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Underdogs and Frontrunners in the Omaha Mayoral Race

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Christopher Geary photos by Bill Sitzmann, all others contributed

Running for the office of Omaha mayor seems surprisingly accessible for any registered voter age 25 or older who is an Omaha resident of six months or more: Pay a $100 filing fee, complete a notarized candidate filing form and a statement of financial interests form, and submit a petition signed by 1,000 registered Omaha voters.

As the March/April issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, 10 individuals had taken out paperwork from the Douglas County Election Commission (the first step to getting on the ballot in hopes of being elected to the nonpartisan office that pays $102,312 annually for a four-year term starting in June). But in the months before the election, only about half of the potential candidates had developed and promoted detailed campaign platforms through polished websites, social media channels, and savvy media relations efforts. Several of those receiving less pronounced media attention have articulated core issues that range from legalizing marijuana, to improving the lives of local lower- and middle-income families, to touting free speech.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian W. Kruse says it’s unlikely all 10 will make it to the ballot for the April 4 primary based on precedent: Although seven candidates qualified for the 2013 primary, there were just five in 2009, only two in both 2005 and 2001, and three in 1997. (The two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the general election, May 9 this cycle.) Self-promotion isn’t the only challenge for potential candidates, Kruse says.

“Especially with the mayoral candidates, we do hear quite a bit how hard it is to get 1,000 signatures that are accepted. It takes work, you know?” he says. Some well-meaning signers are discovered during the painstaking verification process to not be registered to vote or not registered in the correct jurisdiction, he explains. Candidates are encouraged to obtain extra signatures and complete paperwork well before the March 3 filing deadline. If time allows, they can correct paperwork errors or omissions or even gather more signatures if they come up short or cut it close.

“We would feel terrible if someone turned theirs in on March 3 and they had 995 signatures, because there’s nothing they can do at that point,” he says. “In our office, we will certify to 110 percent. We try to turn them around pretty quickly; the mayor (incumbent Jean Stothert) turned her signatures in on a Wednesday, and we were done by Friday afternoon. Often candidates will call and check with us on how it’s going, and we’ll give them updates. We try to be as customer service-friendly as possible … We’re here to serve the voters and the citizens of Douglas County.”

Christopher Geary, a martial arts teacher/studio owner and former Marine, is a newcomer to the mayoral race. He and the current mayor were the first to meet the credentials needed to appear on the ballot, receiving confirmation from the commission Jan. 6.

 

“I feel that service to others is not only something people should do, but it’s an obligation we all should embrace. I have run for office before and I feel that now is the perfect time to serve the City of Omaha, which has been my home for three decades … Omaha is an awesome city with a fantastic history and people. The diversity of communities and how we come together in hard times is really inspiring,” Geary says. “I have a vision for Omaha that brings government, business, and citizens together to improve living conditions for everyone by increasing job opportunities, helping businesses grow and prosper, and provide training for those seeking employment.”

Geary has made the unusual decision to not accept campaign contributions. “I think a candidate for any office should be free and clear of anyone or any group that would try to manipulate them once they are in office,” he says.

He also will not participate in debates, he adds. “Political debates end up being personal attacks on one another and rarely stay on point. Candidates will only say what people want to hear with memorized speeches and can easily stump the other candidates with facts they don’t have access to. Voters that watch or listen to these debates will not receive the necessary information to make informed decisions regarding his or her candidate.”

Mayoral candidate Taylor Royal

Another mayoral hopeful, certified public accountant Taylor Royal, is entirely new to politics.

“I have always had the heart to serve the public and make my hometown better for everyone, but the urgency to run for mayor originated when I moved back to Omaha two years ago,” he says, explaining that he was impressed with the business climate and other opportunities in Dallas, where he lived for four years as he earned his master’s degree and launched his career.

“Moving back to Omaha in 2015 was a different story. The same old problems that plagued our city when I was growing up were still prevalent, and new problems were surfacing,” Royal says. “I want to be mayor of Omaha to create a more business-friendly and community-friendly Omaha. I believe my new vision for Omaha will join our community together to solve our challenges and make Omaha the place to be for families and businesses.”

