Tag Archives: UNMC

A Timeline of Chinese in Omaha

March 2, 2018 by , and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chinese migration to Omaha began, indirectly, during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The “Old Gold Mountain” (i.e., the Chinese term for California) attracted a flood of unskilled laborers known as coolies. Nationwide, the Chinese population grew by leaps and bounds: from 758 (in 1850) to 35,565 (in 1860) to 104,468 (in 1880), according to U.S. Census data on the country’s foreign-born population.

Facing open hostility in the goldfields, many went to work in agriculture, mining, fisheries, started laundry or restaurant businesses, or joined construction of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The railway industry dispersed Chinese migrants throughout the American interior. With Union Pacific’s headquarters in Omaha, it’s likely that the railroad helped populate Omaha’s own early Chinatown. But documentation of Union Pacific’s role in attracting the city’s earliest Chinese residents remains scarce.

“We don’t have archival records of Union Pacific bringing Chinese labor to Omaha, but we’ve seen this pattern throughout cities and towns of the American West,” says Patricia LaBounty, curator of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. LaBounty spoke with Omaha Magazine while preparing a research presentation focused on the contribution of Chinese labor to Union Pacific.

Among the earliest documentation is an illustration of Chinese railroad laborers crossing the frozen Missouri River with Omaha’s sparse skyline in the background—including the old territorial capitol, now the site of Central High School (printed in the Jan. 22, 1870, edition of Harper’s Weekly). 

Mounting opposition to Chinese immigrant labor led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted immigration and banned citizenship. Many American Chinatowns dwindled and disappeared in subsequent years, with Chinese-American communities remaining staunchly Cantonese-speaking due to the early immigration from China’s southern regions. Post-World War II waves of Chinese immigrants predominantly spoke Mandarin, the language of mainland China and Taiwan.

The second wave of Chinese immigrants arriving in Omaha—and the U.S. in general—consisted of Chinese Nationalists and their families coming overseas after civil war split the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the communist People’s Republic of China.

A third wave of immigration followed normalization of U.S. diplomatic ties with Beijing during Richard Nixon’s presidency. This group included highly educated professionals, scientists, doctors, and students from the People’s Republic of China.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the number of students coming to U.S. universities (evident at the University of Nebraska system, Creighton, and Bellevue University) has steadily grown. Meanwhile, what could be considered a fourth wave of Chinese migration to North America has taken the form of wealthy Chinese looking to the U.S. for property and stock market investments.

May 10, 1869

Promontory, Utah—The driving of a ceremonial golden spike signals the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Chinese labor played a critical role in completing the eastbound Central Pacific that met with Union Pacific.

Jan. 22, 1870

Harper’s Weekly prints “Chinese Coolies Crossing the Missouri River” with Omaha pictured in the illustration. The article claims 250 Chinese laborers passed through Omaha to build a railroad in Texas.

Early documentation of Chinese labor passing through Omaha


The 1872/1873 Omaha City Directory lists Chinese laundries for the first time. There are two: “Yingalongjingjohn & Yingyang” between Farnam and Harney on 10th Street, and “Hong Lee” on Harney between 14th and 15th streets.

June 4, 1874

The Omaha Daily Bee reports on the burial of “Ting-a-ling” at Prospect Hill Cemetery, noted as the city’s first Chinese burial. His death is attributed to “too much ironing and ice cream.” The article explains that his remains will be exhumed after two years to be returned to China for final burial in accordance with traditional custom. The article also notes that the local Chinese population consists of 12 men and one woman.


Omaha has 14 Chinese residents.*


The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.

May 6, 1892

The national Methodist Episcopal Conference is held in Omaha. A speaker condemns the Chinese Exclusion Act for jeopardizing U.S. missionary work in China, denounces the U.S. president and Congress, and argues “that the Chinese had the same right to be here as other foreigners, notably the Irish” (according to the New York Times on May 7, 1892).


Omaha has 91* or 93 Chinese residents.**

Feb. 15, 1893

Dr. Gee Wo Chan goes to the Supreme Court of Nebraska for practicing medicine without a license. He will lose his case, but his traditional Chinese medicine practice continues. At the peak of his business, he operates storefront clinics in Omaha, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The Omaha Daily Bee frequently publishes full-page ads promoting that Dr. C. Gee Wo “the greatest doctor that China ever produced is in your city.” His 1892 marriage to a Caucasian woman in Chicago was reported in the Omaha Daily Bee. His life story will be featured in a free online book, Chinese Medicine in Post-Frontier America: A Tale of Three Chinese-American Doctors (published in 2016).

Dr. C. Gee Woh ad in June 7, 1891 Omaha Daily Bee

Aug. 31, 1894

An article in the Omaha Daily Bee covers a revolutionary meeting of 150 Chinese “from Denver, Cheyenne, Sioux City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and other surrounding towns within a radius of 200 miles,” who meet to discuss overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. Chinese revolutionaries draw support from overseas Chinese communities around the world. Years later, China’s Revolution of 1911 will overturn the country’s last dynasty and set in motion the establishment of the Republic of China.


The 1895 Omaha City Directory lists at least 21 Chinese-owned laundries (featuring names that appear to be Chinese).

Oct. 23, 1898

The Omaha World-Herald reports that 438 men, women, and children—including artists, performers, and cooks—were brought to the United States from China to help with the Chinese village at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. The expo allowed them to bypass the Chinese Exclusion Act restrictions. The newspaper alleges human trafficking and claims that women were sold into slavery or prostitution.


