Tag Archives: University of Nebraska-Omaha

Anne Hindrey’s Helping Hands

March 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Nonprofit Association of the Midlands is a resource dedicated to helping the thousands of nonprofit entities scattered across Nebraska and western Iowa.

CEO Anne Hindrey stands at the helm of the organization that connects so many disparate nonprofits—from sports (Omaha Fencing Club) to social services (United Way of the Midlands). Roughly 330 total nonprofits hold a registered membership to NAM. Each works to serve the community in its own way.

Hindery’s job involves helping nonprofits navigate the often sticky world of public policy. It is a role she is well-qualified to assist with.

She started her career as the law enforcement coordination specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Omaha.

“I wanted to change the world, but I realized that, in government, every four years someone changes the world back,” says Hindery, a Missouri native with a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Her previous job in the Nebraska branch of the Department of Justice involved writing grant applications. Her grant-writing experience carried over to her next role as program director at the Omaha Community Foundation. She served on boards, and deepened her involvement in the community. She eventually joined NAM in 2008.

“I was on the board for five minutes,” Hindery says, half-jokingly. “I took someone’s place on the board in November, and they just had a staff change. Because NAM had a good staff policy in place, they needed someone on the board to step in. I said I could do it, and after a time, I was hired full-time.”

Hindery and her staff at NAM develop relationships with various nonprofits. They offer assistance with human resources, insurance, and legal needs; create partnerships between advocacy and public policy groups; and provide tools and training to members. NAM is also part of the National Council of Nonprofits, which keeps Hindery at the forefront of industry trends and changes in public policy.

“We find our membership in the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands very beneficial,” says Peg Harriott, CEO and president of the Child Saving Institute. “We use the annual salary and benefits report to make sure that our salaries are competitive in the market, and we participate in the health insurance trust to help moderate the cost of health insurance for our employees.”

CSI’s 150 employees benefit from NAM’s insurance trust, but Hindrey and her team make sure they offer services to small nonprofits as well as large ones.

Joining NAM is not free, however. According to the organization’s website, the cost to register ranges in eight tiers from $50 (for nonprofits with an annual budget less than $49,999) to $1,000 (for nonprofits with an annual budget greater than $10 million).

The Inclusive Life Center offers Christian rituals to people who may not belong to a church but want a minister for a wedding, baptism, or funeral. The center’s staff of one says he has greatly benefited from belonging to NAM.

Chaplain Royal D. Carleton says, “We work off of donations, and it helps us to be mindful that we have to be very transparent and good stewards of the funds that are bestowed on us.”

“I went to my first NAM conference [in 2016], which was ‘Who’s telling your story?’” Carleton says. “I learned more that day about marketing than I have in some ways in six years [of running Inclusive Life]. There were very strategic marketing insights that I did not know before.”

He also learned that his audience is wider than he originally thought.

“I’ve never marketed to those who are religious, because I figured they have a church they belong to,” Carleton says. “I had people stand up and say, ‘Listen, I’m Catholic, but I have friends who are not religious, and I need to know who you are so I can share that resource with my friends.’ That was a big eye opener for me.”

That connection to people, and other nonprofits, is one of the biggest resources that NAM offers.

“We encourage our members to not reinvent the wheel,” Hindery says. “In many cases, someone has gone through the same problem, and the solution is already available. You may want to tweak it, but it’s there.”

Visit nonprofitam.org for more information.

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

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

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

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.

Magdalena Garcia

May 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the May/June issue of Omaha Magazine.

As executive director of El Museo Latino, Magdalena Garcia pours her heart into the museum she founded. She can’t help it; art isn’t just her work, it’s her life.

“It’s always about the art,” she says. “This isn’t something I just go do for eight hours, it’s a way of life.”

Garcia’s family moved to Omaha when she was nine, but returned to visit her artist aunt and grandmother each summer in Mexico City, providing her lots of cultural inspiration.

“Art was always part of our lives,” she says. “We’d go to the museum, ballet, theater—I remember grandmother cleaning on Saturday mornings with opera music blasting. None of it was ever foreign to me. That’s why I believe it’s so important to expose children to different art forms.”

Garcia frequents the symphony, opera, and museums in Omaha, and when she travels she’s always investigating local museums and culture.

