Tag Archives: UNMC

Using Cut-and-Paste to Edit Out Human Disease

January 2, 2020 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

What if we could remove or correct the genes in humans that are responsible for chronic genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis? Or snip out genes of infectious disease agents like HIV? What if we could introduce cancer-fighting genes into the body’s immune cells to eradicate cancer? The possibilities are enormous.

Those possibilities now appear to be within reach with the introduction of some of the latest ground-breaking advancements in gene editing happening in Omaha.

Gene editing technology called CRISPR was first demonstrated in 2012-2013 by UC-Berkley and MIT/Harvard. The next year a comprehensive protocol paper on editing a mouse using the CRISPR tool was published by the UNMC Mouse Genome Engineering Core Facility. Mice are the primary model with genome research as its genome is similar to humans.

CRISPR was groundbreaking, allowing scientists to “cut” individual genes from a genome. But it was inefficient and expensive to use. In 2014, Channabasavaiah B. Gurumurthy, MVSC, Ph.D., Exec. MBA, began looking into ways to advance CRISPER technology. In 2017, he succeeded when he and Masato Ohtsuka, Ph.D., of Japan’s Tokai University co-invented the efficient additions with ssDNA inserts (Easi)-CRISPR. Easi-CRISPR is now used by researchers worldwide and is speeding up genetic research by leaps and bounds, as it allows researchers to create animal models faster and less expensively than before.

“Genome editing represents a new era in medicine,” said Howard Gendelman, M.D., chairman and professor of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neurosciences at UNMC. Gurumurthy works under Gendelman. “We are in the earliest stages of this new technology, but it is gaining momentum and beginning to explode. There is no question that Dr. Gurumurthy is a trailblazer in this area.”

The technology shook the scientific world, especially that of genetics research.

“Dr. Gurumurthy’s expertise has been attracting collaboration from scientists around the world,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, chancellor of UNMC and UNO. “Some of the top universities in the world are currently collaborating with UNMC’s team for their gene-editing needs. These universities include Harvard…as well as Oxford in England and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.”

Gurumurthy’s studies have been so significant that in late August 2019, he was awarded a $2.5 million grant ($500,000 per year for 5 years) from the National Institutes for Health to continue to improve technologies for biomedical research that will accelerate advances in genetic engineering.

The technology has medical implications worthy of the movies. A person has approximately 20,000 genes that are part of human DNA located within cells that control everything from hair and eye color to athletic prowess and susceptibility to disease. Some people, however, are born with genetic mutations that are responsible for inherited disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, color-blindness, or certain genetic cancers.

Scientists have been using traditional genetic engineering technologies to develop custom animal models that mimic diseases and understand the function of each gene. Such models have enabled scientists to learn gene functions, to understand mutations in human diseases, and to explore the use of developing new drugs to control or cure genetic diseases.

The CRISPR tool consists of two components: a GPS system that finds the specific spot or mutation in the genome and scissors to make the cut. The tool allows scientists to engineer genes more elegantly; to repair a gene mutation by adding, removing, or altering the mutated gene. The problem, however, was delivery of the new gene to replace the mutant copy.

Dr. Channabasavaiah B. Gurumurthy, UNMC

“Efficiency was so poor that it took a year or more to make one mouse model, which could be used to identify a gene,” Gurumurthy said.

The Easi-CRISPR system can complete the mouse model process in less than two months; it’s like cutting and pasting in a word-processing document, Gurumurthy explained.

Easi-CRISPR system uses a single-stranded DNA that is inserted into the sliced genome; previous CRISPR-based methods relied on double-stranded DNA. “The new Easi-CRISPR method is 100% successful at some genes, compared to the old method which was only successful 1 to 10% of the time,” Gurumurthy said.

Study of the human genome has been around for more than 40 years, and scientists are determining, one by one, the function of the approximately 20,000 genes in the human body. The introduction of CRISPR has expedited the process, and with Easi-CRISPR, Gurumurthy estimates scientists should be able to identify the function of the remaining genes (at least 1/3 have been identified) within the next few years.

