Tag Archives: Gen O

A 5-Year-Old’s Tribute to Grandma

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Every year in late October, Viviana Handlos’ home transforms into a place of honor, respect, and celebration for the dead. In the middle of the foyer sits a table adorned with skulls, photographs, dancing skeletons, tissue-paper flowers, and candles among other cherished mementos. 

For three years now, the doe-eyed 5-year-old has created the elaborate three-tiered altar with her mother, Monica Mora-Handlos. She takes as much pride in placing Grandma Lucy’s camera and her favorite White Shoulders scent on the altar as she does placing fresh flowers on her grave.

“We celebrate Día de los Muertos,” Viviana exclaims. “On that day, we remember Grandma Lucy. We don’t want to forget her. She was an important part of our lives.”

Death is sometimes a subject American families try to bury. But Viviana embraces her family’s traditional custom of celebrating the lives of bygone family members.

Her parents have taught Viviana to realize that life and death are part of our shared human experience, and that acknowledging the beauty in death gives us a deeper appreciation for the living.

Día de los Muertos—Day of the Dead—gives Viviana a sense of deep-rooted cultural belonging as she honors her loved ones and Latino ancestors. But rather than dwell on her sorrow, Viviana is taught to celebrate life in the face of inevitable death.

Día de los Muertos is a 3,000-year-old Mexican ritual, with roots in Aztec culture and Catholic traditions. In the United States, observations start on Oct. 31 and continue through All Soul’s Day on Nov. 2. Unlike Halloween, which is more of a costume-inspired, candy-driven party, Día de los Muertos is about making meaningful actions.

In recent years, Day of the Dead celebrations have taken some regions of the country by storm. These beautiful, sometimes larger-than-life commemorations have inspired celebrations across the Southwest of the United States, while films such as Coco and countless bilingual children’s books have also highlighted this Latin American custom.

In fact, Viviana’s mom found a Día de los Muertos children’s book at her local library, which sparked the tradition for her family. About the same time, Viviana says, an Elena of Avalor episode titled “A Day to Remember” aired on the Disney Junior TV channel. Both were instrumental in the family deciding to create their first ofrenda (Spanish for “altar”).

“It definitely means a lot to share about Mom, but to also include Viv,” Mora-Handlos says. The kind of blow death has on a person’s heart hurts at any age, and Día de los Muertos offers Viviana’s mother an opportunity to soften the sorrow with the occasion for discussing death and making sure the youngster understands its place in natural life.

In Latino culture, how people say goodbye to and honor the dead matters as much as—if not more than—the death itself. People across Mexico clean relatives’ graves and decorate them with bright papel picado (colorful paper banners), flowers (typically marigolds), candles, and things the deceased loved in life (food, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco are common). In many Latin American nations, people stay overnight in the cemetery and hold a vigil at their loved one’s graves.

Creating poems and pictures is a form of healing that often allows the children to come to terms with death. In Viviana’s case, she’s come to memorialize Grandma Lucy in song. Every first of November—on the Day of the Dead—the Handlos family (including father David and little brother Gabriel, 2) visits the cemetery to clean relative’s graves and pay tribute to departed loved ones. It’s also the special time when Viv sings to her grandmother.

For as long as she can remember, Viviana says she’s tiptoed over gravestones to visit her Grandma Lucy, who died three years ago after a battle with cancer. Her grandmother passed just days before Viviana’s first birthday. But the stories of Grandma’s baking and the mariachi music “Amor Eterno” and “Sin Ti, Usted” that blare from her kitchen make her feel as though she is still with her.

As Viviana creates her altar in the foyer, she places little things on the tiers that were specific to Grandma: the things she liked to do (like snap photos) and the food she loved to bake (like cake and banana bread). Creating the altar gives time for the family to reflect and really remember her.

Incredible family stories unravel about deceased relatives when her parents talk about the family members in the photos on the ofrenda. Life is fleeting, but for a moment or so these little talks create the opportunity to really bring loved ones’ spirits back.

Although Día de los Muertos focuses on death and honoring those who have passed away, integrating a sense of humor and lightheartedness is essential to celebrating the holiday in its true fashion.

It’s not something dark and frightening, Viviana says. Día de los Muertos is largely about laughing in the face of death—as seen in the decorative skulls and well-dressed skeletons, or calaveras (“skulls”), which are often depicted dancing or playing music. The sort of joyous flavor you get with music and humor.

Consequently, death only wins when you’re filled with sorrow…or worse, you forget.

