Tag Archives: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Matthew Hansen and Sarah Baker Hansen

August 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

All memorable stories, written or otherwise, are filled with turning points. Moments when the next step becomes unmistakably clear. Moments when life’s twists and turns, wins and losses, hopes and heartbreaks, serve up the next chapter.

A few moments for Sarah Baker Hansen and Matthew Hansen defined not only their life together, but also their life’s work. Today, they are a literary power couple, both writing prominent columns for the Omaha World-Herald.

Their pivotal moment together took a while, more than five years after their first date. The couple met in 2000 while working at The Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s student newspaper. Although they acted friendly to each other, a relationship was far from their minds.   

Their first official date wouldn’t happen for another year. It was 2001. Sarah had since graduated from college and was living back home in Omaha following an internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Matthew was finishing up his studies at UNL. A 100-year reunion for The Daily Nebraskan was near, which meant Matthew might see Sarah soon.

“A fellow DN staffer said Sarah had a crush on me years earlier, so then I started emailing her,” Matthew recalls with a smile.

Emails were exchanged, and a little bit of flirting even took place. Sarah missed the reunion, but Matthew eventually asked her out.

Sarah chose the French Café, one of her favorite Old Market eateries. It would become the same spot where Matthew would propose to Sarah, and a venue that would emphasize their vastly different backgrounds.

“I was a dorky, small town sports guy,” says Matthew, a native of Red Cloud.

Matthew found Sarah’s Omaha roots, her affinity for food, and her love of art and culture attractive. But such interest was also met with some trepidation that evening. On their first date, Matthew recalls having a “very quiet, very polite panic attack around the idea of ordering a drink. We sat at the French Café bar. I never had a cocktail that was fancier than Jack and Coke.”

Sarah had already developed an adventurous palate: “I grew up with parents who were foodies before that was a thing. They had these really elaborate dinner parties in the 1980s, and it was a real treat for me to stay up and eat the pâté, watch my dad make the chocolate mousse. And the Cornish hens. And the bone-in pork rib roast with the booties.”

Sarah and Matthew’s first date at the French Café lumbered on somewhat awkwardly. A few days later, Matthew phoned Sarah for a second date. She passed, suggesting that the two remain just friends.

Fast forward five years. Sarah and her sister were in Lincoln at Duffy’s Tavern for a concert. She went for the live music—and to meet a new guy.

Matthew got there first.

The two chatted, catching up over the past five years. The new guy eventually showed up…with another girl in tow. Matthew, Sarah, and their mutual friends made their way to O’Rourke’s Tavern. They talked the whole night.

It was then that Sarah trusted her gut: she offered Matthew her phone number. “That night in Lincoln, there was definitely a connection,” Sarah says.

The following week, the two were practically inseparable. About a year later, they were living together in Omaha.

“We were just entirely comfortable with each other from that day forward,” Sarah explains.

They were engaged in 2008 and married in 2009. This fall marks 10 years since that fateful second date.

Matthew worked previously at the Lincoln Journal Star, while Sarah held public relations posts at the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Sheldon Museum of Art. Years of freelancing for The Reader and writing her first book, The Insider’s Guide to Omaha and Lincoln, laid the groundwork for her position at the Omaha World-Herald. And traveling Nebraska for her tourism work yielded something else entirely unexpected.

“Working in PR at the state tourism office allowed me to understand Matthew a bit more,” Sarah says. “I didn’t know much about Nebraska. The first time I went to Red Cloud with Matthew was the first time I was ever on a farm. That changed me in a lot of ways.”

Matthew said he was changed not only by moving to Omaha, but by becoming immersed in local art and food alongside Sarah. He’s involved with Hear Nebraska, founded by Sarah’s UNL classmate Andrew Norman. And Red Cloud left its mark on Sarah; she now serves on the Willa Cather Foundation Board of Governors.

