Tag Archives: show

Frequent Flyers

March 29, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

When the world’s elite horses (and riders) arrive in Omaha, an entourage of police and first responders—including mounted patrol—will escort them to the location of the Longines FEI World Cup. The international championship for show jumping and dressage begins March 29 and continues through April 2 at the CenturyLink Center.

European competitors depart from Amsterdam, Netherlands, aboard a chartered Boeing 777 cargo plane that takes more than nine hours to reach Omaha.

The flight requires horses to be loaded into specialized containers called “jet stalls,” which resemble an enclosed stable stall. Jet stalls can hold up to three horses. The charter flight includes a “pro groom,” nine shipper grooms, and a veterinarian—all provided by the company overseeing the transportation, the Dutta Corporation.

Horses at this elite level are well-seasoned air travelers, making the journey seem almost routine, says J. Tim Dutta, the founder and owner of the international horse logistics company.

“Horses are just like human beings,” Dutta says. “Some get jittery, some read the rosary, some like some gin and tonic, some go to sleep before the plane leaves the gate, and the rest are worried about life two days afterward. Everybody’s an individual, and we are ready for each and every situation.”

Any concerns or worries, he says, are the things that can’t be entirely controlled or predicted—such as poor weather conditions or a horse getting sick during transportation.

“You’ve got a couple hundred million dollars worth of horses on the plane, so that’s serious business,” he says. “You want everything to go smooth, and there’s always challenges. But for a guy like me who’s been at it for 28 years, and has done quite a few of them, it’s just another day at the office.”

Once the horses arrive in Omaha, they will be quarantined at the CenturyLink Center for up to three days while the USDA checks for diseases and other potential health concerns.

Veterinarian Mike Black—based out of his Nebraska Equine Veterinary Clinic just outside of Blair—says any adverse effects of a long journey would be the same for horses whether they traveled by trailer or airplane. It’s not unusual for humans and animals to struggle through temporarily weakened immune systems due to stress and long periods of confinement with other travelers.

“Whenever the animal is put under stress, it will compromise some of their ability to respond to infections,” Black says. “And a lot of horses are carriers of viruses and things. So, as they’re around other horses that they’re not normally around, then things can be spread.”

When the competition opens March 29, folks without a ticket will have an opportunity to get a closer look at all the horse-and-rider teams. The practice area will be free and open to all.

Mike West, CEO of Omaha Equestrian Foundation, hopes to create a fan-friendly and carnival-like atmosphere.

The World Cup is the first international championship of its kind to be hosted in Omaha, he says. Sure, there have been championship boxing bouts in the city. And the NCAA crowns the champions of college baseball in Omaha. But never before will so many world champions prove themselves on local grounds.

Back in 1950, when the College World Series first came to Omaha, nobody could have expected how the “Gateway to the West” would become a Midwestern sports mecca.

“They didn’t know about swim trials; they didn’t know about NCAA basketball or wrestling or volleyball and all the great events that we have now,” says West, a veteran Omaha sports-marketing professional. He previously held management positions with the Lancers, Cox Classic Golf Tournament, and Creighton’s athletics department.

The Omaha Equestrian Foundation is not only dedicated to putting on a good show. West and his colleagues are committed to continuing the city’s relationship with the FEI, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (aka, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports), the governing body for the sports of show jumping and dressage.

“We have an opportunity, but we also have an obligation as an organizer to do a good job. Because if we do a good job, we don’t know what it will lead to, but we know it will lead to something [positive],” he says.

A successful 2017 World Cup in Omaha could improve chances of the World Cup returning, along with its estimated economic impact of $50 million.

“We have to be better than anybody—by far—at listening and delivering on our promise to the fans of this sport,” West says. “And if we do, I think we’ll develop a reputation that if you want to be treated like a fan [of sports], go to Omaha, Nebraska.”

Visit omahaworldcup2017.com for more information.

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

Kathy Tyree Channeling Her Inner Diva

February 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “diva” has taken a bit of a hit in recent years, suggesting to some a haughty I-want-it-all-and-want-it-now scene chewer who treats other humans like varmints.

For most, though, the word remains untarnished. The diva is still the shining star, the bigger-than-life glory who commands a room while displaying elegance and charity beyond the bright lights.

Kathy Tyree is most certainly the latter type of diva.

So, too, was Ella Fitzgerald, the legendary jazz diva who Tyree will shape-shift into for Ella, which opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on February 28.

