Tag Archives: Omaha Magazine

Employment and the National Guard

September 17, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Rare is the job today with simple, fixed 9-to-5 hours and weekends off. Many jobs require a laptop, and it is usually a given that the machine will be joining its owner on off-hours and weekends. It is part of modern work life.  

However, for the approximate 4,500 members of the Nebraska National Guard, this reality comes with its own dilemma: How can you be two places at once when your National Guard duty calls?

The answer is simple: you cannot. One weekend a month and two weeks a year, service members are required to attend training (or “drill”) at the National Guard. Most employers are familiar with the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” obligation. But that obligation is due to increase. In February, the military announced their Army Guard 4.0 initiative, which focuses on readiness for fast deployment. The new model calls for an increase in the number of days spent in training, up to 60 days per year, starting with armored and Stryker brigade combat teams. This change in training philosophy will eventually affect many, if not all, units.

Additionally, National Guard members have their own responsibilities to their employers. They must give their employer written or verbal notification before their deployment. The time requirements for this can vary, as deployments are sometimes sudden. When a member returns from deployment, they must alert their employer of their intention to return to their job. If a deployment is between 31 to 180 days, National Guard members are given 14 days to reapply for their job after they return home. If their deployment is greater than 180 days, they are given 90 days to reapply for their job. 

And those who serve in the National Guard need outside jobs. The official National Guard website calculates that the highest ranking officer, with 20 years of service, can make $15,736.84 annually. The lowest ranking enlistee, with one year of service, can make $3,385.82 annually.

By law, employers have to accommodate their employees who serve in the National Guard. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which was signed into law in 1994, states that employers must allow National Guard members to serve their duty, and must not force them to resign from the National Guard. They cannot ask a Guard member to use their vacation time for a training session. Additionally, public employers must pay military differential pay. Private employers are not required to pay this. If a member is deployed, the employer must retain that person’s job when they return from their deployment. If they cannot give their job back to an employee, they must find a job that is similar to the one he or she left when they were called to duty. 

Many employers are familiar with the USERRA law, and comply. However, there are some exceptions. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) reported that four cases in Nebraska were filed by Nebraska National Guard service members in the 2018 fiscal year. The four cases involved concerns over “military obligation discrimination.” 

These days, many companies produce long-range team projects as opposed to daily production work. The idea that someone might leave at a moment’s notice may make a team lead hesitate to put someone serving in the National Guard in charge of a project. But rest assured, help is available if this situation arises. A good source for employees in this instance is a staffing agency.

“What normally happens is we get a call for a project manager or something,” says Jim Taylor, franchise owner of Snelling Staffing in Omaha. “We’ll know if it’s a short term or not. It very well could be the reason why there’s an opening is that the person is overseas, but we don’t specifically ask why.”

Taylor’s employees at the staffing agency receive the request, find prospective employees from among their clients, and fill the request. 

William Harris is a lawyer at Berry Law Firm. He also acts as defense counsel for National Guard members. Harris has been in the military for almost 20 years, serving four years of active duty in the Air Force, and 15 years as a National Guard member. Even with a lofty legal title, Harris isn’t immune to the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” requirement. Harris says his biggest challenge is juggling the demands of both jobs. 

“Even though we’re part-time soldiers, there’s certain rules and regulations you still have to abide by,” Harris says. 

In addition to his civilian lawyer title, Harris is also a Justice Advocate General (JAG) officer. National Guard members can consult their local JAG officers on legal issues, free of charge. In his 15 years with the National Guard, Harris says he’s only had to handle about three employment-related complaints. None of the complaints involved the loss of a job or denied promotion. Instead, the issues were mainly questions employers had about USERRA law. Harris says most of the protections within USERRA are known to employers. 

“It’s pretty user-friendly if you read it,” Harris says. 

This means the temporary employee hired to help for six months will most likely be moving on afterwards. That doesn’t necessarily mean a temporary employee will not be a great employee.

“I’ve owned this franchise for seven or eight years, and I was under the impression that a small percentage of people would want to do temporary assignments,” Taylor says. “That’s not true. There’s a whole range of people wanting to do temp work, for a variety of reasons: It’s good exposure. Some people get bored early, so they want a different adventure every six months. We have some clients that have been in the temp world for 10 years.”

There are instances when a temp employee may be a better worker than the full-time employee, but the employer cannot simply pass over the National Guard member once they return.

However, while USERRA protects National Guard members by ensuring their civilian job will be available to them when they return, it doesn’t entirely guarantee their job. If a company undergoes a restructuring where certain positions are eliminated, or a job is lost to automation, companies are still in their legal right to eliminate positions that may have National Guard members as employees. 

