Tag Archives: Marian High School

Cake and Destroy’s Elise Fertwagner

February 13, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Elise Fertwagner is a bit of a disrupter in the world of artistic baking, particularly in the Omaha area where she is an active member of the pop-up cuisine community (which seems to be rising in popularity faster than dough left to proof overnight). Her baked creations showcase her creativity, ingenuity, and love of nostalgia.

“My favorite thing about baking is—when you get everything right—you can invoke a memory,” Fertwagner says. Nostalgia has a lot to do with her love of baking since she has memories of cooking and baking with her family. “My earliest memory is of getting into the fridge and eating the sticks of butter,” she says, laughing.

Fertwagner is well-known as a baker who makes stunning creations, but also as a pastry chef who can make the most decadent indulgences a little more nutritionally dense and void of potential allergens. She has a knack for taking baked goods that people know and love and manipulating the ingredients and preparation to present goodies with a healthier twist.

She has worked as a pastry chef and decorator at a variety of places around Omaha, including bakeries and corporate settings. “When you’re making food for a bunch of people, you have to present it a different way,” she says, adding that not everyone is looking for a fancy, thought-provoking dessert to accompany their quick lunch at work.

colorful cookies and macarons on plates

“I’ve learned about creating a baseline,” she says. With a mischievous grin, she admits that she doesn’t always tell people that a pastry is vegan until after they’ve tasted it and already love it.

Surprisingly, her artistic creations from the oven don’t point toward additional artistic endeavors. “If you give me a baked good, I can do it,” she says. “But give me a paintbrush and a canvas, and I can’t do it.”

Her artistic process is fairly simple: baking involves blasting music and dancing around the kitchen, but decorating requires quiet concentration.

Though she attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Institute in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, she doesn’t necessarily think culinary school is for everyone. “I’ve learned more from other people and from falling flat on my face.” She credits local chef Matt Parks as one of the most positive influences in her pastry chef career in Omaha. “He encouraged me, he believed in me, he challenged me, but also made me feel comfortable.”

A graduate of Marian High School, Fertwagner brings a lot to the table of her hometown’s culinary scene. She is the mother of two girls and hopes to someday open her own permanent bakery location. A firm believer in doing things at the right time, she turned down an opportunity to appear on a show on The Food Network because “the timing wasn’t right.”

“Everything hasn’t aligned yet to have a location,” she says. “With the right investors, the right space, and at the right time, it will happen.” Until then, keep a lookout for pop-up manifestations of her unique bakery brand—Cake and Destroy (an homage to the “Skate and Destroy” tagline of the skateboarding magazine Thrasher).

Visit @cakeanddestroy on Instagram and Facebook for more information.

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

pink, doughnut-looking macarons on plate

2018 January/February Giving Events

December 27, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

Featured Event:
Feb. 10 (7-9 p.m.)
Dancing With the Omaha Stars
Ralston Arena
It’s back! Omaha stars Tony Veland, Chinh Doan, Jared Robinson, Miss Omaha, and others will strut their stuff in front of a panel of judges that includes Tom Osbourne, Mayor Jean Stothert, and Todd Schmaderer. While the Mirror Ball goes to the dancer who scores the highest, the other revered trophy in this contest is the Bella Award, given to the star who raises the most money for TeamMates.

Jan. 10 (6-9 p.m.)
Outland Trophy Award Dinner
Benefiting: The Greater Omaha Sports Committee
Location: Downtown DoubleTree

Jan. 12 (6-9 p.m.)
Celebration of Life Dinner Fundraiser
Benefiting: Nebraskans United for Life
Location: DC Centre

Jan. 19 (5-7 p.m.)
Victory Boxing Club Seventh Annual Banquet
Benefiting: Victory Boxing Club
Location: Bellevue Christian Center

Jan. 20 (6-10:30 p.m.)
Midlands Community Foundation Reflection Ball
Benefiting: Midlands Community Foundation
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Jan. 25 (5-9 p.m.)
Girls Nite Out
Benefiting: Girls Inc.
Location: Hilton Downtown

Jan. 27 (5:30-10 p.m.)
Rockin’ Rosie
Benefiting: The Rose Theater Guild
Location: Omaha Marriott Downtown

