Tag Archives: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Hooked on Theater, Focused on Change

March 2, 2020 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She may be 20, but Omaha native Nadia Ra’Shaun Williams has a resume to rival any actor in the metro.

Being a child actor is difficult. Not only do they have to remember dialogue that is years above what they’d be reading in school, they have to do it while convincingly inhabiting a character. They have to hit their marks, take direction, and keep pace with the adults in the room.

That’s why it’s all the more impressive that Nadia Ra’Shaun Williams wasn’t just acting as a child, she was already figuring out how to direct.

“My mother, TammyRa’, is an actress here in Omaha,” the 20-year-old said. “When I was younger I’d sit through her rehearsals, memorizing everyone’s lines and blocking scenes—getting a feel for where people needed to be. I did my first play a couple of years later when I was either eight or nine, and I was hooked.” Fortunately, she already had an in.

“For the first five years of my acting career, I always played my mother’s daughter in every show,” Williams said. It gave her the chance to practice her craft in a comfortable situation alongside her biggest inspiration.

“I loved watching my mom do her thing on stage, but [when] I went to Omaha Burke and joined Emily Mokrycki’s drama club in the ninth grade, something changed,” Williams said. “In my 10th-grade year, we did a collaboration show with Tony Schik and his students at Beveridge Middle School. The show, Show-n-Tell, was about remembering the victims of school shootings. The night we performed it at the Nebraska Thespian Festival was sort of a golden moment for me. It was the night that I learned that theater can change lives, and on the bus ride home I decided that I wanted to be a professional actress.”

She threw herself into getting experience in every way possible. In 2017, she graduated from Burke High School to attend Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. After spending a year in their acting program, Williams returned home due to some personal trauma. She took a year off from school and worked professionally as an actress. She earned her Equity Membership Candidate  card for acting before earning roles in Beaufield Berry’s play The Upper Room at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Colorado New Play Summit and Hair at Nebraska Repertory Theatre, as well as finding work at The Union for Contemporary Art, The Rose Theater, and The Broadway Dreams Showcase in New York City.

Casting Williams was an easy decision for Berry. “Nadia is a shining light,” she said. “The moment I saw her onstage, I wanted to book her, work with her and promote her immediately. Behind the scenes, she’s emotionally available, serious, dedicated, professional, and open. Onstage she’s raw and focused.”

Berry said she’s not the only one who feels this way. “She has a lot of support behind her—so many people in Omaha, and nationally, that believe in her and support her and want to be a part of her journey. They’re invested in her success,” she said. “And she’s young—so there’s so much to learn and so many ways to grow.”

Williams eventually returned to school, enrolling in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film, where she is currently majoring in theater performance. “I fell in love with my peers [from the university] working on Hair and it convinced me to return to school and finish my degree,” she said. “Everything fell into place at the right time.”

Williams has also been gaining experience outside the classroom by working as a performance intern for Broadway Dreams, a program founded in 2006 by casting executive Annette Tanner that empowers aspiring young artists through performing arts training, with a focus on the acting, voice, and dance disciplines.

“As a performance intern, you are practically working at the Broadway level,” Williams said. “We travel from city to city, a new city every week. On day one you audition for your directors and the very next day you’re in rehearsals for the showcase that happens at the end of the week.”

Besides touring the country singing and dancing, they are learning new music and choreography every day. All this while performing typical intern tasks such as getting coffee, assisting in classes, taking lunch orders.

“It’s a whirlwind experience,” she continued. “Being on tour and doing what I love is great.”

She has also continuously found roles that she feels inspired by, starring in Dragons Love Tacos and The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, both of which were directed by Omahan Denise Chapman.

Dragons Love Tacos is purely about stimulating a child’s imagination. It is full of pure joy and love and energy,” Williams said. “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin tells the story of the life I have led. Not just me, but every little black girl who has slipped on a ballet shoe.”

Currently, Williams is preparing for her role as Caska in a University of Nebraska-Lincoln presentation of Julius Ceasar. However, her most important role might be coming off the stage.

“I am in the process of founding a Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Johnny Carson School,” she said. “We saw a need to increase diversity and inclusion all around. Some students have never worked with a theater practitioner, professor, or director of color and that needs to change. We want to provide a safe space for every student that walks through the doors of the Johnny Carson School.”

Williams wants to give everyone in the program a leg up by putting them in the ideal environment to succeed, much like she had when she walked on to the set with her mother all those years ago.

Visit nadiarashaun.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Nadia Ra’Shaun Williams at UNL

Developing Economics

January 22, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Marco Floreani is working to raise the profile of the city where he was raised.

“I’ve always loved Omaha, so trying to understand the business community and the resources available is enjoyable,” says Floreani, a graduate of Creighton Prep and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I’m passionate about working on projects that develop the city.”

Floreani is the senior director of business development at Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. His role is part of the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership, a regional coalition through which the Greater Omaha Chamber partners with several area economic councils.

“We’re [communicating with] companies out of market to see if there’s an opportunity for them to grow in Omaha and we’re working with local businesses to help them grow,” Floreani says. “My work focuses on the traded sector, looking at goods and services that are, or have the potential to be, exported out of state.”

Floreani says the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership implements a cluster approach, which means growing clusters of industries or companies that work in tandem. One such cluster is financial services, which is a traded sector.

“Financial services is a big cluster in Omaha, with all the global banks here, payment processing, insurance, compliance, and regulation, cybersecurity…all of that is part of the financial services cluster,” Floreani says.

He also says Omaha serves as global hub for payment processing, compliance and fraud detection, trading and brokering, insuring value, and investing and funding in value creation. Some of Omaha’s largest corporations—First Data, TD Ameritrade, Paypal, and others—all deal in financial services and are high-performers, globally, in the business of moving capital.

“That’s everything from processing a payment transaction and being part of the payments ecosystem, to ensuring money movement is a secure process,” Floreani says. “The technology now called ‘Fintech’ is a huge part of the cluster, especially as finance becomes more digital. Omaha is primed to continue growing its Fintech portfolio.”

Floreani himself has helped move financial services to this area by creating events to bring like-minded businesspeople together.