“If that type of job goes away, they can’t be forced to put them in a job that no longer exists,” Harris says.


Visit ne.ng.mil for more information on the Nebraska National Guard.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Community First

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

First National Bank is known for “putting customers first.” Part and parcel of that commitment is reinvesting in the communities their customers call home.  

“Our success as a company is dependent upon the success of the communities that we operate in…so the purpose of our community work is to contribute to the success of the communities in which we operate in and serve,” says Alec Gorynski, vice president of Community Development and Corporate Philanthropy at First National Bank.

First National partners with nonprofit organizations across its seven-state footprint—Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas—to support local communities with reinvestments that channel through nonprofit partners. The bank reinvests by direct philanthropy, impact investment, and volunteerism, and chooses its nonprofit partners based on their alignment with First National initiatives, history and track record of success, and potential for impact. 

While philanthropy and community development are not new concepts at First National, Gorynski says that in 2016 the bank specifically committed to reinvesting $85 million and 100,000 volunteer hours back into its communities by 2020. According to First National’s 2017 Impact Report, their two-year totals at the close of 2017 were at $56 million and 76,000 volunteer hours.

While Gorynski acknowledges there is lots of need and many excellent potential partner organizations, First National strategically aligns its community investments with organizations that are working to foster success in eight specific areas: strong local economies, stable housing, vibrant neighborhoods, an educated workforce, good health, community cohesion, access to culture, and sustained environment. Of those eight areas, First National focuses the majority of its efforts on an educated workforce, a strong local economy, and stable housing, each of which can act as essential building blocks to foster success in the other five areas.    

“Success is a wide net when we think about helping our communities succeed, so we think about success from the economic standpoint,” says Gorynski. “We want to help our communities, and the individuals in our communities, move above a certain economic threshold. Certainly it’s a spectrum, but there’s an economic line at which people are more likely to be more active in the economy and more independently prosperous. What we’re really focused on is helping move people above that economic line.”

In service of that goal, Gorynski elaborates, an educated workforce is fostered by education and
job training that helps individuals attain the skills and tools necessary to achieve economic success, often through avenues like youth and adult education, or vocational training. Similarly, their strong economy initiative is buoyed by investments in nonprofits that support small business development, and stable housing is achieved by investments in organizations that work to provide quality, affordable housing opportunities. 

“We believe that home ownership is a means to gain wealth and a pathway to economic stability and prosperity, so we want to invest in programs that help people own a home as a means to building wealth,” says Gorynski. “At the same time, we want to invest in programs that help low-income individuals get quality affordable housing, even if it is rental housing, because we know that housing should never take up more than 30 percent of your income and we want to ensure that people can get housing that’s affordable, but also quality.”

Amanda Brewer, CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, a prominent community partner of the bank, says the bank provides crucial support to her organization.  

“First National Bank is an incredible partner of Habitat for Humanity. In addition to sponsoring a house and having hundreds of team members volunteer each year, First National has helped by investing in our loan pool, servicing Habitat loans, leading budgeting workshops for our homeowners, and providing countless hours of technical expertise,” says Brewer. “They’ve helped more families realize the dream of homeownership through Habitat and helped us transform neighborhoods.”  

Not only does First National encourage employees to volunteer, they have a time-off policy that allows each employee eight hours paid time off annually to use for volunteering in their community. Gorynski says it all goes back to one of the bank’s guiding mantras: “When our communities are successful, we are successful.” 

For Gorynski, it is a privilege to help set the strategy and tone for First National Bank’s community development and corporate philanthropy efforts, while also leading the team that “puts our financial and human capital to work in alignment with that strategy.” He is quick to praise his team and the Lauritzen family’s ownership and leadership as drivers in making these efforts successful. 

“It’s truly an honor and a privilege to do this work for a company that has a 160-year history of being so committed to Omaha and to all of the communities in which it operates and serves,” says Gorynski. “The team does meaningful work developing really genuine, meaningful partnerships with nonprofit organizations. We have boots on the ground in Omaha and in every community in which we operate who are out there getting to know the communities we serve, getting to know the organizations that are addressing the needs in our communities, and finding meaningful ways for us to support the work of those organizations. It’s because of [the team] that we’re able to get to know the right nonprofit organizations, make meaningful investments in those organizations, and ultimately, realize our goal of successful communities.”


Visit firstnational.com/community to learn more about First National Bank’s community development and philanthropy efforts.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Genetics of Speed

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The family that accelerates from 0-60 in under 3 seconds together stays together. That observation holds true for at least one area father-son duo, Drs. Kam and Max Chiu. They are both radiation oncologists (Kam practices in Lincoln, while Max is completing his residency at UNMC). They both developed a love for automobiles early in life. And they both own ultra-high-performance sports cars built in Woking, England, by storied race car manufacturer McLaren.

