Tag Archives: Norfolk Nebraska

Art After Life

December 21, 2018 by

The morning of the funeral, I woke early to write my identical twin brother’s eulogy. It began: “On the cover of a notebook, Connor spelled out his definition of art in boldface type: ‘Art is not communication. It is dialogue.’”

Robert Connor Meigs suffered severe brain trauma in a car accident three blocks from our childhood home on Dec. 20, 2004, in Omaha. I was driving and regained consciousness in a hospital bed. He died four days later.  

 The principal from our elementary school, Mrs. Krause, read Connor’s eulogy on behalf of my family during the service. I sat in the front church pew with my older brother, sister, and parents. 

As Mrs. Krause spoke, I remembered saying goodbye to Connor in the hospital on Christmas Eve. Looking at his face, it was like looking into a mirror, but my eyes were closed. Tubes protruded from his scalp. IVs chained his limp body to beeping machines. A miniature Christmas tree sat in the corner, turned off. His lungs still heaved via breathing machine. But because of a blood clot, his brain hadn’t received any oxygen for hours. He seemed to be sleeping when I walked away. 

She continued reading: “Connor was taken from us just as he was finding his artistic voice. His dialogue had just begun to take shape. He died too young. But his voice lives on. He lives in our memories.” 

Shadows fill my memory of the accident. I remember the Jeep sliding on an icy road. I remember arguing with my brother, then darkness. 

A police report explained the events: I lost control on black ice. We spun onto the opposite side of the road. The oncoming truck couldn’t stop. It plowed into Connor’s door, slamming our Jeep into a parked van. The following day, I regained consciousness. Connor did not. 

His eulogy continued: “The anecdotes from Connor’s life trail back 19 years. We all have them, and each of ours is different. The most consistent anecdote remembered by his close friends and family is his dedication to art.” 

Mrs. Krause spoke about Connor’s unexpected arrival for Thanksgiving break: He pulled into the driveway, barged into the house with a stack of canvases, disappeared again, and returned with more artwork. My mother, a local artist, promised to help him organize his first exhibit at the ArtLoft Gallery at Florence Mill after he graduated. He died halfway through his sophomore year at the University of Kansas. 

While Mrs. Krause spoke, I remembered Connor’s phone calls from the School of Fine Arts at KU or his summer job at a bronze foundry in Prescott, Arizona. Like most siblings, we argued often. Connor especially liked to argue about art. He said things like, “Art is not communication,” then welded a 6-foot tall, foldable, portable communication tower out of iron. 

Connor Meigs sitting atop his iron communication tower

“Communication Tower,” 2004

I thought he’d spent too much time in the studio, too much time with paint thinner, too much time distinguishing squares from rectangles. 

In the eulogy, I explained my brother’s concept of art, as he sat atop his communication tower during his final sculpture critique: “Through the communication tower, Connor was trying to articulate the unique power of an artist as he wobbled to and fro in the center of the class’ attention.” 

By itself, any expression can be a form of communication. But not all communication is art. When communication is interpreted, when a viewer comprehends the message, a two-way bridge is formed, a dialogue. 

Mrs. Krause finished reading. Mom had arranged an art exhibit in the church’s fellowship hall to follow his service. I stood by one of the entrances and thanked the well-wishers who followed. 

A tiny woman approached. She said her name was Mrs. Maher, our kindergarten teacher. Two misshapen, miniature clay books dangled from dental floss necklaces around her neck. She cupped the ornaments and held them forward. We had given her the necklaces in kindergarten. “Connor was the shy one,” she recalled. At the time we had given her the gifts, Connor had hidden behind me. 

After the funeral, I went home, closed the door to my bedroom, and I cried. I had driven my twin brother, and all his gifts, to the grave. 

But life, like art, does not fit clear-cut definitions. My brother’s voice lives on in his artwork. His memory will live on through helping other young artists. My mother, Linda Meigs, initiated the Connor Meigs Art Award in the summer of 2007. The goal was to help young artists achieve what Connor could not—the beginning of a career. 

A posthumous art exhibit, titled Connor Meigs: Retrospective Dialogue, ran during the summers of 2005 and 2006 at the Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery. In October, his show moved to the Beatrice Public Library in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Now, his artwork rests in family members’ homes.

Postscript: The first recipient of the Connor Meigs Art Award exhibited in the summer of 2007. Seven artists have received the award: Nicholas Shindell (2007), Sariah Ha (2008), Stephanie Olesh (2009), Matthew Farley (2010), Woohyun Shim, (2011), Christine Fredendall (2012), Kathy Irwin (2013). The Connor Meigs Art Award was temporarily postponed in 2014 as my father, John Meigs, fought a terminal cancer diagnosis. But the award will continue. The 2019 recipient is Holly Tharnish, a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The Connor Meigs Art Award provides an honorarium of $1,000, studio visits to the working spaces of Omaha artists, and a solo exhibition with artist reception. The Fort Omaha campus of Metropolitan Community College sponsors lodging for out-of-town recipients.