“Marco was an important catalyst for me as I was starting my blockchain company in 2017,” says Kyle Tut, co-founder of BlockEra. “At the time, there wasn’t much happening with blockchain in Omaha. Marco’s early vision to ignite conversations around blockchain through his ‘New Kids on the Blockchain’ event gave me the confidence and network to be where I am today.”

Omaha’s cluster, and Floreani’s work with this cluster, are reasons why two companies in financial services technology thought Omaha would be a great place for their second headquarters. Toast is a technology company specializing in systems management for restaurants that will bring around 100 employees to Omaha in the coming year. The company i2c helps financial institutions, corporations, and government agencies with payments through a cloud-based computer system called Agile Processing. They are projected to hire around 300 people by March 2019.

He believes that growing a pro-business community not only allows commerce to thrive, but also enhances culture, services, and lives community-wide.

“A healthy community has prosperity across the board and grows together. It’s the ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ mindset,” says Floreani, adding that a commitment to Omaha’s urban core is crucial for the community’s overall success.

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

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

Marco Floriani

Gifts of Life

January 4, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To describe life with cystic fibrosis, Dan Gerdes starts by talking about a frog. Specifically, a frog put into a pot of water that’s slowly brought to a boil.

“It creeps up on you,” Gerdes says. “You just get slowly and slowly sicker and sicker and you never realize how far you’ve come from point A.”

For Gerdes, point A came when he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a baby. Back then, his mother could dislodge the mucus collecting in his lungs by cupping her hand and patting his back. As the disease advanced, Gerdes had to use a long-handled percussor, then a vest that inflated to force loose the thick substance blocking his airways.

The water grew warm, then hot.

Gerdes had to use inhalants. The mucus collected in his stomach, requiring medicine to aid digestion. It attacked his pancreas, and Gerdes became diabetic at age 15. Infections that rooted in his lungs forced occasional hospital stays. By 2012, Gerdes was taking antibiotics intravenously every other week and enduring hour-and-a-half long treatments three to four times a day. He was coughing up more than a liter of mucus each day.

The disease ravaged his body, then his spirit.

“At first, I was pretty positive. I was involved in all kinds of sports and stuff. I wasn’t going to let it beat me,” Gerdes says. “But as it got worse and worse, it got darker and darker. Like to the point where I just felt worthless because I couldn’t contribute anything.”

The water was nearing a boil. Gerdes was dying.

The only way he could live, though, was if somebody else died. Gerdes needed that person’s lungs to replace his own diseased ones.

This life-saving exchange happens quite often. In the United States, 34,770 organ transplants were performed in 2017 (244 of those in Nebraska) according to Nebraska Organ Recovery.

Dr. Alan Langnas, a transplant surgeon at Nebraska Medicine and director of the Center of Transplantation for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has performed more than 1,000 liver transplants in his 30-plus-year career. With each operation, he is mindful of the deep sacrifice that made it possible.

“At the end of the day, what makes this incredibly special is the deceased donor and families making difficult decisions at a difficult time,” Langnas says. “Or living donors making donations and willing to lay on an operating table and give people an organ for someone they don’t know.”

Currently, more than 114,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant—400-plus in Nebraska. This year, more than 7,000 of them will die.

Gerdes is among the fortunate. His story, and others, illustrate the good that can come from grief, life from death.

Lungs for Dan Gerdes

Gerdes was dying, but he kept telling himself that “I was not that bad.” So when doctors in 2014 told him he needed a lung transplant, “It kind of broadsided me.”

His reaction after that might surprise some.

“For a long time I told myself that I never wanted to get a transplant because of that really dark aspect of my life that I just thought…I wasn’t producing anything with my life,” Gerdes says. “That I didn’t deserve it.”

But during yet another hospital stay, Nebraska Medicine doctors convinced him to begin the long process of testing to see if he was a viable recipient candidate. On Aug. 4, 2016—Gerdes’ 27th birthday—he was put on a waiting list for a set of lungs.

Just five days later, he was called to the hospital—new lungs were waiting for him. The transplant was successful. Today, Gerdes breathes easy. “It’s night and day,” Gerdes says. “There’s really no comparison. I don’t have to do those treatments, and I have more energy than I ever did since I was a child.”

It was the loss of someone else’s child—Bryan Clauson—that gave him life. An IndyCar driver, Clauson died from injuries sustained during a national midget car dirt track race in Kansas. He died at Bryan Medical Centre in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was 27.

Gerdes first heard of Clauson a few days after his transplant. A friend had learned of Clauson’s death and organ donation. He called Gerdes to ask if he now had “race car driver lungs.”

“I thought he was kind of trolling me,” Gerdes says. “I hadn’t heard anything about Bryan Clauson.”

Soon thereafter, Clauson’s family wrote an introductory letter to Gerdes. But Gerdes’ mother, in the hecticness of the operation and a move to Bellevue to be closer to her son, misplaced the unopened letter. She found it about a year later. Gerdes read it on Dec. 24, 2017. The next day, Christmas morning, he sent a Facebook message to Clauson’s father, Tim. Four months later, Gerdes met the Clausons at a charity walk in Bellevue.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking to an extent, because the event still I struggle with,” Gerdes says. “How do you tell somebody thank-you that has given you your entire life back but at the same time it was somebody they loved an extreme amount? It’s really hard to tell them thank-you enough.”

He thanked them in part simply by breathing. A nurse who had been with Clauson at his death also was at the reunion. She brought the stethoscope used to listen to Clauson’s heart and lungs during his final moments. Clauson’s family used it to listen to Bryan’s lungs pumping strong and steady in Gerdes.

“One of the first things I explained to them is how it sounded really clear,” Gerdes says. “Before that my cystic fibrosis lungs would have sounded like a lot of cracking and popping.”

It was the sound of life.

Bryan Clauson’s Family

Life changed irrevocably for Diana Clauson and her family the day her son, Bryan, died. “You just sit there and it’s stuck in your face a lot, death in general,” she says. “Especially when you’re not prepared.”

That said, the Clausons have talked frequently about how different—in a worse way—their lives would be had Bryan had not been an organ donor.

“As tragic and as devastated we were as a family, when we left that hospital knowing he was going to help five lives continue, that was this little light at the end of a very, very dark tunnel. I think what turned my corner was just knowing that he was able to help these people continue their life. Otherwise, I think I’d still be in a pretty dark place.”

