Tag Archives: University of Nebraska-Omaha

On a Mission to Revitalize North Omaha

February 14, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Wes and Candy Zollicoffer are not your average neighbors. Instead of plopping down in front of the television after a full day’s work, the Zollicoffers would rather pick up trash along the street or organize a neighborhood barbecue. They hold strong to small gestures like a friendly wave or an unexpected smile—things that can go a long way in maintaining a healthy community.

Longing for resources and a mission to guide those who share their outlook, the couple were happy to partner with Josh Dotzler, CEO of Abide. For more than 30 years, the nonprofit organization has strived to revitalize North Omaha. The enthusiastic couple joined Abide’s burgeoning Lighthouse Leadership Program, and the Zollicoffers found themselves surrounded by like-minded people eager to spread a positive message of kinship.

“My husband and I joined 34 other families acting as Lighthouse Leaders, or Urban Missionaries,” Candy explains. A University of Nebraska-Omaha alumna, she is native to Brewton, Alabama, and reminisces of the strong community ties of her childhood in the South.

“Everybody in my hometown knows everybody, and you can fall asleep with your back door unlocked,” Candy recalls. “I moved from Alabama to Omaha in high school, and the neighborhoods around here are lacking that sense of fellowship. The Lighthouse Leadership Program allows us to live in homes throughout North Omaha rehabbed by partners like Habitat for Humanity. It’s so rewarding to see the change an Urban Missionary’s family can bring to an area, and my three young children are thriving in the environment.”

On any given day you can find the Zollicoffers outside and involved in activities to strengthen the community. With their small children in tow, simple tasks—such as planting flowers around the neighborhood or going door to door singing Christmas carols during the holidays—give them opportunities to interact with their neighbors. Their children also learn the importance of camaraderie, something Candy holds onto when they are shoveling neighborhood driveways after a big snowstorm.

“I definitely appreciate the outdoor activities more during nicer weather,” she admits. “But if someone in my neighborhood needs help, then we are there!”

Abide’s CEO and his family have been transforming neighborhoods dating back to 1988, when Dotzler’s parents—Ron and Twany—moved their 14 children to North Omaha near 33rd and Fowler streets. When the warm weather was abundant, the Dotzlers extended the ultimate olive-branch to their new neighbors with the first of many neighborhood grill-outs. The turnout was huge. More importantly, it gave people a chance to get out of their homes and eat good food while bonding on a personal level.

Dotzler’s parents continued to feel the positive effects their gathering had on the community long after the party ended. The Omaha Police Department eventually acknowledged the family, observing that violent crime in the area had dropped significantly since their arrival. That one-time grill-out expanded into an annual block-party that continues to this day, and Ron and Twany went on to establish the Abide Network in 1989.

Twenty years later, Abide’s Lighthouse Leadership Neighborhood Strategy took shape with the rehabilitation of the first Lighthouse starting in 2009. The Zollicoffers came along not long after, joining the program and moving their family to 33rd and Fowler streets as official Lighthouse Leaders around 2013.

“As Urban Missionaries, we focus on ‘The Three C’s’ to help make everyone proud to be part of our community,” Candy says. “‘Connection’ is important, so we make it a point to have neighborhood events so that everyone can commune and get to know each other. ‘Caring’ about our neighbors and issues within our community is essential to our wellbeing. Finally, we believe that everyone has a ‘calling,’ so we encourage each person to meet their potential.”

After four years, the Zollicoffers saw a significant change in their neighborhood. They had advocated for families dealing with slumlords, and helped decrease gang activity in the area by engaging with their community. Wes and Candy decided to continue their mission and moved their growing family to their current Lighthouse in 2018.

Wes works part-time at Wheatfields downtown and as a personal trainer, and he recently interned at the Boiler Room as part of the No More Empty Pots’ Culinary Workforce Training Program. Candy is employed with Abide in the Development Office.

“We want to keep bringing hope and effective change to the community we live in,” Wes says. “Before the Lighthouse Leadership Program, I’d never known anyone that had been shot. But I saw my family become a beacon of hope after such a tragedy affected our old neighborhood. I ran with a bad crowd back in my days at Central High School, so I am proud to be a testament to our mission and live up to my own God-given potential.”

Abide partners with companies such as Thrasher, Pacific Life, Westin Foods, and many others to provide their Urban Missionaries with a steady stream of resources for nearby residents in need. Combine that with the Better Together Campus established in 2016, and the Zollicoffers have the backing they need to revitalize the North Side, one neighborhood at a time.

“Sponsored programs like the Better Together Children’s Basketball, Second Saturday Serves, and the Bridge Church located on the Better Together Campus are great assets,” Candy says. “We even put our slogan on a T-shirt: ‘We are Better Together.’”


Visit abideomaha.org for more information.

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

Candy and Wesleyon Zollicoffer and family

The Zollicoffer family

Passion Player

February 13, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In December 2017, Catie Zaleski resolved to stop delaying her dreams and started acting. A little more than a year and four plays later, it’s clear she made the right choice.

“When I’m acting I feel like my best self,” Zaleski says. “When you’re passionate about something, you could work on it all day and night, money or no money, and feel like you did something worthwhile. I love all the processes of acting, but some of my favorite moments the audience doesn’t get to see. Behind the scenes, actors work so hard to create and honor characters.”

