Tag Archives: University of Nebraska at Omaha

Play Ball!

July 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mancuso: a name revered in the Omaha area for their family’s event planning business, Mid-America Expositions. 

From hosting grand events in Omaha’s late Civic Auditorium to formulating events like “Taste of Omaha,” the Mancusos’ impact has been felt in the Omaha area for more than 50 years. It is their passion for sports, however, that has held the family together. 

Youngest son Mike says his father, Bob Sr., grew up in Omaha with a heavy interest in sports thanks to Mike’s grandfather, Joe, being in charge of the city parks. Mike also says because his father grew up in a time without television and video games, sports were something he could easily focus on.

Bob Sr. took his passions to Kansas State University on a wrestling scholarship and later qualified to wrestle at the 1956 Olympic trials. However, before the trials started, Joe fell sick and passed away; Bob Sr. needed to move back to the area. Bob Sr. took a job coaching wrestling at Bellevue High School (now Bellevue East). He led the team to their first state championship, and within a few years, the University of Nebraska offered him a job coaching wrestling in Lincoln.

“Bob Devaney was just hired as the head football coach in 1962 and Frank Sevigne was the track coach, so he was just really enjoying the new environment and coaching at the time, as were us kids,” Mike says.   

Since their days in Lincoln, the Mancuso family has owned tickets to every season of Nebraska football.

“When my dad started coaching at Nebraska in the ’60s, he got a couple of seats for every football game,” Mike says. “We’ve kept those seats every year since it’s a tradition of ours to attend every game, through the good and the bad.”

Mike says he best remembers Saturdays at Memorial Stadium with his dad.

One October 1994 game in Lincoln has remained apparent in his mind.  

“It was a huge Big 8 matchup with Colorado, and Brook Berringer got the call at quarterback because Bobby Newcombe wasn’t feeling too good,” Mike says.  “We had the tunnel walk and HuskerVision for the first time, and [then] Colorado came out before we [Nebraska] came out onto the field. And because of that, I can just remember the stadium…going absolutely nuts.” 

For most games, the Mancusos have traveled to Memorial Stadium from Omaha. The family’s residence in Lincoln was cut short, in part due to Mike entreating his father to move home.

“1964 is when our family decided to move back to Omaha, since coaching, at the time, wasn’t paid in a substantial amount like it is today,” Mike says with a laugh. “I inspired our dad to start [Mid-America Expositions] and come to Omaha to start managing events.”

Mike and his older brothers, Bob Jr. and Joe, took their Cornhusker pride and athletic passion to the ball diamonds and courts of Omaha. Bob Sr. was also a prominent figure in the Omaha sports community.

“We grew up around Omaha sports, playing in a variety of different leagues,” Mike says. “Like his dad, my dad also coached a lot, mainly because he loved teaching. He also was very involved in the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, originated by my uncle Charlie, and continued by my dad after Charlie’s death.”

Mike says his dad’s involvement in the Greater Omaha Sports Committee created many surreal experiences as a child, where he and his brothers worked as bat, and ball, boys for Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association exhibition games.

“I remember one time I was a ball boy underneath the hoop and Sam Lacey was the big center and ‘Tiny’  Nate Archibald was the little guard,” Mike says, speaking of two Kansas City Kings players. “During the game, Lacey went after a ball and tumbled into the stands, causing everyone to [launch] their pops, creating a mess. I had to get my towel out and clean it up in front of everybody.”  

At the core of the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, and the city, was the College World Series. Bob Sr. and fellow committee members often held a welcome luncheon for all the participating teams, hoping to provide unforgettable experiences in Omaha.

The Mancusos’ contribution and involvement in college baseball’s grand series carried on throughout the tournament as Mike and his brothers helped to enhance the experience in any way possible. 

“We would run the dugouts, trying to clean them up between each game,” Mike says. “We worked the fields, and if we had time, would run up and clean the press box. Up there we took care of the press by giving them something to eat and plenty of water to drink at the games. We’ll just say I made a lot of Zesto runs.”

A newspaper clipping from Wilmer Mizell’s appearance in Omaha

One time his father even gave up their family’s premier seats to former Saint Louis Cardinals pitcher and U.S. congressman Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell.

“Ben Mizell came in for breakfast one morning before the games to speak in front of some of the players who were involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” Mike says.  “After the speech, my dad generously told him to take our seats, kicking my brothers and I out.  Luckily, there were spots up top in the GA [general admission] section, and at that age we liked to run around anyway.”

Like Bob Sr., his three boys also played college sports. Mike inherited his father’s passion for wrestling, taking his talents to Iowa State University. Bob Jr. also took the Mancuso name to Ames, though for baseball, while Joe played baseball at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Although the brothers now longer watch sports with their dad, who passed away in 2015, in many ways, sports act as a microcosm in demonstrating the core aspects of family, which is why the Mancuso brothers’ passion in athletics ceases to fade.


Visit showofficeonline.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

A souvenier given to CWS teams

A Window To The World

April 27, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This cozy residence in Omaha’s historic Dundee neighborhood might seem an unlikely place to find one of the world’s leading experts on Afghan geopolitics.

Yet it is here that Tom Gouttierre (and wife Marylu) have made their home for almost 44 years.

A sign of the homeowners’ international lifestyle hangs overhead in their entryway. The sign once hung outside their former home in Kabul, Afghanistan. It reads Sulhistan: Khaaneh Gouttierre in Persian script, which translates to “A Place of Peace: The House of Gouttierre.” (Tragically, their friend who scrawled the calligraphy was killed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.)

