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Embracing Arts + Crafts

November 5, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not often that architect Steven Ginn is asked to tear down half a house, then renovate the remaining half. But the prospect of a crazy complicated project didn’t deter the veteran architect. In fact, he welcomed the challenges of creating a cohesive home for his clients, Rod and Lisa Johnson, in their lovely Fairacres residence. Lisa was the primary collaborator, working with Ginn and master craftsman and contractor Don Stein to create a traditional yet functional home that would embrace their natural surroundings and social lifestyle, keeping sustainability in mind.

From a design perspective, the team was tasked with hatching a house that flowed seamlessly from the existing framework to the new addition. The end result is the stunning 8,000-square- foot home at 6729 Davenport St. Set on over an acre, this English Arts and Crafts beauty fits right in with the historic neighborhood. That was intentional, as Lisa didn’t want something that would be viewed as an eyesore, lessen the curb appeal, or annoy her neighbors in the well-known and well-loved enclave.

Arts and Crafts is more of a movement than a specific style of house. But, generally, it’s understood that the design approach sprung from a rejection of the Industrial Revolution and the dehumanization of art and architecture. Arts and Crafts homes emerged as places to express one’s humanity, commune with others, embrace nature, and honor workmanship. A focus on the hearth and heart of the home is an example of an Arts and Crafts expression. In the Johnson home, the master bedroom fireplace and large outdoor fireplace are examples of this in practice. Additionally, Arts and Crafts homes typically offer multiple places to gather. The Johnson home fully embraces this design element, which makes socializing a breeze.

“I love how the house is big and open with great flow, so that it is so easy to entertain friends and family and so easy to live in day to day,” Lisa says. “I love that it has been a hub for my kids and their friends, partly because of the features that we built in that make it a fun, easy, welcoming place for kids or adults to hang out…things like a media room, exercise room, large built-in couch, game room and (lockable) wine cellar on our lower level, as well as a pool, hot tub, fireplace, outdoor kitchen, and basketball court outside.” 

The home’s multiple porches and balconies are another design feature that’s common in Arts and Crafts homes, as they serve as yet more gathering spaces and help link the indoors and outdoors. For Ginn, the link to the outdoors was integral in the design process. The whole house was designed around two pin oaks, one in the front yard and one in the back. The office, in particular, offers focused views of nature as the doors were designed to line up with the oak in front. According to the architect, “The connection to nature lends itself to a stronger sense of place.” As such, a courtyard was created to allow the tree’s roots to thrive for decades.

Bringing the outdoors in was part of  the Johnsons’ vision as well. “The biggest inspiration was probably our beautiful yard…using the outdoor space better and creating beautiful views.” Lisa is overjoyed with the end result. “I love the big beautiful windows and the way that light floods in through them, even on gloomy days, and I love how each window is a frame for the scenic view of the pretty yard and trees beyond it.”

An appreciation for nature also lent itself to sustainability. The home is heated and cooled by a geothermal pump, which reduces power consumption, and was built with extra hybrid insulation to keep energy costs low. Ginn says he wants the house “to stand the test of time” and inspire the owners to lovingly maintain the home well into the future. An architect always aims to build homes that will be relevant and useful in 30 more years, he says.

With classic features, good bones, and smart design, this Fairacres beauty is destined to be around for generations to come. 










This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

On the Front Lines

November 4, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For young artists, support is crucial. Children look to parents and teachers to provide the reassurance needed to go forward and confidently pursue their chosen craft. If you are painter Elizabeth Boutin, though, that support can come from a somewhat unexpected place.

“There were these contests in the TV Guide where you tried to recreate a particular drawing, and there was one of a cartoon turtle [named Tippy] that I decided to enter,” says the 51-year-old Bellevue resident of her formative artistic experience. “A few weeks later I got a typed letter back saying that I hadn’t won, but that I should continue practicing and consider attending art school.”

It’s an unusual start for an artist whose work focuses on the inner turmoil of military veterans and the horrors of war, but for Boutin, it was just the vote of confidence she needed.

Already an avid drawer from spending time with her artistically gifted grandmother (“she used to make doodles whenever I came over”), Boutin took that TV Guide letter to heart and ended up enrolling at North Idaho College in fall 1986. The experience only lasted a year before life got in the way.