Zaleski, 24, didn’t do theater in high school or college, but she competed in interpretive speech at both educational levels, which she credits as pivotal to her development as an actor.

“I love acting and I’d always wanted to act,” says Zaleski, who has a degree in international studies with a minor in women’s and gender studies from UNO. “I think the speech world is where my acting skill base comes from.”

Zaleski had done a short film, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and some local web series projects prior to securing her first theatrical role in Kim Louise’s Umurage, part of The Union for Contemporary Art’s February 2018 Centering the Margins series.

“I feel very lucky that was my first experience with theater,” she says. “Being at The Union and working with [director] Denise [Chapman]…she considers the whole person within the process with the culture she creates, like keeping you safe as an actor when doing emotionally taxing work. Theater isn’t therapy; it can be cathartic but it’s not therapy. The whole experience was very affirming of who I am as a person and an actor, but also still challenged and pushed me. I got to be with all black actors, which is rare for black actors. I feel like I am the person I am today because of that experience.”

Next up was The Mountaintop at Omaha Community Playhouse, where Zaleski worked with Chapman at the helm again.

“That was an amazing experience. I got to push myself and expand my range as an actor. We were very vulnerable in that process. It’s politically charged and says things a lot of people might not want to hear,” she says. “I also got to see the leadership of the Playhouse—people like [artistic director] Kimberly [Faith Hickman] who are working to make it a more inclusive space…it was great to see change being made there.”

Next, Zaleski did some stage readings at the 2018 Great Plains Theater Conference, which further exposed her to Omaha’s thriving theater community, followed by a starring role as Agnes in the Playhouse’s She Kills Monsters.

Catie Zaleski, laughing

Catie Zaleski

“The [roles] I’d gotten so far, I kind of thought, were for black actors and that might be the only things I’d get cast in,” Zaleski says. “A lot of times when people read scripts and there’s no race assigned, the default is white. And then when I got [the part] and my sister in the show was white—I liked [director] Beth Thompson from the jump. Again, the Playhouse is doing things that make people think, and pushing people’s ideas of family and how people interact in the real world is cool. Working with Beth was amazing.”

With the larger cast, Zaleski says she really felt the sense of community and also enjoyed getting to do stage combat and dig into the physicality of a role.

“I’m in the moment, but I’m also always thinking, ‘What can I take from this experience that will help me grow in the future?’” she says.

Late in 2018, Zaleski performed in Alyson Mead’s The Flora and Fauna, which the playwright offered royalty-free for a brief period with proceeds going to the #MeToo movement.

“It was awesome being surrounded by 20-some other women, and the script is so beautiful and hard and hopeful,” Zaleski says. “I found another community of women there. I’m constantly floored by the people in Omaha’s creative community.”

While Zaleski hopes to focus more on film work in the future, she’s incredibly grateful for her theater experiences. Regardless of the platform, Zaleski says she’s drawn to roles with complexity and projects that eliminate tired tropes attached to race, gender, class, and sexuality.

“I like characters and stories that push people’s ideas of life and humanity, and that show the complexities and nuances of life that we often forget about or are not shown,” she says.

Zaleski is thankful for the professional highs 2018 showed her, but also realizes she has been preparing for these moments.

“I’ve learned you have to be ready for moments, and you don’t always get to choose them…opportunities arise and you have to be ready to go,” she says. “I feel so lucky, thankful, and motivated to do more. My mindset is ‘keep going’ and whatever space you’re in, make sure you give it everything. I want to honor stories out there that need to be told—or maybe they have been told, but need to be told in a different way. I want to make sure that I’m constantly growing and being pushed outside of my comfort zone.”


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

Catie Zaleski, melancholy

January/February 2019 Between the Lines

January 3, 2019 by
Photography by provided

Alicia Hollins Senior Sales Coordinator

Alicia has worked at Omaha Magazine for 11 years as Gil Cohen’s assistant. She is currently the senior sales coordinator, helping Gil with customer service, ad work, and sales. She loves the creative and collaborative atmosphere of magazine work. She also enjoys collaborating on house projects with her husband, Trevor. She is the president-elect of the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Alumnae Board and an active volunteer at Loveland Elementary. She enjoys researching her family tree, and has even received a certificate from Boston University in genealogical research. All of this happens while she is fielding an array of constant questions from her amazing 8-year-old, Logan.

 

Anthony FlottContributing Writer

Anthony fell in love with magazines in grade school when his carpenter father gave him a large box of old Sports Illustrated magazines found on a job site. Later, Anthony also worked in construction, laid asphalt, and cut trees for various family-owned enterprises. Eventually, he decided on a career where he could avoid physical exertion and workplaces equipped only with outhouses. He earned communication degrees from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and worked three years for the Papillion Times Newspaper Group. For 25 years since then, he’s been editor of the award-winning UNO Magazine. He’s also a widely published magazine freelance writer and has taught magazine editing and writing classes at UNO. He is married with four children.

