Tag Archives: Union Pacific Railroad

Roger W. Sayers

December 27, 2018 by

Editor’s note: These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits. Click here for the full list of featured models. 


Roger W. Sayers, 76

I consider myself a true product of the Omaha community. I attended Howard Kennedy and Lothrop elementary schools, and Central High School. I received my bachelor’s degree from Omaha University and an MBA from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I spent many years as a volunteer or board member at numerous Omaha community and civic organizations. My entire working life has been in Omaha. I retired from Union Pacific Railroad after 26 years.

It goes without saying that I am very proud of my accomplishments in the field of athletics, especially being proclaimed the 33rd-greatest athlete in Nebraska history by the Omaha World-Herald, and as the most decorated amateur athlete of my generation. These accomplishments have culminated in being the recipient of eight hall of fame awards for track, football, and overall athletics.

My current focus and pride is my family. My two daughters, three sons, and 12 grandchildren are making a difference and contributing to society. My wife and I thoroughly enjoy their presence.

I frequently get asked about aging and living life. I believe it is very important that you stay active mentally and physically. If possible, volunteer your time and talents. One thing is for certain, you must be able to handle the stress that life will bring. The root of my comfort is the strength and joy that comes from my spirituality and faith.

I have been married to Annette Scott for 33 years. We are compatible on so many levels. We just enjoy being with each other. We love to travel, especially taking cruises and family vacations. Annette is truly my best friend.

Because of my athletic career, and as the older brother of Chicago Bears Hall of Fame great Gale Sayers, sports have always been a source of interest. I am an avid golfer and I am in my element when spending time on the golf course with my companions.


This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Roger W. Sayers

Ten Outstanding Young Omahans

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

On Feb. 8, the Omaha Jaycees honored the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans of 2017 during a banquet at The Paxton Ballroom. This award recognized individuals for their commitment to the community and their extraordinary leadership qualities.

“It’s pretty amazing that this award started right here in Omaha, and it truly is an award and recognition of the highest honor,” says Jennifer Anderson, president of the Omaha Jaycees. “The Omaha Jaycees continue to be impressed with the caliber of applicants we see each year, and we are happy that we can continue the tradition of honoring Omaha’s best and brightest.”

The judges for this year’s event were:

Mikaela Borecky
United Way of the Midlands

Jessica Feilmeier
Truhlsen Eye Institute, UNMC

Nicole Jilek
Abrahams, Kaslow, & Cassman LLP

Nick Langel
Union Pacific Railroad

Marjorie Maas
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska

Maggie McGlade
CQuence Health Group

P.J. Morgan
P.J. Morgan Real Estate

Katie Triplett
Nebraska Methodist Health System

Michael Young
RSM US LLP

This year’s TOYO! recipients are…

Chinh Doan

KETV Newswatch 7
Doan studied journalism, Spanish, and international studies at the University of Oklahoma and graduated as the “Outstanding Senior.” She is Omaha Tri Delta alumnae president, Young Catholic Professionals’ Parish Ambassadors coordinator, and is the inventory manager for the Junior League of Omaha’s “Project Hope Pack” Committee. She is also a member of Vietnamese Friendship Association of Omaha, and Asian American Journalists Association. She participates in the Omaha Press Club Show and Omaha Fashion Week.

Megan Hunt

Hello Holiday
Hunt began her career as a bridal designer.
She is the co-founder of Hello Holiday and is also the founder of Safe Space Nebraska. In 2010 Hunt received Shout Magazine’s 30 Under 30 honor, and in 2011 she was recognized as one of Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Her 2014 book, Fabric Blooms, sold out of its first printing in under 24 hours. Hunt has served on the boards of Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, Friends of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, CHEER Nebraska, and Friends of the Nebraska AIDS Project.

Ryan Ellis 

P.J. Morgan Real Estate
Ellis began his career at P.J. Morgan Real Estate as an intern while attending Creighton University. He graduated from Creighton with a bachelor’s degree in finance. In 2007, Ellis was promoted to vice president and chief operating officer, and in 2009, Ellis was named
company president.

Ellis serves on the boards of Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha Conservatory of Music, and Fashion Institute Guild. He is a 2014 Leadership Omaha graduate and was awarded the Midland’s Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award in the same year.

Emiliano Lerda, J.D., LL.M.

