Tag Archives: Creighton University

Retirement on the Road

July 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in 60-Plus June/July 2015 edition.

Fritz Sampson says he likes to travel slowly, but the words “travel” and “slowly” can conjure up thoughts of lounging over three hour-long dinners in Italy, or spending an entire afternoon wandering through a village in France.

For 65-year-old Fritz, “traveling slowly” means moving about 200 miles a day across Europe and Asia by motorcycle.

Last March, Fritz undertook a 115-day motorcycle journey through southern Europe, the former Soviet bloc, and Mongolia; but his plans were cut short by more than three weeks after an accident
in Mongolia.

It’s an itinerary that sounds crazy, but, when explained calmly by Fritz, seems perfectly reasonable.

“Whether it’s breaking a shoulder, or getting stopped by police, or running out of food, things are going to happen,” Fritz says. “And that’s why you take the trip, because it’s an adventure.”

According to Sampson and his wife of 40 years, Mary, he always had a daring spirit.

“That’s what I loved him for, was his sense of adventure,” Mary says. “No one is comparable to Fritz—he’s all out for the experience.

The couple met on the Model United Nations Team at Creighton University and married in 1975, right out of college. They, and their two children, moved to Germany in 1998 while Fritz pursued a degree in international tax law. His career took him everywhere from China to Belize; but he still craved different ways to see the world.

Fritz2

A long-distance cyclist, he rode for years all over the United States. But as he aged, he turned to a new mode of transportation: motorcycling.

He bought a new Harley Davidson in 2007, and in 2008 rode with his son, Marty, from Omaha to Tierra del Fuego, an island chain off the southernmost point of South America.

“One of the reasons I do this—I like meeting people on the road,” Fritz says.

After his South American excursion, Fritz was itching to do a similar trip elsewhere. He read about two motorcycle adventures on travel blogs that looked really interesting—one to the Russian far east, another in outer Mongolia—and decided to combine the two by retiring and traveling to 17 countries. He planned to begin in Ireland, meet Mary in Turkey, and eventually end up in Mongolia and Russia, but had no other itinerary.

That meant he spent a week in Bulgaria because he felt like it. He chose to go to Kazakhstan instead of Turkmenistan because he met a fellow motorcyclist who was headed there. And when he told local policemen in Turkey the name of the hostel where he was staying, they told him he shouldn’t sleep there and took him to a friend’s house, where they hosted a barbecue for him.

He also had a run-in with corrupt police in Azerbaijan, lost 22 pounds, and experienced that fateful fall in Mongolia that cut his trip short and left him with a broken shoulder.

There’s only one thing he’s cutting out of his routine: off-roading on his motorcycle, which led to his accident. But he still wants to ride on motorcycle trips across the continental United States, Alaska, and Mexico.

After all, he says, those are “easy” rides.

Fritz3

 

Fritz 1

He Ain’t Heavy

July 13, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article published in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.

Chris and Lori Mathsen received a surprise phone call recently that reminded them why their planned one-year stay as live-in family teachers at Boys Town has stretched into 26 memory-filled years

The Mathsens hadn’t heard from this particular young man—one of nearly 200 teenage boys to move through their family home on the West Dodge Road campus—for more than 20 years. If they did hear from him again, they figured he wouldn’t say much.

“He didn’t do anything to really stand out while he was here,” says Chris, “Nothing too crazy. Nothing that positive. He was only vaguely interested in what was happening.”

All those years later, the young man reached out.

He couldn’t believe the Mathsens were still at Boys Town, still overseeing the same house full of teenagers, still with the same Michael Jordan poster that has survived countless Nerf gun wars and sometimes less playful confrontations in the home’s spacious basement.

The young man, now married with two children, had a message that never gets old to those dedicating their lives to helping troubled teens.

“He told us his time here totally changed his life, and he doesn’t know where he would be without it,” Chris says. “We had no idea, especially with him. There is power in that.”

Indeed there is, so much so that Lori Mathsen, who took a one-year sabbatical from earning a Ph.D. to obtain real-life experience, turned it into 25-plus years of helping teenage boys turn from trouble to sports, music, ROTC, good grades, and a brighter future.

So much so that Chris shut down his roofing company and went to Creighton University for an MBA that’s still waiting to be deployed while the Mathsens raise their 11-year-old son, Karsten, and 10-year-old daughter, Kari, in a house full of boys who are learning what it’s like to be treated like family in a place they can call home.

“There have been plenty of times when we ask ourselves, ‘What have we done?’” Lori says. “Let’s take a normal job…and have some privacy…and not get cussed out by kids. But then there are always special kids that you think, ‘I want to stick around to see that kid through.’ Then another one grabs your heart,” and the Mathsens repeat the process. “You bond with them and they bond with you. They ask us sometimes, ‘Are you going to leave before I graduate?’ We don’t want to let them down.”