The Gouttierres’ residence is a showcase of their world travels, influenced heavily by their years in Afghanistan. Intricate, hand-woven rugs of all sizes cover the floors; there are more than two dozen on the first floor (with more than 50 throughout the house).

“Here is one carpet we always like to show off,” Gouttierre says, pointing to one red beauty on the floor of the solarium adjacent to their main living room. “This is probably a couple hundred years old. The thinner, the more valuable because they are so tightly woven—they will never wear out.”

Each rug holds a special memory. Smaller rugs were purchased when the newlyweds were poor Peace Corps teachers (1965-1967) and Gouttierre was a Fulbright scholar in Afghanistan (1969-1970). The larger and more expensive rugs came during Gouttierre’s tenure managing the Fulbright Program in Afghanistan (1971-1974).

All of the rugs are hand-woven treasures—some are now worth more than $10,0000—purchased for a fraction of their current value at neighborhood bazaars in the years preceding the Soviet occupation.

There are paintings of Kabul streetscapes on the wall that were gifts from Gouttierre’s Afghan students. Traditional wooden privacy screens hang on the white walls and provide additional decorative accents from the country.

Other mementos displayed throughout the house reference the scholar’s role in advising global political leaders: A bowl with the U.S. presidential seal hints at the time when Gouttierre advised the Reagan administration on American policy during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (and translated for visiting diplomats).

There is also a small collection of deep-blue lapis lazuli that came as gifts from the former king of Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai (the president of Afghanistan following the U.S. overthrow of Taliban rule until 2014). Karzai—Gouttierre’s friend from his years in Afghanistan—even stayed at their Omaha home when he made a special trip to Nebraska while visiting the U.S. on a diplomatic visit in 2005.

Then there is Marylu’s mortar and pestle collection displayed in the dining room and kitchen. Mortar and pestle utensils are common in cultures worldwide, and she sought them out during their frequent globetrotting excursions.

“When we went to Vietnam, I couldn’t speak Vietnamese, but I went [with her hand, she mimics the grinding of a mortar and pestle], and they go, “Aha!” and take me to find them,” she says, noting that her collection includes examples from remote Afghan villages, Iraq, Thailand, India, China, and beyond.

The couple came to Omaha in July 1974 straight from Afghanistan when Gouttierre was hired to initiate the Office of International Studies and assume leadership of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He held the dual dean-director roles until his retirement in 2015.

“We looked at around 30 houses in three days,” Marylu says of their initial rush to find a home upon first arriving in Omaha. Gouttierre remembers being advised to find a house west of 72nd Street. But he dreaded driving into the sunrise every morning and returning home with the sunset blazing in his eyes.

Built in 1923, the clinker-brick home (a now-uncommon style of brick home that uses overcooked, misshapen, or refuse bricks from kilns) was perfect for their needs. Walking distance from UNO campus, the residence is situated on a winding street uphill from Elmwood Park. Gouttierre thought it would be an easy walk to work, he loved the solarium with tile fountain and koi pond, and knew the original plaster-and-lath archways inside would fit with their Afghan décor.

But it was a fixer-upper decades in the making. Gouttierre’s first project was removing the green-colored heavy drapes and shag carpet. A horrific paint job also had to go. Pea-green paint covered the walls and caked the functional wood-burning fireplace.

“Pea green was the fourth color at least,” Gouttierre says. “As I recall, the layers went: canary yellow, Alice blue, shocking pink or rose, and then the pea green.”

His next project was removing the wall of the master bedroom closet so that they could have expanded storage in the second-floor hallway. Other projects included renovating the kitchen and finishing the basement (complete with a Detroit Tigers baseball-themed bathroom, sitting area, storage room, and laundry room).

Since retiring from UNO, Gouttierre has devoted his boundless energy to continued home improvements. A new project is always hovering on the horizon. “This is what I enjoy doing in my retirement,” he says.

Windows have been Gouttierre’s obsession for the past few years. Lambrecht Glass replaced 92 panes of leaded glass in a group of three street-facing windows while Joe Harwood Woodwork restored the original woodwork. Mark Lambrecht of Lambrecht Glass also crafted a custom leaded-glass window with green on bottom (for grass), blue on top (for sky), red on the right (for sunset), and yellow on the left (for sunrise).

Meanwhile, faithfully replicated the home’s 46 multi-pane windows with new, all-wood interior mullions separating new panes of double-glazed glass. The lower portions of the window frames are stationary, while the upper portions open with the crank of a lever (instead of the traditional double-hung windows that lift up or down). To finish off the window upgrade, an aluminum cladding perfectly matched the dark brickwork and protects the new windows. The window upgrade alone cost more than they originally paid for the home.

In early spring, they put the finishing touches on a new deck above the solarium (accessible from their bedroom). Steps to the deck feature hidden drawers to replace lost storage. The deck opens to a spectacular view of sunsets, UNO’s clocktower, Elmwood Park, and Memorial Park’s Fourth of July fireworks.

New projects on his to-do list: adding a fleur-de-lis to a crest on the fireplace, reworking the solarium fountain’s filtration system to keep fish indoors, and renovating the third floor with an updated bathroom and dormer that opens the home’s top level with more west-facing windows.

In the years since their three sons left home, there have been other changes. Despite Gouttierre’s strong personal connection to the sport of basketball—he had coached the Afghan national team during his stints overseas—the family basketball hoop disappeared from the driveway.

A few years before his retirement, the family’s grown children learned that their parents had put a downpayment on a townhouse near Westroads. “We just about had a revolution on our hands,” Marylu recalls with a laugh. “You can’t sell the house!” one of the boys protested over the phone, threatening to come back to Omaha to buy it. “Mom and Dad, have you really considered the pros and cons?” another son diplomatically questioned.