She married a military man and spent the next 25 years hopping from base to base, raising three children in the process. Though she was not regularly painting during this time, the frequent travel was a source of inspiration both in subject matter and style, especially when the family was stationed in Ramstein, Germany, from 2003 to 2006. This gave her the chance to visit some of Europe’s iconic museums, including the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay.

It was during this time that Boutin started volunteering for the Red Cross at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center during the height of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. “I was helping with basic necessity—changing sheets, serving lunch, and, occasionally, I would help change Band-Aids,” Boutin says. “I learned about the treatment of a lot of these injuries…and I also listened to their stories.”

It was here that Boutin experienced firsthand the damage that war can inflict on both the mind and body.

Elizabeth Boutin paintings

“Holding On,” 2019, oil on canvas on left; “Deviation,” 2015, oil on canvas on right

“My first moment of real shock happened during my first month,” Boutin says. “I walk into one of the rooms and greeted the people in there with a pleasant ‘hello, how are we doing?’ and one of the men there goes ‘how do you think’ and throws his blanket up and his leg is split open from the top of his thigh down to his knee. The whole thing was stuffed with gauze and there was this knock-you-on-your-knees smell.”

To cope with the experience of being surrounded by so many wounded souls, she started writing her experiences down in a journal, using as much detail as possible. “I wrote down everything except their [the soldiers’] names because I wanted to respect their privacy. I can still picture all of their faces plain as day.”

Those memories stuck with Boutin, but she never acted on them until a family friend from the Army committed suicide.

“That was rough,” she says. “It’s still rough.”

At that point, Boutin and her family had relocated to Bellevue, as her husband was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base. She was also taking classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to get her bachelor’s degree in fine arts and was looking to branch out from the traditional still lifes she was painting at the time.

“I hated talking about this subject matter [mental health] in the past, but it seemed so pertinent at the time,” Boutin says. “I brought up it up to my professor and said ‘I kind of want to do this, but I’m not sure that I should’ and she just looked at me without hesitation and said ‘go for it.’” Boutin has been working on the resulting series of paintings, Effects of PTSD, ever since.

The series’ symbolism is about as on-the-nose as it gets: dog tags draped atop bottles of pills and vodka, a soldier slumped against a wall surrounded by words such as “suffocating” and “alone,” and skulls placed alongside Desert Eagles and war medals. It’s dark, and Boutin realizes the heavy subject matter might be the reason she is not able to book more public showings.

Elizabeth Boutin painting

“The Elements,” 2015, oil/watercolor pencil on canvas

Those who get the chance to see Boutin’s work in person, especially those in the military, are incredibly moved. Boutin says she has had several people break down and cry while looking at her work, telling her that it accurately captures their struggles.

It’s also allowed Boutin to deal with struggles of her own, helping her cope with the loss of her friend and the things she saw while volunteering in Ramstein. This year, she began dipping into her journals from her Red Cross days, using the words to accompany her images. “I’m finally starting to express these stories from my journal on canvas,” Boutin says. “I look at it as a form of art therapy, as a way to process it all.”

She makes it clear, though, that this project has always been about more than herself. “We have these guys and girls going out on the line for us and we need to take care of them once they get home,” she says. “It took me a long time to realize that’s what I wanted to say with my work.” As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

Visit elizabethboutin.com for more information.

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

Elizabeth Boutin at home

The Influenza Virus and the Elderly

Each year as fall rolls around, people start hearing the call to get vaccinated for the flu. But does one need to get the flu vaccine every year? The simple answer is yes.

The influenza shot is the best way to prevent the flu, which can have serious and even fatal consequences, especially in the elderly.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are more than 20,000 deaths from the flu each year and more than 200,000 hospitalizations. Most of these deaths occur in the elderly and the very young.

“Older adults have a high risk of complications and even death due to the flu because their immune systems are weaker,” says Dr. Alberto Marcelin, family practitioner at Nebraska Medicine. “It is estimated that 50 to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations occur in patients 65 years or older and approximately 90% of flu-related deaths occur in people over 60 years old.”

Getting the flu vaccine not only boosts a person’s immune system in protecting against the influenza virus but also decreases their chances of obtaining other serious infections. “If you don’t get vaccinated and get a severe influenza infection and end up in the hospital, you are more likely to contract other serious infections with organisms like methicillin—resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),” says Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, infectious disease specialist at CHI Health. “The flu can also make other chronic conditions like heart disease, emphysema, or asthma even worse.”