 

Justine YoungEditorial Intern

Justine is a senior at UNO studying English, with a focus on creative nonfiction writing and absolutely no intention of becoming a teacher. Armed with a limited attention span, a fleeting passion for almost any subject, and a deep appreciation of ice cream, she hopes to one day write a great novel, or at the very least, a plethora of mediocre books. When she is not studying or visiting her family in rural Iowa, you can find her swing dancing, recruiting friends for a good old-fashioned game of bingo, or reading anything by Ann Patchett. Despite her Iowa roots, she considers Omaha home, and she works hard to convince locals that the word “bag” should be pronounced “beg.”

 

Megan FabryEditorial Intern

Megan is pursuing degrees in journalism and English at UNO. Born and raised in Omaha, this one-third of triplets spent much of her childhood hanging out with her other two-thirds, and their older brother. Megan graduated in 2014 from Millard West High School, where she was a copy editor for the yearbook. She is the arts and entertainment editor for UNO’s newspaper, The Gateway, and she hopes to continue contributing to the student-run publication until she graduates. In her spare time, Megan enjoys reading anything she can get her hands on, watching historical documentaries, and spending time with family.


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

 

Ann and Michael J Dunn

December 27, 2018 by and
Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

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. 


Ann Dunn, 77

I grew up in Omaha and was a student at Creighton University when I met and married Mike. We recently celebrated our 55th anniversary. In the early 1980s, I returned to school at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with honors, and a specialty in business information systems. With this degree, I worked at Mutual of Omaha for 20 years in information technology.  

The one great sorrow in our lives was the loss of our son, Timothy, in 1988 in an automobile accident. Our other three children have blessed us with 11 wonderful grandchildren. We love seeing them frequently and being a part of each of their lives.  

Through the years, I have enjoyed many different pursuits including tennis, skiing, running (now walking), golf (which I took up at the age of 70 and have achieved a hole-in-one), gardening, exercising, cooking, entertaining family and friends, reading, playing cards, mahjong, and travel. I treasure long-term friendships and therefore monthly outings are planned with my high school classmates, work friends, and siblings.

My advice for a long life is to exercise daily, eat and drink wisely, and never stop learning. 

We have been blessed with a great family, good health, and wonderful friends. Life is good.

Michael J Dunn, M.D., 79

I grew up in Lead, South Dakota, in the northern Black Hills. I came to Omaha in 1957 to attend Creighton University for pre-med studies and then attended the Creighton University School of Medicine. After graduation in 1964, I completed four years of internal medicine residency training and entered private practice in 1968. I became board-certified in internal medicine and, subsequently, became a fellow of the American College of Medicine and a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. After retiring from private practice in 2004, I became a principal investigator at Quality Clinical Research, where I have worked part time for the past 12 years.

The greatest joys and loves in my life have been my wife, Ann, our four children, and 11 grandchildren. I have enjoyed skiing since the age of 10, upland bird hunting, salmon fishing in Alaska, scuba diving, running (I have completed one marathon), and now stretching exercises and walking. I have enjoyed refinishing old furniture, some stone masonry work, gardening, and swimming pool maintenance (I’m the cabana boy for our backyard pool).  Through the years I’ve kept up with reading current medical literature, and I enjoy reading mystery novels as well.

I attribute my success and happiness to my wife, Ann. One must choose their lifelong partner very carefully. I did that for sure.


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

 

Sexual Justice Warrior

December 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sex videos are popular on the internet. Even academic ones. Just ask Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s School of Health & Kinesiology.

Her 2016 TEDx talk has been viewed more than 2.5 million times online. In the lecture, Jawed-Wessel discusses society’s objectification of women as tools of men’s sexual pleasure (with little value placed on their own satisfaction), and how this view dramatically changes during pregnancy to one of non-sexual beings whose sole purpose is reproduction.

She has become an internationally recognized expert in her field of research. In November 2018, Jawed-Wessel traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, to present the keynote address at the country’s National Institute of Psychology annual conference.

“My niche area of research focuses on understanding the sexual health of women and couples as they transition into parenthood by documenting sexual behaviors, sexual function, relationship adjustment, and sexual changes during pregnancy and after childbirth,” she explains.

On top of her professorship, Jawed-Wessel is the associate director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative. She also holds a joint appointment with the Women and Gender Studies program at UNO and a courtesy appointment in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Her teachings utilize a sex-positive and pleasure-inclusive approach to providing medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education to her undergraduate students.

Jawed-Wessel, 35, didn’t initially set her sights on becoming a sex researcher. The daughter of Pakistani immigrants, she was born in the U.S. and raised with three siblings in a traditional family in Indiana.

“My mom stayed at home and my father worked multiple jobs,” she says. “We were a working-class family.”

Seeing her parents struggle likely prompted the inquisitive youngster to make education a priority. She went on to earn three bachelor’s degrees—in biology, psychology, and English—from Indiana University.

She volunteered as an assistant in a few labs and says she “fell in love” with sex science. “The specific focus on sex during and after pregnancy came to me as my relationship with feminism grew,” she adds. “I did not like how we divorce sexuality and motherhood, and the more I worked with pregnant women, I saw how their psyche was impacted by this forced de-sexualization.”

She went on to earn a Master of Public Health and a Ph.D. in health behavior, also from Indiana University, home to the Kinsey Institute (named after its founder, the famous American biologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey). She joined the UNO faculty in 2012.