In the end, neither parent could part with their sentimental attachment to the home. It’s the sort of attachment shared by at least one of its previous residents.

“The original person who built this was named Bill [the architect] and Queenie Drake. They built it and went bankrupt. Never having lived in it, they sold to a family by the name of Summers. We met the Summers’ daughter and her sons on her 80th birthday in 1998. All she wanted to do was to come back and see her house where she lived from 1924 to ’44.”

After three subsequent homeowners with varying durations of occupancy, the property came to the Gouttierres.

“When we first got here, If you had asked me if we would have stayed in Omaha so long, the answer would have been, ‘No.’ But I loved my job and Omaha has just gotten better, ” he says.

Gouttierre could have easily missed his life’s international calling had he followed in his family bakery business in Maumee, Ohio. He had even gained master baker credentials by age 18—before the travel bug bit and he joined the Peace Corps.

In his Omaha home, family heirlooms tucked throughout the foreign mementos make it seem like generations of the Gouttierre family have lived in this place. There’s the chair from his Belgian-immigrant grandfather (also a baker). There are the fireplace tools and the mantle mirror that belonged to his parents, and more surprises in every nook and cranny.

“We’ve had no designers in here,” Gouttierre says. “Everything in here is a reflection of something we did, something that was given to us, or someplace we’ve been.”


This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

 

Eliminating The Impossible

March 28, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Zhomontee Watson first took the stage when she was a sophomore in high school. Completely new to the world of acting, her first director chose her to play the lead in The Princess and the Pea. As a college senior, Watson found herself nominated for Best Actress in a musical in the 12th annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

Watson netted the nomination (and a win)* in this year’s OEAAs with her performance as the lead character in Sister Act at Omaha Community Playhouse. She says she’s grateful, but it did catch her off guard. Her portrayal of Deloris Van Cartier was in September 2016—just before the cut-off date for OEAA qualifications.

“I did not expect this. Since it was over a year ago, I didn’t expect it to be part of the awards,” Watson says.

Sister Act, the musical comedy based on the 1992 film by the same name, follows Deloris Van Cartier on her journey into the Witness Protection Program after she sees a murder that she shouldn’t have. For her own safety, Deloris is sent to live in a holy convent. She struggles as she learns to adapt to her new life among the nuns.

“In this role I really had to connect to the words. There was no way you could sing those songs without connecting something to it,” Watson says.

Watson notes that most of her previous roles have been characters in established positions of power—such as a principal or mother figure—but Deloris Van Cartier was a different challenge for Watson to tackle. Completely removed from the security of her old life, Deloris must put her trust and safety into other people’s hands.

“I also got to have a sensitive and tender moment in the show where I had to connect with people who I love and who love me,” Watson says.

Sister Act displays a family-like bond between the nuns and Deloris, and Watson says that bond didn’t end when the curtain dropped. She says that her real-life connection to her fellow cast members helped bring her performance to life.

Director Kimberly Faith Hickman remembers Watson for her strong stage presence and work ethic. “She takes on the challenge and always accomplishes what you asked her to do, no matter how difficult it may be,” Hickman says. “You should never miss out on an opportunity to collaborate with Zhomontee.”

Acting has always been a passion for Watson. She doesn’t get compensated for her hours of devotion to the theater, but she does find acting to be an important outlet in her life.

“Acting definitely gave me a home away from home,” Watson says.

As someone who experienced some instability while growing up, acting was a way for Watson to find a support system and consistent group of people. Additionally, she’s found that acting puts her mind at ease.

“I can be myself with not being myself,” Watson says. “I get to dive into another character and leave my life at the door.”

In March, Watson is appearing in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of James and the Giant Peach. Like Sister Act, it is a musical directed by Hickman.

Watson plays the Earthworm in this beloved children’s story. Despite the role originally being intended for a man, she has taken on the challenge of portraying the character.

“She’s a risk-taker. I don’t know if she describes herself that way, but as someone who directs her I see her as a risk-taker,” Hickman says. “She asked if she could sing a part that wasn’t written for her gender and she was fantastic.”

Even through all her positive experiences in Omaha’s theater community, Watson does believe there’s room for improvement. Now, more than ever, she believes that conversations about inclusivity and diversity should be taking place.

While the OEAAs are taking steps to be more inclusive—such as changing their awards to be gender inclusive—there are other organizations that are failing to hit the mark.

“In our theater community now, it’s very important to know that inclusion is a thing and that it needs to remain a thing. It needs to become more a part of the narrative than it currently is,” Watson says.

She hopes that more theaters become proactive in finding diversity for their performances. There’s plenty of talent in Omaha’s minority communities, but theaters must create an inviting space. Watson says that they can’t just expect their theaters to develop a perfect cast—they have to actively seek and promote.

Additionally, she encourages those in the community to be accepting and understanding of newcomers. She believes that theaters can get stuck in a “comfort zone” that includes only casting a handful of frequent actors and actresses. By taking time to teach new thespians, Watson believes that Omaha’s already-impressive theater community can soar to new heights.

Her educational goals don’t stop with the stage. Her final year of undergraduate studies has taken up plenty of Watson’s free time, but she’s still managing to put the hours in for rehearsal and performance. Her current plan is to graduate in May and apply for UNO’s graduate counseling program.

“Grad school is a whole different ball game, so I’ll see how time management factors in, but I definitely don’t plan on stopping,” Watson says. “If I can squeeze in a show or two then I will.”

*Article updated after the OEAA winner announcements. 

