Tag Archives: Washington D.C.

Nick Manhart

January 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sign on the pedestrian bridge that spans Dodge Street connecting Memorial and Elmwood parks is somewhat out of date, says Nick Manhart.

“It says ‘Most beautiful bridge.’ But the sign is completely rusted, which is ironic,” says the longtime Dundee resident.

The sign once had truth to it. The pedestrian bridge was built in 1968. In 1969, the American Institute of Steel Construction named the bridge “The Most Beautiful Bridge in the U.S.”

That was almost 50 years ago. The bridge is now structurally sound, but rusted. Something needed to be done to bring the iconic treasure back to its previous beauty. And Manhart is determined to do it.

The stay-at-home father has lived in the area most of his life. As a child, he walked the bridge for eight years to and from St. Margaret Mary School.

Today, the five children of Manhart and his wife, Dr. Carolyn Manhart, walk over the bridge to St. Margaret Mary School just as their father did. He has a strong interest in rehabilitating the Dodge Street pedestrian overpass in time for its 50th birthday in 2018.

He found it difficult to get others to feel the same passion. He contacted the City of Omaha and received no response. But the story interested World-Herald columnist Erin Grace, who wrote about his campaign.

Grace’s article caught the attention of Pete Festersen, the city council member who represents the area. In March, the group Friends of the Bridge was organized.

“Without Pete’s leadership and advocacy, we would not have had the success,” says Manhart. “We were able to ultimately raise $300,000.”

The donations were collected through a form on the Dundee Memorial Park Association. DMPA then distributed the funds to Friends of the Bridge. Friends of the Bridge also raised money through a series of neighborhood activities, such as parties prior to the annual Memorial Park concert. Money poured in from 24 different zip codes, spanning the country from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, D.C.

Out of total restoration costs, $150,000 will come from the City’s bridge maintenance fund.

The bridge brings back fond memories for many ex-Omahans. Its rich history started with a program in the early 1960s, launched to construct pedestrian bridges around the city. Between the 1960s and 1980, 19 bridges were built.

The Memorial Park bridge was the only pedestrian bridge in Omaha’s network of 19 where aesthetics were taken into consideration, says Manhart.

“We are planning an event for next fall when the work is done,” he says. “We would like to recreate the event.”

The event Manhart wants to recreate is the ribbon-cutting ceremony from April 1968, when city dignitaries, school children, and volunteers came to help inaugurate the new bridge.

The plan is to start work on the bridge after the Memorial Park Bank of the West “Celebrates America” concert in July 2017. The hope is for the bridge to be open again before school starts.
Renovations to the bridge—also known as the Dodge Street Overpass—will include lead paint remediation, rust removal, repainting, and the repair of decking.

Manhart’s passion for the bridge has not abated. Born in 1969, he says, “I am confident it will outlive me and generations of other people will benefit by it.”

Visit dodgestreetoverpass.org for more information.

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Greg Eklund

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap, that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

In a previous life, Greg Eklund was pounding out noisy, angst-filled alt-rock anthems—such as “Santa Monica” and “Father of Mine”—for the Grammy-nominated band Everclear.

Eklund is a relatively new resident of Omaha. He moved here in June of 2015 with his two children and wife, Ellie Kevorkian, artistic director of residency programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

He has since enthusiastically embraced the city’s art and culture scene. Meanwhile, his current job involves touring international concert halls as drummer for Le Bonheur, a band fronted by Storm Large, a Portland-based singer with cult-like following.

“My friends (back in Portland) are always telling me ‘what’s in Omaha?’” says a barefoot Eklund sitting on his home’s couch talking about the coolness of Omaha. “I tell them, ‘a ton of stuff.’”

He says Film Streams is high on his list of favorite Omaha haunts. “To be able to take my son to see Willow in the day and then go back and see a new indie film that night is so cool,” says the part-time stay-at-home dad.

