Tag Archives: donation

Cole Rollins’ Blanket Parties

January 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kristy Rollins hands the phone to Cole almost immediately. It’s still a little tough for her talk about the blankets.

Cole is 10. He’s in fifth grade at Pine Creek Elementary, and he’s chatty on the phone. “We have a huge, big party,” he says, “where we make the blankets, and then we go give them to the kids at Children’s Hospital. They’re the kind you cut out and tie together.”

“Everyone brings their own fleece,” Kristy says. “Cole calls them parties.”

“People are upstairs and downstairs and all over, and everyone’s making them,” Cole says.

“It’s a big day,” his mom adds.

This year, about 20 people helped him put together 70 fleece blankets for the hospital. That’s a considerable increase from his first blanket party three years ago, when six friends came to help him make 19 blankets.

Cole was seven then. His little sister, Mallory, was three and receiving monthly infusions at Children’s to combat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome (OMS). “My sister came home with a couple fleece blankets from the hospital,” Cole says.

“He said he wanted to give blankets back to the hospital where Mallory got hers,” Kristy says. “The blankets mean so much to her. She treasures them. So we know that these kids treasure these. It’s a keepsake. Mallory has at least three.”

“My first one I gave to an older boy,” Cole remembers. “It was a John Deere blanket.” His favorite fleece patterns, he says, are camouflage and anything outdoorsy.

“Lots of kids still bring their blankets [to infusion],” Kristy says. “We’ll see them around.”

“I want to make a blanket for one of Mallory’s infusion friends,” Cole says. “It’s one of her friends that gets infusion at the same time, Lily. She wants a Justin Bieber fleece, but I can’t find any.”

Kristy says that, for the kids who make the blankets, the best part is hand-delivering them to the hospital. “The kids love giving them out in the lobby,” she says. “They love personally giving them.”

Speaking of giving, the 2013 holiday season marked the first annual Cole Cares Christmas—Cole partnered with a company, DirectCall of Air Methods, to run a gift donation for Children’s. “This is what he wanted to do next,” Kristy says.

But he’ll still be hosting his blanket parties.

The goal for 2014?

One hundred blankets.

Mafiosi and Madams

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by The Durham Museum and Julie Shadlow

An insignificant river town doesn’t grow up to be a thriving metropolis without producing its share of unsavory types. Villainous characters and shady stories abound in Omaha, especially in its early days, where men are often very tight and women deemed a trifle loose, according to poet John G. Saxe in 1869. These ain’t your mama’s headlines. Actually, they may have been your grandmother’s.

Political mob boss incites race riot. For 18 years, political boss Tom Dennison carried most of Omaha neatly in his pocket—government, police, and business. The man’s crimes were many, but his most reprehensible may have been inciting the infamous Omaha Race Riot of 1919. After citizens finally elected a non-Dennison man, one Edward Parsons Smith, as mayor in 1918, Dennison henchmen were accused of putting on blackface, assaulting women, and then stirring up crowds, leading to the lynching of black man Will Brown and the near-lynching of Mayor Smith. Smith’s administration was later accused of being ineffectual during the riot. Dennison himself was never found guilty of any involvement, and a key instigator, Dennison henchman Milton Hoffman, fled the state before he could be questioned.

Brothel owner donates building for hospital, receives public outcry. Six months before her death, Anna Wilson, madam of downtown’s Sporting District in the late 1800s, “…closed out her dive and presented the building, with  $75,000, to the city as an emergency hospital,” reads the Lawrence Journal-World on Jan. 16, 1912. Even though it was the second largest gift to charity yet made by an Omahan, city officials and residents balked at accepting the donation of an old brothel. To abate accusations of “tainted money,” Wilson agreed to accept a rent of $125 a month for the rest of her life.

James (Jimmy) Dahlman posing as The Cowboy Mayor of Omaha (courtesy of Durham Museum).

James (Jimmy) Dahlman posing as The Cowboy Mayor of Omaha (courtesy of Durham Museum).