The effectiveness of the vaccine varies each year depending on the strain of flu circulating in the community and how well a person’s body responds to the vaccine. “Even if you acquire influenza after vaccination, the severity of your illness will be lessened if you get the influenza vaccine,” Vivekanandan says. “The flu vaccine primes your body so the body can create antibodies and is ready to fight against the circulating strain.”

It’s also important to note that the flu vaccine does not cause the flu. “It’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine,” Vivekanandan says. “It is an inactivated vaccine. There is no live virus present to replicate and cause infection.”

Someone who has been recently vaccinated may develop redness, mild muscle aches, and even a low-grade fever for a day or two following administration of the shot, but these symptoms are nothing in comparison to influenza, which can cause high fevers and severe debilitating muscle aches, and usually lasts three to five days.

Determining how bad the illness will be each year is basically a guessing game. “The flu is predictably unpredictable,” says Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist at Douglas County Health Department.

“Every spring, scientists try to determine what the flu virus is going to be based on what’s circulating in other parts of the world. If it’s a strain that hasn’t changed and has been around for a couple years, you will have better immunity. However, if it is a completely new strain, like the swine flu we experienced in 2009, it can quickly become a pandemic. An early winter can also increase the number of flu cases,” she says.

This year, the vaccine has been prepared to protect against the A and B strains and it was recently updated to be more effective against these strains, notes O’Keefe.

Those who are 65 years and older should get the flu vaccine in early September, or as soon as it becomes available, O’Keefe says. It takes about two weeks for the body to respond to the vaccine and develop protective antibodies—so people want to get the vaccine a couple of weeks before fall hits.

People in this age group should also ask for the high dose vaccine, which has been shown to be more effective and offer greater protection to those over age 65, Marcelin says.

Other preventive measures include practicing good hygiene and using a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. Avoid environments where other people are ill. Children should also be vaccinated early as they are often incubators of the flu and may hasten the spread of the virus.

Those who think they have been exposed or begin to develop common flu symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, or rapid heart rate should talk to their doctor about getting the antiviral medication called Tamiflu. This medication can reduce the severity and duration of the influenza infection. Those who are exposed to someone with influenza can also request Tamiflu as a prophylaxis to prevent the infection from developing, Vivekanandan says.

While the flu vaccination is especially important for the elderly and the very young, everyone should get the vaccine. “When you get your yearly influenza vaccination, you are not only protecting yourself but also protecting the people you love, and people in your community who are at higher risk for serious complications like the elderly and the young,” Vivekanandan says.

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

Promoting Themselves by Promoting Others

September 26, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

An unassuming building at 95th and F streets houses a company with a national reach that surprises many of their local clients.

“It has to do with people thinking that we are promotion peddlers,” Bergman Incentives Vice President Kevin Gilinsky said, “as opposed to being an extension of the brand.”

Bergman Incentives is a branding solutions company that strives to use their products to help companies shape their brand. The business is currently run by Kevin and his brother, David.

Under the direction of the Gilinsky family, Bergman started in Omaha in 1888 as a jewelry company. It began by repairing watches for local railroad companies, Kevin said, and eventually started selling watch parts to local jewelry stores. As the business evolved, the company began to focus on the wholesale industry.

In the 1970s, Bergman evolved with the idea of corporate gift sales. The Gilinskys’ father partnered with First National Bank and Woodmen of the World Insurance, and helped them with wedding gifts for employees. They took corporate gift sales to a new level in the 1990s with the concept of a company store, Gilinsky said. From that point on, they started working closely with companies to create quality branded promotional materials.

While they recently opened locations in Kansas City and Lincoln, Bergman’s headquarters is still located in Omaha. “Our roots are here,” Gilinsky said, “Omaha is our home.”

Bergman Incentives services clients in the Omaha area, but Gilinsky says roughly 60 percent of his clients are outside of Nebraska, such as the nationally-known Trek Bicycles.

“We love to be in our backyard and have that connection with the Omaha community, and the Omaha community has been phenomenal for us,” Gilinsky said. “Just because the distributor is in someone’s back yard doesn’t mean the client is getting what they need.” It isn’t always necessary to be right in front of the client, Gilinsky says. Today, Bergman attributes a lot of their successes to working with quality favorites and effective client communication.

Roughly 10 years ago, Bergman Incentives was one of the first distributors to partner with Facilisgroup. This buying group represents roughly 16,000 distributors that Gilinsky says make up about $800 billion dollars in revenue. By working together, it ensures that Bergman has access to high-quality factories that produce goods that are safe for consumers.

