famous Omahans. It once hung in the Joslyn Memorial. But like these others, it has since disappeared.

The location of one important portrait is known. Lenore’s painting of Omaha businessman John Sullivan now hangs in the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. This was a gift to the museum by Mary Ellen Mulcahy, who serves on MONA’s board of directors.

The more we learn about Lenore, the more we realize that so many of her portraits and paintings have been forgotten. A catalog of her known works and their location would help in restoring her place in Omaha’s art history.

Lenore’s work also traveled through Nebraska. The Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 30, 1939, mentions two of her paintings displayed at Morrill Hall on the campus of the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Their titles were Deserted Quarry (Near Louisville) and River Scows (A Flat-Bottomed Boat). The next year, she had a show of 21 paintings in the Treasure House at Coryell Park in Lincoln. And her painting Interior of a Nebraska Kitchen was displayed at the 51st annual show of the Nebraska Arts Association in Lincoln (mentioned in a review by the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star on March, 2, 1941).

Lenore died from pneumonia around the age of 47. Six months after her death, a memorial featuring 33 of her paintings went on display at the Joslyn Memorial. The whereabouts of the show’s paintings—as well as those displayed in the Coryvell Park show—remain a mystery.

A World-Herald article from April 9, 1944, about her final Joslyn exhibition explains that the show consisted of canvases left in her studio when she stopped painting, “and her last finished picture is among them, a portrait called My Husband.”

In a twist of artistic irony, Lenore’s husband remarried in the year following her death. Nancy
Powel Hulst became Nancy Benolken in 1944. A prominent figure in the Omaha arts scene, Nancy remained involved in planning concerts, musicals, and working on committees at the Joslyn from the 1940s through the 1980s.

After Irving Benolken died in 1954, a fund at the Joslyn Memorial purchased artworks in his memory. Paintings included Robert Henri’s Portrait of Fi in 1957 (Henri was the famous creator of the Ashcan School of painting, and his father founded the Nebraska town of Cozad).

Today, many of the purchased tributes to Irving still hang in the Joslyn; however, the museum does not display a single painting by Lenore. Joslyn staff informed Omaha Magazine that the only artwork of hers in their collection is an undated oil painting titled Indian Princess.

In a letter to the World-Herald’s “Public Pulse” soon after her death, the Nebraska artist Walter Buckingham Swan wrote: “Mrs. Benolken, an artist of rare ability, will always be remembered by her legion of friends and many pupils… We have suffered an irreparable loss. Omaha needed her. She had scarcely reached middle life when the hand of death took her from us. How to find a competent successor to carry on her work we do not know.”

At the turn of the 21st century, references to the artist gradually fade into oblivion. The last mention of her name in the public record seems to have been in 2011—an obituary for Pauline Lenore Buckley; she had lived in Council Bluffs, attended the “Lenore Benolken Art School” before the University of Omaha, and died in Walla Walla, Washington.

We know something of what Lenore looked like from photographs of her in the Omaha World-Herald. Like all newspaper photographs of the time, they are black-and-white and grainy. Unfortunately, the woman who painted so many portraits of others does not have any known portrait remaining to memorialize her for the ages.

A self-portrait of the artist appears to have been included among the works shown in her posthumous Joslyn exhibition (printed in the newspaper’s full-page coverage of the tribute in 1944), but its whereabouts are unknown. It very well may be lost.

If readers have knowledge of any long-lost paintings by Lenore Benolken, please contact Omaha Magazine at editor@omahamagazine.com or reach us on social media (@OmahaMagazine) at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

John Sullivan’s portrait by Lenore Benolken, courtesy of the Museum of Nebraska Art.

Blood Cow

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ozzy Osbourne bites heads off bats.The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform in the buff. Bloodcow gets kicked out of small, sleepy towns.

Although they’re a local act, this five-member band isn’t afraid to rock out and party like the pros. So much so, they were once escorted by police out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin—and forbidden to ever return.

“We went to a motel after a show, partied all night like usual, but this time things got real weird real quick,” says vocalist Matt Owen. “By 6 a.m., we had police at our door.”

But is a rock band even a rock band if they haven’t been kicked out of at least one town? Hijinks and antics aside, this group has worked for their right to a good time.

Over the course of Bloodcow’s 17-year history, the band has won three Omaha Arts and Entertainment Awards and released four full-length albums.

“One thing that has always rang true with us is that we were never looking to make a career out of music,” Owen says. “We were more into the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle than making money.”

Flash back to 2000, a time when metal rock began to teeter away from focusing on fun and music toward somber theatrics. Bloodcow formed as the antithesis of acts like Slipknot and Korn, a figurative middle finger intended to take the genre back to the partying ways of yesteryear. The original members had one goal: to make people uncomfortable. Performing live donning just underwear and writing music that opposed the Bush administration followed.

While Owen and guitarist Josh Lamb are the only original members left, all current musicians have a shared history of attending Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs. Their current lineup comprises Owen, Lamb, guitarist J.J. Bonar, bassist Josh McDowell, and drummer David Collins.

“What drew me to the band was their raw energy during live shows,” Collins says. “I was jealous of that intensity and attitude. When they asked if I wanted to be a part of it, I couldn’t say no.”