Omaha has 94* or 103 residents.**

Aug. 19, 1900

The Illustrated Bee publishes an article titled “Chinese in Omaha—Some Prominent Men,” which claims a Sunday school has offered English language education to Chinese youth since September 1885. Laundry is the chief occupation of local Chinese residents, and cleaners tuck “good luck mottoes” into fresh linens. Opium smoking is on the decline (allegedly the only crime in an otherwise “peaceable, quiet, and law-abiding” community). A sort of Chinese credit union offers loans to the immigrants at exorbitant rates. Joe Wah Lee is named as the community’s best English interpreter, the wealthiest local Chinese person, and the shrewd owner of Bon Ton Restaurant. Leo Mun, head of Quong Wah Co. is named the community’s most educated in Chinese but lacking in English skills.“Henry” Hong Sling is noted as affiliated with the community but based in Chicago where he is a railroad passenger agent.


Omaha has 53 Chinese residents.*

January 1912

Gin Chin opens the Mandarin Cafe at 1409 Douglas St.

Nov. 22, 1916

The Omaha World-Herald reports on the opening of a “new hall” for the Omaha Chinese Merchants Association at the first known site of the On Leong Tong (111 N. 12th St.). Leo Wing is president and Chue Fing Sue is secretary. The report claims there are 150 Chinese living in Omaha.

The former home of the On Leong Tong, photographed in 2018


Omaha has 126 Chinese residents.*

Sept. 16, 1920

Gin Chin opens the King Fong Cafe near 16th and Harney streets.

Photo from the September/October 2007 edition of Encounter Magazine


Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.*


Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a city directory is not printed in 1930. The 1931 Omaha City Directory lists at least eight Chinese laundromats remaining in Omaha (six are included under a “Chinese Laundry” category, two are listed as hand-laundries). Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.* “When the Depression came in, there was no more business,” says Jeanette Chin, wife of Carl Chin (Gin Chin’s son). “If families could save some money, they could go back (to China) and live like royalty.” She came to Omaha in 1942 from a prominent family in New York City’s Chinatown. Local Omaha papers claimed her 1942 marriage to Carl was the city’s “last arranged marriage.”

July 16, 1938

The Omaha World-Herald reports on firecrackers and festivities involved in the dedication of the relocated On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St. The article notes that the tong is raising funds for China’s fight against Japan in the war effort.


Omaha has 69 Chinese residents (44 native-born and 25 foreign-born).***


The year after the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed (1943) during World War II, Gen. Albert Wedemeyer takes command of U.S. forces in China, relieving Joseph Stillwell. Wedemeyer was born in Omaha in 1897. He was likely familiar with Omaha’s ethnic Chinese community as he attended Creighton Preparatory School (when the school was located near downtown on the Creighton University). In 1919 he went to West Point Academy. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Tientsin, China, where he learned to speak Mandarin and gained a deeper understanding of China’s turbulent political climate with the consolidation efforts by the Nationalists and the rise of the Communist movement.


The 1946 Omaha City Directory lists one business under the category “Laundries—Chinese” (Louie Chas at 209 S. 13th St.), and the name disappears in the next year’s directory. The Chinese laundry category vanishes from record in subsequent city directories.


Omaha has 106 Chinese residents.*


Omaha has 130 Chinese residents.****


Omaha has 186 Chinese residents.****


Joe Kuo and his wife, Alice, open the Great Wall Restaurant at 72nd and Farnam streets. The restaurant’s success will spawn other Great Wall restaurants downtown (at 11th and Farnam streets), near 84th and Center streets, at Oak View Mall, and in Council Bluffs. Kuo had graduated from Fort Hays State University in Kansas with a mathematics degree in 1972, but with a new family decided against doctoral studies to enter business as a restaurateur in New York City and Chicago before coming to Omaha. The Kuos were founding members of a Christian fellowship of Omaha Chinese (established in 1977), which started as a bible study group (officially renamed the “Omaha Christian Chinese Fellowship” in 1980, and again renamed as “Omaha Chinese Christian Church” in 1986). Kuo’s restaurants host bible study gatherings. The church’s founding minister, Pastor Job Lee, is married to Joe’s elder sister (Grace). The church fellowship serves as a center for Chinese language and culture education. The Kuo family will sponsor local Chinese cultural events, leading to the creation of the Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association.


Omaha has 374 Chinese residents.****

The Omaha Chinese Christian Fellowship rents space at First Presbyterian Church. A few years later, in 1983, the fellowship will relocate to First Christian Church on 66th and Dodge streets.


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association forms with the goal of bringing all Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese together, regardless of regional origins or political affiliation. The organization’s board includes Dennis Chin (a Bellevue Public School educator and Gin Chin’s grandson), his wife Betty Chin (a research organizer at Creighton and UNMC), and UNL engineering professor Bing Chen, among others. The association will eventually discontinue as political tensions mount and the community shifts to a predominantly mainland Chinese orientation.

From left: Dennis Chin, Betty Chin, and Bing Chen (at the Nebraska Chinese Association in 2018)


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association’s Chinese New Year celebration moves to UNO’s Milo Bail Student Center for a Chinese meal cooked by UNO chefs under the watchful eye of Joe Kuo followed by music, acrobatics, and dance performances at the Strauss Performing Arts Center. During its years of operation, the group also participates in the Omaha Ethnic Festival at the Civic Auditorium and hosts Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Dragon Boat Festival gatherings.


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church purchases its own building at 81st and Blondo streets.
Omaha has 553 Chinese residents.****


Mainland Chinese in Omaha are believed to organize local community events, including Lunar New Year gatherings. (Individuals known to be involved did not respond to Omaha Magazine’s request for comment.)


Omaha has 1,155 Chinese residents.****
In 2000, UNMC begins a formal faculty exchange program with Shanghai University. It is the first time the Chinese government has “awarded and funded a faculty exchange program between a Chinese medical school and [a] U.S. medical school.” In subsequent years, UNMC’s exchange programs with Chinese medical institutions continue to develop. By the year 2018, UNMC’s Asia Pacific Rim Development Program will have established partnerships with more than a dozen Chinese medical schools.