The elder Dr. Chiu, whose love of fast cars is rooted in the hours he spent playing with toy cars at his father’s Hong Kong toy factory, kicked off this family’s mini British Invasion in 2013 with the acquisition of a McLaren MP4-12C Project Alpha. This English answer to Italian and German exotic dominance boasts 616 horsepower from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine nestled behind the carbon-fiber passenger cell. The description, along with assorted industry reviews, was compelling enough to encourage Kam to make his purchase without driving any McLaren, let alone this $300,000-and-change special edition.

“I bought it off the internet…from [a dealer] in California,” Kam nonchalantly admits. He even traded in his beloved Ferrari F430 as part of the deal, not knowing if he would instantly regret the decision.

“So [the dealer] picks up the F430 and drops off the 12C, and that first spin? I take it out and it’s just fantastic,” recalls Kam. “The 12C is a lot more comfortable than the 430.” As one of only six Project Alpha cars created in collaboration between dealer McLaren Chicago and the factory’s McLaren Special Operations division, the orange-and-black 12C is a rarity among rarities.

Following his father into the world of mechanized speed was an easier decision for Max than following him into the medical field. And when it came time to dip his own right toe into the exotic market, the answer was obvious: The third generation of the MP4-12C, now christened the 720S (for 720 metric horsepower, or 710 by U.S. standards). “The 720 is definitely a lot more refined [than the 12C]. I drove it almost every day for the last month,” Max says of the 2017-edition vehicle. “But then I took it out on some twisting country roads last week…and it’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

While the doctors’ McLarens are two of only a handful in the area, they are part of a (perhaps surprisingly) thriving exotic automotive scene in Nebraska. “In a state of only a couple million, you have plenty of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, things like that,” reveals Kam. But the pair lament a lack of dealerships or other service options—the closest McLaren locations are in Chicago and Denver.

Numerous cars have cycled through their hands over the years, and the Chius currently own a handful of other high-performance vehicles, including a rare-for-America JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the McLaren magic doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. “I would most likely purchase another McLaren sometime down the road,” offers Kam. “It has the substance to back up the looks.” 

Although, when pressed to pick his favorite among all the vehicles he has owned in three decades of collecting, Kam admits, “If I could only own one car ever, it would be a minivan.”

Because even in the world of cars, sometimes function is more important than fashion.


Visit mclaren.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dr. Max Chiu between the 720S McLaren (left) and the Project Alpha 12C.

Pingpong, Popcorn, and Pops of Colors

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ervin & Smith’s office resembles an aquarium floating above the Aksarben Village street level. But instead of fish, there is a full-service advertising and public relations firm occupying the second floor of 1926 S. 67th St., Suite 250.

Pedestrian passersby can catch a glimpse of ad agency life through bare full-wall windows wrapping along the southeast side of the modern office building. 

Ervin & Smith’s stand-alone popcorn machine beckons from the corner of the second floor overlooking Lotus House of Yoga and the new HDR headquarters. 

The suite’s bare-glass southern wall faces Genesis Health Clubs with a row of pod workstations—partially enclosed, high-backed club chairs in teal and gray upholstery. The east wall of the office space features three house-shaped semi-private spaces with bar tables and chairs.

Heidi Mausbach, president and CEO of Ervin & Smith, says the current design is the result of a collaborative process focused on fostering an environment conducive to teamwork and community engagement.

Mausbach challenged the local architectural office of RDG Planning and Design to build an office space that encourages fun, collaboration, and community involvement. Everyone on the Ervin & Smith team participated in RDG’s research to provide insights on an ideal working environment for a diverse workforce.

“People wanted more private space, more collaborative space, more comfortable space, but many didn’t want an open environment. So we really dug into what’s the problem and heard that a lot of times in an open environment it’s just flat desks all the way across, there is very little privacy,” Mausbach says.

RDG tackled the assignment with a variety of mobile dividers, private offices, and myriad café- style booths. A mix of materials—plywood, metal, and textiles—were incorporated into the designs to serve as visual buffers. Soundproof materials ensure a quiet workplace to the agency’s staff of 42 employees.

When Mausbach was thinking about effective ways to use the new office, she decided to invite clients and representatives of other companies to use Ervin & Smith’s meeting space. For example, employees who serve on the boards of nonprofit organizations can do community impact work in the large conference room. And if more space is needed? The garage door separating the large conference room and multifunctional kitchen can be put up for more people to gather.

