Tag Archives: University of Nebraska at Kearney

Wild Willy’s Respite

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Colin Conces

Jennifer Williams grew up in Houston, making Nebraska’s cold, windy winters seem interminably long. “Everything just seems to shut down,” she says wistfully, standing in the kitchen of the six-bedroom, six-bath home she shares with her family, including husband Dan, daughter Brooke, 11, and son Dawson, 9. “It’s so bare outside.”

WildWillys3Walking through the first floor of the two-story brick house, past the formal dining room, Dan’s office, the master bedroom, Brazilian cherry wood-trimmed kitchen, quaint butler’s pantry, living room, den, and a sunroom that nurtures several potted aloe plants, the thought of settling in for a long winter’s nap indoors doesn’t seem like a bad deal—until you open the back door. There, on the south lawn, the reason for Jennifer’s cold weather lament reveals itself.

A poolside paradise occupies almost one-third of the family’s three-acre property in the aptly named Hidden Valley neighborhood—accessible from an unmarked dirt road that winds behind the Sarpy County Sheriff’s building. “We spend a lot of time out here and we entertain a lot as well,” says Jennifer, standing on a spacious deck that runs along the width of the house. Peering down from the deck’s railing, she points out the hot tub and a fire pit underneath, where many a marshmallow has met its demise.

WildWillys2The clear blue shade of the salt water in the large square pool matches the color of the sky on this sun-kissed afternoon. A spiraling waterslide guarantees a splashy landing near the pool’s basketball hoop and volleyball net. Four deck jets shoot shimmering arcs of water across the pool, but the visual fun happens after the sun goes down. “The fountain jets shoot colored streams at night,” Jennifer says. “It looks like a bunch of Roman candles going off.”

The Williams family knows something about pyrotechnics. Dan owns Wild Willy’s Fireworks, headquartered in his hometown of Springfield, Nebraska. For a business that only sells merchandise from June 25-July 4 and December 29-31, Wild Willy’s does a bang-up job. “In Omaha, there are 50 tents selling fireworks this summer, and 21 of those 50 tents are ours,” says Jennifer of Dan’s “hobby.” He also owns Tighton Tools and Fasteners, and a construction company.

In August, when Dan has more time to relax, the family holds a big blowout for friends, family, and neighbors. Fireworks cover the entire yard, lighting up the sky while a band plays under a tent. Accommodating a lot of guests poses no problem.

Dozens of lounge chairs, lined up beside each other with great precision, cover the pool deck and the patio. A charming pergola, the framework of which includes interlocking wooden slats on top, offers respite from the sun. With its Oriental décor and wicker furniture accented with burgundy-colored pillows, the pergola provides a setting so relaxing, it has “don’t call me until September” written all over it.

WildWillys4Across the pool from the pergola stands a structure that resembles a modest, Hollywood-style bungalow. Its exterior mimics the main house, with two white columns supporting a brick archway. Intricately designed wrought-iron screens protect the glass doors and windows.

Looks can be deceiving.

The “bungalow” is actually a stand-alone garage, where Dan and son Dawson have bonded by building two Chevy Chevelles from scratch. Garage amenities include a full bath and an RV hookup.

The cozy grouping of a lanai, open-air bar, and decorative water fountain fit seamlessly along the outside of the garage. A large fireplace of natural stone built into the wall provides enough heat to the lanai’s living room area to extend summer well into October. The polished, deep amber-colored travertine tile floor catches the eye, as does an electrified sun—a unique wall hanging made of orange metal the Williamses found in Mexico.

A smaller sun “light” hangs above the granite-top bar on the south end of the lanai, where family members can park themselves in bar stools, sip raspberry lemonade and watch a game on cable. They may also opt to turn off the wired-in music system and listen to the soothing sounds of trickling water from the fountain.

These are the times Jennifer cherishes—quiet moments with her family, eating dinner and playing cards in their little slice of heaven. She thinks about when she and Dan met, at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the `90s, and the nearly 10 years she spent working in California before she returned to Omaha and married. As she surveys her Hidden Valley treasure, she says, almost inaudibly, “We love our life. We give thanks every day for what  we have.” OmahaHome

Meet the Maloleys

June 6, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A variety of sounds greet one at the front door of the Maloleys’ home. The sounds of a piano, at least one violin, and a cello come from different areas of their 1950s home. Something else sounds like a complete symphony.

l-r, Caroline, Jacob, Meredith, Zachary, Clara, and Sam Maloley

l-r, Caroline, Jacob, Meredith, Zachary, Clara, and Sam Maloley

“Oh, that’s a CD,” Julie Maloley says with a slight wave of her hand like it’s no big deal.