The Mathsens have certainly passed the perseverance test. The average tenure of Boys Town’s live-in family teachers is around three years. Life with young people who need to reshape behaviors and relationships can get intense. “We’re on a treadmill that never stops,” Lori says. “We don’t like to be bored, and there’s no danger of that.”

The couple have grown to love their Boys Town life even more since their kids were born. The older boys in the home provide role models—good and, sometimes, bad. And there’s never a shortage of playmates as the Boys Town kids are almost always willing to shoot hoops or pool, battle at Just Dance, or strike up a wiffle ball game.

“When we go on vacation, before the week is even up our kids start asking, ‘I wonder what they’re doing at home? I wonder what’s going on with so-and-so?’ Chris says. “They told us, ‘We’ll be mad at you if we ever leave Boys Town,’ and they mean it.”

It’s all part of helping kids move from turmoil (home, school, the legal system) to a shot at a coveted place in the Mathsen “Hall of Fame.” That select group is represented by a large picture on a stairway wall. It’s an elite group—a coveted position reached by only four boys over the decades through demonstrating uncommon character, leadership, academic excellence, and extracurricular achievement.

There’s Robert, who graduated from Boys Town with a 4.0 GPA, three varsity sports letters, and no incidents on his record. And there’s Jay, who was identified by a police officer as a teen with potential but heading down the wrong path. He now serves as an assistant family teacher at Boys Town.

“We get to watch him come to work every day and give back what was given to him,” Chris says. “These kids can be the biggest pains in the hind end, but then something breaks through and you see a kid change and head the right direction. There aren’t many places where you get the opportunity to spend your life being part of that.”

“It’s a place for second chances,” Lori adds, “and maybe even third or fourth chances.”

The Mathsens view their time at Boys Town as one small part of something special that’s been happening for nearly a century at the place known for its iconic motto of “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.”

BoysTown1

Searching for Simpatico

July 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appeared in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.

The waters of Lake Manawa are dead still. It’s 5:30 a.m. and nearly 50 young women are about to disturb the pristine, glass-like surface. They are the Creighton University rowing team and part of a small but active rowing community in Omaha.

Ray Griggs serves as boatman for the Creighton team and is a master rower with Omaha Rowing Association (ORA), which boasts about 40 members. He talks about rowing as though born with an oar in hand, yet he never rowed before age 18. Griggs’ introduction came in 1976 upon joining the Naval Academy, where participating in sports is required.

“I got a postcard from the rowing coach,” Griggs says. “I tried to walk on to the football team. After two weeks, I was cut, at which point I immediately ran to the boathouse. I ran up to whoever looked like he was in charge and he says, ‘OK, get in a boat.’”

Rowers frequently exude that same “join us,” attitude.

Rowing2

“Are you coming to see us Saturday?” asks Creighton assistant coach Catherine Saarela-Irvin with a grin. The team was hosting a regional competition at Carter Lake that coming weekend. It was a rare chance to see rowing locally. The Creighton team travels as far away as Dallas to compete.

Saarela-Irvin also rows at a master’s level with ORA, where she coaches kids age 12 to 18. The ORA often competes in the Master’s National, which this year will be held in Camden, New Jersey.

The welcoming spirit comes from a total team sport that creates lifelong bonds. Ninety percent of the Creighton team never participated in the sport before college. Many plan to row as long as they can, joining club teams such as ORA.

“I’ve picked it up anywhere I go,” says Saarela-Irvin. “I’ve rowed in New Hampshire, San Diego, and now Omaha.”

“It isn’t a sport for someone who wants to stand out,” Griggs explains. “You have to do exactly what everyone else does, when everyone else does.”

Rowing involves synchronous movement of the arms, legs, and cores of the body. Rowers cannot see where they are headed. In eight-person boats, and sometimes in four-person boats, a coxswain (pronounced cox-sin) sits at the stern and calls commands; without a coxswain, the rower at the bow steers and commands so the boat glides in the proper direction.

It’s a quiet, serene sport, even though the physicality of it demands a grueling combination of strength and endurance. Only the person steering speaks, and the silent rowers enter their own private worlds as they pull and push the boat through the water in a zen-like cadence.

They collectively hope for “swing”, that precise moment when perfect synchronicity is achieved and the group moves as one.

“We call it the magical row,” Griggs says.

“You’ve got this simpatico thing happening,” adds Saarela-Irvin. “It’s really neat…kind of like flying on the water.”