Justice For Our Neighbors of Omaha
Lerda earned a B.A. in communication studies from the University of Northern Iowa and a J.D. from Drake University Law School. He holds certificates in Public Service Law, Food & Agriculture Law, and International Comparative and Human Rights Law from Drake. He is the executive director at Justice for Our Neighbors of Omaha and has taught “Immigration, Law & Latinos” as an adjunct professor at UNO. He participated in the Nonprofit Executive Institute and Leadership Omaha Class 36 and is currently enrolled in the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program.

Leslie Fischer

Together A Greater Good
Fischer graduated from Millard North High School in 1995, and with a degree in business administration, minor in marketing, from UNO in 1999.

She is the co-founder of TAGG, a social good app that received the “Excellence in Business Award—Community” from the Greater Omaha Chamber in 2016. Fischer also received UNO’s Young Achievement Award in 2015.
She co-founded Ladies Who Launch Omaha and serves on the board of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and B4B Society.

Cliff McEvoy, MPA, MSL

Buford Foundation
McEvoy graduated from Saint Louis University and served as an Air Force officer for 6 1/2 years. He left with the rank of Captain and was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal.

McEvoy also earned an MPA from the University of Akron and an M.S. from Creighton University. McEvoy serves on Nebraskans for Civic Reform, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Young Professionals Council, the Greater Omaha Chamber Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and is president of Omaha Professionals United in Service. He is the executive director of the Buford Foundation.

Sheena Kennedy Helgenberger

Live Well Omaha Kids
Helgenberger earned a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010. She wrote a thesis under the direction of Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner about African American women’s experiences transitioning to college. The research resulted in an article in the NASPA Journal.

She is the coalition director for Live Well Omaha Kids, and she is particularly passionate about empowering and protecting youth. The greatest reward of Sheena’s volunteer experiences has been her relationship with her Little Sister, Allanah.

Emily Poeschl

University of Nebraska at Omaha
Poeschl is also a 2016 TOYO! recipient. She has a BSBA from UNL and an MBA from UNO, where she is the director of marketing. Poeschl is a member of the Susan G Komen Nebraska Board of Directors, and serves in two national volunteer roles: the Komen Advocacy Advisory Taskforce and Komen Advocates in Science. She is a member of Women’s Fund of Omaha Circles Group, and United Way Community Investment Review Team. She is also a Girls Inc. Pathfinders mentor, a Delta Gamma Omaha Alumnae Chapter past president, and an SID 502 past trustee.

Kasey Hesse

Gallup
Hesse leads Gallup’s dot-com team as a technology manager at Gallup. She majored in international studies and Portuguese at UNL, and earned an M.A. in mental health counseling from UNO. Hesse is a board member at Bluebarn Theatre, Omaha Friends of Planned Parenthood, and is on the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program’s education committee. She is a 2016 New Leaders Council Fellow and a member of Leadership Omaha class 34.

Tony Vargas 

Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and Omaha Public Schools Board
Vargas is a State Senator for District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature, representing the communities of Downtown and South Omaha. He previously served on the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education. Vargas earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester and an M.Ed. from Pace University and is currently the director of marketing and communications for Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance. He is also serves on the advisory board for New Leaders Council-Omaha.

Suzanne Wilke

October 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Suzanne Wilke pulls up to her dog grooming store and exits her white Pathfinder with an exuberant wave and a giant smile on her face. She walks indoors and is immediately greeted with a barrage of barking dogs and friendly smiles. She picks up a chair and suggests we talk outside. “It’s too nice to be inside.” As we make our way to the storefront, we are greeted by multiple friends and customers picking up or dropping off their furry loved ones. Wilke greets everyone with the same friendly demeanor.

Wilke, who turns 60 in December, is a cancer survivor and owner of Bark Avenue Omaha, a grooming and daycare center for dogs. Her business is expanding, servicing 60-100 dogs per day. She is a rare breed whose ethics come from hard work and determination. Not satisfied with a mundane routine, she keeps herself active. “I hope to always keep that mentality, to stay busy enough where I don’t really have to worry about staying young,” Wilke says.

Her passion for dog grooming started at a young age. When she was 14, she started helping out at her aunt’s grooming shop. “There is just an art to it,” she exclaims. “My brain clicked, and it just came naturally to me.” So it would only make sense that from then on Wilke would follow her love for dogs and eventually begin her own business.

Though Wilke’s love for grooming only increased over the years, by age 23, in 1979, she took an apprenticeship with a plumber’s union as the only female apprentice. Wilke’s father, who was also a plumber, let her know that he wanted his daughter to have a career. “I was focusing on grooming, but my dad was always saying, ‘you need a career,’ and I didn’t want to do anything that confined me.”