For more information about Day of the Dead in Omaha, El Museo Latino hosts a related museum exhibition in the fall. Visit elmuseolatino.org to learn more.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Monica Mora-Handlos and daughter Viviana Handlos

Fishing With Flair

October 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Flair uploaded his first video to YouTube at age 15. As video productions go, there wasn’t much to it: four rough-cut minutes of Flair—then a freshman at Millard North—standing on the shore of a pond in suburban Omaha, fishing for bass. 

Flair, who turned 21 this year, has been fishing the waters in and around Omaha nearly his entire life. “As soon as I could hold a reel I was fishing,” he remembers. A love for the sport was passed down from his father, and the first videos Flair uploaded to his YouTube channel, Fishing with Flair, were made primarily for an audience of family and friends. “Just sharing tips,” he says. “Not much more than videos of me catching fish then tossing them back.” 

Quickly, though, Flair was posting fishing videos at a rate of two to three a week. While these early clips left much to be desired in terms of entertainment value, those formative years were, if nothing else, a full-immersion education in video editing and ease before a camera. 

The six years that have passed since Flair’s first upload are, in internet time, an eternity. As of this writing, Fishing with Flair is gaining new subscribers at a rate of roughly 25 to 30 thousand a month. 

What’s drawing them? Flair, mainly. After starring in more than 800 episodes, Flair’s natural charm and enthusiasm have a way of gluing your eyes to the screen. The content is fun, too. There are the “Barbie Rod Challenge” clips, the big-catch excursions to Mexico, and more. One episode finds Flair in full swamp camo, lying in the reeds of a golf course pond, trying to catch whatever he can while avoiding the eye of the fairway police carting overhead. 

As viewership rose over the years, Flair found himself bringing in a modest but regular income from ads placed before his videos.  

The moment of truth came the summer after graduation. Flair remembers, “I had just finished high school, was working at Scheels, and was enrolled to start college in the fall. I’d just bought a new truck but didn’t really have any other expenses since I still lived with my parents. It was all or nothing, so I just went for it.” Flair dropped out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and has been fishing for a living ever since. 

To say that Flair is a professional YouTuber is an oversimplification. More accurately, he is a documentarian, brand manager, fisherman, duck hunter, and burgeoning media mogul with his hand in at least a half dozen business ventures, all of which are connected by a long spool of monofilament line to that original clip of a high school freshman casting for bass one day after school.

While the “work” of regularly passing your days with a line in the water from sunrise to sunset may sound enviable to some, there are a whole host of other labors that are inherent to YouTube fame.   

For one, there’s the editing, reducing several hours of footage into one digestible 15-minute clip. There is also the attendant Instagramming, Snapchatting, Tweeting, and across-the-board brand sustenance required for life as a professional internet personality. All of which, by the way, must occur on a daily (at minimum) basis for fear of losing follower interest.

One can imagine that a less ambitious 21-year-old might stop here. For Flair, though, YouTube fame is only the launching pad to what has quickly become a multi-armed media machine. In fall 2016, Flair partnered with four other YouTube fishing personalities from across the country—each of them charismatic 20-somethings in their own right, producing fun and informative fishing content. The collective dubbed themselves The Googan Squad—“googan” being a pejorative term for the lowest of lowlife fishermen, an epithet often lobbed at the loud-talking, bank-sitting, fresh-water anglers that more seasoned sportsmen hope to avoid.  

The name solidified the young entrepreneurs’ image as a band of rogues, while also allowing them to court sponsors with greater clout. “Once we’d joined together under one name, we could approach advertisers and say honestly that we had access to 3.5 million viewers between the five of us,” Flair says. 

Today, the Googan Squad collectively owns a home in Dallas, Texas, that serves both as corporate office and crash pad for fishing excursions throughout the state. 

For Flair, what started as a hobby now includes a signature gear collection, a clothing line, a printing company, a mobile fishing app, and a private coffee label. 

On July 3, Flair and his teammates unveiled their biggest endeavor yet, their own line of patented bait and lures, Googan Baits. After heavy cross-platform promotion (the Googan Baits Instagram account boasted over 50 thousand followers before even making a single post) the first run of product sold out in 25 minutes.     

With so much momentum at his back, what awaits Flair in the murky waters of the future? “None of this has been done before, so it’s tough to tell,” he says. “I want to ride this out as long as I can. It will definitely come to an end. All celebrity comes to an end. I’d be fairly shocked if this lasts more than five years.” 

For now, as long as the fish and followers are biting, Flair will keep baiting the hook.

Find Flair’s latest videos on his YouTube channel with the simple handle “Flair,” or catch him on Snapchat (aflair430), Facebook (Fishing with Flair), Instagram (Fishing_with_Flair), or Twitter (@fishinwithflair).

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Sam Mangiameli

October 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most college guys have a nickname. Some are even fit for print in a family publication. Sam Mangiameli, a University of Nebraska-Omaha junior, has two distinct but interrelated identities.