Jan. 28 (5-9 p.m.)
Benefiting: Essential Pregnancy Services
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Feb. 2 (5-10 p.m.)
MarianFEST 2018: Life is Sweet at Marian
Benefiting: Marian High School
Location: Omaha Hilton

Feb. 3 (9 a.m.-3 p.m.)
Ultra Chic Boutique and The Dress Flip
Benefiting: The Alzheimer’s Association
Location: A View on State

Heart and Stroke Ball

Feb. 3 (5 p.m.-midnight)
Omaha Heart & Stroke Ball
Benefiting: American Heart Association
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Feb. 10 (6-9 p.m.)
Carnival of Love Gala
Benefiting: Heartland Family Service
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Curly Tails and Cocktails

Feb. 10 (6-10 p.m.)
Curly Tails and Cocktails
Benefiting: Pug Partners of Nebraska
Location: Arbor Hall

Feb. 10 (10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Heart Bombing
Benefiting: Restoration Exchange Omaha
Location: TBA

Feb. 10 (6-11 p.m.)
Swing Under the Wings
Benefiting: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
Location: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

Feb. 10 (6:30-10 p.m.)
Winter at the Beach
Benefiting: Wings of Hope
Location: Mid-America Center

Feb. 10 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Polar Plunge
Benefiting: Special Olympics Nebraska
Location: Lake Cunningham

Feb. 10-11 (starts 10 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. Sunday)
Heartland Winter Games, Floor Hockey
Benefiting: Special Olympics Nebraska
Location: UNO Campus

Feb. 13 (6-9 p.m.)
Ten Outstanding Young Omahans Banquet
Benefiting: Omaha Jaycees
Location: Scoular Ballroom

Trek up the Tower

Feb. 17 (7 a.m.-noon)
Trek Up the Tower
Benefiting: WELLCOM
Location: First National Bank Tower

Feb. 17 (4:30-10 p.m.)
Mercy: The Gold Standard (Fiesta 2018)
Benefiting: Mercy High School
Location: La Vista Conference Center

Feb. 22-24 (6:30-9 p.m.)
A Tasteful Murder
Benefiting: Joslyn Castle Trust
Location: Joslyn Castle

Feb. 17 (noon-4 p.m.)
Barstool Open
Benefiting: United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska
Location: The Old Market

Feb. 24 (1-4 p.m.)
Benefiting: Angels Among Us
Location: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse

Feb. 24 (6 p.m.-midnight)
Country Side of a Cure
Benefiting: JDRF
Location: CenturyLink Center

Perfect Pour

Feb. 24 (7-11 p.m.)
Perfect Pour
Benefiting: Nebraska Children and Families Association
Location: Slowdown

Feb. 25 (1-5 p.m.)
Art & Soup
Benefiting: Visiting Nurse Association
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Times and dates subject to change.  Check organization’s websites for updated details.

This article appears as part of the calendar of events in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Showing Mercy

November 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Caroline Hinrichs took her marketing, branding, business development, and sales experience and kicked it up a few notches. She co-founded Omaha’s first experiential marketing firm, where consumers participate directly in a marketing program. She has since positioned herself as a business development leader, finding her niche with architectural and design firms as a go-between—someone who understands the client’s perspective and asks strategic questions that often go unanswered.

Theresa Franco, vice president of Cancer and Radiology Services at Nebraska Medicine, never used her nursing degrees to work in cancer care until the University of Nebraska Medical Center came calling. It hired her to build its stem cell and bone marrow transplant program. That program morphed into the Lied Transplant Center and, more recently, the Buffett Cancer Center, which Franco’s team helped design and develop.

Mary Higgins, president of Marian High School and the first alumna to hold that position, once barged into the office of the director of intramural sports at Creighton University and demanded that he start a women’s sports program. It worked.

In the spring of 1973, the Creighton senior played catcher on the university’s first women’s softball team. After earning a master’s degree in physical education at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Higgins coached softball at her undergraduate alma mater. She later served as a Creighton administrator.

Three highly successful women in three distinct professions, yet all exhibit similar characteristics: they’re dynamic, easy-going, self-assured, intelligent women who possess impeccable people skills and have learned to juggle the demands of a family with the demands of a high-profile career.

They also share an educational background. Hinrichs, Franco, and Higgins went to all-girls high schools. The reasons for attending their respective schools differ, but the results echo each other.