Eklund references his list of Omaha highlights against his former home of Portland: “I’m a member of Hi-Fi House, which I’m excited about. Here’s Portland, the hip of the hip, and they don’t have anything like that…oh, and Under the Radar! What Amanda (DeBoer Bartlett) has done with that is incredible.”

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap; that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

He moved to Portland in 1988 after graduating from high school. He enrolled in the University of Oregon, which didn’t go well. After three semesters, he was kicked out for poor academic standing. Eklund knew what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t study. Cue the drumroll.

His drumming career first began when his parents bought him a set for Christmas in 1982. The gift was negotiated. They promised to let him play drums after he took piano lessons for two years.

But that initial drum set didn’t come with a cymbal, so he used pizza boxes to keep the beat, mowing lawns until he earned approximately $100 to purchase “the cheapest cymbal I could get.”

His passion and talent bloomed throughout high school. His career-military father moved the family from Florida, to London, to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Greg attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. The school boasted a top-notch band and symphony program, with music teachers who performed in the military band.

The young Eklund managed to secure the last chair in the percussion section. Knowing the competitiveness of the school’s music program, he sought extra lessons to improve. He also knew Garwood Whaley, a Juilliard-educated percussionist who wrote several popular method books.

“I just happened to be dating his daughter at the time,” Eklund says. “He took one student a year. Because I was dating his daughter, she prepped me for the audition, and said, ‘don’t tell him you want to play drum set.’ So when he asked, I said I wanted to a symphonic percussionist.”

It was listening to records, however, that gave him the chance to play rock ’n’ roll. In 1994, he joined a band that was about to be signed to Capitol Records. With Everclear, Eklund rode the tidal wave of alt-rock through the 1990s, moving from city to city each night for performances. By 2003, he was ready to slow down.

He played guitar and sang vocals for another band, The Oohlas, began raising his kids with Kevorkian, and evolved from a noisy rocker to keeping beat for a symphonic performer.

“It feels more mature,” Eklund says of his current place in life. “We play in these gorgeous opera houses and beautiful old theaters. Because of her stature, we are taken care of. And the fact that I’m able to do this now, I’m really fortunate.”

Visit stormlarge.com for more information.

Encounter

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Touched by Tokyo

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Alain Nana Kwango

If you don’t consider Omaha a beauty-style launching pad, think again. Homegrown talents Jaime King and Gabrielle Union tear it up on screen, in photo spreads, and for the red carpet. Designer Kate Walz has a Paris collection to her credit. But no one’s trending hotter than hairstylist-to-the-stars William Jackson, aka Tokyo Stylez.

This lithe young man with striking African-American and Native American features is courted for his dope skills with tresses.

“Hair is the new accessory now,” he says.

It all began in Omaha doing his family’s hair. It morphed into an enterprising hustle that became his calling and career. Based in Washington D.C., he’s a bicoastal creative with a celebrity client list: Lil’ Kim, Toni Braxton, Fantasia, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Gabrielle Union, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner.

“It’s all about building relationships and a trust that you can create their image—their look—and bring it to life for them,” he says.

Tokyo2He’s signed to make over a TV-publishing icon. He’s close to realizing a dream of doing hair for divas Beyonce, Madonna, and Cher. He appears on TLC’s Global Beauty Masters. He tours, giving tutorials. His “Touched by Tokyo” brand features a hair fragrance mist and custom wigs.

It’s all happening so fast. But he’s ready for it.

“Right now is my time, and I just have to capture it and take things to the next level,” he says in his sweet, soft voice.

He feels his versatile chops set him apart.

“I’m like a big creative ball wrapped in one. I have a little bit of everything. You want to take it to the street, I can take you there. If you want soft, chic, and classy, I can do that. If you want a little high fashion. I do that, too. I’m just out of this world. Anything you want, I’ll do. I plan to be the next Paul Mitchell,” he says without brag.

