Tag Archives: Willy Theisen

Artist Erin Blayney

October 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For visual artist Erin Blayney, who grew up in the great outdoors, it’s all about light and space. She has plenty of both at her Old Market apartment that doubles as her studio.

Natural light from six large, south-facing windows cascades over her easel and houseplants. “Not only is that perfect for the type of lighting I need to do my best work, it’s healthy for my overall well-being,” says Blayney.

erinblayney2Exposed brickwork, high ceilings, and an open floor plan contribute to a sense of spaciousness. Extra-wide windowsills provide great perches for her collection of succulents.

“I love nature and the outdoors,” she says. “This apartment allows me to integrate that love into my living quarters, and not feel cramped or experience cabin fever.”

Her spot above Urban Abbey in the historic Windsor Hotel building puts her right in the thick of things. “The Old Market for me is very welcoming, unique, and nourishes a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds,” she says. “It’s urban yet has some aspect of a small neighborhood as well.”

A Florida transplant and Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Blayney creates figurative drawings and paintings. She previously worked as an art preparator for California museums.

Her mother preceded her to Omaha to be near a sister, and Erin followed. “My mom lives three blocks away from me, so it’s wonderful to conveniently meet for coffee or go for a bike ride together,” she says.

This self-described “people person” is drawn to the human form. She variously works from live models or photographs.

“Drawing and painting people, mostly gestural, seems to be pretty consistent for me,” she says. “It’s capturing the physicality of a person expressed through facial expression or movement. I love capturing the realness of their character, even if it’s subtle.”

Recently, Omaha restaurant mogul Willy Theisen commissioned her portrait of his granddaughter for his new Paragon eatery in Dundee.

When approaching a new work, she says, “I never know how it’s going to look, so it’s a little adventurous. If I stop thinking about what I’m doing and just let it flow, it comes out naturally. That ‘diving into it’ mindset is what I have to be in for the work to really evolve. It’s mysterious.”

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Blayney’s work is not all figurative. “Occasionally, I’ll do still life,” she says, gesturing to an in-progress oyster shell rendered in a swirl of pastels. She is contemplating an oceanic-themed series motivated by her love of the water, marine life, and nature.

“I was brought up on water. I swam in the Gulf of Mexico. So that’s in my bones.”

In Omaha, she has twice worked at Jun Kaneko’s studio (most recently in 2006 as a painting assistant). Of the celebrated artist, she says, “We had a good connection. He’s very quiet, polite, observant, receptive. He was very trusting of me. Like when I did some mixing of colors, pigments—he trusted my instincts. I’m not a ceramicist, but I felt in my natural element.”

She feels at home in Omaha, where she says, “The connections I’ve made are so important.” The same for her day job at Alley Poyner Macchietto, where she curates art shows. She admires the local art-culture scene.

“I feel the creative community in Omaha is very supportive rather than super competitive. The friends I’ve made here are very authentic, genuine, and loyal.”

She enjoys what the Bemis and Joslyn offer as well as how “smaller, contemporary, progressive galleries like Project Project and Darger HQ are pushing the envelope. I’m a huge fan of Garden of the Zodiac. 1516 Gallery is just gorgeous.”

In the spring of 2016, Petshop Gallery in Benson exhibited her portraiture work. She regularly shows in the Bemis Benefit Art Auction and had a piece in the October 28 show (she described the colorful abstract portrait as “a little mysterious looking”).

Blayney also contributed to the Old Market Art Project; hers was one of 37 banners selected (from nearly 300 submissions) to be displayed outside the Mercer Building as renovations followed the M’s Pub fire.

“It’s an abstract painting that took forever,” she says. “There’s a lot going on in it. Finally, it just came together. I collaborated with another artist in the process of painting it, and then I finished it.”

She sees many opportunities for local artists in Omaha, but there is room for improvement, too. “There’s definitely room to grow—I’d like to see even more galleries because there’s so much talent here,” she says.

Going into the fall, several commission projects were “consuming” Blayney’s time. Her projects come from anywhere and everywhere. “Lately, it’s been more people coming to me and asking either for a portrait of themselves or of a family member. I can be surprised. I’ve given my card to someone and then a year later gotten a commission. It’s unpredictable.”

Visit erinblayney.com for more information.

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J.E. George Boulevard

July 3, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Home.

If you’re looking to experience a small-town parade in the middle of Omaha, look no further. This summer marks the 65th annual J.E. George Boulevard Fourth of July Parade. The parade was founded in 1950 by residents Bob and Lu Adwers.

Children don festive costumes in the Americana theme, dress up their dogs, and grab wagons, tricycles, and other forms of transportation for a joyous display of patriotic pride.

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J.E. George Boulevard is a stately, tree-lined thoroughfare just north of Memorial Park. It gets its namesake from early Omaha real estate developer John Edward George. According to the Douglas County Historical Society, he was a member of the city planning commission who played a big role in the St. Mary’s Avenue grading project.

League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha President Peggy Adair participated in the parade for her first time last year. “I’m from west Omaha and I love this. It’s like old home. It just makes you smile to be here,” she says.

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Many local politicians also join in the fun by marching in the parade wearing brightly colored campaign slogan tees and passing out stickers.

Each year there is a grand marshal and special guests invited. Past grand marshals have included longtime J.E. George Boulevard resident Barbara Raffensperger and Godfather’s Pizza founder Willy Thiesen. Past special guests included TV personalities Bill Randby and Gary Kerr, and radio personality Tom Becka. The J.E. George Navy Band has also been a popular attraction of the parade since the 1980s.