Creighton philosophy professor Jinmei Yuan begins annual student trips to China, supported by the Rev. John Schlegel (president of the university) and Soong Ching-Ling Foundation in China.  


Omaha-born filmmaker Alexander Payne is part of a group that buys King Fong Cafe from the Huey family that has managed the restaurant in the years following Gin Chin’s passing. Also in 2007, the Confucius Institute (which operates around the world teaching Chinese as a second language) opens at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the institute will become a key sponsor for holiday celebrations with the UNL chapter of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, Lincoln Chinese Cultural Association, the Asian Community Center in Lincoln, and the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association/Nebraska Chinese Association.


In 2008, Creighton’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions establishes a three-month Rehabilitation International Summer Program. By 2014, the university will establish the China Honors Interprofessional Program for medical students and health care professionals in China. Partner schools will include 10 universities across China (along with universities in five other countries).

May 2008

The Omaha Chinese Culture Association establishes in the wake of China’s tragic 2008 Sichuan earthquakes. In China, more than 69,000 are confirmed dead and 5 million people are displaced. Bellevue University’s director of global partnerships in Asia, Julie Verebely, was born in the area devastated by the quake. Verebely knew her home was affected, but she didn’t know how badly. She couldn’t contact any friends or family in the province. “She called me up and said, ‘We need to do something. It’s my hometown,’” recalls Linda Steele, who works with Verebely at Bellevue. With a core group of more than 30 Chinese-Americans and Chinese expats, they arrange several fundraisers that accumulate more than $30,000. During their fundraising efforts, Ping Ye (a systems analyst at HDR) suggests to fellow volunteers that they organize as a continuing Chinese association. Ye is the Omaha Chinese Culture Association’s first president, followed by Mae Keith, and then Steele. John Zhang is the association’s first chairman of the board, followed by Hong Zheng.

Linda Steele


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church moves to its current location at 4618 S. 139th St.


Omaha has 1,437 Chinese residents.****

Feb. 3, 2009

The first Lunar New Year Gala is hosted by the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association at Christ Community Church. Locations will change in later years: Millard North High School in 2010, Burke High School in 2011-2012, Westside High School in 2013, Westside Middle School in 2015-2017, and Burke again in 2018.

April 2009

In April, an Omaha delegation visits Yantai (in Shandong province) at the invitation of the mayor of the northeastern Chinese city. In October, Yantai officials will visit Omaha to sign a letter of intent to become “sister cities.” In June 2010, Omaha’s Mayor Jim Suttle will visit Yantai, China, in a trip to establish Omaha and Yantai as “sister cities.”

Oct. 3, 2009

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts the first annual Mid-Autumn Chinese Cultural Festival at Zorinsky Lake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

June 4, 2011

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts its first annual Dragon Boat Festival on a Missouri River cruise.


Bellevue University establishes a partnership with Guangzhou College of Commerce in 2012. The first group of Chinese students will arrive in 2015. Also in 2012, the UNO College of Business Administration begins annual study trips to China.

August 2012

During a visit to China, Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman announces the state will open a trade office in China.


The UNO College of Business Administration hosts a China Conference focused on US-China economic relations and business partnerships. The conference continues for a second year in 2014.

March 18, 2013

Ceremonies in Nebraska and Shanghai are held to announce the opening of the Nebraska Center China in Shanghai. Upon taking office in 2015, Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to foster China-Nebraska trade relations with trade trips in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The Omaha Chamber also participates in overseas trips to China on an annual basis.

May 2014

An estimated 1,000 Chinese investors visit Omaha for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. In China, the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett is known as “the God of Stock Investing.” The number of Chinese visitors to Omaha during the shareholder meeting will continue to grow every year. An estimated 2,000-3,000 Chinese investors will visit Omaha for the shareholder meeting in 2016.


The Nebraska Chinese Association replaces the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association under the leadership of local Omaha businessman Hong Zheng (owner of the Asian Market) and its president Linda Steele (an adjunct professor Bellevue University).

Hong Zheng

April 2016

Lion Dancers help the Nebraska Chinese Association celebrate the grand opening of the Nebraska Chinese Center in the site of a former church at 8206 Blondo St. The center offers language classes, cooking classes, a farmers’ market, tai chi exercise programs, and other cultural events.


King Fong Cafe closes “temporarily.”

May 2017

The annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting continues to draw more Chinese visitors every year. Buses take Chinese tour groups to Warren Buffett’s home in Dundee for photographs. In 2017, Linda Steele estimates that there are 3,000-4,000 Chinese visitors. A gala dinner hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association introduces overseas investors and local businesses. Steele expects 5,000 Chinese visitors for the Berkshire meeting in 2018.

June 14, 2017

Forty boxes of beef arrive in China from Greater Omaha Packing Co. The Omaha-headquartered business has emerged as an industry leader in reopening U.S. beef exports to China. It is the first shipment of U.S. beef to China since 2003 (following a mad cow scare that halted imports).

November 2017

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes the historic status of the On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St.


In the 2017/2018 academic year, Bellevue University has 258 overseas Chinese students; UNMC has 96 students from mainland China; UNO has 124 overseas Chinese students; Creighton has 36.

March 3, 2018

The 10th anniversary of the Lunar New Year Gala hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association/Omaha Chinese Cultural Association takes place at Burke High School. Of the approximately 200 volunteers organizing the gala, 100 are overseas Chinese students. The association’s members include close to 800 people.

Nebraska Chinese Association board members from left: Grant Wu, Hong Zheng, May Yap, Jun White, Linda Steele, Li Li, Sarah Luo, Qiuming Zhu, Ping Ye, Jenny McAtee

*Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society

**Source: An Almanac of Nebraska: Nationality, Ethnic, and Racial Groups (published in 1975)

***Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska Library Commission

****Source: U.S. Census data provided by University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

See other Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:

Breaking the Silence of Osteoporosis

Underdiagnosed and undertreated, osteoporosis is a bone disease that often leads to severe and debilitating bone fractures. Roughly 35 million Americans are at risk of developing osteoporosis, and many who are living with the condition are unaware that they have it or that there are steps they could have taken to prevent it. Dr. Nancy Waltman and Dr. Laura Bilek are working to develop preventative measures while educating women on the risks of this prevalent and deadly condition.