“I love research. I love to learn new things, and one thing takes you 50 other places and then you come back around,” says Garcia, motioning in a circle.

Skeptical she could make a living as an artist, Garcia pursued related interests to situate herself in the museum field. She volunteered at the Joslyn Art Museum while earning an art history degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and working full time in human resources for Northern Natural Gas. She relocated to Houston when the company’s headquarters moved there and later used severance pay as a springboard for graduate school.

“I liked what I was doing,” Garcia says, “but over time I realized I just really wanted to work in a museum. It could be human resources—but in a museum.”

While seeking an internship, Garcia noted there were only three Latino museums in the country. Despite that early ’90s stat, she found a common, burgeoning interest in serving a growing Latino demographic.

“Why not Omaha?” she asked herself. And with that, the seed was planted for El Museo Latino, which Garcia opened in 1993 on a shoestring budget anchored by her own elbow grease.

Today El Museo Latino is one of 12 U.S. Latino museums, including one in Puerto Rico.

“None of us really know when that last moment of our lives will come, but I didn’t want to wonder: ‘Could I have tried it? Should I have tried it?’” says Garcia.

Garcia did traditional Mexican folk dancing for years, and continues to teach it at the museum. She also enjoys gastronomy, with a love for Italian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican cuisines, and says she loves to “cook, experiment, taste.

“My other love is tennis,” she says. Garcia also adores swimming, and has been playing racquetball and weightlifting—“just for variety.”

“I’m always inventing new stuff to do, but making time for the things I love is important,” she says. “I think you have to find something that you really enjoy. When it comes to being active, I just want to get out there and have some fun. I want to go play.”

MagdalenaGarcia

Sam Walker

February 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Technically, Sam Walker is retired and has been retired from the University of Nebraska—Omaha for nine years. But the 71-year-old author and civil liberties activist is still going full throttle. His national profile as a voice for police accountability has arguably even risen in these years when most of his contemporaries are stepping from the fray.

Walker recently sat down at a Midtown coffee shop to do some reflecting. But it quickly became clear he plans to remain a vital and vibrant member of the civil liberties movement that he’s been active in for nearly five decades. He’s not unlike many whose ideals were forged fighting racism in the segregated South of the 1960s. A passion for justice doesn’t easily retire.

Walker says he was recently invited to do work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Early Intervention Systems, a computerized database dealing with officer performance. The Canadian trip comes right after a conference in New York. Walker also was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal in October about the lack of a national database regarding officer-involved shootings.

Walker has become a national expert in police accountability and civil liberties. He is usually the first person local media seek out whenever there is an issue with law enforcement, but he also has been asked to provide insight by national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, among numerous others.

Walker has written 14 books in 36 different editions. His most recent book on policing, The New World of Police Accountability, was just released in a second edition. Walker says he enjoys the continued work on the various editions, cutting out the old and working in new developments.

In the last few months, Walker has been fielding numerous phone calls and emails regarding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Walker says that even though he retired from UNO, he knew he was going to stay busy. He saw firsthand what retirement did to his father.

“My father had a forced early retirement at 62,” Walker says. “He was an executive at the railroad, middle management, and he had no outside interests. He just sat around every day and started drinking and before this he wasn’t a drinker—maybe a drink at a party but that was it. My mother tried to push him to find interests but it didn’t work. So I think, ‘Where was my father at 71?’ He was an alcoholic.”

His mother, though, was a very active woman and lived to be 98, tending to her garden and staying busy until her final years. Looking at Walker, you’d never guess his age. He is still tall and trim. A graceful man who speaks very directly and gives answers that are fully thought out—no abrupt pauses or half sentences like most of us communicate. One gets the sense that Walker is constantly taking in information, studying, and collecting data to come to deeper understanding. He is pretty much what one would expect a professor emeritus to be like.

A friend and former peer in the 1960s civil rights movement recently found a photo of a young Walker taken in Mississippi standing on a porch working to register African-American voters. Walker was a student at the University of Michigan at the time and wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life. Things changed for him one night in 1964 when he went to see Bob Moses speak about the Mississippi Summer Project. He ended up traveling to Mississippi that tumultuous summer and worked to register voters.