The Clausons since have devoted themselves to turning Bryan’s selfless act into thousands of other selfless acts as they encourage others to become organ and tissue donors. His sister, Taylor, now works for the Indiana Donor Network, which started the organization Driven2SaveLives to promote organ donations as a partnership with IndyCar driver Stefan Wilson (whose brother, Justin Wilson, died in a racing accident in 2015). Bryan was the second driver honored through the program. His parents have also become active advocates for organ donation and often speak at races and other events.

They’ve been wildly successful, too. In the two years since Bryan’s death they’ve had more than 8,000 people sign up to become donors—a huge number in the industry.

Really, though, the Clausons only needed one life saved to have realized healing from the tragedy of Bryan’s death. That came with their first encounter with one of the five people who received one of Bryan’s organs, Dan Alexander of Papillion.

“It was pretty overwhelming,” Diana Clauson says. “Hearing Brian’s heart beating again…that was probably the best part of it all.”

A Heart for Dan Alexander

Dan Alexander, heart recipient

A retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Signal Corps and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Dan Alexander has a particular fondness for the military credo, “Leave No Man Behind.”

Bryan Clauson, Alexander says, did just that:

“I told Bryan’s dad, ‘Every breath I take, I try to honor Bryan for what he did.’ He did not leave me behind. He could have. He could have not checked that box. But he didn’t. He’s my hero.”

Alexander, who was physically fit, had needed a new heart since July 2013, when he suffered a massive heart attack. “What some people call a widow maker,” he says. The medical team fought four hours to keep him alive. Three times, his heart stopped. When he awoke from a coma 10 days later, he was told it was a miracle.

Another miracle was to come.

Alexander lived for nearly three years with his heart regulated by a left ventricular assist device. He also was put on the waiting list for a new heart. On Aug. 9, 2016, Alexander got the call—it was time to get a new heart. The surgery went well and his recovery has been “incredibly good.” He was out of the hospital in nine days and has not been back for a stay since.

He’s also become a racing car fan.

Clauson’s family first met Alexander in April 2017 at Alexander’s house. An ESPN film crew was on hand to document the moment. Diana Clauson listened to her son’s heartbeat inside what until then was a stranger.

“Incredibly beautiful. Satisfying. Lots of tears of joy,” says Alexander, 65. “There were a lot of stories told that afternoon. What I took away from that day is we’re committed to each other.”

Living Organ Donors & Kidney Chains

Sue Venteicher, kidney donor

Gerdes’ worry that he wasn’t worthy of a transplant echoes in what people asked Sue Venteicher when they learned she was giving up one of her kidneys—to a stranger.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘What if you found out it went to someone who was in prison?’” Venteicher says. “I said, ‘So they should be in pain and their family should have to worry about them dying?’ One person is not more important than another person.”

Venteicher sparked donations impacting not just one person, but 18. In February 2016, she was part of the largest living-donor kidney transplant chain in Nebraska history. A kidney chain matches donors with compatible recipients. Venteicher started the chain when she decided to donate her kidney in memory of a friend’s son who had died from kidney failure. Nine patients received kidneys from nine living donors over five days of surgeries at Nebraska Medicine.

Venteicher, a wife, mother of seven, and grandmother, was home two days after the surgery and felt fully recovered within two months. “In some ways, I’m healthier than I was two years ago,” says Venteicher, who recently retired after a long nursing career. She hates water but drinks more of it than ever to make sure her one kidney filters efficiently. She’s lost 20 pounds. “I think I appreciate my body a little bit more.”

So does Dennis Molfese of Bennet, Nebraska—the man who received Venteicher’s kidney. Molfese had been on a kidney transplant waiting list for more than three years. But he was running out of time. Molfese’s kidney was functioning at 4 percent. His blood pressure was running 240/180. If he didn’t die from kidney failure, it could have come from a devastating stroke.

Molfese’s friend, David Hansen, offered his kidney, but was not a match. In stepped Venteicher.

“She is my hero,” Molfese says. “An incredibly selfless individual who literally put her life on the line for someone else. In Susan’s case, I was a stranger, not even a name. Just someone in need of a special part of her body that she decided to give away, even at the risk of her own life.”

Hansen’s kidney went to another recipient in the 18-person chain. The 18 donors/recipients met five months after the transplants. Molfese and Venteicher didn’t get to speak a lot that day, which included a press conference and perhaps 200 or more family members in attendance. “I was thrilled to see he looked so well,” Venteicher recalls.

Molfese already had written a letter to Venteicher. “He wrote that the hardest thing about being sick was to look into his wife’s eyes and see the pain and the worry and concern every single day. Now, since he had his kidney, he sees nothing but joy in his wife and excitement for the future.”

They’ve become friends. When Molfese received an award related to his work as a neuropsychologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he invited Venteicher to the ceremony. She sat with his family.

“Without Susan, I definitely would not have been alive to be nominated or to receive such a once-in-a-lifetime honor,” Molfese says.

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Cindy Schabow, heart recipient

Cindy Schabow missed out on her cruise, but she would have missed out on a lot more had she not received a heart transplant in May 1987.

Her own heart had been slowly dying since 1981 when it was weakened by a virus. The damage was discovered while she was pregnant. Schabow gave birth to a daughter and lived with relatively stable health for the next five years. “I continued to work and live life and take some medicine but really didn’t think much about it,” she says.

But then her heart began to weaken, requiring a pacemaker. That went well for about a year before her heart became enlarged and sicker. Her cardiologist said she needed a new heart.

“I said, ‘We’re going on a cruise this summer, and when I get back we’ll talk about it,’” Schabow recalls. “She said, ‘You will die by the end of the summer if you don’t get a new heart.’

“The idea of a heart transplant was so beyond anything I ever thought about. That got my attention.”

On Memorial Day 1987, Schabow flew to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston to wait to have the procedure. But she grew sicker and sicker. She was put into ICU. “I  could pretty much tell we were toward the end of the line,” she says. After eight weeks of waiting, Schabow was notified that a heart had been donated—and just in time.

“They told me I wouldn’t have lived for 24 hours without the transplant,” she says. “It was immediate joy. I’m going to get to live to see my daughter grow up. At the same time, profound sadness since I knew the only reason this could happen was someone lost somebody very precious to them and had made this amazing, generous decision to let me have this heart.”