After a few years of her apprenticeship, Wilke was no stranger to physical labor and eventually left the plumber’s union to begin a more promising job as a Union Pacific Railroad freight welder.

“I was the only woman to do that.”

suzannewilke2

She smiles and explains some of her duties. “I welded hopper cars and did physical labor down in the shops of the Union Pacific Railroad.” Wilke continued to work at Union Pacific until 1988.

As Wilke began to figure out what career she wanted to pursue, she did not abandon her true passion, grooming dogs on weekends. She never lost her clientele regardless of what she was doing. “I still have clients that I had 35 years ago. Because they still have dogs.”

Unfortunately, in 1991, Wilke was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare malignant tumor. Wilke battled her way to make a full recovery only a year later. With a rare cancer, treatment was never easy. “They really didn’t know what to do for me.” However, she knew that there was something more. “I’ve always sat back and tried to understand what my purpose was. There’s got to be a purpose for me to be here.” After recovery, Wilke continued to work part time grooming dogs, but in 2000 she decided to open Bark Avenue.

As time progressed, Wilke maintained a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically. She was in a position to do what she loved and make a living at it. However, in November 2015, Wilke suffered from a stroke that affected her speech and ability to walk. “It took me from November until the end of March to feel like I could get everything the way I needed it.” Much like other situations in her life, Wilke took this head on and conquered it. She shows no signs of health problems only a year after her stroke.

Today, she still grooms dogs on a daily basis and exercises every day. “There are all kinds of things we do in our lives that we feel passionate about,” says Wilke, who also enjoys camping, riding motorcycles, and four-wheeling.

Michelle Vilak, a good friend of Wilke and manager of Bark Avenue, says, “(She’s) the hardest working woman I have ever met. She’s inspirational and my best friend.” After spending an afternoon with Wilke, truer words could not have been said.

Visit barkavenueomaha.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha.

Quartermaster Depot

January 8, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed by Wikimedia Commons

There is probably only one famous quartermaster in history: The character Q from the James Bond books and movies, currently played onscreen by Ben Whishaw as a bedheaded computer nerd, previous played as tweedy arms specialists by actors including Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese. Long John Silver, from the novel Treasure Island, was also a quartermaster, although the fact isn’t well-remembered.

Which makes the position of quartermaster sound somewhat marvelous, which it may be, but to simply describe the job sounds more quotidian: Quartermasters are responsible for distributing supplies and provisions in the military. There is an entire Quartermaster Corps in the U.S. Army, and besides general supplies, they are also responsible for Mortuary Affairs—identifying, transporting, and burying the deceased. The Quartermaster Corps actually predates the United States as it was established in 1775.

A grassy bit of train tracks runs through downtown, just off 13th Street, leading to part of this Corps legacy in Omaha: The Omaha Quartermaster Depot Historic District. This series of small, antiquated structures dates back to a rarely remembered Omaha institution: The Department of the Platte. Long headed by General George Crook, this department oversaw military support along the Oregon Trail and the building of the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1866, the Army built its first depot near 13th and Webster streets, nicknamed the Old Corral. Trains going from there took supplies up the Missouri River and transported them west.

The Old Corral quickly proved insufficient, and the current depot was built in 1879 in its current location at 22nd and Woolworth streets, which also became known as the Old Corral. Most of the buildings on the depot date back to 1886, and, amazingly, remain largely the same as when they were built. The depot provided supplies for the dwindling, tragic final years of the Indian Wars, culminating in the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.

After this the depot went largely unused until the United States involvement in World War I, when the depot was responsible for moving enormous amounts of supplies. The site’s application for the National Registry of Historic Places estimates that during the 18 months of the war, about 278 million pounds of supplies passed through the depot.

The Quartermaster Depot has been offered for sale many times over its history. After World War I, it was unsuccessfully put on the auction block in both 1927 and 1932. Without a buyer, the Old Corral went through its most unusual period, housing people rather than supplies. During the Roosevelt administration, it was used as a transient shelter, and then, during World War II, it housed Italian prisoners of war.

After the war, the depot became a National Guard base, first for the Iowa-Nebraska National Guard and later for the 561st Support Group for the U.S. Army Reserve. The location also housed   the Army Corps of Engineers during the 2011 floods.

The Quartermaster Depot was put up for sale again in 2013, although at the time its seller wondered who might be interested. Because of its historic landmark designation, new owners would be limited in what changes they could make to the property. It was purchased in 2014 by Monte Froehlich of Lincoln-based U.S. Property, with intentions to transform the depot into a facility with a variety of uses: An event center and restaurant, an outdoor concert venue, an auto repair shop, and a boxing club.