Ultimately, the relationship Bergman maintains with its factories allows the company to better fulfill client needs. “When it comes to servicing clients it is the small details,” Gilinsky said. “It has a lot to do with communication.” Through strong teamwork and effective client communication, Bergman prides itself on being able to focus on the small details that lead to overall customer satisfaction, like quickly relaying price quotes and shipping timelines.

“When things go sideways, we’ve chosen good factories that back us up. That is how we land larger scale clients,” Gilinsky said. “Our factories have to adhere to certain levels of compliance. We have certificates from their labs that tells us the extensive level of testing involved.”

Currently, Bergman Incentives serves clients from diverse industries. The account executives strive to get to the bottom of what their clients need and tailor merchandise to their audience.

Gilinsky said one thing Bergman Incentives always tries to do is embrace technology to better serve clients. For example, they will create websites for a small group of their client’s employees, so they can order merchandise.

“We are an extension of a client’s marketing department,” Gilinsky said, “Marketing departments have entrusted us to know their
brand guidelines.”

Gilinsky said it is about more than just printing items. It is about partnering with a company and becoming a branding solution.

Visit bergmanincentives.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From left, Kevin Gilinsky and David Gilinsky

From left, Kevin Gilinsky and David Gilinsky

869…and One is Connected to 88

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Shea Degan has been involved in law enforcement for over 20 years, and has devoted his entire career to keeping people safe.

It isn’t surprising that Degan owns a vehicle designed for the same mission: A 2001 Hummer H1 Alpha.

Shae Degan's Hummer

An ocean-blue, wagonback H1 to be exact, with 1,392 miles on it when he acquired it. It’s a rare vehicle; there were only 869 H1s made in 2001. Degan acquired the H1 in 2012 after seeing it on Autotrader.  It wasn’t an impulse buy; the vehicle represented an arrival insofar as his career
was concerned.

Degan wasn’t always in a position to own an H1. When he was a deputy officer in Douglas County working on the K9 unit, he would drive by car lots, look at Hummers, and imagine.

“At that point, I could only dream about owning something like that.” Degan explained. “I figured there’s no way I’d own one of those. It was a dream car.”

Shae Degan's Hummer, side view

That was in the 1990s.  Over the next decade, Degan leaned in to the idea of improving the security industry. In 2003, he started Signal 88 Security, an entity that connected clients with security officers, including off-duty police officers. He worked hard. He maintained a vision. Eventually, he franchised the Signal 88 security platform.  Franchising, by the way, hadn’t ever been done in that industry.  Until Degan came along. Degan’s hard work and creativity allowed him to eventually sell Signal 88.  Now, he is the CEO of 88 Tactical Group, an organization dedicated to helping “individuals, families, emergency workers, and military members develop the skills they need to handle any situation or crisis.” He has lead the charge in Nebraska in developing the official curriculum for conceal and carry permit classes, among other things.

Degan is an innovator in the security industry, and what better vehicle for an innovator like Degan than one of the most prominent off-road vehicles ever designed? The 2001 H1 gained notoriety as the Humvee, a staple vehicle for the U.S. military during Desert Storm. The civilian model sports a 6.5L turbo-diesel V8 engine that powers a Torqtrac4 four-wheel drive system. What the monster lacks in gas mileage (13 mpg in the city, 17 mpg on the highway), it makes up for in power, providing 430 torque at 1800 rpm, and 195 bhp at 3400 rpm.

But Degan’s favorite feature isn’t the muscle.

“Has to be the self-inflating tires,” he says.

The driver has control of tire pressure from the driver’s seat using a central tire inflation system. It’s a feature that allows the vehicle to adapt, enabling it to navigate any terrain.

While the Hummer is impressive, Degan isn’t a stranger to incredible cars. His wife, Janet, bought him a 2002 Porsche GT 2, and he owns a Porsche GT 3 as well. But the Hummer owns a special place in his heart. He only drives it a couple of times a year, but when he does, he remembers his own journey.

“It’s great just knowing what the thing can endure,” he said.

Visit 88tactical.com for more information about Degan’s business.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Shae Degan's 2001 Hummer H1 Alpha

Breaking Down Barriers to Care

Ask Karen Daneu about her role as executive director of Susan G. Komen Great Plains and she diverts the conversation back to the work done by others in this driven organization.