With the shuffle of members, the band’s sound has developed into “a jambalaya of pop, rock, and [psychedelic] music,” according to Lamb. The production value of each album has increased in quality, and their latest LP—Crystals & Lasers, released in 2015—acts as a thematic cocktail of social satire and sci-fi mixed with a healthy dose of humor.

Due to their unique sound and even more unique subject matter, Bloodcow has found both local and regional success touring. Performing at venues such as The Waiting Room and Slowdown has built their credibility in the metro, while tours across America have resulted in firework fights in Alabama, countless moonshine shots consumed, and many nights sleeping in their van or strangers’ homes.

“Anytime we’re together, it’s a blast,” Bonar says. “So is performing live and seeing the reactions from first-time listeners.”

While the band is enjoying a hiatus from active gigging, they still play occasional shows around town, and they continue getting together for regular jam sessions—if for no other reason than to party like the rock stars they are.

“Success for us is all about being able to play kick-ass music while remaining the closest of friends,” McDowell says.

Visit bloodcow.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 issue of Omaha Magazine.

Futuramic’s Clean Water Center

Photography by Katie Anderson

This sponsored content appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/bb1117_final_flipbook/46

In August 1969, Phil Rhodes Sr. started a business selling, renting, and servicing commercial and residential water softeners, reverse osmosis systems, and other water devices to handle most water problems.

Today, 48 years later, the business—Futuramic’s Clean Water Center—is going strong and continues to grow and evolve by serving new markets and supplying customers with the latest technology.

“We believe in constantly adjusting to new ideas and keeping up on new equipment,” Rhodes says. “Today’s consumers are very knowledgeable, and when they have a question, we need to have the answers for them.”

In addition to water treatment, Futuramic’s Clean Water Center also furnishes water dispensing systems for retail grocers and others largely in the Midwest within a 150-mile radius of Omaha — but has new and longtime customers as far away as St. Louis and eastern Iowa.

“We are a family business with very dedicated employees and family members,” Rhodes says. “We also have great customers, some of whom have been with us most of our 48 years.”

1514 S. Saddlecreek Road Omaha, NE 68106



How to Make Frozen Aronia Berry Wine

November 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re anything of a forager, after summer and fall, you have a freezer full of frozen berries. They can keep for a long time, and it’s easy to pick more than is necessary once you get into the bushes. Foraged berries are great. But when the next year rolls around, you need to make room. It’s time to use up those frozen berries.

Producing wine can use up quite a few. Frozen berries are easier to ferment because the freezing and thawing breaks down the cell walls of the fruit, making it easier to juice firmer berries. And just about everyone loves wine. It makes a great gift, and the wine will be done just in time for the holiday (if started far enough in advance in the fall). Clearing out your freezer will make room for fall berries, winter trout, and other game.

Personally, I had a freezer full of aronia berries from Kurt and Tina Geschwender, who live in Ponca Hills, and were gracious enough to let a friend and I pick their excess. The berries are firm and tart, a bit like cranberries, and are loaded with antioxidants. Because they are so sturdy, freezing helps to pulp them, lending to a better wine with less effort.

Finished aronia berry wine is crisp and dry with a beautiful dark maroon color. It retains the flavor of the berry.

The aronia berry wine is simple and uses the same equipment and basic knowledge discussed in my previous article “Foraging and Fermenting Wild American Grapes,” which can be found in the August 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine online. The same basic equipment used to make grape wine can be used for aronia berries.

It is essential to have a fermentation bucket, fermentation lock, and straining bag—all of which must be sanitized.

Plenty of berries, sugar, and other items are also necessary.

My recipe is modified from Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook’s cranberry recipe (the Blackberry recipe is also a solid option). The following makes one gallon of wine—or step up the quantities to make more:

  • 3 pounds aronia berries
  • 7 pints water (preferably not tap)
  • 2.5 pounds sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 0.5 teaspoon yeast energizer
  • 1 Campden tablet (crushed)
  • 1 package wine yeast (EC-1118 yeast best tolerates the antioxidant-rich aronia berries)

Adding half a pint of red grape concentrate is preferable to some, but I like to let the aronia berries shine.

First, place washed, frozen berries in a straining bag in your fermenter. Mash and squeeze the thawing pulp in the fermenter. This would be difficult with fresh, firm berries. Tie the bag and leave it in the fermenter. Stir in all other ingredients except for yeast. Cover the fermenter. Twenty-four hours later, add the yeast and cover. Stir daily. When fermentation slows to a near standstill (after about five days), remove the straining bag and pulp. After about three more weeks, siphon the wine into a sanitized glass secondary fermenter. A hydrometer is useful for assessing the progress of fermentation. In about two months, if it is clear, bottle it.

A deep, red bottle of aronia berry wine is sure to be a memorable Christmas gift to anyone lucky enough to receive one. More importantly, there’s room in the freezer for that fall turkey.

See omahamagazine.com/articles/foraging-and-fermenting-wild-american-grapes for more information on basic winemaking with wild grapes. Visit fermenterssupply.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Home.