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

Hey, Mr. DJ

December 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When United States Army veteran Stephen Bils was deployed to Afghanistan, someone stole his first set of turntables, as well as all the vinyl records he’d collected over the years. The 29-year-old Clearwater, Florida, native had picked up the turntables at a flea market in North Carolina, right outside of Fort Bragg.

“They were garbage, but I loved them so much,” Bils says.

In a way, that was a pivotal moment in his life. Bils, who had relocated to Omaha in 1997 with his parents and two older sisters, returned to Nebraska to find a friend had donated a pair of (controllers) for him to use in the interim. From there, he began DJing all over Omaha—most notably at the now-defunct House of Loom.

“We played all over town,” he says. “The rest is history. It’s led me here to where I am now. It’s been nothing short of a good time.”

With each gig, the Benson High School graduate was finally able to publicly express his passion for music, something that began when he was a child. His mother, Trudi Bils, taught him how to play the guitar around 11 or 12 years old.

“I’ve always been in a musical environment,” Bils explains. “I played in bands, churches, high school concert band, jazz band, marching band, pep band—you name it. I was on drum line and played trap set in jazz band. In my free time, I played in bands with my friends.”

As a teenager, Bils started to gravitate toward electronic dance music.

“I love house music,” he says. “I can’t say that enough. Disco, funk, deep, soulful, techno—I love it all. I also enjoy trap and hip-hop, and jazz has a special spot in my heart, too.”

Bils doesn’t perform as much as he used to, but earlier this year, he became Encounter magazine’s resident DJ, which he says has been “amazing.” He also works with the Old Market-based Bar 415, where he brings in talent and occasionally plays shows.

“I’ll be doing a few friends’ weddings and some private parties this year, but with work, life, and everything going on, I can’t do it nearly as often as I used to,” he says. “Back when I was busy as a career DJ, I was holding down residencies with clubs like the Capitol, The Max, House of Loom, Sake Bombers, and Tavern. I was DJing gigs with touring bands, international DJs, producers, and working with organizations like the Open
Door Mission.”

Over the last few years, Bils has blossomed into a savvy entrepreneur. After high school, he briefly attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha where he enjoyed studying journalism, but three years into his college education, Bils left to pursue his own business—something he’s been working on ever since.

After watching his family struggle with finding quality care for his grandparents, Bils was motivated to establish BellaCare, an in-home health care agency focused on providing care to seniors and people with disabilities.

“There is such a huge demand for in-home care and a huge shortage of caregivers,” Bils says. “There are now, more than ever, a tremendous amount of people turning 65 everyday—somewhere around 15,000 people every day turn 65—and that will continue for another 15 to 20 years. And aside from being a good business opportunity, it’s a great way to do good for our community. It’s a much-needed service, and we are proud to offer it.”

While his commitment to BellaCare is one he clearly takes seriously, music will always be his first love. Anyone who has seen Bils touch a set of turntables (or CJDs) is typically moved by his form of artistic expression.

“House music is difficult to explain,” he says. “There’s a deep and soulful feeling that creates a connection or bond, like a symbiotic relationship between me and the people dancing. The rhythm and bass, topped with the voices of gospel, love or triumph, driven by wailing horns, or keyboards, or some kind of sample loop, just carries you over the dance floor like nobody’s watching. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Visit bellacare.us for more information about Bils’ business.

This article printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

Lady G Behind the Scenes

November 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Gretchen Carrol has helped plan the UNO Native Film Festival since the very beginning. Her input has only increased with the festival entering its fifth year showcasing Native American films for local Omaha audiences.

“I’m comfortable dealing with the talent and the budget,” Carroll says. “I handle a lot of the marketing, and I’ve developed great relationships with the talent we bring in.”

Actors who made appearances have included Graham Greene (Oscar-nominated for his supporting role in Dances With Wolves) and Gary Farmer (who played the absent father in Smoke Signals, the acclaimed indie film based on Sherman Alexie’s award-winning book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven).

Carroll, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, was born in Boston and moved to Omaha in 1989. Along with her film festival involvement, she is also a radio producer and DJ who goes by the on-air name “Lady G.”

She never set out to become a radio personality. Although she had spoken on some local podcasts, her first radio airtime came about one year ago. As president of UNO’s Intertribal Student Council, she went on 89.3 KZUM’s The Drum—a two-hour show featuring traditional Native music—to promote an upcoming powwow. She was a natural radio personality, and before she knew it, she was filling in as co-host. A month later, she was running the show.

The Drum has since evolved into Intertribal Beats, a three-hour program airing on 89.3 KZUM on Sunday nights from 7-10 p.m. (broadcast from the station in Lincoln) and hosted by Carroll and John “Johnny G” Garnica.

“We still have a lot of traditional Native music,” Carroll explains, “but now we do all genres of music by Native artists.” And the show is about more than just music: “I wanted to make a connection between Omaha and Lincoln Native communities,” she continues. “So I do a lot of announcements for Native community events going on in both Omaha and Lincoln.”

She doesn’t consider herself an activist, but Carroll’s work goes beyond radio production. “When Standing Rock happened [with protesters camping in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline], I just got this calling that I needed to go up there,” she says. “I would come back and update everybody on Standing Rock issues, spread the word about all the things that are happening, and connect people with other people to bring supplies up.”

Carroll is currently enrolled at UNO and works as a staff assistant in the Native American studies department. She decided to return to school during an honoring ceremony for graduates of the program. “I saw non-Natives knowing and talking about my history, and I had no clue,” she explains. “So I was like, I need to go to school.” Since then, she’s made an effort to teach others about Native issues through her work both on and off the radio.

