Tag Archives: Creighton University

One Jay’s Journey

March 3, 2020 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

People talking to John Sakowski often think he sounds a little bit like a surfer. A strange trait for a big-game, locked in, Big East pitcher, whose home stadium is 1,600 miles away from good surfing.

But there is something about his attitude. Something about the way he talks about himself and his journey and the game of baseball.

There is low key. There is under the radar. Then, there is Sakowski.

He is located somewhere in the subterranean depths of the college baseball hype machine; buried beneath the Ogallala aquifer and a youth science fair project on the layers of the Earth’s crust and a few feet above where your feet hit the magma. That’s where you’ll find the senior middle reliever as he gets ready to enter into his final season with the Bluejays.

He doesn’t mind keeping that low profile, though. That unflappable chill.

The laidback chemistry major who plans to one day become a dentist really only has one use for a spotlight: hitting those back molars with enough illumination to get to work. Now, open wide, please.

It’s not new, either: This relative anonymity, this feeling of letting things come when they’re ready.

Sakowski has never had much use for pomp or circumstance: not from his days playing baseball in a small-time local rec league where he describes himself as “more of a basketball guy,” nor while easing his way up through the ranks at Creighton Prep.

In many ways, his easygoing demeanor, his disdain for self-import, has always seemed a little more apt for a wetsuit and some crunchy waves than a pitching mound in a high-pressure situation.

“He was definitely a calming influence for the team,” said his high school pitching coach, Jerry Wellwood.

Make no mistake, beneath that placid, lake-smooth exterior and the self-deprecating attitude are waves of drive waiting to crash onto shore.

The man who used his decades of knowledge about the game to help mold Sakowski in his latter stages of high school knows about the fire hidden beneath. “The thing about John is that he was so competitive,” said Wellwood. “He hated to walk people. He would get out there and be competing like an animal.”

In spite of that fighting mentality, and the mental pliability that comes with an attitude like his, coming off a successful high school career, Sakowski had all the publicity of a CIA covert operative.

“We didn’t hear from a single school.” He says about his recruiting process, after becoming a late blooming star in high school. “My parents weren’t really big into the sports stuff, so we didn’t reach out to anybody and nobody reached out to me. Halfway through my senior year, I knew I was coming to Creighton already, so my dad told me ‘email the coach and see if you’ve got a shot.’”

The coaches agreed to let him come to a walk-on tryout, where he was awarded a “gray-shirt”: he was on the team, but unable to practice with the squad. From there was more work, more pitching. At each step, Sakowski’s uncut diamond of a pitching game got a little more polished. A little more honed.

Until finally, he was ready.

“When I was walking on, I didn’t know if I was going to be on the team,” Sakowski said. “For my first year and three quarters, I had no idea if I was going to make the team or not. I found out three days before we left for a road trip that I made the team.”

They told him he was on the team. And he needed to be ready, because he was going to pitch.

Since then, it’s been more work, more fun. Never one to close himself off to new ideas, Sakowski changed throwing styles. He changed again, and again.

“In high school I was just a normal stock pitcher,” Sakowski said. “When I came here they moved me to side arm. The summer before my junior year, I started throwing over the top and sidearm and now I have all these different pitches I can throw. It doesn’t have to be as good, because they can’t figure out what’s coming.”

As a junior he had a breakout season. Suddenly Sakowski’s vibe and his pitching matched up. The landlocked surfer saw a massive wave coming and hopped on.

“I finally felt comfortable on the mound, but things weren’t going well at first,” Sakowski said. “But, I told coach, I feel it coming. I don’t know if you can see it, but I am comfortable.”

Comfortable enough that he eventually ended the season with a 7-1 record, 2.83 ERA, and 44 strikeouts in 47.2 innings pitched.

When the stage was the biggest, the unworried right hander delivered some of his best performances against in-state rival Nebraska and against defending national champions Oregon State.

“Some people like to get themselves super hyped up before they come in,” Sakowski said. “I’ve tried that, but that doesn’t work for me. When I’m on the mound, I’m calm and relaxed. Everything’s normal.”

The Jays appear poised for a big season, and Sakowski can’t wait. The Omaha rec leaguer, the walk-on who practices meditation by competition, the guy with multiple deliveries and multiple big wins is not going to be a secret much longer. It’s hard to whisper a pitcher’s name when you’re shouting about a clutch strikeout.