“Ella Fitzgerald was every bit the good diva, a marvelous performer,” Tyree says during an interview at a mid-town coffee shop. “My job is to channel my inner diva. But I think I’ve earned my diva stripes. It’s an immense challenge, but I feel I’m up to the challenge.”

“She brought the house down in Hairspray. She’s going to bring the house down again.”
— Susie Collins

Tyree has more than earned those stripes in 30-some years of powerhouse singing throughout the region. She is arguably Omaha’s premier cabaret singer. Among numerous other roles, she played Aretha Franklin in Beehive, widely considered the longest-running show in the city’s history.

That show’s director, Gordon Cantiello, says he’s confident that Tyree is “by all means a big-time diva in the good way.

“The other girls in Beehive had to work hard to keep up with her,” Cantiello says. “She commands a room. She’s 110 percent all the time. She’s a director’s dream.”

Susie Collins, who will be directing Ella, agrees and adds that Tyree “has a very special, powerful way of expressing herself through her music.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her. There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”
—Kathy Tyree

And yes, she said, Tyree can command a room like a true diva. She did just that in a Playhouse production last summer. “She brought the house down in Hairspray,” Collins continues. “She’s going to bring the house down again.”

Ella is a new challenge for Tyree in that, for one, “there are an immense number of lines to learn.” The one-woman musical is “a very honest and open look at her life.” The musical goes far beyond the music.

Set in Nice, France, in 1966, Fitzgerald’s manager suggests she engage in more banter with her audience—a fashion for singers at the time. Her conversations on and off the stage through the musical increasingly delve into deeply personal topics, including the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands 
of her stepfather.

“In shows like this you can get a script that’s kind of glued in there—that’s very forced,” Collins explains. “You have a very skilled playwright here [Jeffrey Hatcher]. The script is just excellent.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her,” Tyree says. “There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”

20131028_bs_7813-2

At the show’s heart, though, is the music and the larger-than-life voice and presence of the diva.

“The diva develops her own style out of her own personality,” Tyree says. “Ella Fitzgerald was uniquely Ella. A diva is the only person who sounds the way they do. You know immediately who is singing when you hear the voice.”

Tyree has built her own personal style from many influences. In some cases, she’s standing on some unlikely shoulders.

You might guess she was first inspired by the towering voices and personalities of Diana Ross and Lena Horne. Aretha Franklin, sure. Cher, who Tyree loves for her versatility. Luther Vandross. So smooth.

But Mick Jagger? Really?

“He’s always going—so passionate,” she says. “I love what he does with a song.”

And Rod Stewart?

“I love performers who are sincere and real,” she says. “That passion is authentic.”

Ella Fitzgerald, she says, was one of those sincere, genuine, authentic, and passionate singers who brought her best each night to her performance and her audience.

That’s what Tyree wants for every second she spends on stage as Ella Fitzgerald.

“I’d like to think I have my own style, so it’s interesting to work to channel Ella Fitzgerald—try to take on her unique style,” Tyree says. “What’s not at all different is that burning desire to give the audience everything you have. Ultimately, a diva wants to give the audience something to remember. So we’re going to work to give the audience something to remember.”

Buy the Big O! Show

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce

Looking for a networking and marketing opportunity for your small business? Check out the Greater Omaha Chamber’s 2013 Buy the Big O! Show, happening Wed., Oct. 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

The region’s largest business-to-business trade show accommodates up to 400 exhibitors and anticipates an audience of 5,000 visitors this year. The event has come a long way from its humble beginnings, with just 10 businesses exhibiting and 100 attendees at its 1990 debut.

The reasons for its success? The Buy the Big O! Show places a strong emphasis on making business connections and doing business locally to support our economy right here in Omaha, says Tracey Fricke, senior director of special events for the Greater Omaha Chamber. Adds Fricke: “There is an amazing synergy that happens at the Big O! Show. We do so much business electronically, it seems to have become a rare occasion that we do business face-to-face anymore. The show provides a fun, unique opportunity for exhibitors to cultivate name recognition, network, establish business relationships, and develop leads that will generate more business.”

Gold Sponsors AAA, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska, NP Dodge Co., First National Bank of Omaha, and Sheppard’s Business Interiors help make the show a premier event and worthwhile investment of both time and money for exhibitors and visitors alike. While other trade shows have gone extinct, the Buy the Big O! Show just keeps growing.

