Tag Archives: service

Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

April 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mary Current and her son, Anderson Current, started making hot sauce three years ago. She never planned on being a commercial food producer despite working the front and back of the house at restaurants, studying culinary arts, and being married to a retired food and beverage director. “It just kind of happened,” she says of Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce’s origins. One day this foodie and home gardener decided to make hot sauce from her bumper pepper crop. She had made pico de gallo and salsa, but never liquid hot sauce. Friends and family loved that first spicy concoction and wanted more.

Her four main sauces became habanero, jalapeño, datil, and chipotle, each with notes of poblano, anaheim, vinegar, citrus, garlic, and onion. Specialty sauces have followed. She only arrives at a recipe after much research and experimentation. Finding the right complementary combinations, she says, “is what I really like doing,” adding, “That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s like a gift.”

The initial strong reception got mother and son thinking, especially after the savory micro batches proved popular with Anderson’s friends in Colorado, where he lived with his wife, Constance. The couple worked for Whole Foods. When they moved to Omaha, Anderson helped his mom turn her food hobby into a business. Constance designed the logo with a Medusa-like head sprouting chili peppers. The two shopped the sauces around to trendy eateries like Block 16, and found that chefs and patrons also enjoyed the homemade spicy condiments.

Crazy Gringa has come a long way since Mary cooked and bottled the sauces at home and sold them out of the trunk of her car. Her condiments are now made in a commercial kitchen and are staples at the Omaha Farmers Market, select Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee stores, and some restaurants. She plans on keeping things small.

Working together allows the family more quality time, which is the main reason why Mary likes keeping it all in the family.

“When we make hot sauce, that’s our bonding time together,” Mary says of her and Anderson. Her husband, Doug, helps with receiving.

Mary also likes maintaining a small operation because it allows her to pour as much of her heart and soul into the operation as possible.

“It really is a labor of love. I’m never going to be rich, but I love to see the joy on people’s faces when we’re back at the Farmers Market and they say, ‘I can’t live without this hot sauce.’”

Just as Crazy Gringa showed up on store shelves, City Sprouts board president Albert Varas sought an area food manufacturer with whom he could partner. He realized these simple sauces with complex flavors have, as their base, items interns can grow and cultivate at the City Sprouts South garden at 20th and N streets. He contacted the Currents and found they shared a passion for building the local food culture.

The Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce maven partners with Omaha City Sprouts on a social entrepreneurship project that may spur more collaboration between for-profits like hers and the nonprofit urban agriculture organization.

City Sprouts South grows various peppers for Crazy Gringa’s signature hot sauces. The boutique company, in return, donates a percentage of sales over four summer weekends to support City Sprouts programs. Meanwhile, Crazy Gringa works with other local growers to supply the peppers City Sprouts can’t.

“We just hit if off,” Varas says. “They are all about community service, engagement, and sourcing hyper-local food with a mission behind it. It was always my dream we would partner on bringing a value-added product to market. It’s a great way to engage our interns.

“The relationship adds revenue and relevance to what we’re doing.”

Having the hand-grown peppers picked and processed in Omaha fits Crazy Gringa’s emphasis on fresh, local, and artisanal. Current also creates limited-run small batches for City Sprouts and other nonprofits to give away as gifts or prizes.

 

Anderson helped build the raised beds for the peppers at the site that community activists turned from a dumping ground to a garden.

Mary loves that her product helps a community-based ecosystem.

“So many kids don’t know where their produce comes from and City Sprouts helps educate them about how things grow,” she says. “Those interns learn how to garden, so they learn how to sustain themselves and their families. We’re happy to support good things in the community like this.”

Interns gain a sense of ownership in Crazy Gringa’s success.

Varas says, “The interns need something to do and something to believe in. One intern, Rafeal Quintanilla, is a mentee of mine and he really digs the idea that he has a stake in the finished product because he waters and cares for the peppers and harvests them. He has pride in being a part in creating this delicious hot sauce.”

The partnership with Crazy Gringa “has far exceeded my expectations,” Varas says, adding, “It’s not just transactional—it’s been an incredible reciprocal experience.”

Mary Current concurs, vowing the relationship will continue as long as she’s in business. “It’s an amazing concept. They’re wonderful people to work with. I can’t think of a better place to give back your money.”

More collaborations like this one may be in the offing.

”I think this is a model that could and should be replicated,” Varas says. “My hope is that we will be able to recreate this next growing season with Crazy Gringa and possibly other food businesses.”