“Winning the Big East. That’s the goal.” Sakowski said.

Surf’s up.

Visit gocreighton.com for more information

This article was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

B&W of John Sakowski

John Sakowski at Creighton University

Beyond the Front Desk

January 2, 2020 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jackson Parks is a sophomore at Creighton University with a passion for volunteering.

“He has completely rewritten what our volunteer jobs are,” said Michaela Kanoski, Volunteer & Guest Services manager at CHI Bergan Mercy Hospital.

Jackson Parks volunteers at CHI Bergan Mercy Hospital, where answering phones and giving people directions at the front desk are two of his main responsibilities. He occasionally delivers mail and participated in a “mock casualty incident” where volunteers learned how to respond to incidents where people are injured. He learned how to react in that situation and transport patients to safety.

These may seem like simple tasks, but Parks takes pride in his work and knows that these small things make a difference to people.

“The hospital isn’t everybody’s favorite place to be,” Parks said. “When they come in, they’re not having a great day, just to take that extra moment to really care for them and make sure they get to their destination or listen to what’s going on, let them know that you’re there and you’re thinking of them and kind of changing their day is what makes it worth it.”

His passion for volunteering started as a preteen, when he worked with local soccer clubs, food pantries, and his church. In high school, Parks transitioned to volunteering for hospitals.

Parks’ dad, Alan Parks, D.O., is a surgeon and his mom, Heather, is a health coach. When he started thinking about his future, Parks was inspired by listening to his parents talk about their jobs. This, in turn, made him realize being a doctor aligned with his interests, morals, and values.

When Parks told his dad he was thinking about working in the medical field, his dad suggested volunteering at a hospital in order to gain experience in that environment. Parks started volunteering at Midlands Hospital as a junior in high school and transitioned to CHI Bergan Mercy Hospital in college.

“Volunteering is kind of a time for me to relax and just clear my head,” Parks said. “So any stress that’s going on, you know, homework, test, any of that stuff just kind of lifts when I’m a volunteer.”

Kanoski, however, describes what a difference he has made at CHI Bergan Mercy.

“His energy has been really positive for our campus, he has been a breath of fresh air for us,” Kanoski said. “The amount of things that this kid has taken on has been amazing.”

Parks advocated for volunteers to do as much as they can for patients. Hospital employees often find Parks assisting patients whenever possible. Although volunteers are not licensed to do specific bedside care, Parks has been known to go above and beyond, such as the time he hand-fed a quadriplegic patient.

“We didn’t know, he didn’t tell us,” Kanoski said.

Other times, Parks will say he is simply going for a walk with a patient, when in reality he will push the patient in a wheelchair across the hospital campus.

“There [was] a patient [who had] been inside for a few months and hadn’t really gotten to experience the outside air,” Parks said.

Jackson Parks took the patient out and was with the person during their first moments of fresh air in months.

“When he or she went outside and was able to just kind of breathe in the air, you know, it was really meaningful to them,” Parks said.

Being able to spend time outside reminded the patient of childhood. These experiences make volunteering worthwhile for Parks.

“Hearing different life stories and stuff like that, it kind of changes me. It challenges me to grow,” Parks said.

Volunteering at the hospital has become an integral part of Parks’ life. He moved back and forth between Omaha and Ohio while his dad was studying to be a doctor, but he has always considered Omaha his home. His motivation for volunteering comes from wanting to give back to the community.

“At the hospital, it’s a supporting experience for others, but it really kind of helps me,” Parks said. “Volunteering means the world to me, it’s a chance for me to go out and give back to the community.”

Kanoski said that Parks’ passion and desire to help every person he can has set a tone for other volunteers at CHI Bergan Mercy.

“He is so willing to make every patient’s experience a good one,” Kanoski said.

Knowing that he makes a difference in others’ lives is incredibly important to Parks and a hospital is the perfect place for him to make an impact.

This article was printed in the January/February 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jackson Parks at Bergan Mercy Hospital

Celebrating Family, Football and the Farm

December 19, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nick and Jessica Wegener love to entertain on football game days, so when they built their 1½ story home in The Hamptons in Gretna, they decided to create the ideal hangout space for friends and family. The home’s lower level, which has been a work in process since moving into the residence in December 2018, offers a relaxed, fun atmosphere with personal and sports memorabilia, and nods to Nebraska’s rural life scattered throughout.