Royal received early media attention for his proposal to build a football stadium and bring an NFL team to Omaha, but his platform also includes unlocking new sources of revenue, looking for strategic opportunities to outsource, improving street maintenance, and revitalizing North Omaha. Citizens have been receptive, he says.

“My campaign experience to date has been a confirmation of what I already knew about the people in Omaha,” he says. “Omaha is a city filled with people who display unmatched hospitality and incredible diversity, and my candidacy has received a warm welcome from the residents.”

Candidate Heath Mello, who comes into the mayoral race fresh from two terms in the Nebraska Legislature, says engagement is key to winning an election.

“Looking back, I was probably most surprised by how important it was to spend more time knocking on doors and meeting with voters than doing anything else. Spending quality time with people in their homes, churches, and senior centers proved to be so much more meaningful to me throughout the campaign than any speech, fundraiser, meeting, or parade,” he says, estimating that he knocked on more than 12,000 doors in his first race alone.

Engagement then transfers to successfully serving the public, he adds.

“I worked hard for eight years as a state senator to keep that kind of personal engagement through town halls, neighborhood roundtables, knocking on doors, and proactively connecting with neighbors,” he says. And he’s taking that approach through his bid for Omaha mayor with a platform that includes plans to reduce crime, improve city services, create jobs, and foster collaboration.

“From Belvedere to Deer Park, Blackstone to Elkhorn, and everywhere in between, I am continuing to knock on doors and visit with small businesses to learn more about how Omahans want to help shape our great city for the next 20 years and how we can collectively create a smarter, more innovative city.”

Incumbent Stothert emphasizes safety of Omaha’s citizens as her top priority in her bid for re-election. “There is no issue we work harder on than reducing crime and apprehending and prosecuting those who commit crimes. I am proud of our police department and our work with community partners to make Omaha a safer community.”

Her motivation for running again is simple: “I love my job, and it is a privilege to serve as mayor.” Stothert notes, however, that running for re-election has both advantages and challenges.

“During the past 3 1/2 years, we have provided leadership, accomplished priorities, and worked with partners on community projects. This experience provides me the opportunity to highlight what we have accomplished, something you can’t provide as a first-time candidate,” she says. On the other hand, “Four years ago, I could spend most my time campaigning by meeting voters throughout the city and visiting people in their homes. While I am doing that again during this election, I also know my work and commitments as mayor must come first. Even though I have less time to campaign, I believe the best politics is doing a good job so we work hard to make sure Omaha is on the right track.”

Information on the election process or candidates is readily available, Kruse says, and he’s hoping for a good turnout for both the primary and general elections with 182 polling places open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visit votedouglascounty.com or call 402-444-VOTE to reach the Douglas County Election Commission for more information.

TEN MAYORAL HOPEFULS

As of press time, 10 prospective candidates had begun the paperwork process to enter the mayoral race. To appear on the ballot, they must obtain and file 1,000 signatures from registered voters who reside in Omaha by March 3. Contact information is based on Douglas County Election Commission public records and online information (listed alphabetically by surname).

Bernard Choping

  • Phone: 402-917-5149

Mark Elworth

  • Phone: 402-812-1600
  • E-mail: markelworthjr@aol.com
  • Twitter: @markjr4gov

Christopher Geary

  • Phone: 402-905-6865
  • Website: geary2017.com
  • E-mail: christophergeary@gmail.com

J.B. Medlock

  • Phone: 402-302-0000 and 402-213-2095

Heath Mello

  • Website: heathmello.com
  • E-mail: info@heathmello.com
  • Twitter: @heathmello

Ean Mikale

  • Website: mikaleformayor.com
  • Twitter: @mikaleformayor

Taylor Royal

  • Website: taylorjroyal.com
  • E-mail: royalformayor@gmail.com

Jean Stothert

  • Phone: 402-506-6623
    Website: jeanstothert.com
  • E-mail: info@jeanstothert.com
  • Twitter: @jean_stothert

Mort Sullivan

  • Website: mortsullivan.com
  • E-mail: mdsullivan@cisusa.info

Jerome Wallace

  • Phone: 314-495-0545

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

 

Waterford

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Beautiful landscaping, nature at your doorstep, a state-of-the-art clubhouse and fitness center overlooking the serene pool…Sounds more like a dreamy vacation destination than a permanent residence.