Visit crazygringahotsauce.com

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Sales Insider

April 5, 2017 by

I love sales. It is a career where you, the sales professional, determine your income based on how skillfully you execute the duty. It has a feel of independence, ownership, and entrepreneurship, and it can be extremely rewarding. Professional selling is regarded as one of the top-earning careers on the the planet. Note to you business owners out there: If your salespeople are making more money than you, don’t be jealous, be excited because they are building your business and increasing its value.

The term “commission” is familiar to ranks of sales professionals. However, I want you to think about your income a little differently. Rather than earning commission when a sale is made, think about your pay as an hourly wage. What makes your hourly pay different from the familiar, traditional hourly jobs is that your hourly rate will change based on the activity you happen to be doing at the moment. For example, in my previous career, for every 10 presentations I made, I would close on, and get paid commission for, three orders. On the three projects I won, my hourly rate was great, but on the projects I lost, my hourly rate was $0/hour. I thought “this is just how it is in sales,” so I did little to change or improve my sales performance until I was taught to think of my compensation as hourly. Spending 60 hours per week on sending proposals to my customers meant missing out on my kids’ activities and time with family, all so I could get paid for 30 percent of my time. That made me angry. This is madness, yet a vast majority of salespeople would give you a similar story.

I think there is a better way to sell that will pay more per hour, which means one can earn their desired wage in less time. I just need to figure out how to get rid of the seven prospects who don’t buy quickly and only spend time on the three who will buy. If I can figure this out, then I will close the three orders, so my pay is the same as before, but I do not spend much time on the seven who do not buy. Can you see how my hourly wage more than doubles?

Since your time is just as valuable as your prospects’ time, only the prospects who plan to buy from you get any of it. In order to do this, you must sort all prospects who talk to you as either buyers or window shoppers. The first step in doing this is to recognize that there are four possible outcomes of a sales call: yes, no, maybe, and clear future. Let’s examine each one.

Yes: Congratulations! You achieved an order and you will earn money.

No: Shoot! Shake it off. There are plenty of other customers out there who will buy. Did you know that “no” outcomes are good, and they can actually make you money? If you get a “no,” that opportunity no longer consumes your time, which means you can divert time to those who buy, and your hourly rate actually increases.

Maybe: Stay away from the dreaded “I need to think it over.” These outcomes represent the “window shoppers” and will cost you money. These prospects waste your time and consume your resources. Therefore, when a prospect stalls, push them to “no.”  At least a “no” will make you money.

Clear future: Sometimes your product or service cannot be sold in one call. You might need multiple meetings to formulate the solution and make the sale. This positive outcome is for those prospects who see value in your solution, are willing to move the process forward, and want the sales conversation to continue on a specific day at a specific time.

Thus, the rule is “No more maybes.” If you can make this rule part of your selling system, you will increase your hourly rate and significantly grow your sales. You effectively sort the buyers from the window shoppers and spend more time on those who buy. Now, I close three out of four presentations I make, my income has increased by triple digits, and I spend less time doing it all.

So, what is you hourly wage?

Karl Schaphorst is a 27-year veteran of sales who now specializes in training other sales professionals. He is the president of Sandler Training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Efficient Urban Transportation in a Zip

February 24, 2017 by

Living in a technologically advanced world has its advantages, like convenience and fiscal recompenses we never could have envisioned.

As a Los Angeles native who paid car insurance the price of a mortgage in some places, one new convenience I can appreciate is Zipcar.

The program has graced Omaha with its presence for seven years. Zipcar was founded in 2000 by Antje Danielson, current director of education at MIT Energy Initiative, and  Robin Chase, co-founder of French chartering service Buzzcar. The pair created Zipcar to provide a more efficient, affordable method of driving in the city.

Zipcar P.R. manager Lindsay Wester, who is based in Boston, explains that Zipcar is as simple as join, reserve, and drive.

Business customers begin by signing up online, where they pay a one-time setup fee of $75 and annual membership dues of $35 for each driver. This membership covers fuel, insurance, mileage, parking, and maintenance. Individuals can pay a $25 one-time setup fee annual dues of $70, or a monthly fee of $7 plus the one-time setup fee.

The Omaha fleet includes two Honda Civics and a Ford Escape. The Hondas and the Ford cost $8.50 per hour Monday through Thursday, or $69 per day. The Friday through Sunday rate is $9.50 per hour, or $77 per day for the Hondas and $83 per day for the Escape.  The other car available in Omaha is a Volkswagen Jetta, which costs $9 per hour or $69 daily at all times. The cars are parked on Creighton and UNMC’s campuses, downtown at 17th Street and Capitol Avenue, and at Mammel Hall near Aksarben Village.