Puppet mayor runs for eighth term. Depending on where you look, James Dahlman was either a heroic figure of Omaha or an unscrupulous politician. He shot and killed his brother-in-law at the age of 22 and was a close ally of political boss Tom Dennison. That alliance led to Dahlman winning three elections in a row, seven altogether. He was filing for an eighth reelection when he passed away. He did fight for and won more autonomy for the Omaha government from the state. Perhaps that desire for doing things by his own rules explains why Dahlman originally refused federal aid after the fatal Omaha Easter Sunday Tornado of 1913.

Saloon owner is key lieutenant in crime ring. William E. Nesselhous, one of Tom Dennison’s bootleggers, owned a saloon called The Budweiser, which served as Dennison’s headquarters. A tiny man with glasses (he was a former jockey), Nesselhous was Dennison’s connector, an adaptable man who managed people easily. He was indicted in 1932 (along with 58 other people) by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to violate prohibition laws.

Child of prominent family stolen! Kidnapper writes book. In the 1880s, Pat Crowe went to work for one of the big four names in Omaha’s meat industry when his butcher shop was bought out by the Cudahy Meatpacking Plant. Edward Cudahy later fired him when he was caught stealing money. Several years later, Crowe kidnapped 16-year-old Edward Cudahy, Jr., in 1900 and received $25,000, the first successful ransom in the United States. This was perhaps due to the cold ransom note, referencing another kidnapping where a boy died because the father refused to pay. “If you don’t give up…you can lead your boy blind the rest of your days,” Crowe’s note threatened, stating he would put acid in the young man’s eyes. Five years later, Crowe was arrested for the crime but acquitted, whereupon he wrote not one but two autobiographies detailing the kidnapping. Crowe’s crime supposedly influenced the famous kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s child.

Respectable wife murders husband in hotel lobby. On Nov. 17, 1888, Eliza Beechler of Chicago followed her husband, Harry W. King, Jr., to the Paxton Hotel at 14th and Farnam streets in Omaha. Beechler had seen a dispatch stating that King had married a Miss Duffy in Kansas City. At the hotel, King insisted Beechler go home, and when she refused, he allegedly replied that she shut her mouth or he would choke her to death. In response, she shot him in the Paxton lobby, killing him and depriving two other women, including one upstairs, of a man they also believed to be their husband.

Louise Vinciquerra, in a photograph dated 1927 provided by great-great-granddaughter Julie Shadlow of Oregon.

Louise Vinciquerra, in a photograph dated 1927 provided by great-great-granddaughter Julie Shadlow.

Phantom Sniper resents being called insane. After being released from the Iowa State Penitentiary for killing cattle, Frank Carter shot a mechanic and a doctor in Omaha and supposedly a railroad detective in Council Bluffs in 1926. Newspapers revealed the victims had been standing next to windows in their homes at night when they were shot. Though convicted of two murders, Carter claimed to have killed 43 people. His lawyers attempted to say he was a paranoiac with an inferiority complex, but Carter disrupted his own defense by shouting, “I’m not a nut! I tell you, I’m not a nut!” He was electrocuted on June 24, 1927.

Cigar store is front for Omaha Mafia boss. Anthony Joseph DiBiase (Tony Biase) was a short, portly man at 5’3 and 160 pounds. What began as small-time bookmaking in his Owl Smoke Shop on 16th Street in the ’40s would become a web of heroin trafficking and connections to New York mafia. In 1960, Biase was sentenced to 15 years for narcotics after his attempt on the life of a partner-turned-informant went wrong. Biase was paroled in 1970 and died in 1991 in South Omaha at nearly 100 years old. He only had one other arrest in between, in 1986.