The show also offers a wealth of educational opportunities through its Entrepreneurial Zone, sponsored by Pay-LESS Office Products. Started last year, the Zone offers an array of experts in accounting, banking, legal, marketing, and other business areas from throughout the metro who offer free, one-on-one consultation with business owners, sharing advice and tips for better business management. Whether you’re a startup looking for beginner marketing tips or an established business looking to overcome a tax issue, you’ll find great value in visiting the Zone.

“We will also have a new area called the Mixer,” adds Fricke. “This area is designated for targeted, industry-specific networking throughout the day and provides business owners valuable opportunities: to meet professionals in your industry from various companies; to look for time-saving techniques or potential partners to benefit you and your company; to share ideas and best practices for the betterment of our community; and to ask questions.”

This year’s event will again feature Small Business Black Wednesday. Just like Black Friday, thousands will be looking for the best deals of the year. Exhibitors are encouraged to offer one-day discounts that’ll draw the masses to their booths to check out their mega deals.

“This was started last year to generate ROI for exhibitors the day of the show and to provide great business deals for attendees as we close down the calendar year,” says Fricke. “So all businesses involved can benefit. We will promote these deals via social media and online at BuyTheBigOShow.com, Facebook.com/BuyTheBigOShow, and on Twitter: @OmahaChamber #BigOShow.”

If you’re a business interested in reserving a booth for this year’s Buy the Big O! Show, or you’re just looking for more information about the event, visit BuyTheBigOShow.com

Omaha Products Show

Photography by Mid-America Expositions, Inc.

The largest business and industrial expo in the Midwest is returning to CenturyLink Center Omaha for its 25th biennial show Sept. 18 and 19. This year, the Omaha Products Show for business and industry, hosted by Mid-America Expositions, Inc. and sponsored by the Institute of Supply Management, celebrates its 50th year of bringing diverse products and services to one convenient location for Midwest industries.

Servicing a seven-state area, the Omaha Products Show is both a marketplace and a technical center, where suppliers and vendors are able to display products, materials, and services for area users and buyers. Over 300 exhibitors and 5,000-7,000 attendees make it one of the largest industry shows in the Midwest.

Productivity-Booth-area

Bob Mancuso, Jr., CFO at Mid-American Expositions, Inc., serves as show director. He boasts that the expo is a “win-win-win situation” for users, buyers, and sellers alike. Attendees have the opportunity to see the latest in creativity and technology, products, and services that can be used in day-to-day operations. Businesses can gain valuable exposure, connect with customers face-to-face, and generate new leads and sales.

“The core of the show is the machinery and the manufacturing,” Mancuso says, “but in the last 10 to 15 years, there are companies that have come into the market with more business-to-business products, and deal with technology, staffing, office products—things that companies can do for other companies that are more service-oriented. We’ve allowed those companies to get in the show and showcase what they do because they are of the business-to-business nature.”

Construction and trucking equipment are standard fare at the expo, as are machine tools and engineering equipment. However, the show also features some unusual products, the most intriguing being robotics. In the past, the Omaha Police Department showcased their robotic equipment, and robotic cars have made an appearance. Returning again this year is the Braas Company, which uses robotics in its automation solutions equipment.

“You can actually see it flip dice, move the dice, pick them back up, and then re-throw them,” explains Mancuso. “It’s quite fascinating to watch.”

BRAAS-Booth-area

With all the massive, heavy, and quite expensive machinery coming in and out of the showcase, Mancuso admits that the wide diversity of equipment poses logistical challenges. The show provides riggers, forklifts, and move-in and move-out personnel to help companies meet these challenges.

“It’s amazing to see how this heavy equipment can get off a truck and be carried by two, sometimes three forklifts depending on the equipment, to move it into place. It can be very interesting to see everything happen,” Mancuso says.

The Products Show officially opens at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 18 with the Opening Luncheon. The show opens at 1 p.m. and continues until 7 p.m. It will resume on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be served. The day will include speakers presenting on various topics of value to the business and industry professionals.

Style and Substance

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nick Hudson first helped found Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) back in 2008, he says some people thought it was a bit of a joke. Six years later, no one’s laughing. During the first year, about 2,000 people attended the event to see creations by 12 designers; by the end of this year, 51 designers will have shown their work, with an estimated 8,000 people attending—and the event just keeps getting bigger and better.