The heart came from a 15-year-old Louisiana boy who had died in a swimming accident. “I didn’t find out much more than that,” Schabow says. She wrote the family on occasion but never heard back. When she reached 30 years with her heart, she decided to write again and let the donor’s family know the heart, amazingly, is still going strong. She did a bit of detective work and was able to connect with the donor’s sister.

They talked on the phone, texted, and became Facebook friends. They’re planning to meet one day soon.

“They were happy to hear a part of him still lives,” Schabow says. He was athletic and a talented football player, Schabow’s been told. He was friendly and outgoing.

He would be a middle-aged man now. Had he not donated his heart, he’d only be remembered by his family. Maybe a few friends.

Instead, after 31 years, he is still remembered as a hero across state lines in Nebraska. Schabow will never forget him. Neither will her daughter or grandchildren.

“I’m just very, very privileged to carry on his heart,” she says.

Organ Donor Reasons

One deceased organ donor can save up to eight lives. One tissue donor can improve the quality of life or save an additional 100 people. Nebraskans appreciate this. Research conducted by Nebraska Organ Recovery in fall 2016 indicated that 98 percent of Nebraskans support organ and tissue donation, but only about 56 percent of eligible Nebraskans are registered. Why aren’t more individuals registered?

Here are answers to some misunderstandings/misconceptions (provided by Nebraska Organ Recovery):

  • I’m too old to register/donate. Anyone 16 or older can register for deceased organ donation. There are no upper age restrictions.
  • I have a health issue that prevents me from registering/donating. There are no medical conditions that restrict someone from registering as a donor.
  • I’ve used illegal drugs and/or I smoke and drink alcohol regularly. Use of illegal drugs and excessive smoking or drinking does not disqualify someone from donating. Drinking and drug use can impact specific organs, but oftentimes other organs and tissues are still viable.
  • I can’t give blood, so I can’t donate. The majority of individuals who are restricted from giving blood can still donate organs and tissues.
  • I can’t afford donation. There is no cost to the donor’s family for donation.
  • I can’t have an open-casket funeral if I’m a donor. A viewing or open-casket funeral is almost always possible following donation. Surgical incisions are covered by clothing and great care is taken to ensure the donor’s appearance is as normal as possible.
  • I can only register at the DMV. Although the majority of individuals register while obtaining their driver’s license, anyone can register (or update their registry) online anytime at nedonation.org.

Living Donations

In 2017, 6,187 people in the United States were living donors. In Nebraska, a living donor must be at least 19 years old. There is no fee for an individual to be screened for living donation. To be screened for living donation in Nebraska, contact Nebraska Medicine at 800-401-4444 or 402-559-5000.

Below is a list of organs that can be donated, and the number of patients waiting for them in the United States and Nebraska (in parentheses):

  • Kidney: 102,701 (204)
  • Liver: 14,034 (152)
  • Pancreas: 903 (14)
  • Kidney/Pancreas: 1,669 (6)
  • Heart: 3,900 (58)
  • Lung: 1,458 (1)
  • Intestine: 248 (19)

Visit nedonation.org for more information.

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

Correction: the print edition of this article incorrectly attributed the creation of Driven2SaveLives to Bryan Clausen’s family and the Indiana Doctor Network. Although the Clausens are active with the organization, Bryan was the second IndyCar driver and organ donor to be honored through the program (not the first). Driven2SaveLives started as a partnership between the Indiana Donor Network and IndyCar driver Stefan Wilson after his brother, Justine Wilson, died in a racing accident in 2015. 

Connecting Families with their Loved Ones From Omaha to Canada

November 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The idea for an app-based start-up came to Amy Johnson during a stressful transition for her family.

In the early 2010s, her husband’s grandmother was in declining health and placed in memory care. The family was unable to keep track of what was happening to Grandma.

“We experienced…gaps in communication with her but [also] with the staff, just understanding her daily life…What activities is she going to? What meals is she going to? And more importantly, what is she not going to?’” Johnson says.

“Life’s busy for everybody, and being able to have something in place to fill the gaps of her day as well as continue to build kind of a productive relationship with her was the problem we saw.”

Amy’s father-in-law provided the inspiration when he asked, “shouldn’t there be an easier way?”

That was why, in 2015, Johnson, her husband Kent, and friend Phil Lee founded LifeLoop, an app and a service designed to connect families, engage residents, and streamline senior living operations with a user-friendly platform. Johnson is the CEO.

This was her first entrepreneurship. Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and family science from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. After graduating in 2004, she found a job at Mutual of Omaha, working there until 2011 in a variety of roles. She then worked for Mid-American Benefits, her father-in-law’s firm until 2014.

Johnson volunteered in skilled nursing and senior living communities to learn about the business. It became apparent that the staff needed tools to make their jobs easier and feed information to families in real time.

They built an app that can be used by both senior living communities and the families of their residents that features:

Calendar management

Resident engagement

Family engagement

Photo/video sharing

Transportation management

TV displays of calendars and photos

It took about six months to develop the app, which is constantly evolving.

Behavior tracking is a key component. It can help residents and families see behavioral changes early. If a resident is not taking part in once-pleasurable pursuits like playing cards or watching The Price is Right, that means something.

“Charting all of those things allows you to chart where somebody might be slipping,” says Courtney Schmitz, Life Enrichment Coordinator for Vetter Health Services, one of LifeLoop’s first customers.

If the families and the care center are tracking behaviors, it can lead to important conversations earlier.

“It’s very much just bridging that gap of what’s going on,” Johnson says.

The service is helpful to family members who live a long way from their loved one.

“It has allowed them the ability to have a little bit of peace of mind,” Johnson says. “There is a huge sense of guilt when you move your loved one into a community.”

The service is free for families. The company charges the communities, $2 to $6 per resident per month, depending on the size of the community/company.

At Vetter, LifeLoop allows staff to chart attendance and rate the engagement of the residents. It beats the chicken-scratch notes of the past. And it is a real time-saver.

“It got us out of the office and into the residence more,” Schmitz says.

In October 2016, LifeLoop participated in the Rise of the Rest pitch competition and won a $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case.

