Tag Archives: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Neil Astle

September 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It is not often that an Omaha architect is featured in The New York Times and Architectural Digest, but the reputation of Neil Astle is noteworthy for much more than mere publication clippings. His local homes and buildings remain architectural treasures in the Omaha metro.

Daniel Naegele, associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University and co-author of the soon-to-be-published Astle & Omaha, says his buildings are “highlights of architecture.” Bruce Wrightsman, assistant professor of architecture at Kansas State University and the other co-author adds, “Astle had a profound effect upon architecture in the state of Nebraska.”

Tollefson House (Wausa, Nebraska)

In 2008, Astle was posthumously awarded the Harry F. Cunningham Gold Medal for Architectural Excellence in the State of Nebraska—the highest honor that the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects can bestow in recognition of distinguished architectural achievement. This path to praise was laid in a dedication to material detailing and modernist ideologies.

Astle was born in Salt Lake City in 1933 and earned a degree in architecture from the University of Utah in 1958. The next year, he earned a Master of Architecture and Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The department was then chaired by Pietro Belluschi, designer of many high-profile buildings, including the Pan Am (now MetLife) Building in New York City. At MIT, Naegele says, “Astle would have been seduced by Eero Saarinen’s extremely popular Kresge Auditorium and Chapel and by Alvar Aalto’s Baker House auditorium.” The concrete-and-glass structure auditorium and brick dormitory with a large S-curve would later be reference points to many of his projects in Nebraska.

In 1964, Astle moved to Ralston; in 1965, he founded Neil Astle and Associates and began teaching architecture and community design at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Benedictine Mission House (Schuyler, Nebraska)

From 1968–1981 his Omaha-based firm received six AIA Nebraska Design Awards, five Central State Awards and two Architectural Record Awards of Excellence. In 1983, he became a fellow in the AIA. Then in 1999, Astle received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Utah Society of Institute of Architects—the first and still only Utah recipient of this award. Astle died in 2000, receiving the Cunningham Gold Medal from AIA Nebraska posthumously eight years later.

Why such lingering admiration for this Omaha-based architect?

Astle’s architectural style, now known as midcentury modern, confronts the expansive nature of suburbia with a counter solution: intense material and spatial investigations, along with honed detailing. As Naegele says, “The transition from man-made suburbia to Neil-made suburbia is one of Astle’s great accomplishments.”

Searching for authenticity in materials, Astle’s architecture was primarily fabricated in cedar and concrete—aging with the landscape of the site—finding continuity of interior and exterior space. Through their specific placement, these structures cascade on their sites. Like other architecture of the period, searching for simplicity was not simple.

The DeSoto Wildlife Center (Missouri Valley, Iowa)

With a focus on micro details (for example: hinging on cabinets and closet cladding) and using natural light and architectural space, many of his projects (including several Omaha-area homes and the DeSoto Wildlife Center in Missouri Valley, Iowa) strike an uncompromising balance of form, function, and the environment. 

In 1980, Architectural Digest described Astle’s award-winning work as “an architectural gem” and “unmistakably modern.” This respect continues to be felt by many of his contemporaries. Ross Miller, architectural designer at HDR, speaks to Astle’s legacy by simply stating, “he is a true architect.”

Visit aiane.org for more information about the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

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

Learn about two Neil Astle homes for sale recently in Omaha in this article’s companion piece: “Two Homes, One Architect”

Ball House (Omaha, Nebraska)

Louder Together

August 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lauren Martin was a small-town farm girl from McCook, Nebraska. She loved country music and never expected she would one day lead Maha—Nebraska’s pre-eminent annual music festival.

On Aug. 19, Martin oversees one of Maha’s boldest lineups ever. Headlined by the controversial hip-hop group Run The Jewels, Maha 2017 is poised to be one huge spectacle that promises to bring together a diverse group of concert-goers.

That kind of unity through music drives Martin, who got her first taste of it when she was a college student working on the campus program council at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “All of the sudden, I realized my favorite thing was to bring people together around experiences,” says Martin, who was named Maha’s first executive director in 2015.

While attending UNL, Martin helped bring such performers as singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and comedian Kathy Griffin to the university. After graduating, she wanted to continue exploring a career of booking musical talent.  Martin interned at Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records in 2007. The following summer, she found herself working at Live Nation, a global entertainment company in St. Louis. However, the Great Recession of 2008 cut her career plans short, forcing her to move back home and assess her future in the music industry.

“I came back to Omaha and felt like a dog with my tail between my legs because I failed—or because I couldn’t hack it—whatever it was” Martin says.

In 2009, Maha was born, and Martin took interest. Over the next few years, she wore many hats, including working as a house manager at Omaha Performing Arts and as programming director at Hear Nebraska. In 2012, she was given the reins to Maha’s social media accounts. She was also named to Maha’s board of directors that same year, eventually serving as vice president.

As she continued to work with Maha, Martin’s view of music changed, especially how it can affect people and bring them together. This feeling and sense of community is something she continues to incorporate into Maha.

“Now I realize music is something we all share, and it has a power to connect. It’s everything from a release, to a way to express yourself,” she says. “And while I myself am not a musician, I find that music helps me process things. It helps me connect with other people. It’s a passion in a way that music is an avenue for my fulfillment.”

Martin also worked in communications at the Omaha Community Foundation, where she helped implement Omaha Gives!, a 24-hour charity event aimed at raising money
for nonprofits.

Then, in 2015, something big happened—Maha sold out for the first time, thanks in large part to a phenomenal lineup that included Modest Mouse and Purity Ring.

“It caused everyone involved with Maha to realize that, if we want the event to continue and really be sustainable and see what even further impact we could have on the community, we needed someone full-time. That’s when I became the executive director,” Martin says.

She also emphasized that the popular festival, currently held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, is much more than music. The event serves as a medium for other nonprofits to receive attention.

“It’s about raising awareness,” she says, “not forcing anyone to learn about something or expose them to potential trigger topics.”

For example, this year the festival will have information about suicide, the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in the U.S. Martin says the majority of Maha’s demographic falls in this age range.

“Maha is more than a music festival. It’s a platform for engagement,” she says. “We realized not only can we be a platform for other organizations, but we can help spread education.”

Martin adds that while information is available to event-goers, the staff aren’t trying to make attendees uncomfortable. “Because that isn’t the intent of anyone,” she says. “We’re not impacting the experience by throwing mental health in your face,” Martin says. “We’re not scared to talk about this. We want to be an organization that is listening to what is going on in our community.”

In addition to providing mental health information, other nonprofits team up with Maha as part of its community to culture and social activities.

This year Maha has again partnered with Louder Than a Bomb, an annual youth poetry slam with roots in Chicago that focuses on bringing teens together across all divides. The group was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name.

Another repeat partner is Omaha Girls Rock, a nonprofit that typically draws plenty of attention. The group empowers young women to voice creativity through music education and performance. In general, to “rock.”

“Maha is an event that connects and reflects the community,” Martin says. “In that kind of structure, you get to walk away saying ‘Omaha’s got some really cool stuff going on.’”

As Maha continues to grow, Martin says people are getting even more out of the music festival. To this date, the event has drawn music fans from 46 states, according to its website.

“While the music is seemingly the main event, you come to Maha and get so much more than that,” Martin says. “I thought I was getting involved with Maha for the music, but what kept me involved with Maha was all the people I’ve gotten to meet.”

Visit mahamusicfestival.com for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

 

Lauren Martin

Keeping Up With Kasher

February 3, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Anyone who went to dances or homecoming festivities at Creighton Prep, Marian, Duchesne Academy, Cathedral, or other Omaha high schools from late-1989 through the early ’90s probably bounced their head to the beat of a cover band called The March Hares. At the time, no one realized they were witnessing one of the most original talents ever to come out of Omaha.

Tim Kasher,  “like most ragged teenage guitar players,” had already been bitten by the underground bug when he and four Prep mates, including Matt Maginn and Matt Oberst, older brother of future indie singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, formed the group. They performed covers of bands like The Clash, The Cure, and R.E.M. in public, while playing original music in one another’s basements.

“It was a good little business,” recalls Kasher fondly, from his home in Los Angeles. “We found what got us most excited and, instead of baseball, it was music.”

tim-kasherMore than 25 years later, music still gets the indie rocker excited and “out of bed every morning.”  He’s writing and recording original songs for his current bands, Cursive and The Good Life. He’s also using his degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to write screenplays and, as always, testing the limits of his vocal cords.

“It’s definitely getting tougher to push the voice,” admits Kasher, 42, whose nasal and sometimes pitchy cries of anguish make his voice unmistakable. “I long to be 20 again, when I could scream as much as I wanted to. I can’t mistreat it now.”

Kasher will have to pace himself this spring when he goes on tour promoting a new solo album, his third. Titled No Resolution, the album comes out in March and, according to Kasher, features the lush sounds of strings, which he helped arrange.

True to form, Kasher wrote and directed a low-budget, feature-length film of the same name that uses all the songs from the album. “The film No Resolution is about a couple in their 30s who get engaged because she’s pregnant,” Kasher explains. “It’s set over New Year’s Eve, an appropriate backdrop to expose that the guy isn’t quite ready.”

Omahans saw an early edit of the film during the Omaha Film Festival last March. The final cut comes out this summer. Unlike many of his lyrics, the movie contains no autobiographical details. A happy and devoted Kasher married an editor at L.A. Weekly about one year ago. The couple live in the Silver Lake neighborhood, where they mingle with a sizeable group of Omaha transplants.
The musician’s private contentment hasn’t tempered his desire for professional independence. With the new year comes an announcement sure to send tremors through Omaha’s indie sphere: Kasher now has his own record label called 15 Passenger, a nod to an old touring van.

“The new album is on it. We also have all our master reels for Cursive, so we’re going to be releasing our back catalog, along with new stuff” he says. “We’re not planning on getting into the game of taking big gambles on new artists. Just self-releasing.”

What about Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, the label formed and grown, in part, from Kasher’s talent? “Saddle Creek is alive and well. We’re just transitioning over.”

With a new album, new film, and a new record label, the beat goes on for Tim Kasher.

Visit timkasher.com for more information.

The Man Who Invented the College Football Playoff

December 28, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are scripts,but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation. It’s improv. You get into character and run with it.

Larry Culpepper is either delusional or a consummate bullshitter, claiming, among other whoppers, that he created the College Football Playoff. He is raucous, chippy, and self-absorbed. His hair, shirt, visor, and flip-up glasses scream 1976. He’s a guy you’d buy a pop from, but likely shy away from having a beer with.

But Culpepper, the fictional character brought to life by actor/improv pro Jim Connor, is an increasingly beloved traveling minstrel who now transcends the Dr. Pepper brand he was created to peddle. Three years after his birth in an ad campaign with a potentially short leash, Culpepper now is mobbed by fans during live appearances; is part of a 10-part, football-season-long ad series; is the face of Dr. Pepper’s $35 million sponsorship of the College Football Playoff; and, increasingly, is a media darling beyond the confines of paid advertising slots.

For marketing purposes, Culpepper is from nowhere in particular. But in late August, Culpepper appeared on ESPN’s College Football Live and was asked to give his prediction for the playoff’s final four teams. His answer: Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Nebraska (fresh off their losing season).

“Nebraska?” One commentator scoffed, before asking a cohort, “Is he from Nebraska or something?”

larryculpepper2Culpepper isn’t, but Connor is. For the Omaha native and Husker fan, that moment on ESPN illuminates why he has enjoyed playing Culpepper so much. “There are scripts, but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation,” Connor says during a call from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s improv. You get into character and run with it. It’s a great time.”

Connor, the youngest of seven children (“which explains my personality right there,” he says), attended Creighton Prep, where, along with classmate Alexander Payne, he performed with the school’s improv acting troupe. He remembers one gig in particular that fueled his passion for the rush and satisfaction of successfully winging it for a crowd. “It was for a local service group,” he says. “We did some silly birthing scene, and the women in the group—you know, who had some experience with such a thing—really had a good time with it. It’s so cool when you connect with an audience.”

Connor was a gifted ham and public speaker. He served as vice president of the student council at Prep, wrote and acted in pep rally skits, and even placed first place for Humorous Interpretation at the National Forensic League’s National Speech Tournament in Minnesota.

After what he described as a “difficult” freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (“it just wasn’t for me”), he transferred to Saint John’s University in Minnesota. After college, he moved to Boston and worked as a carpenter while performing in theater and short films, then moved to Denver to pursue his MFA in acting at the famed National Theatre Conservatory.

The goal, “was never to get famous,” he says. “I just wanted to make a living being an actor. I wanted acting to be my full-time job.”

A dream of tens of thousands who have moved to Los Angeles. And while at 54, Connor is no household name, he has succeeded at stringing together enough commercials and small parts to make acting his career.

Besides nearly 150 commercials, his film credits include Watchmen, Meet Dave, Blades of Glory, The Onion Movie, Home Invasion, and Horrible Bosses 2. Alexander Payne asked his old friend to give the drunken wedding-reception toast in About Schmidt.

He also had numerous recurring roles in television comedies such as Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Scrubs, and The King of Queens.

In 2014, Connor and about 500 other actors auditioned for the role of the Dr. Pepper concessionaire in a national ad campaign targeting college football fans. Actors were given latitude to define the character and riff. Connor created an amalgam of “a lot of people I’ve known” to create Culpepper, a loud, proud, gregarious huckster who seems to actually believe—in the face of constantly presented information to the contrary—that he created the four-team college football playoff system.

For all of Culpepper’s failings, he’s also affable, wide-eyed, and childlike in his zeal for the job and the game, appealingly un-self-aware, and extremely clever. “Larry is a real guy, he’s a smart guy,” Connor says. “He’s just got some unusual ideas sometimes.”

larryculpepper1Among myriad other reasons why he claimed the Cornhuskers would make the playoffs: “Nebraska runs that classic passive-aggressive offense,” he told the ESPN crew. “They’re playin’ real nice, and then you’re like a puddle on the 50-yard line.”

It was inspired nonsense, which is the foundation to good improv, which is what Connor would love to spend the rest of his career getting paid a living wage to do.

Indeed, as Culpepper increasingly becomes a star beyond the confines of college-game broadcasts, as Dr. Pepper continues to expand the ad campaign (Connor’s character is now essentially the spokesman in football matters for the company, which AdWeek magazine estimated paid at least $35 million to be a “championship partner” in the College Football Playoff).

He is hoping to land more significant movie and television roles, especially in one of the increasing number of loosely scripted, improv-heavy comedies.

“I’m not going to get cast for scripted stuff in front of a studio audience,” he says. “That’s not what I’m built for.  Shows like Parks and Recreation—where you have space to work more freely with a talented group—that’s where I belong. That’s where I love to be.”

Visit larryculpepper.com for more information.

Classic Meets Contemporary in a Louisville Farmhouse

December 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

They say you can never go home again—but Kara Habrock managed to make it happen. The Louisville, Nebraska, native was living in Omaha with her husband when they felt pulled back toward their small­-town roots.

“We’re both from a small town and just couldn’t fight it,” Kara says. “I never envisioned I’d be back in my little hometown, but it’s worked out great.”

Monty Habrock, whom Kara met while attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is originally from Emerson, Nebraska.

The Habrocks first moved to an old home on five acres just outside of Louisville. They lovingly remodeled the house, but it still wasn’t quite the right fit for their family, so they considered moving again. Kara had the perfect alternative in mind; in fact, it was a house she’d had on her mind practically her whole life. 

habrocks2
“This was definitely my idea,” Kara says, of the Habrocks’ current home, a 100-year-old, two-and-a-half-story, remodeled farmhouse poised on a hill at the edge of town. “I grew up two blocks away, and my bedroom window looked right at this house. There was an old barn with Dutch doors where the new barn is now, horses, and a paddock. I’d walk over as a little girl and pet the horses. This house was like an anchor on the end of town, just that big old white farmhouse, and I just loved it as a kid.”

In fact, when Kara was 12, her parents actually considered buying the same farmhouse, but instead opted to build their own new home. 

“I was just devastated. My mom still laughs to this day and says, ‘You never got that out of your head, did you?’ It was definitely a longtime dream,” Kara says.

Initially, Monty was not onboard. But the family had a front-row seat to a consistently re-emerging “for sale” sign each Sunday as they drove past the house on their way to church. In the end, it was a simple twist of traffic that brought Monty around.

“I surprised her on a Sunday morning. I was going into town for coffee and nearly got hit by a truck pulling out on the highway from our old house. I thought, ‘My kids are driving soon, and that could happen to them.’ So, I came in and said, ‘Kara, let’s buy that house.’ It’s only six blocks from school, I thought, they can’t hurt themselves,” Monty says with a laugh.

“I was in the shower washing my hair when he said that. I’ll never forget it. I called the realtor that afternoon before he could change his mind,” Kara says.

habrocks3Due to its age and the Habrocks’ ultimate vision, the property needed lots of work. They both work at Roloff Construction, originally owned by Kara’s father, Larry Roloff. These days, Kara is vice president and general manager; Monty is vice president and chief estimator. The majority of their work is underground, for example, sewer projects for MUD and establishing the underground infrastructure for the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park. Although they don’t specialize in the type of construction needed to renovate their home, their experience nonetheless proved helpful.     

“The line of work we’re in, it makes you see what’s possible,” Kara says. “We have an eye for looking at a piece of ground and visualizing the possibilities, where a lot of people can’t. We knew it was possible, but it would be a long project.”

The Habrocks enlisted Steve Cramer of Cramer Kreski Designs as architect, Tom Slobodnik with Slobodnik Construction Group as builder, and Mary Murphy of the Interior Design Group as decorator.

“We had a great team put it together,” Monty says. “They really understood how we live and are all meticulous.”

Kara adds the team had a great eye for the Habrocks’ love of “old-fashioned style with a modern twist.”

“I’ve always had to reconcile my love of old things with my love for sleek, modern things. The inspiration for the design and decor of the house was to make that all make sense together in an eclectic mix of old and contemporary,” Kara says. 

Kara says it was crucial to preserve as much of the original, traditional foursquare farmhouse as possible, despite the need to basically gut it to update wiring, plumbing, heating, and air, while also executing an add-on. 

“I can still tell where everything in the house was,” says Kara, pointing out features like original doors that have been repurposed within the home and a stretch of siding from the original home that has been relocated to an entryway.

habrocks4

The Habrocks replaced the dilapidated old barn with a new structure they have dubbed the “party barn,” where they have hosted family graduation and anniversary parties, school and church club meetings, and other affairs. The barn is a bright, airy space with a kitchen, bathroom, and large main area that can be easily converted for any occasion. The family, which includes daughters Claire, 19, and Sophie, 15, as well as Foster, a 14-year-old mini Aussie, and Kooper, a 2-year-old full-size Aussie, even lived in the barn for eight months in 2013 while the main house was being completed.

The Habrocks love entertaining family and friends—whether that is a couple dozen folks for Thanksgiving or a small, impromptu gathering for Game 7 of the World Series—and their warm, laughter-filled home is the perfect space for welcoming guests. 

“We’re very casual and like to have people over. We did not want it to be formal. We wanted open spaces with great little nooks,” Kara says. “It’s a very lived-in house, and the biggest compliment we get is when people come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s just so cozy and comfortable’ because that’s definitely what we were going for. We love being home.” 

Visit louisvillenebraska.com for more information.

OmahaHome

habrocks1

Together A Greater Good

December 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A mobile-friendly app created by two Omaha marketing pros has made giving to local charities easy for shoppers around town.

When folks download and use the Together A Greater Good app, they can scan their purchases from local participating businesses—including Big Mama’s Kitchen, The Bookworm, and Greenstreet Cycles—and donate a portion of the receipt amount to charities like American Cancer Society, the Open Door Mission, or a local school.

TAGG, founded in 2012, is the brainchild of Holly Baker and Leslie Fischer. Baker and Fischer studied marketing and business (Baker at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fischer at the University of Nebraska-Omaha). The two met in 2007 while working at another startup, GiftCertificates.com. Although the two worked together for less than a year, the hectic, frenzied work environment helped forge a future partnership.

“You kind of bond through chaos,” Fischer says.

After leaving GiftCertificates.com, Fischer worked for the construction company EAD. While at EAD, Fischer juggled administrative, human resources, and marketing duties.

Coincidentally, both Baker and Fischer were pregnant around the same time while employed in their respective former jobs (Fischer at EAD, Baker at Qualia Clinical Services). Their gestations corresponded to the genesis of TAGG. When Baker was pregnant with her first child, she heard that Qualia was shuttering its Omaha operations. Around that time, Fischer asked Baker to help with some projects at EAD. And while Fischer was on maternity leave, she began brainstorming business ideas. One idea came from constantly being barraged by “cute kids wanting to sell stuff” for fundraising.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this…”

– Leslie Fischer

Fischer says she remembers Baker saying, “Doesn’t there have to be a better way than this poor kid schlepping through all the neighborhoods?”

For Fischer and Baker, the Groupon business model kept coming up. The popular web coupon site Groupon offers different deals for products, services, and events. Specifically, Fischer and Baker were interested in taking Groupon’s voucher system for deals and applying it to fundraising. From early 2011 until May 2012, Baker and Fischer kept bouncing ideas around.

In May 2012, Baker and Fischer quit their jobs to devote all of their resources into launching TAGG.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this,’” Fischer says.

Baker was pregnant at the time.

“I thought I was going to have a miscarriage from stress,” Baker says.


tagg1For most businesses, the first year of operation comes with a few horror stories. For Baker and Fischer, theirs revolved around the key component of TAGG—its website. After quitting in May 2012, Baker and Fischer planned to launch TAGG around the Fourth of July of that year. Unfortunately, the website developer, who was working in Colorado, hadn’t completed the back-end work for the website.

“I ended up spending the Fourth of July on the phone with our lawyer to get our code from this guy,” Fischer says.

Fischer and Baker agreed it was best to scrap the design and start fresh. They relaunched that fall.

Since launching, TAGG has gained 175 businesses committed to donating 5 percent of customers’ scanned receipts to local charities. Twenty thousand people have downloaded the TAGG app. And TAGG now operates out of a West Omaha office, a far cry from kitchen table conversations that created TAGG.

“It feels like forever ago, and yesterday at the same time,” Fischer says.

Visit togetheragreatergood.com for more information.

Niles Paul

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Robert Nelson

It was ugly, it was depressing, and it really, really hurt…I was told I might be done. But here we are.

-Niles Paul

Tight end Niles Paul cuts hard right off of his left foot and bursts across the middle of the Washington Redskins’ practice field during a Friday practice in preparation for a Monday night matchup with the Steelers. His clean catch of a coach’s soft toss is an afterthought. It’s that Tron-like right turn and Tesla acceleration that matter. Not only are these skills top-shelf for NFL tight ends, they were unthinkable for Paul just one year ago.

That’s because the Omaha North legend, Cornhusker star, and fan favorite (on the verge of starting for the Redskins at the end of training camp last year) after a breakout 2014 season, suffered a broken and sprained left ankle that his surgeon described as “bad as I have ever seen.”

Just Google the close-up photo of Paul falling to the ground during that 2015 pre-season game against the Browns. His lower left leg is contorted like that of a post-impact crash-test dummy. It was Theismann-esque in its skeletal aberrance.

“It was ugly, it was depressing, and it really, really hurt,” says the impressively-bearded Paul as he sits in front of his locker after practice, cutting the athletic tape from that ankle. “I was told I might be done. But here we are. It feels so good to be here. I appreciate it all even more after all that’s happened.”

He’s talking about his almost mystical recovery, driven by obsessive rehab and weight-room work. He arguably benefitted from a youthful tinge of hubris: “I was doing more than my doctors and trainers were telling me to do,” he says. “I know my body. Maybe it wasn’t that smart. But I wanted it so badly, and I feel like I know what my own body can take.”

nilespaul2Now he is stronger than he’s ever been (“I lived in the weight room,” he says) while 10 pounds lighter than he was last year. At a listed 242 pounds (he looks lighter than that), he’s still considerably more yoked than the wiry 210-pound kid that Husker fans knew as a fleet wide receiver. Omaha sports fans knew him as a three-sport superstar at Omaha North and one of the most highly touted athletes in recent Omaha preps history.

He talks briefly and in a muted tone about his fairly limited multi-purpose role beginning the season behind star tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. “I will do anything needed of me,” he says. But quickly the conversation turns to the Thursday night NFL game he watched the night before: The Denver-Carolina game in which former Husker fullback and Gretna hero Andy Janovich ran his first NFL touch in for a touchdown.

Paul beams—he’s straight-up boyish giddy: “Oh, that was awesome!” he says. “Nebraska boy. A Husker fullback! That was so much fun to see.”

Paul has made it big-time, but, as he says, his heart is still in Nebraska, particularly with his alma mater, Omaha North. Paul’s mother passed away when he was 12. He was starting to get in trouble during his adolescent years living in Virginia. His father, who “pushed me hard, maybe too hard sometimes,” moved the family to Omaha. Once he reached high school, North coaches quickly realized they had a diamond in the rough.

“He was strong-minded and hard-headed when he was just starting here,” says North football coach Larry Martin. “But as he grew as a player, he emerged as this phenomenal young man. With all his gifts, he has a tremendously big heart and is so genuine.

“He gives back in a big way, too,” Martin continues. “Niles has given so much back to North and the kids here. You should see how much he’s loved when he comes back.”

Since going pro in 2011, Paul has purchased the jerseys for Omaha North’s football team, on top of holding camps for players and other youth in North Omaha. In 2014, he began giving players one of the most cost-prohibitive accessories for football families: cleats.

“I played my whole high school career in one pair of cleats,” Paul says as he unwraps the athletic tape from his ankle. “I kept those cleats together with this same kind of tape.”

“I grew up not having much,” he says. “I know what it’s like. If you’re able to give back, you have to give back. I just hope I’m doing some good.”

Visit redskins.com for more information.

nilespaul1

Emily Andersen & Geoff DeOld

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Emily Andersen and Geoff DeOld’s two-story storefront/residence on Vinton Street is an ongoing study in public and private space.

The husband and wife duo of DeOld Andersen Architecture began their courtship in Nebraska while studying architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. They completed their postgraduate degrees in 2001 and moved to New York City that same year—a week before September 11.

deolds4While living in New York, they each worked at architecture firms, and in 2010, they began developing their own architectural practice. Their theoretical interests focused on ideas of suburbia, big box stores as civic centers, and the concept of “Walmart as a city.” New York City, while full of inspiration, was not an ideal location to study these topics.

“New York is a highly constructed place, a place where every block has been theorized and studied,” says DeOld.

In 2012, Andersen and DeOld began working with Emerging Terrain and its founder, Anne Trumble, on projects in Omaha. Seeing the progressive and critical dialogues fostered by Emerging Terrain made the idea of leaving New York an easier decision. For them, rogue conversations about urban relations could take place in Omaha. Additionally, Omaha provided a lower cost of living, making it possible to own a domestic space with a private outdoor area complete with a dog.

After deciding to relocate to Omaha in 2012, Andersen and DeOld began sharing a rented office space with Emerging Terrain on Vinton Street. One day, Trumble took her design fellows on a research trip, and the couple was able to be alone in the space in its totality. They thought, “This could be a great apartment!”

As it happened, their intuition became reality. The architects now fully occupy both floors of the storefront, their live-work architecture studio and private apartment with an exterior courtyard at 1717 Vinton St.

Willa, their spunky dog, acts as a doorbell, announcing visitors and clients. She is usually perched at the large bay windows on Vinton Street, sitting in the crisp northwest light. This same light blankets a curated selection of furniture and cascades upward to the original tin ceiling tiles. Andersen acknowledges, “The best thing (about the storefront) is the light.”

deolds5Immediately inside the voluminous white studio, large flat tables are stacked with the latest architecture periodicals and design paraphernalia. A well-stocked bookcase of architecture monographs separates this front entry space from the open office behind. Each workstation, for the couple and their intern architects, is decorated with an iMac, a tornado of tracing paper, physical architectural models, and their subsequent renderings and construction documents. The fervor of design-in-the-making is palpable. At the rear, more windows fill the functional office with warm southern light and views into an in-process patioscape.

There is an aspect of sustainability that they enjoy living above their office—the morning and evening commute is literally a flight of stairs. A cerulean stairwell ascends into their private apartment above the storefront’s 12-foot ceiling. The hike establishes mental and spatial distance between work and home. “Once we go upstairs for the evening, we usually do not go back down,” says DeOld.

Upon entering the 1,200-square-foot apartment, a sense of the couple’s studied aesthetic is at the forefront. Remnants of their lives punctuate the space. There’s a silver metallic curtain in an ultra-simplistic kitchen and an almost haphazard collection of modernist furniture. Space-defining arches give the apartment “a weird personality we would have never added,” says Andersen.

deolds2Populating the airy apartment is a long blonde wood table adjacent to a glossy white fireplace, which splits the kitchen from the living room. A set of graphic prints pulls the eye into the living room, where a complementary mustard-colored chair and merlot-colored sofa face a wraparound bookshelf. It is also from the living room that the angular nature of Vinton Street is most apparent. Two windows bounce northwestern light onto the wooden floors. As with the studio below, Andersen explains, “Watching the light daily and yearly is one of the joys of the apartment.”