Ervin & Smith was named in Best Places to Work by Ad Age in 2014, 2016, and 2017. The Omaha-based advertising and PR firm also earned a Top Company Cultures award from Entrepreneur magazine in 2017, and it received a Business Excellence Award for Leadership from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce in 2018.

“We want to continue to have a culture that people want to work here, so we can recruit and retain the best talent. We put a lot of emphasis on making it a great place to work,” says Mausbach, adding that Ervin & Smith sought to foster career, social, financial, physical, and community well-being among its employees, based on research from Gallup.

“With Gallup, they have five different categories of well-being, so we’re looking at creating perks that align with those,” she says. “This year, we bring in lunch twice a week. Free lunch aside, it brings together coworkers for a little bit of downtime and builds social relationships outside of the work that we are doing.”

And then there is that free snack. “The popcorn machine is used every single day,” Mausbach says. So is the pingpong table in front of it.

One of the team’s associate creative directors, Aaron Christensen, enjoys both. He even keeps a recurring appointment with Don Aguirre, one of the agency’s senior copywriters. These creative staffers bounce ideas off each other during their daily pingpong contests. And they keep score.

“For me, the daily pingpong game serves as a brain break,” Christensen says. “It gets me away from my desk and gets the blood flowing a bit. I haven’t had any amazing creative breakthroughs, but just taking the time to stop thinking about things is an important way to come back and get a new perspective on a problem I’m trying to solve.”

“Playing pingpong is my daily reminder of just how great of a gig I have at Ervin & Smith,” Aguirre says. “It’s just a fun way to give myself a mid-afternoon brain-break.”

“That playful, give-your-brain-a-break type of environment, sometimes that’s where the best ideas come from,” Mausbach says.


Visit ervinandsmith.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Setting the Example

Photography by provided

Stacy Martin knows she stepped into big shoes this past spring when she took over the leadership of Lutheran Family Services.

After all, the previous president and CEO, Ruth Heinrichs, spent most of her career—41 years from start to finish—holding the reins of the organization that positively impacts the lives of people throughout Nebraska and Council Bluffs with behavioral health, and child and community services. 

Still, Martin, who was born in Omaha and returned in April after several years as the executive vice president of programs at Lutheran Services Florida in Tampa, acknowledges she is not, and cannot be, Heinrichs. 

She has her own strengths and methods of leading that she is confident will continue to move LFS, which celebrated 125 years in 2017, into new areas of growth and impact. 

“I don’t pretend to fit into Ruth’s shoes; the path she forged was best for LFS and great for the history of the organization,” Martin says of Heinrichs, who announced her retirement in the summer of 2017. “It’s my goal to maintain the caliber of professionalism and continue to provide services of great quality. I don’t waste my energy on what I can’t change.”

Martin, who has dedicated her professional life to helping others, grew up in Kansas and graduated summa cum laude from Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and secondary education. She earned an MBA from Eastern University in Pennsylvania and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was a presidential fellow.

In her role as executive vice president of programs at LSF, she oversaw a team of 600 and a budget of $50 million delivering programs that include child welfare, guardianship, immigration and refugee services, housing, youth shelters, sexual abuse treatment, and behavioral health services. With more than 1,500 employees and an annual budget of $220 million, LSF is one of the largest social service organizations in Florida.

Prior to this position, she served as the organization’s chief communications and development officer, and before that, was a vice president at Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service and the director of Policy and Advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Washington, D.C.

She returned regularly to Omaha through her husband’s work as a health economist. When they started looking for opportunities in the Midwest last year, they chose Omaha so Martin could be closer to her mother and other family members still in Kansas.

And while she admits she didn’t necessarily foresee a future in nonprofit leadership when she first started, she credits “amazing mentors” over the course of her career who encouraged her and helped her ascend the steps up the leadership ladder along the way. 

“All I can be is my best, most authentic self, and I believe we all can lead from any chair,” Martin says. “I know we can improve as an organization by being our best every day. I know I’m not the smartest person in the room, but it’s my goal to help encourage others to shine.”

And in her first few months at Lutheran Family Services, Martin says she sees ample opportunity for growth across the organization. 

“Lutheran Family Services has a firm foundation with dedicated staff that is willing to change and grow with the organization,” Martin says. “We all share a common faith-based goal to strengthen our skills to have an impact toward the common good. I see opportunity around every corner.”


Visit lfsneb.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Story Telling with Evan Bartels

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a quote featured on Evan Bartels’ website that resonates loudly with the Nebraska-bred musician: “Evan Bartels doesn’t sound like any singer I’ve ever heard. Ever. His voice sounds old and young at the same time. He sounds like he’s a hard drinker and a gentle soul. He is a contradiction and his writing cuts through the air like a knife.”