“They have been a great support group for us,” Johnson says. “Raising money is definitely a challenging thing to do while you are also growing the company. So that was a wonderful thing.”

There are now 11 people involved with LifeLoop, which is in 28 states and Canada.

“The possibilities are really endless for the senior industry,” Johnson says. “The baby boomers
are coming.”

Visit ourlifeloop.com for more information.

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

Women in Agriculture

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

Play Ball!

September 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mancuso: a name revered in the Omaha area for their family’s event planning business, Mid-America Expositions. 

From hosting grand events in Omaha’s late Civic Auditorium to formulating events like “Taste of Omaha,” the Mancusos’ impact has been felt in the Omaha area for more than 50 years. It is their passion for sports, however, that has held the family together. 

Youngest son Mike says his father, Bob Sr., grew up in Omaha with a heavy interest in sports thanks to Mike’s grandfather, Joe, being in charge of the city parks. Mike also says because his father grew up in a time without television and video games, sports were something he could easily focus on.

Bob Sr. took his passions to Kansas State University on a wrestling scholarship and later qualified to wrestle at the 1956 Olympic trials. However, before the trials started, Joe fell sick and passed away; Bob Sr. needed to move back to the area. Bob Sr. took a job coaching wrestling at Bellevue High School (now Bellevue East). He led the team to their first state championship, and within a few years, the University of Nebraska offered him a job coaching wrestling in Lincoln.

“Bob Devaney was just hired as the head football coach in 1962 and Frank Sevigne was the track coach, so he was just really enjoying the new environment and coaching at the time, as were us kids,” Mike says.   

Since their days in Lincoln, the Mancuso family has owned tickets to every season of Nebraska football.

“When my dad started coaching at Nebraska in the ’60s, he got a couple of seats for every football game,” Mike says. “We’ve kept those seats every year since it’s a tradition of ours to attend every game, through the good and the bad.”

Mike says he best remembers Saturdays at Memorial Stadium with his dad.

One October 1994 game in Lincoln has remained apparent in his mind.  

“It was a huge Big 8 matchup with Colorado, and Brook Berringer got the call at quarterback because Bobby Newcombe wasn’t feeling too good,” Mike says.  “We had the tunnel walk and HuskerVision for the first time, and [then] Colorado came out before we [Nebraska] came out onto the field. And because of that, I can just remember the stadium…going absolutely nuts.” 

For most games, the Mancusos have traveled to Memorial Stadium from Omaha. The family’s residence in Lincoln was cut short, in part due to Mike entreating his father to move home.

“1964 is when our family decided to move back to Omaha, since coaching, at the time, wasn’t paid in a substantial amount like it is today,” Mike says with a laugh. “I inspired our dad to start [Mid-America Expositions] and come to Omaha to start managing events.”

Mike and his older brothers, Bob Jr. and Joe, took their Cornhusker pride and athletic passion to the ball diamonds and courts of Omaha. Bob Sr. was also a prominent figure in the Omaha sports community.

“We grew up around Omaha sports, playing in a variety of different leagues,” Mike says. “Like his dad, my dad also coached a lot, mainly because he loved teaching. He also was very involved in the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, originated by my uncle Charlie, and continued by my dad after Charlie’s death.”

Mike says his dad’s involvement in the Greater Omaha Sports Committee created many surreal experiences as a child, where he and his brothers worked as bat, and ball, boys for Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association exhibition games.

“I remember one time I was a ball boy underneath the hoop and Sam Lacey was the big center and ‘Tiny’  Nate Archibald was the little guard,” Mike says, speaking of two Kansas City Kings players. “During the game, Lacey went after a ball and tumbled into the stands, causing everyone to [launch] their pops, creating a mess. I had to get my towel out and clean it up in front of everybody.”  

At the core of the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, and the city, was the College World Series. Bob Sr. and fellow committee members often held a welcome luncheon for all the participating teams, hoping to provide unforgettable experiences in Omaha.

The Mancusos’ contribution and involvement in college baseball’s grand series carried on throughout the tournament as Mike and his brothers helped to enhance the experience in any way possible. 

“We would run the dugouts, trying to clean them up between each game,” Mike says. “We worked the fields, and if we had time, would run up and clean the press box. Up there we took care of the press by giving them something to eat and plenty of water to drink at the games. We’ll just say I made a lot of Zesto runs.”

A newspaper clipping from Wilmer Mizell’s appearance in Omaha

One time his father even gave up their family’s premier seats to former Saint Louis Cardinals pitcher and U.S. congressman Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell.

“Ben Mizell came in for breakfast one morning before the games to speak in front of some of the players who were involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” Mike says.  “After the speech, my dad generously told him to take our seats, kicking my brothers and I out.  Luckily, there were spots up top in the GA [general admission] section, and at that age we liked to run around anyway.”

Like Bob Sr., his three boys also played college sports. Mike inherited his father’s passion for wrestling, taking his talents to Iowa State University. Bob Jr. also took the Mancuso name to Ames, though for baseball, while Joe played baseball at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Although the brothers now longer watch sports with their dad, who passed away in 2015, in many ways, sports act as a microcosm in demonstrating the core aspects of family, which is why the Mancuso brothers’ passion in athletics ceases to fade.

Visit showofficeonline.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

A souvenier given to CWS teams

The Ham Ma’am

July 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Ella Weber, her career as a professional artist began where all the greats get their start—bathing in a tub filled with 40 gallons of sprinkles. 

After working in a frozen yogurt shop, she was inspired by the toppings to capture artificial happiness in a video as part of her graduate thesis project. The final close-up shots show sprinkles moving around her body like mesmerizing multicolored waves. She’s practically swimming in a sea of rainbow sugar. Then, suddenly, Weber shoves fistful after fistful of sprinkles in her mouth and proceeds to regurgitate them. This is performance art that’s not for the faint of heart…or stomach.  

“There is a fairly large amount of work being made in the Omaha echo chamber that’s void of anything I would consider stimulating or surprising. Then there’s Ella Weber,” says Joel Damon, curator and founder of Project Project, a local independent art space. “She’s a breath of fresh air covered in Black Forest ham and beige vinyl siding.”