Rowing1

Art as Social Justice

June 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitmann

This article appears in our July/August 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

During one of Tim Guthrie’s exhibitions, a woman commented to one of his friends, “Tim is such a great photographer!” The friend replied, “He’s a really great painter, too.” The woman, somewhat perplexed, asked, “He can paint?”

That conversation encapsulates much of Guthrie’s work. The Creighton University professor who teaches in the department of journalism, new media, and computing can be classified as neither painter nor photographer, but as an artist who focuses on concepts rather than media—an approach that leaves many struggling to describe his work.

“I’ve been criticized about that ever since college,” Guthrie says. “My professor told me to pick a concentration. I chose painting, sculpture, and photography. He said, ‘No, you’re supposed to pick only one.’ I still did all three. I didn’t like the classifications. I didn’t want to be a painter. I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t want to be a sculptor. I wanted to be an artist. The medium isn’t relevant.”

What is relevant is Guthrie’s message. While his mediums vary widely, he uses them all to advocate for social justice, often by focusing on controversial issues.

In Extraordinary Rendition, a 2010 exhibition in collaboration with performance artist Doug Hayko, Guthrie created large-scale drawings that called attention to the CIA’s secret detention program and use of torture. For Big Art Giveway (2012), he commented on the one percent by creating more than 500 artworks that he gave away to local members of the 99 percent—people who typically can’t afford art. In 2013 he curated The Museum of Alternative History, an exhibition inspired by the Texas school board’s reinterpretations of history that are often included in textbooks nationwide. He invited writers and visual artists to create their own versions of history, which were presented to the public as authentic.

Although all his subjects are potentially provocative, Guthrie’s work has been acclaimed by the public and critics alike. Over the past eight years, he has received Omaha Arts & Entertainment Awards for best show, best new media artist, best visual artist, and best group show. He has shown his work regionally and nationally. Guthrie’s experimental animated film, Recalling the Trinity, which focused on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, went international with a presentation in 2010 at the Sorbonne in Paris and was shown at the Hiroshima Animation Festival that same year.

Guthrie’s current work continues to address social justice issues. For Koch Money, he overlays images of the billionaire Koch brothers—known for donating millions to finance conservative political campaigns—onto the faces of the founding fathers on U.S. currency. It’s an unconventional way to bring attention to campaign finance laws and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United, but, Guthrie notes with a smile, “No one’s ever turned down my money.”

No matter the media, Guthrie remains committed to using art for a specific purpose. “There is a consistent thread,” he explains. “I want to make information available to people.”

Tim Guthrie

Taking Care of (God’s) Business

January 9, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rev. Timothy Lannon has always been able to size up things pretty quickly. As a math major at Creighton University in the early ‘70s, the likeable young man from Mason City, Iowa, was known for his keen and analytical mind, with a head for numbers. So when he became president of Creighton in July 2011, the first alumnus to lead the Jesuit campus, he knew the numbers didn’t add up.

“We have 130 acres of land and 55 buildings with about four million square feet of space,” says Lannon in his staccato delivery. “But we only have 8,236 students total. That business model is tough to manage with such a small student body and such a large campus.”

The numbers led Lannon, in one of his first acts, to ask the Creighton trustees to scrap plans for a new building to house the business school. He suggested they renovate about one-fourth of the Harper Center For Student Life and Learning for the school’s expansion.

“Harper is a magnificent building and was underutilized,” explains Lannon, 64, who stepped down late last year as Creighton’s president. “It didn’t make sense to build a new [business school] building for $35 million and add another million-a-year in overhead.”

Thanks to a multimillion-dollar gift from Creighton business graduate Charles Heider and his wife, along with a fundraising campaign that netted $93 million to ensure future academic programs, the Heider College of Business at the Harper Center opened to great fanfare in October 2013. And it set the tone for President Lannon’s visions for Creighton’s future: maximize space, create or integrate programs, and maintain a low student-faculty ratio.

Having returned to Omaha from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he served as president for eight years and oversaw the most successful capital campaign in that school’s history, Lannon sees the health sciences—a new degree in neuroscience, for instance—as the key to raising Creighton’s already prestigious profile. “We call it inter-professional education,” Lennon explains of his strategic plan. “We want to bring together our Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy programs and connect them structurally to the school of medicine, the nursing school, and the pharmacy program.”

This emphasis on a more practical course of study has induced a lively discussion among students, faculty, and staff at Creighton. Many are concerned his plan takes away from the Jesuit tradition of liberal arts and service to others. But Lannon quickly re-affirms the school’s commitment to the liberal arts, pointing out that all undergrads share a common core of classes.