Connor’s legacy, however, does not end with art. His driver’s license noted that he was an organ donor. Doctors removed his liver, kidneys, heart valves, corneas, and some leg bone for the ultimate Christmas gifts to complete strangers.

I met one of those strangers during the summer of 2005. A Norfolk, Nebraska, resident named Maggie Steele visited Connor’s exhibition at the Florence Mill to thank our family. A genetic disorder—alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency—had destroyed her liver, she explained.

She received his liver on Christmas Day in 2004.

How to apply for the Connor Meigs Award

The award is restricted to recent graduates—or those soon to graduate—with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree. Applicants should submit a resume, artist statement, and 10 images by mail to the Florence Mill ArtLoft (9102 N. 30th St., Omaha, NE 68112) or by email to florencemill@gmail.com. The application deadline is Oct. 1, 2019, for a 2020 exhibit.


Visit connormeigsartaward.com for more information. A version of this essay was originally published in the Columbia Missourian’s Vox Magazine on March 15, 2007.

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

A self-portrait (ink) by Connor Meigs during his junior year at Central High School, 2001, full image

A self-portrait (ink) by Connor Meigs during his junior year at Central High School, 2001.

Women in Agriculture

November 21, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A farmer driving a tractor is a common sight in Nebraska. According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska’s farms and ranches utilize 45.2 million acres—91 percent of the state’s total land area.

It is often a man driving the tractor, but certainly not always. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census (the latest available statistic), 14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms had a female principal operator. In total, the 2012 census stated that women account for about 30 percent of farm operators, often as the co-owner of a family-run farm.

These women are working hard to make a difference in their fields, and their field. Hilary Maricle is part of that 30 percent. Maricle has farmed most of her life, currently alongside husband Brian on their sixth-generation-owned family farm. She also teaches agriculture, and was a teacher and assistant dean of agriculture at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. As an agriculture teacher at NCC, she taught young agrarians, who often came from farming backgrounds, ways of improving their businesses.

“To see their eyes light up when they took in a new idea was the best,” Maricle says.

She taught courses such as international agriculture and ag law. She coordinated summer internships and worked with the agriculture department’s college transfer program, which has agreements with University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Wayne State College, and South Dakota State University-Brookings, including developing and implementing online courses.

Beyond teaching agriculture, Maricle is on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s promotion and education committee, working alongside committee members from Utah to Pennsylvania to assist and support state Farm Bureau efforts. She is also the Boone County Commissioner, and answers questions for interested persons, teaching them about the source of their food and how it affects them.

“I am most excited that people care where their food comes from,” Maricle says. “Ten years ago, we didn’t have this interest in where our food comes from. Moms in particular want to know what they are feeding their kids. We need to change our perspective to building relationships perhaps more than just going out and educating. People want to understand agriculture, and to do that, they need to know there’s people behind it.”

Sustainable, local food production is in vogue, and with this movement comes the natural rethinking of how people think about food production. Charuth Van Beuzekom is a local farmer who operates Dutch Girl Creamery and grows a variety of specialty crops on Shadow Brook Farm near Lincoln. She owns the farm with her husband and is also a mother, which she says makes her aware of people’s increased desire for organic food.

“My children grew up right next to me, either strapped to my back or waddling alongside,” Van Beuzekom says. “If you’re in that position, you can’t have pesticides around, you know, because you have little babies right there.”

Jaclyn Wilson is the fifth generation to work a cow-calf operation near Lakeside, Nebraska, that began in the 1880s. In 2013, Wilson began Flying Diamond Genetics as a project of her own while helping on the ranch currently owned by her father and uncle. 

Flying Diamond Genetics is essentially a bovine surrogate business. Her clients send embryos, which Wilson calves out, taking the young animals from embryos to birth to weaned calves before sending them back to the client.

She has overseen nearly 400 embryo-transfer calves over five years, which is successful enough that she dropped from nine clients to two large clients, a large genetics company (which she could not name due to a non-disclosure agreement) and McCormick Beef of Caledonia, Minnesota.

Along with working on the ranch and running her company, Wilson is passionate about politics, especially as it relates to agriculture. She was appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to serve on the Brand Committee, a state organization that oversees cattle branding in Nebraska, and has worked with Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association and other organizations. The 38-year-old discovered that while these organizations were sometimes male-dominated, they were more noticeably populated with people older than her.

“Usually I would find out that I’m the youngest,” Wilson says. “Sometimes I’d be the youngest and the only female, but it’s not as novel now as it used to be.”

Through her civic involvement, Wilson has discovered another passion, which is international travel. In 2005, she graduated from the University of Nebraska Extension’s Leadership Education/Action Development program, for which she traveled to Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.

“That opened things up for me,” Wilson says. Because of that trip, I was able to go to Brazil with Rotary.”

