Tag Archives: Peony Park

1992 First Annual Best of Omaha Award Winners

July 10, 2018 by and

Below are the results of the first ever Best of Omaha Survey contest. 100,000 ballots were distributed, and winners were selected in 56 categories. The results are reproduced here as published in the March/April 1992 edition of Omaha Magazine.

The 2019 contest winners will be announced at the Best of Omaha Soiree on November 8. Get your tickets here: https://localstubs.com/events/best-of-omaha-soiree.

Best Family Restaurant

1. The Garden Cafe
2. Grandmother’s Restaurant and Lounge
3. Old Country Buffet
3. Valentino’s

Best Salon

1. Salon Tino
2. Garbo’s
3. Haircrafters

Best Omaha Tradition

1. River City Roundup
2. College World Series
3. Mannheim Steamroller

Best Annual Event

1. River City Roundup
2. College World Series
3. Septemberfest

Best Travel Agency

1. Travel & Transport Inc.
2. AAA Travel Agency
3. Pegasus Travel Center
3. Younkers Travel Service

Best Bakery

1. The Garden Cafe
2. Gerda’s Bakery
3. Hy-Vee Bakery

Best Yogurt

1. TCBY Yogurt
2. I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt
3. Dannon

Best Nursery

1. Earl May Nursery & Garden Center
2. Mulhall’s Nursery
3. The Yard Co.

Best People Watching

1. Malls
2. Old Market
3. Airport

Best Place to Buy CDs and Tapes

1. Homer’s Record Store
2. Pickles Records & Tapes
3. Best Buy

Best Buffet

1. Old Country Buffet
2. Valentino’s
3. The Choice Smorgasbord

Best Happy Hour

1. Arthur’s
2. 3 Cheers
3. Grandmother’s
3. Mickey Finn’s
3. Sports Cafe

Best Financial Institution

1. First National Bank of Omaha
2. Norwest Bank Nebraska NA
3. FirsTier Bank

Best Live Music

1. Ranch Bowl
2. Orpheum Theater
3. Arthur’s

Best Sporting Event

1. College World Series
2. Lancer Hockey
3. Nebraska Football

Best Place to Dance

1. Arthur’s
2. Ranch Bowl
3. Peony Park

Best Place to Take Kids

1. The Henry Doorly Zoo
2. Omaha Childrens Museum
3. Showbiz Pizza Place
3. Peony Park

Best Free Entertainment

1. Jazz on the Green
2. Shakespeare on the Green
3. Music in the Park
3. Old Market

Best Picnic Spot 

1. Elmwood Park
2. Dam Site 16
3. Central Park Mall

Best Men’s Clothing Store

1. Landon’s
2. Dillard
2. Jerry Ryan
2. Younkers
3. Montage

Best Steak House

1. Ross’ Steak House
2. Gorat’s Steak House
3. Johnny’s Cafe

Best Not on Ballot

1. KKCD Radio
2. University of Nebraska at Omaha
3. Baker’s

Best Local Band

1. High Heel & the Sneekers
2. The Rumbles
3. Johnny Ray Gomez

Best Tourist Attraction

1. The Henry Doorly Zoo
2. Old Market
3. Boys Town

Best Deli

1. Spirit World
2. Baker’s
3. Little King

Best Mexican Food

1. Julio’s
2. Romeo’s
3. El Aguila Restaurant

Best Italian Restaurant

1. Grisanti’s Causal Italian Restaurant
2. The Olive Garden
3. Caniglia’s Venice Inn

Best Shopping Center/Mall

1. Crossroads
2. Westroads
3. Oakview Mall

Best Place to Meet Singles

1. Paradise Lounge
2. Grocery Store
3. Arthurs Church

Best Real Estate Company

1. CBS Real Estate
2. Home Real Estate
3. NP Dodge Co.

This article was printed in the March/April 1992 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Nostalgia: Ain’t What it Used to Be

April 17, 2015 by

Originally published in May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus in Omaha.

Peony Park was where you danced indoors in the Royal Terrace Ballroom and under the stars in the Royal Grove.

Remember meeting the amusement park’s mascot, Peony the Skunk? (Some people called her “Stinky.”) Or playing Dodgem? Or KOIL Radio’s dance party in the Royal Grove? Or splashing in the Peony Park swimming pool?

You have been around at least 50 years if you remember never seeing women on the Omaha City Council. Betty Abbott blazed the way in 1965. Of course, Omaha finally has its first woman mayor. And it only took 160 years after the city’s founding.