Bootleg queen’s ex shoots her second husband. Earl Haning was visiting with his ex-wife, Louise Vinciquerra, in her home on July 4, 1933, when he was shot through a screen and killed by her first ex-husband, Sebastiano Vinciquerra. The two men had exchanged fire once before in 1928, while Haning was still married to Louise. Haning had been a prohibition agent in Omaha at the time he was married to Omaha’s Bootleg Queen. Haning was married to one Jessie McCombs when he was shot in his ex-wife’s home.

Shopkeeper butchers friend for $1,500. Ottway Baker killed his coworker, Woolsey Higgins, with two swings of an ax while Higgins slept in their shared room at a grocery on 12th and Farnam streets. Baker then set fire to the shop and shot himself in the arm to cover his tracks, but he was arrested and hanged on Valentine’s Day, 1868. It was the second legal execution in Omaha history and the city’s first ax murder on record.

Allie Baxter

Photography by Allie Baxter, The Salvation Army, and Prudential

Since she was a little girl, Alexandra ‘Allie’ Baxter could be heard ringing bells next to The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettles during the holiday season, taking donations for those in need. Now, her relationship with the signature red kettle takes on new meaning as the founder of the Red Kettle 5K Run.

Baxter, a recent graduate of Millard North High School who will be attending Northwestern University in the fall, started the fall charity event in 2010. Assigned to come up with a project for school, Baxter turned an idea for a charity event into a full-fledged business proposal, which she pitched to The Salvation Army. The inception of a run as a charity event, however, happened earlier that year while partaking in her favorite hobby.

“I was running another 5K charity event, and I noticed there were tons and tons of people there. And I thought to myself with that many people, you can really spread a message to lots of different people but also bring in lots of money and food,” Baxter says.

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The 5K run takes place at Lake Zorinsky and asks that participants pay a $10 or 10-food-item entrance fee. This year’s run will take place on Oct. 12. While the format of the run has not changed in its three years, fund- and food-raising efforts have skyrocketed. The first year brought in 16,000 food items for The Salvation Army, while last year garnered 45,000 items.

“Since we do a low-cost, high-benefit event, where we put in as little as we can to get the most out of it, whatever we bring in goes straight to the pantries and is immediately helpful,” Baxter says. “There seems to be an increasing need every year with the financial situations as they are. More people need the help and they all need it at the same time, especially going into the winter season.”

Omaha is not the only city where Baxter’s influence runs deep. The Salvation Army has started Red Kettle 5K Runs in major cities like Chicago and St. Louis.

“We’re trying to maintain a blueprint for the event. In Des Moines, they don’t need food because someone else helps them, so they bring in toiletry items. It adapts to what you need, and that’s what’s great about it,” she says.

For her efforts, Baxter received The Prudential Spirit of Community Award this past spring. The award, created in 1995, recognizes young people for their outstanding volunteer service. Baxter traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive her award, meeting Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey along the way.

Allie Baxter meeting actor Kevin Spacey at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in May.

Allie Baxter meeting actor Kevin Spacey at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in May.

“[The recipients] were put into groups, and we all were able to present our projects and hear what other people thought of them. I like hearing feedback from other people and learning how I can improve what I’ve started,” Baxter says.

Baxter is uncertain what her future holds for her at Northwestern, but she admits that through working with The Salvation Army, the business world has piqued her interest. Whatever she decides to do, she wants to continue working with The Salvation Army in Chicago and help combat hunger.

“There is this divide where people don’t realize there is a need, that there are people going hungry, there are people without homes. There’s a nonattachment between teens and what’s actually happening,” Baxter explains. “Hunger and homelessness are issues that are tough to fix. And when they are hard to fix, it makes people give up trying.”

Allie Baxter is one person who refuses to give up.

Distressed About Downsizing?

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Moving out of your house can be challenging for anyone. But when the house you are leaving has been your family home for the last few decades, it can be even more daunting.

The idea of packing up items accumulated over the years is, at first, a logistical nightmare. Then the sentimental factor sets in and it can be seen, by some, to be a nearly unbearable task. For others, letting go of all this “stuff” can be freeing and symbolizing a fresh start. Either way, it is undeniably a big undertaking.