Waltman, a professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing, and Bilek, a physical therapist and an associate professor, are the lead investigators of a study titled “Bone-Loading Exercises Versus Risedronate on Bone Health in Post-Menopausal Women.” The study is part of a $3.2 million National Institutes of Health grant.

Waltman says that educating women about osteoporosis is an important step in treating it.

“It’s exciting when I meet women and talk about bones,” Waltman says. “[Osteoporosis] is very much a silent disease. People don’t talk about it, but they should be.”

Bilek and Waltman have screened thousands of women since 2015, and have recruited 220 of the 300 women needed for the study.

Bilek says that their ultimate goal is preventing bone loss in post-menopausal women.

“The most rapid bone loss occurs between the ages of 50 and 60; that’s who we seek out for the study,” Bilek says.

Bilek says that once a woman is chosen to participate in the study, they are put into one of three groups: the control group, which takes calcium and vitamin D; a second group that combines calcium, vitamin D, and exercise; or a third group that uses calcium, vitamin D, exercise, and the intake of bisphosphonates.

Bilek and Waltman say that ensuring the study was accessible to Spanish-speakers was important because the belief that osteoporosis mainly impacts Caucasian women is both common and false.

“A lot of Latina women don’t think they can have it [osteoporosis], but many Latina women don’t get enough calcium in their diet, putting them at greater risk,” Waltman says. “For our exercise program, we’ve partnered with the Kroc Center and have translators available.”

Another damaging rumor Bilek and Waltman are hoping to disprove is the “danger” of osteoporosis medications.

“The side effects reported in the media scared women away from taking the drugs,” Waltman says. “20-25 percent of women aren’t taking the medications they’re prescribed. It’s disappointing. Medication is very important in preventing fractures.”

Severe side effects have been reported from osteoporosis medications, but are incredibly rare, and Bilek and Waltman stress how dangerous osteoporosis can be if left untreated.

“About one in five people with hip fractures die within a year,” Bilek says. “I’m very passionate about this disease because maybe we can prevent that from happening.” 

They will have to wait for the end of the study before they can draw any conclusions, but Bilek says that (in general) they know that exercise is good.

“The question becomes how do we implement effective exercise for their bones?” Bilek says. “Over long term, how can they keep exercising when they have other priorities?”

No matter the results, Bilek and Waltman say that the study can benefit the women who choose to participate. It offers education, free medical tests such as a DXA scan (which measures bone density), and a role in breaking the silence that seems to surround osteoporosis.

For more information on the study or to inquire about participation, call 402-559-6584 or email hops@unmc.edu.

From left: a normal bone vs. an osteoporotic bone. When bones break, the problem is usually found in the inner bone. Osteoporosis causes the inner bone to become porous and spongy (resembling honeycomb).

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Fighting Dementia With Coloring Books

June 15, 2017 by
Illustration by Mady Besch

Remember getting an unopened box of crayons—for school, for a birthday, just for fun? Remember the smell of the wax? The new, sharp points? Choosing your favorite color?

Most people would answer “Yes.” Coloring, whether as a kindergarten assignment or a rainy-day project, brings about happy memories for most people. It is those pleasant memories that have triggered a surge of popularity in adult coloring books.

Coloring was often a way for kids to stay entertained for hours, focused on filling in the lines on a piece of paper. That is one reason why therapists are now turning to coloring books for people with dementia.

“In my experience, the most helpful reason is because it is a focusing tool,” says Maggie Hock, a licensed mental health practitioner and owner of Bellevue Psychological.

Actually, the concept of coloring as an exercise to focus and relax is not new. Psychologist Carl Jung had his patients color mandalas, or geometric patterns, used to express the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. In these traditions, the creation of a mandala helps with meditation.

Intricate circular patterns might be too complicated for dementia patients, depending on the stage of the dementia. Coloring books can be found online or at bookstores, and subjects range from World War II warships to classic movie posters and more. Those with historical subjects may be the best for dementia patients.

“Commonly in Alzheimer’s, older memories are intact,” says Dr. Daniel L. Murman, director of the behavioral and geriatric neurology program at UNMC. Merman says memories of doing things as a child often remain while memories of five to 10 years ago fade away.

“Memories from childhood are stored in a different part of the brain,” Murman says, noting that the act of coloring taps “into an area of strength, where people would potentially have fond memories of coloring and be able to participate in and enjoy the activity.”

Hock says people with dementia have difficulty focusing because the world around them is confusing and distracting. Handing a person with dementia a coloring book and coloring utensils gives them a purpose and takes them out of the confusion for a while.

Murman adds that even if they are not experiencing dementia, keeping active mentally and physically will help older people. And if someone does, in fact, have dementia, staying active can help preserve neural connections, which stimulates the brain and may help slow down the progression of the disorder.

While solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles may produce the same focus in people in less advanced stages, coloring has the added benefit of chromotherapy, or color therapy. Colors have different meanings for us as individuals. Someone who was forced to wear brown clothes as a child and hated them may still feel a strong dislike for the color brown. Someone who received a set of primary-colored blocks as a birthday gift might color only in primary colors.

Hock says letting someone with dementia color certainly won’t do harm, no matter how advanced the stage.

“It’s always worth a try,” Hock says, “to see what would engage them.”

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Sixty-Plus, a periodical within Omaha Magazine.

Java Journey

April 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like many who guzzle black gold, Sagar Gurung started downing coffee purely for utilitarian reasons.

The taste—he could have done without.

Sagar Gurung

“I started for the caffeine,” Gurung says. “When I took that first sip, I said, ‘What the hell is this? It’s bitter.’ I would add a lot of sugar, milk, and cream to it.”

Gurung has come a long way in his java journey. He is the founder and part-owner of one of Omaha’s newest non-chain caffeine joints, Himalayan Java Coffee House. It launched in June 2016 at 329 S. 16th St., across from the Orpheum Theater on Harney Street.

Not that long ago, what Gurung knew about coffee didn’t amount to a hill of beans. He has worked as a business analyst (currently for Valmont Industries) after earning a degree in computer science from Bellevue University in 2004. Gurung was born in Chitwan, Nepal, but lived mostly in India until he moved to Omaha in the 10th grade to live with his older sister. He graduated from Omaha Gross High School.

He took regular trips back home to Nepal, and it was during one of those trips that he went from coffee novice to coffee aficionado. The spark was a visit to Himalayan Java Coffee, a franchise launched in 1999 by Gagan Pradhan and Anand Gurung in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Nepal is mostly a tea-loving country, but Pradhan and Anand Gurung were changing that with a concept utilizing small coffee farmers whose harvest had mostly been going outside the country. Nepalese farmers were more likely to grow millet or maize than they were coffee, which wasn’t introduced to the country until 1938 by a hermit who brought seeds from Myanmar (then Burma).

By the 1970s Nepalese farmers were beginning to pay attention to coffee as a serious cash crop. Today, it’s grown in nearly three dozen districts, thriving in one of the highest elevations in the world.

Pradhan and Anand Gurung, according to Sagar, “introduced coffee to Nepal,” showing countrymen how it should be planted, raised, roasted, brewed, and imbibed. Their efforts resonated—today, more than 20 Himalayan Java shops have been introduced in Nepal.

On Sagar’s first visit to Himalayan Java Coffee in Nepal, “I instantly loved everything they were doing,” he says. He began to lobby the duo to let him bring their brand and their coffee to his adopted homeland. He also proposed the idea to Nepalese friends who lived in Omaha, asking them to join as partners.

Finally, the founders relented. “I think they just wanted to make me stop bugging them.”

The Nepalese founders are more like “strategic partners” than they are franchisees, Sagar says, but the Omaha Himalayan Java buys all its coffee from its Nepalese counterpart.

It’s a competitive market in Omaha, dominated by national and local chains. Sagar says such competition only gave him more reason to launch Himalayan Java here. And none of the others in Omaha can offer the distinct Arabica flavor available in his store.

“Coffee has a natural tendency to embody its environment,” Sagar says. “So the taste you get is very unique to the area you grow in.”

He appears to have picked an ideal location for the startup. Customers come frequently from the Orpheum across the street, of course, but Himalayan Java also gets employees from nearby Union Pacific, First National, OPPD, other downtown businesses, students from Creighton and UNMC, and downtown denizens.

Himalayan Java offers a full complement of caffeinated beverages—espressos, cappuccinos, mochas, lattes, and more. The No. 1 seller, Sagar says, is the “Dark Roast 4.” The menu also includes sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Sagar says customer retention has been strong and that word-of-mouth marketing has helped  Himalayan Java enjoy 15- to 20-percent growth month over month. Enough that he’s had at least preliminary discussions about expanding to a second store.

He’s also heard from enough customers that he plans to introduce some home-cooking with a menu that should include Nepalese goat and chicken curry; “thukpa,” an intensely flavored noodle soup; and “momos,” spicy Nepalese dumplings typically filled with marinated minced meat.

“I want to introduce Nepali items you can’t get anywhere else in town,” he says.

For now, though, he’s intent on making sure Himalayan Java makes a name for itself with its roasts — something customers should recognize just steps inside.

“We are a coffee house, and it is a beautiful thing to walk into a store and the aroma hits you,” he says.

It took him a while to get there, but he says the taste is even better.

“Now I like my coffee dark with no sugar, no milk, or cream,” Sagar says. “I just love the way our coffee tastes.”

He’s hoping more and more Omahans will agree.

Visit himalayanjavausa.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June edition of The Encounter.

From me to you

March 10, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was Mother’s Day 2012. My friend Jen Rabine thought she was having an unbearable migraine. Her husband, Chris, drove her to the doctor.

“My blood pressure was 265 over 170,” Jen recalls. “That’s stroke level.”

She was rushed to the hospital where she spent twelve days. Eventually, the prolonged high blood pressure affected her kidneys; she was told they were functioning at 10 to 15 percent. She was constantly cold, her feet, ankles, and legs swelled, and the fatigue was overwhelming.

Jen received her first round of dialysis on her 40th birthday. The next day, she was finally able to go home to Chris and her three kids, Morgan (17 at the time), AJ (10), and Kiel (9). The hope was that the dialysis would restart her kidneys.

However, Dr. Alexander Maskin, Assistant Professor of Surgery on the Kidney Team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, equates kidneys on dialysis to a car that breaks down all the time. “It can kind of get you where you’re going, but it needs repair a lot.”

The dialysis didn’t do the trick, and six months later, Dr. Maskin recommended that Jen sign the papers to get on the kidney transplant recipient list.

“I didn’t tell a lot of people what was going on,” Jen says, “because it’s my health issue, and I didn’t want people talking about my health, especially when I wasn’t there.”

We football moms started to miss our friend at practices and games. I knew what was going on, but few others did. Out of respect for Jen’s privacy, we said nothing.

“Chris is my best friend, and I just wanted to keep it between us,” Jen says of her husband. “It put a lot on his shoulders. I’d do the same for him.”

One day in June of 2013, Chris confided in my husband (also a Chris) and me that Jen needed a kidney.