“My parents were interested in the benefits of a single-sex education, especially for girls, and they had me tour a couple,” says Hinrichs, who attended Westside schools through eighth grade. “They sort of let it be my decision, but at the same time encouraged me to make it.”

Once Hinrichs toured Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart at 36th and Burt streets, the idea of an all-girls school didn’t seem so bad, even though she had no friends or connections there.

“I loved the building, the small class sizes, the formality of it, and its tradition. I really loved the high level of academics. I craved that,” she says.

Franco, who grew up in a devout Catholic family near 48th and Grover streets, says she never really had a choice of going anywhere else but Mercy High School.

“My mom and her sisters all went there, and I had three older sisters there,” she says. “My father made it very clear to me that’s where I was going.”

But did she like it?

“I loved Mercy,” says Franco. “I felt at home because I grew up in a home of several women, plus a lot of my classmates from St. Thomas More went there.” From the outset, Franco’s personality began to emerge. “I was determined not to be ‘another Franco girl.’ My sisters were quieter than I was, kind of compliant, but I wanted to carve my own reputation.”

The student known for her spirituality and kindness went on to earn a nursing degree at Creighton in 1978 and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Texas.

Family ties never entered into Mary Higgins’ decision to choose Marian High School.

“I have no idea why I went there,” she laughs. “We lived fairly close, in St. Bernard’s parish and lots of my classmates from there were going to Marian, so I figured, ‘Well, I’ll just go with the flow.’”

She entered the school at 74th Street and Military Avenue in 1965, a mere 10 years after Marian opened. She “had a spectacular experience as far as involvement and leadership opportunities,” serving as class president three years running.

“The only thing I didn’t like was we had no competitive athletics, as was the case in all other high schools, because it was pre-Title IX,” referring to the federal mandate passed in 1972 that equalized the playing field for girls in sports.

The same self-confidence, chutzpah, and conviction of her beliefs that led Higgins to demand women’s sports at Creighton seeped into all three women during their high school years. Each cites the ability to take risks, to speak up in class without feeling self-conscious, to meet high expectations, to have opportunities to lead, and to participate in all areas of school life as the biggest rewards of their education.

The lack of boys in their classes never registered a blip.

“I didn’t define my experience at Duchesne as ‘not being distracted by boys,’” says Hinrichs, 35, who holds a degree from Colorado College in Spanish and theater. “I was around strong women, and that set me up for not framing anything around, ‘how do men affect this?’”

Taking boys out of the equation doesn’t seem to affect performance. All three schools boast a 100 percent graduation rate. College acceptances also reach 100 percent.

“Scholarship money given to our graduates topped $20 million last year,” says Dr. Laura Hickman, Duchesne principal and an alumna.

So why the continued debate over the benefits of an all-girls education?

“I have no idea,” Hickman laughs. “It probably stems from not experiencing it. They have no idea how absolutely transformative it can be.”

Higgins now sees the transformation she underwent from the perspective of an administrator.

“I look across the student body and they’re wearing the same uniform, they don’t have a dollop of makeup on, they haven’t agonized over their hair,” she observes with a sense of pride. “We’re not free from social pressures. We just remove many layers.”

Mary Higgins

Visit schools.archomaha.org for more information.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

A Horse Connection

March 1, 2017 by
Photography by contributed

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Picasso is a player. He flirts, shakes his head up and down to get the ladies’ attention.  He isn’t above begging for a few cookies by looking cute and innocent with his long lashes and deep brown eyes. Although confident in his manliness, Picasso is an orderly sort of fellow and even a misplaced blanket may upset his night. 

Lola believes she is all that. Small and slightly on the plump side, Lola proudly shakes her behind in front of crowds. In fact, this princess adores attention. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is bigger, faster, or stronger because this little gal is all about working hard.

Cerdi is a hot foreigner from the Netherlands. He is strong and athletic. Cerdi is like a linebacker, but a running back he is not. His personality reminds people of a Labrador Retriever, loyal and happy. And oh, does this boy love to have fun.

A blind date with any of these larger-than-life personalities could make someone all nervous and sweaty in either a good or a bad way. One date could equal a total disaster. Or it could be easy and comfortable.

Finding a horse is just like dating. The rider needs to be matched with the right horse­­—like Tinder without all the swiping. And when someone finds a perfect connection, it just clicks.