Upon becoming a member, the company sends the user a Zipcard, which functions as an entry key. The ignition key stays inside the vehicle. Each user gets one card with their membership, which gives them access to Zipcar’s nationwide fleet. Upon reserving a car, the company digitally connects the Zipcard to the specific car reserved. The user gains access to the vehicle by holding the card to the card reader placed in the windshield. After scanning in with the Zipcard, a user’s smartphone can be a backup to the Zipcard for locking or unlocking the car doors throughout a reservation.

The company first brought their concept to Omaha in 2010, launching at Creighton University, followed by University of Nebraska in 2012, then the Medical Center in October 2015. In Omaha, the target market has been students, but Zipcars also are useful for travelers.

Melanie Stewart, sustainability manager at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, is in charge of UNMC’s program.

“Last year we had a visiting professor come in, and they had a friend in Lincoln, so they used a Zipcar to visit their friend while in Omaha,” Stewart says.

The Zipcars are also used by visitors of patients who may need to purchase supplies or just take a break from being at the hospital.

Patrick Lin, a 21-year-old Omaha resident, says, “I used Zipcar roughly four to six hours every week during my sophomore year. I first heard about it from some friends in California because they couldn’t have cars during their first year at college.”

Lin enjoys the ability to use a car when needed without the expense of owning it. “Personally, it allows a lot more to get done compared to other services. The only restraint I have is that since there is a time limit, you must plan your activities accordingly. But the per-mile usage you can get when a trip is planned right is entirely worth the time constraints,” he says.

Wester says that Zipcar has remained successful and growing for more than a decade and a half. And as city dwellers become more disenchanted with the idea of owning cars, their success should continue to accelerate.

Visit zipcar.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

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.

 

Paws to Angels

July 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Families dealing with the loss of a pet now have a helping hand—or paw or two—to turn to, in the form of Paws To Angels, the only full-service pet loss center in Nebraska.

Owner Cherie Fry started Paws to Angels after the death of her dog, Chadz. Fry considered herself a “pet parent,” to Chadz, and was shocked to hear what traditional pet death care consisted of—deceased pets are put into garbage bags and kept in a freezer until a garbage truck comes around.

“Two weeks later, [after Chadz’s death] I began my business plan. I made a vow to change the way things are for pet parents—to provide them a more respectful, dignified aftercare with a personalized touch,” Fry says.

Fry turned to other pet owners in the community, and found a coalition of pet lovers who were as eager as her to see a change in animal death care. With no centers in Nebraska that dealt with pet loss, Fry found herself on the forefront of a new movement in pet care.

“They [pet owners] want pets treated more like family. And we’re here to do that,” Fry says.

Keeping this community of pet lovers at the core of her business, Fry’s goal is to guide a family through the loss of their pet at their own pace, and make them aware of what options are available in animal death care.

While Paws to Angels specializes in organizing the final arrangements for their customers’ pets, they also offer a variety of services that are free to the public. Fry is on call 24 hours a day, and leads grief support groups for both adults and children.

It’s this personalized care that has gained Fry a loyal following. Sondra Akrin approached Fry around Thanksgiving when her 12-year-old cat, Louie, was diagnosed with renal failure.

Within days of her cat’s diagnosis, Akrin heard about Paws to Angels, and knew she wanted Fry to take care of Louie when he passed. Akrin was in and out of contact with Fry in the weeks leading up to Louie’s death in January, pre-planning for his euthanasia and final arrangements. While Akrin had lost human members of her family, it was her first time losing a close feline member.

“What I wanted to do was to honor the 11 years I had him [Louie]. He was like my kid, and so what was nice about the process was that Cherie was very flexible about, ‘whatever you need, I’m here for you,’” Akrin says.

Linda Hester had a similar experience to Akrin. Hester previously owned three other pets, and she buried them at Tully’s Kennel after they died. But when she put down her 14-year-old cat Cosmo in February, her veterinarian informed her Tully’s no longer did burials.

Grief-stricken, Hester received Fry’s phone number from a veterinary technician. Fry immediately picked Cosmo up from the vet’s office, and met with Hester and her husband. They opted to have a single chapel ceremony with Paws to Angels, before cremating Cosmo. They were able to incorporate some personal mementos into their ceremony, such as Cosmo’s favorite blanket.

In return, Hester has become a firm advocate for Paws to Angels. She even wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, notifying her of Fry’s work. Hester believes that the help she received from Fry after Cosmo’s death helped prepare her for her mother’s death a month later.

“I’d been trying to help do a little bit of stuff for Cherie, paperwork or whatever, and I told her about it [my mother’s death], and she texted me every day to see if I was ok,” says Hester.