This is a perfect example of how flexible Omaha’s historic buildings can be: Buildings that once shipped supplies for the military and housed the homeless and prisoners can now house businesses and events. With a little vision and creativity, Omaha’s history can live on. 

Visit douglascohistory.org for more information.

Quartermaster Building

Our Livestock Legacy

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nothing screams “feed me!” like the smell of a thick, juicy steak sizzling on an outdoor grill. The aroma draws friends and neighbors to an informal, laid-back rite of summer: the backyard barbecue, now in its peak season. But before you throw a T-bone, cowboy ribeye, New York strip, or sirloin on the “barbie,” give a tip of your chef’s hat to that hunk of meat.

After all, beef put Omaha on the map. The cattle industry became the brick and mortar used by pioneering families like the Roths, Buschers, and Simons to build solid businesses; it created hundreds of enterprises related to the meat industry, like the great steakhouses of Little Italy. The packinghouses paid “the best wages in the city,” so young adults like Terry Moore could prosper and start a family. The demand for workers brought diverse cultures to Omaha that enriched life here.

For more than 80 years, livestock drove Omaha’s economy. “Omaha was the largest livestock center in the world; we’re talking the 1950s and ‘60s,” says Bob Buscher, Sr., whose great-grandfather, John Roth, a German immigrant, started a small beef-packing outfit, John Roth & Son, in 1885. “Millions and millions of dollars worth of meat went through the Omaha stockyards to the packers every week. We even beat Chicago.”

Bob Buscher, Sr. of John Roth & Son’s.

Bob Buscher, Sr. of John Roth & Son.

Chicago first gained Omaha as a spirited rival for livestock supremacy way back in 1883 when a group of prominent Omaha businessmen decided they wanted to corral some of the wealth Chicago had amassed from its stockyards. And why not? they reasoned. Omaha had the lush pastures and the Union Pacific Railroad. Equally important, Omaha provided a more central location for cattle barons and ranchers of the Plains and the West to bring in their steers, hogs, and sheep.

According to newspaper clippings of the era, the business syndicate—which included John Creighton, one of the founders of the university that bears his family’s name— bought “2,000 acres of land about four miles due south of the Omaha post office.” They set aside 200 acres for the animal pens and “split up the rest into building lots.”

“Millions and millions of dollars worth of meat went through the Omaha stockyards to the packers every week.” – Bob Buscher, Sr. of John Roth & Son

The Omaha Union Stockyards opened in August 1884 with a shipment of longhorn cattle from Wyoming as the first tenants. By early 1885, a slaughterhouse began operating in the shadow of the yards. Almost overnight, Omaha went from a sleepy frontier town to a hub of agriculture and commerce, thanks to its upstart namesake: South Omaha. As the stockyards expanded throughout the 1890s, the packinghouses and the burgeoning meat industry drew thousands of immigrants with the promise of jobs. Poles, Czechs, Bohemians, Greeks, and Lithuanians joined the Irish and Germans in carving out a better life.

The Simon family, the name behind Omaha Steaks, traces its proud heritage to a Latvian immigrant and his young son.

“Our family started as butchers and became exclusively wholesalers,” says Todd Simon, a fifth-generation owner. In 1898, Todd’s great-great-grandfather, J.J. Simon, got off the train in Omaha with his son, B.A., because the landscape reminded J.J. of the Riga farmland he had left behind. “They bought sides of beef from the packinghouses, cut them up into smaller pieces, and sold them to hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores. They basically replicated what they knew in Latvia.”

Cousins Todd and Bruce Simon of Omaha Steaks.

Cousins Todd and Bruce Simon of Omaha Steaks.

Their new butcher shop, Table Supply Meat Company, began in 1917. The business moved to 12th and Howard streets in Omaha in 1924. No one could have imagined then what fortunes lay ahead for that modest enterprise.

By the time the Simons arrived here, South Omaha—a separate jurisdiction— had become the fastest-growing city in the nation. Census records show 8,000 residents by 1889, leading one local journalist to dub it “The Magic City.”

“It even had its own newspaper, the Magic City Hoof and Horn,” says Gary Rosenberg, research specialist at the Douglas County Historical Society, which houses a treasure trove of information on the Union Stockyards.

“Our family started as butchers and became exclusively wholesalers.” – Todd Simon of Omaha Steaks

With its unprecedented growth—and wealth—South O became a much-coveted acquisition by its neighbor to the north. The city fiercely fended off many annexation attempts before finally conceding to a merger with Greater Omaha in 1915.

