Tag Archives: young

Her Fountain of Youth

July 11, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Few visitors who sneak a peak at Betty Davis’ treasure trove of soda fountain collectibles can appreciate their impact on generations of Americans who grew up before the 1950s.

The ice cream molds, dippers, five-headed malt mixers, banana bowls, trays, tall glasses, tin Coca-Cola signs, and a 12-foot-long counter with a gray marble top and marble frontage—stored in Davis’ spacious Council Bluffs home and garage—recall a more innocent age: a time when a boy and girl slipped two straws into one ice cream float and sipped as they leaned toward each other, and when soda jerks, in their white jackets and bow ties, had more swagger than Tom Cruise’s character in the movie Cocktail.

“The soda jerks were what bartenders are today,” says Davis, retired executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society in Omaha. “They knew everybody, they listened, they gave everyone personal service—mixing the concoction in front of you. They were the biggest big shots in town,” she says with a laugh.

From the early 1900s through the soda fountain’s heyday in the Depression-era 1930s, most jerks were men (no kidding!), until women filled in during World War II. “They got the name when they jerked the pull handles of the carbonated water in two different directions to regulate the flow into the flavored syrups,” she explains.

An unabashed romantic about the era, Davis grew up across the river listening to stories about how her parents “courted at the soda fountain” at Oard’s Drug Store, now Oard-Ross, on 16th Avenue in Council Bluffs.
And she vividly remembers holding the hand of her “tall, Danish” grandfather as they walked to the drug store to get ice cream.

Years later, in the late 1980s, while volunteering at the old Western Heritage Museum in what is now Omaha’s Durham Museum, those memories came flooding back when a group of former “fizzicians” from the region gathered for a reunion around the museum’s established soda fountain.

“Over 500 people showed,” she marvels. “I discovered that the soda fountain was implanted in people’s memories. The public came just to look at the soda jerks and talk to them. It was magic.”

The overwhelming success of that first reunion led Davis in 1990 to found the National Association of Soda Jerks. The association grew quickly, swelling to more than 1,000 members in less than two years. “I got a personal letter postmarked Washington, D.C., from a former soda jerk. It was from [former U.S. Senator from Kansas] Bob Dole. He’s a member.”

But age has caught up with the dwindling ranks of soda jerks, as it has with Betty Davis. Now 83 and experiencing mobility difficulties, she realizes the window of opportunity to open a soda fountain museum showcasing her happy hobby has closed. “This is of no value to me locked in a garage,” she reasons quietly.

After months of searching for a “worthy” home for her collection, Davis heard about a multi-pronged, ambitious nonprofit headquartered just a few blocks north of the Historical Society, where she worked for many years.

The mission of No More Empty Pots, located on North 30th Street in the historic Florence neighborhood of north Omaha, revolves around food. The organization not only provides access to locally grown, affordable, nutritious food, it offers culinary arts training in one of two commercial-grade kitchens, located in the labyrinthine basement of the renovated turn-of-the-20th-century row of buildings.

Another component of this food hub, the Community Café at 8503 N. 30th St., slated to open to the public in the fall, caught Davis’ attention on many levels because of its parallels to the soda fountains.

“Betty told us how drug stores started selling sodas and ice cream to draw people into the store to buy things, and the fountain was never meant to be a moneymaker,” says Nancy Williams, co-founder and executive director of No More Empty Pots. “This cafe will help our employees learn how to converse with people and really serve them, and not just with food. That will translate into many different career paths.”

Believing the cafe can become “a beacon…to unite all the ethnic differences we have,” Davis signed over her soda fountain collection and the trademarked National Association of Soda Jerks to Williams and No More Empty Pots. A display case in the middle of the cafe will house Davis’ relics of the soda fountain era, her contribution to the preservation of an American tradition.

The 12-foot-long World War I-era soda bar, which Davis picked up years ago in Soldier, Iowa, will stand behind the large windows of the storefront, beckoning people to come in, enjoy a freshly made soda, and socialize.

“We’re going to make our own soda syrups and extracts from seasonal fruits and herbs and then add the carbonated seltzer water,” Williams says. “And we’ll have local seasonal ice cream.”

Confident that her goals and the mission of No More Empty Pots align, Davis sees her soda fountain breaking barriers, inspiring conversation, and making people happy for many years to come.

Visit nmepomaha.org for more information about the nonprofit receiving the soda fountain and memorabilia.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of 60Plus.

Cali Commons

April 8, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was never in the plan for Luke Armstrong and Molly Nicklin to own a co-working space. But when they had a chance to buy an old grocery store at 40th and California, the midtown co-working space Cali Commons was born.