Unlike fashion weeks in New York, London, and Paris, OFW isn’t just about all things sartorial. It serves as a platform for up-and-coming designers to learn about the fashion industry and introduce their creations to the public, all without having to pay a fee to participate. “A lot of designers come from wealthy backgrounds,” says Hudson. “[Making it in this industry] requires resources. The vast majority of our designers, though, come from limited means and challenging economic backgrounds. [With OFW], there’s no financial barrier.”

To this end, Hudson founded the Fashion Institute Midwest, a program that helps designers learn about all aspects of the fashion industry from developing their lines to getting them to the public. Designers apply online, specifying what they’d like to focus on and what they hope to get out of the program. Some want to enhance their opportunities for getting into top design schools; others hope to build their businesses.

Designer Joi Katskee upcycles items into new rock-n-roll pieces.

Designer Joi Katskee upcycles items into new rock-n-roll pieces.

Typically, 70-90 designers apply annually with 40-50 making the cut. The designers are all from the Midwest, coming from states like Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. Ages range from as young as 13 to those in their early 30s. A selection panel consisting of nine fashion industry experts interviews the applicants. “Mainly, people audition to be a part of the show,” Hudson explains. Brook Hudson (Nick’s wife), who manages OFW’s day-to-day operations, adds, “The cool thing about the interviews is that the panel doesn’t just decide. We give the designers feedback on how to sharpen their focus and ideas. It’s a conversation.”

From there, designers work with OFW’s team of volunteer mentors to learn about the fashion industry. They receive expert advice on subjects such as where to get fabric, how best to show off designs, and how to pitch and promote their lines. They also participate in workshops or roundtable discussions focusing on topics like doing consumer research and how to broaden their appeal for retail markets. This forms the core of the program. “What people don’t realize,” Hudson points out, “is that there is constant mentoring and support taking place throughout the year behind the scenes.”

Rick Carey and David Scott (“The Style Guys”), Omaha fashion stylists and hair and makeup legends who have worked at fashion shows in New York, Paris, and Miami and at international photo shoots, became involved as panelists and designer mentors this past February. “The mentoring program is amazing. We help the designers get their collections together so [they] look fantastic,” explains Carey. “As Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame says, our job is to help the designers ‘make it work.’”

Designer Elda Doamekpo’s Elle brand is inspired by the movement of water.

Designer Elda Doamekpo’s Elle brand is inspired by the movement of water.

Scott adds, “From those original sketches on a piece of paper, no one realizes where designers go from there. You have to find the perfect seamstress who can sew that perfect zipper or perfect hook, someone who knows how to work with a specific type of fabric. We’re very much into the total look.”

Another critical component is finding the perfect models to showcase the collections. Alyssa Dilts, director of Develop Model Management, does the casting calls for OFW and works with designers to select models. “I compile the list, and the designers have a week to select [their models],” says Dilts, who has done some professional modeling herself. “I then finagle the schedule for them to coordinate and make sure the models are available.”

Equally important are all the other volunteers who make OFW possible. “The public has no clue about what’s involved,” says Scott. “They really don’t realize how many people it takes to put it on.”

Designer Hollie Hanash designs upscale children’s clothes.

Designer Hollie Hanash designs upscale children’s clothes.

Indeed, volunteers do everything from setting up and tearing down the catwalks, marketing the event, distributing press passes and VIP bags, coordinating the action backstage, and greeting and seating guests. Makeup artists and hairstylists similarly volunteer their time and talent. “We’ve got a great community of people involved who all donate their time and expertise,” says Hudson. “It’s unheard of. It’s a huge part of why we’ve been able to grow so fast. That’s why we’re able to keep building…Because of the community.”

What’s new and exciting for OFW this August? The six-night event will take place downtown in the Capitol District (10th & Capitol streets area) in a 30,000-square-foot space composed of one tent flanked by two smaller ones and after-party courtyards featuring DJs and live bands. Designers/artists Dan Richters and Buf Reynolds are collaborating to create a large-scale art installation through which people will enter the event. “It’s the first time we’re doing it. We’re graduating to a different level,” notes Hudson.

Given all this, it’s no wonder that in just six years, OFW has emerged as one of the top fashion weeks in the Midwest, one that attracts experts and designers from around the country. “It’s more than an event,” Brook proudly points out. “We’re on the verge of creating a new industry for Omaha.