“It’s all about taking what I know and turning around and sharing that with others,” she says.

Carroll is also a poet and was recently invited to share her poetry at the Reconnecting Struggles Workshop at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, England. She says her poetry started coming out when she sobered up almost four years ago: “I’m trying to break stereotypes within in my culture, too, so I’m really proud that my grandchildren will not see me ever take a drink, and they see that other option.”

Carroll encourages Native and non-Native readers to attend events like the UNO Native American Film Festival on Nov. 4-5 and the Wamblii Sapa Memorial Pow Wow in the spring. “Just get involved with those things, because if you know those things are happening, then you start asking other questions, and you get to meet other Native people in the community, and then you start learning some stuff—that we’re still here.”

Visit unomaha.edu/student-life/inclusion/multicultural-affairs/native-american-support.php for more information about Native American cultural programs at UNO (including the UNO Native Film Festival and Wamblii Sapa Memorial Pow Wow).

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Magazine.

Such Great Heights

September 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The first thing you notice about Wyman Heights is the beautiful view facilitated by the storied neighborhood’s riverside, hilltop perch. The petite enclave, situated on the cusp of Florence and Ponca Hills, spoons with a deep bend in the Missouri River where views of the adjacent waterway and nearby city provide an entirely unique perspective.

Speaking of perspective, Jody duRand has an interesting one, having grown up in Wyman Heights in the ’60s and ’70s, and returning to live there in 2010 when she and husband Roger duRand bought their dream home. 

“Most people don’t know it’s there—this little gold mine in the hills,” she says of Wyman Heights.

Her parents left the neighborhood in 1991, and the self-described “North O girl at heart” lived for a time in a Florence home designed by her father, Del Boyer of Boyer & Biskup Architects.

The duRands nearly closed on a house in the Memorial Park area when her favorite Wyman Heights home—the one she’d admired since childhood, the proverbial belle of the neighborhood real estate ball—came up for sale. 

Cathy Katzenberger

“I loved this house more than anything in the world,” duRand says of her 1933 home. “When we got the chance to buy it, it was day one, full offer, we’re taking it as is. It’s a really special, beautiful house with so much charm and a view you just can’t get anywhere else in the city. Plus, this [neighborhood] is my home.”

Kristine Gerber, executive director at Restoration Exchange Omaha, agrees that Wyman Heights is a “hidden gem.”

“Very few know where it is,” Gerber says. “Its views of the Missouri River to the east and downtown Omaha to the south are incredible. Neighbors love that it’s this quiet oasis, yet in minutes they can be on I-680 to get to wherever they need to go.”

In 1905, Omaha real estate agent/banker Henry Wyman took a shine to the hills north of Florence—then known as Florence Heights and Valley View Heights. Wyman envisioned the area, with its breathtaking views, as the perfect spot for “an idyllic retreat for Omaha’s elite,” according to research gathered by Restoration Exchange Omaha in preparation for the organization’s 2017 neighborhood tour. Wyman spent two decades gathering land, planting trees, and grading and paving North 29th and 30th streets before the neighborhood was replatted and rechristened “Wyman Heights” in 1925.    

Tudor Revival homes populated the area from the late 1920s into the 1940s, when World War II and a national housing shortage slowed development. But by the mid-1960s, Wyman Heights was fully developed, with midcentury modern homes filling in the gaps. 

“I always have to explain that the house numbers are totally out of order,” says resident Cathy Katzenberger, who loves the area’s peace and quiet, perfect views, and combination of seclusion and accessibility. “It’s because the neighborhood started with great big lots. Then, through the years as people sold off parts of their lots, new numbers were put in.”

Katzenberger has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, in two different houses. She grew up in nearby Minne Lusa and was always determined that someday she would live “up on the hill.” Her current abode is informally known as the Hayden House (not to be confused with the welcome center on UNO’s campus), named for Dave Hayden, proprietor of Omaha restaurants from days of yore, such as the Birchwood Club and Silver Lining Restaurant.

“This [neighborhood] originally started off as the weekend country retreat for people who lived in central Omaha—now we’re talking back in the old days,” says Katzenberger, who recalls the hill being home to “all the fancy people.”

Between the stunning views and architectural diversity, Wyman Heights was indeed a magnet for Omaha’s interesting and elite, just as Wyman envisioned. According to Restoration Exchange Omaha, the neighborhood was home to many a local movers and shakers, including Claude Reed, owner of Reed’s Ice Cream; William Sealock, president of the Municipal University of Omaha, originally located at 24th and Pratt streets and now known as University of Nebraska at Omaha; Harry Shackelford, Nebraska State District Attorney; and Genevieve Detwiler, prominent socialite and local proponent of the Girl Scouts. 

Roger and Jody duRand

Wyman Heights retained its allure into the ’60s, attracting prominent residents like mayor Gene Leahy and artist Tom Palmerton.     

“[The neighborhood] was filled with successful, smart, interesting people,” duRand recalls.

While the neighborhood has become more economically diverse, duRand says Wyman Heights hasn’t changed too much—still offering its lovely views and solid, neighborly network. 

“If you can find a house up here, you’re lucky. It’s a safe neighborhood and the neighbors are wonderful,” duRand says. “It’s nice to be able to look back all these years and see how it’s changed yet how it’s stayed the same.”

Katzenberger is pleased to see traditions like the annual neighborhood party endure, while several young families have moved into the neighborhood and livened it up with a new generation of kids at play.

“We’ve got very good neighbors. People are connected here,” says Katzenberger, noting that despite the lack of through traffic, children’s lemonade stands always do very well, as the neighbors all make a point to stop for a glass.

