Tag Archives: Portland

Nick Manhart

January 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sign on the pedestrian bridge that spans Dodge Street connecting Memorial and Elmwood parks is somewhat out of date, says Nick Manhart.

“It says ‘Most beautiful bridge.’ But the sign is completely rusted, which is ironic,” says the longtime Dundee resident.

The sign once had truth to it. The pedestrian bridge was built in 1968. In 1969, the American Institute of Steel Construction named the bridge “The Most Beautiful Bridge in the U.S.”

That was almost 50 years ago. The bridge is now structurally sound, but rusted. Something needed to be done to bring the iconic treasure back to its previous beauty. And Manhart is determined to do it.

The stay-at-home father has lived in the area most of his life. As a child, he walked the bridge for eight years to and from St. Margaret Mary School.

Today, the five children of Manhart and his wife, Dr. Carolyn Manhart, walk over the bridge to St. Margaret Mary School just as their father did. He has a strong interest in rehabilitating the Dodge Street pedestrian overpass in time for its 50th birthday in 2018.

He found it difficult to get others to feel the same passion. He contacted the City of Omaha and received no response. But the story interested World-Herald columnist Erin Grace, who wrote about his campaign.

Grace’s article caught the attention of Pete Festersen, the city council member who represents the area. In March, the group Friends of the Bridge was organized.

“Without Pete’s leadership and advocacy, we would not have had the success,” says Manhart. “We were able to ultimately raise $300,000.”

The donations were collected through a form on the Dundee Memorial Park Association. DMPA then distributed the funds to Friends of the Bridge. Friends of the Bridge also raised money through a series of neighborhood activities, such as parties prior to the annual Memorial Park concert. Money poured in from 24 different zip codes, spanning the country from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, D.C.

Out of total restoration costs, $150,000 will come from the City’s bridge maintenance fund.

The bridge brings back fond memories for many ex-Omahans. Its rich history started with a program in the early 1960s, launched to construct pedestrian bridges around the city. Between the 1960s and 1980, 19 bridges were built.

The Memorial Park bridge was the only pedestrian bridge in Omaha’s network of 19 where aesthetics were taken into consideration, says Manhart.

“We are planning an event for next fall when the work is done,” he says. “We would like to recreate the event.”

The event Manhart wants to recreate is the ribbon-cutting ceremony from April 1968, when city dignitaries, school children, and volunteers came to help inaugurate the new bridge.

The plan is to start work on the bridge after the Memorial Park Bank of the West “Celebrates America” concert in July 2017. The hope is for the bridge to be open again before school starts.
Renovations to the bridge—also known as the Dodge Street Overpass—will include lead paint remediation, rust removal, repainting, and the repair of decking.

Manhart’s passion for the bridge has not abated. Born in 1969, he says, “I am confident it will outlive me and generations of other people will benefit by it.”

Visit dodgestreetoverpass.org for more information.


Greg Eklund

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap, that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

In a previous life, Greg Eklund was pounding out noisy, angst-filled alt-rock anthems—such as “Santa Monica” and “Father of Mine”—for the Grammy-nominated band Everclear.

Eklund is a relatively new resident of Omaha. He moved here in June of 2015 with his two children and wife, Ellie Kevorkian, artistic director of residency programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

He has since enthusiastically embraced the city’s art and culture scene. Meanwhile, his current job involves touring international concert halls as drummer for Le Bonheur, a band fronted by Storm Large, a Portland-based singer with cult-like following.

“My friends (back in Portland) are always telling me ‘what’s in Omaha?’” says a barefoot Eklund sitting on his home’s couch talking about the coolness of Omaha. “I tell them, ‘a ton of stuff.’”

He says Film Streams is high on his list of favorite Omaha haunts. “To be able to take my son to see Willow in the day and then go back and see a new indie film that night is so cool,” says the part-time stay-at-home dad.

Eklund references his list of Omaha highlights against his former home of Portland: “I’m a member of Hi-Fi House, which I’m excited about. Here’s Portland, the hip of the hip, and they don’t have anything like that…oh, and Under the Radar! What Amanda (DeBoer Bartlett) has done with that is incredible.”

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap; that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

He moved to Portland in 1988 after graduating from high school. He enrolled in the University of Oregon, which didn’t go well. After three semesters, he was kicked out for poor academic standing. Eklund knew what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t study. Cue the drumroll.