It’s a bit of a cacophony…but only a little bit. It is, however, everyday life for Maloley and her children. They all play the violin and the piano.  Sons Sam, 14, and Jacob, 8, play the cello.

Caroline, 13, practices the piano daily for approximately 30 minutes after breakfast, then moves to her violin. Sam practices cello after breakfast, then moves to the piano. Meredith, 17, practices the violin after she attends a math class at Millard North first thing in the morning.

For now, she’s the only one attending class in a traditional school building. Sam wants to play baseball in high school, so along with violin, piano, and cello, he plays on a select baseball team. And yes, he also studies.

Julie home-schools her kids using a curriculum called Mother of Divine Grace. The Catholic-based curriculum emphasizes liberal arts. Youngest daughter Clara comes in from the main room to the library, with its built-in bookcases packed with tomes on subjects ranging from literature to music theory to biblical studies, and plunks down at the table with a handwriting book and a pencil.

“It’s distracting out there,” she announces, proceeding to perfectly copy pages of cursive letters—mimicking skills learned in earlier decades.

Indeed. Youngest son Zachary, who turns 7 on June 2, practices piano with Caroline’s aid. Jacob stands around anxiously waiting with his cello.

“Jacob! Just wait!” Julie calls out as she hears a low note from the string instrument combined with the sounds of the piano. “Sam will be done soon.”

As Sam comes up from the basement, Zachary heads down.

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The chaos actually benefits the kids. They study under the Suzuki method, a theory of musical study started in the 20th Cenutry by Shin’ichi Suzuki. Central in this philosophy is that all people can (and will) learn from their environment.

The family’s affair with music began when oldest Madeline, 20, was 3. Julie’s nieces and nephews played instruments, so Julie and husband

Skip began violin lessons for their daughter.  The next year Madeline began playing piano.

“It kind of snowballed one right after the other,” Julie claims.

Madeline now studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney on a violin scholarship.

They aren’t always this anxious to practice. Today (April 13) is Clara’s 11th birthday, and they are all practicing willingly, because they are going to the zoo for her special day. Mom told them they need to finish practicing and schoolwork before they can leave.

Besides, a big event is about to happen. The beautiful, yet disjointed sounds of cello and violin heard in the Maloleys’ home are brought together along with violas and a stand-up bass that Friday night at the Omaha Conservatory of Music’s opening night gala. Guests sit in the new concert hall that once housed the sanctuary of Temple Israel, listening to the sounds of the Beatles performed by 30 young strings players. Five of those players hold the last name Maloley.

The group performing such well-known pop tunes as “Let it Be” is Frontier Strings, an ensemble at the Omaha Conservatory of Music.

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Aside from performing with the strings group, Meredith takes violin lessons from executive director Ruth Meints. She plays at Hospice House on Wednesday nights, (per mom’s orders) and teaches music to 16 students, who troop through the house one right after another each weekend. Her ultimate goal is to become a music teacher.

Sitting in the audience, often, is their father. Skip is the lead database administrator for Green Plains and owns Pacific Solutions Inc.

“Dad enjoys watching the kids. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Julie says of both homeschooling and allowing the kids to participate in multiple music lessons.

Julie herself doesn’t claim to be a musician, but is able to play piano and violin. She often practices with the kids, and sits in on lessons. One of the cores of the Suzuki method is that the parent be able to supervise instrument practice, and take notes at lessons in order to coach the children effectively.

She has coached them well. The perfect sounds of Bach’s Gavat come from Clara and Caroline’s violins, along with several other youngsters, as guests stroll through the executive suite at the conservatory’s gala. The Maloleys, along with all the children, are poised, eager, and happy to perform.

“It’s not that I think they will be Juilliard musicians, but it’s something they can do for the rest of their lives.”

Scream Queen

May 5, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Classic horror conventions abound in the frightening local flick Endor: The car runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere, no one but creepy country locals for miles, blood spurts dramatically from the wounds of the slaughtered, and the terror-stricken lead, played by Julia Farrell, runs for her life through lush cornfields.       

Russ (Dustin Smith) and Farrell’s character Kiera are sweethearts traveling through Nebraska on a road trip when the gas tank goes empty and all hell breaks loose in the tiny heartland township of Endor. 