Jawed-Wessel says her long-term research goal is to understand how women’s intimate relationships are impacted by sexual and maternal objectification. She also believes in “conducting research that will help promote women’s and LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice values, and, therefore, science that will support or push back against policy and systems-level change,” she says. With this public engagement in mind, she has provided expert testimony for the Nebraska Unicameral, the Nebraska Board of Education, and the Omaha Public School Board of Education.

For her work, Jawed-Wessel was a 2017 recipient of the Women’s Center for Advancement’s Tribute to Women Award (and was the luncheon’s keynote speaker in 2018). She was also named among the 2017 Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees.

In 2018, her Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative received one of the first Equality Fund grants ($40,000) from the Omaha Community Foundation to conduct work that will increase LGBTQ equality in Omaha. “Community engagement and my research go hand in hand; one without the other means lesser impact,” she says. “I want to see my science put into action.”

When not teaching, conducting research, or traveling for speaking engagements, Jawed-Wessel says she enjoys hosting dinner parties for close friends. “If I cook you an elaborate Pakistani meal, that means I really love you,” she confides. She’s also the proud mom of two young boys, 9 and 3.


Find more information about the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative on Facebook at @unomshrc and Twitter at @1mshrc.

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

Correction: Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel is an “associate professor,” not “assistant professor,” as noted in the print edition. 

Art After Life

The morning of the funeral, I woke early to write my identical twin brother’s eulogy. It began: “On the cover of a notebook, Connor spelled out his definition of art in boldface type: ‘Art is not communication. It is dialogue.’”

Robert Connor Meigs suffered severe brain trauma in a car accident three blocks from our childhood home on Dec. 20, 2004, in Omaha. I was driving and regained consciousness in a hospital bed. He died four days later.  

 The principal from our elementary school, Mrs. Krause, read Connor’s eulogy on behalf of my family during the service. I sat in the front church pew with my older brother, sister, and parents. 

As Mrs. Krause spoke, I remembered saying goodbye to Connor in the hospital on Christmas Eve. Looking at his face, it was like looking into a mirror, but my eyes were closed. Tubes protruded from his scalp. IVs chained his limp body to beeping machines. A miniature Christmas tree sat in the corner, turned off. His lungs still heaved via breathing machine. But because of a blood clot, his brain hadn’t received any oxygen for hours. He seemed to be sleeping when I walked away. 

She continued reading: “Connor was taken from us just as he was finding his artistic voice. His dialogue had just begun to take shape. He died too young. But his voice lives on. He lives in our memories.” 

Shadows fill my memory of the accident. I remember the Jeep sliding on an icy road. I remember arguing with my brother, then darkness. 

A police report explained the events: I lost control on black ice. We spun onto the opposite side of the road. The oncoming truck couldn’t stop. It plowed into Connor’s door, slamming our Jeep into a parked van. The following day, I regained consciousness. Connor did not. 

His eulogy continued: “The anecdotes from Connor’s life trail back 19 years. We all have them, and each of ours is different. The most consistent anecdote remembered by his close friends and family is his dedication to art.” 

Mrs. Krause spoke about Connor’s unexpected arrival for Thanksgiving break: He pulled into the driveway, barged into the house with a stack of canvases, disappeared again, and returned with more artwork. My mother, a local artist, promised to help him organize his first exhibit at the ArtLoft Gallery at Florence Mill after he graduated. He died halfway through his sophomore year at the University of Kansas. 

While Mrs. Krause spoke, I remembered Connor’s phone calls from the School of Fine Arts at KU or his summer job at a bronze foundry in Prescott, Arizona. Like most siblings, we argued often. Connor especially liked to argue about art. He said things like, “Art is not communication,” then welded a 6-foot tall, foldable, portable communication tower out of iron. 

Connor Meigs sitting atop his iron communication tower

“Communication Tower,” 2004

I thought he’d spent too much time in the studio, too much time with paint thinner, too much time distinguishing squares from rectangles. 

In the eulogy, I explained my brother’s concept of art, as he sat atop his communication tower during his final sculpture critique: “Through the communication tower, Connor was trying to articulate the unique power of an artist as he wobbled to and fro in the center of the class’ attention.” 

By itself, any expression can be a form of communication. But not all communication is art. When communication is interpreted, when a viewer comprehends the message, a two-way bridge is formed, a dialogue. 

Mrs. Krause finished reading. Mom had arranged an art exhibit in the church’s fellowship hall to follow his service. I stood by one of the entrances and thanked the well-wishers who followed. 

A tiny woman approached. She said her name was Mrs. Maher, our kindergarten teacher. Two misshapen, miniature clay books dangled from dental floss necklaces around her neck. She cupped the ornaments and held them forward. We had given her the necklaces in kindergarten. “Connor was the shy one,” she recalled. At the time we had given her the gifts, Connor had hidden behind me. 

After the funeral, I went home, closed the door to my bedroom, and I cried. I had driven my twin brother, and all his gifts, to the grave. 

But life, like art, does not fit clear-cut definitions. My brother’s voice lives on in his artwork. His memory will live on through helping other young artists. My mother, Linda Meigs, initiated the Connor Meigs Art Award in the summer of 2007. The goal was to help young artists achieve what Connor could not—the beginning of a career. 

A posthumous art exhibit, titled Connor Meigs: Retrospective Dialogue, ran during the summers of 2005 and 2006 at the Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery. In October, his show moved to the Beatrice Public Library in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Now, his artwork rests in family members’ homes.