“It’s kind of like a husband. This horse,” Karen Ensminger says, watching her daughter’s friend Alyssa Politi ride. “He and I wouldn’t get along.  He’s too excitable.”

Ensminger’s true love was evident earlier when her own horse, Picasso, nudged her with his large white and brown nose, hoping for yet another cookie. She gave in and scratched him behind his soft ears.

“That wasn’t a monster out there, no it wasn’t,” Ensminger cooed. She tried to take him out riding, but a blanket on the bleachers was distracting.

Ensminger owns five horses and is planning on adding two more Argentinians to the stables. Picasso, a paint horse, was “a bribe” from her husband. She then bought a large pony, Lola, to share her love with her two daughters. 

Ensminger soon after purchased Cerdi, whose father was a Dutch Warmblood, for her youngest daughter, Jenni Lanoha, a junior at Marian High School. She has been riding horses since day one, literally. Ensminger was in the saddle while pregnant with Lanoha.

Lanoha, like the other trainees at Elkhorn Hampton Ridge Equestrian Center, started out in equitation. After that, Lanoha moved on to hunters, then graduated to jumping. Tall and thin, she sports tan riding pants, a light gray vest, and a black helmet as she rides Cerdi, schooling him over white picket fences in the dirt-filled practice arena.

“Go out, right heel, half halt,” her trainer yells out as Cerdi takes a tight turn at Lanoha’s command, long black tail flowing behind him.

Her mother doesn’t worry about her daughter falling. Anything could happen, but Ensminger has been watching her daughter since she was trotting over poles on the ground.

Sybil Greene, a trainer and rider at Wynmore Farm in Lincoln, says people do have misconceptions that horse riding is dangerous. However, she adds, other sports such as basketball or football are just as risky with concussions
or injuries.

In fact, the National Trauma Data Bank reported contact sports were the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries while equestrian sports
were third.

“It is safe and rewarding if you match the rider and the horse,” Greene says.

Politi’s turn is next and her horse likes to dive, causing her to slip forward.

“He’s just a little fresh. Happy to be out,” Politi, a senior at Omaha Central, explains.

Politi and Lanoha compete against each other, but there is unity in barns just like there would be on a school track team. The girls laugh, recalling a rotating pairs relay when they dressed up as Superman and Wonder Woman.

“Our plan was bad, really bad,” Lanoha jokes.

She loves to compete in the jumper division, but her mother persuaded her to compete in the hunter division.

“I live vicariously through her (Lanoha) and her skinny thighs,” Ensminger says, laughing. 

The gamble paid off. Lanoha competed at regionals and qualified for nationals at the ASPCA Maclay Final, earning her a 19th place finish.

Lanoha has grown to appreciate hunters, but still needs to balance her time as a student and a competitor. It means late nights and hard work, but Lanoha still makes it to her hour-long practices twice a week. Plus, she gets to see her “good friend” Cerdi.

Training is different depending on which barn someone attends. At Elkhorn, a novice can show up in jeans and cowboy boots. A horse can be leased or he/she can use a school one. Helmet, jacket, and equipment can all be borrowed. From there, it is a matter of how dedicated a person wants to be.

Ensminger, though, feels it is all worth it.  As she explained to her husband when her girls first wanted to get involved, sometimes it comes down to choices.

“Do you want them kissing the boys or the horses?” she asked him.

Luckily, the horses won out.

Jenni Lanoha rides her horse Cerdi

CJ Mills

December 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a fresh autumn night, chatter filled a Lincoln home-turned-music-venue. A few guests trickled through the front door. “No big deal,” CJ Mills thought. It was just a handful of people. Moments later, more appeared. The trickle turned to a flood. All of a sudden, there were 80 people jam-packed against the makeshift stage.

An astonished Mills stood two feet from the standing-room-only crowd. “I couldn’t breathe,” recalls the 31-year-old singer from Omaha. “I went out the side door to take a few deep breaths.”

The moment was surreal.

This was all new to her. The jam-packed house party. The live acoustic sessions. The impromptu performances and scheduled studio time.

Life as a new musician moves fast—a constant hustle.

Three years earlier, Mills (a self-proclaimed introvert) could have never fathomed performing in front of other people. Yet, her soulful, bluesy-folk voice has garnered quite the reputation as a crowd-pleaser. Singing her most cherished words—short poems in lyrical form—only heightened the level of intimacy.

cjmills1Mills has a profound gift for turning raw expressions of human frailness into something bordering on sacred. There’s something about her voice that commands complete attention. She can make a song cry.