The couple can often be spotted at La Buvette, one of their most beloved Old Market establishments, talking about the newspaper industry, reality television, the Chicago Cubs, or their latest meal. As downtown Omaha residents for the past several years, they have found comfort in their urban neighborhood, walking to and from work together each day. They often explore of the greater metro area through restaurants that Sarah is assigned to cover. (Yes, in many cases, Matthew is her plus one.)

There was a time not too long ago when Matthew and Sarah found themselves at a bar in New York City. An opportunity presented itself that would have allowed the couple to pack their things, their roots, and their cat for new lives in the Big Apple.

“We could do this,” Sarah recalls, weighing their options. “We could do this and be happy and successful (in New York City). But we could do things that are meaningful in Omaha, that have a real impact.”

Together, they returned to Omaha. During the following year, Matthew was named an Omaha World-Herald columnist. Sarah was hired as the paper’s food critic.

“We said, let’s try to do something impactful to this place where we’re choosing to be, that we care so much about,” she says. “I feel that’s the path we chose to take.

Visit omaha.com to read their work.

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Nancy Beal Meyer

October 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the other little girls in Nancy Beal Meyer’s third grade class were coloring and making crafts, Beal Meyer was begging her mother for an opportunity to learn about art. Not the art from her elementary school classroom, but rather the strokes and techniques behind such Impressionistic artists as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

And lucky for her, her mother said yes.

Finding a teacher would prove the bigger issue. Private art classes for younger children didn’t extend into actual technique and structure of oil painting, and Beal Meyer was yearning for more. The only classes her mother could find were led by Dorothy Ruge, and those were just for high school students. But that didn’t stop Beal Meyer.  She jumped right in and learned alongside students double her age. When Ruge retired five years later, Beal Meyer, at just 14 years old, took matters into her own hands. She found Augustus W. Dunbier, a renowned local German Impressionist painter. But like Ruge, he would only teach adults. He told her that she could observe but couldn’t be an actual student in his class. Following his strict instruction, every Saturday morning, Beal Meyer would set her easel up directly in back of Dunbier and observe every stroke and detail of what he painted. Finally, after seeing her potential, he relented and brought her into the fold, eventually becoming her mentor and ongoing teacher.

Since then, Beal Meyer has spent her lifetime not only painting, but teaching others that art is truly limitless. As an artist-in-residence for Millard Public Schools through a grant from the Nebraska Arts Council and individual schools’ PTA funding, Beal Meyer’s not just teaching the mechanics of art, but also the power of what art can do to your life.

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And it’s amazing how far her reach has spread.

After graduating from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BFA as well as K-12 certification in art instruction, Beal Meyer taught after-school art programs to the at-risk youth at Omaha Home for Boys. She knew then that she had found her gift, “it just takes someone helping them to take them where they want to go.”

From helping a student with his scholarship portfolio to design school, to showing them careers in graphic design they never knew existed, Beal Meyer has always been dedicated to helping students see beyond what’s right in front of them. “Art isn’t just about drawing and painting,” she explains. “It’s about career opportunities and seeing what they can do with art.”

Since those early days at the Omaha Home for Boys, Nancy has been an advocate for the power of art programs in elementary-based education programs. “Art is what grounds people, it makes people kind and sane.” She fears where our education system is going with the cutting of art and music programs from the younger-aged school programs. Millard School District has already cut their art programs at the elementary school level and only offers art curriculum by individual classroom teachers. Beal Meyer is able to teach at schools like Sandoz Elementary and Wheeler Elementary because of Nebraska Art Council grants and PTA fundraising. But every year her fate is unknown. “It’s sad,” she explains. “Kids need this. They want to learn.”

That is obvious from the pile of thank-you notes from her most recent students stacked on her table. Each with a message of hope for a world Beal Meyer opened up to them. A hope she’s happy to give. “They need someone telling them that they can do it.”

And it’s not just for them. “This work in the schools is my heart. These kids are my heart. I want the world to see that they deserve more.” And she’s doing just that—one artist at a time.

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