His drumming career first began when his parents bought him a set for Christmas in 1982. The gift was negotiated. They promised to let him play drums after he took piano lessons for two years.

But that initial drum set didn’t come with a cymbal, so he used pizza boxes to keep the beat, mowing lawns until he earned approximately $100 to purchase “the cheapest cymbal I could get.”

His passion and talent bloomed throughout high school. His career-military father moved the family from Florida, to London, to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Greg attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. The school boasted a top-notch band and symphony program, with music teachers who performed in the military band.

The young Eklund managed to secure the last chair in the percussion section. Knowing the competitiveness of the school’s music program, he sought extra lessons to improve. He also knew Garwood Whaley, a Juilliard-educated percussionist who wrote several popular method books.

“I just happened to be dating his daughter at the time,” Eklund says. “He took one student a year. Because I was dating his daughter, she prepped me for the audition, and said, ‘don’t tell him you want to play drum set.’ So when he asked, I said I wanted to a symphonic percussionist.”

It was listening to records, however, that gave him the chance to play rock ’n’ roll. In 1994, he joined a band that was about to be signed to Capitol Records. With Everclear, Eklund rode the tidal wave of alt-rock through the 1990s, moving from city to city each night for performances. By 2003, he was ready to slow down.

He played guitar and sang vocals for another band, The Oohlas, began raising his kids with Kevorkian, and evolved from a noisy rocker to keeping beat for a symphonic performer.

“It feels more mature,” Eklund says of his current place in life. “We play in these gorgeous opera houses and beautiful old theaters. Because of her stature, we are taken care of. And the fact that I’m able to do this now, I’m really fortunate.”

Visit stormlarge.com for more information.



Kellogg Place

June 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nonconformity is at home at Kellogg Place. The bustling, brick, glass-fronted space at 24th and Harney streets hosts three separate business operations that buck the status quo.

Muglife Coffee Roastery, Greenstreet Cycles, and Wag pet shop came together out of the separate proprietors’ yearning to satisfy passions for niche markets that were previously underdeveloped across Omaha.

Ben Swan initially had the idea to start the bike and brew consortium. When Swan started Green
street six years ago, he noticed Omaha was not friendly to cycling, walking, and other pedestrianism. Even with the clear need for someone to start a cycling movement in Omaha, he says people called him crazy for trying to open a shop downtown, yet he persisted.

KelloggPlace2“To me, cycling is one form of pedestrian-friendly, sustainable transportation,” Swan says. “It’s about making people want to live in a sustainable area where they can live their life without being dependent on a car. It’s about making Omaha better.”

All three companies predate their current residence at Kellogg Place. Muglife and Greenstreet share a space, while Wag is next door. MugLife is owned by Brenna and Matt McCrary, Ben Swan runs Greenstreet, and Wag is owned by Eryn Swan.

While the McCrarys have different reasons for loving coffee, they are both in it for the human experience.

Matt initially went to college as a music major, but he eventually felt more compelled to study fields like humanities and socioeconomics. His alternating college majors were indicative of his wide range of interests, and it was an introductory experience to specialty coffee that really sparked his enthusiasm as something tying all of those interests together.

“I had been frustrated with my cubicle jobs. I visited some friends in Portland and Seattle, and they took me to coffee shops that were managing relationships with [coffee bean] farmers, only roasting coffee that was in season, and only purchasing directly from farmers,” Matt says.

He was inspired. Matt quit his job, started studying graphic design, and on the side he learned all he could about coffee. The latter soon took over.

Brenna’s passion for coffee is centered on her love for making connections. Through coffee, she gets to see people make new friends, talk about beautiful things, and actually be real with one another.

“For me it was really inspiring to recognize that people who would otherwise never get the opportunity to connect…tend to be more open, vulnerable, and inspired by one another when coffee is involved,” she says. “The experience of it all was really romantic to me.”

Spending time at Muglife/Greenstreet, it can sometimes be hard to tell which business people are there to patronize. Some come in for coffee then peruse the bikes, others come in to have their bike serviced—grabbing coffee while they wait. Between the aromas in the air, the clicks of bicycle gears, and the quiet rumble of conversation, it’s a comfortable and stimulating atmosphere. For those into coffee, it’s the place to be. For cyclists, it’s a one-stop-shop, and for the folks interested in both—it’s something out of a dream.