His dreams got fired at 9 when his mother, Jessica Haynes-Jackson, was incarcerated. Some bad choices led to being caught up in a drug ring. She got busted and served several months in prison. While confined, Tokyo and his siblings lived with their father. Before going in, she says, “I asked Tokyo to take care of sissy’s hair while mommy was away. He was delighted and gracefully accepted the challenge. I knew he could do at least one ponytail, and that was all I expected.”

Except he proved a prodigy, replicating what he saw his hairdresser grandma and his mom create—braids, twists, French rolls.

He says, “I picked it up really quick. That’s kind of where I got an idea I knew what I was doing.”

When his mother was released, he couldn’t wait to show her his handiwork.

Tokyo1“She had never seen it. She’d only heard my grandmother telling her, ‘He’s killing it.’ So to show her and to see the look on her face was a great feeling.”

“This was how we discovered his amazing talent that now the whole world enjoys,” Haynes-Jackson says.

By 15, he made a name for himself doing hair. Meanwhile, his mother earned two degrees, became a mental health counselor, and coached. She is his biggest fan and inspiration.

“She’s always supported me and loved everything I’ve done. She’s an awesome lady. She is very independent. She’s never really asked anyone for anything. She’s always found a way to make things happen. I definitely would say I’ve inherited my drive from her.”

“I think what I love most about Tokyo is his warm, gentle spirit,” his mom says. “He is the same person despite his celebrity status. I think what touched my heart the most is when he traveled with his ‘Glam Squad’ to give a teenage girl battling a rare cancer a surprise makeover for her prom. I am a very proud mom.”

Tokyo’s travels have gone international. Life in the fast lane means dropping everything to do high profile gigs with tight deadlines.

He got an early taste of being a coveted stylist in school.

“Everyone came to me to get their hair done—girls and boys. My mom’s friends and clients. Their daughters. I was in such high demand it was crazy. People would be passing me notes, ‘Hey, can you do my hair after school?’ It was always something. But I knew this was something I wanted to do.”

Tokyo3With “a very steady clientele, the money was coming in,” he says. An attempt at a dancing career led to taking Tokyo as his stage name.  Seeking a bigger market as a stylist, he moved to Atlanta where he rebranded as Tokyo Stylez and blew up on social media. Celeb clients followed. In D.C. he’s minutes from New York fashion central and a nonstop flight from L.A.’s entertainment capital.

He plans to have a business presence in Omaha.

“I definitely want something back at home where it came from. It would only be right to do so.”

Meanwhile, he changes perceptions of Omaha wherever he goes.

“People are like, ‘You have black people there?’ I get that every time.”

Visit touchedbytokyo.com for more information. Omaha Magazine.

The Holtzlanders

July 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Many parents understand the drive to and from activities, the shuttling of kids back and forth from one place to another, sometimes trying to be in two places at once. Parents in this country spend between 10 and 50 hours a month taking kids to extracurriculars.

Melissa Holtzlander, who, with her husband Gerald, is raising five children from the ages of 5 to 17, understands this concept well.

Daughter Michelle, 8, has soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the same time as son Ryan, 7, practices football. Unfortunately, the practices are in different locations.

Holtzlanders2“Usually I go with Michelle and Gerald will take Ryan to his practices,” Melissa says. Then there’s Alexis, 17, who is the football manager and plays soccer; Caitlin, 15, who participates in show choir; and Samuel, 5, who plays soccer and tee ball. Michelle and Ryan also participate in bowling leagues, and Michelle plays softball while Ryan plays baseball and is a Boy Scout.  Everyone except Samuel takes dance lessons on Wednesdays. (“He didn’t want to for some reason,” Melissa says.)

This juggling act intensifies at the end of the week.

“Saturdays are the crazy days, ’cause that’s when the games happen.”

If you see one, you generally see them all.  Melissa is a big believer in family supporting family. If one child has a sporting event, everyone comes to cheer on that child, and their team.

Sunny Brazda of Bellevue Dance Academy says, “Melissa and Gerald live a very busy life…throughout each busy day, they choose family first.”