“The filmmakers wanted to make a movie that fed into all the common universal horror movie clichés and small town stereotypes, but that also had this unique religious undertone,” says Farrell.    

JuliaFarrell1IndyRed.com rated Endor four out of five stars, calling it a “solid slasher with one hell of a surprise ending.” Dread Central praised its strong lead character development, saying it inspires viewers to “root for them all the way.” 

Farrell, originally from Colorado, always loved acting. As a child, she gathered the neighborhood kids together to put on plays—which she’d then write, star in, and direct.

“I’ve always been a storyteller with a wild imagination,” says Farrell. “I love that storytelling aspect, the ability to become whatever you want and live in that world for a while.”

Farrell earned her journalism degree and theater minor from University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she met her husband, Jim. The couple relocated to Arizona, where she got a master’s in elementary education and rekindled her love of film work with a small part in Jolene with Jessica Chastain before moving to Omaha in 2008.

Although it’s not exclusively her genre, there’s a strong horror presence in Farrell’s filmography page, including titles like Cheerleader Camp: To the Death, Demon Dolls, and Silent Night, Bloody Night 2. She’s currently filming The Amityville Legacy

“I’m a huge fan of horror,” says Farrell. “I love everything from slasher/grindhouse to psychological thrillers, so I do tend to pick those roles, but I’ve also found that horror movies are pretty popular projects in the Midwest.”   

Aksarben Cinema screened Endor throughout February, and Farrell says filmmakers Aaron Gum and Faustus McGreeves made final tweaks ahead of future showings.   

Endor is horror, but not cheesy B horror. It’s meant to make you think and disturb you,” says Farrell. “There’s depth to it, and the cinematography has some nice, artsy touches—mixed with plenty of gore, of course.”    

Farrell appreciated that the role helped expand her skills.

“I had to go places I hadn’t taken myself before, but as an actor challenge is always good,” she says. “Some people scoff at horror, but it’s tough to put yourself in that state of extreme emotion on demand. To be believable, you really have to go to some dark places.”

Farrell hopes to continue growing her acting chops.

“For me, it’s not necessarily about making a blockbuster, I just love acting and independent films,” she says.

Visit facebook.com/endorfilm for more information.

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Life in the Nebraska Sandhills

July 8, 2015 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

This article appears in Omaha Magazine July/August 2015.

Nebraska’s pioneering spirit shines brightly along the I-80 corridor, which follows the vast open spaces of the Great Plains. If travelers hurriedly passing through the state thinking, “Yep, this is Nebraska,” took the time to veer off the well-beaten path and steer the car northwest, they would discover a landscape unlike any other and a lifestyle steeped in the tradition of the frontier.

Heading up Nebraska Highway 97 just above North Platte, the topography changes dramatically. The flat farmland graduates into clusters of enormous sand dunes—miles of them. Anchored by a variety of prairie grasses and etched by relentless winds over thousands of years, the all but treeless Sandhills rise up like waves of an ocean—a phenomenon not seen anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.

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Blue sky, dotted with puffy cotton balls of clouds, stretches as far as the eye can see before dipping down and hugging hills on the distant horizon. Under this protective dome lies nature at its purest, virtually untouched by civilization. This, too, is Nebraska—western Nebraska, where life mirrors the land: simple, unaffected, and humble.

The bloodlines of the Sandhills run deep in Joel Jacobs, going back five generations. The 34-year old Omaha investment manager grew up where Route 97 meets Highway 2 in Mullen, the only town in Hooker County (named after a Civil War general), and, by default, the county seat. It also serves as a center of commerce.

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The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, known as “Mr. Buffett’s train” by the locals, roars past the house Joel grew up in every 10 minutes or so, 24 hours a day, carrying car after car of coal eastward from Wyoming. In a town of less than 500 people in a county with a population density of one person per square mile, the sharp blast of a train whistle represents employment, not a nuisance.

But small town doesn’t mean small time. Like many young people in Mullen, Jacobs excelled in sports, quarterbacking his high school’s eight-man football team (the salvation of deep rural areas) to a state championship in 1998. He continued to make a name for himself as a tight end at the University of Nebraska-Kearney—a Division II school—resulting in a free agent contract with the NFL. He spent the bulk of his pro career with the New England Patriots and NFL Europe.