Omaha Fashion Week takes place August 19-24. Tickets range from $30-70; Saturday Finale VIP tables (for 10) can be reserved for $1,000. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit omahafashionweek.com.

OFW SCHEDULE

Monday 8/19: Children’s Wear
Tuesday 8/20: Avant-Garde
Wednesday 8/21: Ready To Wear
Thursday 8/22: Evening Wear
Friday 8/23: Men’s & Swimwear
Saturday 8/24: Grand Finale Gala

Obsessed With the Dress

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Listen up, drama queens…A new TV reality show, Obsessed With the Dress, airs this summer and takes place right here in Omaha. The location for the show, Winning Crown Boutique in Rockbrook Village, is a dress shop that specializes in pageant wear.

This show will not be just another Say Yes to the Dress, show promoters say. Viewers can anticipate seeing the inner workings of the boutique and learn the background stories and successes of clients, as the show follows each girl through to the end of her pageant. But don’t fear—the show will undoubtedly serve up a heavy dose of drama, much like its bridal show predecessor.

Michele Strom, Mrs. Nebraska 2007 and owner of the boutique, got the idea for Winning Crown while preparing to compete in the Mrs. America pageant. When she couldn’t find a local venue to buy a dress, the entrepreneur-at-heart recognized a retail niche that needed filling and started a dress business out of her home in 2007. She moved the business to the Rockbrook location in early 2009.

Strom says she has no formal background in design. “I just have a unique eye for being creative and an ability to visualize what will look good [on a client]. I missed my calling at an early age, but it’s snowballed into this amazing opportunity to find something later in life that I am really passionate about.”20130404_bs_9891_web

The business has been such a success that Pie Town Productions in North Hollywood contacted Strom about her store being the location for Obsessed With the Dress, which airs nationally this summer on WE Networks.

“Our development team reached out to dozens of such shops across the country,” says Jennifer Davidson, an executive producer at Pie Town Productions. “But when we found Michele Strom and her team at The Winning Crown in Omaha, it was obvious that we had a show here.”

There are two types of drama that unfold on Obsessed With the Dress, Davidson says. “The girls and women shopping for gowns are relentlessly competitive and fascinating. But the staff gets into even more crazy drama. There is a villain at the shop, and he is gunning for the manager’s job. These office politics are off the hook!”

Strom’s staff includes Beau Olson, manager, who has a keen eye for fashion; Frances Nefsky, a graphic designer and creative mind; and Sarah Summers, an expert on all things pageant. “When it comes to pageants, we dress girls to win. I drill that into the minds of my staff and clients. I am not here to get [them] second place,” says Strom.

“When it comes to pageants, we dress girls to win. I drill that into the minds of my staff and clients. I am not here to get [them] second place.” – Michele Strom, owner of Winning Crown Boutique

“Because we have an hour per episode to tell our stories, we get to take a deeper look at the personalities behind the scenes at the shop, who are equally as fascinating as Michele’s customers,” adds Davidson. “Most of Michele’s salespeople are pageant winners themselves, [while] some are not and have their own agendas. Let’s just say that old pageant rivalries never die!”

Strom promises that the girls in the show are the real deal. “These girls come into [the store] for their dresses…They are all our clients and not manufactured [characters].”

Strom wants to bring awareness to not only what her store does, but also to debunk the negative pageant image. “There have been some shows in the past that have been negative, and I want people to see the positive side of these women. These girls are really smart and do a lot for our community. And it’s not just about the dress; it is about making my clients the best they can be.”

Winning Crown accepts drop-ins, but coaching and one-on-one time with Strom requires an appointment. Check out this unique business right here in Rockbrook Village, and tune into the Obsessed With the Dress premiere Aug. 2. Check wetv.com for show air-times.

UPDATE: The show now premieres July 27 at 8 p.m.

Bringing Community Responsibility to Life

May 25, 2013 by

Pythons. Hooded Pitahuis. Pygmy Marmosets.

Omaha is known by many across the nation because of Wild Kingdom, Mutual of Omaha’s primetime television show that brought animals to life in our living rooms.

But the show’s impact has been more profound for us (Omahans) than it has ecologically speaking. We identify with and claim the show’s reputation as our own. We feel community pride because, after all, it’s Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. This pride generates a strong sense of community responsibility. So maybe not coincidentally, community responsibility is accepted as one of the five Omaha City Values.