Komen Great Plains is on a mission to end breast cancer. “We’re breaking down barriers to care,” said Daneu, explaining the work Komen Great Plains does across Nebraska and South Dakota to spread awareness and provide preventative screenings to people who might not otherwise get screened.

After nearly eight years as executive director, Daneu will step down from her role in December. She doesn’t know if she’ll be involved after stepping down but predicts she will “definitely be in
the background.”

Luckily, other people are willing to talk about Daneu’s accomplishments. “During her tenure at Komen Great Plains, Karen worked to ensure the organization was recognized in Nebraska and the Dakotas as the leader in breast health education, affordable breast cancer screening options, treatment support, and breast cancer research,” said Dawn Gonzales, board president. “Daneu worked to establish relationships with community partners to help women overcome obstacles to breast health care and improve timely access to affordable breast health screening and treatment services for underserved women and men.”

Daneu is passionate about breast cancer awareness largely because of her experience of her own mother dying 31 years ago from this devastating disease. “My kids never saw their grandma,” Daneu said. “I have two daughters and many friends; being a woman and getting older makes me want to help change things.”

Before serving as executive director, Daneu was an Air Force pilot, then a staff officer, and then spent time as a civilian contractor. She volunteered for Komen Great Plains and served as a board member before accepting the role of executive director.

Though Daneu seems apprehensive to speak about her accomplishments, her eyes light up when she talks about the mobile 3-D mammography coach in Nebraska, created in partnership with Methodist Health and First National Bank. Daneu keeps a miniature version of the coach in her meeting room and smiles as she holds the small model. “It’s the only one in the state,” she said. “It breaks down barriers to care. We’ve provided over 500 mammograms.” Beyond providing mammograms, the mammography coach staff also provides education. “We make sure, if they’re diagnosed, they know their options for treatment.”

From lunch-and-learns for local corporations to the annual “More Than Pink” walk (formerly known as “Race for the Cure”), Komen Great Plains stays busy in pursuit of their mission to breaking down barriers to care—and the eventual goal of ending breast cancer. “We continue to expand educational opportunities,” Daneu said.

What’s next for Daneu? “I’m just going to do a lot of things,” she said, likely the most accurate prediction for a woman who doesn’t seem to like sitting still for long. “We all bear the burden of this disease. It’s a devastating disease; people should still be mad about this.” It’s unlikely retirement will extinguish Daneu’s passion for this important cause, or even slow her down at all.

Visit komengreatplains.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Karen Daneu full image

Matthew Hansen and Sarah Baker Hansen

August 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

All memorable stories, written or otherwise, are filled with turning points. Moments when the next step becomes unmistakably clear. Moments when life’s twists and turns, wins and losses, hopes and heartbreaks, serve up the next chapter.

A few moments for Sarah Baker Hansen and Matthew Hansen defined not only their life together, but also their life’s work. Today, they are a literary power couple, both writing prominent columns for the Omaha World-Herald.

Their pivotal moment together took a while, more than five years after their first date. The couple met in 2000 while working at The Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s student newspaper. Although they acted friendly to each other, a relationship was far from their minds.   

Their first official date wouldn’t happen for another year. It was 2001. Sarah had since graduated from college and was living back home in Omaha following an internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Matthew was finishing up his studies at UNL. A 100-year reunion for The Daily Nebraskan was near, which meant Matthew might see Sarah soon.

“A fellow DN staffer said Sarah had a crush on me years earlier, so then I started emailing her,” Matthew recalls with a smile.

Emails were exchanged, and a little bit of flirting even took place. Sarah missed the reunion, but Matthew eventually asked her out.

Sarah chose the French Café, one of her favorite Old Market eateries. It would become the same spot where Matthew would propose to Sarah, and a venue that would emphasize their vastly different backgrounds.

“I was a dorky, small town sports guy,” says Matthew, a native of Red Cloud.

Matthew found Sarah’s Omaha roots, her affinity for food, and her love of art and culture attractive. But such interest was also met with some trepidation that evening. On their first date, Matthew recalls having a “very quiet, very polite panic attack around the idea of ordering a drink. We sat at the French Café bar. I never had a cocktail that was fancier than Jack and Coke.”

Sarah had already developed an adventurous palate: “I grew up with parents who were foodies before that was a thing. They had these really elaborate dinner parties in the 1980s, and it was a real treat for me to stay up and eat the pâté, watch my dad make the chocolate mousse. And the Cornish hens. And the bone-in pork rib roast with the booties.”