That’s right, this girl has a thing for ham. She’s a foodie, but not in the typical sense. Don’t look at her Instagram for shots of chic eats or expect Weber to whip up Chopped-inspired dishes for dinner. Instead, she uses food as a medium in videos and sculptural installations to explore the relationship between consumerism, sexuality, and religion. 

“I use food because I’m always thinking of it symbolically,” Weber says. “I hope my work makes viewers hungry for questioning and looking at life a different way.”

With a pastor father, Weber spent much of her childhood on the move, living in towns so small it was practically required for her to play sports so there were enough girls to form a team. Then, her family relocated to a suburb of Chicago where she discovered a great art program and sports teams that required players to have actual athletic skills. Just like that, it was hello to creativity and bye-bye to basketball. 

Her inner jock still compelled her to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and become part of Husker nation. As a freshman, she knew she wanted to cheer on the Big Red but wasn’t sure what path to take with art. 

“Before college, I had no clue I needed to open my eyes. I didn’t even know or understand what printmaking was,” Weber says. “I thought of it as ancient graphic design.” 

Ultimately, Weber specialized in printmaking for both undergrad and her University of Kansas graduate degree. In the two years since schooling, however, her career has been more about lunchmeat than lithography.

To save money, she moved into her parents’ West Omaha home, living a suburban life and working behind the Hy-Vee deli counter between artistic residencies. She looks at this idyllic version of Nebraska’s good life as research. 

“I was this depressed meat person, but then I had a change of heart,” Weber says. “I began to think of the deli job as a studio. When I clocked in, it was time to make art.”

What followed were more than 6,000 videos and selfies with slices of ham, some dressed up with smiley faces, of course. A bond with an oven-roasted chicken was also formed. Part performance art and part friendship, she decided to take home this chicken after it had slipped from the slicer onto the floor. Instead of just throwing it away, she showed her bird bud six months of Nebraska nice living. When it was time to part (because, after half a year, meat doesn’t smell so neat), a service was even held in Memorial Park for the chicken.

“I don’t know how she does it, but Ella makes sliced meat look like macro-porn and vintage high-end wallpaper. It’s completely bonkers in the best way,” Damon says. 

She’s just recently finished her seventh residency, teaching video and animation classes in Utica, New York. While there, she also curated a solo show where her suburbia/deli-land research came into play. During it, she showed a video that spliced images of neighborhood walks with a meat slicer, all to demonstrate the banality and repetition of everyday life.

“I’m trying to enable the viewer to see and connect with the absurdities and beauty that surrounds us all,” Weber says. “If your eyes are open to the everyday, you can find humor and hidden meaning in the most mundane and ordinary things—like sliced ham.”

Now home from New York, Weber has a lot on her plate. This summer, she’ll have an exhibition at The Union for Contemporary Art, followed by adjunct teaching of drawing classes for the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall. 

When she does find some free time, Weber expects it’ll be eaten up by work on a semi-autobiographical book, titled The Deli Diaries, and potentially more Hy-Vee “research.” 

“Me and the deli, it’s like a bad romantic relationship where my friends will kill me if I go back,” Weber says. “But I might need to refresh my memory, digest it all, and then I’ll be ready to write about deeper things than just ham.”

Visit ellaweber.com for the artist’s personal website. Her exhibition, Sounds Good, will run from July 20 to Aug. 25 at the Union for Contemporary Art. Learn more at u-ca.org.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

High Fidelity Dreaming

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you talk with Kate Dussault, it’s obvious how important music is to her.

“I can’t imagine a life without music,” Dussault says. “It’s where I learned a lot. It’s the focus of so many memories. It invades every part of every one of my senses. You can’t eat music, but if you could, I would.”

Her musical passion isn’t merely a personal preoccupation. Dussault wants to share her passion with others and help grow the Omaha music community. That passion is what led her to found the Hi-Fi House.

Dussault, who was raised in Omaha and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, grew up in a music-loving family. Her father worked in radio and frequently brought records home, and she and each of her six siblings owned a turntable. She then spent a great deal of her career working in music. She worked in radio—for studios on both coasts—and for venture capitalist firms, performing due diligence whenever they sought to acquire the rights to music and evaluating marketing plans and budgets.

But the idea for the Hi-Fi House came about when Dussault, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, learned that the famous Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles was being converted into condominiums. The city landmark is a round building that resembles a stack of music records. Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, and the Beach Boys are among the many famous artists who have recorded music in its famous echo chambers.

“It was always to me the most iconic music building in America,” Dussault says. “And the fact that they were turning it into condos was just heartbreaking, and I thought that building should be something else.”

As Dussault sat in front of the Capitol Records Building for around four hours, she began to develop a new idea for the building, one where each floor was devoted to a specific type of music. Instead of apartments around the edges of the building, there would be “listening rooms” where people could listen to the music together.

You can see that idea at work in the Hi-Fi House, “a social listening room” located at 38th and Farnam streets in the building that used to house Joseph’s College of Barbering. From the outside, you may think it appears abandoned, but inside is what looks like a giant, carpeted living room with rings of couches and armchairs. Listeners can listen to everything from digital music to cassette tapes. Pictures of famous musicians hang on the walls, and the building hosts a massive collection of vinyl records.

“I think this place’s mission is a very unique one,” says Jon Ochsner, an employee at the Hi-Fi House who catalogues records and helps host shows and programs. “To me, it’s a dream. It’s like a dream come true that I never knew I had.”

During the day, the Hi-Fi House is a musicology lab, hosting events for children and high school students, providing services like music therapy to the elderly and other programs. Dussault says that the daytime mission of the space is also to help grow and improve Omaha’s music community.

For instance, the house hosts the “Curly Martin Jazz Lab.”

“Curly Martin came to us and said there was no place in Omaha for a guy like him to play,” Dussault says.

Martin is from Omaha and an acclaimed drummer who, along with son Terrace, was nominated for the 2017 Grammy for Best R&B Album. His jazz lab is an ongoing project designed to introduce people to multiple forms of jazz and to teach them about the prolific history of jazz in Omaha.

At night, the venue is a private club that occasionally hosts live shows and album release parties. Dussault says it has also become a popular stop for bands coming through Omaha who just want to unwind before shows.

True to her mission of being an asset to the music scene, as well as a place that is welcome to people of creative and artistic bents, Dussault says it was important to provide something new. The Hi-Fi House isn’t a library or a record store or a coffee shop precisely because Dussault wanted it to be fresh.