Brenna and Matt can be heard chatting with customers, engaging them in conversation, or vice versa, as coffee or tea is prepared. Neither misses an opportunity to educate a patron about the beverage they have chosen. Each gives detailed descriptions about the subtleties and flavors the drink contains. It’s like poetry—the way they pull such powerful words out of each cup.

Watching Ben Swan work has a similar allure. Charming, encouraging, and informative, he gives each customer his undivided attention. He seems to share each customer’s childlike excitement for some of the more specialty bikes. Watching him work, it’s clear there’s nothing he would rather be doing.     

The passion the owners have for what they do seems to have a trickle down effect on the whole space. Loyal customers flock to the popular destination, and employees speak highly about the impact this place has.

“I think it is really helpful to people who come to get bikes if they aren’t really into specialty coffee, we can open their eyes to it,” says Teresa Coulter, a barista at Muglife.  “A lot of our customers get to come in and drink coffee, and if they want to look at bikes they can. They can build relationships with both sides of the business, and then feel like they are at home when they come here.

Seth Erickson is a bike mechanic for Greenstreet. When he first came to Greenstreet as a bike apprentice, he didn’t know anything about bikes. In the beginning of his time there he didn’t even own a bike. Now it’s his passion.

“I just kind of fell in love with it. I really like the shop, and I am definitely pretty invested in it,” Erickson says. “My goal is to work in the bike industry now, and the shop has kind of fueled my career goal.”

Four people, and the deep love for their respective vocations, changed the face of the Kellogg Place neighborhood. They took a dilapidated building, a place boarded up and not used for more than 20 years, and made it an essential spot for good hangs, and a crossroads for life in Omaha. Encounter

Visit greenstreetcycles.com or muglifecoffee.com to learn more.

Run, Seth, Run!

April 18, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Seth Hirsch can be seen at Lake Zorinsky by 6 a.m. most mornings. He’s out there running laps around a lake most of us would struggle to walk once. He’s driven to become the best runner he can—and he is succeeding.

“He’s by far the best in the state of Nebraska,” says Colin Johnston, track and cross country coach at Millard West.

Hirsch, now a 16-year-old junior, has run the mile in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. He has broken the 15-minute barrier in the 5K.

For some context: the median time for a runner in their 20s to complete a 5K is about 25 minutes.

Add to his amazing times the fact that Hirsch also broke both fibulas last year.

“I was probably doing too much mileage and got stress fractures,” Hirsch says. He cracked one fibula in the fall while running cross country, the other in the spring while running track. It’s not entirely surprising, given that he ran 90 miles a week.

SethHirsch2After the discovery of each stress fracture, his doctor ordered him to take some time off. Even after taking nearly two months to rest, he was able to return in time for the track season and still place third at the state meet in the 3200.

“There aren’t that many kids I’ve worked with who have worked as hard as he does,” Johnston says. “He’s a great kid.”

That hard work extends to scholastics, in which Seth has achieved a 4.5 GPA weighted, and a 4.0 GPA unweighted. The extra weight comes from AP biology, AP European history, AP environmental science, and AP government and politics.

All of this puts him in good standing to achieve that ultimate student goal…scholarship money.

“I’ve been talking to some colleges,” Hirsch says nonchalantly. “Portland, Wisconsin. Stanford, Georgetown. Columbia University in New York. All of them have good distance programs.”

Right at the moment, it’s all just talk. Once July hits, the calls will likely start to pour in. (Law mandates that July before one’s senior year is the earliest a student can be recruited.)

He’s ready for it, he’s interested in it, and he knows what to expect. His sister, Sidney Hirsch, runs at Wichita State University.

Sidney ran for her college this fall season, even though she suffered from plantar fasciitis in both feet. This affliction is an inflammation of the tissue along the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes.

It was Sidney who got Seth into running.

“My sister ran for Omaha Racers,” Seth says of discovering he wanted to run at age 10. “I went to some practices with her and I wanted to do it.”

Seth used to play soccer, but he quit this past year to focus on running.

“I just liked it the most, so I just decided to focus on that,” Hirsch says nonchalantly.

“I thought he was pretty good,” says his mother, Liz Hirsch. “The coach and everyone else was like ‘wow—this boy can run.’ I like that he’s found the passion for this.”