Katzenberger and duRand appreciate the unique blend of pastoral respite and urban access that comes with living in Wyman Heights.   

“We’re so close to everything, yet we can sit outside and hear nothing but birds…see a fox running through the yard, or deer walking up the middle of the street,” duRand says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Despite Wyman Heights’ affluent roots, duRand says there’s no pretension here.   

“People here are really just being themselves—and we all are very different,” she says. “It’s classy, but very eclectic. We all have love for the neighborhood and that’s what stabilizes us. If one person has a tree fall in their yard, all of us are there to help; we’re all watching out for each other.”

Restoration Exchange Omaha’s Wyman Heights neighborhood tour takes place Oct. 1 from noon to 5 p.m. Visit facebook.com/restorationexchange for more details.

This article appeared in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Pheasant Heaven

January 4, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“We went through 250,000 birds and 30,000 hunters in the last 30 years,” Bruhn says. “We had every celebrity you could think of out here.”

As urban sprawl takes over rural America, yesterday’s pasture transforms into tomorrow’s super store. Earl Henry Bruhn Jr. foresaw this trend long ago. He knew hunters would need a place to go where they could get inspired, stay in touch, and most importantly—hunt some birds.

Scott Bruhn is the son of Earl Henry Bruhn Jr. His family’s farm along the Elkhorn River Valley underwent decades of preparation before opening for commercial hunting.

“My dad bought the property in 1962,” Bruhn says. “He was a big hunter. He said, ‘We’ll buy our own property; we’ll have our own private hunting preserve and get a head start.’”

Pheasant Haven officially opened as a hunting preserve in 1987 after Scott and his brother, Earl Bruhn III, graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The two wanted to realize their father’s vision for Pheasant Haven—opening hundreds of acres to hunters from all over the nation.

“We went through 250,000 birds and 30,000 hunters in the last 30 years,” Bruhn says. “We had every celebrity you could think of out here.”

Unfortunately, his brother Earl did not live to see the full realization of their Pheasant Haven dream. After his untimely death in 1991, just four years after opening, Bruhn was left to carry on the dream—alone.

In recent years, urban development has finally reached the gates of Pheasant Haven. Trophy homes now dot the beautiful Elkhorn River Valley. At this point in time, Bruhn says the preserve is no longer viable as a hunting retreat. The property shrank from a vast acreage to a mere 75 acres, and Bruhn has come up with a new focus for the business.
pheasantheaven2“Now I have a staff created, and all the buildings, and everything I need to do dog boarding and training,” Bruhn says. “I love dogs.”

According to Bruhn, there is a large and underserved community of hunters in Omaha who want to have their dog trained for hunting. He says a lot of people want their dog to be ready for sporting, but simply don’t have the space to do it.

“They can drop their dog off, and we can exercise the dog and keep it in good condition,” Bruhn says. “When they go up to South Dakota, or wherever they go, they will already have their dog trained, ready to roll, and in great shape.”

Tom Kazmierczak of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says he would pay the more than $1,000 it costs to train a dog at Pheasant Haven. Kazmierczak himself trained his dog, Sam, with mixed results. In his opinion, having a well-trained dog is very impressive and makes the hunt go more smoothly.

“I have also hunted with old-school guys who got mad at me when Sam took off running and I couldn’t stop her,” Kazmierczak says. But he acknowledges that having a perfectly trained dog that can hunt is not what it’s all about. He finds joy in the quality time spent with Sam.

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“I read a book called Travels with Charlie by Steinbeck when I was in about eighth grade, which is all about a guy and his dog discovering America—that’s Sam and I,” Kazmierczak says. “I take her anywhere they allow, and I start every morning in the backyard with Sam and a cup of coffee.”

Talking to someone like Kazmierczak, it is obvious that a hunting dog is more than a utilitarian tool. It can be the family pet—the dog that flushes pheasants and drinks from the proverbial toilet bowl.

There is another sporting aspect of Pheasant Haven’s new business model that plays into the light-hearted side of dog ownership. Bruhn calls it dock jumping, but it is known nationally as “dock diving.” The premise of the sport is simple: dogs are trained to jump as far as they can off a dock over water.

Training dogs to dock dive goes beyond the fences of Pheasant Haven. Bruhn plans to partner with local animal shelters to give adoptee animals a second chance. He calls it “Wet Dog Jumps.” Pheasant Haven has already done fundraising dock jump events to benefit the Nebraska Humane Society, and this is another layer to that on-going effort.

“Those poor dogs that aren’t going to get a home—we are going to turn some of them into champions, sell them at the venues, and then give the money back to the shelters to feed more dogs,” Bruhn says.

Margaret Allen is Bruhn’s fiancée. When Bruhn retires, she says that will likely be the end of Pheasant Haven.

It is a little gloomy, seeing the beginning, middle, and end of a family business. But, as a game reserve, the destination was transient anyway. Encroaching urban sprawl has been a known threat for decades. Taking in dogs without a home, however, and giving them a new life—that creates a timeless legacy.

Visit pheasanthaven.org for more information.

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Nebraska’s State Fossil and the Sesquicentennial

January 1, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs, Bill Sitzmann

The new year marks the 150th anniversary of Nebraska’s statehood. The January/February issue of Omaha Magazine touches on that milestone. But we don’t stop there. We take you even deeper into prehistoric times…15,000 years ago, back when mammoths roamed what would eventually become our great state…and 15 million years ago, around the time ancient elephants were en route to North America.