Wild Kingdom is one of the coolest examples in Omaha of what is called “traditional philanthropy.” This kind of philanthropy refers to the age-old practice of companies making cash donations or in-kind contributions to worthy causes. Most companies participate in traditional philanthropy because of their sincere desire to be involved in their communities and/or to give something back. Traditional philanthropy promotes reciprocity that produces important business benefits, including increased customer loyalty, higher employee retention, and enhanced corporate reputation.

As compared to traditional philanthropy, strategic philanthropy is a concept that has grown in prominence since the 1990s. This kind of charity involves a process where companies align their community relations initiatives with their core business products and services. Instead of a Wild Kingdom animal television show sponsored by an insurance firm (What’s the connection there?), corporations donate to specific community projects that align with their core competencies. For example, ConAgra does strategic philanthropy by focusing its charity on food and hunger issues, like Kids Cafés.

Some organizations are finding ways to impact their communities through employee engagement practices. Firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) recognize that young professionals crave choice. So they’ve created an innovative program for performance incentives that offers a choice to support a cause in their name. Every staff member gets to choose how they receive their incentive—cash, a charity match, a tech package, or a gift card. This is an ingenious way to bring community responsibility to life.

At the furthest end of the community responsibility spectrum are social enterprises. These organizations flip the capitalist model on its head. Maximizing profits is no longer the purpose of these businesses. Profit is a means to a broader end of enhancing the well-being of the community. Nonprofits, as well as for-profits like Herman Miller, Grameen, and PlanetReuse, are bringing community responsibility to life in this way. Their employees and clients are supporting their model with extreme loyalty.

From traditional philanthropy to social enterprise, we challenge Omaha businesses to continue to enjoy the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that come from bringing community responsibility to life. And don’t forget—a sense of community responsibility starts with our kids. One of the ways the Business Ethics Alliance has promoted this is with our team of moral superheroes who live in the Itty Bitty City at the Omaha Children’s Museum. Take your kids to the museum and kick-start their sense of community responsibility by spending time with superhero Reese.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Business Ethics Alliance and Chair of Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University’s College of Business.

The Mancusos

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a Monday afternoon in early March, Mike Mancuso steps out of the home office at CenturyLink Center Omaha and walks into the Great Hall of the arena. An exhibitor getting ready for the upcoming Triumph of Agriculture Expo sees Mike, one of the show’s managers, and immediately comes over to ask for help. Apparently, the space he has been given for his farm equipment display isn’t big enough. Could Mike come over and take a look? Mike puts an armful of papers and a can of pop on the floor, then disappears for a few minutes. When he returns, he picks up his papers and pop and continues to his original destination. Problem solved.

This is the life Mike and his two older brothers, Bob, Jr., and Joe, have willingly chosen. It is the life their father, Bob Mancuso, Sr., carved out for himself and the family he cherishes back in 1964, when his three sons were babies. The Mancuso family is the force behind Mid-America Expositions, Inc., producer of trade shows, expos, fairs, and festivals in the metro. For nearly 50 years, Mid-America has kept products rolling and people strolling through Omaha’s numerous indoor and outdoor venues with events like the Farm and Ag Expo, Omaha Home & Garden Expo, Taste of Omaha, and the Omaha Products Show for Business and Industry—events that have become long-standing traditions, drawing families from all over the Midwest.

Despite a diverse slate of productions, Mid-America adheres to a simple driving philosophy: “We bring business and people together,” states Bob, Jr. “The Ag Expo helps farm businesses, the Taste of Omaha helps restaurants…Our aim is to make businesses successful.”

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

It’s no coincidence that the ascent of Omaha on the national stage parallels the transformation of Bob, Sr., from an athlete and teacher to a business-savvy entrepreneur whose deep devotion, keen vision, and strong faith in the city he loves changed the way marketing is done around here.

“Our family is rooted in Omaha,” says Bob, Sr., proudly. “My father and mother were both born and raised here. The Mancusos seldom got out of Omaha to go to school.” Except for him.

A standout wrestler at Omaha Central, Bob, Sr., scored a full ride to Kansas State and majored in phys. ed. and biological science. His teaching and coaching career began in 1956 at the old Bellevue High School. Coach Mancuso’s impact was immediate and startling. He molded a group of teenagers from a small, Class B school into state wrestling champions his very first year—Bellevue’s first championship ever, in any sport. The wins kept piling up.