Far from going crazy, however, Melissa handles the timetable with ease, even admitting to be in her element when no one is without a task.

Melissa wakes at 4:30 a.m. and performs an hour of cardio training before taking the children to school. She then works at her job until 6 p.m. That’s when she and Gerald shuttle the kids to various activities. When they family activities are done, Melissa and Gerald go to the gym and lift weights for about an hour.

Did I mention that Melissa is a competitive bodybuilder?

One might think the family has lived in Omaha for a long time. In reality, they have been in Omaha since December 2014, when Melissa was given orders to serve at Offutt Air Force Base. They were previously at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where she was a paralegal and Gerald was a master chief cryptologic technician with the Navy. Gerald retired from the Navy and is employed at VTI Security.

The family enjoys their relaxed (if one can call it that) life here in Omaha.

“Nebraska has much nicer people, it’s a friendlier environment (than Washington D.C.),” says Melissa. “I know Omaha is a city, but it’s not the hustle and bustle of D.C.”

She has a hard time sitting still for too long, but she puts much of her extra energy into good deeds. She volunteers with Habitat for Humanity at every base at which she and her family have lived.

“It’s something that’s easy to volunteer for, but it’s a good way to give back to the community,” Melissa says. “We usually take part in the actual construction. I’ve painted, put on a roof, sometimes we’ve done demo.”

Easy, right?

“I actually feel like I’m doing something useful, not just lifting one finger, you know,” Melissa continues.

Holtzlanders3She participates with Habitat for Humanity even when she isn’t able to work construction. Six years ago, while pregnant with Samuel, she collected money from her fellow servicemen at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, where they were stationed, and bought lunch for the crew working on a home. She is a representative for CASA in Cass County and recently participated in her first court case. She voluntarily helps with physical training for other service people.

The idea of service is rubbing off on the other family members. Brazda said each of the Holtzlader children are hard workers, just like their parents.

Oldest daughter Alexis started participating in Habitat for Humanity projects this past year. (The minimum age for volunteering at Habitat is 16.)

“I had to carry a bunch of wood. I got to saw it all,” Alexis says. “Another lady would measure it and I just sawed it.”

The drive to serve their country is also a trait being passed to the next generation. Alexis is a leader in her Air Force ROTC group at school, an honor for which she was hand-selected. She also plans to apply to the military academies.

“When I see them do stuff, it makes me want to do stuff because they are so much busier than I am,” Alexis says.

Melissa’s goal? To keep her kids engaged in positive activities in order to keep them out of trouble.

“I truly believe that if you keep kids busy, they won’t get into drugs,” she says..”

Life as a Maverick

June 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Erin Owen is an enthusiastic supporter of the Mavericks—the academic and athletic symbol of the University of Nebraska at Omaha where she now serves as executive director of the Office of University Communications.

The word “maverick” also means an independent thinker. That description fits Owen.

And she has always worked for mavericks—such as her first boss, then-U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey. She first met him at neighborhood block parties in the Cathedral neighborhood of Omaha where she grew up.

Being hired as a receptionist in Kerrey’s Washington office in 1994 was her big break. During her six years there, she moved up to assistant communications director and creator-producer of the senator’s cable show.

ErinOwen2“Bob Kerrey is a maverick because he is an innovative thinker. He has the ability to be frank,” Owen says. “He had the courage to speak out and be honest with his observations.”

Kerrey says: “Whatever capacity and courage I have to think independently and acquire a reputation of being a maverick was enabled by other mavericks like Erin.”

Owen, while still in high school, entered the political sphere as an unpaid volunteer for Kerrey’s 1988 senate campaign. She has never seen age—or anything, for that matter—as a hurdle that can’t be overcome. “I don’t see barriers when I’m trying to accomplish something; if there is a will, there is a way. And I won’t stop trying.”

Her next boss was Tim Russert, bureau chief of NBC’s Washington bureau and moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press before his death in 2008. She became the show’s producer.   