“We’re constantly having family over, maybe too much,” Nick Wegener said with a chuckle. “And we’re all big Nebraska football fans, so if we’re not [in Lincoln] at the games, we’re down in the basement watching.”

wall leading into Husker basement bar

Wegener built a wall to accommodate three large-screen TVs in the home’s movie room to allow for prime game day viewing. “We watch a lot of games, actually. We call it our pseudo college football room.”

Nick grew up in rural Nebraska and has been a loyal Cornhusker fan all his life, while Jessica joined Husker Nation a bit later. “She’s from Minnesota and attended UNL on a gymnastics scholarship,” he explained. Jessica’s University of Nebraska letter jacket hangs on display as part of the basement’s sports décor.

Nick attended Creighton University and said he enjoys watching CU sports as well. “I’m very much a Jayster.”

Concert posters from the Wegeners’ favorite country music artists are featured throughout the space, as are mementos from the couple’s years together. Among them, a champagne bottle from when the two got engaged, an engraved bottle from an Eric Church concert they attended together, and another from a vacation the extended family took to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. The bottles are displayed on custom-made riveted steel shelving hanging behind the bar.

Wegener added a rustic Nebraska feel to the basement by creating an accent wall made of reclaimed barnwood harvested from a farm a couple miles from his own family’s farm near Hebron.

“I bet we toured 120 houses, which is where we got the idea for using reclaimed wood,” Wegener said. “Then we learned about a barn on a neighboring farm dismantled in a windstorm. A guy I went to high school with was currently farming the land there, and we approached him about using the wood for our basement.” Wegener estimated the barn was about 80 years old.

When the farm’s owner agreed, Wegener and friends set about cutting a large span of wood directly out of the barn wall. After letting the wood dry for months, the panel was transferred to the basement wall to hang just as it had hung outside for decades. “I wanted it to look like a true barn, so we hung it with the wood vertical. It really does look like a barn wall, weathered paint and all.”

Wegener also harvested several items from his own family’s farmstead near Hebron, which remains owned by his father. Doors from the house and barn were reclaimed, then stripped, restained and sealed with a clear coat (for protection from lead paint), and used for doors for the Wegeners’ movie room, laundry room, and a cedar room.

Nick and Jen Wegener's Husker basement

Wegener says the homestead relics not only offer the rustic look he and Jessica desired, but also serve as nostalgic reminders of his youth.

“[The barnwood and doors] are a unique way to get some of that history in the house and hold onto my rural roots, which I love,” Wegener said. “And it creates the custom feel we were looking for. This is our last build. Our plan is to never move.”

This article was printed in the January/February 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Wegener's basement Husker bar

A Legacy of Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes

February 14, 2019 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Steve Hogan II could have pitched the golf ball, but instead clutched his 6-iron for an attempt back on the fairway at the Riverside Golf Club. He glanced at the small narrow window through the dense trees. Impossible shot. Sweat rolled down the 9-year-old boy’s back from the blazing summer heat and mounting pressure on the Pepsi Junior Golf Tour’s stop in Grand Island, Nebraska. He relaxed his tense grip and swung. The ball smacked a tree, ricocheting right back at him. Disgusted with himself, Steve threw his club. As soon as the rage left his body, Steve met his father’s disappointed brown eyes. Steve Hogan Sr. shook his head and walked briskly down the green until his orange shirt and khaki pants faded in the distance.

Steve’s shoulders sank.

“Until you can handle dealing with adversity without freaking out, you can’t play in any more tournaments,” his father said on the car ride home.

Steve later wrote him a letter, apologizing because the last thing he wanted to do was to let down his hero, coach, and father. It taught Steve a lesson and not just about the game of golf. In life, when you hit a ball into the bunker, throwing a pity party just isn’t worth the effort.

Steve would spend countless hours after that day perfecting his left-leaning drive until it coasted down the middle. His father was a mentor to not just his son, but to countless other children. Hogan Sr.—a semi-pro tennis player before discovering golf—worked for the City of Omaha cutting grass and mowing lawns.

When Miller Park needed a manager, Hogan Sr. took charge. He found himself playing on the course at all hours, falling hard for the game. He eventually became the head golf pro at Miller Park in 1989. Hogan Sr. became the first and only African-American representing Nebraska (as a certified teaching pro) in the Professional Golfers’ Association of America in 1997.