Sarah and Matthew’s first date at the French Café lumbered on somewhat awkwardly. A few days later, Matthew phoned Sarah for a second date. She passed, suggesting that the two remain just friends.

Fast forward five years. Sarah and her sister were in Lincoln at Duffy’s Tavern for a concert. She went for the live music—and to meet a new guy.

Matthew got there first.

The two chatted, catching up over the past five years. The new guy eventually showed up…with another girl in tow. Matthew, Sarah, and their mutual friends made their way to O’Rourke’s Tavern. They talked the whole night.

It was then that Sarah trusted her gut: she offered Matthew her phone number. “That night in Lincoln, there was definitely a connection,” Sarah says.

The following week, the two were practically inseparable. About a year later, they were living together in Omaha.

“We were just entirely comfortable with each other from that day forward,” Sarah explains.

They were engaged in 2008 and married in 2009. This fall marks 10 years since that fateful second date.

Matthew worked previously at the Lincoln Journal Star, while Sarah held public relations posts at the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Sheldon Museum of Art. Years of freelancing for The Reader and writing her first book, The Insider’s Guide to Omaha and Lincoln, laid the groundwork for her position at the Omaha World-Herald. And traveling Nebraska for her tourism work yielded something else entirely unexpected.

“Working in PR at the state tourism office allowed me to understand Matthew a bit more,” Sarah says. “I didn’t know much about Nebraska. The first time I went to Red Cloud with Matthew was the first time I was ever on a farm. That changed me in a lot of ways.”

Matthew said he was changed not only by moving to Omaha, but by becoming immersed in local art and food alongside Sarah. He’s involved with Hear Nebraska, founded by Sarah’s UNL classmate Andrew Norman. And Red Cloud left its mark on Sarah; she now serves on the Willa Cather Foundation Board of Governors.

The couple can often be spotted at La Buvette, one of their most beloved Old Market establishments, talking about the newspaper industry, reality television, the Chicago Cubs, or their latest meal. As downtown Omaha residents for the past several years, they have found comfort in their urban neighborhood, walking to and from work together each day. They often explore of the greater metro area through restaurants that Sarah is assigned to cover. (Yes, in many cases, Matthew is her plus one.)

There was a time not too long ago when Matthew and Sarah found themselves at a bar in New York City. An opportunity presented itself that would have allowed the couple to pack their things, their roots, and their cat for new lives in the Big Apple.

“We could do this,” Sarah recalls, weighing their options. “We could do this and be happy and successful (in New York City). But we could do things that are meaningful in Omaha, that have a real impact.”

Together, they returned to Omaha. During the following year, Matthew was named an Omaha World-Herald columnist. Sarah was hired as the paper’s food critic.

“We said, let’s try to do something impactful to this place where we’re choosing to be, that we care so much about,” she says. “I feel that’s the path we chose to take.

Visit omaha.com to read their work.


Bringing it Home

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hordes of the nation’s top triathletes will descend on Carter Lake this summer. They will compete for a national title at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships on Aug. 13-14.

Top finishers in the two-day event’s Olympic-Distance National Championship (Aug. 13) and the Sprint National Championship (Aug. 14) will be invited to join Team USA at the 2017 world championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Although the running, biking, and swimming events will revolve around Carter Lake, Omaha was the force behind the successful bid to host the event for 2016 and 2017. Triathletes will be reminded of Omaha’s national sports hub status as the running course turns around inside TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.

Coordination and collaboration of services among the Mayor’s Office; Fire, Police, and Public Works Departments; and other city infrastructure players were vital in landing this event—USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running national championships event—as well as other major sporting events throughout the past decade.

This triathlon is expected to bring roughly 10,000 people and an estimated $10-12 million in hotel and food sales to metro Omaha during the weekend.

Triathlon1Race Omaha, which pitched Omaha as a future host site more than two years ago (when the event was celebrating year two of its three years in Milwaukee), has been the major coordinating force behind Omaha’s bid since the beginning.

Because of past and current events, USA Triathlon—which sponsors the championship—knew the metro area could more than support an event of this caliber. Those events include the College World Series, Olympic Swimming Trials, NCAA basketball, NCAA volleyball, and the U.S. Figure
Skating Championships.

“Because we’ve successfully brought in and held big events in the past, there was no doubt we could handle an event like U.S. Age Group National Championships,” says former Race Omaha Race Director Kurt Beisch. “We have this event this year and next year, and then USA Triathlon will decide where to take it next. We just want everyone coming to town for this event to have a great experience and learn what a great community we have here.”