Growing up in Nebraska, I always marveled at the fossils of mammoths found in museums across the state. Ever since childhood, I have been intrigued by the ancient giants—remains of Ice Age creatures that have been unearthed from all but three of Nebraska’s counties.

When I was living and working as a journalist in Hong Kong, I was surprised to discover shops selling traditional Chinese ivory carvings made from mammoth tusks. The prehistoric ivory allows Chinese craftsmen to carve exquisite works of art. Unfortunately, traditional Chinese ivory carving has decades of association with the tragic killing of African elephant populations.

A global ban on elephant ivory has been in place since 1989, but the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora does not regulate extinct animals or fossils.

The strange dynamics involving my state’s official fossil seized my interest. Mammoth ivory is legal, and prehistoric tusks are offering an alternative to living elephants’ ivory.

I began research and writing about China’s mammoth ivory trade for a story published in China Daily’s HK Edition, where I was a staff feature writer. After two years of working at the newspaper, I received sad news. My father was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was heading home.

But before leaving Asia, I took a month-long reporting trip across mainland China to explore the mammoth ivory supply chain for my former employer’s magazine, China Daily Asia Weekly. The reporting trip took me to Beijing, Fujian, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, and Guangdong before I returned to Omaha.

My travels preceded the first mammoth ivory bans in the U.S. Since then, four states have outlawed the sale and purchase of mammoth ivory. More recently, China (the world’s largest market for black market ivory) has partnered with the U.S. (the world’s second largest market for black market ivory) to tighten restrictions on the ivory trade. China’s increasing regulatory pressure would likely result in growing demand for the mammoth tusks locked in Arctic permafrost.

Before I joined Omaha Magazine, a follow-up mammoth ivory research trip was in order. I returned to Asia with my favorite translator—i.e., my wife (who has written an introduction to Omaha’s most authentic Chinese cuisine in this issue)—and refreshed my research with ivory traders in Hong Kong and Beijing.

Funding for the reporting trip came from The Andy Award, an international reporting grant from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (named after Harold W. Anderson, former publisher of the Omaha World-Herald).

This issue’s cover story is a byproduct of that Andy Award. The trip also provided the basis for a paper that I presented at a panel during the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in November.

I hope you enjoy the story and this issue of Omaha Magazine. Happy New Year!

Doug Meigs is the executive editor of Omaha Publications.

Immature Art for Mature Audiences

December 30, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since time immemorial, bored teen boys have been drawing a certain part of the male anatomy on anything they can set pen to. Identification of such “artists” usually leads to their detention. However, for Mike Bauer and Dustin Bythrow, doodling juvenile outlines of phalluses was the stepping-stone to their artistic careers.

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Together known as Bzzy Lps, the two have spent the past eight years bringing an artistic touch to subject matter that most consider crass. From turning a childhood image of Lindsay Lohan into a Juggalo to splicing together bizarre online conspiracy videos, their work is always fresh, unique, and never without controversy. The group’s name is a term borrowed from a hip-hop jargon dictionary that refers to a woman who enjoys fellatio. 

 “We became friends after discovering we have a mutual enjoyment of drawing stupid pictures,” Bythrow says.

When the two first met, Bauer was attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a degree in art, and Bythrow was working at a gas station. Mutual friends introduced them knowing Bauer would enjoy Bythrow’s side art project—a hand-drawn book of convenience store items: i.e., big gulps, churros, and overdone hot dogs talking back to customers.

 Following their instant connection, the two would regularly get together to draw and drink (and yes, sometimes this included illustrating parts of the male reproductive system). During each boozy hangout, they’d collaborate on images to see where their creative and liquored-up minds would take them. Soon these quasi-creative brainstorm meetings became a regular thing, and they decided to start illustrating content others could enjoy in zine form.

 “Zines were an easy way to get all our drawings into one place at one time,” Bauer says.

 At last year’s Omaha Zine Fest, Bzzy Lps hosted a table of their independently published content, with their Juggaluminati Hachetmanifesto zine quickly selling out. Inside the illustrated book are popular pop culture icons—Judge Judy, Yogi Bear, and Rob Lowe to name a few—painted to look like fans of the Insane Clown Posse. For next year’s Zine Fest, Bythrow is working to develop character concepts of his Mouse Boy, a Mickey Mouse-esque superhero with a really rotten attitude, into a comic.

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While these inventive cartoons and illustrations are Bzzy Lps’ specialty, they also have created T-shirts, stickers, and dabbled in video art. For the independent art venue Project Project, under Bythrow’s lead, the two made a three-hour-long video installation that stitched together nonsensical content found on YouTube.

 “I didn’t sleep for weeks and just went down the rabbit hole of the internet,” Bythow says. “But we got asked back again, which was a first for Project Project.”

 During an unseasonably warm October day on a NoDo patio, in between drags of cigarettes and a rather heated discussion on the underrated roles of Nicholas Cage, the two weigh where they’d like to see their careers develop. Visions of drawing professional comics and developing content for Adult Swim dance in their heads.

 “All that stuff on Cartoon Network, it’s nice to see other people who draw dumb cartoons and care about it,” Bauer says. “We just don’t want to go back to drawing dicks again.”

Visit bzzylps.storenvy.com for more information.

My Battle With Opiates

October 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I’ve had problems with a variety of drugs, but my story hit rock bottom with opiate addiction.

I was always a very straight-and-narrow kid growing up in West Omaha. I obtained my pilot’s license when I was 17, and I was very active in sports and fitness. I graduated with a 4.17 GPA, and maintained a 4.0 in my first year studying at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Toward the end of high school, I did the typical partying with friends: drinking at friends’ houses when their parents were away, maybe smoking a little marijuana. But I never felt I had lost control. My father was a functioning alcoholic, so, you could say I was somewhat predisposed to the disease of addiction. But what did I know?