Waterford is a cozy neighborhood tucked away at the corner of 156th and Ida streets in northwest Omaha. “It is a quiet neighborhood with a lot of families and is a place where you really get to know your neighbors,” says Jennifer Magilton with CBSHome Real Estate. “It has that small-town sense of community.”20130602_bs_8867_Web

Resident Kim Brown attests to Waterford’s tight-knit community. “The neighborhood is friendly, quiet, and the neighbors are very supportive, caring, and gracious. We are all very close and know what each other needs. If you’re going to be gone for a week, no problem…Your neighbor will get your mail or mow your yard. And when a neighbor is going through a tough time, we all pull together and do whatever needs to be done,” says Brown.

The residents of Waterford enjoy throwing holiday parties for the kids. “Traditionally, we have a Halloween party, an Easter Egg Hunt, and Santa comes on a firetruck,” says Brown. “We have people bring cookies for the Christmas event and candy for the Halloween event. A committee gets together to plan and solicit any donations or other items that need to be purchased.”20130602_bs_8818_Web

Brown and her family have lived in Waterford for six years and do not plan on moving anytime soon. “In the area where I live [northeast], we are pretty established…there are only a few lots left. So, if you want to buy, hurry!”

The subdivision offers three housing options, all with access to the private clubhouse, 24-hour fitness center, two swimming pools, lake, and walking trails: single-family homes, estate lots, and villas/townhomes with lawn and trash services included.20130602_bs_8786_Web

“The neighborhood has a variety of architectural [home] designs, from ultra-chic modern to Colorado cabin, as well as traditional homes in a wide range of prices…lots of different styles of homes throughout because of all of the different builders,” says Magilton. Homes sell for $250,000 to $700,000.

The winding roads of Waterford are a calming retreat from the city noise and traffic. The streets are lined with neat rose bushes, shrubs, and local prairie grasses. The neighborhood has a private clubhouse equipped with a pool and 24-hour fitness center. A second pool sits on the southeast side of the subdivision.20130602_bs_8785_Web

Outdoors enthusiasts enjoy the secluded 30-acre lake stocked with fish and the biking/jogging trail. “I absolutely love the access we have to nature in terms of green space and walking trails,” says resident Maria Minderman. “You can access Standing Bear [Recreational Area] and many other trails through the trail system.”

The clubhouse is an excellent resource for residents. It’s a charming space that includes a kitchen and a large, open space plus a sitting area with couches, a television, and fireplace. Several of the Waterford community activities are hosted there.20130602_bs_8831_Web

“If you have a small party, I would guess the clubhouse would comfortably hold anywhere from 25-50 people. It would be a great place for a rehearsal dinner, graduation, or birthday party,” Brown adds. “It is a very nice treat for residents if they do not want to go into Omaha…There is something right here that they can use. Plus, you don’t have to clean your house!”

The neighborhood is unique in that it’s located in both the Omaha Public and Bennington Public School districts. Minderman’s children—who just finished kindergarten, second, and fourth grades—go to Saddlebrook Elementary in OPS, just 1.5 miles from her house. “I absolutely love Saddlebrook. The school is brand-new and has a library and a community center. I don’t think you could find a better school in Omaha,” says Minderman.20130602_bs_8823_Web

Brown’s two children attend Bennington Public Schools. “We have a lot of different school systems represented in Waterford,” says Brown. “I know families that attend St. James [Catholic], Lifegate Christian School, and Concordia [Lutheran] School of Omaha.”

Brown and her family built their two-story, traditional home and were very pleased with their building options. “We didn’t want a cookie-cutter house,” says Brown, adding she admires the other unique homes in the area. “A house was just built down the road from us that is absolutely beautiful. It has more of a Colorado feel to it. There are a couple of really unique homes that resemble a Frank Lloyd Wright style.”20130602_bs_8814_Web

Waterford offers the proximity to modern conveniences without sacrificing the natural elements. “We have geese that make their home at the lake most of the year. It is very serene to walk around the lake and see the geese, ducks, and bunnies. I saw a bald eagle the other day,” says Brown.