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When injuries cut his football dreams short, he and his wife, Megan, moved to Omaha, a city big enough to launch a successful financial career, yet only five hours, 334 miles, and one time zone away from the land he loves—and a town that still thinks of him primarily as
Jodi and Kirk Jacobs’s son.

“I grew up with the feeling that no matter how bad things can get, everything’s going to be okay,” says Joel, finishing the thought with the flip side, “But no matter how good things are, you’re no better than anyone else.” Humility ranks high on a wish list for his three young children. “That’s why I like to bring them here as often as I can. I want them to know this kind of stability.”

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For Jacobs, stability includes spending time with his grandparents, Jake and Bunny Jacobs. The couple, celebrating 70 years of marriage in August, still live independently on the 3,000-acre ranch just south of town where Bunny, born Berneice (e before i) Taylor, grew up.

“My father bought this land in the early 1930s during the Sand Bowl,” says Bunny, sharp as a tack at 91 and, with a rollicking sense of humor, referring to the Sandhills’ version of the Dust Bowl. Like most settlers in the valley, her father quickly realized crops don’t grow in sand. Raising her index finger a couple of inches above her thumb, Bunny says, “The corn only grew this high.”

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But cattle could thrive on the prairie grasses, providing Bunny, who inherited the ranch, and Jake a means to support a family. Until the family grew.

“By the time they had four kids, my dad went to work for Consolidated Telephone to bring in some more money,” explains Kirk Jacobs, referring to another big employer in Mullen. Kirk also holds a customer service job with Consolidated while maintaining the day-to-day operations on the ranch. Work never ends in the Sandhills.

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On a wickedly gusty Friday, two cattle haulers drive onto the ranch, each carrying 50 head of Angus cows and their new calves. “They’ll graze here for the next five months before going back to a feed lot in Kearney,” says Kirk in his understated way.

With the bovine visitors safely grazing in their new digs, Kirk and Joel head out to the east pasture, checking miles and miles of barbed wire for gaps. Stopping at a well on the property, Kirk fills a water bottle. “Freshest water you’ll ever taste,” he says. “We’re right on top of the Ogallala Aquifer.”

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For people who exhibit no pretensions, life flows in a natural rhythm, like the waters of the Middle Loup River where the Jacobs family gathers for a twilight “tanking” adventure. Floating down the river in a large, round, metal water tank normally found in pastures to water the livestock provides family fun at a reasonable cost—nothing. Joel’s wife, two older children, mother, sister, brother-in-law, and their two kids sit side-by-side in the tank as he and his father navigate the swift current with oars, dodging tree limbs and driftwood obstructing their path.

Amid the gales of laughter as the tank bounces off canyons of sand that form the riverbank, Joel’s mother and sister, Kelly Marsh, pass around homemade, individually-wrapped ham and chicken paninis, miniature quiches, and pickle bites wrapped in salami and cheese. Taking care of her family brings Jodi Jacobs joy.

“I always wanted a big family and Kirk and I have four of our own,” she says softly, cradling a grandchild in her arms. “I love to cook. I love to entertain. And I love it when the kids come home.”

RanchPhoto10That passion recently led to the fulfillment of a dream: Jodi opened a restaurant, The Nebraska Pantry, conveniently located next to the town’s only grocery store along Mullen’s main street. She rises at 4:30 every morning to make bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, waffles, biscuits and gravy, and daily lunch specials for her many regulars, adding credence to the belief that hard work and low stress can trump cholesterol any time.

Jodi’s culinary talents extend beyond Mullen. She makes a line of Nebraska Pantry gourmet dip mixes, sold in Omaha at Scheel’s Sporting Goods and Sugar Bakers gourmet store. In addition, Jodi somehow finds the time to work in the pro shop of the Sand Hills Golf Club, one of two top-rated, private golf courses located in Mullen (the second being Dismal River).

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“I’d say about 75 percent of the current PGA has played here at Sand Hills,” says Joel, as he surveys the wind-swept, Ben Crenshaw-designed course nestled deep in the sand dunes. “It’s ranked number one in the country and number 11 in the world. Players come here to enjoy their game in privacy.”

Standing on the portico of the starter’s cabin nicknamed Ben’s Porch, Joel takes in the magnificent scenery so familiar to him. “Life here? It’s a beautiful gift,” he says, almost to himself, as he anticipates the return trip to Omaha.

The land and the serenity it brings will lure Joel back again and again. And his children will someday discover what their dad already knows: some of the richest lives on earth are lived in tiny Mullen, Nebraska.

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