Many on campus know him simply as Ricky Bobby, a nod to Will Ferrel’s goofy character in Talladega Nights. But on the track, the 22-year-old motorsports enthusiast who is studying business management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship has a more ominous moniker—The Iceman. 

Marked by a fixed, cold glare, Mangiameli’s game face led other drivers to size him up as a serious, don’t-mess-with-me competitor. The Iceman.

“The funny thing about it,” Mangiameli says with a chuckle, “is that the nickname is pretty much on target. I don’t mind the Ricky Bobby thing, but it’s the other nick-name that I like.” 

Mangiameli has had a need for speed for as long as he can remember. 

“Some of my earliest memories are of me as a little kid playing with my Hot Wheels cars when my dad [Creative Hair Design owner John Mangiameli] and I watched the Indy 500, Formula 1, and other races on TV,” he says. “I’d play with my cars imagining that it was me up there on the screen. That’s where it all began. The roar of the engines. The sights and sounds of the track. I knew right then what I wanted to do.”

His Hot Wheels collection gave way to karting at age 6, and Mangiameli was soon trading paint on tracks far and wide. “Now that I was actually behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle,” he continues, “I was totally hooked. Finished in fourth place in my very first event.” 

A mere 10 years later Mangiameli took the checkered flag at the Grand Nationals of the International Karting Federation. 

The young man who aspires to the grandest of motorsports stages—the grueling Rolex 24 at Daytona—now competes on the National Auto Sport Association circuit in the high-powered Super Touring 1 class. Mangiameli’s Diasio D962R mirrors the motif of his racing garb, where man and machine merge to become a sleek, midnight blue assemblage of catch-me- if-you-can bravado. 

The family established Creative Hair Design Motorsports last year as a means of surrounding this one-man team with the infrastructure and support required for one who aims to rise through the national ranks on courses from coast to coast. 

In the meantime, Mangiameli yearns to be on the track. Donning his helmet is an act of transformative regeneration. Just like in a superhero changeling sequence, one persona melts away as another creeps in to possess its host. The sharp click of a safety harness completes the metamorphosis. The amiable, book-toting Ricky Bobby is no more. The Iceman cometh.

Sam Mangiameli is continuing to advance his racing career four years after the publication of this article. In September 2018, he raced against professional drivers on the national stage in the National Auto Sport Association Championships, where he earned second place in the NASA Prototype division. 

This article was printed in the March/April 2014 edition of Omaha Magazine, and digitally updated in October 2018. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

A Culinary Master in the Making

July 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The metal crank wouldn’t work. Witney Stanley had to think of a solution fast. The pressure heated up the kitchen at the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center in Grand Island. The clock ticked tauntingly.

Thirty minutes remaining. 

The SkillsUSA Culinary Arts Championship was on the line. Each participant had to present judges with an entrée from a fabricated whole chicken, a sauce, a vegetable, and a starch. Judges would be expecting a composed salad as well. Only items in the kitchen’s pantry were allowed to be used to create the dishes, and the dinner needed to be cooked in two hours and 30 minutes. Think Top Chef with high school students. 

But the crank was being…well…cranky. 

Witney, a senior at Omaha Central, wanted to win it all. Her competitive drive wouldn’t allow faulty equipment to squash her chances at a medal. After a frustrating five minutes, she grabbed a rolling pin instead to smooth out the dough for her tortellini. She cut it and filled it with spinach, garlic, tomato, and olive. 

Witney inserted the thin thermometer into her roasted chicken thighs. 

155 degrees. 

She rushed to the pantry for oil. The pastor’s daughter took a long deep breath and said a short prayer. Showtime. Only seven minutes, not nearly enough time to cook it completely in the oven. She finished off the chicken on the stovetop with a pan-fried sear. 

The white wine sauce created a challenge as well. Since Witney was only 18 and not legally old enough to drink, she needed to be creative. The young cook substituted white vinegar, onion, and homemade chicken stock. 

She sliced the (finally) cooked chicken, a technique she mastered in between school and tennis. She added Tuscan vegetables and tourné cut potatoes. 


At the April 2018 competition, Witney came away with a bronze medal and a passion for competing. 

But her love of all things savory and sweet is deeply rooted in family heritage. When she was only 4 years old, as her sisters prepped for monthly church outreach banquets alongside their mother, Witney would stand on a stool washing cabbage or setting tables for guests. 

“My mom is a genius in the kitchen,” Witney explains. “She doesn’t trust anyone in there except her daughters.”