Each year Sandy Wray of Elkhorn attends the parade with her sister, Terry Price. Price is a J.E. George Boulevard resident who is active in the community and serves as the Neighborhood Watch point person. “I think it’s just great that we honor our country,” Wray says.

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“It’s a good way, I think, for the kids to learn some traditions about our country and keep that alive instead of thinking it’s just a way for them to party.”

The parade begins to assemble at 9:30 a.m. at the corner of J.E. George Boulevard and Western Avenue. The parade begins at 10 a.m. and moves south down J.E. George Boulevard, ending with a celebration at Memorial Park. Prizes are awarded at the baseball diamond for best costumes and floats.

Joe Pepitone of Bloom Companion Care has been emceeing the parade for more than five years. “All of the kids have a great time. It’s really important that they get a chance to showcase their hard work, putting together their floats and their costumes, and get a prize,” Pepitone says.

“It’s really all about the kids,” he reflects.

Spectator

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Omaha Business Hall of Fame

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha Business Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 1993 to honor the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s 100th anniversary. Since then, the chamber has recognized more than 100 men and women for their leadership in Omaha’s growth. Stories of the honorees inducted during the past 20 years are on display at The Durham Museum.

Five successful business leaders will join them at the museum after they are inducted on April 23 at the Holland Performing Arts Center: Susan Jacques, Mogens Bay, Marshall Faith, William “Willy” Theisen, and James Young.

Proceeds from the Omaha Business Hall of Fame gala support a permanent exhibit at The Durham Museum and provide funding for the Chamber’s Greater Omaha Young Professionals Summit.

Susan Jacques
President and CEO
Borsheims

A gem of an executive, Susan Jacques is one of five business leaders headed for the Omaha Business Hall of Fame. While studying at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, Calif., Susan Jacques met a classmate who would change the direction of her career.

Alan Friedman suggested she come work for his father’s store in Omaha to gain retail experience. His father, Ike Friedman, owned Borsheims at the time.

Sol “Coke” Friedman remembers that his late brother, Ike, had high regard for Jacques. “She probably knew more about gemstones than anybody in the store.”

Jacque’s passion for gems and jewelry began during her childhood in Rhodesia. She earned her graduate Gemology diploma in 1980 from the Gemological Institute of America. Jacques graduated with distinction from the Gemological Association of Great Britain and in 1982 was named “most outstanding student worldwide.”

Her knowledge, along with business savvy, propelled Jacques from a sales clerk and appraiser in 1982 to the store’s top position in 1994. Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway—Borsheims’ majority owner since 1989—named Jacques president and CEO.

Borsheims has become one of the nation’s largest independent jewelry stores, with 62,500 square feet of space and 100,000 pieces of inventory.

“I’ve watched her grow as an individual and as a business person with the company as it has grown,” says Coke, a retired businessman. “She is just a good person. That might be the highest compliment you can pay a person.”

Jacques is presently chairman of the Gemological Institute of America where she studied. She received the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association and was inducted into the 1997 National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame. She serves on the Creighton University board of directors and is a trustee of the Business Ethics Alliance.

She and her husband, Gene Dunn, have three sons. The couple recently bought Gorat’s Steakhouse from the family that had owned the restaurant since 1944. Shareholders have gathered for dinner at Gorat’s during the Berkshire Hathaway meeting for years.

In a business that depends on trust and a handshake, Susan Jacques has found her niche at Borsheims.

“She is one of those people if you didn’t know her, you would want to,” says Coke. “Susan has the knack of treating everyone as if they are a friend, which in the retail business is very important.”

On April 23, Susan Jacques will join her former boss, the late Ike Friedman, and her current boss, Warren Buffett, in the Omaha Business Hall of Fame.

Mogens C. Bay
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Valmont Industries Inc.

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A career with Valmont has taken Mogens Bay to Hong Kong, Madrid, and to Omaha’s corporate headquarters. He has led Valmont through a significant period of growth over the past 20 years to become the world’s leader in engineered products for infrastructure and efficient irrigation equipment for agriculture. He heads an organization with 100 worldwide manufacturing locations and more than 10,000 employees committed to making products that make the world a better place to live.

Marshall Faith
Vice Chairman of the Board
The Scoular Company

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In 1967, Marshall Faith purchased a majority interest in The Scoular Company. Now with nearly 700 employees and 70 locations, Scoular serves customers in food, feed, and renewable fuel markets. Annual sales are more than $6 billion. In his 45th year with Scoular, Faith continues his philosophy of providing employees good jobs, good pay, and good opportunities. With a son and grandson in the business, Faith is counting on Scoular continuing at least another 120 years.

William (Willy) M. Theisen
President
Business Ventures LLC

Willy Thiesen

Many entrepreneurs come up with restaurant concepts. Making the idea work on a national level is how Willy Theisen stands out. He founded Godfather’s Pizza in 1973 and, by the time he sold the company 10 years later, Godfather’s was the country’s fastest-growing restaurant chain. The entrepreneur stayed “ahead of the curve” as owner of the Green Burrito chain in 1992 and Famous Dave’s in 2000. Theisen is now owner/founder of Pitch Coal Fire Pizzeria in Dundee.

James R. Young
Chairman
Union Pacific Corporation

James R. Young

Since joining Union Pacific in 1978, Young has steadily risen in the ranks to the top position. He chairs an internationally focused company that employs 45,000 people in 23 states and 8,000 communities. Young remembers when railroads had a shrinking workforce and concerns about the future. Today, Union Pacific is strong and integral to the U.S. economy. Young has led the evolvement of U.P.’s culture to a dedication to vision, commitment, teamwork, and respect.