Then the conversation quickly turns back to pressing current affairs. Walker gives his predictions on how the Ferguson crisis would play out and what the slew of press leaks might mean to the looming outcome. This is Walker’s world. Strides have been made in police relations with minority communities. Obviously there is much more work to be done.

But perhaps more so in this quasi-retirement, Walker can shift gears back toward more traditional leisure-time fare. He loves taking in movies (he’s a frequent patron of Film Streams). This self-admitted “rock and roller” has more than 9,000 records, a collection so large it has outgrown his home. It seems the hectic pace of retirement suits Walker just fine.

“I’m working harder than I was when I was getting paid,” Walker says. “And loving it. It is very gratifying when those phone calls and emails come in from people who know me only though my work. And they keep on coming.”

20141203_bs_1959

Meet the Orands

February 10, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Matt Orand, a day at the office is child’s play—or at least figuring out what children want to play with.

As the Creative Director of the Omaha Children’s Museum, Orand is the one tasked with designing musical steps, creating interactive apps, or making sure that the fake food found in the museum’s play grocery store isn’t so realistic that kids try to take a bite out of it.

Luckily, he can rely on some of the museum’s biggest fans to help him design exhibits that kids will rave about: his children, Lily (7), Simon (5), Milo (18 months) and their fourth child who was born after press time in December. They all happen to fall within the 8-and-under age range that is the Children’s Museum focus.

Orand started at the Children’s Museum eight years ago, when his wife Amy was pregnant with Lily. After graduating with degrees in graphic design and sculpting from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, there weren’t many careers out there where he could have the chance to work with kids in a creative field, but he just happened to stumble upon his dream job at the Children’s Museum.

“He’s just a kid at heart,” explains Amy Orand.

While the Children’s Museum is a perfect fit for a big kid like Orand, it lends itself to an even cooler experience for his four young ones, who essentially get an all-access pass to the museum. The Orands began taking daughter Lily to the museum just a few weeks after she was born, and she can usually be found there whenever Matt needs help or is opening a new exhibit.

As a result, the Children’s Museum holds a special place in the heart of the Orand family. It’s where Lily stood on her own for the first time, thanks to an exhibit designed to help infants pull themselves up. It’s where Orand aided in the restoration of the giant, colorful, zoo characters he himself played on as a child at the Gordmans department store. Now he gets to see his children play on the same playground figures.

“I think for me it’s just been fun to have them around when I can kind of take them behind the scenes,” says Orand. “I can bring them to sneak previews and bring them to see works in progress.”

But it’s not all just fun and games for the Orand family. Matt also enlists his children to test out ideas for new exhibits. He is constantly observing what cartoons his kids are watching, what games they like to play with their friends, or what toys they gravitate toward.

“I’ll just gauge like, ‘what sounds more fun, a superhero or a pirate exhibit?’ says Orand. And they’ll ask questions like, ‘What’s going to be in the exhibit, Dad? If it’s superheroes is it going to have this? Can I put on a cape?’”

It’s all a necessary part of Orand’s job; being able to see the world from a kid’s perspective. He recalls the frustration many kids, including his own, experienced when the museum unveiled an air blast tube in one of its new exhibits.

The tube was located next to a collection of toy balls, so many of the kids thought that when they placed the balls in the tube, the tube would blast the balls in the air. When the tube did no such thing, they became frustrated. The museum took the contraption off the floor, and Orand and the rest of the museum staff redesigned it, re-launching it as a “Ball-istic Blaster.”

“You think you’ve got everything figured out, and you know exactly how they’re going to use it, and you’re totally blown away or something unexpected happens,” says Orand.

Following in their dad’s footsteps, the Orand kids relish creativity. The Orands already notice a budding affinity for art in daughter Lily, who is adamant that she doesn’t want to have a “boring” career when she grows up. Amy, an insurance agent, laughs when she describes how the kids see her career versus Matt’s.

“Mom’s got the boring insurance job, and dad’s got about the coolest job on the face of the planet,” says Amy. “I think they kind of take it for granted, because they haven’t known it any other way.”

But for now, Matt is okay with putting off the day until his kids can fully comprehend all that he does. Son Simon recently started adding an extra line to his nightly prayers—a token of thanks to God for “making my dad good at making robot dinosaurs.”