At the same time, the subdivision is just a couple miles from the shopping and dining at centers at 144th and 156th and Maple streets. Target, Wal-Mart, and HyVee are just a quick drive away.

And if you’re a golfer, Stone Creek Golf Course (156th & Ida) is just a stroll across the street.

David Brown’s Omaha

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

David Brown did his fair share of moving around before settling in Omaha in 2003 to become president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Before assuming that post, the Detroit native worked in his home state of Michigan, then in Indiana, before spending a solid decade in South Carolina.

Brown has always stayed longer than the norm for chamber professionals because he also does economic development work and that field requires long-term commitment.

“Economic development is really my first love. The part I’ve grown to love the most is [determining] what to do to improve the community so that it’s more attractive to companies and individuals to stay here or to come here,” he says. “When you do chamber work, which traditionally does not include economic development, you don’t put down as many roots as you do if you’re doing economic development, where you’re selling dirt and really learning about the community. Clients have to see you’re knowledgeable and committed.”

After 10 years down south, he and wife Maggie looked to get the youngest of their two sons settled in school. Moving to the middle of the country held great appeal.

“We wanted to get into a more positive public-education environment for Elijah, who was getting ready to go into middle school. We wanted to get back to the Midwest where our roots were,” says Brown. “Fortunately, the Omaha position was open, and I threw my hat in the ring and got the job.

“I guess what really trips my trigger is that I can point to things I’ve been involved in that have made [Omaha] a better place and given people jobs. I like making a difference, that’s really what it comes down to.”

“This is my 10th year. We’ve been here about as long as we’ve been anywhere. This is home.”

His devotion to Omaha is such that he’s influenced extended family members to make this their home as well. He enjoys working with people who share his passion for enhancing Omaha.

“There has been a collection of leadership here that seems to have in the back of their mind, ‘How do we improve this place?’ You’ve got this intentional effort to try and improve the place, married with the unbelievable generosity of the philanthropists here and the corporate support for making this a better place. You see remarkable amenities created, not to bring tourists to Omaha but to enhance the quality of life for the people who already live here. The fact that they’ve had a tourist appeal as well is just chocolate on the sundae.”

Add it all up, he says, “and that gives us a competitive advantage over other places where that kind of development and quality discussion doesn’t happen as consistently. We’ve got people who have been able to sit down and say, ‘What is it we need to be a better place?’ and then they’ve gone about the process of getting it done. It’s fascinating to see how quickly some of this stuff has occurred, like the riverfront redevelopment. There was a frenetic pace almost that took place in the ’90s that continued into the 2000s.”

For Brown, there’s nothing better than seeing projects like the CenturyLink Center Omaha or Midtown Crossing take shape.

“I guess what really trips my trigger is that I can point to things I’ve been involved in that have made [Omaha] a better place and given people jobs. I like making a difference, that’s really what it comes down to. It’s very rewarding at the end of the year to sit back and say, ‘What did we do this year?’ and know we made a measurable, demonstrable difference in the community we live in…Not just me, but the team we function with, from our volunteers to our members to our staff.”20130228_bs_7662-2_Web

Brown will be guiding the new Prosper Omaha campaign that seeks to brand the city as never before. Omaha’s aspirational spirit resonates with him and the work of the chamber.

“Omaha’s always been a business town, and the business community here plays a big role in making things happen. We’ve been fortunate as an organization that the business community has looked to the chamber to accomplish some pretty significant things, so over time, we’ve picked up some additional responsibilities. We find ourselves in things a lot of chambers don’t find themselves involved in.”

The Young Professionals Association is an example.

“We have this dynamic young professionals organization that’s involved in virtually every major community activity you can think of,” Brown says. “The management and leadership of that process has been a whole new learning experience for us. There are 5,000 young professionals who, at some point or another, have plugged into this process of making Omaha a better place. We’re mentoring and engaging [them] so they can be leaders in the future. It’s become part of our leadership agenda.”

In terms of projects, he says, the chamber is “getting deeper and deeper into things the community needs. When [then-Omaha Chamber board chair] Dick Bell said in 2004 that the chamber is going to be involved in making sure every Omahan has an opportunity to succeed and every area in Omaha has an opportunity to grow, that [declaration] got us in the community development business. We’re going to help Midtown grow, were going to help NoDo grow, we’re going to help North Omaha grow, we’re going to help South Omaha grow. That changed the way we think about economic development and the activities we’re engaged in doing community development.”