Postscript: The first recipient of the Connor Meigs Art Award exhibited in the summer of 2007. Seven artists have received the award: Nicholas Shindell (2007), Sariah Ha (2008), Stephanie Olesh (2009), Matthew Farley (2010), Woohyun Shim, (2011), Christine Fredendall (2012), Kathy Irwin (2013). The Connor Meigs Art Award was temporarily postponed in 2014 as my father, John Meigs, fought a terminal cancer diagnosis. But the award will continue. The 2019 recipient is Mary Heldridge, a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The Connor Meigs Art Award provides an honorarium of $1,000, studio visits to the working spaces of Omaha artists, and a solo exhibition with artist reception. The Fort Omaha campus of Metropolitan Community College sponsors lodging for out-of-town recipients.

Connor’s legacy, however, does not end with art. His driver’s license noted that he was an organ donor. Doctors removed his liver, kidneys, heart valves, corneas, and some leg bone for the ultimate Christmas gifts to complete strangers.

I met one of those strangers during the summer of 2005. A Norfolk, Nebraska, resident named Maggie Steele visited Connor’s exhibition at the Florence Mill to thank our family. A genetic disorder—alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency—had destroyed her liver, she explained.

She received his liver on Christmas Day in 2004.

How to apply for the Connor Meigs Award

The award is restricted to recent graduates—or those soon to graduate—with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree. Applicants should submit a resume, artist statement, and 10 images by mail to the Florence Mill ArtLoft (9102 N. 30th St., Omaha, NE 68112) or by email to florencemill@gmail.com. The application deadline is Oct. 1, 2019, for a 2020 exhibit.


Visit connormeigsartaward.com for more information. A version of this essay was originally published in the Columbia Missourian’s Vox Magazine on March 15, 2007.

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

A self-portrait (ink) by Connor Meigs during his junior year at Central High School, 2001, full image

A self-portrait (ink) by Connor Meigs during his junior year at Central High School, 2001.

Sketches of Omaha

December 19, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

A watercolor print featuring Joslyn Castle is the centerpiece of a young couple’s remodeled living room in the Dundee neighborhood. The image is a reminder of their wedding day and the location where they married.

The artist responsible, Julia Mason, doesn’t know the couple. But she’s happy her work can evoke this sentimental feeling. “It makes me feel proud and happy that I can create nostalgia for someone else,” she says.

It’s not the first time that a sighting of Mason’s artwork has come back to her with a personal anecdote attached. Mason’s friends often snap photos of her art in the wild and send evidence back to her. Sometimes they notice a print hanging in someone’s home; other times they notify her of a print gifted to some dislocated Omahan longing for familiar scenery.

“It’s exciting, and it makes me feel happy to see my work popping up someplace I wasn’t intending,” Mason says.

The daughter of mixed media and metal artist Vicki Mason of Plattsmouth, she appreciates the beautiful masonry patterns found around Omaha as she walks to the farmers market downtown, and she is fascinated by details in older architecture.

“Just by walking, you can observe a lot more character from a building than you would driving,” she says.

Although best known for her sketches of local neighborhoods, Mason says world travel has inspired her Omaha-centric work.

While studying secondary education with an emphasis in art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a two-week summer study abroad experience took her to the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, Scotland National Gallery, and traipsing through Britain’s many beautiful cathedrals.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, she discovered the work of Glasgow artist Libby Walker. She bought a print—a detailed pen drawing of a local scene—to remind her of the city, and she has since purchased more of Walker’s work for display in her home.

Mason kept a journal to document the trip, and the journal inspired her first solo art show at Paperdoll in Benson. “I started with showing at Benson First Friday, and that gave me the confidence to start making art for other people,” she says.

The travel bug bit again, and she went to Costa Rica for four months to study at Veritas University. At the end of the trip, she organized an art show at a local cafe. She presented observational drawings of her neighborhood and images of fruit and flowers from her host family’s residence. She titled the show, Costa Rica Through My Eyes.

“I like to remember the places I have been through my art collection,” she says. “I wanted to bring that kind of nostalgic experience to our community.”

After Costa Rica, she decided to try her hand at depicting Omaha’s beloved local scenes. Her first print consisted of a montage of Dundee scenes. She now has prints for many of Omaha’s older neighborhoods, which are available for sale at Hutch in Midtown Crossing, at local pop-up markets throughout town, and her website.

Travel remains a major source of inspiration for Mason. She recently returned from a leisure trip to Hawaii where she gravitated toward local illustrators that represent the community in their work.

When traveling, Mason always carries a travel journal with her to draw and paint from observation. “I think of it like a souvenir,” she says. “Drawing and painting the waves of North Shore was a new experience for me, so it was a bit of a challenge with the moving waves. I always feel like a better person after painting than I do before sitting down. It recharges me.”

Three years into her teaching career as a traveling art teacher at Beals and Indian Hill elementary schools, Mason decided to go full-time as an artist. “If I fail, I always have a career to fall back on. Now I get to work in my yoga pants and listen to podcasts as I paint. It’s the dream,” she says, adding that she continues to substitute teach for Omaha Public Schools.