Her mother, Alyssa, enrolled all six of her children into cake-decorating classes at Michael’s. Witney, 10 years old at the time, started baking cakes whenever she could for birthdays or other special occasions. After a recommendation from a neighbor, the girls decided to sell their homemade yellow and devil’s food cupcakes with buttercream frosting at the Gifford Park Neighborhood Market. 

“I was hesitant at first,” Witney recalls. “Then I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? I could end up with a tray of cupcakes, and I could eat them.”

The money, though, wasn’t to buy more supplies, candy, or even toys. Instead, the sisters saved it for someone special. It took an entire year, and the older girls had to get side jobs, but it all went to purchase a bedroom set their mother had her eye on for a while. 

“From that point on, they were known for those cupcakes,” Alyssa says. “All just to surprise me with a Mother’s Day gift.” 

It turned into a business, Stanley Southern Sweeties. Each sister plays a role—whether creating roses, borders, or letters. 

Their mother saw something special in Witney and pushed her to cook for the family. She started experimenting even if it meant getting dinner to the table later than usual. 

In order to play tennis, Witney made the move from home-school to Central High School. Introverted and painfully shy, the teenager couldn’t fathom it all. So her sister Justine, who was taking online classes at Metropolitan Community College, went to every single class to watch out for Witney that first year. After taking the No. 1 spot in tennis, Witney soon made friends and discovered culinary classes. Entering her senior year, she started taking classes at the Omaha Public Schools Career Center for college credit. She continued practicing in the kitchen at every opportunity, soaking up knowledge like a sponge cake.

“She’s an example of what we should be seeing in every student,” says chef Perthedia Berry, a culinary instructor at Metro. 

Berry, sometimes referred to as the “female Gordon Ramsay,” can intimidate students. Witney prefers the tough love as it reminds her of her own upbringing. 

“I love the intensity. She [Berry] wants her students to do well. She’s preparing me for the future. If you can get through her, you can get through anything,” Witney says. 

The main issue for the aspiring cook is speaking up. Berry yells at her to stop worrying about offending people. Chefs should be concerned with getting dinner to hungry guests; save the politeness for later. 

With each class, Witney gained confidence. She earned the Best Beef Award at her first invitational (the Metropolitan Community College Institute for Culinary Arts High School Invitational in February 2017). In another competition, two teammates dropped out, but Witney took it upon herself to take all the responsibility. 

“Witney pushes forward, and she’ll be someone you know in this community,” Berry says. 

Her mother, originally from New Orleans, was a mentor for last year’s Metro invitational. So Witney simmered a New Orleans gumbo on the stove and, along with Omaha North’s Ajana Jones, took home the silver medal. 

Witney plans to open a restaurant or a bakery someday, maybe with her sisters. After she takes the accelerated Culinary Arts program at Metro, she plans to enroll at Creighton University for a business degree. The pitfalls are well-known, but that doesn’t stop her. 

“She’s fearless,” her mother says. 

For now, Witney is carefully measuring each step, weighing the consequences, and stirring in a pinch of prayer that her dream will become a reality.

Visit ccenter.ops.org for more information about culinary classes at the OPS Career Center and mccneb.edu for details on Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Tinker, Maker, Robots Guy

January 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nate Hutchison, 16, dumps his Rubik’s cube collection onto the dining room table. The stash boasts an entire spectrum of not just colors, but shapes and varieties, too: puzzles composed of interlocking triangles, diamonds, crosses, but also dimensions one wouldn’t expect from a “cube,” like snaking ropes, prisms, and even non-Euclidean brain-benders.

Nate got interested in solving and collecting puzzle cubes in elementary school, and he started getting serious about the hobby in middle school. His mother, Heather, was an employee at Fat Brain Toys (an Omaha-based maker of educational toys and games), and Nate was frequently tapped to test their new products.

“I seek out the most interesting ones,” he says, “like the ones that aren’t 3-by-3 cubes,” or cubes that require more steps to solve. It’s a small glimpse into a hobbyist world dominated by human calculators, and though Nate doesn’t participate in Rubik’s cube-solving competitions (yes, such contests do exist), his ability to solve the puzzles is still very impressive, taking a few minutes on average.

His foray into puzzle cubes opened the way for greater ambitions: the world of robotics. Heather proudly shows off a YouTube video of a mechanical arm, which Nate built to solve a cube puzzle. “The arm works by sensing the color in front of it, and calculates what move to make next,” Nate explains as it plays.

The exercise launched Nate into pursuing robotics “full time.” He joined the national Zero Robotics tournament with a team of classmates at Millard West. The competition hosts students from around the world, challenging them to program small robots on the International Space Station.

His engineering club has also boasted some other novel accomplishments, such as building a cannon to shoot t-shirts.