Although just 25 years old, Bartels says he has always felt like a much older soul, which could explain his penchant for rootsy, Americana music. 

“I always dreamed that I’d be happier 200 years ago in the mountains,” Bartels admits. “I think there’s a part of me that maybe was that man in a past life, like maybe part of that shines through. I shouldn’t feel as old as I do, but I’ve put on some hard miles and I think that’s what connects me to the older self I have. It’s almost an alter ego in a sense.” 

In 2017, Bartels released The Devil, God & Me. Throughout the 11-track project, he dives into addiction and how it’s affected his life. With his slick guitar solos and a raspy, bellowing voice, Bartels channels his deepest emotions and wears them on his sleeve. 

“The only thing I’ve been hardcore hooked on has been tobacco,” Bartels says. “Everything else I kinda skirted the line and was able to make it out. But I have friends who didn’t, good folks I love and respect who didn’t, and you can see it everywhere on the street.”

Ultimately, he recognizes everyone has a vice they hold on to—from alcohol to anger. 

“Whenever people talk of addiction, it’s really easy to picture a burned-out junkie or an alcoholic, but everybody has something,” he says. “There’s plenty of people addicted to attention or even addicted to being angry.”

“I think what’s really interesting is the cause of what drives someone to become addicted to something. In my experience, it’s more often than not something really bad in their life rather than whatever they’re addicted to. It’s just a cycle, some people break it and some people don’t. Either way, there’s lots of stories in there that deserve to be told.” Bartels has become adept at telling such narratives. 

For as long as he can remember, storytelling has been a part of his life. It all started with an old, folk song called “The Cuckoo.” As a child, his father would play it to him and Bartels remembers watching him strum the chords and thinking how beautiful it sounded. His obsession with music blossomed from there. 

“I liked listening to Chopin and Beethoven when I was a kid, and I still do,” he says. “I like to close my eyes and just feel. I don’t know how old I was but music just made sense to me. I could hear the patterns and I think that it just naturally turned into a passion.”

Bartels is laying out plans for a follow-up to The Devil, God & Me, as well as launching a fundraising event for a national publicity campaign. In the meantime, he’s focused on playing as many live shows as he can, perfecting his pie-crust recipe, and trying not to swear so much. But mostly, it’s all about the music. 

“I’ll just play to whoever’s listening for as long as they listen,” he says. “If and when the day comes no one wants to hear what I’m singing, I’ll just play for myself. I don’t know if I’d rather be heard by others or just get out the words—even if I’m talking to myself.”  


For more information, visit evanbartels.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

 

Gladys Harrison: Captain of Big Mama’s Kitchen

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It takes a family to fill Big Mama’s shoes. Daughter No. 4, Gladys Harrison (general manager of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering), knows this all too well. She even keeps a pair of her mother’s footwear close to remind her.

“I had planned to take a pair of my mother’s size 12 shoes to her funeral,” Harrison says. “I wanted to give a big speech about how big her shoes were figuratively, literally, and that it would be impossible for one person to fill them. Unfortunately, none of that happened.” 

That opportunity may have passed, but Harrison continues to live by the sentiment. Providing delicious, quality soul-food to hungry customers had always been her mother’s dream, and Harrison has been involved since the beginning.

“As children, my sisters and I helped my mother sell dinners out of the family home on weekends, until my father told us to get that mess out of his house,” Harrison recalls. 

After opening in 2007, Big Mama’s Kitchen received a huge boost when they were featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives less than a year later. While Harrison’s initial duties included creating fliers, setting up the website, and snagging their unique phone number (402-455-MAMA), her responsibilities grew at a fast pace until she found herself at a crossroads.

“For two years I worked 24/7, heading directly to the restaurant in the morning after working night shifts at Qwest Communications,” Harrison says. “My children were growing up without me, and I could feel the restaurant moving toward that next level. I wanted to be there 100 percent, so I said a prayer and asked God to give me a sign so I could quit my job and give my full time to Big Mama.”

She would eventually get that sign and leave Qwest Communications after a voluntary separation. Assuming the role of general manager gave Harrison a chance to showcase her abilities and spend lots of time with her mother. Their fun relationship was captured on a television pilot they shot for the Food Network back in 2013.

“They liked us because my mother and I were always arguing,” Harrison says with a smile. “She would say that I became general manager because I can’t cook, but don’t believe everything she says. I have always dreamed of being in charge! I was even elected as the state president of the Future Business Leaders of America at Marian High School.”