“I think the hardest thing in developing a new business is finding out how you can live in a community and not cannibalize what’s already there,” Dussault says. “It’s easy to do what everybody else did and do it a little better, or invest a little bit more money in it, but to me that’s not helping. We want to support the venues in town, not compete with the venues in town.”

Dussault and Ochsner both say they’d like to see Hi-Fi Houses in other cities.

“The last 20 years we had this sort of personal revolution in music,” Ochsner says. “It was my iPod with my music, my headphones, my playlist. I think the mission of bringing people a social listening experience, bringing that back to people…I just think it’s very necessary.”

Dussault says it’s a challenge to not be seen as “elitist,” or to give the impression that people who don’t know a lot about music aren’t welcome.

“We built this place so that it was comfortable for people from age 5 to 99,” she says. “We believe in sharing music with everybody.”

Visit hifi.house for more information.

This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.


The State of Volleyball

December 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For generations, football gave Nebraska a statewide identity. But with Husker gridiron fortunes flagging, volleyball is the new signature sport with booming participation and success.

Here and nationally, more girls now play volleyball than basketball (according to the National Federation of State High School Associations).

“It’s the main or premier sport for women right now,” Doane University coach Gwen Egbert says.

Omaha has become a volleyball showcase. The city hosted NCAA Division I Finals in 2006, 2008, and 2015, with the Cornhuskers competing on all three occasions (winning the national title in 2006 and 2015).

Packed crowds at the CenturyLink Center will once again welcome the nation’s top teams when Omaha hosts the championships in 2020. Meanwhile, Creighton University is emerging as another major volleyball powerhouse, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha has made strides in the Mavericks’ first two years of full Division I eligibility since joining the Summit Conference.

In the 2017 NCAA tournament, Creighton advanced to the second round (but fell to Michigan State). As this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press, the Cornhuskers headed to regionals in hopeful pursuit of a fifth national championship.

“The fact Nebraska has done and drawn so well, and that kids are seeing the sport at a high level at a young age, gets people excited to play,” says Husker legend Karen Dahlgren Schonewise, who coaches for Nebraska Elite club volleyball and Duchesne Academy in Omaha.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln first reached a national title game with Schonewise in 1986. The dominant defensive player set Nebraska’s career record for solo blocks (132)—a record that still stands—before going on to play professionally. (The Cornhuskers didn’t win the national championship until 1995.)

Skutt freshman and future Husker Lindsay Krause and current Creighton standout Brittany Witt (a Marian grad)

“I think the amount of kids that play in Nebraska is No. 1, per capita, in the country. I think the level of play is far higher than many states in the country,” says Omaha Skutt Catholic coach Renee Saunders, whose star freshman, 6-foot-3 Lindsay Krause, is a UNL verbal commit.

Volleyball’s attraction starts with plentiful scholarships, top-flight coaching, TV coverage, and professional playing opportunities.

Few states match the fan support found here.

“We have probably the most educated fans in the nation,” Saunders says. “They’re a great fan base. They know how to support their teams, and they’re very embracing of volleyball in general.”

The lack of physical contact appeals to some girls. The frequent team huddles after rallies draw others.

Omaha Northwest High School coach Shannon Walker says “the camaraderie” is huge. You really have to work together as a unit, communicate, and be six people moving within a tiny space.”

Volleyball’s hold is rural and urban in a state that has produced All-Americans, national champions, and Olympians.

The Husker program has been elite since the 1980s. Its architect, former UNL coach Terry Pettit, planted the seeds that grew this second-to-none volleyball culture.

“He really spearheaded a grassroots effort to build the sport,” says Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. “Besides winning, he also worked diligently to train our high school coaches.”

“It’s important to realize this goes back many years,” former Husker (2009-2012) Gina Mancuso says, “and I think a lot of credit goes to Terry Pettit. He created such an awesome program with high standards and expectations.”

Pettit products like Gwen Egbert have carried those winning ways to coaching successful club and high school programs and working area camps. Egbert built a dynasty at Papillion-LaVista South before going to Doane. Several Papio South players have excelled as Huskers (the Rolzen twins, Kelly Hunter, etc.).

Their paths inspired future Husker Lindsay Krause.

“Seeing the success is a big motivation to want to play,” Krause says. “Just watching all the success everyone has in this state makes you feel like it’s all the more possible for you to be able to do that.”

Many top former players go on to coach here, and most remain even after they achieve great success.

Walker says quality coaches don’t leave because “it’s the hotbed of volleyball—they’re staying here and growing home talent now.”

“It’s us colleges that reap the benefits,” Bernthal Booth says.

Pettit says it’s a matter of “success breeds success.”

Schonewise agrees, saying, “Once you see success, others want to try it and do it and more programs become successful.”

“The standard is high and people want to be at that high level. They don’t want to be mediocre,” UNO coach Rose Shires says.

Wayne State, Kearney, Hastings, and Bellevue all boast top small college programs. In 2017, Doane was the first Nebraska National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program to record 1,000 wins.

“We’ve got great Division I, Division II, NAIA, and junior college volleyball programs,” says Bernthal Booth, who took the Creighton job in part due to the area’s rich talent base. She feels CU’s breakout success coincided with the 2008 opening of D.J. Sokol Arena, which she considers among the nation’s best volleyball facilities.

“All these colleges in Nebraska are in the top 25 in their respective divisions,” Saunders says. “It’s crazy how high the level of play has gone, and I think it’s going to keep going that way.”

“It’s really built a great fan base of support,” Mancuso says, “and I think the reason the state produces a lot of great volleyball players is the fact we have great high school coaches, great college programs, and great club programs.”

Club programs are talent pipelines. There are far more today than even a decade ago. Their explosion has meant youth getting involved at younger ages and training/playing year-round. Nebraska Elite is building a new facility to accommodate all the action.

“The athleticism found in the state has always been pretty high, but the level of play has definitely improved. The kids playing today are more skilled. The game is faster,” Egbert says. “When I started out, you’d maybe have one or two really good players, and now you could have a whole team of really good players.”

“You have your pick of dozens of clubs, and a lot of those clubs compete at the USA national qualifiers and get their players that exposure,” says Shannon Walker, the Northwest High School coach who is also the director of the Omaha Starlings volleyball club.