Faced with a heavy debt load stemming from the university’s eastward expansion in the early 2000s and a weak economy, Lannon uses the words “consolidate,” “repurpose,” “streamline,” “renovate,” and in some cases, “cut” when addressing the school’s most pressing issues. Although known primarily for his genuine interest in people, his patented smile and larger-than-life Irish personality, Lannon has a pragmatic side he’s not afraid to show. “One thing I’ve learned about leadership is you have to make tough decisions that impact people’s lives, but you do it for the sake of the mission.”

One of the toughest decisions Lannon made was to step down from the post he loves. Not long after the new business school opened, Lannon suffered heart problems that required hospitalization. In February he announced his retirement.

“It gave me a wakeup call,” Lannon says. “Thankfully I lived to learn the lesson.” He will only say the incident he suffered is very rare and physically he’s in good shape, but “there’s a history of heart problems on my mother’s side.”

The need for less stress in his life means leaving a city and a school that, in many ways, formed him as a man, a priest, and an administrator. He arrived as a student at Creighton with plans to go on to medical school, following in the footsteps of his physician father who played football at Creighton. He became so involved on campus, even serving as student-body president his senior year, that his grade- point average dipped to 3.5. “So I applied to our medical school and I was rejected,” he admits. He could have accepted a special appointment to the med school, but “there was a haunting in the back of my mind about being a priest.”

Lannon had never thought himself holy enough to be a priest, “until I met the Jesuits,” he says with a laugh. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1977 and was ordained at Creighton in 1986, having received several master’s degrees and a doctorate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. His first job after ordination was as president of Creighton Prep. “Talk about a learning curve,” he remembers about Prep, where he served until 1995. “I was very green but was so well mentored by three members of the board. That’s where I realized I’m able to lead at a different level.”

Now that the demands of leading an institution of higher learning are winding down, Lannon purposely finds time to reconnect with his Jesuit brethren. “I’m a Jesuit first and a president second,” he says, reflectively. He plans to go back to Harvard in the fall as part of the President-in-Residence program, working with students who want to develop their leadership skills, then travel to the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio for some spiritual renewal.

One of his proudest accomplishments, he says, was moving Creighton into the Big East athletic conference. The publicity from the success of the men’s basketball program has created new revenue streams, brought a spike in admissions, and opened a whole new market on the East Coast. Fr. Lannon came back to Creighton with innovative ideas. To its everlasting credit, the university took the ball and ran with it.

Performance Man

December 25, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

By day he’s a mild-mannered assistant director of learning and development at Omaha’s Hyatt hotels. By night and during weekends, though, Doug Hayko is one the city’s most well-known—and perhaps most infamous—performance artists, one who frequently makes people uncomfortable in the most thought-provoking ways.

The 44-year-old became interested in performance art while studying theater at Creighton University. “It was pretty basic,” he remembers, “but I had an affinity for unique performance pieces.” He continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he again focused on theatre as well as the history of theatre and its more academic side. “I was interested in techniques that did something to engage the audience in different pieces,” he explains, “and I was really interested in doing and embracing and watching pieces that were fused with societal issues. Here were really profound, engaging issues.”

But Hayko found that performing in a university environment was doing so to a limited audience—one who already understood what performance art could deliver intellectually—rather than to the general public, with whom he could more profoundly engage. For that reason, he left graduate school and put performance art on hiatus and instead moved to southern California where he began working for Hyatt.

In 1998, though, Hayko returned to Omaha and in 2005 staged an ambitious adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Bemis Underground. It involved layers upon layers of text, with each audience member taking something different from the experience. That’s something Hayko strives for with every performance he gives. “Even though we can’t catch it all,” he emphasizes,  “we all carry away something unique.”

Since then, Hayko has offered numerous such experiences, each exploring a situation designed to create provocative encounters, such as East of 72nd: Disrupting the Omaha Landscape in Six Acts (2007), Toxic Lawncare (2010), and Experts at the Museum of Alternative History (2013), each of which represents a small selection of his work. At times, Hayko’s performances have been controversial, such as Sickened at the Shelterbelt Theatre in 2008, which featured the artist curled in a fetal or a kneeling position smeared in fake blood while holding a doll.

Controversial or not, each piece has Hayko’s inimitable sense of intensity. The artist remarks: “Even if it’s a one-time performance, my hope is that it sticks with people and continues conversations long after the piece is over—not the next day, not the next month, but something they recall, and talk about. Isn’t that what any artist wants —for art to have legs and continue to be talked about?”