“The school has two engineering pathways, and I’m seeking a ‘distinguished’ diploma with emphases in mechanical and digital engineering,” says Nate, who hopes to enter the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduation.

For sure, Nate’s family has been incredibly supportive of his ambitions and interests. His mother is now a special education para in their school district, and his father, Wendell, has a career in software development.

“As parents, we’ve tried to foster his interests as much as we can,” they say, and the echoes of science and technology can be felt through every corner of the Hutchison household, brimming with robotic figurines and images, as well as scientific kits, sets, and games. “The biggest challenge as parents,” Wendell says, “is to discover the possibilities, and then expose them.”

Nate’s interests are far from single-minded, though; his love of engineering is complemented by a love of music. He plays bass clarinet and lettered in band and orchestra. “I like metal and electronic music,” he quips (as Wendell makes a rock ’n’ roll devil’s horns gesture in solidarity).

It’s clear Nate has an exciting future in front of him; yet in the here and now, he’s a relatable teenager. His latest goal? “Learning to play guitar.”

Visit fatbraintoys.com and zerorobotics.mit.edu for more information about Nate’s Rubik’s cube supplier and the national robotics competition.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo

November 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Like most teenagers, Ellie Morrison has made many new friends during her high school career. But what makes her experience unique is that, in addition to classmates and teachers, some of Ellie’s friends include emperor scorpions, African penguins, gibbons, lions, and other resident creatures of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

The 17-year-old Papillion-La Vista High School senior is enrolled in her second year of Zoo Academy, a partnership between Henry Doorly Zoo and several local school districts, through which more than 90 high school juniors and seniors during the 2017/2018 academic year will study advanced zoology classes at the zoo, complete high school, receive college credit, and explore animal-related career paths. The program launched in 1995.

“My favorite part of Zoo Academy is— surprisingly enough—not the animals, but the people,” Morrison says. “The teachers especially are amazing and always do whatever they can to help you.”

Morrison starts her days at her home high school with band, choir, and chemistry classes. After third hour, she heads to the zoo, has lunch with friends, then resumes classes there at 11:45 a.m. Zoo Academy offers typical core classes—such as English and sociology—alongside zoo research, vet science, anatomy, and zoology, all taught by school district instructors. Some students attend all day, others part of the day, like Morrison.

Morrison has also volunteered at Henry Doorly Zoo for the past eight years, beginning with the XYZ (eXplore Your Zoo) volunteer program for grades 4-6, continuing into Junior Crew for junior high school volunteers, and culminating in Zoo Crew, the volunteer program for grades 9-12.

Zoo Crew volunteers do guest education and interaction throughout the zoo, help with special events, animal enrichment, outreach programs, and (in some cases) work with keepers. While she’s a lifelong animal lover, Morrison says she was a bit shy and not a total people person when she began volunteering. Her experiences at the zoo helped her gain confidence, people skills, and knowledge, which she now fosters in younger volunteers.

“The best part is knowing that I made the same transition myself, and that I’ve helped them become the people that I now know them to be,” she says.

Morrison also enjoys educating zoo-goers about conservation and the animal kingdom.

“Sometimes, the best part of my week is watching children and adults alike learn something new about the world,” Morrison says. “It’s always really nice to be able to teach something and have them walk away with a little bit more than they came in with.”

The animal interaction is a definite perk of the program. In her junior year zoology class, she helped clean, feed, and care for a trio of emperor scorpions, affectionately called “Larry, Moe, and Curly” after The Three Stooges.

“I’ve never been that close to a scorpion before, and it’s a little terrifying at first. But getting to know them, they all had different personalities. Like, one of them always ate all the food,” Morrison says.

She’s come to know many of the animals’ unique personalities and idiosyncrasies. For example, a certain roar from Mr. Big—a beloved lion who passed away in 2015—meant that someone was in his favorite spot. Morrison also came to learn that happy chatter from the gibbons in the morning could set a pleasant tone throughout the zoo for the day.

“I like the African penguins a lot,” Morrison says. “They’re super funny and always come up to say hello. There’s a penguin named Lucius who will follow you around and sit on your feet if he likes you.”

Before Zoo Academy, Morrison considered a veterinary career, but through her work and education at the zoo, she’s now leaning toward a more research-based wildlife career.

“I love going out into the field and doing research, observing and recording what’s happening,” Morrison says. “It’s really cool discovering things [beyond] what’s already known.”

From volunteer work to academics, Morrison says her time with the zoo has been a “game-changer on so many levels,” and it will be a part of her life forever.

“It’s a completely unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else,” Morrison says. “At a top-rated zoo in the world, there are definitely some things that are one of a kind: the keepers, the animals, just the atmosphere itself is completely unique.”