Simon is referring to the robotic dinosaurs in one of the museum’s traveling exhibits, one of the areas of the museum that does not fall under Matt’s jurisdiction. But Matt says with a chuckle, “I just don’t really have the heart to correct him and tell him that I didn’t make it.”

20141218_bs_4399

The Mavboni Guy

February 6, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The schtick never gets old.

It happens every time the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team scores its first goal at a home game: Greg McVey comes rolling onto the ice driving what appears to be a miniature Zamboni, executes a wheelie or two, scoops up a frozen fish that’s been tossed onto the ice (as the opposing team’s goalie “fishes” the puck from the back of the net), then steers the quirky contraption back through an opening in the boards and disappears. The crowd at the CenturyLink Center Omaha roars its approval of the sideshow—and the UNO goal.

“Once the fish is thrown,” explains McVey, “I’ve got to get in and out of there fast, driving around four refs and 10 players, so I don’t hold up the game. Complicating matters, he adds that “I never know if the dang thing is going to steer right.”

The “dang thing,” designed and built by McVey, made its on-ice debut in January 2003 when the Mavs hosted Ohio State at the old Civic Auditorium under then-head coach Mike Kemp. Dubbed the “Mavboni” by McVey’s fellow Red Army hockey boosters, the nifty fish-retrieval vehicle quickly became part of the whole hockey experience.

Well, usually, that is.

“Four times in 236 home games the first goal never came,” says McVey, who lives in Lincoln. “They were shut out. Only four times. Impressive.”

The Mavboni demonstrates McVey’s evolution as a tinkerer. The Norfolk, Neb. native spent 14 years assembling and racing go-karts. He chased national and world championships all over the country, running on dirt tracks at 105 miles per hour. Later on, an episode of “Monster Garage” inspired McVey to build a motorized bar stool. “Just what everyone needs,” he deadpans, though he sold quite a few in two years. With motors, steel tracks, and tires filling his basement, the life-long hockey fan thought building a shrunken ice-resurfacing machine would bring a laugh at tailgate parties.

While McVey is a fan of all things “silly and meaningless,” Coach Kemp looked for gimmicks to lure fans to his young hockey program. In fact, it was Kemp who came up with the fish throw soon after the Mavs played their first game in 1997. He got the idea after he was hit in the head by a flying salmon during a hockey game in Anchorage, Alaska, while an assistant coach at Wisconsin.

Is there any doubt the two men would eventually team up?

“I was going to my weekly radio show at DJ’s Dugout in Miracle Hills around 2002 when I saw this really neat Zamboni thing racing around the parking lot,” recalls Kemp, now UNO’s associate athletic director. “I said to somebody, ‘we’ve got to get that out on the ice.’”

When UNO hockey moves to its new arena in Aksarben in October, the Mavboni will also make the move. “Even after all these years, every time I see it I smile,” says Kemp.

Thanks to Greg McVey, thousands of hockey fans can say the same thing.

20141122_bs_0134

Peace is His Profession

February 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

How many times have moviegoers seen Washington, D.C. destroyed by a wayward nuke/seven-mile-wide comet/giant solar flare/fire-throwing robots/aliens/zombies or renegade paramilitary outfit, only to have a fearless pilot save the day at the last minute? Hollywood, at least since the Cold War, has thrived on channeling Americans’ apocalyptic fears, now more clearly defined since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

While the causes of the onscreen cataclysmic events may be a little off-kilter, swooping in to rescue officials from the highest levels of government is no fantasy for a select group of pilots at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, including Major Jon Grossrhode. A member of the 1st Airborne Command & Control Squadron and a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Grossrhode (pronounced GROSS-road-ee) flies one of the great wonders of the aeronautical world.

The military calls the highly modified Boeing 747-200 series the E-4B: its project name, Nightwatch. Civilians know it as the “Doomsday Plane,” but Grossrhode isn’t biting.

“Well, some people call it that,” the 34-year old Plattsmouth resident says quietly, clearly not comfortable surrendering the vital importance of Nightwatch to pop culture lingo.