“I like change…It’s something I really embrace. If I don’t see change happening, I’m wondering if I’m doing my job.”

Brown says he likes that the Omaha Chamber not only “provides services to our members to grow their businesses, but we’re also a catalytic organization.” He adds, “That means we’re sometimes change agents. Sometimes we lead. Virtually always we’re conveners. We convene a wide diversity of people that can help solve problems. Advocacy is always a part of the agenda.”

A graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played football and baseball, Brown is a natural people person and team player. “I really like people,” he says.

He says lessons he learned playing team sports “are all things I use every day with our team here at the chamber and with the teams we build within the community,” adding, “The chamber rarely does things ourselves. We always partner with people and collaborate with others to get things accomplished, and that’s a different kind of team but a team nonetheless.”

He also likes getting things done. “I like change…It’s something I really embrace. If I don’t see change happening, I’m wondering if I’m doing my job. I like to come up with new ideas and trust my team to tell me which ones are good and which ones are bad and then see ideas come to fruition. In the end, it doesn’t matter to me who gets the credit, as long as we get stuff done. That’s the way the chamber operates and, in large measure, it’s the way Omaha operates. I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique.”

Away from the office, Brown says he enjoys golf, hunting, landscaping, and reading. Maggie is often by his side. “She’s my best friend, and we do everything together,” Brown says. “She’s been my partner in this whole career process. She’s a great saleswoman. She’s done the trade show and conference thing with me. She knows the spiel. She can pitch just like I can. She’s great with volunteers and board members.”

Keep up-to-date with Brown and the Greater Omaha Chamber at omahachamber.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Kith

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I think there’s something about sharing a meal together that gets rid of a lot of nonsense,” says Brigitte McQueen, director of The Union for Contemporary Arts. “Those conversations are what bring us together. It levels the playing field.”

In late January, The Union, an organization that provides studio fellowship programs for six months at a time, hosted its first monthly Kith dinner. It was an informal potluck shared by artists, local residents, and perfect strangers, heralded by nothing much more than a Facebook event. Why would a group like that come together at 24th and Burdette in a simple ranch building usually dedicated to the arts?

“The arts have not always been a conversation in North Omaha,” McQueen says. “A lot of the people who live in this area don’t think art is for black people or that black people make art. And I get why those thoughts are held, because you don’t really see it. Why would you go out of your way to engage with it? You change that,” she adds, “by making artists more visible in the community.”

When McQueen first posted the invitation on Facebook for a free community potluck at The Union, each of the 30 spots were spoken for within two hours. When she mentioned it later in The Union’s newsletter, people asked, “Can we just come?” So McQueen eked out space for 50 people around the Union’s common room. “I worked that space in a way I didn’t even know was possible,” she says a touch proudly.20120803_bs_2517

The artists in residence had their studios open, so during the cocktail hour, guests milled around. The food was all on one table, beautifully set with flowers and china. Old R&B music played in the background. The gathering began around 6 p.m., and it was about 9:30 p.m. when the last person left.

The first Kith dinner yielded such beauties as Thai fish curry and Italian sausage lentil stew. McQueen, who studied at a pastry school, made a chocolate stout cake. Tim Shew, her husband and a chef at La Buvette, made a five-cheese mac-and-cheese casserole with toasted breadcrumbs on top. “People bring their A-game,” McQueen adds, still obviously impressed. “This one woman showed up with these cupcakes, and everyone was like, ‘Where’d you buy them?’, and she said, ‘Oh no, I made them.’ They were these caramel toffee…amazing. Beautifully done.” One couple brought a bottle of Bailey’s for the coffee at the end of the night.

Karin Campbell, curator of contemporary art at the Joslyn Art Museum, says, “I remember sitting in The Union’s main room pondering the fact that maintaining a community is really not rocket science. All it takes is a little bit of willingness to leave the house. It’s refreshing to sit at a table with living, breathing human beings.” Also, she confessed, there were Samoa cupcakes. “Mind. Blown.”