Visit omahazoo.com/education/volunteer/ youth to learn more about youth volunteer and educational opportunities at the Henry Doorly Zoo.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 issue of Omaha Magazine.

Busy as a Bee

September 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Sedlacek’s family farm—90 acres of gently rolling fields and wooded Nebraska land—sits barely a mile outside of Gretna’s busy shopping district. Life is much simpler there, with the beauty of mature corn stalks, the sweet-tart blueberries and raspberries ready for picking, and the steady buzzing of honeybees.

Beekeeping, for the Sedlaceks, is not a novelty but a way of life.

Ryan is the sixth generation of his family to keep bees. In fact, his grandfather, Bill Sedlacek, says his own grandfather cared for bees long before the Sedlacek farm was settled 75 years ago.

“My interest in bees has been around my whole life,” Ryan says. “My earliest memory is making frames for the bees to live in for their hives and checking on them with my grandpa.”

Never mind that Ryan and his father are allergic to bees. Such inconveniences don’t stop him from caring for 18 hives on the Sedlacek Farm and two neighboring farms.

Their bees are key in pollinating the crops and orchards for miles around. “Bees travel eight square miles,” he explains. “All the bees you see here are mine.”

Last year, the farm’s hives produced 34 gallons of honey, which was a good year. The year before, only 12 gallons of honey were harvested, as wet and rainy conditions limited the availability of pollen and kept the bees in the hives.

Out of 14 grandchildren, Ryan is the only one to take to beekeeping. Since age 8, Ryan has learned about honeybees and the Russian and Italian varieties that he and his grandfather keep.

“I love watching and caring for bees just because you’re making a difference in everything around you,” he says. “You might not have bees in the area [but you] might have a fruit tree. It grows nothing every year. Then you put a beehive next to it and the tree grows the biggest apricots…so big and healthy.”

Ryan shares his passion and knowledge of bees with others through the 4-H Agriculture Innovators Experience program, which has focused on honeybees and pollinators. At a national conference in Washington, D.C., during 2016, he learned more about pollinators and their role in agriculture. Since then, he has worked with the 4-H program statewide to offer the Honeybee Challenge and educate other youth. For his work and excitement about bees and agriculture, Ryan was named 4-H King of Douglas and Sarpy counties.

On what seemed the hottest day of summer, Ryan’s faithful dog Tucker—whom grandma calls Bingo—follows his every move. And, boy, does Ryan move fast, going almost effortlessly from one chore to the next, from repairing fences to feeding his pets (goats, pigs, horses, geese, chickens, and ducks). After quickly filling watering cans for the animals, Ryan goes to check on the bees.

Beekeeping kicks off in the spring as the bees start to produce honey after the first flowers bloom. The worker bees gather pollen and water for the hive, and they generally live four to six weeks in the spring and summer months.

“Bees will literally work themselves to death,” he says while opening the lid of a white wooden box. “You must be gentle when going into a hive. Otherwise, you can kill bees. Always be gentle and be aware of your surroundings.”

Ryan wedges a metal tool between wooden slats, sliding a frame out of the hive to reveal the bees at work. Inside the hive, bees build a comb of wax where the queen will lay eggs and honey will be stored. Each hive has one queen, which can live for up to five years. The other bees are workers and drones—all of which serve a purpose to build a healthy and active hive.

Ryan and his grandfather check the hives periodically over the summer to see how they are producing. As fall begins, the family harvests honeycomb and makes honey. The pasteurization process separates the comb and other impurities from the honey, which the family then sells at the farm. In winter, the bees live off the honey stored in the hive and a tray of a sugar-water mixture the Sedlaceks make to supplement the bees’ diet.

Life in rural Gretna with his parents, Mike and Trish Sedlacek, has been good for the 18-year-old recent Gretna High graduate.

His parents and grandparents demonstrated how farmers are stewards of the land. They taught him to conserve water, repair farm equipment, and protect the environment while maximizing the land’s sustainable yield.

Few of his classmates share such passion for agriculture, however. Of the 243 Gretna seniors in Ryan’s 2017 graduating class, Ryan says he’s the only one to pursue a career in agriculture (not including three who plan to pursue veterinary science degrees).

In the fall, Ryan starts an undergraduate degree in animal science at the University of Nebraska-­Lincoln, and he plans to continue his family’s beekeeping legacy. 

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information about 4-H in the Omaha metro.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Ethan Wragge

October 26, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ethan Wragge was a driving force behind the Creighton University Bluejays’ success as they stormed the Big East during their inaugural season in the vaunted conference where hoops is king. Now the recent graduate is storming the halls of big finance through his second internship with Burlington Capital Group.