The advanced technology is improving medicine. There are a growing number of clinical trials being approved for use in terminally ill patients who have no other treatments available, said Gurumurthy.

Several of these trials involve immunotherapy modalities in which Easi-CRISPR could become a valuable tool that allows researchers to add new genes back in the human genome.

In a recent trial for people with sickle cell anemia, a patient in the trial who was born with the disease appears to be successfully treated. The disease is caused by a genetic defect that turns red blood cells into hard, sticky, sickle-shaped cells that don’t carry oxygen well, clog the bloodstream, damage organs, and cause extreme pain. The experimental treatment involves removing the stem cells from the patients’ bone marrow, modifying a gene in the defective cells and then returning them to the patient in hopes that the corrected cells will produce red blood cells that will prevent the production of sickle cells.

Scientists also appear to be on the brink of curing chronic diseases like HIV. In a highly touted study using CRISPR technology, Gendelman, a lead investigator working together with Kamel Khalili, M.D., at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, demonstrated that HIV can be eliminated from nine of 23 infected humanized mice. In this study, the immune system of the animals were replaced with their human counterpart and then infected with HIV. The infected mice were next treated with an anti-retroviral drug cocktail to suppress viral growth. Using a CRISPR excision tool, the researchers were able to eliminate the virus from the human genome.

“This is the first time that anyone has been able to eliminate virus from a live animal,” Gendelman said. “It provides proof of concept that it can be achieved and may eventually be applied to other infectious agents such as hepatitis C or herpes.”

“We couldn’t be more proud of Dr. Gurumurthy and his team,” said Gold. “They are a perfect example of how UNMC is leading the world. Nebraskans should be thrilled that this kind of life-changing expertise is right here in Omaha.”

While scince has made great strides, there are still many obstacles to overcome, Gurumurthy said. Curing genetic diseases involving mutations in multiple genes or diseases where a large number of cells need to be treated pose more challenges. Some conditions, like liver disease, affects billions and trillions of cells. The engineered genes have to be injected into a large number of cells. The problem, Gurumurthy said, is that the gene copy is not stable.

There are also ethical considerations with gene editing. Could someone genetically modify an embryo to eliminate undesirable genes, perhaps those for a specific eye color, and add preferred genes? The United States government has rigid regulations in this field that restrict gene editing technology for human enhancement as well as for use on eggs, sperms, embryos, and even adults. “We just don’t know the side effects of genetic editing and how it will affect future generations,” Gurumurthy said.

Although Hollywood makes gene editing for human enhancement appear feasible, Gurumurthy said, “There is no magic bullet for any single biologic function.” Editing genes for certain traits or human functions is more complex. Oftentimes, there are several genes or multiple genes responsible.

The impact on medicine, however, looms large.

“Learning the functions of all of our genes and using this knowledge to cure diseases are two areas where genetic engineering has the ability to make the most impact in the future,” Gurumurthy said. “While there are still obstacles to overcome, gene editing has the ability to change how we treat diseases in the future,” he said. “In the next five to 10 years, I anticipate we will have 50 to 100 diseases in clinical trials.”

Visit UNMC.edu for more information about Gurumurthy’s work.

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

Dr. Channabasavaiah B. Gurumurthy, full image

Channabasavaiah B. Gurumurthy, MVSC, Ph.D., Exec. MBA, of UNMC

Roundtable: Omaha—The No. 1 City for College Graduates

March 14, 2019 by
Photography by contributed

College graduates are visible in Omaha daily—in the workplace, in coffee shops, at bars and nightclubs, and more. A 2018 study done by job search site/app Ziprecruiter noted Omaha as the No. 1 city for college graduates to start their careers in. B2B recently spoke with three professionals regarding this designation: Kellee Grimes, manager of Health Services at Mutual of Omaha and a member of the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Council; Jeremy Maskel, director of External Relations & Engagement at Ralston Public Schools and the 2019 president of the Omaha Press Club; and Geoffrey Talmon, M.D., assistant dean of medical education at UNMC.