I’ve lost people in my life that I wish I could have done something for. Here was an opportunity to do something for my friend. After prying the number out of Jen’s husband, I made the call to see if I could be a match.


A transplant nurse coordinator took it from there. A coordinator’s job is to protect the donor and make sure you understand every aspect of the donation process. Should you ever have any reservations, she’s like your big sister (the good one)—she’ll back you up and support you, no questions asked.

For example, my coordinator is Connie Lykke. I say “is”, and not “was”, because even after donation, she keeps in touch and continues to answer any questions or concerns I may have pertaining to my kidney donation.

I started with a blood draw, and then there was the tissue match test. After a couple of visits to the UNMC lab and a few phone interviews, I eventually got the call: I was a kidney donor match for Jen.

Jen and I had the blood, and then the tissue matches. We had one genetic marker match, out of six possible matches. But according to Lykke, “A zero antigen (marker) match with a living donor is still way better than a perfect match with a cadaveric donor.”

Dr. Maskin explains further: “A living donor is a better quality kidney. It takes minutes to transplant as opposed to hours, and it lasts twice as long.” According to Dr. Maskin, a living donor kidney transplant lasts 15-20 years, maybe longer. A cadaver kidney transplant typically lasts 6-10 years.

I wanted to tell Jen immediately because I wanted her to know she had a match. I wanted her to just feel some relief.

On a rainy day at Mama’s Pizza, at a long table of adults, coaches, and kids, I leaned over to my friend and quietly said, “Um, hey, I’m a match for your kidney.”

Jen’s reaction was a mixture of shock, confusion, gratitude, and speechlessness.

My twins, Max and Lucy, are 11 years old. Old enough to understand what was happening. We encouraged them to ask any questions or talk over any concerns. They were excited to be included in the process.

On a Tuesday last October, Jen and I went in for transplant surgery. Hours later, my kids assessed my state, swollen from the surgery, and were concerned. When I kissed them goodbye for the night, they cried. That was difficult, but we talked through it.

I was home and in my own bed by Thursday. Jen was home on Friday. I’d wake up achy about 6 a.m., and my husband would jump out of bed to bring me toast, coffee, and a large water. I’d eat that so I could take my pain pills, then go back to sleep for a bit. I’d work hard to get out of bed—I had no idea you use abdominals that much to get out of bed, but you do. Within a week, I was still tender, but the severe abdominal pain was gone. I was healing.

Hours after her surgery, Jen’s swelling had gone down. Jen giggles and says, “The boys said, ‘Hey Mom, your Fiona feet are gone!’”

A week after that, I was back at the football stadium, surrounded by our football family, watching our boys win a game. I returned to work after two and a half weeks. Though the UNMC Transplant team prepared me to have pretty good fatigue for at least eight weeks, my only restriction was to lift no more than 10 pounds for six weeks. It actually took me nine weeks to get my normal energy back.

Eight weeks after surgery, Jen and her husband traveled to Hawaii. Ten weeks after surgery, my husband and I took Max and Lucy to Mexico.

Someone asked a friend of mine, “How could she do that? She has young kids!”

I donated a kidney because I have young kids. I’m trying to teach them to look out for themselves by looking out for others, to be kind and smart, and help people.

There’s also the added benefit of the thorough physical I received to assure my safety during the transplant process. My dad died of heart disease, and I have a family history of cancer, so I got some peace of mind thanks to the detailed examination of my lungs, heart, kidneys, spleen, and bladder.

Jen and I are closer after the surgery but don’t get to talk every day. I gave her my kidney so that she could go back to busy mom life. We couldn’t be happier for each other that we’re both back to the busy life of a mom.



December 13, 2013 by

If you’ve experienced extended pelvic pain, you’re not alone. As many as 15 to 20 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 50 will experience chronic pelvic pain that lasts six months or more. Pelvic pain can have many causes and sometimes it’s difficult to find a specific cause.

It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of these women will have endometriosis, a painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus—the endometrium—grows outside the uterus, or anywhere else where it’s not supposed to grow. It usually grows on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the outer wall of the uterus, the intestines, or other organs in the abdomen or pelvis.

“The problem with endometriosis is that it can be difficult to diagnose.”
—Ginny Ripley, family practitioner at Nebraska Methodist Health System

The condition becomes troublesome when the displaced tissue continues to act as it normally would if it was inside the uterus and continues to thicken, break down, and bleed with each menstrual cycle. However, because the tissue is outside of the uterus, the blood cannot flow outside of the body. The displaced tissue can build up around the affected area and can become irritated, resulting in scar tissue, adhesions, or fluid-filled sacs called cysts. For women in their childbearing years, the adhesions may block the fallopian tubes and cause infertility.

“The problem with endometriosis is that it can be difficult to diagnose,” says Ginny Ripley, family practitioner at Nebraska Methodist Health System. “It doesn’t show up in ultrasounds or CAT scans, so the only definitive way to get a diagnosis is through surgery. Surprisingly, we’ve found that the severity of a woman’s symptoms do not correlate to the severity of the condition.”

So while some women with extensive endometriosis may have no symptoms at all, others may experience painful periods, heavy periods or bleeding, pelvic pain during ovulation, and pain during bowel movements or urination. The pain is usually located in the abdomen, lower back, or pelvic areas. Many women don’t realize they have endometriosis until they go to the doctor because they can’t get pregnant, or if they have a procedure for another problem. It is estimated that 20 to 40 percent of women who are infertile have endometriosis.

Because of the difficulty in diagnosing endometriosis, it is often a matter of ruling out other causes first before arriving at a diagnosis of endometriosis, notes Dr. Ripley. Other common causes of pelvic pain include fibroids, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease caused by long-term infection, pelvic congestion syndrome, an ovarian remnant, irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, and musculoskeletal factors.