In 1990, when three children kept sneaking on the course to steal balls and ride bikes across the rolling hills at Miller Park, Hogan Sr. didn’t call the cops. Instead, the golf pro told them to come back and he would teach them how to play. He started a nonprofit foundation, fittingly named Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes, to expose the neighborhood kids to a game most knew nothing about. It grew to be the largest junior golf program in the country.

In 1997, Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes became part of The First Tee, an international youth development organization that teaches character-building values through golf. Because of Hogan’s work ethic and passion, U.S. Kids Golf named him one of the top-50 golf teachers in America in 2004. In addition, he won the 2003 PGA National Junior Leader award.

Steve recalls how Hogan Sr. always said he wanted to create “not the best golfers, but the best citizens.”

Tony Driscoll is another beneficiary of mentorship from Hogan Sr. As a chubby 11-year-old, Driscoll used to hop over the fence by the second hole with his clubs to golf at Miller Park. After Steve told his father what was happening, Hogan Sr. coached Driscoll rather than turning him away. Driscoll played seven days a week at the nine-hole par-3 course until college. 

“[Hogan Sr.] was the hammer and nail that made me realize what I am going to do with the rest of my life,” says Driscoll, who is now a PGA pro and director at Bent Tree Golf Club in Council Bluffs.

Steve played golf alongside Driscoll throughout high school at Central, competing against many fellow participants in Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes. Steve continued to golf at the collegiate Division I level, but politics and law fascinated him more.

His road to the bar, however, was not a straight shot down the fairway. Steve, a member of the Creighton College Democrats, jumped at the chance to work on the campaign of a first-term Illinois senator running for president of the United States. Steve took a shot in the dark and moved to Minnesota to become a field organizer for Barack Obama. He knocked on doors, hosted events, and convinced people to vote.

“It was an honor and a privilege to meet them [Barack and Michelle Obama]…to work on a dream campaign with a dream candidate with someone who looked like me,” Steve says. “It changed my life.”

Six days after Steve returned to Nebraska—following Obama’s election to the White House—his father passed away at age 55 from colon cancer. Miller Park was renamed the Steve Hogan Golf Course in his honor in 2009. Hogan Sr. impressed upon his son the importance of being considerate and compassionate. Steve knew from his father’s legacy that one person could make a difference, and he sought to put these lessons into practice for the common good.

Steve Hogan II of Hogan's Heroes

Steve Hogan II at the Steve Hogan Golf Course, named in his father’s honor.

Steve left Omaha again to work on the 2010 gubernatorial campaign of Minneapolis’ mayor, R.T. Rybak, and the transition team of Gov. Mark Dayton who won the election. Soon, Steve realized if he didn’t finish law school, he’d never do it. So, he returned to Creighton before another unexpected detour. He had an opportunity to intern at the White House in 2014. Creighton allowed him to enroll in the Government Organization and Leadership program so he could continue his studies with a dual major.

“Politics is such an awesome catalyst for change,” Steve says. At a young age, he hoped to be either a professional golfer or a senator. Steve put golf aside because he wanted to make an impact on a larger scale. Although Steve hasn’t made his dreams a reality, he looks every bit a future young congressman, dressed in a subtle gray and blue suit.

“Stevie always knows the score of the game in life,” Driscoll says. “He’s a gifted genius. We used to joke he would be president someday or the mayor of Omaha.”

Part of him wanted to stay in D.C., but he felt compelled to finish his degree. He graduated cum laude from the Creighton University School of Law in 2016 and passed the bar. Steve, now 32, focuses on litigation at the Omaha law firm of Fraser Stryker.

A young Steve Hogan II and his father.

At the same time, Steve didn’t want to leave his father’s golfing legacy behind. Steve noticed many times his face was the only non-white one in the room. It was something Hogan Sr. knew all too well since he had to face the same issues on many all-white golf courses.

“It is about knowing your worth and no one is going to take that from you. It is about setting an example for race and culture,” Steve says. “I can do this and be better, and we as a people can do better. I want more black and brown kids to know they can do it.”

Steve was involved in his father’s program all throughout high school and college, volunteering his time on the green to help inner-city kids even while working on other charities. He says it would be impossible to measure the many ways golf has helped him professionally, an opportunity Steve wants to pass to more of today’s youth.