Bellevue also produced the love of his life. A pretty young waitress who worked in her parents’ café across the street from the high school caught Bob, Sr.’s eye early on. In 1958, Dona Marie Hansen and Robert Mancuso were united in marriage.

Meanwhile, the coach’s impressive record at Bellevue caught the attention of a lot of eyes in Lincoln. In 1961, Bob, Sr., became head wrestling coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where his squads did well but were dwarfed by the large shadow cast by the football program.

“I was making $4,000 a year. My family didn’t need much to live on. But I kept thinking about my future and wondering, ‘Am I going to sit on a stool the rest of my life?’”

The answer came from Bob, Sr.’s older brother, the late Charles Mancuso, who at the time ran Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, Rosenblatt Stadium, and the Orpheum Theater. “Charlie told me I should quit the coaching business. He wanted more activities at the Civic, and he wanted me to help him.”

 “We bring business and people together…Our aim is to make businesses successful.” – Bob Mancuso, Jr.

After talking it over with his wife, Bob, Sr., joined with former AkSarBen General Manager Jake Isaacson and talent agency head Don Romeo to form Mid-America Expositions. The Mancuso magic struck again. “Our first event was Queen For A Day, with host Jack Bailey,” Bob, Sr., remembers as if it were yesterday. “The show broadcast live from Omaha for a week. Women stood in line around the auditorium to get in.”

Over 50,000 women swarmed the Civic during that week in late September of 1964, not only to see one of early TV’s iconic shows with its classic “applause meter” that determined the winner, but to also visit the Food Festival and Housewives Fair that accompanied it. Omaha had never seen a production on this scale before. “[Changing careers] was a good move for me,” says the elder Mancuso, who will turn 80 in September. “The future was wide open for aggressive people in the events market.”

Today, Mid-America Expositions produces between 12 and 15 shows a year, many at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, and they are a family affair. Each son joined their father one by one after pursuing their own corporate careers. Mike came aboard in 1988, followed by Bob, Jr., in 2005, and Joe in 2007. The love and respect each son carries for their father is evident in everything they say and do. They get emotional when trying to put into words what his legacy means to them.

“Dad has been a great example to me,” says Joe. “I have pretty much modeled everything I’ve ever wanted to do off of him—the way he has handled his life and lived his life.”

All three sons are fine athletes like their father and have been instrumental in adding the Outland Trophy Award Dinner, the Health, Wellness, and Fitness Expo, and the Corporate Cycling Challenge to the roster of events.

Next on the agenda: the 16th Annual Taste of Omaha May 31-June 2 at the riverfront, followed by the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival August 9-10.

As for the future, “We want to continue making our events stronger and greater,” says Mike. “We want to keep them good for the city of Omaha and the people of Omaha.”

Courtney Kenny

March 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Courtney Kenny

Courtney Kenny’s favorite piece, currently, is a self-portrait in charcoal. Tousled pale hair is set off by a careless smirk. And a huge, red, acrylic “F” circled over her face and checkmarked for emphasis. The unforgiving letter is the epitome of every student’s nightmares.

“When I was doing Failure,” Kenny says, “I was stressed and frustrated. I’d just got declined from some gallery, so I was stressed about that and kind of feeling like a failure.”

Her friends couldn’t understand it. “They’d say, ‘Why do you feel like a failure?’” Kenny recalls. After all, she of all her peers from Bethany College (she graduated last December) had been in juried shows as a sophomore and had her first solo exhibition as a freshman. She’s what you might call driven.IMG_4256 copy

The reaction she gets when applying to galleries and shows is usually along the lines of “You’re how old? What, 23?”

“It leads me to believe more artists wait till they’re older to show,” Kenny says, adding that most students aren’t even thinking about shows in college, just making art. “I was doing things my peers weren’t,” she says. Determined to get her work seen, she felt her way along with “lots of research, lots of trial and error, lots of rejection, lots of failure.” And even if she doesn’t sell as many pieces as she wants at the shows she does get into, she knows each show is an addition to her résumé. “It’s always better to be able to say, ‘Hey, I currently have a show here,’” Kenny points out. “That alone, other galleries perk up a little bit.”

All the while, she’s amassed a body of work in what she calls “unrealistic realism.” The style is realistic, with people and animals portrayed in fine detail with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, or oil, but the subject matter is unrealistic. Elements are drawn in such a way as to make viewers look twice. Is that…real? Could it be real?IMG_7354 copy

Consider, for example, the Nude Bitch. At first glance, the charcoal and acrylic piece is a study of a tired beagle sacked out on a couch. But upon closer inspection, a viewer might notice the rose petals. And are those draped sheets? “That one’s making fun of the nude model,” Kenny says. “No one gets it at first.”