“We had a house near Benson,” Armstrong says, “and we rented a space in Benson because we both do some performance painting.” But the cost was prohibitive. “We started looking around, and we found this building and moved in upstairs.”

The pair floated around other ideas for what to do with the excess space. They’d already decided to put an art gallery in the basement and allotted space for Luke’s office and other project RenMind, a web application company.

“We always wanted to be around creative people and entrepreneurs,” Armstrong says. “I like to make new businesses all the time. It was kind of a natural progression.”

The plans for Cali Commons include having new artwork every month as well as providing a place for art shows and other events. Armstrong and Nicklin also wanted to provide a space that won’t break the bank that’s close to a lot of young professionals. As of January, three people are renting out personal office space, and a few others rent out “seats” in the open area dubbed the co-working space. But the duo is hoping for around 10 or so to gather in the co-working space.

“I’ve always loved this building, for years, and when I saw there was an opportunity to get an office here, I jumped at the chance,” says Ryan Behrens, a social services contractor. “It helps me focus a lot more than working from home, so I think it’s well worth the price of the rent.”

Another aspiration for the co-working space is to host movie nights, yoga classes, or other fun things to help build relationships with everyone using the space.

“We wanted a place that would bring in the kinds of people we wanted to be around,” Armstrong says. He suggests that since they spend so much time in the office, why not make it fun?

The space is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. generally, but Armstrong and Nicklin don’t expect people to stick around the whole time. In fact, some renters work only in the mornings or only in the afternoons. The space is available for renters to pop in whenever is convenient. The only stipulation is that the co-working space is not available when an art show or other event is utilizing the open area.

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Family Success Story
: The Murceks

November 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Grief is an unavoidable part of life. Everyone encounters it at some point, and it usually strikes when least expected. And though no one grieves the same, the emptiness that follows losing a loved one is universal, whether it’s for a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child, even a pet.

But the true test is not the grief itself—it’s coming back from it.

Looking at John and Cindy Murcek of Millard today, you wouldn’t know that they suffered a terrible family loss. John is a painting contractor; Cindy is a social studies and English teacher at Andersen Middle School in the Millard Public Schools district. They’ve been married for a little over 20 years.

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They have three children—sons Eric, 14, and Will, 7, and daughter Jamie, 5. “Eric’s in tennis. Will’s in football. Jamie’s in gymnastics…It’s kind of busy, but it’s the good kind of busy,” Cindy says. When asked how the kids get along, she laughs. “Will and Jamie will either play together or be at each other’s throats. Eric, being the teenager, thinks they’re annoying sometimes. But they’re all good kids.”

John and Cindy’s devotion to their children is what Cindy believes binds their relationship. “We want our children to know that they have a secure home, and that we’re giving them the best life that we can. I came from a divorced family, so it’s important for them to know that that will never happen. And John’s from a big Catholic family, so family and staying together has always been important to him.”

Twelve years ago during the Thanksgiving holiday, however, their family was shaken when they were on their way back to Omaha from Billings, Mont., after visiting Cindy’s sister and her family. Their truck hit black ice and rolled. John, Cindy, and Eric were all fine, but Cindy’s mom, who rarely traveled, and the Murceks’ oldest son, Andy, were killed.

“It was devastating,” Cindy says. “That’s an understatement.”

While they grieved, John and Cindy found support in each other. “I think that incident made John’s and my bond stronger. Nobody loved Andy like we did, nobody can break that, and nobody can understand our loss. We had that grief to share; and though we grieved differently, we both knew exactly what the other was feeling.”

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Eric, at the time, was 2. While he didn’t understand everything, he knew Andy was supposed to be there but wasn’t. “He’d ask where Andy was and if he could play with him,” Cindy says. “When we went to the grocery store, he’d ask if he could get Andy a snack. Of course, I let him. We’d even tell him stories about Andy.” Although they missed their oldest son, Cindy says that she and John were grateful to still have Eric. “He was my reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Today, Cindy aches for Eric almost more than she did when he was too young to understand his brother’s death. “He’s a freshman in high school now. Andy would’ve been a senior. He would’ve had his big brother in school with him.”

The grieving process for the Murceks was always about time. Some days were harder than others, but each day, it got a little easier. “As time goes on, grief is more a silent battle…You deal with it on your own, you face it, and go on.”

During that silent battle, Cindy says she bought a “full library” of books on grief and went to grief groups, looking for a fix. But it was faith that turned everything around for her.

“I wasn’t really a spiritual person before. My mom was,” she says. “It’s weird, but I feel like that’s why she was on that trip with us. She knew she was going to a better place and teaching me a little faith as well.”

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Cindy swears her mom is still teaching her lessons in faith to this day. She recalls a Sunday when her church’s pastor asked the congregation to open their Bibles to a specific verse. “My mom had given me a Bible several years before, and I’d never used it. But I brought it with me that day.” When Cindy opened the Bible to the verse, she realized it had been underlined. “I flipped through some more pages and saw that my mom had underlined verses she thought would be good for me to read. It was the most incredible thing.”

Andy, too, seemed to connect with them in unexpected ways. “Last Christmas, we went to the cemetery to visit him,” she says. “I thought ‘Give me something from Andy, God.’ That night, we had a party, and a neighbor brought over a journal where other people had written about memories of Andy.”

These little moments strengthened Cindy’s faith and helped her see that everything would be all right again. Then again, the addition of two more precious gifts took her mind off the grief, too.

“We assumed it was just going to be the three of us.” But John and Cindy talked about having another child. Certainly, they viewed adding another child to their family differently after Andy’s passing. “Another person to love and lose,” Cindy says. Nevertheless, it was a chance they were willing to take.

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In 2005, they heard about a young girl looking to give her baby up for adoption. “[Will] was born, and in six months, we had a new baby…We hadn’t really planned on it. It just kind of happened.” Another surprise took shape when Cindy found out she was pregnant. “I turned 40 and learned I was pregnant with Jamie. John and I were both like, ‘Two little ones in diapers? We can’t handle this!’” But Jamie, like Will, was a blessing in disguise. Cindy jokes that they finally got a “little princess” after all boys.

“We feel truly blessed,” Cindy says. “Yes, we lost my son and my mom, but there are situations much worse. We’re glad to have a loving family.”

For others grieving the loss of family members, Cindy has some good advice: “I would recommend that you let your family be there for you and understand that grief is a lifelong process…I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own, and that realization made me feel so much better. Just let people help you. Talk to families with similar losses. The sadness won’t go away, but the hopelessness will.”

As for her mom and Andy, Cindy smiles. “I know we’ll see them again.”

Concussions and Young Athletes

August 16, 2013 by

Here’s a question for parents—Can you describe a concussion? It’s more than a headache or a momentary blackout. Doctors consider it a traumatic brain injury, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a blow or jolt to the head. With young athletes back on the field, Kody Moffatt, M.D., a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, wants parents, coaches, and trainers to know the signs.

“We know much more about concussions today than we did even a year or two ago. A concussion in a child or teenager is different than in an adult. The impact on the developing brain can be a real problem,” says Dr. Moffatt.

Football poses a risk, particularly when players tackle with their heads down.

“I tell parents that football, in general, is a safe sport as long as young people don’t lead with the head,” he explains. “Coaches in our area have been really good about teaching young, developing players to use the shoulder or chest as the first point of contact.”

Symptoms of a concussion are as individual as children themselves. Visible signs of a suspected concussion are:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow to get up
  • Unsteady on feet, falling over, or trouble balancing
  • Dazed or blank look
  • Confused, not able to remember plays or events

Dr. Moffatt says athletes with a suspected concussion should not return to the field. They need to see a doctor. Immediate emergency care should be provided when the player is vomiting, has a seizure, experiences neck pain, is increasingly confused, or is unable to stay awake.

Nationally and across all levels of play, from professional to recreational leagues, the emphasis has been on “return to play.” This focus surrounds the safe return to the game following diagnosis and treatment. This fall, “return to learn” will receive increased attention, too.

“Before young athletes are returning to play, we need to get them back in the classroom symptom-free and able to learn like they did before the concussion,” says Dr. Moffatt. “We have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with a brain injury. This can result in learning problems that impact a student athlete’s academic performance.”

The new Sports Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center will work with student athletes, their families, and teachers to customize a “return to learn” plan. Dr. Moffatt considers it to be an important part of the recovery process.

“Return to learn is a significant step, in my mind. We’re considering cognitive function and how we help the brain heal,” he says. “We’ll work with schools to help kids get back on track in the classroom.”

The Sports Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is open to families by appointment. No physician referral is needed. To make an appointment, call 402-955-PLAY (7529). For more information, visit ChildrensOmaha.org/SportsMedicine.

Passionate about pediatric sports medicine, Dr. Kody Moffatt is a highly regarded, well-known expert in the field. An athletic trainer turned pediatrician, he holds a Master of Science degree in orthopaedic surgery and is a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Moffatt helps shape sports medicine policy on a state and national level as an advisor to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Nebraska High School Activities Association.

Young and Surviving Cancer

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was just eight weeks after Amberly Wagner-Connolly had given birth to twins when she received the devastating news that she had breast cancer. She was just 29.

“I knew that life as I knew it would never be the same,” she recalls. “I was so shocked. Why me? Why would I have these beautiful kids and then so soon after find this out?”

As it turns out, the experience has come to be one of the most positive things that has happened in Wagner-Connolly’s life. It also became the springboard that put her goals in motion.

“It has helped guide me in my life and my career,” she says. “It opened my eyes to how much worse things could be and inspired me to do more with my life. Through cancer, I realized that I wanted to go into public health where I can help others. I know I am a better mom, friend, teacher, nurse, wife—everything. All of my roles have been affected in a positive way because of [cancer].”

On March 1, Wagner-Connolly celebrated her four-year anniversary of being a cancer survivor, and while she has managed to make it a positive in her life, she acknowledges that it was also one of the most difficult and trying times in her life.

“It has helped guide me in my life and my career. It opened my eyes to how much worse things could be and inspired me to do more with my life.” – Amberly Wagner-Connolly, survivor

The number of young adults who are diagnosed with cancer is very low, usually less than 5 percent, depending on the cancer, says Margaret Block, M.D., a medical oncologist at Nebraska Cancer Specialists. But for those who do receive the disturbing news, it can be a very emotional and stressful journey.

Like many young cancer patients, Wagner-Connolly experienced the challenges and emotional turmoil common among people her age. She struggled with the shock of being diagnosed at such an early age; she feared not being around to see her children grow up; and she grew weary from juggling two tiny twins and a four-year-old daughter when she could barely take care of herself.

Her family and friends and people she didn’t even know became her biggest supporters. Her husband worked nights and was able to help as much as he could during the day. Her mother and mother-in-law also provided help when they could and were there for emergencies.

Her co-workers at The Nebraska Medical Center held a fundraiser for her. Several friends of her sister who work at Lincoln Financial Group also organized a fundraiser/auction and raised more than $6,000 to help her with her medical bills.

This touched Wagner-Connolly greatly and was a turning point that helped her keep fighting. “It made me see the good in the world,” she says. “When complete strangers reached out to help me, I became determined that I had to do something with my life to make an impact like they had for me.”

“The number of young adults who are diagnosed with cancer is very low, usually less than 5 percent, depending on the cancer.” – Margaret Block, M.D., medical oncologist with Nebraska Cancer Specialists

Determined to not let her surgery and chemotherapy treatment slow her down, Wagner-Connolly was able to continue her master’s studies, finishing on her target date. She also kept a challenging work schedule as a nurse at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Being able to maintain some control over other parts of her life was important to her mental well-being. There were days during her six-month chemotherapy regimen when she felt as if she couldn’t go on. “I just had to take it day by day,” she recalls. “I did a lot of reality checks.”

Having goals—such as seeing her children grow up, completing her master’s degree, and wanting to live to make a difference in the world—fueled her will to keep fighting.

“Amberly did an amazing job,” says Peggy Jarrell, LCSW, OSW-C, a licensed clinical social worker and a certified oncology social worker at Nebraska Methodist Hospital, who worked with her during her treatment. “Motherhood can be stressful enough…put cancer on top of that, and you have a lot to deal with. [She] was able to maintain her own and still stay active in the outside world.”

Jarrell says it’s very important for cancer patients to establish a good support network of people and friends who can help them through this period. She also recommends having a designated support person who can accompany them at appointments and act as their second set of ears. Many hospitals now provide nurse navigators to help patients “navigate” the health care system.

Stacy Patzloff, RN, BSN, a certified oncology nurse navigator at Alegent Creighton Health, says nurse navigators work closely with the patient and the cancer support team to make sure everything is coordinated. They’re there to attend appointments with them and to act as a support person who is available 24/7.

“Motherhood can be stressful enough…put cancer on top of that, and you have a lot to deal with.” – Peggy Jarrell, licensed clinical social worker and certified oncology social worker with Nebraska Methodist Hospital

Support is key, agrees Dr. Block, whether it’s family, friends, a support group, or seeking the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Exercise can also be a good thing and may help you get through chemotherapy with less fatigue, she notes.

Other tips that may help young patients get through treatment and recovery include:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others.
  • Take time for yourself if you’re having a bad day.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Seek the nutrition advice of dietitians on staff at the hospital where you are receiving treatment.
  • Take care of your physical well-being. Programs like Alegent Creighton Health’s Image Recovery program provide cancer patients with wigs and helps them deal with hair, nail, and skin problems that are unique to cancer patients.

Today, Wagner-Connolly is very active in a number of projects to help other young victims of cancer. She started the group Survivors Raising Kids for young parents who need help with childcare during treatment and recovery. She is on the board of Camp Kesem for kids who have had a parent with cancer. She is also a nursing instructor at Clarkson College where she teaches public health and is pursuing a doctorate in global health.

“I know how lucky I am,” she says. “I want to make a difference in this world. No one should have to face cancer and certainly not a young mom.”

And for those who do, Wagner-Connolly is committed to easing that journey.

Quit Aging Yourself

March 25, 2013 by

Every year, we spend tons of money to keep our faces looking youthful and tight. But what we don’t realize is that some of our bad beauty habits are actually making us look older than we are. Here are some seemingly “no-brainer” tips that will help you keep your face looking young and beautiful without spending a fortune on anti-aging products:

Find the Right Foundation.

Every woman has been guilty of those embarrassing foundation lines at some point in her life. What you might not know is that the appearance of those lines is usually a signal that you’re not using the right kind or color of foundation. Even worse, using the wrong foundation can speed up the process of aging of your skin. The best way to prevent both of these problems is to find the best foundation for your skin.

Before you even think about brands, you need to determine what kind of foundation works best with your skin type. Have dry skin? Look for “moisturizing” or “hydrating” foundations. Have oily skin? Look for “oil-free” or “matte” foundations. Have a combination of oily and dry skin? Look for “cream-to-powder” foundations. Or if that seems like too much of a hassle, look for mineral foundations, which go great with any skin type—especially sensitive skin.

After determining the right kind of foundation, you need to match the color to your skin tone. Despite what you might have heard about testing the color on your wrist, the best place to test a foundation color is actually on your jawline, as this is the area where foundation is most noticeable (Remember those lines?). Make sure you’re as close to natural light as possible—like outside or near a window—while testing colors since indoor lighting can make you choose to dark of a color. Whichever color blends or disappears into your skin tone during the test is the color you should get.

Don’t Overpluck Your Brows.

Some women prefer professional eyebrow threading or waxing. But for those of us that prefer to save cash and time, plucking is the way to go. The only problem with plucking is that, too often, we overpluck our brows, giving us an aged look. Actually, the fuller the brow, the more youthful you look. Now, “fuller” doesn’t mean you let your eyebrows go ungroomed—just don’t pluck them too thin.

Before plucking, wash your face, brush your brows up and out with a brow brush (a clean toothbrush works, too), and sit near a window with a good mirror. To determine your brow thickness, use an eye pencil and draw a line along the bottom edge of your brow, following the fullest, natural shape. Any hairs that fall below this line are okay to pluck. The general rule with plucking is to make sure your brow begins in line with the inner corner of your eye and ends in line diagonally with the bottom edge of your nose and the outer corner of your eye. You can use a ruler (or your tweezers, if they’re long enough) to check if everything is aligned. Any hairs outside of these measurements can be removed.

If your brows are naturally too-thin, or if you’ve overplucked and are trying to grow your brows back out, use powder or an eyebrow pencil to fill in the shape. Just make sure to match the powder or eyebrow pencil shade to your natural hair color so you don’t age yourself any further—or look like a cartoon villain.

Remove Makeup and Wash Your Face.

It’s hard to get in the habit of removing our makeup and washing our faces every night when we’re tired and just want to get in bed. But not removing your makeup or washing your face is one of the quickest ways to age your skin. Just think about the fact that the average woman today begins wearing makeup at age 12 and wears makeup into her 70s and 80s. That’s long-term damage.

If you don’t use all-natural makeup, there are tons of harsh chemicals in your makeup that can damage your skin. Not to mention your skin is exposed to dirt, pollution, and germs throughout the day. Imagine all of those things collecting on your pillows as you sleep. If you think that’s gross, then why are you leaving those things on your face? At night, the skin needs oxygen to repair the damage done throughout the day. With your pores clogged, your skin can’t go through its natural exfoliation.

Also, our eyes start showing age the earliest because the skin around them is the thinnest. Going to bed with your makeup on dries the skin around your eyes out and weakens the hairs in your eyebrows and eyelashes, causing them to thin and fall out. Remember—it’s a lot easier to remove your makeup and wash your face than it is to undo aging and regrow your eyebrows and eyelashes.