But the beef industry never conceded its importance to the region’s economy and kept nipping at the heels of Chicago. By the early 1950s, the stockyards stretched from 27th Street on the east to 36th Street on the west between L and Q streets. The majestic, 10-story Livestock Exchange Building, where buyers and sellers completed transactions, rose from the middle of the stockyards on South 30th Street. Tens of thousands of animals came into Omaha every week for processing. When the markets opened in New York on Monday mornings, the buying and selling frenzy began.

“You didn’t want to be caught on L Street on a Sunday evening,” remembers Terry Moore, long-time president of the Omaha Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and a graduate of Omaha South High School. “The trucks carrying the cattle in from the ranches would be lined up all the way past 90th Street to the west, trying to get into the yards.”

Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

“The stockyards had to be the most interesting place on earth,” recalls Buscher, who, as a teenager in the ’50s, often accompanied his father, Clarence, when he went to buy cattle for Roth & Son. “My dad would go down the alley with all the pens of cattle, 25 cattle per pen. He’d bid so many cents per pound on this pen and that pen, and he never wrote it down. Never. He remembered everything.”

Nor were any contracts involved. After haggling over prices and often cursing at each other, the buyer and commission firm agent would come to an agreement and use a handshake to seal the deal.

“A cattleman’s word was his bond,” says Buscher with a hint of reverence. “In all the years I paid the bills, I don’t remember a discrepancy in the number of cattle we bid on or the price.”

“The trucks carrying the cattle in from the ranches would be lined up all the way past 90th Street to the west, trying to get into the yards.” – Terry Moore, president of Omaha Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

Anyone who grew up in South O after World War II remembers close-knit ethnic neighborhoods where life revolved around a variety of Catholic and Orthodox churches, and social clubs. They also remember a vibrant city with a bustling commercial strip.

“You couldn’t see the sidewalk for all the people shopping on South 24th Street,” recalls South District Councilman Garry Gernandt, who grew up at 20th and Vinton. “We had Phillips Department Store, Buck’s Shoes, TV repair shops, dime stores, restaurants, and lots of ‘mom and pops.’”

On November 21, 1955, the Omaha World-Herald trumpeted the news Omaha had waited decades to hear: It had overtaken Chicago. Bragging rights as the center of the world’s meat industry had finally come to the Midlands. According to the Omaha Daily Journal-Stockman, “Fully one-half of the Omaha labor force is employed in some facet of the livestock industry.”


The demand for meat products kept 13 independent packing plants humming alongside the “Big Four” meatpacking companies: Armour, Swift, Wilson, and Cudahy. Each of the large plants employed more than 2,000 people. The Armour plant alone could process 1,360 head of cattle, 4,800 hogs, and 3,600 sheep in an eight-hour period.

“I went to work for Swift and Company right out of high school in 1961,” says Terry Moore, following in his father’s footsteps. “I worked in all areas of the packinghouse: the kill floors, the coolers, the hide cellar where we cured hides, the engine room, the sausage room, the specialty-cut room—that’s where we’d fill the restaurant orders for the day when they wanted the extra-thick cuts of beef or pork.”

From the hide to the hooves, no part of the animal went unused. A pinched-off hoof, for example, could stabilize gunpowder. The rest of the foot, when boiled, yielded oil for waterproofing.

“You couldn’t see the sidewalk for all the people shopping on South 24th Street.” – Garry Gernandt, South District Councilman

Generations of families who worked in the stockyards or the packing plants found themselves constantly surrounded by mud, manure, or blood. And that was fine with them.

“On a summer evening when it would rain, my father and I would take a deep breath,” says Moore. “My father would ask, ‘What is that, Son?’ I’d say, ‘It smells, Dad.’ And he’d say, ‘That’s the smell of money, son, the smell of money.’”

That’s the same line Sally Kawa’s (KAH-vah) father, Jack, fed her when they had to hose down the floors of their restaurant, the iconic Johnny’s Café.

Johnny’s Café sisters Sally Kawa and Kari Kawa Harding.

Johnny’s Café sisters Sally Kawa and Kari Kawa Harding.

“The stockyard workers and cattle haulers would come in for lunch and manure would drop off their boots,” says Sally, who now co-owns Johnny’s with her sister, Kari Kawa Harding. “We had washable linoleum floors then. I’d say, ‘Daddy, this smells,’” at which time Jack would give her the stock reply.