For Fry, that’s just another part of her job.  As the sole employee of Paws to Angels (with the exception of her two cats, Garfield and Cleya, who serve as the general manager and  grief counselor respectively), Fry has a lot on her plate, but she just wants to give pet owners the options that she never had.

“I have walked my grave journey, and it is really an honor for me to be here for families,” Fry says.

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Looking for Trouble

January 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Eighty eastbound…four four nine…ten sixty two…occupied,” went the call over the radio. 60 Plus in Omaha was only a little more than a mile out from base in a ride-along with the volunteers of the Metro Area Motorist Assist program, and 65-year-old Wayne Fry was calling in the first incident report.

A vehicle—the “1062” in the cop-talk lingo above—was pulled over at mile marker 449 of Interstate 80, and a young man named Kenny was about to make the mistake of pouring engine coolant into the wrong receptacle of his overheated and smoking junker.

20131118_bs_2927“I obviously had no idea what I was doing,” says Kenny. “Those guys are lifesavers.” The red-faced man was more than happy to have his last name shown in print as simply “Occupied,” the designation from Fry’s radio report indicating that the car had at least one person in it.

Over the last 13 years the Motorist Assist program has come to the rescue more than 85,000 times. Based on the most recent census report, that’s the equivalent of coming to the aid of one out of every 10 people in the metro area.

“It started as a public safety initiative so that law enforcement can concentrate on what you pay us to do—enforce the law,” explains Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol. “It doesn’t take a trained officer to give a lift to someone who is out of gas, so that’s where our great Motorist Assist volunteers come in.”

Omaha’s State Patrol Troop A office has 21 Mobile Assist drivers, but Lt. Bridges has a duty roster that calls for twice as many. Volunteers go through 12 hours of training and are required to have a current CPR card. All ages are welcome to explore becoming a Motorist Assist volunteer, but the normally wide-open schedules of a retired person, Lt. Bridges says, is the most common profile of the volunteer he seeks.

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Mobile Assist uses the buddy system, and 84-year-old Gene Tschida was riding shotgun the day of the interview.

“It’s a lonely, helpless feeling to be stopped by the side of the road with all that traffic buzzing past you, so people are glad to see us,” says Tschida. “The big thing is the personal satisfaction we get in helping people.”

“Especially because so many of the folks we encounter are maybe less fortunate than we are,” adds Fry. “That young guy, Kenny, was an excellent example of a great stop. He was polite. He gave us a nice ‘thank you’ and a big smile,” one that broadened when he learned that Assist services carry no fees.

Tschida is a veteran of 15 years volunteering behind the wheel of a Motorist Assist vehicle. “I’m still kinda feeling out this job,” he quips. “The pay is pretty lousy, but I figure it might improve with seniority.”

Fry returned to the radio to call in a “1098,” the code for “all clear.” Fry and Tschida were back on the road, once again looking for trouble.

To learn more about volunteering with the Metro Area Motorist Assist program, contact Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol at 402-331-3333.

Zealous Melon

December 7, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With just one look at Zealous Melon’s hip basement headquarters, the fruit theme becomes apparent. The walls and the furniture, like the business’ logo, are bright orange and green. “Our office could pass for a frozen yogurt place,” laughs Käj Jorgensen, one of Zealous Melon’s two founders. That’s exactly the type of fun yet relaxed atmosphere Jorgensen and co-founder Brandon Blakemore want for their technology training and consulting company.

Blakemore and Jorgensen, both Omaha natives, met while working for Apple. Blakemore was a senior at University of Nebraska-Omaha and worked as a trainer, technician, and business specialist. Jorgensen had just graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan and primarily taught consumers (specifically those unfamiliar with Apple technology) how to use computers, iPhones, 
and iPads.

After six years with Apple, they both decided they wanted to start their own business. “We saw needs that weren’t being met,” Blakemore says. “Apple is very good at selling their products, but they’re not good with helping people implement those products into the workplace or their daily lives.”

Blakemore and Jorgensen quit on the same day, even handing in their two weeks notices together. That was when Zealous Melon was born—or, at least, that was when the idea of what would become Zealous Melon was born.

Although they knew what they wanted to do, they struggled with a company name. “Eventually, [my sister] Lauren came up with it using a name generator,” says Blakemore. “The generator suggested ‘Jealous Melon.’ We liked ‘Melon’ because we wanted something with fruit—like Apple—but not ‘Jealous.’ So we switched ‘Jealous’ to ‘Zealous,’ which worked better because we’re passionate about what we do.”

So what exactly does Zealous Melon do? They help people invest in their technology. For example, if a company wants to train its staff in integrating iPads with Windows desktops, Zealous Melon is there. “We started with training,” Jorgensen says. “But as the year went on, we started doing technology consulting, database design, iTunes book publishing, and 
web development.”