She began singing in church as a young child. “I had always been singing since I was a kid. My family was very religious…Because I could sing, I was always made to,” says Mills, who began writing poetry during her early years.

“As a kid, I was huge into reading,” she says. “When I did something well, my mom would take me to the library or buy me a book.”

Soon after, Mills felt compelled to write her own short stories, which turned into poetry she later sang. That was, perhaps, her earliest simultaneous personal and artistic growth.

As a teen, singing wasn’t much of a highlight. She attended Marian High School, then ran track at Kansas State University, but was injured her junior year. While weightlifting, she squatted heavy one day and suffered a bulging disc. “Only time heals that wound,” she says.

Six months to be exact. With all the down time, she saw a decorative ukulele and taught herself how to play. She progressed to a guitar rather quickly. “I didn’t like the way it was strung,” she says of the first right-handed guitar she purchased, “so I flipped it upside down and restrung it so I could play it left-handed.”

Ambidexterity is kind of her thing. “I’m pretty even-handed. I write with both hands,” she says. “[But] I could not play that guitar. I don’t know why. Seemed so odd to me. After a month of trying, I Googled how to restring it.”

In terms of playing chords, she learned by listening to others. She was influenced by the stylings of Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, and Tracy Chapman. “Simple chords, yet, powerful lyrics,” she says. Their music spoke volumes to how Mills hoped to be perceived as an artist someday. Writing songs was a natural next step.

Mills graduated from college, then went on to the workforce. She became a health inspector, not the restaurant kind. More like the Breaking Bad kind. Off stage, she has been sent to investigate meth labs.

Mills has been playing live music for about three years, and with a band for one year. The band—featuring Mitch Towne, David Hawkins, and Max Stehr—has been a great collaboration of like minds, she says.

Mills began to develop her own individual style after college. Blending a mixture of reggae, folk storytelling, jazz melodies, and atmospheric harmonies. She performed her first show at Pizza Shoppe Collective in December 2013. There, she met All Young Girls Are Machine Guns frontwoman Rebecca Lowry, who took to Mills. She asked her to take the stage with her at a local venue.

Now for the whirlwind. Mills released her illuminating debut EP Quiet in 2015, which appeared on multiple lists of the year’s best Nebraska releases. She played the inaugural Femme Fest (organized by Lowry) that same year and returned as the festival’s headliner on Sept. 2.

Since then, Mills has stayed busy playing shows in Omaha and Lincoln. The music newcomer was featured at this year’s Maha Music Festival. Most notably, Mills was nominated for two Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards: Best Singer-Songwriter and Artist of the Year.

Although she’s insanely talented, she’s modest and humble. “The only time I feel comfortable with music is when I’m by myself creating music or on stage playing it,” she says.

Back to that special autumn night. Mills turned that ordinary Lincoln house party into a musical theater.

She composed herself before stepping back on stage, frenetically rapping as she moved through her song “Retail Star” before launching into “I Can’t Be.”

Visit soundcloud.com/cjmillsmusic for more information.


Roni Shelley Perez

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I never told my parents about having a fake sex scene. I just let them watch the show.”

-Roni Shelley Perez

Roni Shelley Perez wonders whether she should have warned her Catholic parents about a certain scene in the recent Blue Barn Theatre production of Heathers: The Musical.

“I never told my parents about having a fake sex scene. I just let them watch the show,” she says with a laugh.

Her parents, Ranilo and Selena Perez, never mentioned that scene to her, but Roni says they liked the play. They weren’t the only ones. Heathers received rave reviews and a lot of local recognition, including award nominations for Perez. It’s an impressive achievement for a 20-year-old who entered college only a few years ago with limited musical theater experience.

Perez is now a junior at UNO studying music with a theater minor. She burst onto the Omaha theater scene in 2015 when she played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Omaha Community Playhouse. That debut earned her the Elaine Jabenis Cameo Award and a nomination for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award.

roni-shelley-perez2However, performing the lead role of Veronica in Heathers was the watershed moment in her
budding career.

“I wanted it so bad. So bad. That was definitely a breakthrough role for me,” she says. “I ran here (to UNO) every morning and sang just to get that role down.”