Harrison credits her giving nature, strong customer service background, and duties as an instructor and facilitator for quality improvement at Qwest Communications for her success.

 “I can’t tell this story without shouting out Tim Clark and Marilyn Simms,” Harrison adds. “They gave me an opportunity years ago to manage the volunteer committee for their annual jazz and blues concert at The Durham Museum. Doing that for three to four years gave me the experience I needed to manage.”

Anticipation was palpable in the air at Big Mama’s over the summer, with the team ready to move into their new location in the Accelerator Building at 30th and Parker streets. While the neighborhood may change, the inner-working of Big Mama’s Kitchen will remain a family affair, with Harrison delegating duties amongst her relatives.

Sister No. 3, Delena, makes the jams and jellies that are sold at the restaurant and local farmers markets, while sister No. 1, Donna, comes in on the weekends to talk to customers like their mother used to. Debbie is daughter No. 2 and their silent cheerleader, but Harrison’s most important asset is her oldest niece and Big Mama’s understudy, Diondria.

“Diondria is the new ‘queen of the kitchen,’” Harrison says with a devilish grin. “We call her D…well, her nickname is really something else, but don’t print that! I just love seeing her grow, and now she walks around looking and sounding just like her grandmother in that kitchen.”

While traditional favorites will remain on the menu, Harrison is excited to try out new ideas.

“We’ll be open seven days a week, and our oven-fried-chicken will still taste the same,” she says. “I wanted more dishes for our more selective eaters, and my motto is anything with soul has to have collard-greens involved. Our new Soul-Food Fried Rice was a hit at this year’s Taste of Omaha, and our Lazy May’s Vegan French Fries are new additions to the menu. I also think our classic cranberry-iced tea would be good with a shot of vodka.”

Some things, like Big Mama’s gluten/sugar-free sweet potato pies required some innovation. Unable to recreate the original recipe to their liking, Harrison and her niece made a special gluten/sugar-free pineapple upside-down cake for a diabetic customer. The impressed patron called later to thank Harrison’s niece, telling her that Big Mama must have come down from heaven and cooked it for her.

“We really try our best to make sure everyone’s experience here is a good one,” Harrison says. “My goal is to franchise her name, because almost everything I am is because of my mother. Can’t you see Big Mama’s Kitchens in stadiums and international airports?”

Note: The online version of this article has been modified to correct a typo in Harrison’s name that appeared in the print edition.


Visit bigmamaskitchen.com for more information.

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

Homecoming

September 16, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

The origins of the first homecoming celebration are unclear. Baylor University, Southwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Missouri have all made claims, dating back to around 1910, that they originated the concept. 

Regardless of when and where it started at the college level, within a few decades high schools across the country were hosting fall celebrations tied to a football game and dance that welcomed graduates back to visit their alma maters.

Although certain traditional elements like the election of royalty and a pre-game pep rally can be found at nearly all homecomings, among local schools, there’s no one right way to celebrate this event. 

“We do quite a few different things; we’ve made homecoming more into a weeklong celebration rather than a Friday night celebration at a football game,” says Ralston High School Spirit Squads Sponsor Jordan Engel. 

Volleyball and softball games are incorporated, a “Mr. RHS” pageant for male students is a popular tradition, “spirit week” activities, and a pep rally are part of the fun, Engel explains. The middle school hosts its own spirit week concurrently, and in past years the school has organized activities for the residents of Ralston from a recreational fun run to a bonfire with s’mores. “We try to change it up each year for families of the students and the community,” she says. 

Jeremy Maskel, Ralston School District’s director of external relations and engagement, says the community involvement is especially important for the small, close-knit city. 

“I’m not native to the area but when I joined the district it really struck me—the amount of alumni who continue to live in district and send their own children to Ralston [High School],” he says. “That intergenerational pride is something I haven’t seen in any other school community I’ve been connected to. Last year we did our first alumni and family tailgate before the homecoming [football] game and we’re looking for ways we can continue to bring alumni in the community back to really celebrate the district and the high school during that week.”

Westside High School has made its homecoming week a districtwide event, says Meagan Van Gelder, a member of the board of education and immediate past-president of Westside Alumni Association. She was also the 1987 Westside homecoming queen.

“Part of our goal is to keep the connection alive for our graduations, so we have tried to create a pathway for alumni to return home, and one way we do that is [with] a homecoming tailgate the Friday before the football game. In the past we had it in the circular area of the parking lot. Recently we have moved it to the grassy area on the alumni house with a nice buffet dinner. There is a parade in the neighborhood around the high school. There is a pep rally that follows the parade, and [that] is when they announce the homecoming court. There are fireworks after the game.”