Even while traveling, she maintains an eye towards agriculture. She has seen a combination beef/hog plant in Brazil, a poultry plant in China, a small wild-game processing operation Wilson described as “very mom-and-pop” in South Africa, sheep and beef operations in New Zealand, and a beef operation in Australia.

“People always laugh when I travel,” Wilson says. “I’ve been to packing plants in six different countries. It not only helps my business, but it helps you see a different picture. About half of the trips have been because of something that comes up in the industry, and half of them have been because of my love of travel.”

Because of her passionate work in agriculture, in June 2016, she was named in Farm Journal Media’s 40 under 40 list.

As traditional farming practices are being questioned and looked at in a different light, and consumers are taking more charge of where their food comes from, women continue to take charge and build themselves into the framework of agriculture.

Correction: The online version of this article has been modified from the print edition. Maricle’s husband’s name is Brian. The print edition identified him as Keith.


Visit @mariclefamilyfarms on Facebook or flyingdiamondgenetics.com for more information about the women featured in this article.

This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Hilary Maricle

Alex Kava

October 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sure, Alex Kava is a best-selling mystery author, but as an aspiring writer she faced insecurities. Even now, with a six-figure contract from Putnam, there are uncertainties in this brave new world
of publishing.

Growing up in rural Silver Creek, Nebraska, her working-class parents considered writing frivolous. Word-struck Alex secretly spun stories from her imagination and committed them to the back pages of used grain co-op calendars, squirreling away the scrawled tales in a shoe box under her bed.

Convinced writing fiction couldn’t support her, she followed an advertising-marketing-public relations career path that, while successful, left her unfulfilled and burned-out. It didn’t help when her first novel-length manuscript received 116 rejection letters.

Kava may never have become the author of the long-running Maggie O’Dell and new Ryder Creed series had she not left her PR job to commit herself to writing at 38.

“There was too many hours, too many meetings. I really was at a crossroads in my life and I decided that while I’m figuring out what it is I want to do with the rest of my life, I’ll try writing. I told myself if I wasn’t published by 40 I would give it up.”

While completing the book, expenses for home and car repairs mounted. She went through her savings. She took a paper route to make ends meet.

She just squeaked under the self-imposed deadline when, three days before her 40th birthday, she signed advance reader copies of her debut novel, A Perfect Evil. Her 2000 portrait of a community traumatized by a serial killer was extrapolated from the actual terror that befell Bellevue and Papillion in the early 1980s when John Joubert murdered two boys there. Kava worked for the Papillion Times at the time.

“What surprised me,” she says in revisiting those events years later, “was that I could remember those feelings of panic that had taken over that community.”

Her stand-alone One False Move was another instance of real-life crime influencing her work. When the 2002 Norfolk, Nebraska, bank robbery gone fatally bad eerily followed a plot she was developing, she used evidence from the actual crimes to inform her novel.

Forensics expert and profiler Maggie O’Dell was among multiple characters on the case in A Perfect Evil, but Kava’s publisher pushed to make O’Dell the subject of a series. Kava resisted. A dozen O’Dell books later, she and Maggie are fixtures in the mystery-thriller genre.

Kava admits she didn’t like O’Dell at first. “We’re both very stubborn and slow to trust.” On the advice of a go-to expert, former Douglas County prosecutor and now district judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf, Kava gave O’Dell shared interests in dogs and college football.

“Those two little things actually made it easier for me to relate to her,” Kava says. “The series grew, and I grew, and Maggie O’Dell grew. I love that character. She and I have been through so much together.”

Her new protagonist, Ryder Creed, is a K-9 search and rescue dog handler. He teams with investigators like O’Dell to help crack cases.

“I love Ryder Creed because he has this passion for dogs and I can really connect to that.”

Kava says it’s a relief after “so many years writing about something I don’t know—murder,” to write about her four-legged friends. She’s dedicated books to her pets, Molly and Scout, the latter named after Kava’s favorite literary character, Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Kava’s steeped herself in the CSI-law enforcement milieu, even presiding over her own “crime scene dinner club” of attorneys, detectives, and techs who voluntarily plied her with case file details.

“I really do love the research. I’ve never had any problem with people opening up. I’m not sure why they do.”

She admires her expert sources.

“I’ve always looked at law enforcement officers in awe. I could never do what they do and stay sane.”

She’s toured the FBI’s Quantico facility in Virginia, interviewing behavioral science wonks there. She’s turned down opportunities to visit crime scenes and view autopsies. “Some of those things it’s best for me to leave to my imagination.”

Kava, who did a spring book tour for her latest work, Breaking Creed, is grateful for her success. But in this new age of ebooks, publishing mergers, and tenuous contracts, nothing’s guaranteed.

“There’s so much more for readers to choose from, and I think that added choice is great. At the same time it makes it more of a challenge for us as authors to figure out how to get those readers and stay in front of them. I’m now writing two books a year so I can stay in front and say, ‘Here’s the next one, and I’ve got another one coming out, and another one after that.’ You don’t want them to
forget you.”

AlexKava1