Perez says that working in the Blue Barn’s new space on 10th Street was “inspirational” and that she was determined to live up to her artistic surroundings. “Well, the venue was going to be beautiful. I felt like the performance should be, too,” she says.

A musician since she started studying guitar at the age of eight, Perez entered college planning to major in music composition or music technology. She was involved in theater at Marian High School, but thought it was a vocation better suited to others. Her parents, who own a physical therapy practice in Omaha, were skeptical about the viability of a music career and suggested actuarial science or engineering as practical occupations.

“Music scared them because they’re immigrants from the Philippines that had their mind on an American dream to get money, and now I’m going backwards,” says Perez with self-deprecating humor.

A Goodrich scholarship covers her tuition, and being free of student debt will certainly help Perez, who plans to eventually relocate to New York City to pursue a theater career.

In addition to her tour-de-force performance in Heathers, Perez thinks that her second-place finish in a national singing competition this summer went a long way toward convincing her parents that she is on the right path.

She is also not resting on her laurels. After studying at New York University in the summer of 2015, Perez returned to New York City this past summer for an intensive audition workshop with The Open Jar Institute. Upon returning to Omaha, she was rehearsing a play called Love and Information at Do Space, and she is slated to appear in Hand to God! at Shelterbelt Theatre, which runs Nov. 18 through Dec. 11. Oh, and she also has a part-time job.

Omaha has produced several notable Broadway performers in recent decades. With her buoyant personality, stellar voice, and work ethic, it is not hard to imagine that Perez could be the next.

Visit snapproductions.com for more information.



Why Not Omaha?

June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as it has been for the past 65 years, Omaha—especially downtown—will be hopping this summer.

Since 1950, the city has been known as home base for the College World Series—first at Rosenblatt, and for the past five years at TD Ameritrade Park.

But throughout the past 10-plus years—largely since downtown welcomed the CenturyLink Center in 2003—events and entertainment opportunities have exploded.

During that time, Omaha has hosted two (soon to be three) Olympic Swim Trials for USA Swimming at the C-Link, bringing thousands of people from throughout the country to River City.


Prior to their arrival, many swimmers, visitors, and family members think of Omaha as a cow town (seriously, some think cows literally walk the streets). But once they arrive and see the majesty and versatility of the arena, complemented by the restaurants, shops, and other activities within walking distance, they gain a new perspective about the city.

So what makes Omaha such a growing Mecca for events like the College World Series, Swim Trials, or USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships (coming to town this August)? Or first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball games? Or the NCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championships last year and in past years?

Why Omaha instead of sports towns like San Antonio or St. Louis?

Maybe the better question is “Why not?”

“Omaha is the perfect host city for these kinds of events for several reasons, but the biggest reason is the people who live here,” says College World Series of Omaha Inc. Director of Marketing and Events Dan Morrissey. “People in the Omaha area embrace events like the College World Series and Olympic Trials even if they aren’t sports fans.

“During the CWS, there is always a small contingent of fans cheering for their teams, but TD Ameritrade Park seats 24,000—and the majority of spectators are from the area. They are there because they enjoy and support the event. It’s really a matter of pride for people in Omaha.”

Omaha is also considered a jewel for big-name events because of geographic location, ease of
traffic and transportation, and proximity to the airport, among other amenities.

But buildings like the Century Link Center and TD Ameritrade Park—versatile, state-of-the-art venues—have opened doors to top events that would have been too big or sophisticated for the Civic Auditorium to properly host.

After many years at Rosenblatt Stadium, the NCAA considered relocating the CWS to another city if the powers that be in Omaha didn’t upgrade to a bigger, better facility—one that was closer to the action in downtown. TD Ameritrade Park opened as the solution in 2011 and has been a tremendous draw for fans—local and not-so-local—ever since.

The city’s commitment to keeping the CWS in town has made it possible for millions of dollars in hotel room rentals, food, transportation, and entertainment sales to impact the business community.

“Downtown is really the heartbeat of the city, and when the CWS was at Rosenblatt, it was very isolated from everything else that was happening in the growing downtown,” Morrissey says. “Moving the event to a new stadium within walking distance of restaurants, bars, shopping, and hotels greatly enhanced the overall experience. People love  coming to Omaha for the CWS.”