The type of treatment a woman receives will depend on the severity of symptoms and whether or not she is planning to become pregnant. Several treatments have to be tried before it is determined what works best. Many women can be treated successfully with anti-inflammatories or a combination of anti-inflammatories and oral  contraceptives and/or hormone therapy. Anti-inflammatories help reduce bleeding and pain. Birth control pills and hormone therapy help shrink the endometrial tissue by lowering hormone levels and help suppress the growth of additional endometrial implants—but they also prevent pregnancy.

“While the tissue growth may come back, it often cleans up the area long enough to allow a woman to conceive.”
—Katherine Finney, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist University of Nebraska Medical Center

In more severe cases in which all other options have been exhausted, surgery may be recommended to remove the extra tissue growth, says Katherine Finney, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Surgery is performed laparoscopically. This means that the doctor places a small, lighted tube through a small incision in your belly and looks for signs of displaced endometrial tissue. The tissue can then be removed or destroyed through heat or cauterization.

“While the tissue growth may come back, it often cleans up the area long enough to allow a woman to conceive,” says Dr. Finney. “Rates of conceiving are higher after surgery, but some women may still need fertility treatments to help as well.”

If pregnancy is not a goal, medications, such as hormone therapy, can be taken following surgery to prevent the growth of new or returning endometriosis, says Dr. Finney.

For women with severe pain due to endometriosis, a hysterectomy may be considered as a last option; however, this is rarely needed anymore. “We do far fewer hysterectomies today than we have in the past because we have so many other effective options,” says Dr. Ripley.

Some women may not require treatment, as they have no or only mild symptoms, while others can have notable symptoms due to pain and/or infertility issues. Treatment is typically based on symptoms. If you are near menopause, you may want to consider managing your symptoms with medications rather than surgically. Once you stop having periods, endometriosis will usually stop causing you problems, notes Dr. Finney. In rare cases, post-menopausal women will still experience continued pain, in which case their physician should evaluate them to determine if they are a candidate for surgery.

Game On

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When was the last time you put down your blinking, beeping electronic gadget (think iPhone, iPad, iPod, iAnything) and picked up a traditional board game?

If you can’t recall the month (or even year) you found such entertainment with family and friends, make plans to visit Midtown Crossing this fall to experience Spielbound.

Spielbound—a play on the word spellbound using spiel, a German word meaning fun or game—is the brainchild, passion, and part-time preoccupation of Kaleb Michaud, a local board game collector and enthusiast.

Michaud, a full-time University of Nebraska Medical Center research professor studying the effects of arthritis, owns more than 2,200 board games from various genres in his personal collection. The towering stacks currently reside in his Dundee home but will move to Spielbound at Midtown Crossing in the coming months.

For years Michaud, 38, has hosted game nights in his home for friends and neighbors. Guests (the most was 45 people) pick a game to play and others join in. By the end of the evening, Michaud jokes, the more cerebral games are put aside for something easier (read: ones that require less mind power but yield more laughs).

“Board games are a tactile experience,” Michaud explains. “They encourage human interaction.”

A look up and around at Michaud’s shelves of games reveal a varied collection, many of which hail from Europe. Since purchasing his first few games in the mid-1990s, Michaud estimates he has added four or five new titles per month.


His interest was sparked playing The Settlers of Catan with a college friend and only grew from there. Michaud realized, after shopping the standard big-box stores, that the variety of games he sought just wasn’t available.

“I was amazed at the quality of board games not available in stores,” he explains. “And lesser-known games often lack advertising dollars for promotion.”

Though Spielbound was slated to move into the old Attic Bar & Grill at Midtown Crossing this fall, Michaud states, “Unfortunately, we don’t know when we’re opening at this point. Midtown Crossing is trying to find us another location otherwise it could be several months due to the additional construction needed. It’s September to January time period.”

When Spielbound does open, the shop will offer a café area serving coffee drinks and light snacks, a party room for gamers, and the crown jewel of the space: the complete library with floor-to-ceiling shelves of games.

Michaud and volunteers have spent the past few months cataloging the collection and recording details of each game, instructions, and the number of pieces included in each box.

Players will be able to join the board game café for a monthly or annual fee. A drop-in rate will also be available for customers who plan to frequent Spielbound a few times throughout the year. Teachers will receive a discount to borrow games used in the classroom.

Michaud wanted Spielbound located in the heart of the city and in close proximity to two large gaming audiences: students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Creighton University. (Although Michaud doesn’t rule out the possibility of his UNMC students and colleagues playing a game or two as well.)

Michaud and his board of directors have applied for nonprofit status, a unique approach for such a venture, he explains. Spielbound will need memberships, grants, and donations to keep its doors open. But in this nonprofit organization, however, the primary focus will be fun and, of course, games.

For updates, visit Spielbound at spielbound.com

Watch Out for Heat Stroke

June 20, 2013 by

Most people—especially those of us who know how muggy and hot Nebraska summers can be—have suffered from heat exhaustion at least once. It usually hits us after we’ve spent too much time outdoors in the blazing sun and haven’t been drinking enough fluids to keep us properly hydrated.

Heat exhaustion is pretty easy to recognize. Muscles cramp up, fatigue sets in, and sometimes lightheadedness or fainting can occur. But never write off heat exhaustion as “not that big of a deal” because it can be a precursor to a more serious heat injury called heat stroke.

Robert Muelleman, M.D., Chair of Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNMC, explains that heat stroke usually causes alteration or damage to a person’s mental state. “It could be as mild as confusion or as severe as seizures,” he says. “Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.”

Dr. Muelleman categorizes heat stroke into two types: classic heat stroke and exertion heat stroke. “Classic heat stroke is the one you read about during a heat wave in the summer. It typically affects elderly people with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, or emphysema. The issue there isn’t necessarily the daytime highs but rather the nighttime lows. If the temperature doesn’t drop below 80° for 72 hours, that’s when we’ll see classic heat stroke. The body doesn’t have a chance to cool down.”

“Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.” – Robert Muelleman, M.D., UNMC

Exertion heat stroke, however, can happen to anybody, and it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside. It’s more about the heat index, explains Dr. Muelleman. “Heat index takes into account the humidity. If the heat index rises above 105°, then everyone is at risk. If it rises above 115°, then athletic and outdoor events really should be canceled.” With exertion heat stroke, it’s a matter of whether or not your body is unable to dissipate the heat or is generating too much heat.

When the body’s temperature control is overwhelmed, it can’t effectively cool down the body. Sweating is the normal response to overheating, but several factors can inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself—things like high humidity, obesity, fever, mental illness, poor circulation, heart disease, sunburn, and prescription drug or alcohol use.

Healthy children and adults are susceptible to heat stroke exertion in the summer because working in the heat or participating in summer sports can put them at risk. Babies, too—especially those left in cars when it’s hot. “Car temperatures rise so fast,” Dr. Muelleman says. “It’s extremely dangerous to leave a baby in the car during the summer.”

As for the symptoms of heat stroke, the Mayo Clinic recognizes the following:

  • High body temperature—usually 104°F (40°C) or higher
  • Lack of sweat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport them to the hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal. While waiting for aid, move the person to an air-conditioned environment and attempt to cool them down by removing unnecessary clothing, fanning air over them, wetting skin with cool water from a cloth or sponge, or applying ice packs.

Young Hero: Audrey Hansen

Friendly, caring, and determined Audrey Hansen, 18, recently graduated from Bennington Jr./Sr. High School where she played volleyball for four years. She loves to socialize with friends and meet new people.

Although she has faced plenty of challenges with her cerebral palsy, nothing has stopped Audrey from helping others.

For her senior project, she raised money to purchase a kangaroo chair for UNMC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “It all started when I heard on the radio about Children’s Hospital here in Omaha having a radio-thon for kangaroo chairs that are priced at $1,500.”

The kangaroo chair that Audrey’s project helped purchase allows a mother and her premature newborn to interact through close, comfortable, skin-to-skin contact when the newborn can’t leave the hospital.

Audrey says she chose to raise money to benefit premature infants and their mothers because she, herself, was born premature, weighing only 1lb. 7oz. “I was born at 24 weeks of gestation—or at six months of pregnancy…All my family could do at that time was touch me, but it was very limited touching because I burned a lot of calories necessary for growth and weight gain.”

“She has a soft spot for anybody else with a disability. She’s such a sweet girl.” – Denise Heppner, Audrey’s mom

When Audrey’s mom, Denise Heppner, was finally able to hold her, she was a little over a month old. “It was called a ‘kangaroo hold,’” Audrey explains. “This is a skin-to-skin contact next to the chest that provides warmth and a heartbeat connection. It has been proven that a more rapid weight gain is observed through kangaroo care.”

Heppner is not surprised at all that her daughter wants to help people. “She has a soft spot for anybody else with a disability,” she says. “She’s such a sweet girl.” She says that Audrey even comes to Pine Creek Elementary in Bennington—where Heppner is a secretary—to read to the children because she loves being around kids.

Audrey inspires her mom on a daily basis because “she doesn’t look for a way out, and she doesn’t use her disability as a crutch.” Above all, Audrey has taught Heppner to be a better listener for people who need to be heard. “Just giving five minutes of your time is enough. The time that you can share is valuable because it always means a lot to someone, and she’s shown me that.”

As for Audrey’s future, she plans to attend Metropolitan Community College in the fall. “I want to have a college degree and a well-paying job that I enjoy doing,” she says of her goals. “I always want to keep pace with others my age in spite of having cerebral palsy.”

Dr. Mike Sitorius

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a family physician for 33 years, Dr. Mike Sitorius spends time stressing the importance of staying physically active to his patients. And while the doctor, 61, logs 60+ hours a week on the job, as well as serves a leadership role at UNMC, he still finds time to practice what he preaches. Some might say he “walks the walk.” Literally.

“I played a lot of basketball up until about my mid-50s when arthritis in my knees forced me to give it up,” Dr. Sitorius says. “Then I took up walking. I prefer to walk at work and try to get in 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. I used to use a pedometer, but nowadays I have a pretty good gauge without one.”

That may seem like a lot of steps, but Dr. Sitorius says climbing the stairs whenever possible, taking “the long way” to meetings, and walking the six blocks between buildings on the UNMC campus several times daily allow him to rack up steps pretty quickly.

“It’s good physical activity, but it’s the mental part, too…Walking allows me good thinking time,” he adds. He also enjoys walking with his wife, Marilyn, a radiologist, in their Omaha neighborhood two or three times a week when the weather allows. “It’s a great time for us catch up on things with one another.”20130327_bs_9232_Web

Dr. Sitorius says he stretches and does balancing exercises regularly as well. “No tools or equipment needed…just my body.”

Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise, especially for the aging body, he declares. “Mental activity creates a sense of well-being and a better perception of one’s physical health. I encourage everyone to read—not just a novel but anything—or do something mentally stimulating…Learn something new. Right now, I’m trying to learn all of the new technology out there, one small bit at a time.”

One should not underestimate the importance of socializing to one’s health either, Dr. Sitorius says. “It’s easy to become disconnected to other groups, especially with all the technology today. Personal interaction is important. I love everything sports, and I always found time to socialize following my children’s high school and college sport teams (and with five children, that’s a lot of games!) and I’m a huge Husker fan—not just football but all [university] sports.”

He also stays connected, both personally and professionally, with his peers, serving on the Nebraska Advisory Commission for Rural Health and the Bellevue Medical Center Board.

Think balancing it all is tough with the doctor’s busy schedule? “My dad (who was a rural general practicioner) used to work 110-120 hours a week. He would have no sympathy for my schedule,” he says with a chuckle.