So-called hard drugs caught me the summer after high school. First came ecstasy pills. I remember the first time I “rolled,” I was in my basement with a couple friends who were more experienced with drugs. “I hope this feeling would never end,” I remember saying. My friend looked at me and just shook her head as if feeling sorry for a little kid. The next day, I felt the worst depression I had ever experienced. It scared me. But, I kept taking the pills, chasing that feeling, only for a slightly less satisfying high as my body acclimated to the drug. After a summer of taking ecstasy two to three times a week, the depression stuck with me. I couldn’t seem to have fun without being high.

As I went into my first year of college, I started trying cocaine and opiates. A lot of my acquaintances—I say acquaintances because none of those people are in my life now that I am sober—were doing things like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and other prescribed narcotics. These prescriptions are relatively easy to get your hands on. There are plenty of other drugs that are synthetic forms of opium and heroin, too.

By my third year of college, I was spending $50-$150 per day to support my habit. Looking back, I don’t know how I could afford it.

Over the next two years my use of opiates grew more and more frequent. At first, I was able to hide my habit from everyone in my life. I can’t even remember how many times I was high in class or in the library working on homework. At the time, I felt in control. When I look back, I realize I was developing quite a few character defects: lying, manipulation, cheating, and stealing. Eventually it got to the point where I wouldn’t even do schoolwork without some sort of drug to aid me.

By my third year of college, I was spending $50­-$150 per day to support my habit. Looking back, I don’t know how I could afford it. I had a good job and minimal bills. I knew when the people I got my drugs from had a prescriptions refilled better than they did. I always figured out a way. Because without the opiates, I felt restless; I couldn’t sleep; I was simply miserable. It got to a point where I needed help. I couldn’t keep going on like that. After checking into a methadone clinic, I soon admitted to my mom and sister how bad I had gotten.

The methadone clinic was another horrible experience for me in the end. The $13 per day I spent bought me another opiate—meant to wean me off of my addiction to pills—that got me arguably higher than those prescription opiates I had been taking. Because of the high dosage, I was nodding off throughout the day. So, I made a decision to quit cold turkey. Relapse followed with a new sort of high, and a new low.

I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I was so restless I wanted to cut my legs off. I couldn’t sit still, I was tired, irritable, depressed, etc.

 After about two weeks, I shot up the pills for the first time. I remember it very clearly: I just gave in. I didn’t like life without drugs anymore. I told myself being sober wasn’t worth it. I was in the back seat of my friend’s car. We were with someone who used an IV, and she handed me my own syringe. She told me it was mine. I actually thought to myself. “What a kind gesture of her to give me my very own syringe.” Of course I had no idea how to cook down the pill we had to a point where we could shoot it up. But I paid close attention when she did it for me, tied me off, and injected it into my vein. My heart was racing. I fell in love.

It didn’t take long for me to become an expert. I had a box of 100 syringes under my bed along with all the cleaning supplies necessary to do it “responsibly.” Within about two months, my arms were beaten black and blue, I had lost about 20 pounds, and I was constantly feeling horrible. The only time I felt normal was when I was high. It was getting harder to find pills, though. There were days where I would skip class, drive around for eight or more hours with people I didn’t know just to get one pill or a few hits of incredibly overpriced heroin. Then again, there were times when it was easy to find, but never when I was dope-sick and desperate. It was a miserable lifestyle, a nightmare. One time I even drove to Denver and spent three days there just to get cheaper heroin. Aside from visiting the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, I didn’t do anything other than shoot up heroin the entire time I was there by myself.

When I started the IV drugs I spiraled out of control really quickly. I went to a different clinic to get on Suboxone, a newer drug for opiate addiction. It made it so I couldn’t get high on opiates and so I wouldn’t have withdrawals. At first, I even shot that up just to feel a little high. I hated not being able to feel happy or excited. I was on Suboxone for two years. During that time, I converted my opiate addiction into an IV cocaine addiction with a side of alcoholism. Thankfully, I was able to stop taking Suboxone, but it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I was so restless I wanted to cut my legs off. I couldn’t sit still, I was tired, irritable, depressed, etc. I went into a drinking binge, not leaving my apartment for days at one point. I almost wished I had never got on Suboxone in the first place, but it served one purpose: It got me away from all my opiate connections.

The story of my addiction is not glamorous. In fact, there is a lot that I don’t remember too clearly. There is a lot that I’d rather forget. Addiction is not an easy thing to put on a timeline (which they asked me to do during both of my treatment center stays). Addicts don’t exactly have a structured lifestyle. It’s a roller coaster, complicated, and devastating. It’s taken me three years of trying to get to the point I am at with my sobriety.

battlewithopiates1Every day the disease of addiction whispers in my ear, rationalizing and scheming ways in which I could get high or drunk. Isolation is what it wants, so my defense is fellowship. The character defects that fed my addiction are still with me— I am an egomaniac with low self-esteem who copes by trying to control the world around me—but I work every day to address these problems. I’ve destroyed and rebuilt relationships with my family and friends. I have squashed my loved ones’ hopes over and over again, yet my family still stands behind me. Their support is what sustains my recovery. They know that I could relapse, that my fight is not over.

Sam requested omission of his last name at the advice of his Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. He participates regularly in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Visit omahaaa.org for more information.

For more information about how Omaha fits into the nationwide opiate abuse epidemic, read: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/10/dying-for-opiates-in-omaha/