Many seniors are facing this very situation for a variety of reasons, including simply downsizing, restricted mobility, and being unable to maintain their current home. Just as there are a variety of reasons for moving, there are a variety of services designed to help seniors and their families achieve this goal.

Kris Kircher, owner of Caring Transitions, is one of several local businesses that specialize in helping seniors and their families pack their belongings, spruce up the house, and get everything ready for the old house to sell and the new home to be move-in ready.

“We get [the house] completely cleaned out,” she says. “We [can] do it all for them.” For nearly 20 years, Kircher has been helping seniors and their families sort through all kinds of items, preparing them for an estate sale, for donation, or just to de-clutter and downsize. She can also help to get them settled in their new location.

Kircher explains that, to get the process started, she encourages her clients to focus on their goals. “Normally, it is to clean out the house so it can be sold,” she says. Often, the secondary goal is to make some money by selling unnecessary items through either an estate sale or through consignment. “I try to make sure I’m working with them to meet their goals so that they can have a say on what’s going on.”

Liz Ryan, owner of Once Upon a Time Estate Sales, has been in been the business of offering estate tag sales since 1981. Through her years of experience, she has seen that making this transition can be hard for all those involved. Just like Kircher, Ryan and her staff are determined to make the process as smooth as possible for their clients. “We try to accommodate…a person who is feeling overwhelmed about the potential move,” says Ryan.

Kircher adds that since this can be an exceptionally emotional time, she is careful to be respectful of the client’s feelings about the move. “There is a lot of loss and some mourning when you’re looking at giving up your home that you’ve lived in for 45 or 50 years,” she says. “You’re also mourning the fact that you can no longer live in your home…you can’t maintain it.”

“There’s a lot of sentiment attached to material things,” agrees Ryan. “The idea of moving and leaving the place you called home for many years is daunting, so we try to make that transition as smoothly as possible.”

Both Kircher and Ryan say that they often act as an advocate for the senior, as well as for their family, when a client has decided it’s time to move to a new residence. “When [the client] is looking for someone to work with, they’re really looking for someone to take care of all the details and someone who can do it respectfully,” says Kircher.

In being the advocate for the family, both businesses can take the entire process from start to finish, leaving the family time to focus on other, more enjoyable things.

“[My team] will work with someone in the house; or in many cases, we’re handed a key and we go through everything [in the house],” says Ryan. “We separate everything. Then we clean it, polish it, shine it, set it up on tables with velvet table clothes.” She says that they have sold everything from cars and boats to pots and pans.

The usual estate sale lasts three days. “For the final product the customer gets an entire inventory, piece by piece, of everything that has [left] the house with the item priced.” She says that Once Upon a Time Estate Sales is one of only two local estate sales services that provide the customer with the original cashier’s book. “It’s fun for people to go through because they’re incredulous at what some of [the items] will bring.”

For those who may have items better suited for a collection than a consignment shop, Holly Hackwith with Corporate Art Co. is a certified art appraiser through the International Society of Appraisers. She and her staff work with clients who want to find out the value of their artwork.

“Often, the client will want to know what it’s worth [in terms of] the fair market value because they want to gift different pieces to grandchildren or children, and they want to be fair about it,” she explains. “In other words, they want to be equitable in dollar amounts and they don’t know what [the piece is] currently worth.”

Hackwith also works with clients who are downsizing and are not sure whether to keep something, sell it, or need to have it insured. “Seniors would [also] want to have appraisal…if they want to give it as a charitable gift to an institution. I am accredited with the International Society of Appraisers to appraise anything that needs to be overseen by the IRS or for legal work.”

The idea of packing up a lifetime of possessions and moving on from where memories were made can seem monumental. But when the task is put into trusted hands of experts who respect your feelings and your belongings, it becomes a little easier to bear. And while letting go of our material items can be difficult at first, thankfully, the memories are easily carried with us wherever we go.