“Volleyball is such a joy to be a part of in this state,” Mancuso says.

Gina Mancuso

“It’s cool to be a part of everything going on in Nebraska and watching it grow and develop,” Skutt freshman phenom Krause says.

“My goal is to make Lindsay ready to play top-level Division I volleyball by the time she graduates here,” Saunders says. “She already has the physicality, the competitive edge, the smarts. Now it’s just getting her to play to her full potential, which she hasn’t had to yet because she’s always been bigger than everybody. She’s definitely not shy of challenges. I feel like every time I give her a challenge, she steps up and delivers.”

Krause values that Saunders “gives great feedback on things I have to fix.”

Native Nebraskans dot the rosters of in-state and out-of-state programs. Along with Krause, Elkhorn South freshman Rylee Gray—who holds scholarship offers from Nebraska and Creighton—may emerge as another next big name from the Omaha metro. But they are both still a few years from the collegiate level.

UNO’s Shires says “impassioned” coaches like Saunders are why volleyball is rooted and embraced here. Shires came to Omaha from Texas to join the dominant program Janice Kruger built for the Mavericks at the Division II level. Kruger, now head coach at the University of Maryland, was previously captain of the Cornhuskers’ team (1977).

Further enhancing the volleyball culture, Shires says, is having former Olympian Jordan Larson and current pro Gina Mancuso come back and work with local players. Mancuso’s pro career has taken her around the world. She wants the players she works with at UNO, where she’s an assistant, to “see where it can take them.”

As volleyball has taken off, it’s grown more diverse. Most clubs are suburban-based and priced beyond the means of many inner-city families. The Omaha Starlings provide an alternative option. “Our fees are significantly lower than everybody else’s,” says Walker, the club’s director and Northwestern’s coach. “Anybody that can’t afford to pay, we scholarship.”

Broadening volleyball’s reach, she says, “is so necessary. As a result, we do have a pretty diverse group of kids. I’ve had so many really talented athletes and great kids who would have never been able to afford other clubs. We’re trying to even the scale and offer that same experience to kids who have the interest and the ability but just can’t afford it.”

“It’s very exciting to see diversity in the sport—it’s been a long time coming,” Schonewise says.

Forty-five Starlings have earned scholarships, some to historically black colleges and universities. Star grad Samara West (Omaha North) ended up at Iowa State.

Starlings have figured prominently in Omaha Northwest’s rise from also-ran to contender. Eight of nine varsity players in 2017 played for the club.

Walker knew volleyball had big potential, yet it’s exceeded her expectations. She says while competition is fierce among Nebraska coaches and players, they share a love that finds them, when not competing against each other, cheering on their fellows in this ever-growing volleyball family/community.

“It’s awesome,” Walker says. “But I don’t think we’ve come anywhere close to reaching our peak yet.”

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Neil Astle

September 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It is not often that an Omaha architect is featured in The New York Times and Architectural Digest, but the reputation of Neil Astle is noteworthy for much more than mere publication clippings. His local homes and buildings remain architectural treasures in the Omaha metro.

Daniel Naegele, associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University and co-author of the soon-to-be-published Astle & Omaha, says his buildings are “highlights of architecture.” Bruce Wrightsman, assistant professor of architecture at Kansas State University and the other co-author adds, “Astle had a profound effect upon architecture in the state of Nebraska.”

Tollefson House (Wausa, Nebraska)

In 2008, Astle was posthumously awarded the Harry F. Cunningham Gold Medal for Architectural Excellence in the State of Nebraska—the highest honor that the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects can bestow in recognition of distinguished architectural achievement. This path to praise was laid in a dedication to material detailing and modernist ideologies.

Astle was born in Salt Lake City in 1933 and earned a degree in architecture from the University of Utah in 1958. The next year, he earned a Master of Architecture and Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The department was then chaired by Pietro Belluschi, designer of many high-profile buildings, including the Pan Am (now MetLife) Building in New York City. At MIT, Naegele says, “Astle would have been seduced by Eero Saarinen’s extremely popular Kresge Auditorium and Chapel and by Alvar Aalto’s Baker House auditorium.” The concrete-and-glass structure auditorium and brick dormitory with a large S-curve would later be reference points to many of his projects in Nebraska.

In 1964, Astle moved to Ralston; in 1965, he founded Neil Astle and Associates and began teaching architecture and community design at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Benedictine Mission House (Schuyler, Nebraska)

From 1968–1981 his Omaha-based firm received six AIA Nebraska Design Awards, five Central State Awards and two Architectural Record Awards of Excellence. In 1983, he became a fellow in the AIA. Then in 1999, Astle received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Utah Society of Institute of Architects—the first and still only Utah recipient of this award. Astle died in 2000, receiving the Cunningham Gold Medal from AIA Nebraska posthumously eight years later.

Why such lingering admiration for this Omaha-based architect?

Astle’s architectural style, now known as midcentury modern, confronts the expansive nature of suburbia with a counter solution: intense material and spatial investigations, along with honed detailing. As Naegele says, “The transition from man-made suburbia to Neil-made suburbia is one of Astle’s great accomplishments.”

Searching for authenticity in materials, Astle’s architecture was primarily fabricated in cedar and concrete—aging with the landscape of the site—finding continuity of interior and exterior space. Through their specific placement, these structures cascade on their sites. Like other architecture of the period, searching for simplicity was not simple.

The DeSoto Wildlife Center (Missouri Valley, Iowa)

With a focus on micro details (for example: hinging on cabinets and closet cladding) and using natural light and architectural space, many of his projects (including several Omaha-area homes and the DeSoto Wildlife Center in Missouri Valley, Iowa) strike an uncompromising balance of form, function, and the environment. 

In 1980, Architectural Digest described Astle’s award-winning work as “an architectural gem” and “unmistakably modern.” This respect continues to be felt by many of his contemporaries. Ross Miller, architectural designer at HDR, speaks to Astle’s legacy by simply stating, “he is a true architect.”

Visit aiane.org for more information about the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Learn about two Neil Astle homes for sale recently in Omaha in this article’s companion piece: “Two Homes, One Architect”

Ball House (Omaha, Nebraska)