“Tim was the quintessential maverick,” Owen says. “He didn’t think in a conventional way. He was a lawyer with a critical mind. Tim was able to take the most complicated topic and boil it down so everyone understood.”

Her five years producing Meet the Press, the longest-running news show in television history, came during an exciting time in history. She remembers the presidential election coverage in 2000 when the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush came down to a handful of votes.

“Tim and Tom Brokaw never got up from the anchor desk for 11 hours. It was one of the most exhilarating nights of my life.”

Owen and her husband, Rob, returned to Omaha from Washington, D.C., in 2009 after their daughter, Ava, was born.

She grew up in a family of mavericks. “My dad (writer and journalist Jim Fogarty) has always been an independent thinker, and he has encouraged independent thinking.”

She describes her husband as a “quiet maverick.”  Rob Owen is general counsel for the La Vista laboratory-products company Streck.

Her passion is to share with UNO students what being a Maverick means.

She cites the university’s marketing mantra:  “We are independent thinkers. Explorers. Risk takers. We are willing to go against the grain; ask the hard questions; and look at challenges in a different way. We collaborate. We serve. We represent. We grow. We are doing things that people said would never happen. We are loud. We are proud. We are Mavericks!”

Visit unomaha.edu to learn more.

In the Middle of it All

December 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Leo A Daly

Chris Johnson graduated from college and looked left.

Then he looked right.

With sheepskin in hand—a degree in architecture from Iowa State—he went chasing his first job in the field.

But not at home.

“I thought the best design only occurred on the West Coast or East Coast,” Johnson says.
Turns out what he was looking for was right in front of him all along—Leo A Daly, one of the largest planning, architecture, engineering, interior design, and program management firms in the world.

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But Johnson, a native Omahan, didn’t know that Leo A Daly.

“It was almost embedded in me that they’re an Omaha firm just doing Omaha work,” Johnson says. “I wasn’t sure of their national or international design presence.”

He dug deeper.“Holy cow,” he recalls discovering, “there’s a great design firm right here doing things all over the world.”

Johnson joined Leo A Daly in 1990 and today is a vice president and managing principal in Omaha. His years with the firm are but one chapter in its extensive history. It was begun in 1915 by Leo A. Daly Sr. and remains in family hands with his grandson, Chairman and CEO Leo A. Daly III.

Early on, the firm indeed was Omaha-centric, its work featuring more than a handful of projects in and around the city for the Catholic church.

“Look at some of the turn-of-the-century Catholic churches and, more often than not, you’ll see Leo Daly on the cornerstone,” Johnson says.

But it was a much larger Catholic project that helped Leo A Daly become much larger—Boys Town.

The firm’s first major planning assignment came in 1922, creating the Boys Town master plan for Father Flanagan’s 160-acre campus that then was 10 miles west of Omaha. The relationship continues today as Leo A Daly has designed 90% of Boys Town buildings.

Leo a Daly's original rendering for Boys Town (1922).

Leo a Daly’s original rendering for Boys Town (1922).

Others in Omaha and beyond began to take notice.

“Boys Town really began to grow Leo Daly into a regional and national architecture and engineering firm,” Johnson says. That led to work for the healthcare market. Then came work for the federal government related to national defense.

Eventually, Leo A Daly went global. Today the privately held company’s portfolio includes projects in nearly 90 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Clients include public, private, and institutional organizations in sectors including aviation, commercial development, higher education, transit, and transportation. And while other firms in the industry increasingly become specialized, Leo A Daly has intentionally stayed multidisciplinary.

“We want to think holistically about these facilities, both during design and when they are operational,” Johnson says. “We really learn a lot from each other as far as innovation.”

That’s helped give the firm staying power. So, too, has a quality staff, Johnson says, and a marketplace that rewards “quality and innovation,” a statement backed by more than 500 design awards.