20140911_bs_9800

Denver Dalley

December 3, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

 

Denver Dalley. There’s a certain ring to the name. It has a superhero’s alliteration, reminding one of a Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, or Clark Kent. Of course, Dalley, 33, is  a musician, not the planet’s last ray of hope. But his songwriting ability may have been bestowed upon him as serendipitously as a bite from a radioactive spider, exposure to a gamma bomb, or relocation to a different solar system. For Dalley, it was a case of cat scratch fever.

The progenitor of the oft-political, post-punk revivalist band, Desaparecidos, which suspiciously sounds itself like a superhero faction (let’s not forget who fronts it), recently disclosed this alleged origin story from San Francisco International Airport. Or maybe Dalley was discussing nothing more than the brief stint he had in modeling almost 15 years ago.

“I remember one shoot I had with a couple of other guys,” Dalley confesses, describing an artsy New York session where each model was to hold a taxidermied animal. “They were legit Abercrombie models,” Dalley demurs. “I was just some dude from Omaha.”

As the story goes, Dalley says he somehow ended up with a live cat, as opposed to a stuffed animal, and was clawed every time the camera flashed. His modeling career ended shortly thereafter.

“I never really wanted to be a model,” he explains. “I just wanted to play music, so I did that. I went back to Omaha and started Desaparecidos.”

Okay, perhaps a cat scratch is too much of a reach. Unless, that is, the feline had been discovered bathing in the waters of the Pripyat River just outside of Chernobyl. Besides, the tunes of Statistics and Intramural, two of Dalley’s other projects, obviously come from a disciplined songwriter who must’ve developed a strong work ethic at an early age.

Forget the cat. Perhaps he was engineered in a lab.

Dalley says he worked for his father, a former professor of anatomy at Creighton University, filing slides and moving lab equipment to fund guitars, pedals, and amps.

“They were working on new x-ray technology,” the test subject mentions of one particularly odd job. “So I basically had to lay on this table while this machine scanned my entire body.”

A simpler explanation as to why Dalley’s been a working musician for well over a decade might be rooted in his early obsession with the mop-topped movies, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

Or it could have been his early taste in music:

“The first two cassettes I bought with my own money were Paula Abdul and R.E.M.’s Green,” he says, laughing. “I’m still like that. I still do enjoy that sort of thing, but I went more in the direction of R.E.M.”

Whatever the case may be, Dalley is here to stay. And Desaparecidos, who disappeared in 2002, will reemerge next year with their second full-length album.

“People who enjoyed the first album won’t be disappointed,” Dalley says. “If anything, it’s louder and a little tougher, but it’s still very much our style.”

20140719_bs_0471

Not Business as Usual

December 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some things just don’t mix very well: oil and water, Red Sox and Yankees, the Kardashians and modesty. Labor and management might wind up on most lists, but not here. Not in Omaha.

For almost 40 years, union workers, business owners, and civic leaders have changed the landscape of the Midlands by developing, nurturing, and realizing projects together. This alliance, unique for an American city of any size, didn’t occur by chance. It began as a calculated move by Terry Moore, long-time president of the Omaha Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“The one driving thing that benefits workers, business—everybody—is economic development,” declares Moore, 71. “But I knew in order for that to happen, I had to change the image of labor in this town.”

When Moore first ran for president of the Omaha Federation in 1976, he was already well-known in the labor movement. Like so many young men of his generation who grew up in South Omaha, Moore followed his older brothers and father into the then-thriving meatpacking business right out of high school in 1961 because “those plants paid the best wages in town.” He got his union card the very first day.

“My father, Charlie Moore, was actually management at Swift & Company. He was the night supervisor and everybody loved him,” says Moore. “But he said to me, ‘I want you to join the union to protect your rights, son.’”

Around the same time, Moore became involved in South Omaha politics, stumping for candidates “of both parties, whoever supported labor.” Moore got to know a lot of people on the campaign trail and realized that, to many of them, labor was still stuck in the stogie-chewing, belligerent, wiseacre era.

“So I started wearing three-piece suits,” he says, “and I purposely got to know powerful labor leaders. I told them we were misunderstood, that we came across too confrontational. I said we needed to reach out to business. They heard me and knew it was time for a change.”

Moore won the union election in 1976 with more than 70 percent of the vote. With characteristic Irish charm and energy, the diminutive Moore wore his nice threads to every breakfast, lunch, and dinner in those early years, shaking hands with business leaders and exchanging ideas on how to develop downtown Omaha—with labor as a leader. Many of the close friends he made so long ago are gone, but other friendships endure and have proven invaluable.

“I got to know Terry Moore in the ‘70s when he helped a group of us get the riverfront developed,” recalls Mike Yanney, longtime Omaha investment banker and philanthropist. “He’s trustworthy and very capable and knows how to follow through on a commitment. I couldn’t be more honored than to talk about Terry Moore.”