Millard School District has three high schools, and each organizes its own homecoming activities. Millard West Principal Greg Tiemann says, “We’ve kept the week relatively the same since the building opened in 1995.” In conjunction with the designated football game, the Millard West Student Council coordinates themed dress-up days, a pep rally, and the elections for junior and senior homecoming royalty. The activities are mainly for the students.

Millard North’s student council also coordinates a homecoming week featuring themed attire days, a dance the week of the football game, and other schoolwide events. This high school, however, has abandoned the practice of electing a homecoming court. 

“As a ‘No Place for Hate’ school, and out of concern for protecting students from being bullied or excluded, Millard North has not recognized royalty since 2010,” says principal Brian Begley. “Instead, they make a concerted effort to engage and involve all students in homecoming activities, including those with special needs.”

Bellevue Public Schools’ two high schools coordinate some activities but most of the festivities are school-specific. Amanda Oliver, the district’s director of communications, says parent and student groups are involved in planning.

“Bellevue East has brought back an old tradition, a homecoming parade, the last two years,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of alumni and former staff, long-time community members.”

Bellevue West now hosts a Unity Rally at the beginning of the school year. Although not technically a homecoming event, “It allows us to feature and highlight all our schools and all our kids, and we’ve seen the community piece behind that,” Oliver says.

Elkhorn also has two high schools that plan homecoming activities independently.

 “We have spirit days, a trivia competition about the school, a powder puff game and pep rally that introduces the homecoming court, the cheerleaders and dance team do a special dance and cheer at halftime together, Pinnacle Bank has a pep rally with hotdogs before the game, and the dance is Saturday night,” says Brooke Blythe, Elkhorn South’s cheer coordinator. She adds. “The middle schoolers always have their own section in the stands at the football game.”

According to Omaha Public Schools Marketing Director Monique Farmer, students at each of the district’s seven high schools organize their own homecoming events—and alumni are invited to them at many schools—and create unique traditions. Benson holds a classroom door decorating contest, Bryan has a pep rally at the stadium, Burke concentrates on targeted inclusion for special education students, and North and Northwest host parades. Last year, J.P. Lord School, an all-ages school for students with a variety of complex needs, hosted what Farmer believes to be its first homecoming dance. Parents were welcome and the evening’s culmination was the coronation of a king and queen. 

“That was pretty neat to see,” Farmer says.

Westside alumni association Immediate Past-president & 1987 Westside homecoming queen


 

Written By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

Photos contributed by Glenwood Opinion-Tribune

Homecoming is a huge celebration for this town of 5,300, which more than doubles in size for one fall weekend each year.

“I’ve been in other school districts, and it’s frequently a presentation of the king and queen at the football game and a dance afterwards. This town, this week, is amazing,” says Glenwood Schools Superintendent Devin Embray.

Beyond the coronation of a king and queen, Glenwood recognizes its 25-year reunion class as the “honor class.” Most of the class members return for this weekend in which they are honored at the pep rally and circle the town square twice during the parade. They are also a part of the Saturday-night coronation ceremony, as the past student body president gives a speech to the senior class that is similar to a graduation speech.

While many homecoming parades feature the high school classes, clubs, and athletics along with a few politicians, Glenwood’s parade includes at least 180 entries, with class floats from kindergarten through seniors; class reunion floats from five-year through 50-year and higher, entries from homeschoolers and special interest groups such as tractor clubs, and more. 

Coronation is open to the public and includes the presentation of pages, scribes, and gift bearers along with the king and queen. The prior year’s king and queen come back and sit in their thrones before turning them over to the newly-crowned monarchs.

“I can’t even explain the coronation—you have to see it to believe it,” says high school principal Richard Hutchinson.

Glenwood’s homecoming also includes the Outcasts, which was started by a group of non-native residents who felt like outsiders. This group now crowns their own king and queen each year, has a float and royalty car in the parade, and holds a separate dinner and dance.

“There’s so many people within the town that play a big part in this,” says Hutchinson. “The band parents have been the ones that oversee the king and queen nominations. There are parents in charge of the coronation. We have [community members] that oversee the parade…It is a community event.”


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

It’s a Fiesta Weekend

September 13, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week— Friday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 16: Celebrate freedom and independence this weekend at Fiestas Patrias Omaha along historic South 24th Street. The three-day national holiday celebrates the end of the Mexican War of Independence, an armed conflict and the culmination of a political and social process which ended the rule of Spain in 1821 in the territory of New Spain. Forget what you’ve heard about Cinco de Mayo. September 16 is the real Mexican Independence Day. Learn more about the event and the holiday here.