The 6’7” center is 27th on the school’s all-time scoring list. His career 1,155 points is a figure that is apparently just shy of the number of times Burlington Capital co-workers have challenged him to a (friendly?) game of horse. His mark of 334 career three-pointers is second only to the legendary Kyle Korver’s 371.

Wragge isn’t just an overachiever when wearing the get-up he’s pictured in on these pages. The same tenacity was demonstrated in the classroom when the Academic All-American earned triple majors in finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

“Burlington Capital is such a great internship,” Wragge says, “because we do so many things here; real estate, international business, private equity markets, and more. The people here are competitive, just like I was competitive for the last 18 years of my life on a basketball court. They know how to win. They’re entrepreneurs who know what it takes to win in highly competitive markets.”

But Wragge isn’t done with basketball just quite yet. He’s currently rehabbing from post-season knee surgery as he eyes offers to turn pro in Europe.

Regardless of whether he ends up in shorts or pinstripes, Wragge says he will always have fond recollections of Omaha. His favorite on-court memory? “Easy,” he replies. “I will never forget Villanova. And we did it on their court,” he says of the game that was the first win in the program’s history over a top five team (the Wildcats were ranked No. 4 at the time).

“Omaha really drew me in,” he continues. “There’s a reason why I spent only a total of 60 days back home [in Eden Prairie, Minn.] during the five years I was here. What the team means to this community—the way they take you in and make you family—is the same as what this community means to me. And I’m also really going to miss the food here. Cheeseburgers at Dinker’s. California Tacos. Don’t get me started!”

Wragge was affectionately known as “The Beard” on the parquet floor of the CenturyLink Center Omaha. So does he now have a new nickname, one that is perhaps more fitting for the world of corporate America?

“Not really,” came his reply.

Okay, so how “not really” is that? Does he have a new moniker or not?

“Well,” he begins with the slightest hint—all but imperceptible—of downcast eyes and an “Aw shucks” shuffling of the feet. “Some of the guys here…well, some of the guys just call me “Spreadsheet Monkey.”


If Hearing Is Believing

February 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Do you hear what Angie and Andrew Norman hear?

If so, that’s the symphony of the Cornhusker state’s stacked arsenal of music makers. And if you don’t hear it now, you will, because they’re working to ensure that everyone recognizes these sweet (or punk, or country, or polka) sounds.

The Normans co-founded Hear Nebraska in 2010 as a “nonprofit cultural organization that cultivates the state’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community.”

Both were longtime students of regional culture; Andrew even worked at local newsweelies. When he needed a master’s project at Michigan State, Angie pitched the idea of a publication covering Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes as one. The concept stuck and blossomed into an even larger 
project: a nonprofit.

“We realized Omaha and Lincoln’s music scenes were both super strong and great bands in both cities weren’t getting as much attention as they warranted nationally,” says Andrew. “We wanted to include Omaha, Lincoln, and Nebraska in general. It was just all these scattered voices, so we tried to gather them and speak through one confident, strong voice.”

And that voice is being heard, in Nebraska and beyond. A full 40 percent of HN’s website traffic comes from outside of Nebraska and seven percent of traffic is international. “Our mission is to make Nebraska an internationally known cultural destination,” says Andrew, “so I think that statistic really indicates that we’re doing something to reach that goal.”

Angie adds that “HN has received shout-outs from Garrison Keillor and has been featured on Al-Jazeera English.”


“We want to tie the broader creative to HN, because we want to promote people making cool stuff in Nebraska,” Andrew says. “To support the musicians, the venues, the businesses involved—it all fits and works together. Around here all of these entities support each other.”

Andrew says that’s what makes Nebraska such an attractive location.

“There’s a sense that people want to collaborate. It’s such a good environment to be in when you’re trying to create art,” he says.

HN is known for executing unique, imaginative events that merge music and community. Angie’s favorites were the “An Evening” series of fundraisers, featuring meals from famed vegan chef and Omaha transplant Isa Chandra Moskowitz and music from such local heavies as Simon Joyner and The Mynabirds.

“It combines food, music, and community in an intimate setting,” says Angie. “The environment is amazing, and they are just such special shows.”

Andrew’s favorite was the NET-televised “HN Live at the 1200 Club” with Digital Leather, Big Harp, and Kill County.

“It was amazing,” Andrew says. “The state of the art [Holland Performing Arts Center] room, three amazing bands on stage, teaming with Omaha Performing Arts and NET, two absolute top-tier organizations in the state who represent what we strive to become…it was extremely flattering, encouraging, 
and motivating.”

Andrew described watching the sound check and imagined a kid from rural Nebraska watching the program and thinking, “This is possible. You can go for it and make your own sound.”

The Normans want HN to “grow smart.” They’re working to “focus on the foundation to make sure that we continue to grow and last,” says Andrew.