With the summer weather, there will be barbecues and outdoor movie nights. Hours will switch up from brunches to late cocktail parties and back again in order to make Kith open to every schedule.

“I think there’s something about sharing a meal together that gets rid of a lot of nonsense. Those conversations are what bring us together.” – Brigitte McQueen

Whatever the theme, whatever the time, the gatherings have only two rules: Everyone brings something to share, and you don’t sit next to someone you know. There are no cliques, no circles. Everyone interacts with everyone else. “It’s not just a bunch of artists sitting in this pocket,” McQueen says. “The conversation starts out being about art, but it ends up being about, say, politics.” Or films. Or food. Or about what it will take to make North Omaha thrive again.

“The things that separate us,” McQueen says with emphasis, “are stupid. And they are stupid things that have been in place for generations.” With Kith, she’s inviting residents of the area to interact with people who might be coming into North Omaha for the first time in a setting that guests can’t help but associate with comfort, coziness, and conversation.

Artist in residence Victoria Hoyt sums up the appeal of Kith: “When you sit down for a meal, you talk about things you wouldn’t standing up in a gallery or chatting in a bar. You can go beyond small talk and make meaningful connections.”

Keeping Your Home Safe

November 25, 2012 by

Did you know a break-in occurs in the US nearly every 16 seconds? Omaha break-ins are also on the rise, making local homeowners take action in securing their homes. Here are some ways you can keep you and your home safe.

Be aware of who is in your neighborhood. Vehicles driving around at night without lights, unfamiliar cars parked and occupied at unusual hours, strangers going door-to-door or loitering around houses where residents may not be home—these are all signs that a burglar could be working your neighborhood. Burglars and other criminals often strike neighborhoods where residents keep to themselves. Getting to know your neighbors and implementing a Neighborhood Watch programs can deter crime in your area.

  • Take precautions when you leave your home. The risk of a break-in is greatest when a homeowner is away. Sgt. Erin Dumont of Omaha’s Crime Prevention Unit says, “Daytime break-ins seem to be the most active.” Dumont also has some tips on keeping your home secure while you are away:
  • Make it appear as if someone is home by leaving a TV and light on (or have them on timers, if you’re worried about your electrical bill).
  • If you are away for an extended period, let your neighbors know; ask them to pick up your mail, newspapers, or even mow and shovel snow.
  • Avoid announcing your vacations on Facebook and social media sites. If you have kids, make sure you know what they’re posting, too.
  • A car break-in can lead to a home break-in. Be cautious while you are out; thieves can snatch a garage door opener and registration, which may have your address on it, making your home their next target.
  • Don’t make it easy for burglars. Leaving a window open for fresh air is an invitation to a burglar. Always make sure to lock all windows and doors before you leave. Never allow strangers in your home to use the telephone or bathroom. Don’t leave valuable items outside, like bicycles. Leaving a spare key out or “hidden” will make it almost effortless for someone to have access to your house; instead, leave it with a neighbor you trust.
  • Protect your home at night. Keep your blinds closed. You don’t want to let burglars get a peek inside at any of your valuables. Simple things like a barking dog, a security system sign in the yard, or a pair of men’s shoes by the front door is sometimes enough to discourage a break-in. The panic button on your car keys can act as an alarm. Keep them by your bedside, and press the button if you hear suspicious noise outside or someone trying to break-in. A well-lit neighborhood can deter criminal activity. Ask neighbors to keep their exterior lights on at night and consider installing motion-sensing lights to illuminate exterior walls.

Country Club

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Jess Ewald

Brick-laid streets that have resisted asphalt resurfacing. Old-time globe street lights in lieu of goose-necked halogen lights. All-brick Tudors, with a few stray colonials thrown in for good measure. Meandering roads that invite leisurely drives. These are the hallmarks of the Country Club neighborhood tucked between artsy Benson and traditional Dundee.

Country Club’s boundaries technically extend from 52nd to 56th streets and from Blondo to Corby streets, says Matt Herzog, president of the Country Club Community Council. But generally speaking, Country Club connotes a larger area, encompassing homes between Maple and Hamilton streets and 48th to 56th streets. Once outside of these perimeters, the all-brick houses decrease and rental properties increase.