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The company has more than 800 design and engineering professionals in 32 offices worldwide—Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Atlanta, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, an engineering, infrastructure consulting, and program management division of Leo A Daly, is in 18 cities.

But corporate headquarters remain in Omaha at almost its geographic center on Indian Hills Drive. The office boasts one of Omaha’s finest art collections, which has been amassed by the Daly family over the years.

“You’re really working in an atmosphere that elevates your game,” Johnson says of his surroundings.

Thank goodness for that Omaha presence. The city would be unrecognizable without such icons as First National Tower, Mutual of Omaha, Memorial Park, and other landmarks.

And Leo A Daly is building today the icons of tomorrow. Recent projects include the mixed-use development in downtown’s Capitol District, Nebraska Medical Center’s Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, and the relocation of Creighton University Medical Center to CHI’s Bergan Mercy Campus.

Also notable is the company’s transformation of the 1898 Burlington Passenger Station into a state-of-the-art television station for KETV. Among the project’s chief designers was Leo A Daly architect Sheila Ireland. Objectives included an initiative to keep the past visible where possible, allowing the building to tell its own story. Throughout the building are signs of the original 1898 Greek Revival design, its dramatic 1930s renovation, and updates from the 1950s. In one space, plaster from a bygone era has been cleverly framed as wall art. Even signs of the station’s 40-year vacancy remain visible.

Perhaps only a firm that’s been around nearly as long the station is wise enough, bold enough, to take such an approach.

“It’s exciting to work at a firm that has as much history with the city of Omaha as Leo Daly has,” Ireland says.

She hopes her work on the Burlington Station will help it last “hopefully for another 50 to 100 years.”

Chances are Leo A Daly will still be here—in the middle of it all.

Visit leoadaly.com to learn more.

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Through A Glass Brightly

June 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Halfway through our interview, Therman Statom apologizes. He didn’t anticipate our conversation
lasting so long, and he has an appointment at Children’s Hospital he doesn’t want to break.
The internationally renowned glass artist has been working on large-scale cloud pieces for a new
pediatric wing, and although he’s technically completed them, an 8-year-old girl is contributing the finishing touches. “She has cancer, and her father says she used to hate going to the hospital,” he explains, “but now she can’t wait to come” because of this project.

That’s why we take an hour-and-a-half break. The young girl is meeting Statom to talk about the project, and he doesn’t want to cancel or keep her waiting. That commitment to children defines much of the artist’s career. He may be acclaimed for his airy glass houses, chairs, and ladders, but it’s his passion for making a difference in young people’s lives for which he’d prefer to be known.

That passion goes back to his own formative years growing up in Washington, D.C. Although the son of physician, he was a typical “problem child,” going through high school after high school. Unlike most troubled kids who had run-ins with the law, however, Statom did something different: he hung out at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art. “The Smithsonian was like a home to me. It was like an extra room in my house. It’s where I found myself,” he recounts. “I was there so much, I got befriended by a curator, and he got me a job mixing clay.”

That job triggered an interest that eventually led to his attending the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1970s, where he pursued clay as an artistic medium. “In clay I made a bunch of ugly pots. They were all brown,” he laughs. “Then I started blowing glass, and I went from very traditional to really exploring. Glass was immediate. You didn’t have to fire it two or three times. You could go into the studio and have something the next day.”

He soon discovered a particular talent for working in his new material. Statom created an arced sculpture out of clear glass cones, which earned him advanced standing at the school and enabled him to graduate early. From there, he went on to earn his MFA in 1978 from the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design, where he made the jump from blowing glass to working with sheets of it. “I didn’t want to be limited,” he explains. “It’s about exploring and questioning creatively and the actual act of making. It’s about challenging yourself and learning as an individual. I have a real interest in that.”

That interest prompted him to push the boundaries of glass as art, often using the material in unexpected ways. “I like to paint on translucent surfaces,” he says. “I consider myself a painter, and I think of glass as a canvas. If I had it my way, I’d paint on air.”