She says that life is too short to be unhappy in your career and has this advice for others seeking to start their own business: “Build your small business with your full-time job, and when you are ready, find a way to supplement your business part-time until it thrives on its own.”

Since making the entrepreneurial leap of faith, demand for work has filled her calendar. “Inventory is something I am always trying to keep up with,” she says, adding that prices are intentionally reasonable. She wants her work to be accessible to all, and she receives orders from Oregon, New York, South Dakota, and across the country.

“It’s reaching a bigger audience than I ever anticipated,” she says. “I am happy that so many are connecting with it. Omahans are everywhere!”


Visit juliamasonart.com for more information.

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

Soccer Brings Bob Warming Home

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Bob Warming’s unexpected return to Omaha in 2018—this time to head the men’s soccer program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha—is the latest turn in a lifelong love affair with coaching.

Warming, 64, twice helmed the Creighton University program in town. He’s known as the architect of a Bluejay program he took from nothing to national prominence. During his first CU run (1990-1994), Omaha became home to him, his wife Cindy, and their four children. During his second CU tenure (2001-2009), his kids finished school and came of age.

His passion for the game is such that even though he’s one of collegiate soccer’s all-time winningest coaches at an age when most folks retire, he’s still hungry to lead young people. After eight highly successful seasons at his last stop, Penn State, he did retire, albeit for less than two months, before taking the UNO post in April.

Love for family changed best-laid plans. It started when he and Cindy visited Omaha in November to meet their new granddaughter. Their intense desire to see her grow up caused Warming to step down at Penn State and move to Omaha. 

When then-UNO soccer coach Jason Mims decided to pursue new horizons (Mims had played and coached for Warming at Saint Louis University, and traveled with him to Creighton and Penn State before kickstarting the UNO program in 2011), Warming couldn’t resist continuing to build what his former assistant had started.

“I have come back with even more energy. There’s a lot of younger guys I’m running into the ground,” Warming says.

He also brought knowledge gained from legendary peers and best friends at Penn State: women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose, wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, and women’s soccer coach Erica Dambach.

“I learned more coaching at Penn State than I had in all my previous years,” he says. “It’s not even close. I grew tremendously. I got a lot of new ideas about things. I derive tremendous energy from being a continual learner. Even in the 59 days I retired, I continued to research better ways to teach and train people.”

His son, Grant, played for him in Happy Valley and now assists at UNO. Grant’s twin sister, Audrey, died in a 2012 auto accident. The family honors her legacy with Audrey’s Shoes for Kids, an annual event that gives away soccer shoes, shin guards, jerseys, and balls to disadvantaged children in Omaha. About 300 youths received gear in this summer’s giveback.

Warming first fell in love with coaching at age 14 in his native Berea, Kentucky. The multi-sport athlete was a tennis prodigy on the United States Lawn Tennis Association’s junior circuit when his coach taught him a lesson in humility by having him coach 9-year-olds. In the process, Warming found his life’s calling.

“I had been very into myself only,” he admits. “I was a selfish little brat. Then all of a sudden I realized it’s about helping other people. It’s a great lesson my coach taught me. He knew if I was ever going to go any place with my life, I had to give something to others.”

Warming’s outlook on life gradually shifted. “I derive the most pleasure out of watching young people improve,” he says.

Soccer supplied his next life-changing experience. Berea College, a private college in his hometown, has a long history of inclusion. In the early 1970s, it recruited world-class footballers from Ghana and Nigeria. Warming was the squad’s goalkeeper (and also a varsity letter-winner on the tennis, swimming, and golf teams); he honed his knowledge of soccer from these foreign players and gleaned insights into diversity.

“I’m playing soccer and hanging out all the time with these black guys in the South—not the most popular thing to do in a town where on Sunday nights every summer the KKK burned a cross,” he recalls. “That was the dark ages in a lot of ways. But I was fascinated interacting with these guys from Africa and finding out how they live and what their culture is like.

“I was able to play with these incredible guys from a young age, and the game is the best teacher,” he says. “For me, it was a remarkable time in my life. I learned a lot about a lot of different things.”

Years later at Penn State, he brought more student-athletes of color into the soccer program than it had ever seen before. “That was a cool part of the whole deal,” he says.

He appreciates what a mentor did in giving him a progressive outlook. “The guy who eventually became my college coach was the leader of all this,” Warming says.

His own collegiate coach at Berea, Bob Pearson, succeeded his protégé a few years later when Warming left his coaching post at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia, for a coaching position at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in the 1980s. Four decades later, the veteran Warming succeeded his own protégé, Mims, at UNO.

“I have all these crazy circles in coaching,” he says.

The kind of bond Warming has with Pearson, he has with Mims.

“Loyalty, trust, and respect are the basis for all relationships, and we have all three of those,” Warming says.

Pearson got Warming his first head coaching gigs in his 20s at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky (where Warming spent one season before heading to Berry University); he also coached tennis at both schools.

Warming was still only in his mid-30s when Creighton hired him the first time in 1990, poaching him from his brief tenure as director of athletics at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. At Creighton, he revived a dormant program that began winning and drawing fans.

He enjoyed the challenge of “building something from its inception and doing missionary work for our sport.” In exchange for free coaching clinics, he got local soccer clubs to turn out in droves.