Your first escalator ride was at the downtown Brandeis store on what was the city’s first escalator.

Come to think of it, you remember when there was an actual Brandeis store, a place where shopping became a social event.

Younkers’ stores were called Kilpatrick’s.

Your “health club” was a YWCA or YMCA.

And the YWCA was actually called the YWCA, not the Women’s Center for Advancement.

Horses, not college students, were housed in the Ak-Sar-Ben area. The college students are only slightly less messy than the horses were.

Ak-Sar-Ben horse racing was a live video game you played before there were video games.

Warren Buffett was yet to make his first billion. Remember when you could afford to buy a share of Berkshire Hathaway?

The idea of “Omaha” extended only about as far as 90th Street. Today, that’s more like midtown.

The Henry Doorly Zoo was called Riverview Park. There was a lone, forlorn bear and two moose.

The sprawling University of Nebraska-Omaha was then the smaller University of Omaha, called disparagingly by some “West Dodge High.”

Remember when Elkhorn was a city? Oh, wait…that wasn’t so very long ago!


Feeling Gravity’s Pull?

July 28, 2014 by

You may have already surmised that you are, in fact, getting older. Some of the indicators can be obvious: It takes you two or six tries to get up from the couch; parts of your body seem to be sloughing off like waterlogged loess. In broad terms: You’ve noticed that gravity has become your enemy.

But some signs can be quite subtle. So, to help things out, we’ve pieced together a profoundly serious checklist to help you gauge whether you are, in fact, just maybe, beginning to age a bit.

You know you’re 60 plus when…

  • You’ve actually driven to Hebron to see the World’s Largest Porch Swing.
  • “Happy Hour” is a nap.
  • You expect to see farm fields when you drive west of 72nd Street.
  • You wake up looking like your driver’s license picture.
  • Your address book has mostly names that start with “Dr.”
  • You remember when the College World Series was held somewhere other than Omaha.
  • And you enjoy saying things like, “I remember when the College World Series was held somewhere else.”
  • You send money to PBS after watching “Antiques Roadshow.”
  • You have a party and the neighbors don’t even realize it.
  • You still have a rotary dial, landline telephone.
  • You buy a compass for the dash of your car.
  • You still write letters to the editor of the local newspaper.
  • You remember who Zorinsky Lake is named after.
  • You turn out the lights for economic rather than romantic reasons.
  • You enjoy hearing about other people’s surgical operations.
  • You coached anyone who is now in a hall of fame.
  • You have a ticket stub from a concert at Peony Park.
  • You know what an IBM Selectric is.
  • Neighbors borrow your tools.
  • You miss the chicken at Rose Lodge, brunch at the Golden Apple, and hanging out at Tiner’s Drive-In on Dodge.
  • You consider a stroll through Memorial Park to be a day hike.
  • You’ve actually ridden on a real streetcar in Omaha.
  • People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.
  • You’re proud of your lawn mower.
  • You remember when Saturday afternoon shopping at Brandeis was a dress-up affair.

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore?

July 16, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Peony Park closed 20 years ago. A wrecking ball followed shortly after to make way for a Hy-Vee grocery store.

Arlene and Dave Beber don’t miss the roller coaster. And they don’t much think about the cotton candy, arcades, and corn dogs. They do, however, long for the days of dancing under the stars at the park’s alfresco band shell, The Royal Grove.

But it doesn’t mean that the couple who have been married for 62 years have given up on cutting a rug. The pair dubbed “Fred and Ginger” for their dancing prowess can be spotted most every Monday night at the Ozone Lounge at Anthony’s Steakhouse. That’s when Mike Gurciullo and His Las Vegas Big Band hit the stage.

A recent visit to the Ozone found Dave and Arlene at their table, the one closest to stage right.

“Life is too short and too many people take it too seriously,” Dave says. “Dancing is a great way to lighten up, feel young, and have fun.”

“We’re here to dance,” adds Arlene, “but there’s more to it than that. Everybody here, including the staff, is like family to us. The people are warm and welcoming.”

Bandleader Mike Gurciullo is a virtuoso trumpet man who goes by the handle of Gooch. He’s toured extensively, including, as his band’s name suggests, gigs in Las Vegas. Gooch was also featured earlier this year in accompanying Kathy Tyree in her title role of Ella at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

“It’s great to see the same faces every week,” Gooch says. “It’s an honor to play for them. It’s almost a spiritual experience to be able to play here,” he adds, before also complimenting the staff of the club. “Everybody knows everybody. And Dave and Arlene are crowd favorites. They are an elegant couple and beautiful dancers.”