B2B: Jeremy, you technically did not start out of college in Omaha, but you were in the area (Maskel started in Sioux City, Iowa). What drew you to Omaha?

Maskel: I knew I wanted to grow in a community I loved, if at all possible. So, I started by only applying to cities where I wanted to spend a larger chapter of my life. I had visited Omaha before and loved seeing so many people out for dinner, for Jazz on the Green, or for special events. Everyone I met was so friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Construction was bustling as Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village opened.  Growing up in the Minneapolis suburbs, I loved the opportunity to move into a neighborhood like Dundee and experience a completely new routine. As big as it is, it still felt comfortable and accessible for me as a growing professional.

B2B: Kellee and Geoff, you both graduated from UNL, then UNMC. As medical professionals, I would imagine you have some choice in where you want to live. What kept you in Omaha?

Grimes: I was born here, and grew up in Atlanta, then I came back here during high school. I chose to start my career here because I saw a lot of opportunity. The UNMC had a lot of great programs. I saw the best access to technology and direct access to patients. I hear people tell others, “Oh, you’re new to Omaha? You’re going to love it.”

Talmon: I grew up in Gretna, and I went to Lincoln. UNMC was attractive because it was the right fit—it was flexible, and I didn’t have to go through a lot of red tape. I did a fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester [Minnesota]. In fact, I looked at a job there, but Omaha was the best of both worlds. It has a lot to do, but it is small enough that people know each other.

B2B: What makes Omaha a great place for college graduates from a standard of living point of view?

Maskel: Since so many of my Mizzou classmates were scattered across the country, it was interesting to compare our quality of life those first few years after college. I feel—and continue to believe—that Omaha has a phenomenal balance between rich amenities and an affordable cost of living.  I was lucky enough to take in baseball games, visit museums, watch big concert tours, listen to the Omaha Symphony, and try out Omaha’s incredible restaurants with what I earned as a new graduate. Friends living in major cities across the country spent so much on rent or lived so far from the city center, they either didn’t have the resources or time to get out and enjoy what their city had to offer.

Talmon: There are certain things you don’t have to talk about in Omaha. The public schools are good, the cost of living is good. All of our residents buy houses. There’a a lot of amenities in Omaha, but just as much, it’s the things you don’t have to worry about that makes it a great place.  We have a resident from Boston at UNMC right now. He and his wife came here in November, and he tells me there are two things he is impressed with: 1) He actually has money in his checking account, and 2) never underestimate the power of a gridded city. The ease of driving is a great benefit.

Grimes: To me, the attractive part is that everything is accessible. There’s not a portion of town that is too far away. And you can really tie your passions to philanthropic ventures. You don’t find that in many places.

B2B: How about from a lifestyle point of view? What makes Omaha great?

Maskel: I believe Omaha offers a great lifestyle to new graduates. I looked at other, similarly-sized communities in 2010 as I prepared to move, and none gave me the same feeling as Omaha. Talking to friends and other people in those communities, asking what they did for fun, I just didn’t feel the enthusiasm I did when talking with people here. I think the balance between options and cost of living would be very difficult to beat.

Talmon: There are certain college-town vibes here. You can find that community if you want. If you don’t want it, you can cross the street and find something different. There’s not a lot of places in Omaha where you would feel out of place.

Grimes: Not every city is someplace that can accommodate you for every stage in your life. Omaha is one of those places. You can go from the bar scene to a family-friendly scene in the same city. The colleges are also connected to the businesses. If you are in Omaha for college, you will be able to make a career because the colleges do such a great job of connecting students and graduates with the business community.

B2B: What would you like to see Omaha do better in order to retain graduates from the local colleges, or to attract graduates of other colleges to the area?

Maskel: I think there’s a lot of people who still do not realize how awesome Omaha really is.  Thanks to the efforts of a lot of different groups, word is definitely out more than in 2010, but there is always room to grow.  I also think belonging to community groups is key to strengthening and deepening roots of local graduates or people who may only plan to live here for a few years. I am so grateful that I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help strengthen Omaha and prepare future professionals through the groups I’ve been part of.

Talmon: I’m still amazed by some of the perceptions. I still have people, when I travel, who ask if I ride a tractor to work. From our standpoint, we don’t do enough tooting our own horn. I love our modesty, but it’s why we are not on people’s radar.

Grimes: We recognize we are not perfect, but we are intentionally enacting strategic plans to achieve that. We are creating visibility to help with that goal. We need to make sure the level of access to all people is equitable. There are different people in my peer group who have a different experience from me because of having a different background. What is great is that we are starting to acknowledge that race is a factor, we are bringing these conversations front and center.

B2B: As part of a professional organization/college, what are you trying to do to attract or retain college graduates and young professionals? Has it been successful?

Maskel: I’m lucky to serve on the PRSA Nebraska Board of Directors and focused last year on engaging with university student PR groups at local colleges. Many soon-to-be graduates planned on moving to larger cities because of the perception that’s where jobs are—or the restaurants and nightlife are best there. I am also president of the Omaha Press Club, and it’s important to research what types of opportunities young professionals are seeking, then see how we can best match. Ensuring young professionals can see themselves in the organization and find that first connection to be accessible are priorities.

Grimes: I know a lot of people who moved back to Omaha will tell you making friends after college is hard. I see more intentional, and larger, networking groups happening. These kind of organic meetups are great. There’s a lot going on to try and bring people together, whether that’s through a school or through a social group.

Talmon: It’s not just new groups, but established groups as well. I’m a Mason. The existing social groups are becoming more intentional about recruiting. With residents, it used to be that you were only friends with the families of the people you work with. That is not always the case these days. We are seeing residents pursuing other passions, which is good for their work-life balance.

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

Finding Hope in the New Year

January 3, 2019 by

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Thursday, Jan. 3: Start your new year on the right foot at the Omaha Magazine Launch Party for our January/February “Health” edition. The party is free, but please RSVP here. Free appetizers and adult beverages are compliments of Sol’s Jewelry and Loan. The new issue’s big story looks at organ donation and its effects on both the recipient and the donor/donor’s family. Houston Alexander of the Houston Alexander Foundation (who donated a kidney to his daughter) and Dr. Alan Langnas, the director of the Center of Transplantation at will share some words on organ donation. Continuing the health theme, there will be a performance by flautists with The Nebraska Medical Orchestra (a collaboration between UNMC and UNO School of Music). There will also be special opportunity to meet community influencers featured within 60Plus in Omaha Magazine’s “Prime Time” story, highlighting the fashion and wisdom of local seniors. To RSVP, please click here.

Friday, Jan. 4: The Transcendence Opening Reception kicks off the first exhibition of 2019 for The Little Gallery Benson. An invitation to delve into unsung stories more commonly shared behind closed doors, these works provide a glimpse through the cracks at these private stories. The exhibition was curated by Marie-Elena Schembri and will feature several of her pieces. Mark Andrew, Brandi Bentley, Mary Daley, Mary Ensz, Bekah Jerde, John David Munoz, and Nadia Shinkunas will also be exhibiting pieces. To learn more, please go here. Read about one of the artists showing by clicking here.

Saturday, Jan. 5: The new year doesn’t have to mean a new you—but it can mean an improved you. Help make those resolutions a reality by attending Setting Your Intentions 2019: A Vision Board Experience at the AIM Institute. Materials for your vision board will be provided, but feel free to bring any personal items or specific images you would like to use with you. Light refreshments and drinks are included in the cost. To purchase tickets, head here.

Saturday, Jan. 5: Afraid you missed out on all the New Year’s Eve fun this last weekend because you just couldn’t justify leaving the house in that cold? You’re in luck. You can still catch some NYE glitz this weekend by attending the rescheduled Downtown Omaha fireworks show at Gene Leahy Mall. The wind was just too much last week, but this week promises to bring better weather. Find out more here.