Five years from now the Normans hope HN will host regular showcases across the state featuring Nebraska music. Other goals include a physical space, more paid contributors, residencies, being one of the premier music websites in the country, and, as Andrew puts it, for everyone in the state to have a favorite Nebraska band “in the same way they love Husker football.”

In December HN released its second compilation on vinyl accompanied by a digital download. Such notables as Tim Kasher, McCarthy Trenching, Simon Joyner, Universe Contest, and Conchance are a few of the artists highlighting the eclectic collection.

They’re relaunching the HN site in 2014 and are at work on HN Radio, a web app/music player to feature Nebraska music, interviews, reviews, and other content. The effort is funded in part by the Nebraska Arts Council and Omaha Venture Group.

As Omaha invests in the young nonprofit, the Normans continue to invest in Omaha.

“We want to be an example of people who enjoy living here and cultivate a beautiful life here,” says Angie. “We hope that more people will look here and see opportunities.”

“We moved back and bought a house here,” says Andrew of the Benson home the couple shares with their adorable pup, Polly. “A large goal of Hear Nebraska is to stop the brain drain. I think Omaha, and Nebraska, in general, is just a really great place to start something.”

And on the topic of “starting something,” the couple is now awaiting their most ambitious of projects: a baby Norman due in 
early 2014.

Joe Giles

October 31, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He’s just come back from a walk, palm trees in the background, with a 3-pound Chihuahua named Minnie Mouse. Joe Giles is no longer a Nebraska kid following an Air Force dad around the Midwest. The 30-year-old has been settled in Los Angeles for the last 10 years, working as a makeup artist for K.N.B. EFX Group, Inc. on projects like AMC’s The Walking Dead.

“I just finished working on some Walking Dead webisodes,” Giles says, “you know, those in-between-season shorts they put online.” Specifically, he works in K.N.B.’s molding department, lifecasting actors in custom makeups for that rotted look so popular for today’s zombie. He’s contributed his special-effects makeup expertise on all three completed seasons of the show, even helping to establish the original movements 
of the walkers.

“I actually did early camera tests,” he says. “They used me for some of the makeup tests, and they use some of that footage to teach the actors how to walk on camera.”

Giles considers himself rather fortunate so far in his plans to continue both acting and doing lab work. “I keep getting both sprinkled randomly as I go,” he says, mentioning his appearance as a zombie in the “Thriller” scene of the 2009 Michael Jackson film This Is It (“I was lying in this grave thinking, oh wow, I am really doing this”). And how he got to do all the hair work for the Michael Myers masks in Rob Zombie’s 2009 Halloween II. And when he got to play a demonic surgeon in Zombie’s 2012 The Lords of Salem. “It’s not every day one of your music idols is directing you,” Giles says, still obviously impressed. And of course, he’s continuing work on the fourth season of The Walking Dead that premiered this October.

He says that Howard Berger, co-founder of K.N.B., jokes that Giles is their resident ghoul. “I don’t mind being typecast though,” he says, “I love all that.”

He admits that, during his middle-school and high-school years in Omaha, “Halloween was pretty much what I lived for all year. It’s my true passion.” Annual trips to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna, Neb., were a given. At 15, Giles began volunteering at Mystery Manor, a permanent haunted house in Downtown Omaha. “That place definitely helped shape my creative life,” he says, recalling his earliest experiences with special-effects makeup and the challenges of getting the movements of a new character just right. “Wayne [Sealy, owner of Mystery Manor] pretty much gave us free rein. Doing makeup for haunted houses and acting…it teaches you to be fast on your feet, to think quickly.”

After two years of studio art at University of Nebraska-Omaha, graduating from Westmore Makeup Academy in California, plus his years of experience in the film industry, it’s just possible that Giles has refined his approach to the perfect spooky look. “You gotta find a mid-ground between just gore and something that’s interesting. For instance, last year, I was a zombie, but I kept it more forensic and skeletal,” he says.

Oh? Was this for a party?

“Well, I still go trick-or-treating. I mean, you know, I’ll hit a few houses.”

Clearly, Halloween is still his thing. In fact, that seems to be a huge reason he tries to come back to Omaha whenever the leaves change. “I miss that Midwest fall,” he says. “You don’t get that out here. I’ll even set out fall-scented air fresheners to get that feel in  L.A.” He even shows up at Mystery Manor to volunteer whenever schedules permit. “I pretty much just say, ‘Hey, Wayne, I’m here to work!’”

Of course, cool weather, autumn colors, and haunted houses aren’t the only draws to come home. He and his twin sister, Brandi Lusk, celebrated their 30th birthday together last April.

They spent a cozy night with their family at the Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa.