Tag Archives: Boy Scouts

Scouts of Honor

July 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lillian Henry heard something scratching on the rolled-down screen of her cabin door at Camp Catron. She cautiously peered out into the pitch black night. 


Lilly jumped when she saw glowing eyes. A lot of eyes. Raccoons? But raccoons couldn’t possibly be way up here. Lilly, along with four other Girl Scouts, were packed into a sky cabin. The wooden structure elevated them into the trees well above the ground and out of reach of raccoons.

“We are all going to die,” one girl freaked out, screaming.

Lilly couldn’t blame her. Lilly wanted gum. It always calmed her down. Her sister, Genavieve “Evie,” had what she needed, but she was far away. Outside was whatever had the glowing eyes and was scratching on their door.  Bravery or impulsiveness rushed through the then-12-year-old-girl.

“People don’t make good choices at 3 a.m., even Girl Scouts,” Lilly, now 14, recalls, laughing.

Along with a friend, Lilly walked out in the cool night air. She banged on the door and woke up her sister.

“I was having a scary dream about a bear eating me,” Evie says.

But she didn’t get angry at her sister and laughed it off.  Pawprints on the screens confirmed the girls’ fear in the morning. The sisters believed the raccoons wanted to share in the fun, be honorary members of the squad. This camaraderie and adventure are two of the reasons why the pair have been in Girl Scouts well into their middle and high school years.

Evie, a sophomore at Gretna High School, started as a Daisy Scout, skipped Brownies, and returned as a Senior Scout. She plans to become an Ambassador. Lilly started as a Brownie. The eighth grader at Gretna Middle School is now a Cadette with Troop No. 44640. They are on the fence about camping. It depends on the weather or the mosquitos.

“Mosquitos get you in places you never knew existed,” Evie says.

This doesn’t deter them from zip-lining, tubing, and other outdoor escapades. In fact, the entire Henry family bonds over their love of all things Scouts. Heather is the leader of Evie’s troop, No. 43855. Matt leads his youngest two sons’ Cub Scouts Pack No. 244. Nick, 12, spends his time in Troop No. 282 with the Boys Scouts.

“It’s definitely a shared experience,” Matt says.

The sisters, dressed in their badge-adorned vests, are adamant their Scouts rule. Boy Scouts focus more on camping while the girls’ program offers a diverse mix of fun and education. It doesn’t matter if someone is a girly-girl or a tomboy.

“It [Girl Scouts] balances the love of outdoors and spa parties,” Heather agrees. “Girls just like to have fun.”

Nick, though, enjoys pitching a tent surrounded by the fresh air of the wilderness.

“You hear the crickets. You look up into the night sky and see a ton of stars,” Nick says.

Nick tells stories around a blazing campfire set by his own two hands. Along the way, he is gaining knowledge about being a leader and speaking in front of a group.

Signature programs are offered for boys and girls all the way to senior year and includes such topics as college applications, conferences, or leadership skills. 

Lilly believes the educational opportunities and activities empower women. She made a car out of candy on Engineering Day and learned how to put together a toilet from the only female plumber in Lincoln. Scouting has opened her eyes to a world of possibilities for young women.

Evie loves to help the younger children and meet fellow “sisters.”

“They are full of energy and have these cute ideas. They don’t know the world will fight them every step of the way,” Evie says.

Evie was once that little girl, sitting around the campfire terrified of her first time without her parents. Only 7 or 8, she wanted to go home.

“Why don’t you have some s’mores,” a leader told her. She helped Evie through her fears while they munched on sandwiches of toasted marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Leaders like these have inspired Evie to become more extroverted.

Wendy Hamilton, a senior development director, met the sisters through the Girl Scout Advisory Group (GSAG) two years ago. The girls connected with Wendy’s gung-ho attitude, determination, and her love of all things pink. 

“Lilly is so positive and represents her age group in a mature way. Nothing scares Lilly, ever,” Hamilton says.

Except maybe raccoons at 3 a.m.

She says Evie is “always supportive of other girls.” Hamilton has seen her become more comfortable with herself. The sisters couldn’t be more different. Evie wants to be an engineer or a dentist. Lilly wants to be an English teacher or writer. The two still fight over things like socks, but the friendship is tight.

Volunteering, including selling those famous cookies, can stack on the hours, but it’s worth it.  The girls earned a trip to Washington D.C. to immerse themselves in history. The family works together to sell Christmas trees or popcorn. It can be chaotic with five children, but it works when the family can unite over shared interests.

Some days are wilder than others, but the Henrys are happy being together.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Front row, l-r: Nick, Johnny, and Daniel Henry
Back row, l-r: Heather, Genavieve, and Lillian Henry

Omaha’s Urban Legends

January 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Every place has its urban legends, some quite famous. The Tower of London, as an example, has a group of ravens, and an urban legend to accompany them: If they ever leave, the story goes, the crown of Britain will fall.

Omaha has its share of unusual tales—perhaps more than its share. There doesn’t seem to be an old house or a building in Omaha without its own haunting. Everybody has an ancestor, it would seem, who was connected with a notorious crime in some way.

It’s understandable. Omaha was a frontier town, one in which vice was a major industry and a gambler ran the city as a crime boss for three decades. This memory lingers, and encourages tall tales, but some of the city’s most noted urban legends are outside the realm of the underworld.

Take the stories of Hummel Park north of the city, which is such a locus of fanciful speculation that it is the subject of a new book, The Legend of Hummel Park and Other Stories, by Jeremy Morong. The entry to the park, we are told, has trees that bend inward, a reminder of an era when lynchings were common in the park.

There is, however, no credible evidence that anyone was ever lynched there. Neither is there evidence of Satanic ritual murder, another popular Hummel legend. One of the oddest stories about the park is the presence of an “albino farm.” This one has been kicked around since at least 1966, according to Omaha World-Herald clippings. The idea of a band of feral albinos living in the park is likely an Ozark legend that migrated north as there are also stories of an albino farm in Springfield, Missouri.

The park was long used by Boy Scouts and was the site of a day camp, and it’s likely that this is where many of the legends came from. There is one story, however, that has some credibility. Hummel Park was a former Indian burial ground. Native remains have been found in the area, including a skull that was used as decoration for a totem pole by the Boy Scouts in 1945.

Here are some other Omaha legends, and the truth behind them:

The White House Apartments

This imposing structure on 10th street is widely reported to have been a military hospital during a past war, and now haunted by those who died there. The building has no military provenance, but it was used as a retirement home for a while.

Omaha’s Tunnels

There are a lot of tunnels under houses in Omaha, but it is unlikely many, if any, were used for transporting bootleg liquor, which everybody claims. Omaha was an open town during Prohibition, and booze could easily be transported by truck. Some home brewing probably took place in tunnels, but most date to pre-Prohibition days, and were more likely used as fruit cellars and other legal uses.

The Murder at Mystery Manor

Mystery Manor, one of the city’s popular Halloween attractions, likes to tell a story of a brutal murder that took place in the building in 1929. Owner William Hall, it is said, took a hatchet to his wife. The story is a marvelous marketing device, but nothing else. In 1929, the house was occupied by Lillian Baum, who sold terrier pups.


Family Camping

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something about lying under the stars in a sleeping bag surrounded by trees and chirping crickets that’s calming. It’s the spirit of camping—that feeling of being completely absorbed in the wonders of nature.

It’s also a feeling that many people don’t experience anymore. Some say it’s because they don’t care much for being outdoors; others say it’s because they’d miss the comforts of home too much; and still others say it’s because they don’t have the patience to spend that amount of “quality time” alone with their families.

But ask any camper, and they’ll tell you that you’re missing out on a peaceful experience, one that all family members can benefit from and appreciate.

Papillion firefighter Michael Borden, 33, is a big proponent of camping. While growing up in Harlan and Underwood, Iowa, he went camping often with his parents and grandparents. “My grandparents had a Winnebago at a spot near Stanton [Iowa],” he says. “They slept inside while we slept outside in a tent. We’d set up all season long on the weekends with them, so I have a lot of fond memories of camping.”

Borden says that, while he could do without the bugs, he still thoroughly enjoys camping as an adult. “My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” His wife, Tracy, however, doesn’t share the same view of camping. “If it were up to her, she would have an RV and be out at Mahoney [State Park] with a swimming pool and activities for the family.”

Borden explains their different takes on camping reflect their different personalities. “She’s the worrier and likes to plan things. I’m more go-with-the-flow and just like ‘whatever’…but we usually compromise. We’ll take the car out and set up tents. We find middle ground.”

“My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” – Michael Borden

But it’s not just Borden and his wife that go out camping. They also bring their two daughters, Ella, 8, and Ayda, 6, who enjoy creating memories while family camping.

“Two years ago when we were camping, the cicadas were coming out, and the shells were everywhere,” remembers Borden. “My oldest, Ella, was 5 or 6. I consider her to be the girlier of my two, but she thought the shells were so neat.

“She had a friend there, too, and both of them were filling all of the cupholders in our camping chairs with the shells. It’s fun to watch kids go camping because they see things so differently—like everything is just fascinating.”