After Hogan Sr.’s death, hard times fell on Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes—The First Tee of Omaha.

“He was a very unique individual, someone who could go in a room with potential donors and convince them of his dream while also being a PGA pro that could run and maintain a golf course,” Steve says of his father. “It’s tough finding one person that can fit all three roles.”

Steve was determined to keep his father’s program running. Almost 70 percent of the participating children don’t pay for the foundation’s nine-week summer golf program. Clubs, balls, and bags are all provided for those who would never be able to afford time on the green.

After a rotation of board members and executive directors, the nonprofit found its footing again. Steve is now vice-president of the board. Meanwhile, the program is once again thriving with Jeff Porter as its director and PGA pro.

Golf remains an important part of Steve’s life. He says lessons from the sport are sometimes simple, yet essential. Shake the competitor’s hand after a tough loss and look them in the eye. Face failure and be honest enough to admit a penalty. Or maybe there is a lesson in a biffed shot, something Steve knows all too well. For him, golf isn’t just a game.

Visit thefirstteeomaha.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


Creighton Bluejays Women’s Basketball

January 28, 2019 by
Photography by Kaylie Clineff

D.J. Sokol Arena was filled with a screaming crowd and a dedicated team on Saturday, January 26th.

The Creighton Bluejays (10-10) and the Providence Friars (13-8) took the court and turned the heat up on a cold, Nebraska afternoon this Saturday.

The arena was filled with Bluejay blue and the smell of popcorn and hot dogs filled the air.

The first few quarters started with the Jays in the lead, but Providence slowly crept their way up.

Jade Owens, point guard for Creighton, is playing her first season after two and a half years due to a hip injury. She may be a little slower, but she still played a good game, putting six points on the board for the Jays. 

Owens had her game face on and didn’t give up once, even as Providence pulled ahead.

The support the teammates gave one another helped them out on the court, with a little help from their overall enthusiasm.

Although the final score was 77-63 with Providence taking the win, the Creighton women still had smiles on their faces, showing how proud they were of the hard work they’d put in. 

Read more about Jade Owens’ recovery here

For more information about Creighton basketball, or athletics, visit: gocreighton.com


Good Job or Dream Job?

January 21, 2019 by

When thinking about career opportunities, one situation comes up to me frequently—that is, do I quit a job I just accepted if my dream job comes along? Here is a common scenario:

An employee worked for a company for 10 years. Then, it restructured and the employee lost his/her job. That employee networked and found a good job. The firm on-boarded said employee, who started working there for three weeks. This employee likes the work and has begun to implement a big project that will take months to complete. The employee’s skills are needed to successfully complete the project, which is essential to their strategic plan. If the company gets this right they will be able to grow their business over the next three years.

Then, a potential boss at the new employee’s dream job calls with an opportunity at a smaller firm that is doing cutting-edge work. The employee likes the ability to use their skills to innovate with a hard-working, fun-loving team, and then turn ideas over to a group of creatives that will bring the best of them to the market. The company is the kind of firm that is written up in Fast Company. It will make products that allow people in developing cultures to live better lives. The pay is quite a bit less, but the employee can make it work.

Here is the ethical question. Should this employee stay at the job he/she just started? Or is it OK to quit for this dream job? The decision needs to be made quickly.

My answer to this person is: you and your dreams count. However; this person’s strong ethical lens allows this person to not only recognize self-interest, but also see past it. 

Many people want to help make the world a better place and have fun to boot. They are willing to take less money for this. But these values conflict with promise-keeping and the harm created at a good job if an employee leaves after only a few weeks. Hiring and on-boarding a salaried employee is costly, and leaving a team short-handed-—putting their strategic project behind—is perhaps to the long-term detriment of the firm.

Ethically speaking, how long does a promise to hold a job last? One day? Three weeks? Should it be commensurate with the amount of time and energy put forth by the firm?

Anyone in the good job versus dream job situation has to come to grips with the values in conflict, keep the context in mind, and recognize that what they do affects themselves as well as others. Anyone with strong ethical decision-making skills recognizes that the solution might not be an either-or. Wisdom suggests that courageous conversations with all parties will likely result in a solution that honors one’s principles and mitigates harm all the way around.

This column was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

Compassion in Translation

January 3, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Grief is incredibly complicated, says Gabriela Martinez.