“Thus, Creighton soccer was born. It came out of giving back to the community and coaching education,” Warming says.

He left CU in 1994 for Old Dominion. From there he went to Saint Louis University. The Rev. John Schlegel, then-CU president, lured him back in 2001 with the promise he could design a state-of-the-art soccer facility.

“Father Schlegel said, ‘Build me a soccer stadium. We want an iconic building to define the new eastern borders of our campus. I’ll pick the facade because I want it to reflect how the rest of the campus will look,’” Warming recalls. “Think about that. Where else has a soccer stadium determined what the rest of the campus would look like?”

The result, Morrison Stadium, has become a jewel of north downtown.

Warming’s CU and Penn State teams contended for conference and national titles. Now that he’s back in Omaha, he looks to take fledgling UNO soccer to its first NCAA playoff berth and create a powerhouse like the one he did down the street.

Back in Omaha again, he organized “the largest free coaching clinic in the country” at UNO in August. Some 200 coaches from around the nation attended, including 150 from Nebraska. Tweets about the event surpassed two million impressions.

“The selfish reason I did it was I want to kick-start this program into something, and to take soccer in Nebraska to the next level,” he says. “We have to get better.”

His methods today are different than when he last coached in Omaha.

“If you really want to train people, you have to get them in the mood to train using all the different modalities—texting, tweeting, playlists, video—available to us now,” he says. “You cannot coach, you cannot lead, you cannot do anything the way people did it years ago. You won’t be successful. The why is so important in terms of explaining things and building consensus and getting people involved to where they say, yeah, we want to do this together.”

In the full circle way his life runs, he feels right at home at UNO, where hundreds of students, including international students, get a free education. “We are the school of the people,” he says.

Meanwhile, he’s busily stocking his roster with players from around the globe—including France, Spain, and Trinidad and Tobago—with many more players from Omaha and around the Midwest.

Wherever he’s landed as a coach, it’s the new challenge that motivates him. No different at UNO. “One hundred percent,” he says. “I love it.” 


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This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Queen of Omaha Ice

Photography by Bill Sitzmann and provided

The ice rink is smooth like glass. A young woman glides across the surface, breaking it in with her skates’ sharp blades. Across the rink, her coach watches closely, analyzing
each move. 

Barbara Foster has been working at the Tim Moylan Tranquility Iceplex as a coach since it first opened in November 1995. Throughout her extensive career, she has coached students as young as 2 and as old as 82.

Foster was born and raised in the small mining community of Noranda, in Canada’s Quebec province. She attributes her perfectionist tendencies to her no-nonsense upbringing. 

Named after Barbara Ann Scott—a Canadian Olympic gold medalist and world champion in figure skating—there was little doubt that she would become comfortable at the rink.

Her father put her on the ice for the first time when she was only 2 years old, during the intermission of a local hockey game. Her first pair of skates were actually hockey skates. 

Dad was a high school principal and also refereed games in his spare time. He laced up her tiny skates, and she was a natural on the ice from the very beginning. Foster’s parents knew then that she would live up to her namesake. 

As a young student of figure skating, she trained with coaches in the summer, but was left to practice on her own during the brutal Canadian winters. She trained at a recreational rink, where she would come in through the back door and practice before school every morning.

Photo provided. Foster coaching a senior student.

When she was 14, she began training with Hans Gerschwiler, a World Figure Skating Champion and silver medalist at the 1948 Winter Olympics. When Gerschwiler moved to the United States in 1960, he asked Foster’s parents for permission to take her with him to continue her training. 

“He was an incredible skater for a long time,” Foster says. 

Foster trained with Gerschwiler in New Jersey and eventually became a teacher for his young students. While there, she developed a passion for coaching.

“The best part about teaching is the relationships,” Foster says with a smile. “There is no better job, and I get a lot of satisfaction from feeling that I’ve impacted my students.”

Since her days in New Jersey, she has coached all around the Midwest, Australia, and New Zealand. A perfectionist by nature, she stood out from other coaches and pushed her students to achieve the goals they placed for themselves. She eventually settled down in Omaha with husband Larry Foster, who retired from his job as the director of Council Bluffs Parks in August.

As a 74-year-old retired coach, she still enjoys teaching students of all ages, but she says she does not miss the rigorous seven-day training schedule she once lived by. 

In the past five years, she has undergone numerous procedures, including two back surgeries, total knee replacement, and treatment for a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder. But she refuses to let these procedures discourage her.

After knee surgery this past February, she was in Boston to support two of her students who went to the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Nationals in April. After her first back surgery in 2013, she was lacing up her skates again after three weeks of recovery (instead of the three months that doctors had expected to be necessary). 

Photo provided. Foster and her coaching mentor.

While teaching has always been a passion of hers, there is one passion that surpasses all others: her family. As a grandmother of nine, she is often on the road to visit her grandchildren, who are scattered across the country from Jacksonville, Florida, to  Olathe, Kansas, to Takoma Park, Maryland. 

Each summer, the grandchildren make a trek to Nebraska for one of their favorite annual events: “Camp Nana.” Foster started Camp Nana when the oldest grandchildren were toddlers. The parents drop off the grandkids for two weeks of fun-filled activities and bonding time.

“I never had an opportunity to be connected to my cousins,” Foster says. “I just really wanted to make sure that I could provide that opportunity for my grandkids.”