With clients like Valley Boys Roofing, KANEKO, 3M, and Joslyn Art Museum, Zealous Melon seems to be climbing quickly from its initial launch in 2012. Its success comes not only from Blakemore and Jorgensen’s aptitude for technology, but their pairing as well.

Blakemore is the business-minded workaholic; Jorgensen, the creative spirit. They mesh well. In fact, they’re not just business partners; they’re roommates, too. “We’re very involved with each other,” Jorgensen says. “You could say we’re ‘office spouses.’ I guess our living arrangement makes us more spousal, too.”

Blakemore laughs, “We both have girlfriends though!”

When it comes to who does what, they both agree that it depends on who is the better fit for the task. “If it has numbers, Brandon does it,” Jorgensen says. “If it’s something written, I do it. But we always run everything by each other.”

That includes office music, which Blakemore says is something Jorgensen can’t work without. “If we’re coding, we’re listening to something loud and angry, like Skrillex. Otherwise, it’s classic rock or something,” he says.

Some days, they work tirelessly from sunup to sundown. Other days, they’ll work on the interior design of their office or make the drive to El Bee’s in Waterloo, one of their favorite lunch destinations. Whatever they’re doing, they do it together.

The pair has great ideas for Zealous Melon’s future. Application development intrigues them, as does helping people with home automation, which their office already uses. (They can control their music, mood lighting, projector, and thermostat from their iPhones, iPads, and 
Apple desktops.)

No matter what Blakemore and Jorgensen’s futures hold, one thing is certain—the fruits of their labor will continue to grow a 
successful business.

Jean Stothert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Humble Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Homemaker to Politician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Out the Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taking on the Big Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ugly Side of Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tackling Tough Issues

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

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

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

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

Jean and Joe with their family.

Finding Equilibrium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meaning?

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

Allie Baxter

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Allie Baxter, The Salvation Army, and Prudential

Since she was a little girl, Alexandra ‘Allie’ Baxter could be heard ringing bells next to The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettles during the holiday season, taking donations for those in need. Now, her relationship with the signature red kettle takes on new meaning as the founder of the Red Kettle 5K Run.

Baxter, a recent graduate of Millard North High School who will be attending Northwestern University in the fall, started the fall charity event in 2010. Assigned to come up with a project for school, Baxter turned an idea for a charity event into a full-fledged business proposal, which she pitched to The Salvation Army. The inception of a run as a charity event, however, happened earlier that year while partaking in her favorite hobby.

“I was running another 5K charity event, and I noticed there were tons and tons of people there. And I thought to myself with that many people, you can really spread a message to lots of different people but also bring in lots of money and food,” Baxter says.

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The 5K run takes place at Lake Zorinsky and asks that participants pay a $10 or 10-food-item entrance fee. This year’s run will take place on Oct. 12. While the format of the run has not changed in its three years, fund- and food-raising efforts have skyrocketed. The first year brought in 16,000 food items for The Salvation Army, while last year garnered 45,000 items.

“Since we do a low-cost, high-benefit event, where we put in as little as we can to get the most out of it, whatever we bring in goes straight to the pantries and is immediately helpful,” Baxter says. “There seems to be an increasing need every year with the financial situations as they are. More people need the help and they all need it at the same time, especially going into the winter season.”

Omaha is not the only city where Baxter’s influence runs deep. The Salvation Army has started Red Kettle 5K Runs in major cities like Chicago and St. Louis.

“We’re trying to maintain a blueprint for the event. In Des Moines, they don’t need food because someone else helps them, so they bring in toiletry items. It adapts to what you need, and that’s what’s great about it,” she says.

For her efforts, Baxter received The Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past spring. The award, created in 1995, recognizes young people for their outstanding volunteer service. Baxter traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive her award, meeting Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey along the way.

Allie Baxter meeting actor Kevin Spacey at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in May.

Allie Baxter meeting actor Kevin Spacey at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in May.

“[The recipients] were put into groups, and we all were able to present our projects and hear what other people thought of them. I like hearing feedback from other people and learning how I can improve what I’ve started,” Baxter says.

Baxter is uncertain what her future holds for her at Northwestern, but she admits that through working with The Salvation Army, the business world has piqued her interest. Whatever she decides to do, she wants to continue working with The Salvation Army in Chicago and help combat hunger.

“There is this divide where people don’t realize there is a need, that there are people going hungry, there are people without homes. There’s a nonattachment between teens and what’s actually happening,” Baxter explains. “Hunger and homelessness are issues that are tough to fix. And when they are hard to fix, it makes people give up trying.”

Allie Baxter is one person who refuses to give up.