People from coast to coast also have loved coming to attend the Olympic Swim Trials at the CenturyLink Center. The economic impact of the swim trials in 2012 was in the $30 million range, and this year’s trials—which has sold out almost every session and is welcoming a record number of athletes—could be around $40 million.

According to USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger, when USA Swimming was looking for a new spot to host the swim trials in 2008, a committee scouted several cities—and Omaha came out on top.

“We narrowed the search to two or three cities, and ultimately Omaha provided everything we needed and wanted to host a world-class event,” Unger said. “The versatility of the venue (CenturyLink Center) was a huge factor. Having a warm-down pool just steps away from the competition pool in an indoor facility is amazing.

“Very few arenas have that capability, and then having a 4-star hotel attached to the arena, and other hotels within walking distance of the arena, was a big selling point. Omaha has it all. We always feel very special when we come to Omaha.”

Another event calling Omaha home for several days this summer (and again in 2017) is the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. Centered around competition at Carter Lake (swimming), the Missouri River trails (biking) and TD Ameritrade Park (finish of the marathon), Omaha was a great fit for the triathlon after Milwaukee hosted the past three.

A big selling point for the event to come to Omaha was the proximity of the airport to Carter Lake, where the event will be headquartered, as well as the city’s central location–within a day’s driving distance or less for the majority of the competitors and their families. Plus, the city’s ability to host larger events like the CWS and the swim trials proved Omaha could handle an event of this scope.

“Omaha really knows how to roll out the red carpet for these kinds of events; everyone involved definitely knows what they’re doing,” said USA Triathlon National Events Senior Manager Brian D’Amico. “Hotels and restaurants are all within close proximity to the lake and, with upwards of 5,000 total athletes—not to mention families, friends, officials, etc.—we needed the availability of between 2,500 and 3,000 room nights for everyone. Omaha was able to provide that and then some.”

D’Amico also referenced the tremendous backing and support from city officials in USA Triathlon’s decision to hold its event—which is expected to contribute between $11 and $12 million to city and business coffers—in Omaha.

“We received letters of support from the mayor, local sports commission, police, and other city departments committing their support to us and our athletes,” he said. “We need to have roads completely blocked off for the marathon section of the triathlon, and that takes full city support. Omaha brings that.”

Omahan Susie Sisson, who recently bought tickets for the July 1 session of this year’s Olympic Swim Trials and has attended the past two trials at the Centurylink Center, says the reason to choose Omaha begins and ends with the people and their enthusiasm for sporting events.

“People here love sports, especially amateur sports, and will buy tickets, even if they don’t know much about that particular sport,” said Sisson, a teacher at Marian High School. “These types of events always seem to be sold out, or nearly sold out, and I think that’s because people here love to feel like they’re participating in something important and exciting.

“On a practical level, the city also has a built-in infrastructure of hotels, convention space, restaurants, and tourist attractions. It’s easy for organizers and fans alike to feel welcomed and accommodated.”  Encounter


Nichol Mason Lazenby

April 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nichol Mason Lazenby left the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company to relocate to Omaha less than two years ago, she knew nothing of her new home and had decidedly low expectations regarding the breadth and depth of any opportunities that might await.

“I had no familiarity with the Midwest, let alone Omaha, and I panicked a bit at the thought of moving here,” says the southern California dancer/choreographer who had been a professor at the University of Arizona and now teaches at the Omaha Academy of Ballet. So Mason Lazenby decided to send out some feeler emails to the usual suspects in the dance community here. Less than 30 minutes later in some cases, she recalls, replies came pouring in from the likes of Creighton University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Omaha may have been a big fat question mark for her, but no question mark is needed when assessing the immediate impact she has made on the local scene.


This winter found her in performances with both the Omaha Dance Project (at Marian High School’s new Mary Joy and Tal Anderson Performing Arts Center) and the tbd Dance Collective in “Making Space II: An Evening of Curated Choreography” (at KANEKO).

In April she had a hand in choreographing “Vive Paris” at Creighton University and “Evenings of Dance” at UNL. In May she’ll choreograph Heathers The Musical at the Blue Barn Theatre. And she is now preparing for a yet-to-be-named performance of her work in Motion41’s Encore space as a result of her winning last year’s OMAHAgraphy competition.