The two men most recently collaborated with government and business leaders to develop the new $323 million cancer research facility on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus, set to open in 2017 with a projected yearly payroll of $100 million. But they made their first economic footprints along the Missouri River.

“The first step in cleaning up downtown Omaha was creating the Central Park Mall, now known as the Gene Leahy Mall,” says Moore. “The second step was to keep ConAgra Foods in Omaha by building their new campus. Step three was the arena. And the rest is history.”

By the time the arena, now known as CenturyLink Center Omaha opened in 2003, Moore had amassed a resume filled with honors, awards, community service citations, and six pages listing labor, education, arts, charitable, and business affiliations. Equally impressive are the millions of dollars in charitable projects union workers have done pro bono through the years, including the fountain on the Creighton University campus; the Potter House, where families of children who need transplants can stay; and the annual Tree of Lights for the Salvation Army.

“Terry is an Omaha treasure…an icon in terms of building bridges between companies and labor,” says Steven Martin, President and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. “He’s an innovator in bringing labor and management together in unique training and regulatory compliance programs.”

As Moore sits in his office at union headquarters at 6910 Pacific St. surrounded by trophies, awards, and pictures taken with every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter, he admits it’s tough keeping unions strong in this day and age. In 1976, Moore had 35,000 members in his organization. Today, that number is 25,000, which “isn’t bad,” he says, “considering the jobs lost when the packing plants left and other jobs were shipped overseas. But it goes well in Omaha.”

He has spent a lifetime fighting for equitable wages, hours, and benefits for his workers. But Moore’s own life has been beset with sadness.

His wife Tania suffers from an incurable neuromuscular disease. Moore leaves the office early to be at her side, an act of devotion played out every day for years. His oldest child, Tawni, was 28 when she suddenly died in her sleep—cause unknown. She left behind a 5-year-old son. His beloved granddaughter, 10-year-old Lita Virgilito, died in 2003 when her family’s rental home just south of Harrison Street caught fire. Moore says if his faith hadn’t been so strong, he would have never gotten over the grief.

His only son, 45-year old Terry, Jr., was born with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by learning disabilities and heart problems. But Terry is his father’s great joy and constant companion. The two can be seen every Sunday taking up the collection at St. John’s Church at Creighton.

Moore plans to run again in January for another three-year term as president of the union. With the energy of a man half his age, he still has the fire inside to do right by his workers, do well by business, and do good work for his community.

20141031_bs_6838

Vintage Verve

November 7, 2014 by
Photography by Laurie and Charles Photographs

Chic but minimal” is the fashion philosophy of Michelle Morrison, an academic success counselor and leadership development specialist at Creighton University. Here she sports a classically simple yet sophisticated ensemble that captures the very essence of a season. Autumnal hues and earthy fabrications are rendered in a composition that is at once understated and loaded with verve.

2

Vintage Oscar de la Renta Couture bolero-length cashmere jacket
Layered, ruffled-collar cotton blouse by Axel of Vail
Ralph Lauren suede skirt
Roberto Coin gold hoop earrings

 

 

Otis XII

November 4, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’ve spent any time in Omaha, you know the voice. The voice. It’s been in your head since the 1970s. It was in your head at the height of album rock, back when the pot haze up in the rafters of the Civic Auditorium got you higher than… well, the rafters of the Civic Auditorium. The voice invited you there and you followed the voice there and there on that Best Day Ever you experienced Eddie Van Halen shredding the Frankenstrat and your eardrums. Dude, seriously, Otis XII might have spoken to you more than your own mother. And since he was probably the coolest guy you knew, since he was always there for you, he may be the guy you’re still trying to be.

The voice still fills a room at 64 years of age. It even fills the back yard of his home near Maple Street and I-680. This writer first heard the voice on his Pioneer SK95 boom box back in the early 1980s nearly 100 miles southeast of Omaha. Riding the Z-92 waves the voice reached even the hinterlands of Eastern Nebraska.

Here on the patio, the voice that filled a yesteryear of pimples and awkwardness and premature-everything carries pretty much that same memorable tenor. Let’s say it hovers in the low G range: Resonant like the deep bong of a wind gong. But, alas, the vocal chords, thanks to his last active addiction—smoking—have been scraped ragged. There is gravel now. We’ll call it character.

Really, the gravel fits the man behind the voice. Somehow, this guy brought a soothing heft to the locker room heckling of FM radio. He was funny, but there were strong suggestions of the Jesuit upbringing, the formative years spent in a monastery, the love for Continental and Eastern philosophies, the years on the road, and maybe, a collection of scars. The guy wasn’t heavy, really. He just had a heft and thoughtfulness unusual for the morning drive. Even the absurdities had a hint of gravity. It is a mind and voice that arguably better fits his current job. He is the voice of UNO’s KVNO radio. Classical music. No way is this guy classy. But he is still pitch-perfect for the refined.