Gooch, who announces every song title played by his 16-piece band, engages the audience with more than just his tunes. A night at the Ozone is chock full of friendly banter from the stage. He addresses most of the dancers by name in his little asides, and even included a shout-out that night to the table known affectionately as “The Wine Ladies.”

While most of the crowd is middle-aged or well beyond—the Bebers politely demurred when asked how old they were—youth is also served on big band night.

Eric and Diana Powell, now of Lisle, Illinois, are 25-year-old Omaha natives who are self-described “band nerds.” They met in jazz band while at Millard West High School.

“I played keyboards,” Eric says, “and Diana played the trumpet,” just like Gooch.

“We love this music,” Diana adds. “We’d be here every Monday night if we could.”

The Bebers say they love all kinds of music. “Even Hip Hop,” says Dave before Arlene jumps in with “Polka? Not so much anymore.” And the Beber’s favorite dance number? “Oh, too many to mention,” Arlene says as Dave puts his two cents in by crooning the lyrics of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” Arlene nods in agreement. “At Last” [Etta James] is another one,” Arlene continues. “We have so many favorites. And we had so many favorite places to dance. Do you remember the Red Lion? Or the Leopard Lounge? And the Music Box?”

The lifelong Omahans who worked together in operating their own medical billing company while raising six boys were the first on the dance floor that recent Monday night as Gooch and his boys opened their first set with Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

But the irony of it all is that the Bebers still do get around. Quite a lot, as a matter of fact. The hopelessly romantic couple even return on occasion to the Royal Grove, or at least to the slab of parking lot concrete on the site where they danced so many nights away over the decades,
“We’ll park the car, roll down the windows, and turn up the radio,” Dave explains.

“And then we dance,” Arlene adds. “We don’t care who sees us or what they think. We get out of the car and dance right there in the parking lot.”

Rudy Smith

March 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of Vicki Young’s happiest childhood memories is a day at Peony Park, the reward for a year of safety patrol service at Mount View Elementary. But if Young, now president of the NAACP’s Omaha branch, had been a child of the ’60s instead of just one decade later, the gates of the popular  amusement park would have been closed to her.

“If not for his work, we would not have been able to go to Peony Park,” says Young of the long-term effects of Rudy Smith’s civil rights activism of the 1960s and beyond.

Today “Whites Only” signs are found only in museums, and the notion of a seat on a bus being governed by convoluted, Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate but equal” thinking seems archaic, backward, unconscionable.

But just 40 years ago Omaha was a segregated city, and amenities like Peony Park were off-limits to African Americans. This didn’t sit well with Smith, who worked to desegregate the popular amusement park. For this and countless other civil rights accomplishments, Smith was awarded the NAACP’s Freedom Fighter Service Award this past December.


Smith attributes his activism to a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. His Omaha church group attended a Baptist convention in Denver, and his pastor encouraged Smith, then 13, to hear King speak. “King was riveting, mesmerizing,” Smith recalls. “I had never heard anything like that before in my life.”

The experience was a seminal one for Smith. It forced him to look around at his environment and to first see things as they actually existed and then as they should be. “It changed my whole value system. I saw two worlds: one white and one black, one affluent and one oppressed.”

So he set to work. Smith joined the NAACP’s Youth Council, eventually becoming president of a seven-state region. He participated in sit-ins, protests, and marches. One of these protests resulted in life-long employment with the Omaha World-Herald. When Smith and his group gathered to protest the paper’s dearth of African American employees, the production manager invited Smith and his minister in to talk. He told them he couldn’t control union hiring practices, but he could offer non-union jobs. Did Smith know anyone looking for a job? Smith replied, yes, he was.

Smith’s first position with the paper was in the basement as a paper sorter. He continued his employment with the newspaper after graduating from Omaha Central High School in 1963 and during his UNO years, working 40 hours a week while attending classes. He was pivotal in introducing black studies to the university’s curriculum and initiated the hiring of more black professors.

When he completed college in 1969 as the first black graduate of the School of Communication, he continued on with the paper, this time as a photographer. In his youth Smith lent his voice to the civil rights cause.  Now he would turn his eye—and the lens of his camera—to chronicle the struggle. He was there when Robert Kennedy was campaigning in North Omaha two weeks before he was assassinated.  And he covered the riots that burned North 24th Street in the summer of ’69.

“I knew that the people were frustrated and tired of being boxed in with no opportunities. The ’60s were volatile. Civil rights opened the door of change in Omaha. It’s up to us to step through that door still,” says Smith, now 69 years old. “The struggle isn’t over.”