“I’ve been fortunate to be embraced by the dance community this way,” Mason Lazenby says, “especially the women of tbd.”

She was a guest artist last year when tbd took the Encore stage for its own OMAHAgraphy gig. Lazenby’s “Strange Mercy,” a solo work that she both choreographed and danced, was the showstopper of the evening and drew the loudest and most sustained applause.

“Lazenby’s movements,” this reviewer wrote at the time, “had me conjuring images of Anna Pavlova dancing Mikhail Fokine’s ‘The Dying Swan.’ Except that Pavlova was dancing all the wrong steps. And that she was thoroughly, over-the-top insane. And on acid.”

The art form has always had an intractable power over me. My most spine-tingling encounters with the genre, as was the case with Mason Lazenby and “Strange Mercy” and just as it is with any theater or performance art or opera or visual art that pushes boundaries and pushes buttons, runs along the lines of “I’m not exactly sure how to process what I just saw…but I love it.”

“That’s what’s amazing about modern dance, Mason Lazenby says. It is innate…primal. It can be just as percussive and frantic as it is sinewy, graceful, and luxuriously indulgent.” The key, she adds, is that modern dance is thoroughly experiential. It can be no other way.

“Every audience member will react in their own way,” she says. “It’s a form of communication…a movement-based form of communication. Every dancer communicates in a way that translates their world. And every audience member will experience those movements as framed by their world.”

Visit nicholmason.com to see her work.


Jen Edney

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jen Edney’s motto, “Have Camera, Will Travel,” has led her to such places as Fiji, Suriname, Australia, and Cape Town. She estimates that 10 months of the year is spent traveling with her lens focused on the people of the world.

“My camera and my subject have served as my compass,” explains Edney, “leading me around the world, observing and documenting incredible people with even more incredible stories.” And though she has been to over 30 countries in the past three years, her favorite spot on earth is a little closer to home: her grandmother’s cabin on a lake in Minnesota. “It’s the one place in my life I can truly relax and enjoy time with my family,” she owns.


Edney working on a shoot. Photo by Jon Nash Photography.

Edney grew up in Omaha, the daughter of John and Pat Edney and sister to two brothers, Chris and Matt, also her twin. She attended Marian High School and then pursued a degree in Graphic Design and Visual Journalism at Creighton University. Her introduction to photography came at her father’s side on a family trip. He taught her exposure and the rule of thirds—eschewing the urge to center your subject—amidst Ireland’s verdant rolling hills and ancient stone walls.

After an internship with renowned nature photographer Tom Mangelsen (also from Omaha) in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Edney attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, Calif. She worked at the Ventura County Star while in school. It was an assignment for the newspaper that ironically led to her current career as a freelance photojournalist. Edney was photographing a 16-year-old who set out to be the youngest person to sail around the world. The assignment turned into a school project, which prompted Edney’s instructor to urge her to leave school to focus on the story. Thus, her life as a freelancer began.

She recalls her dad’s advice to “never leave home without duct tape, a knife, or a flashlight,” when she heads out to parts unknown, unfazed by how often his advice has served her well. After all, Edney is not in a climate-controlled portrait studio, photographing high school seniors in their band and cheerleading uniforms. More often than not, she is aboard a sailing vessel capturing captain and crew struggling with masts or treading against the current in an effort to get a water-level shot of a boat in action.

Team JP Morgan BAR racing during the America's Cup World Series in San Francisco, California, 2012. Photo by Jen Edney.

Team JP Morgan BAR racing during the America’s Cup Series, 2012. Photo by Jen Edney.

Recently, Edney was in Newport, R.I., shooting the America’s Cup Series Event. She had the notion of photographing a boat from a fish’s point of view and convinced the skipper of Energy Team France to sail over her while she captured an AC45’s underside on film. “No problem! We sail over you!” skipper Loick Peyron gamely agreed. It was the first time Edney had butterflies before a shoot.

“Keep calm and carry on? No thanks, I’d rather raise hell and change the world,” asserts Edney. It’s this throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude that has earned Edney the nickname “Shark Bait,” and allowed her to build a body of work that has graced the pages of the LA Times, Coastal Living, and YACHT Magazine, as well as the small screen on ESPN, ABC’s Primetime, and CBS Sports.

“I don’t consider it a good day at the office unless I get wet, dirty, or almost run over by a boat!”