Renovations have been ongoing throughout the entire structure, with Andersen and DeOld first focusing on the envelope of the building, then the workspace below, and now concentrating on the apartment and exterior courtyard.

At first, much of the apartment did not work. But after rapid construction and precise wall removal, the once-segmented apartment has been opened into one clean volume for public entertaining areas and compact private spaces.

“We can’t live in a typical house,” say Andersen and DeOld. Their nearly complete live-work space mixes ephemerality with distinct design features, a continuing investigation into their notions of hybrid domestic-work tranquility.

Visit d-aarch.com for more information. OmahaHome

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Midwestern Umami

October 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you have heard anything about Suji’s Korean Grill, it is probably that the restaurant is “Chipotle for Korean food,” an analogy trumpeted from many a Yelp review and word-of-mouth recommendation.

It’s an accurate assessment of the initial Suji’s that opened near 72nd and Pacific streets in July 2016, but the comparison becomes less apt as the eatery evolves in response to diner feedback.

“I found customers want to see more authentic Korean food and bolder flavors, so we’ve upgraded our menu to meet that demand,” says Suji Park, proprietor of Suji’s Korean Grill. Park is also the founder and “chief inspiration officer” of Suji’s Korean Cuisine, her line of prepackaged Korean meats, sauces, and bibimbap bowls sold at retailers like Whole Foods and Target.

Now, the woman who brought the brunch boom to Korea is working to mainstream Korean cuisine for Americans—and she’s excited to see strong demand for authenticity.

Park originally came to Nebraska to partner with University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus, which lent cutting-edge preservation techniques to the development of her prepackaged foods. The international restaurateur of 12 years then chose Omaha to launch her first stateside eatery.

bibimbap

bibimbap

Park’s something of a culinary babel fish, translating Asian dishes for Americans, and American cuisine like brunch and New York-style deli fare for an Asian market in her Seoul and Tokyo restaurants. Now, the woman who brought the brunch boom to Korea is working to mainstream Korean cuisine for Americans—and she’s excited to see strong demand for authenticity.

Park says meeting that demand means moving Suji’s from a strict fast-casual concept to a hybrid style, where customers still order at the counter but food is freshly prepared in 10 minutes or less. The extra prep time allows for more menu variation, including the addition of dup-bap dishes—hearty meat and vegetables served “over rice”—like beef and pork bulgogi, and dak jjim, a savory, almost stewy, spicy braised chicken thigh with potato, carrot, and onion. 

Park also added japchae, a well-executed traditional Korean noodle dish of thin, stir-fried sweet potato noodles tossed with carrots, onions, scallions, and a choice of marinated beef, chicken, or plump shiitakes. Available as a side or entree, it’s unique and versatile enough to appeal to vegetarians and omnivores alike.

a selection of banchan

a selection of banchan

Another standout dish is the kimchi bacon rice: sautéed rice mixed with the sour bite of kimchi and the salty splendor of uncured, antibiotic-free bacon with an important texture assist from crisp cucumber, spring greens, and scallions. A perfectly cooked soft-fried egg and sesame seeds top the dish, which in total presents like the food equivalent of an expertly struck multipart harmony, the many flavors and texture elements uniting for one tasty whole.

Suji’s offers several flavorful sauces and kimchi varieties that further elevate these dishes, so diners would be wise to add them according to taste—in my case liberally, as I found such additions often lent an important layer of flavor.

Many elements will not change, including original menu items like bibimbap bowls and Korean street tacos, Suji’s inviting communal seating, and Park’s overarching commitment to all-natural ingredients. In her restaurants and prepackaged foods, Park insists on no MSG, binders, artificial colorings, flavors, or preservatives, and a gluten-conscious approach.

“We’ll never change our all-natural mission or authenticity,” says Park. “We want people to fully experience Korean meals, so we’re also introducing banchan, small dishes, like tapas, with a main dish.”

Korean street tacos

Korean street tacos

Park’s mother, Younja Kim, is visiting from Korea for several months to help develop a variety of rotating homemade banchan and kimchi. Suji’s will also host educational sessions, inviting Omahans to learn how to make varieties of kimchi.

“I’m excited to show people what Korean food is about,” she says. “I’m in the food industry because I love people, and food brings people together.”

Visit sujiskoreangrill.com for more information.

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After Cancer and High School

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A small sigh of hopelessness escaped Ema Johanning’s lips as she looked up at the daunting steps of Bellevue West High School. Pain radiated down her left leg. It felt like someone had driven a screwdriver in the socket where it met her pelvic bone, twisting and twisting with each step.

Don’t worry about it, Ema’s doctors said. It’s just growing pains, an overemotional teenager trying to get attention, or just all in her head.

Ema could not escape the savage nightmarish monster that haunted her. Exhausted, dehydrated, and malnourished, Ema soon lost nearly 30 pounds. She threw up almost daily—all because of her agonizing leg.

Nikki Johanning, her mother and a former CNA, knew something was not right. Pills, fluids, and six visits to the ER did nothing to diminish the pain.