The cooperation of city services was only one of many incentives that lured the triathlon and other events to the metro over the past decade (or in the case of the College World Series, since 1950).

According to USA Triathlon National Events Senior Manager Brian D’Amico, there were multiple factors that went into choosing Omaha over several other cities: geographic location, accommodations, and the history of hosting successful national sporting events.

But in his and USA Triathlon’s expert opinions, there is one intangible that drew them to Omaha: the people.

“We love Omaha’s central location in the United States, which makes it easily accessible from both coasts as well as the entire country,” D’Amico says. “We love that Carter Lake (site of the event headquarters and venue for the swimming leg of the triathlon) is so close to the airport, and the city has worked so hard to welcome us.

“But what we really noticed during our site visit was how friendly and welcoming everyone in Omaha is. We love how supportive the community has always been of the College World Series, Swim Trials, and other events. They really enjoy having visitors in town, and they go out of their way to make them feel welcome. That’s something you can’t measure or control, so it’s a definite advantage.”

The two-day event is divided into two race distances—Olympic on Saturday and sprint on Sunday. These distances both feature the traditional legs of a triathlon: a swim (at Carter Lake), followed by biking, and finally, a run through Omaha’s city streets, culminating with a turn at TD Ameritrade Park before returning to Carter Lake.

The Olympic portion features a 1,500-meter open water swim, followed by a 40K bike ride with a 10K run. Sunday’s sprint version is half the distance of all three legs.

Race Omaha founder Alan Kohll says whether you have attended or participated in previous triathlons, many things will help keep spectators and fans engaged—including an expo near the event headquarters.

As a perk, Oriental Trading Co. will hand out cowbells and thunder sticks to spectators who will motivate the athletes as they traverse through the course by water, bike, and foot. There will also be 5k and 1k runs on Friday night for everyone not participating in the triathlons.

Kohll says the triathlon events will definitely carry an Omaha flavor.

“We’re not attempting to mimic what’s been done in Milwaukee or past cities that hosted this event,” Kohll says. He and Beisch are both competitive triathletes.

“We want people from other parts of the country to leave Omaha having learned more about what makes the community special—the zoo, Berkshire Hathaway, and Omaha Steaks, among many others. These are some things Omaha is known for, and we want to emphasize them.”

Visit raceomaha.com for more information.

Being True Blue to Friends Old and New

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

True Blue Goods and Gifts looks a bit like the popular web-based store Etsy set up a storefront in NoDo. True Blue is a retail store stocked with handcrafted goods from local and regional makers, as well as national vendors creating products not found elsewhere in Omaha. Jewelry, quirky handmade cards, vases, and baby onesies promoting “The Good Life” line shelves.

TrueBlue3It is beyond Etsy, though. Not even a year old, the store one-ups the online site with a gallery of rotating shows and regular classes offered for adults and children. Owned by Omahans Melissa Williams, Jessica Mogis, and Jodie McGill, the store is set up to showcase local artisans, providing them with a brick and mortar outlet in which to sell their wares that eliminated shipping costs.

A stack of soy candles by The Wild Woodsmen are made by a 12-year-old boy named Nic. Nearby lays jewelry by Heather Kita. Kita’s jewelry is one of the most popular items in the store. “She’s become a good friend,” says Williams.

Friendship’s a theme that carries throughout the store. “We had a lot of help from people—friends and family,” says Mogis. They sell bags made by Cody Medina, a friend who also built their display tables. The hanging pots in the front window are by their pal Andrew Bauer. The owners convinced Bauer to sell his goods at their store after seeing one of his handmade gifts.

The three women are first time entrepreneurs—Mogis was a teacher and Williams worked in hospice. McGill continues her law practice. “We wanted a change,” says Mogis.


The setting, located in the Saddlecreek Records complex, fits their needs and personalities. The shop’s loft doubles as inventory storage and a holding corral to entertain the owners’ children while their moms manage the shop downstairs.

The storeowners started out selling goods from their friends—who happened to be talented artists—and creatives they encountered at different markets. Artists now approach True Blue with their wares.

TrueBlue4Williams, Mogis, and McGill curate their store with the eyes and minds of art gallery owners, intentionally maintaining the vibe of a boutique from the coasts. A rotating gallery of fine art fills one wall of the store. Each showing is kicked off with an opening night event.