The family used to go camping nearly every free weekend, spending a lot of their time out at Two Rivers State Park, but Borden says it’s harder to go camping now because his daughters are older. “They’re involved in things, so we’ll try to get out as much as we can, but it depends more on schedules—swimming lessons, soccer, and everything else.”

_DSC0906_WebThey have a few camping trips planned for this summer, so long as the weather cooperates. “I wish we did it more often,” he says. “But it’s nice during the summer because I have odd hours [as a firefighter], and Tracy is a teacher, so she has the entire summer off. We can go out on a Wednesday during the summer instead of a weekend, which is usually busier.”

Borden believes it’s good for kids and their parents to spend time outdoors because it’s a perfect opportunity to be together as a family. “We just got Ella an iPod Touch for her birthday, and she always wants to be listening to music, playing games, and texting friends. I remember playing when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones or computers. There’s almost too much accessibility with that stuff, so it’s nice to get away from all of it and just be in the moment.”

Like Borden, Elkhorn native Elizabeth Bullington, 27, grew up camping. “It’s always been a part of the family tradition,” she says. Bullington’s brother, uncles, and grandfather were all Eagle Scouts, so her family has been very involved with the Boy Scouts, which meant plenty of camping opportunities.

“One camping trip I’ll always remember was a Boy Scouts outing my sister and I went on with our dad and the scouts,” Bullington recalls. “It was almost wintertime, so it was really cold. My sister and I were sleeping together to keep warm, and our dad came in and tucked us in to make sure we’d stay warm. The next morning, our bodies were warm, but our heads were freezing,” she laughs.

Bullington, who now works as a program supervisor with Childhood Autism Services, says camping is a tradition that she’s been able to share with her husband, Nick, and almost 2-year-old son Reese.

“There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.” – Elizabeth Bullington

“I think a lot of people find it hard these days to go camping because of the comfort issue. [Nick and I] have a queen air mattress in our tent, but sometimes people in my family like to sleep under the stars in sleeping bags. We’ve done a camper once before, but we prefer a tent because it feels more like camping.”

For Bullington, it was easy to share this experience with Nick because his entire family camps also, gathering every year at Ponca State Park for an annual camping trip. In fact, the idea of doing an annual family camping trip spread to Bullington’s family as well. “My parents wanted to find something we could all do, and we thought, ‘Let’s go camping!’”

Bullington says she and her family are planning to meet for their annual camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa, this July, and she’s looking forward to it. She and Nick have gone on the family trip for the last three years. “We try to choose somewhere between Madison, Wis., and Omaha because my sister lives in Madison and the rest of us live here. We’ve camped in Iowa the past few years.”

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese.

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese. Photo by John Gawley.

The annual trip became a lot more special for Bullington when she was able to bring Reese, even though he was still fairly young when he went for the first time last year. “We’re not going to let the age of our child stop us from camping. The way we see it, he’ll adapt to the outdoors just as we do,” she says.

Though Reese wasn’t yet walking the first time they went camping, Bullington says it was fairly easy to take him with on the trip. He slept on his changing pad in the tent with them, and they brought toys to keep him entertained while they were inside and outside of their tent. “We didn’t do a whole lot of water activities or hiking, but you have to give up some of the things you like to do to include family. [But] that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.”

Bullington agrees that society’s dependence on technology has made it difficult to get children (and even other adults) to spend time outdoors. But she maintains, it’s an essential part of childhood. “There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.”

Joe Wherry

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha resident Joe Wherry was a child who slipped through the cracks. As a toddler, he lived on the streets of his native Chicago under the loose supervision of skid row residents. He slept on a heating grate in front of a hotel for warmth. Now 64, Wherry spends his life making sure no one else slips through the cracks. “Everybody deserves someone to help them,” he says.

Despite some health challenges, Wherry remains cheery and lives on his own in West Omaha. The memorabilia in his apartment attests to that. For example, take the portrait of a 20-something Wherry in a flight jacket on the wall of his bedroom. Wherry served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. A “river rat,” in his words, he served as a boatswain’s mate in the Mekong Delta.20130312_bs_8969_web

Wherry sustained multiple injuries in the line of duty. “I was medevaced three times before they sent me home,” he says. Eventually, he won the Purple Heart.

In the 1980s, he began volunteering as an advocate for fellow veterans, even as he himself fought for disability benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Wherry also suffered ailments related to exposure to Agent Orange.