While Italian immigrants, who elected to live between the river and 10th Street, started most of Omaha’s early steakhouses, a Polish immigrant named Frank Kawa invested what little money he had into a bar called Johnny’s at 4702 S. 27th St., next to the stockyards. What started in 1922 as a small, eight-table operation quickly grew into a South Omaha staple.

“We’d have a chuck wagon-style lunch, where all the workers would line up at the steamship round [of beef] counter for their sandwiches,” says Sally. “It was a quick way to serve people.”

“Back in the day, we’d open at 5:30 in the morning for breakfast and not close until 2 in the morning,” adds Jack Kawa, Frank’s son.

“The stockyard workers and cattle haulers would come in for lunch and manure would drop off their boots.” – Sally Kawa of Johnny’s Cafe

Even after the stockyards closed, Johnny’s survived—outlasting once-popular steakhouses that Jack can still reel off: Angie’s, Sparetime, Mr. C’s, Caniglia’s, Johnny Hrupek’s, Ross’, Marchio’s.

“People didn’t forget us,” muses Sally. “We added chicken, fish, and salads to the menu to change with the times, but we still serve old-school favorites like braised ox joints. It’s our biggest seller.”

When “the smell of money” started to turn, it hit people in South Omaha like the thud of a fallen steer. By the late ’60s, the tall, multi-storied, brown brick packinghouses with the kill rooms on the top floor had become woefully outmoded. Built at the turn of the century, they lacked the latest technology and had succumbed to gravity. Terry Moore remembers, “You could take your pen and slide it in between the bricks, and the mortar would fall out.”

At the same time, rural areas like Glenwood and Sioux City, Iowa, and western Nebraska lured packers to relocate to be nearer the product—the cattle, sheep, and hogs. Ranchers could sell direct and avoid the middleman.

One by one, the Big Four packinghouses packed up and moved out, followed by many of the smaller ones. By 1971, Omaha lost its “greatest livestock city in the world” title. The Union Stockyards eventually closed for good in 1999, the same year the Livestock Exchange Building became a historic landmark.


Out of the stagnation that followed emerged a new era for Omaha’s beef industry.

“We still have three of the largest independent packers in South Omaha,” Councilman Gernandt points out. “Greater Omaha Packing, Nebraska Beef, and XL Four Star Beef [now JBS].”

The workforce now consists mainly of Hispanics, Sudanese, Somali, Asians, and some Hmong. “The [melting] pot’s still percolating; it just has different ingredients,” says Gernandt.

John Roth & Son, at 5425 S. 43rd St., got out of the slaughter business in 1986. A few years later, it began manufacturing edible dried animal plasma and rotary-dried blood meal. In 1995, Bob Buscher, Jr., became the fifth generation to work there.

Ironically, the Simon family business that never owned a slaughterhouse or sold retail became the nation’s largest direct marketer of premium beef and gourmet products, single-handedly making “Omaha” synonymous with “steak.”

“They would ask the railroad people, ‘Where did you get these steaks?’ And they would tell them, ‘Well, we got them from Omaha Steaks.’” – Todd Simon

“[Momentum] started in the late 1940s,” explains Todd Simon. That’s when his grandfather, Lester—whether by luck or design or a little of both—secured a contract with Union Pacific Railroad to supply beef products for the dining cars.

“Customers were impressed with the quality of the food, and they would ask the railroad people, ‘Where did you get these steaks?’ And they would tell them, ‘Well, we got them from Omaha Steaks,’ which is how Table Supply marketed them,” says Todd. “And that’s when we started getting calls from around the country for our steaks.”

The business soon began shipping products directly to restaurants and customers in wax-lined cardboard cartons filled with dry ice. In 1966, capitalizing on its best-known commodity, Table Supply Meat officially changed its name to Omaha Steaks.

Today, Todd and his first cousin, Bruce Simon, president and CEO, helm the multi-million-dollar enterprise. Their fathers, Fred and Alan, remain public ambassadors of the company’s philanthropic largesse. Omaha Steaks boasts three million active customers; ships four million coolers of its beef throughout North America each year; employs a permanent workforce of 1,800 Midlanders; uses cutting-edge technology to drive sales, just as it pioneered direct mail, telesales, and the internet as marketing tools; and remains dedicated to Omaha.

A labyrinth of alleyways, fences, and pens stretching through acres of muck and mire became the measure of success for Omaha’s beef industry in its first century. Perhaps the prosperity of Omaha Steaks, the resiliency of South Omaha, and the honesty and loyalty of our modern cattlemen will become the hallmark of the next 100 years.