“Can you please admit my daughter. I can’t physically take care of her anymore,” Johanning tearfully begged doctors at yet another ER visit at Children’s Hospital. Ema could no longer walk and used a wheelchair just to get from the couch to the bathroom. In addition, Johanning had Ema’s three siblings to take care of at home, an exhausted husband who would sometimes have to stay up at night with Ema only to work the next day, and no family in the area to help out.

Ema-Johanning-1“I never took ‘no’ for an answer,” Johanning recalls. “If we sat back and waited, I don’t know if Ema would be here.”

Ema was admitted for pain control and underwent further tests.

Ema woke up groggy from medication. She heard her mother sobbing as she held Ema’s hand. It was one of the few times Ema had ever seen her cry.

“What’s wrong? Mom, tell me.”

Cancer. Ewing’s scarocoma. Malignant.

Ema felt like she had the wind knocked out of her. She barely heard her mother. The blinds were drawn tight. Even the smallest sliver of sunshine hurt, but there in the darkness of the room, Ema felt a hazy sense of relief rush through her.

“At least it’s not in my head,” she said as she hugged her mom. “We are going to beat this, and I’m going to be fine.”

Ewing’s sarcoma is a type of rare bone cancer that affects children or young adults like Ema and can be difficult to diagnose. It typically begins in the legs and hips, but can develop in other areas.

“It was my 16th birthday present,” Ema says now with a small, sad smile. Ema cancelled her sweet 16 birthday bash scheduled for later that week.

According to St. Jude’s Research Hospital, there is only a 56 percent survival rate for those aged 15 to 19. So while most of her friends were worried about homework, boys, or parties, Ema would have an IV attached to her arm full of chemotherapy.

It was an aggressive plan to attack the cancer hard and fast: three days of the “red devil” through a circular port in the hospital, and then two weeks at home depending on blood counts. If her counts rebounded, she would have another five days of treatment. This lasted a year from February until the end of May.

Ema would need a partial hip replacement and undergo physical therapy as well in June.

Johanning placed throw up buckets around the house. Her vomit was so hazardous that even a single splash burned her mother’s foot. Even Ema’s tough military father became squeamish.

But it really hit home when Ema lost her hair.

“The magic went away,” her mother says.

As Ema watched her locks of dark hair fall, so did her innocence. The reality seemed to weigh heavily on her teenage shoulders. She could no longer blend in with the crowd and lost her identity. All her future aspirations seemed to waver in the harsh light of her newly shaved head.

“The hardest part for me and her dad is you teach them to be the best people they can be, then watch that poison drip down into your child,” Johanning says. Her mother could not throw on a Band-Aid or kiss away the pain.

“I’d be lost without mom. She was my rock…my best friend,” Ema says.

In the oncology wing at Children’s Hospital, Ema gained strength from Nurse Anisa Hoie.

Ema-Johanning-2

“Don’t you feel like you belong here with a bunch of baldies all in one room?” Hoie asked her. Ema started laughing, the first time in her long cancerous journey.

She saw little kids playing games and suddenly realized she shouldn’t be feeling sorry for herself.

“Who am I to say my life isn’t worth fighting for,” Ema vents.

That teenage invulnerability though, that feeling of being untouchable by death, was gone.

“Cancer is like taking the most likable part of yourself and having to say good-bye to it because it’s killing you,” Ema says.

She attended her junior prom with just a smattering of brown hair with a flower tucked behind her ear, smiling in one picture with her two friends.

“I rocked that dress,” Ema says laughing. It was, of course, purple. Ema believes this is her “soul color,” universal for cancer survivors.

Now in remission, she finally feels free. The 20-year-old Ema shows off a tattoo on her shoulder: a heart with an owl and the cancer ribbon inside and “Forever Strong” etched on the outside. Her mother, grandmother, and other family members tatted up with “Believe” in support.

Her black hair has grown back—thicker and curlier than before. A puckered long scar travels up her left thigh. Ema was self-conscious of it at first, but now takes pride in the reminder. She is alive.

“A friend said to me, ‘The only one happier to see it than you and your mom is me,’” Ema says in a voice thick with tears.

Ema missed most of her sophomore and junior years of high school, yet she continued doing her coursework from home, despite short term memory issues and other side effects that still plague her. Ema graduated in May 2015. When she walked down the aisle Ema unzipped her graduate gown to proudly display the tank top underneath emblazoned proudly with “Suck it Cancer.”

“Everyone thought I flashed,” Ema says giggling at the memory. “My friends said, ‘you didn’t do what I think you did, did you?’”

College for Ema meant not only worrying about classes, but how to negotiate the small pharmacy (22 medications) she took with her to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall. 

“We didn’t know if she would live or die, and now she is going to college—it’s amazing,” Johanning says.

Ema is hoping to sky-dive with her father at the five-year mark. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate is 70 percent for a tumor that has not spread, but only 15 to 30 percent if it has metastasized.

In the meantime, it is the little things in life Ema appreciates the most.

“I look at me still being here as a second chance at life,” Ema says. FamilyGuide