Mark Hasebroock

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Despite Mark Hasebroock’s success as an entrepreneur—he was a co-founder of prosperous e-commerce businesses Hayneedle and GiftCertificates.com, in addition to having experience as a small business owner and working in investment and commercial banking—he says he still wishes he’d had less time-consuming, back-and-forth discussion and more expedient, hands-on guidance when he was on the launching pad.

“We got strung along so many times by different investors who just took forever to get to a conclusion. Having been on the other side of the desk starting companies of my own, it was frustrating looking first for the capital, and second: ‘Can anybody help me? How can I get from here to here? Where is this resource? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?’ type of stuff,” Hasebroock says. “At some point I thought, ‘There’s just got to be a better way to do it, and I want to someday start a fund of my own—and do it my way, and do it right.’”

In 2011, Hasebroock did just that, kicking off Dundee Venture Capital (DVC) with an objective to be responsive to, decisive with, and supportive of entrepreneurs, he explains. “When we get an inquiry, we should review it and either we get back to you and say it’s a fit, or we say, ‘It’s not a fit and here’s who you should talk to.’ And let’s do that in a 24- to 48-hour period. The standard is two to four weeks.”

With his team of Michael Wetta, Nick Engelbart, and Andrea Sandel, plus two interns (“They’re all rock stars; I’m notoriously bad at giving direction, so they have to be self-starters.”), DVC operates out of offices in the Mastercraft Building on North 13th Street on the edge of downtown. The Dundee in the company’s name, and in the logo based on a pre-1915 annexation postal stamp, reflects the company’s first offices, as well as Hasebroock’s home neighborhood.

“We started in Warren Buffett’s grandfather’s grocery store—that’s where Dundee Bank is today—and I was an investor in Dundee Bank, so it all kind of tied in together with some of the history with where capitalism sort of started in Omaha and the heart of Dundee,” Hasebroock explains.

“…when somebody comes in with ‘here’s my business, here’s what I’m doing, here’s the problem, here’s my solution, and here’s why my team’s going to win’…we usually know within the first five minutes if this is someone we’re going to back.”

He also likes both the Omaha and Nebraska associations with the Dundee name. Hasebroock grew up in Omaha (he was once a Peony Park lifeguard), graduating from Westside High School, and earning his undergraduate degree at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his MBA from Creighton University. He and his wife, Jane, who met in their youth and married in 1984, chose to raise their four sons and four daughters in their shared hometown. “No twins and, yes, the same spouse,” Hasebroock likes to say, adding that the family calls the older four the “Varsity” team and the younger half, the “JV.” The collective teammates are now ages 11 to 27 and have kept the family involved in numerous school and community-related sports, clubs, and activities for years. And Hasebroock himself plays hockey with a local adult league, the BPHL (Beer-and-Pretzel Hockey League) on Team Gold, stressing their three-time defending champion status.

“I haven’t really strayed too far,” he says. And his ties to the Heartland continue through his investments. With a preference for Midwest-based endeavors, DVC invests anywhere from $50,000 to a half-million dollars in growth companies that focus on e-commerce and web services.

“The next criteria is super-passionate, driven founders, so when somebody comes in with ‘here’s my business, here’s what I’m doing, here’s the problem, here’s my solution, and here’s why my team’s going to win’…we usually know within the first five minutes if this is someone we’re going to back,” Hasebroock says.

DVC is already seeing its investees take off and even soar under the guidance of Hasebroock and his team. Hasebroock says it was through mentor Mike McCarthy (founding partner of McCarthy Capital) that he saw firsthand how the simple principle of “treat people like you want to be treated” breeds success, and he emulates that culture of respect at DVC. Plus, there’s a multigenerational—and even simpler—principle Hasebroock follows: “Like my grandfather used to say, there’s four secrets to success: W. O. R. K.”

“It’s empathetic because we understand. And yet there are demands on the capital. We certainly want it back. We’d like more than we put in.  But we also know that these founders are being pulled in two hundred different directions. And to the degree that we can help keep them on the rails a little bit and not just chase that next great shiny penny idea; that’s what we want to do.”

Hasebroock, who’s also now involved with a new Omaha-based accelerator for technology startups called Straight Shot, sees nothing but growth ahead for DVC.

“I think the next step is another fund that invests in startups. I don’t think the supply is going to slow down,” he says. “We’re continually seeing really creative ideas out of a lot of markets.”