She’s always looking for the quirk, the sense of humor, the hint of tongue-in-cheek. Artists such as Banksy, Chuck Close, and Francoise Nielly encourage her to embrace a subtle wit in her own work. And, perhaps, a tendency to poke fun at art itself. “I’ve always respected artists more who, if they do a piece that’s just three stripes on a canvas, and then I see another piece of theirs that does show they have the technical skills, I can accept the first piece,” Kenny says. “Then you know it’s intentional, not a cover-up for the fact that they can’t draw.”

For Kenny, drawing is where it all began, and she’s taken certain elements from drawing into her painting. For example, nearly all of her work is in black and white. Drawing in black and white is typical, but a black-and-white oil painting raises eyebrows. “It’s more honed in,” she says. “Minimalist. That’s also why most of my pieces don’t have a ton in the background.” A good example of this stark minimalism would be Unravel, a mixed media work with yarn and acrylic.IMG_3961 copy

Kenny does reserve splashes of color to draw focus, such as the In Bloom series. “Too much color,” she says, “and you’re almost noticing the color over the medium.” But she lets her viewers be the judges, saying she wants to provide a direction but not specific answers as to what her art has to say.

Kenny recently wrapped up a month-long show at the Crossroads Art District in Kansas City in March. Her next show will be at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City in July. For more information, visit courtneykennyart.com.

The International Omaha

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by The International Omaha

Beautiful, elegant horses competing in The International Omaha horse jumping competition will thrill audiences at the CenturyLink Center Omaha downtown on April 12 and 13.

“It’s not only a beautiful sport but a highly athletic sport,” says Susan Runnels, executive director for The International. The show is administered by the not-for-profit Omaha Equestrian Foundation. “It takes eight years for the rider to develop a relationship with the horse.”

As for the competition itself, “Riders have to jump 13 jumps in 80 seconds,” she adds. “They use English saddles and don’t have horns to hold onto. Sometimes, they are thrown off.”

Equestrian_photo copy

What is equitation? A quadrille? What does dressage mean? Before heading for the competition, visit InternationalOmaha.com. A glossary of terms unique to the horse world is listed under Show Jumping 101. Also on the website is a map of the course’s design. No two courses are ever the same. Jumps are numbered and have flags to indicate directions: A red flag is right, a white flag is left.

There are different types of jumps. For example, the Oxer has two verticals that are close together, making the jump wider. A Combination denotes two or three jumps in a row, with no more than two strides between each.

But there is more to The International than watching horses jump. It’s a family and fun event. During the daytime Equine Expo when admission is free, visitors can experience what it’s like to be around the 1,200-pound animals. They can also learn about eight different breeds of horses.

“Kids love to get close to the horses,” Runnels says. “They can jump over the mini-jump course just like a horse. Families will enjoy visiting all the interactive displays.”

Face painting, equine toys, clothes, jewelry, and a living historical display of cavalry days will be part of the fun. Daytime competition with riders and horses begins each day at 9 a.m.

The International’s goal is to “foster and develop international-caliber athletes with the equestrian sport,” according to Runnels. Competitors come from many countries for the almost two-hour shows. Last year’s winner out of 97 competitors was from Germany.

Who will enjoy The International? “Everybody. From 3 years old to 80 years old,” Runnels says. “It’s such a phenomenal sport.”

IMG_9717 copy

Getting the most out of The International:

  • Stop at the Greeter’s Table. Look for a volunteer and ask questions. “There will be a lot of volunteers to answer questions,” Runnels says. “They will wearing the same colored tops and khakis.”
  • Pick up a program. Everything you want to know about where to go and what to do—and terms that are used in the horse world—are in the program.
  • See horses warm up in the warm-up area.
  • Be on time for the opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Special entertainment on both nights will feature the Strategic Command’s joint color guard and the Omaha Police Department’s mounted patrol. Singer Marcello Guzzo and the comic act of Tommie Turvey will also perform. “It’s amazing what Turvey does with his horse,” Runnels says. The Omaha Symphony will play on Saturday night.

Stay for the Victory Gallop at the end. “It’s really cool,” Runnels says.