Expressions of grief vary widely depending on the individual, family, and cultural context. Grief can be immediate or delayed. It may affect children and adults in different ways. And many things can trigger it, like the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness, a life-changing injury, or separation through life circumstances like immigration challenges or incarceration. 

But there is one universal constant. “Nobody ever wants to become a part of this club,” says Martinez, the bilingual (Spanish/English) outreach and inclusion coordinator for Grief’s Journey, formerly Ted E. Bear Hollow. “Any of these losses can be such an isolating experience. We want to make sure no one has to go through their grief journey alone.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in social work from Creighton University, Martinez’s career has focused on equity and inclusion, an area of special interest for her, she says. Martinez herself is a first-generation American whose parents came to the United States from El Salvador in the early 1990s.

“I was raised in a very social justice-oriented family. My dad worked a lot in New York with the [El Salvador] Consulate, so I was raised around a lot of politics. One of his big motivators was the death of Óscar Romero (an archbishop and outspoken social activist assassinated in 1980), who just became a saint under Pope Francis,” she says.

She spent her early years in New York City surrounded by other families from Central America, so when her father took a job opportunity that brought the family to Omaha in the early 2000s, Martinez experienced some culture shock.

“When I first came here, everyone would say, ‘Oh, you’re Mexican.’ But there are people who speak Spanish from other countries,” she says. “There are a lot of differences between Latino cultures.”

Martinez says human services agencies and nonprofits must find ways to increase awareness and reach individuals who need their specific programs and services, especially underserved and vulnerable populations. The challenge is compounded two-fold when individuals and families are overwhelmed in a time of crisis and language is a barrier to communication. 

“The outreach and inclusion role is to make sure we are reducing barriers for all individuals in our community who are currently experiencing a loss, whether that be through immigration challenges, illness, or a death,” Martinez says. For instance, people often don’t realize that Grief’s Journey support programs are free, open to both youth and adults, and available with Spanish-speaking facilitators. “I’m outreaching to those individuals that don’t necessarily know we’re a resource for them.” 

Martinez’s responsibilities at Grief’s Journey reflect an organizational commitment to expand its services to a broader span of the population, CEO Rebecca Turner says. 

“Grief’s Journey employs outreach coordinators charged with developing relationships and solutions for people who encounter obstacles to accessing support,” she says. “The agency addresses language and cultural barriers through paid and volunteer interpreters; provides snacks or meals at all of its programs; produces programs at a variety of locations, including partner schools and agencies; and frequently provides travel vouchers for program participants.”

Staff and volunteers are also trained to recognize potential need for other services beyond Grief’s Journey’s grief support programs (from individual or family counseling to food pantry access), and they collaborate with other providers to help guide families to the resources they need. 

“A lot of it is referrals to, and interacting with, different agencies,” Martinez explains. “A death may just be one level of what this family is going through; they may need help putting food on the table or need other services as well. 

Grief support is important because it can have far-reaching effects beyond the initial loss, Turner says. 

“Research indicates that unaddressed grief correlates to issues such as poor school performance, poor work attendance, and lingering emotional and behavioral concerns; whereas healthy coping leads to long-term successes for children, families, and communities,” she says. “We believe everyone has a right to excellent and compassionate grief support and that our community is stronger with it.”

“It’s about creating that community where we’re empathetic to these individuals and their journeys,” Martinez says.

Visit griefsjourney.org for more information.

This article appears in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Tom Tomoser

December 27, 2018 by
Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

Editor’s note: These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits. Click here for the full list of featured models. 

Tom Tomoser, 79

I’m a father of five, ranging in age from 3 to 61. The oldest four kids are all college grads and doing well. The oldest is an RN and has a bachelor’s degree; our second child has a CPA/MBA and is director of auditing at Creighton; our third child is a professor of economics and has a master’s degree from Sinclair University; and the fourth is GM of HVAC Co. and has a bachelor’s degree in zoology.

Our baby is the light of our life, being super-cute, talented, and very intelligent.

I am an entrepreneur. I started in meat packing and built a $2.4-million-a-year business from a throwaway beef byproduct, and was the largest supplier of the raw material for Jewish Torah scrolls. Eighty percent of the Torahs at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem were made from leather materials I supplied. At one time I had 92 percent of that business.     