For years, museums have been taking notice of Statom’s unorthodox approach, and today his work is in the permanent collections of, among others, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the place where it all began: the Smithsonian, which features one of his signature painted pieces in the Renwick Gallery at the American Art Museum.

For as important as his own creative success is, however, Statom isn’t interested in his identity as an artist. “You don’t do anything unless you’re actively making a difference,” he emphasizes. “It’s not just narcissistic. It’s about making kids happy here and now. You have to engage. I’m more intrigued with helping people.”

To that end, he’s worked with children through a broad range of organizations, including a children’s hospital in Norfolk, VA, and the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program, through which he’s led workshops in such far-flung places as Mozambique and Turkey. Closer to home, he’s worked with the Omaha Public School’s Native American Indian Education Department, Kanesville Alternative School in Council Bluffs, Yates Alternative School in Gifford Park, and even local
Girl Scout troops.

No matter where he works with kids, the goal remains the same: to affect change in children through art. “I have kids who claim that activities in art save their lives,” Statom says. “That’s pretty big.”

Another hour into the interview, Statom glances at the clock. “It’s time to go,” he announces. There’s another girl he doesn’t want to keep waiting—his daughter. She’s about to get out of school, and just like the little girl at the hospital, he has no intention of keeping her waiting.

ThermanStaton

Roger Holthaus

January 13, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Roger Holthaus was offered a summer job in 1960 as a park ranger in Wyoming. Several days later, a second letter arrived offering him a job in the Eisenhower White House.

 

The White House job was a perfect fit. He was one year away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

Looking back on his time in America‘s most famous house, Holthaus says, “Security was different then. When Vice President Nixon was not there, anyone could do what I did. I would go to his office to chat and have coffee with his secretary, Rose Mary Woods.”

Washington, D.C., was filled with Nebraska natives that year. Former Nebraska Gov. Val Peterson was Federal Civil Defense Administrator. Fred Seton was Secretary of the Interior. Seton’s newspaper, the Hastings Tribune, sat down the street from the drugstore owned by Holthaus’ father.

Holthaus’ boss in the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization was Bob Gray, special assistant to President Eisenhower and a fellow Hastings High School alum.  Gray would call Holthaus and say, “Ike’s out of town. Want  to join me in the swimming pool?”

“I was the state champion swimmer in high school,” Holthaus says. The retired attorney is still a champion swimmer, traveling the country to compete  in National Senior Olympics.

Holthaus returned to the State Department in 1961 after college graduation. “That was going to be my career,” he says.

But his path took a twist when he was called up by the Selective Service.  He applied for a direct commission. Within a week, Lieutenant Holthaus was on his way to Fort Sam Houston and then to a front-line aid station in the DMZ in Korea as part of the Army Medical Service Corps.

Holthaus left the Army and earned a master’s degree in political science and government in 1966 from the University of Nebraska. He then taught political science classes at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City for three years.

After graduating with a law degree from Creighton University in 1972, he became Deputy Douglas County Attorney and later established his own law firm.

Historical buildings have been a big part of his life.  His law offices were once in the 1600 Farnam Building, built in 1916 for First National Bank. He also had a condominium there. Today his home is in the St. Joseph Tower on 10th Street, built in the 19th century as a hospital.

Although he retired in 2012, Holthaus still maintains an office in the more-than century-old Keeline building near the courthouse.  He works there representing District 2 in the Learning Community of Douglas-Sarpy Counties.  He once lived in the nearby Orpheum Towers, which is listed on the National Historic Registry.

His Carleton College roommate was Garrick Utley, who became a well-known NBC newsman. Holthaus once jokingly told his friend that he thought Maria Shriver, Utley’s co-anchor on NBC News Sunday Today, was cute and would he introduce them? Utley called back in a few days and said,  “She says if I do, I will be terminated.”

At the time, Shriver was married to Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger.

Littleton Alston

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Littleton Alston’s 8-ft bronze statue of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson catches the moment the ball’s just been released. “It’s when the will and the training and the gift come together,” says the sculptor. “It’s the crescendo of intent.”