If a worst-case scenario unfolds in Washington, “We will support the President and his national security team, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs,” explains Grossrhode. “The plane has been tested (to withstand) nuclear attacks.” Thus, Nightwatch becomes an airborne command post. Its ability to re-fuel in the air allows the plane to fly for days. The 165,000 pounds of electronics onboard keep the lines of communication open with forces on the ground.

There are actually four E-4Bs that rotate a maintenance schedule, leaving two planes on active duty at any given time. An E-4 is somewhere in the world on alert 24/7, 365 days a year. Since the planes are based at Offutt, Midlanders often look up in the sky, see an E-4 on a training mission between Omaha and Lincoln, and mistake it for its cousin, Air Force One.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (our July/August 2014 Omaha Magazine cover feature), a western Nebraska native and 1971 UNO graduate, already knows the E-4 quite well. He uses it for overseas trips, with Maj. Grossrhode one of three pilots at the controls.

“We’ll fly from Offutt to Andrews (Air Force Base) and he meets us there,” explains Grossrhode. What are the odds (all due respect to Tom Cruise and Top Gun) that two UNO Mavericks would find commonality aboard a plane also manned by a Nebraska-based crew?

“I knew he had gone to UNO, but you just can’t go up to the Secretary of Defense and say, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’” says Grossrhode, showing a flash of humor. “His staff introduced me to him.” The two men have since formed a bond, often chatting about Omaha and Offutt.

“[Hagel] comes up to the flight deck, puts on a headset and thanks us every time,” Grossrhode says, adding, “He’s very personable.”

A tour of the E-4B shows a plane short on amenities but huge on technology, with conference rooms, offices, and space for a full complement of media. Hagel’s quarters are spartan compared to the facilities on the President’s plane. He has a bunk bed, several chairs, and a small bathroom with a sink, but no shower, making a 15-hour flight from Beijing to D.C. challenging. Nightwatch can reach a top speed of 602 mph but “with a good tail wind, it can be faster,” says Grossrhode.

The son of a career Air Force dentist and a high school guidance counselor who are both from the Omaha area, Maj. Grossrhode grew up on several bases around the country. He knew early on that he wanted to honor his father’s legacy by becoming an Air Force pilot. He even looks the part of a man entrusted with the Air Force’s last line of defense. Tall and lanky with close-cropped hair, the soft-spoken Grossrhode has to bend his head way down to enter the E-4 cockpit, which is literally covered from top to bottom in switches and doo-dads of all stripes. Already a seasoned pilot by the time he trained on the E-4, Maj. Grossrhode credits his college experience with giving him a solid foundation.

“I wanted to live near my aunts, uncles and cousins, so I chose to go to UNO,” he explains. As a student at the school’s Aviation Institute, a gem of a program but little-known outside aviation circles, Grossrhode trained at Eppley Airfield and earned his private pilot’s license by the time he graduated in 2002. He arrived at Offutt in 2007 after serving as an instructor pilot in Oklahoma.

He has enjoyed every day since he arrived back home seven years ago.

“I’m living my dream,” he says. “I wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember, since I was a little boy. I grew up on Air Force bases watching air shows, getting to know the pilots. Now I get to come to work and fly every day.

“And I get paid for it!”

20140820_bs_7156

Having it all

December 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even if Viv Ewing was not one half of a dynamic Omaha couple—she’s married to Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing Jr.—she’d still be among the metro’s more intriguing figures.

Her “done it all” resume is even more impressive given she grew up in a northeast Omaha public housing project. She became the first in her family to graduate college. She didn’t stop at a bachelor’s degree (in public administration) either. She earned a master’s in urban studies from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a doctorate in community-human resources from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

As a professional she first conquered the corporate arena as a human resources executive at Omaha Public Power District and ConAgra Foods.

Doing career development work she hired countless individuals, helping many find the right fit by using her gift for seeing potential in people they may not see themselves. If she’s learned anything, it’s that winners don’t let setbacks derail them.

“If you live in that negative side,” Ewing says, “that will hold you back. If you live in the positive side and move on, then you get past disappointments or obstacles, and you’ll do something better or bigger.”

In recent years she’s made her mark in the nonprofit realm, including at Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army. Today, she’s executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Nebraska Chapter. She also serves on several community boards.