Like artwork, many items sold at the store have “Meet Your Maker” signage explaining the artists’ backgrounds. The ladies behind the counter will fill in the missing details as you shop, explaining how the collage-maker from Ashland used pages from an old dictionary found at Bud Olson’s Bar, or how the store’s popular Brucie Bags are handmade by Williams’ dad.

The jovial relationships the storeowners have forged with their vendors also extends to customers. On a recent afternoon, a woman walked into the store and Williams cheerfully greeted her like an old friend. There’s no long history between the two—she’s a regular customer who’s been folded into the family that is True Blue.

Visit truebluegoodsandgifts.com for more information.

l-r, Jodie McGill, Melissa Williams, Jessica Mogis

l-r, Jodie McGill, Melissa Williams, Jessica Mogis

Villa Springs

July 29, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Drive about three miles south of Springfield, Nebraska, and you’ll find Villa Springs on the north shore of the Platte River, a private neighborhood more or less enclosed by a ring of cottonwood trees. If you drive around the neighborhood, you’ll find all manner of houses in an eclectic mix of colors, styles, and designs.

Many of the houses do feature one thing in common: boats in the driveways.

That is because Villa Springs is a lake community, sitting on the banks of a sandpit lake.

“It’s about a 40-acre lake, good for skiing, swimming, fishing,” says Gary Partusch, 50, president of the Villa Springs Homeowners Association.


Partusch, who is married with four kids and works for a dairy company in Omaha, has lived in the neighborhood since 2001. The property lots, ranging in size from about a half acre to two acres in size, are spread out, making Villa Springs unique for a lake community.

“It makes it very nice to be spread out [and] have room,” he says. “More yard to mow, more stuff like that.”

The average house in the neighborhood costs about $300,000-$500,000. There are 90 homeowners on the lake, Partusch says, and they are a mixed group. Some are older people who are retired and spend their winters in warmer climates, while others are younger.

“People are very friendly, very nice,” he says. “[You] take walks and boat rides and see people on the lake and talk. It’s a good living community.”

The neighborhood has an annual picnic as well as a Christmas party. There’s also a spring cleanup in which all the neighbors pitch in to help keep the lake beautiful. Many people enjoy fishing, and last year, the community held a fishing tournament. The lake contains a great deal of fish, including large-mouth bass, bluegill, walleye, and catfish.

“We stock it with fish,” Partusch says, most of which are catch-and-release. “We take pride in having a good fishing lake.”

One can also find a great many birds in the neighborhood—turkeys, ducks, bald eagles, and migrating pelicans. A few families of geese with new babies are making their home there currently. There’s also some deer and a beaver in the lake. 

I got three walnut trees,” Partusch says. “I see lots of squirrels.”

In many ways, though, Partusch says, Villa Springs is a regular sort of neighborhood.

“People have difference of opinions,” he says. “It’s hard to have 85…people, different families, agree on everything.

“I think that’s with any community.”

Like any other community, it has its share of garden-variety neighborly disputes; though, true to character, some of the neighborhood’s disputes revolve around how to make the best use of the lake.

“There’s a group of people who…couldn’t care less about fishing,” Partusch says. “And there’s a group of people who love to fish. And then there’s also people [who]…want to waterski or swim or tube or whatever. And there’s some other people that don’t even own a boat.”

The lake adds value to the community, and at the same time, each homeowner feels some personal ownership in regard to it. However, he says, the neighborhood mostly manages to accommodate everyone’s wishes.

“I think we have a pretty good balance.”

The most surprising thing about living here, Partusch says, is how quiet and peaceful it is.

“The quietness of being out of the city,” he says. “You can sit there on a Sunday afternoon and just sit out on the lake.”


Indeed, that is the big impression one gets when driving down Cottonwood Lane, the blacktop road that circles the lake. There are people out and about on a Saturday afternoon, but generally the area is pretty quiet. More than anything, drivers want to appreciate just how nice everything looks. The neighborhood boasts a robust number of cottonwood, elm, and ash trees due to its proximity to the river, making the scene shine with green and gold, especially when the sun peaks out. There are several spots along the road where people can stop, look to one side, and catch a view of the Platte River through the tree line. On the other side is the lake, the wind rippling on its surface.

“I really think it’s a really great place to live,” Partusch says. “I really have no intentions of going anywhere.”

Visit villaspringslake.com for more information.