As for his face—damn. Rasputin? “I got the face I deserve,” he says. Is “fugly” too strong a term? This is not the face of a man without sin, woe, and hard-won experience. If you are of a certain bent, though, this is the roadmap face of a fellow you really want to explore.

Much of his story’s arc is funky cool and full of holy-cow moments, but, ultimately, kinda what you’d expect from a roaming hippie, travelling-show-minstrel-turned-radio-star that is now the sagely, sedate, wisely-sober-but-not-overly-AAish voice of a cultured non-profit. The chronology: college shenanigans. Electric Bathwater. Haight-Ashbury. Crazy hippie sh*t. Dr. Demento. Good Times. The Mean Farmer. Space Commander Wack. Bad behavior. Worse behavior. Rehab. Family life restored. The middle-age writing phase. Lots of memorabilia. Mozart. The occasional charity event. All great campfire fare.

But underneath all of this, there was always a horrible secret festering. This other story is heartbreaking and messed up. When the drinking stopped in the late 1980s—when things slowed down and the self-medicating stopped—a monster returned. Here is where the story turns.

At this point, we’ll call him by his birth name, Doug Wesselmann. This was his name when he was 12 years old and the man he most trusted from church took him for a ride.

He was that cool older friend.” The guy drove a cool convertible with duel pipes and a nice stereo. “It all lured me in—that’s how predators operate,” Wesselmann says.

It happened out on a quiet county road not far from Wesselmann’s home in Kansas City. The guy took him for a ride, then parked unexpectedly. Wesselmann understandably truncates details. He’ll say this much: The man raped him, strangled him, and left him for dead in a ditch. Wesselmann awoke and staggered home dazed with an aching throat and blinding headache. At his house, he washed himself off with a garden hose and went inside. His father, who travelled often for business, wasn’t there. His mother was asleep. He didn’t speak in detail about the attack for more than 30 years.

A few months after the attack, Wesselmann left for Atchison, Kansas, to enter the Benedictine monastery there. Each day until he graduated from secondary school he spent time in the strict silence demanded by the Rule of St. Benedictine. The monks believe silence clears the mind of distractions.

He came to Omaha in the mid-1960s to attend Creighton University. He was steeped in church teaching, he loved philosophy, but the priesthood, as any longtime listener might guess, was not for him. At Creighton, he started a counter-culture radio show on Creighton’s university station that regularly rankled the Jesuits.

Along with his friends, Wesselmann gravitated toward programs “with this really odd mix” of music and comedy. Skits, weird characters, the latest trippy music. The names of the shows and troupes were psychedelic and inspired. (“The Electric Bathwater,”  for one). In 1970, Wesselmann, Bill Frenzer,” and Bill Carey formed the music and comedy troupe “The Ogden Edsl Wahalia Blues Ensemble Mondo Bizzario Band,” a name they wisely shortened to “Ogden Edsl.” Weird, satirical, and often quite dark (one of their biggest hits was “Dead Puppies”), the group was often featured on the nationally syndicated “Dr. Demento” radio show based out of Los Angeles. In fact, “Dead Puppies,” became the most requested song in the history of “Dr. Demento.”

Wesselmann lived “hand-to-mouth” off of his band earnings in the San Francisco of the early 1970s. Life was “pretty much what you’d imagine” for a travelling comedy and music troop in that era.  “We weren’t making much, but, you know, we were actually making a living doing that stuff,” Wesselmann says. “It’s something every young person should do.”

Through this time, he says, the trauma from the attack in his adolescence stayed neatly packed away. His lifestyle, he says, helped keep anything unpleasant at bay. “Drugs and alcohol can work great for a while.”

By 1977, though, Wesselmann decided it was time to move on. He wanted to marry and have kids— “that whole thing.” He moved back to Omaha. Here, his good friend, artist Kent Bellows, introduced him to his sister. “I guess Kent thought we were good breeding stock.” Doug and Deb have been married for 37 years.

Upon arriving in Omaha, Wesselmann quickly teamed up with a like-minded comedian named Jim Celer, who picked up his own moniker, “Diver Dan Doomey.” The duo started with a weekly show on rock station KQKQ. They were then asked to do the morning show for a new Omaha rock station, KEZO-FM. Z92 took off thanks to their morning show and what Wesselmann calls a “genuinely superb staff.”

The ride lasted 13 years.