Tucked behind his military portrait there is a palm frond—the kind that gets handed out around Easter in Catholic churches. Wherry is an active member of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, serving as a greeter and an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Wherry was exposed to Catholicism while a student at Boys Town, where he graduated high school in 1966.20130312_bs_8981_web

“It was the first place where I could make something of myself,” he says of the home for wayward children. He was inducted into the Boys Town Hall of Fame in 2004.

Family portraits line Wherry’s walls along with his own. He met his wife, Marcia, when he was running a singles’ bar in Cicero, Ill., in 1972. She was a former Miss Tall Chicago. Two months later, they were engaged. Wherry has four children and six grandkids; Marcia succumbed to cancer in 1991.

Boy Scout mementos pack Wherry’s home. He thanks Boys Town for exposing him to the Boy Scouts as well, but it was not until after he returned from Vietnam that Wherry wanted to be an adult leader.20130312_bs_8955_web

While volunteering at a church school, Wherry saw a scoutmaster tell a boy to do a task “because I said so.” Wherry volunteered in order to be a different kind of leader. Decades later, his Boy Scout uniform is covered in patches awarded for services and accomplishments. If I can change it just by being there, I want to be there,” he says.

Wherry suffers frequent health problems, but that will not stop him helping others. “I’m going to keep doing it until I get it right,” he says with a laugh.

Turkey Fest

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For many, the very mention of the holiday season brings about fond memories and anticipation. But for those without close family and friends, the holidays can be a very lonely time. This is exactly why D.D. Launderville is so passionate about her work as Director of Omaha’s Senior Services Department of The Salvation Army.

For the past 16 years, Launderville has headed up The Salvation Army’s annual Turkey Fest, an event which provides and delivers hot, homemade Thanksgiving meals for those 60 years of age and older, as well as the handicapped, regardless of income. “It’s for people who are alone or lonely and can’t cook anymore,” explains Launderville. “This ensures that they get a really good, healthy, hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. That’s tradition…it’s our holiday and we can’t ignore that.”

The meal is a traditional one, consisting of turkey, potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberries, a roll, a banana, topped off with a homemade cookie. This year, the meals are being provided by the Knights of Columbus.

Chef Kevin Newlin and Major Catherine Thielke of The Salvation Army KROC Center.

Chef Kevin Newlin and Major Catherine Thielke of The Salvation Army KROC Center.

“We get a lot of Thank You cards and, of all things, it’s the cookie…it’s that homemade cookie, that [people respond to the most],” says Launderville. “You wouldn’t think it would be something like that, but this holiday is so tied into ritual and…brings up a lot of memories.” She says that the gratitude shown for the meal, as well as the personal delivery, touches her heart on many levels. “It lets me know that we do this right.”

Launderville says she is thankful for everyone that contributes their time and energy to the Turkey Fest: drivers, cooks, and those who assemble the dinners. The event, which has been serving Thanksgiving meals for nearly 20 years, is a joint effort between The Salvation Army, The Telephone Pioneers of Omaha, and the Knights of Columbus, as well as many other supporters throughout the community. “We get a lot of discounts [for the food]…community support is very strong.” She adds that several Boy Scout troops will help assemble the meals as well. “There are a lot of different people working as a team.”

Launderville credits the dedication of the volunteers to how smoothly the program runs. The meals are assembled at The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center on 27th and Y streets. Preparation begins Wednesday evening and starts up again at 6am on Thanksgiving morning. “We should be done by noon…delivery and everything.”

“It’s for people who are alone or lonely and can’t cook anymore. This ensures that they get a really good, healthy, hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. That’s tradition.” – D.D. Launderville, director of The Salvation Army’s Senior Services Department

“What’s so neat is that volunteer drivers can take a few meals to the older people, then go home and enjoy their own meal [with their family],” she says. “I know a lot of people with young kids enjoy doing this.”

Though The Salvation Army will take reservations for meals through November 19 (the Monday before Thanksgiving), the actual planning for the event began back in August. Launderville explains that those seniors who will be alone for the holiday can just call in to reserve a meal. “If they have a care-aid or a child that comes and checks on them, I’ll feed them too,” she says with a smile.

The first year of the Turkey Fest, Launderville says 300 meals were served; last year, 1,429 people received meals on Thanksgiving. This year, the group anticipates feeding about 1,500. “Omaha has a growing older population, and I think that every year, we see an increase.” In 2011, several hundred people volunteered to prepare and deliver the meals. They estimate similar numbers this year.

Turkey Fest meals can be reserved by calling 402-898-6023 beginning October 31. Those interested in volunteering to help deliver meals can contact Kay Weinstein, Metro Volunteer Director of The Salvation Army, at 402-898-6000.