Leaving Corporate America took some soul searching. Since making the move, she says, “I’ve never looked back. I had a really successful corporate life. I was always on the fast track. I had work I enjoyed. However, at a certain point I asked myself, ‘How can I make a lasting difference? How can I make more of an impact in people’s lives?’ So I made the switch to the nonprofit sector. It’s more people-driven. It’s very fulfilling, very rewarding, very meaningful.”

Seeing people’s lives improve never gets old.

“I love to see that happen. In the work I do with the Alzheimer’s Association, families often come in and say, ‘Because of the information you provided it made all the difference in the world for my family dealing with this disease. That’s powerful stuff.”

The association, whose major annual fundraisers are the spring Gala and the fall Walk to End Alzheimer’s, supports research, provides physicians’ current information, educates the general public, and does individual consultation and resource referral for families facing the disease.

Ewing had personal experience caring for an aunt with dementia. When she learned many families living with Alzheimer’s didn’t know there’s an association dedicated to it, she volunteered to help raise its profile. When the executive director position opened she applied and got the job. She’s pleased that under her leadership the organization’s more effectively getting its message out and eliciting support.

“All the work I’ve done in the past has come to bear here—from networking to fundraising to process improvement.”

Apart from her day job, Ewing’s an entrepreneur with her own consulting company, Life Development International, that helps individuals and organizations reach their potential. She mentors several women in the community.

“There’s a lot of value and reward in working individually with people and watching them grow and develop and attain goals they’ve set and knowing you had a part in that,” she says. “There’s definitely something to be said, too, for working with organizations to overcome internal struggles or longstanding bad practices.”

Ewing further carries her positive message as author of the book You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it Too. She also pens self-improvement articles for magazines. And she and John co-host “The Best is Yet to Come” on KCRO 660 AM.

Another way she spreads her life-affirmations is through public speaking. Engaging people comes naturally for Ewing.

“I’ve always been a people person, outgoing, kind of gregarious,” she says.

Faith is woven into every facet of her life, most visibly at Salem Baptist Church, where she and John are associate ministers. They intend leading their own church when they retire. Together 30 years, the couple shares a deep commitment to community. They’re active in the Empowerment Network, the lead catalyst for reviving North Omaha. When raising their two daughters, Ewing says she and John made sure their children accompanied them to community activities.

As a parent, wife, or professional, Ewing subscribes to a simple philosophy.

“You can have the good things in life you expect to have and enjoy it,” she says, “if you put the work into it and go after it. Don’t let life get in the way of reaching your goals and dreams. Don’t let others rain on your parade. And don’t forget to laugh at yourself.”

As her book’s title insists, “You can have your cake and eat it, too. I do it
all the time.”

20140916_bs_1146

Wrapping Up Senior Year

April 13, 2014 by

Senior year, can you believe it? All of this hard work is finally paying off, and we can see the victory sign ahead. But no one can prepare us for what we will actually have to go through to put our dreams into reality. So let’s just focus on this last semester and finishing out strong.

This last semester is a waiting game. Everyone gets excited to see who will get some money out of the giant money pot of scholarships.

Me, personally, I’m terrified.

What if I didn’t say the right things in my essay or what if I forgot a reference letter? Trust me, everything that could possibly go wrong is spinning in my head. I’m trying to just worry about my goals—get some scholarships and stay on track with my grades—and look forward to a few possible experiences this last semester.

I’m already thinking about summer as well. I plan on getting an internship as a messenger at a local paper. Just getting your foot in the door and making yourself known can spark so many different opportunities and adventures. Also, this is the last summer before we start college. It’s when we really start feeling like, wow, I did it. I would like to make this summer as memorable as possible, even with a little work at my part-time job every so often.

During the summer, we try not to worry about the overall picture. I’m already thinking of all the dreams that I have for college and all my expectations. I hope to live in the dorms at University of Nebraska-Omaha and study journalism, along with being involved in clubs and activities.

I do have one fear.

I’m scared that on the first day, I’ll wake up late, and then there will be nowhere to park, and I won’t be able to find my class, and I’ll live the rest of my college career thinking about that one embarrassing moment. Oh, yeah, and spilling coffee on the cute guy in class.
Things happen.

But really, graduation is a big moment for me and many of my peers. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

iStock_000014339578Small