Through the 1980s, in the background, Wesselmann drank. He lived the substance-abuse cliché: He kept a balance for years, then he increasingly didn’t. He started damaging his relationships. “Drugs and alcohol worked for a long time, and then they stopped working but I kept using. That’s the stage there where you put everyone around you in pain. The usual process.” Wesselmann entered rehab in 1989. He has been sober for a quarter century.

Flipping through the dial here: In 1992, he went to KFAB. In 1993, CD-105. After six years, he started doing talk radio for KKAR. In 2001, not long after September 11, Wesselmann left KKAR. “After 9/11, everything became jingoistic. You were expected to provoke, not inform. That’s what made money. It just wasn’t for me.”

He and Deb moved 54 miles east of Omaha to Walnut, Iowa. At the time, Wesselmann was increasingly becoming known for his short stories. After leaving radio in 2002, he turned his attention to writing fiction and essays. His first novel, On the Albino Farm, was shortlisted for the 2003 British Crime Writers Association “Debut Dagger Award.”

Other pieces, A Prozac Notion, The Goodness of Trees, and On the Albino Farm all won significant prizes. Wesselmann, for whatever reason, was particularly popular and critically-acclaimed in England.

But, his royalty checks looked like those of most fiction writers. In 2006, the family moved back to Omaha and Wesselmann took his current job with KVNO.

Although he no longer writes fulltime, Wesselmann says he is not finished with writing. He has journaled all his life. He continues to journal. He journaled heavily once the night terrors began back in the mid-1990s.

Now, he and Deb have begun writing a book together. Deb is a psychologist who works with trauma victims (this isn’t why the couple met). Their book will be an amalgam: She will discuss methods of coping and working past PTSD, he will provide interludes in poetry and essays from the perspective of someone who has been wounded by trauma.

He will be telling the story of how he found peace. He will also tell the story of the day he went hunting for his attacker.

The night the couple met, Deb says, “I really had no intention of ever seeing him again. He was trying to impress me with his knowledge. We got in a big fight. I told my brother (Kent Bellows) that he was the most obnoxious person I had ever met.”

Needless to say, her opinion softened in subsequent meetings. The couple married and had children. Work and family life was all-consuming.

Through the 1980s, Doug marched through the stages of addiction. A few years after he got sober, Deb left teaching to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. She wanted to work with traumatized children, in particular. It was “just strange coincidence” that, “somewhere around 1994, [Doug] started giving these hints that something was wrong—that something happened at some point
in the past.

“There was no longer the self-medicating. He didn’t have that crutch. He became more easily agitated. The night terrors really floored him. It was awful for him, it was really awful to live with for both of us. There were all the symptoms of [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].”

He finally told her the details of the attack. He sought therapy. He meditated. He journaled. “The process was pure drudgery, two steps forward, one step back,” Deb says. “Five years. Finally, he started reaching some level of peace.”

For the most part, Doug says, the years in Walnut and the years with KVNO “were the most peaceful of my life.” But there was still an unresolved issue: Where was his attacker?

Two years ago, against the wishes of his wife, Wesselmann took a trip back to the monastery in Atchison, Kan. He wanted to talk to the priest who helped cover up the crimes of his attacker. He says he honestly couldn’t predict his reaction if he found out where his attacker lived. “I assumed I could make peace with it. I don’t know.”

Wesselmann found the priest. He told the priest that he wanted to go to confession. Wesselmann had a plan: “In a confessional, it would be very difficult for him to lie. Did the priest feel any remorse? Where was the guy? I just wanted to know.”

He found what he was looking for: “There was heartfelt remorse.”

And then…

“The priest tells me that the guy wrapped his car around a tree. Dead. Done. Maybe it’s what he deserved. I don’t know. But he was dead.”

“There was a whole new serenity to him when he came back,” Deb says.

Now Doug and Deb are in the process of co-writing a book on overcoming severe trauma. As co-founder of The Attachment and Trauma Center of Nebraska, Deb has helped hundreds of victims of trauma find peace. In her portion of the book, she’ll provide a toolbox for trauma victims.

And Doug “will be doing the right-brained stuff.” Interwoven with her expert advice (Deb has already written three books herself) will be his essays and poems—some humorous, some decidedly not—detailing and ruminating on his journey. The couple is in the beginning stages of writing and compiling.

Maybe the book succeeds. Maybe it doesn’t. “It’s not going to change things either way,” he says. “I’m where I want to be.”

“Since that trip to Atchison, he’s really been at more peace in his life than ever,” Deb says. “I put that in the category of a ‘miracle.’ Considering where he was—truly, deeply tormented—to where he is now, it’s difficult not to call all of this a miracle.”