My biggest challenge today is building another million-dollar business to provide for my 37-year-old wife and our 3-year-old daughter. My wife was an on-air radio personality in the Dominican Republic and is an excellent photographer and cinematographer. Lone Eagle Records is our independent record label. To get national attention, I’m working up a pitch in order to get on the TV show Shark Tank. Rosmery T. Videos is our video arm. “Ros” has a channel on YouTube and over 15,000 views. We also have a sales company, selling memberships in a large buying co-op.

I am proud of many events in my life, such as being able to continue living a full, productive life at age 79 and providing for my wife and daughter. As a high school dropout, I am proud of having built a $1 million business. I also placed fifth in “Amateur Night at The Apollo in NYC.” I have become a successful karaoke performer. The Omaha World-Herald printed a big spread on me in December 2010, and CMT ran my videos on-air in 1986.

I always wanted to be a “snappy dresser,” as we said in the 1950s. My mother had six brothers who all stood 5’2” to 5’6.” I stood 5” when I was 10, so I received many expensive hand-me-down dress shirts and ties from them. From age 10 on I was a snappy dresser, as I always wore a shirt, tie, and sweater to school. When I went into the Navy, I bought tailor-made dress blues.

I tell everyone who will listen that I am the happiest man on Earth. I turned my life around when I found God and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like the Jewish people keep kosher, which means fit, we of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints obey a health law called “The Word Of Wisdom.” Obeying the Word Of Wisdom has contributed to my excellent health, which allows me to work 60-70 hours a week and still have energy to enjoy angels. Most important to health is a positive, can-do attitude. I adopted the attitude of Bobby Layne, who played quarterback in the NFL. Layne once said, “I never really lost a game in my career, sometimes I just ran out of time.”

This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Tom Tomoser

Ann and Michael J Dunn

Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

Editor’s note: These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits. Click here for the full list of featured models. 

Ann Dunn, 77

I grew up in Omaha and was a student at Creighton University when I met and married Mike. We recently celebrated our 55th anniversary. In the early 1980s, I returned to school at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with honors, and a specialty in business information systems. With this degree, I worked at Mutual of Omaha for 20 years in information technology.  

The one great sorrow in our lives was the loss of our son, Timothy, in 1988 in an automobile accident. Our other three children have blessed us with 11 wonderful grandchildren. We love seeing them frequently and being a part of each of their lives.  

Through the years, I have enjoyed many different pursuits including tennis, skiing, running (now walking), golf (which I took up at the age of 70 and have achieved a hole-in-one), gardening, exercising, cooking, entertaining family and friends, reading, playing cards, mahjong, and travel. I treasure long-term friendships and therefore monthly outings are planned with my high school classmates, work friends, and siblings.

My advice for a long life is to exercise daily, eat and drink wisely, and never stop learning. 

We have been blessed with a great family, good health, and wonderful friends. Life is good.

Michael J Dunn, M.D., 79

I grew up in Lead, South Dakota, in the northern Black Hills. I came to Omaha in 1957 to attend Creighton University for pre-med studies and then attended the Creighton University School of Medicine. After graduation in 1964, I completed four years of internal medicine residency training and entered private practice in 1968. I became board-certified in internal medicine and, subsequently, became a fellow of the American College of Medicine and a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. After retiring from private practice in 2004, I became a principal investigator at Quality Clinical Research, where I have worked part time for the past 12 years.

The greatest joys and loves in my life have been my wife, Ann, our four children, and 11 grandchildren. I have enjoyed skiing since the age of 10, upland bird hunting, salmon fishing in Alaska, scuba diving, running (I have completed one marathon), and now stretching exercises and walking. I have enjoyed refinishing old furniture, some stone masonry work, gardening, and swimming pool maintenance (I’m the cabana boy for our backyard pool).  Through the years I’ve kept up with reading current medical literature, and I enjoy reading mystery novels as well.

I attribute my success and happiness to my wife, Ann. One must choose their lifelong partner very carefully. I did that for sure.

This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


The Long Road to Recovery

December 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Injuries are a part of sports, but Creighton University point guard Jade Owens has weathered more than her fair share. After two years spent recapturing the health and athleticism she once took for granted, she’s returned to play for her senior season.

Owens earned a supporting role as a freshman before working her way into the starting rotation her sophomore year (2015-16). She averaged 7 points, 3.5 assists, and 1 steal per game and won admiration for her scrap and hustle. Things were panning out just as expected for the former all-state basketball player from the Chicago suburb of Fenwick.