Country Club is popular with homeowners looking for an established neighborhood with charm at a reasonable price point. Peter Manhart, part of the Manhart husband and wife realtor team at CBS/Home, says Country Club offers a good “bang for the buck.” All-brick homes, a rarity in most areas and cost-prohibitive for new construction, abound here. Single-family dwellings with virtually no rental properties are another draw. And Country Club fits the real estate mantra, “Location, location, location” to a T. With its close proximity to downtown, the city’s universities, and thriving arts and entertainment districts like Benson, Dundee, Aksarben, and Midtown Crossing, Country Club is alluring. So are the home prices that run between $130,000 and $275,000.

Country-Club-Neighborhood-Profile-20121002_je_6890-copy

Country Club has a history as old as our city. Once 161.2 acres of John A. Creighton’s farm, it was sold to Omaha Country Club in 1889 for development into a premier golf course. For nearly 35 years, it catered to citizens wishing to escape the bustle of city life on the greens of a golf course. However, the city was growing west. So in 1924, OCC sought refuge from an ever-encroaching city by moving to its existing location in the rolling hills north of Immanuel Hospital and selling its land for $150,000.

Theodore Metcalfe’s developing company then used the existing slopes of the former golf course to construct affordable homes for Omaha’s growing population. Streets and avenues were wide and lined with ornamental lighting. Despite the Great Depression’s economic woes and World War II, development continued until completion in the late 1940s.

What is old now was at one time suburbia. However, Metcalfe strove for diversity of design, shunning cookie-cutter construction typical of developments. Most homes were built in the Tudor style but varied in flavor. There are examples of twin-gabled Tudors as well as French-inspired Tudors with turrets. The all-brick English L-shaped home was also popular. Metcalfe mixed brick with stone for added effect, and slate roofs offered additional architectural character.

Country-Club-Neighborhood-Profile-20121002_je_6856-copy

Today, gracious living abounds in the area still. Its strong neighborhood association is in large part responsible. The Country Club Community Council’s mission is “to promote, preserve, and enhance the quality of life in the neighborhood.” Herzog selected Country Club as his neighborhood of choice when he and his wife moved to Omaha from Washington, D.C., with their children because of its innate charm and kid-friendly atmosphere.

“Country Club has a great, active vibe despite its age,” asserts Sarah Kaseforth, who has served as CCCC Secretary for over a year. Like the Herzog family, Kaseforth and her husband are transplants, coming to Omaha from Chicago. “Country Club was a standout for us due to the Tudor-style homes, well-maintained yards and streets, and young families seen out walking along the neighborhood streets.”

It’s these same young families that make the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Metcalfe Park one of the most popular CCCC-sponsored events. Picture pastel-clad preschoolers searching for spring-hued eggs among the daffodils and sprouting grass while their parents look on, catching up with neighbors after a long winter.

Other year-round gatherings further foster this community feel. Every summer, the neighborhood sponsors a community garage sale with unsold items being donated to the Stephen’s Center and the Benson Refugee Task Force. The highlight of the summer, however, is the Labor Day Picnic. It’s like a block party on steroids with bounce houses, face painting, balloon hats, and plenty of food and drink.

Country-Club-Neighborhood-Profile-20121002_je_6883-copy

But perhaps the most beloved tradition, says Herzog, is the Winter Luminary Event. Residents place luminaries along their walkways and neighborhood sidewalks, effectively lighting up some the longest, darkest nights of the year with the soft glow of candlelight. Complimentary trolley rides for both residents and the general public tour the avenues during this festive time. It’s like traveling back in time to when the neighborhood was first established.

An anchor of the area is Metcalfe Park, which underwent a much-needed renovation in 2011. On any given day, you can walk by the park and see young girls in hijabs swinging with recent refugees from Africa and Myanmar, a testament to the area’s melting pot character.

Perhaps what encapsulates the spirit of the neighborhood is this simple story of kindness. After the birth of their first child this past summer, Kaseforth and her husband were overwhelmed by the generosity of their neighbors, even those with whom they just shared a wave and passing “hello.” Cards and gifts poured in as soon as young Trent was born. Says Kaseforth: “It is a great feeling to know that my neighbors care about my family. Coming from a large city, this type of gesture is unheard of!”