For the last 23 years, Foster has worked with youth and adult hockey players, and she even worked with the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team to help correct players’ skating technique. 

“Figure skaters have techniques that even hockey coaches don’t quite understand,” Foster says. “It really helps if you can break it down and help them get the most out of their legs while their body is still handling a puck.”

Although she considers herself retired, she does still instruct a few students (teaching two days a week instead of seven). Even aside from her teaching, Foster says she would be at Tranquility Iceplex at some point every day doing a variety of jobs and chores that need to be completed: mounting figure skate blades, selling equipment at the rink’s pro shop, and fitting customers with new skates.

“It’s allowed me to have a lot of diversity,” Foster says. “So even at this age, where I’m not actively teaching, I have lots of other interests that keep me involved with the rink and the people in it, which is the fun part.”

Foster says she is never bored because of all the activities she has taken on. She works at the rink, teaches lessons, spends time with friends and does Pilates, which helps align her spine and strengthens her back.

“I am really looking forward to skating again,” says Foster, who gets on the ice with her students for instruction but is not attempting toe jumps, double axels, or triple lutzes. “After my knee replacement, I’m struggling to be able to demonstrate the power that correct technique can generate. I think that as everything settles down, I would like to get myself feeling really comfortable again on the ice.”

Foster is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. She holds students to her own high standard of excellence, too. They shouldn’t expect coddling or ego-stroking. If that’s what a student wants, then Foster says, “you’re with the wrong coach.” 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Crow and the Artist

Photography by Sarah Lemke

There is a flock of metaphorical crows hovering over Andy Acker. Crow-related artworks, meanwhile, have taken over the Omaha-born artist’s home studio in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

The 69-year-old Acker creates bizarre sculptures out of carvings and miscellaneous domestic detritus: keys, old coins, nuts, bolts, and other random bits. 

A figurative painter earlier in his art career, he cuts a striking figure himself at just over 6 feet tall, slender, with glistening white hair and beard, a boyish smile, and mesmerizing green eyes. 

Crows are now his figurative obsession. Acker says they started creeping into his work 20 years ago. 

He began crafting sculptural assemblages when he was working at Heartland Scenic Studios in Omaha. At first, they were just fun projects using leftover bits of wood from the carpenters in the studio. But the pieces eventually took on deeper artistic and philosophical significance for the artist.  

Andy Acker, Crow

“Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man: ‘Is this an idea?’”

“I love to find art in our everyday surroundings and to show others the beauty in a tree shadow, patterns in broken parking lot surfaces, peeling paint, or our sunsets,” says Acker, who moved to the Milwaukee area with his wife in 2013 to be closer to grandkids. 

He began seriously considering a career in art as a student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the late ’60s. He majored in art, dabbling in various mediums—oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, etc.  

After graduation, he joined his wife’s family business helping out at the New Tower Hotel in Omaha. Eventually, Acker found his way into teaching art at McMillan Junior High. He taught there for 10 years and adored his students. 

After teaching, he spent the subsequent decade painting large canvas backgrounds and building stage sets for local theaters, museums, commercial clients, and various other venues.

Starting during his time as a junior high school art teacher, Acker would draw cartoon caricatures of departing colleagues as going-away presents. All the co-workers would sign his poster-sized drawings.

Andy Acker, Crow, Omaha, Art

“Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man: ‘Will I walk like a man?’”

“We would zing them with all the things they would say,” he says, explaining how the caricatures would roast the outgoing colleagues with funny quotes written onto the posters. “We had one teacher that would come into the teacher lounge and cuss about kids like a railroad worker. He hung it in his den, and it was popular. I also did that for retiring co-workers at Heartland Scenic Studios.”

Cartooning was another of Acker’s favorite artistic formats before the crows flew into the picture. “I used to always do our Christmas cards as cartoons, but even those have been taken over by the crows,” he says.

His interest in crows began in Omaha. One morning, while driving to McMillan to teach art classes, he heard a crow caw. It seemed to be following him. The bird flew alongside his car through several lights. Finally, it gave one last “caw, caw” and turned into a cemetery nearby the school. 

Acker went about his daily routine. But the crow’s cawing nagged in the back of his mind. He began to notice crows more and study their behavior as well as the historic place that the crow has in history, literature, and art.

Andy Acker, Crow, Art

“Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man: ‘Will I still feel the need for speed?’”

A crow is often a symbol of either bad luck or death, but that is not always the case, he says. A crow may be a symbol of life, magic, and mysteries. The prophetic bird also symbolizes intelligence, flexibility, and destiny.

Soon, Acker started to notice crows appearing almost everywhere he journeyed. He began to study crows, and that eventually led to them appearing in his varied mediums of artwork—painted, sculpted, carved, and showcased in mixed-media assemblages.

In his art, the crow offers a reflection on the human condition, a foil for various universal struggles. For example, “Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man” shows the carved bird riding on a train engine. 

“My future is to continue to experiment with different media and characters from nature to explore human feelings of isolation and wonder, leading to bigger questions relating to our human condition,” Acker says. 

His work last showed in Omaha during a group exhibition, Tinkerbell’s Mausoleum: Assemblages from Whimsy to Macabre, at the historic Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery on July 1-Aug. 31. 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.