Then, the summer before her junior campaign, just as she was coming into her own as a Division I player, she suffered the first in a series of major injuries requiring surgery. She was forced to sit out the 2016-17 season. Setbacks caused her to miss 2017-18 as well.

The promise of what might have been lingers. Her father, Ron Owens (who first taught her the game), says the persistent injuries have been “heartbreaking.”

After three separate six-month-long rehab sessions, she put the heartbreak and physical aches behind her to play in the Bluejays’ preseason exhibition (a closed scrimmage). She returned to the court for Creighton’s regular season home opener versus South Dakota on Nov. 7. The game was her first since March 2016.

“It’s been a road,” Owens says of her journey to recovery.

“Everyone always tells you, ‘You’re going to lose basketball one day,’ but you never think that’s going to happen. I lost it, and I’ve had to re-identify how I was on the team, how I fit in with everyone,” she says. “You don’t know how much basketball shapes your life until you lose it. All aspects of my life—different relationships, friendships, school—were affected by it. Just learning to adapt and to come back from things has been a huge life lesson for me.”

Coach Jim Flanery witnessed Owens fighting for 24 months to reclaim the sport that once defined her. “That’s a long time,” he says. Twice she got close to returning before being sidelined again.

“It’s like you get to a point where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then it gets darker again,” Flanery says.

He describes Owens’ ability to stay hungry and strong enough to withstand “the frustration and disappointment” as a case study in perseverance.

“I just hope I can stay healthy—that’s No. 1—and contribute any way I can,” Owens says. “I know it’s not going to be the same as when I played before. I have to keep that realistic vision and take one day at a time.”

She’s learned to lean on her teammates over the years. “They’ve definitely been my rocks,” she says. “They’ve been there for me through it all—through the tears and the laughter. I don’t know if I could have come back without them.”

Her parents have been there, too. “They’ve been behind me the entire time,” she says. Her folks supported her when she considered quitting and when she decided to try coming back even after one failed attempt.

Her father isn’t surprised by Owens’ grit and determination in enduring the grueling physical therapy necessary to recover her mobility and strength.

“I take my hat off to her for sticking it out this long, but I’m not surprised she did the work,” he says. “She just puts her mind to something, and she makes it happen. She’s always been like that. She does whatever it takes to get whatever her goal is.”

He saw her overcome an ankle injury her senior year in high school that resulted in surgery and rehab. That was hard enough, but nothing compared to the last two years. Owens herself still can’t believe she’s on the court again dishing, dancing, and driving after not being able to do much of anything.

“It’s really amazing to me after everything I’ve been through,” she says. “It’s just crazy for me to even think about.”

Then there’s the way she has defied medical opinion.

“Some doctors told me, ‘We don’t know if you can [play basketball] anymore.’ I’ve been hearing that for a long time,” she says.

Her road to recovery began when she noticed pain in her upper thigh during a pickup game on the eve of her junior year. It was treated as a groin problem. Surgery in Omaha didn’t relieve the issue. Then she went home to be examined by a Chicago orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Domb, who found the real problem—a right labrum tear. He repaired it. Following six months of recovery, she was no sooner cleared to suit up again when the labrum popped out and she suffered a fracture during her first practice back. Then, this past summer, she suffered a meniscus tear in her right knee that meant another procedure—her third surgery in less than two years—and another arduous recovery regimen.

Fellow CU senior Audrey Faber and junior Olivia Elger marvel at what their teammate has endured.

“I can’t even imagine the long months, days, hours she’s gone through,” Faber says. “Everyone’s excited to have her back. She knows the game, and we have a lot of trust in her.”

Elger says the resilience and mindset Owens has shown “should be a lesson to anyone” dealing with adversity.

That fortitude has not only impressed teammates and coaches, but also Owens’ twin sister, brother, and parents.

“She’s been an inspiration to the family,” her father says.

She is just glad to be back on the court; however, her experiences have done more than nurture athletic recovery. They have inspired a possible career interest. She is applying to medical school (at Creighton and other universities), and she hopes to study orthopedics. She’s even aiming for an internship with her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Domb.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices, and I know the lingo,” Owens says. “I think I have some insight into sports medicine and what it’s like dealing with injuries.”

Visit gocreighton.com for more information.