Thursday, Sept. 13: Co-op Workshops In a learning mood today? Get down to The Union for Contemporary Art and catch a workshop. For $20 or less, you can learn the basics of a variety of skilled crafts. If you like learning on the regular, become a member and you can save money on several of the classes. On the agenda for this weekend is mending basics, tintype photography, or digital photography. If those aren’t up your alley, take a look at their upcoming schedule here. 

Friday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 16: Omaha Vintage Market Days is bringing you Simply Vintage, a three-day upscale event for connoisseurs of all things retro. Shop around in the charming atmosphere at the Chance Ridge Event Center, where you’ll find “original art, antiques, clothing, jewelry, handmade treasures, home décor, indoor/outdoor furnishings, consumable yummies, seasonal plantings, and more.” Get more details here.

Dying to check out that hip, new restaurant everyone is talking about? Maybe there’s an old-school joint you’ve been meaning to get to but the timing is never right. Well, the next 10 days are for you. Omaha Restaurant Week gives you the excuse you’ve been looking for to venture outside your food comfort zones. With 50 restaurants to choose from, you will have more than enough options to get you started. Prix fixe (price fix) menus range from $20-50 and will offer apps, entrees, and desserts. A portion of Omaha Restaurant Week proceeds will go to Food Bank for the Heartland, just in case you need an extra incentive. Find out more here.

Saturday, Sept. 15 to Sunday, Sept. 16: Check out the weekend-long live art celebration that is the Chalk Art Festival in Midtown Crossing. Local and regional artists and professional madonnaris will transform patches of the pavement in Midtown Crossing into pastel chalk masterpieces. This outdoor event will feature live music both days. Stick around Sunday for the Salute to the USS Omaha Concert, starting at 7:30 in Turner Park. Take a sneak peek here.

If the Glass House Fits

September 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Midcentury modern was the look Jon and Jamie Jacobi were going for when they built their 1 ½ story home in The Prairies near 220th and Pacific streets last year. The couple appreciates the resurgent design style’s clean simplicity and contemporary feel.

To achieve that look, the Jacobis chose to incorporate glass into many of the home’s features. Most notable is a 36-foot-long catwalk with glass railings that runs the full length of the second floor. 

“At first we were going to go with a steel railing with cable spindles, but then decided glass was the look we really wanted,” Jon says. “We had seen [glass railings] in Vegas at Aria and the Cosmopolitan casinos and really liked them. The catwalk runs right through the middle of the house, so you can overlook the main level on both sides. It maintains the open look that we wanted.” 

Elite Glass of Omaha provided the glass panels and railing installation, while Glass Vice USA of San Diego provided the hardware clamping system. Sales manager Corey Matteo with Glass Vice USA says the use of glass railings and balusters in homes is growing nationwide. “They’ve been popular in homes near water, or with a view, such as those in Florida or Colorado. But we’re selling more in the Midwest and everywhere these days because they offer a lot of value. They’re an engineered product, so there’s no fabrication needed. And they’re made of a sustainable material and they last forever.”

For safety reasons, the Jacobis opted for 42-inch-high railings, a bit higher than the 36 inches that residential building code requires. With two small children, ages 2 and 4, they were concerned about the kids climbing them and dropping things over the sides. They also went with tempered glass, sometimes called safety glass, which is many times stronger than regular glass and poses less risk of injury should a panel break.

Each panel is topped with a slender cap railing made of stainless steel and features two small vice clamps. “When you look at it, all you see is the glass,” Jon says. “They look almost free-floating.”

The Jacobis added a midcentury modern flair to the home’s exterior as well, installing two 18-foot-high glass curtain walls spanning 16 feet on the front of the structure. The glass walls are slightly tinted to help prevent furniture and flooring from drying out or fading from sunlight.

“I had seen curtain walls on two other homes and loved the commercial storefront look,” he says.

While privacy might be a concern for some—“The house is wide open. You can see through the house, front to back”—the Jacobis don’t find issue with it, for now. But they had the forethought to have the home wired for large, power window blinds should they change their mind in the future.

Jon says the glass installation process was pretty seamless. “The materials all seemed well put together, very strong and safe.” But there were a few things he’s learned along the way. “When we engineered the catwalk, we had to create a really solid sub-floor to anchor the bolts that hold up the heavy glass panels. It created a little challenge for Profile Homes, our builder.”

He also learned that with two small children, the glasswork requires a lot of TLC. “You’re constantly cleaning the glass for smudges and handprints.”

Despite the added care, Jon is satisfied with their design choice. “The finished look is priceless. And the dog [they have a Westie] loves being able to see all the action.”


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