Alston’s sculpture embodies motion in its dynamic pose. Leaning into the pitch, the muscled body spirals upward from the left foot—the lower body forward, the shoulders and arms swung wide to the left. The right arm and leg are powerful horizontal flourishes; the left foot, like a dancer’s en pointe, anchors man to earth and channels a diagonal bolt of sheer energy. Only the head is still, as Gibson’s intense gaze follows the ball to its precise target.

Such flawless execution comes from years of training, exercising through fatigue, inclement weather, or personal discouragement. Equally important is the determination, the focus on one’s goal. And thirdly, an inherent gift. This trivium is the foundation of a career in sports and in the arts.

Alston played baseball for one semester in high school, but it was enough to give him a better understanding of himself. “It’s both an individual and a team sport,” he said. “Sometimes you have to forgo the ego for a greater good.” And although he liked baseball, he recognized that it was not his gift. Besides, Alston’s school experience was not one of free time and hobby sports.20130307_bs_8479_Web

Growing up poor in Washington, D.C.’s Northeast neighborhood, Alston and his two closest brothers quickly learned the value of self- and mutual reliance, street smarts, and independence. From home, they could look all the way down East Capitol Street to see the Capitol dome, topped by its statue, Freedom. After one astonishing Christmas when each child got a bike, Capitol Hill became the boys’ playground. Bicycling a couple of miles from home to Hill was hot work in Washington’s humid summers, and the inviting waters of the many reflecting pools were irresistible. They leap-frogged from one to another, sometimes with police in pursuit. Alston particularly liked the pool at the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) with its 40-ft Calder stabile. A cool dip was what first appealed to the children, but Alston was unconsciously absorbing the lessons of form embodied in the public art and distinguished buildings.

In junior and senior high school, police presence signaled a much more dangerous environment than summer shenanigans, and violence seemed an unavoidable whirlpool. It was Alston’s gift, an insistent urge to draw, and his mother’s recognition of that talent, that provided him a way out—acceptance at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. It was a gift that demanded constantly that he push past his definitions of endurance, of ability, of understanding. And when he won the senior art prize and a scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University, the training continued. As his skills were honed, so was his will, so that one night, after his job as a janitor, he was determined to finish a painting assignment. When it was completed, he was so exhausted that he laid his cheek against the wet paint and slept.

After 35 years, he still feels the derision of the teacher and other students, and his own bitter anger. But, sometimes, the ego has to be put aside for a greater good.

Alston with his statue at the unveiling. Photo by Dave Jenkins.

Alston with his statue at the unveiling. Photo by Dave Jenkins.

Littleton Alston got his degree from VCU, and an MFA from Rinehart School of Sculpture. He is Associate Professor of Sculpture at Creighton University and maintains a private studio. Among his awards, the most recent is Midtown Business Association’s 2013 City of Omaha Community Excellence Award for “The Jazz Trio,” located in North 24th’s Dreamland Plaza. Alston has worked in abstract style, but prefers figurative. His website’s home page bears this statement:

“The human form holds endless fascination for me, and it is this vehicle through which I believe can best express the joys and sorrows of the human condition.”

When offered the Bob Gibson commission, Alston took time to think it over. He’d never sculpted a sports figure, but felt “immense respect” for Gibson as a “trailblazer” in terms of racial equality and changes to the game. He was fascinated by the form of a ball player in action, and by the “aging champion” who sat for him.

Alston’s sculpture of Bob Gibson was unveiled April 11 at Werner Park. The presentation was a time of honor for Gibson, but also for Alston. Each man has created a life using will, training, and his unique gift. Every release of the ball, every unveiling strikes a crescendo of intent, an expression that goes out into the world contributing its own perfect harmony.

To view more of Littleton Alston’s work, visit alstonsculpture.com. To view the Bob Gibson Project, visit bobgibsonproject.org.