Sunday, Jan. 6: Did you know there’s a snow sculpting competition coming up in February? Well, you do now! And if you would like to participate, get over to the Snow Sculpture Workshops at Main Street Studios and Gallery in Elkhorn. They are offering these free workshops every Sunday in January. Learn more about the workshops here and more about the First Annual Nebraska Snow Sculpting Competition here.

Nebraska Medical Orchestra

December 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a cold night in November, musicians in a new orchestra gather in a classroom at the Strauss Performing Arts Center. They are rehearsing the recognizable march from The Nutcracker. Only, in the song’s first few measures, they wait a few additional beats in silence due to the missing members of the woodwind section.

It’s a medical orchestra, one where its performers have day jobs in hospitals or in front of classrooms. Many of the musicians are the medical students in those classrooms.

No one passes judgment if an entire section skips rehearsal before a particularly stressful test. That’s not what this orchestra is about.

This collaboration between University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska-Omaha School of Music formed to increase exposure to the arts with the belief that the arts reduce stress and may improve performance in medical careers. Part of the ongoing program has placed student performers in hospital lobbies, and small ensembles have performed in a Thursday concert series at the Buffett Cancer Center.   

Known as the Nebraska Medical Orchestra, the collaboration began in April 2018. Similar programs exist in medical universities around the country.

“This is fun,” explains one of the cellists, Dr. Matthew Rizzo, chair of the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences and director of the Mind & Brain Health Initiative. He acknowledges that many musicians in the group are tired by the time they get to rehearsal, and they may not have even practiced during the week. And it still works out for the orchestra.

“They just come here and do the best they can…It’s a great experience. You don’t have to be Mozart,” he says.

Rizzo was in a similar medical orchestra when he was at the University of Iowa; he was one of the key drivers of starting this orchestra in Omaha.

Nebraska Medical Orchestra consists of about 50 dedicated amateur musicians, describes Dr. Steven Wengel, assistant vice chancellor for campus wellness at UNO and UNMC. They are medical students, professors, doctors, nurses, and other members of medical teams, including medical billers. For a few hours a week, they step outside of their demanding roles and pick up their instrument of choice.

As conductor, Matthew Brooks (a doctor of musical arts), the director of orchestras at UNO, chooses the repertoire they perform and handles the artistic questions that pop up with running an orchestra. He keeps rehearsals light-hearted while fine-tuning musicians’ abilities.

“This has been a great opportunity for them to make their way back into music,” says Brooks, speaking a month prior to their first performance at the Buffett Cancer Research Center on Dec. 5.

Maddie Olson, a second-year Ph.D. student in the cancer research doctoral program, was among about 130 people to apply for a chair in the orchestra. She began playing cello in an orchestra at 9 years old, and continued it for a year in college while she pursued her interest in science. She says she feels lucky to have the opportunity to play again.

“I always wanted to keep cello in my life,” Olson says.

The medical orchestra is one part of a multipronged mission, describes Washington Garcia, director of the UNO School of Music (and doctor of musical arts). The first part is to bring more music into the medical community in Omaha, which is the stage the universities are in now.

Eventually, university officials hope to begin the research phase of the orchestra, measuring how it impacts the musicians and what its impact on the medical community may be.

Wengel says the medical humanities is a relatively new field of study, but a popular one. Already at UNO there is a minor in it.

Thus far, Wengel and colleagues know one thing for certain: When members of a health-care team are interested and involved in the arts, they are happier. The question is: Does it make them better clinicians?

“Anecdotally, it’s been a very positive experience,” Wengel says. “They’re exercising a different part of their mind, heart, and soul.”

A 2018 article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine attempted to measure the humanities’ impact on medical students. It didn’t seem to matter if it was passive exposure, like going to a concert, or more active involvement, such as playing an instrument. The finding was the same: The more exposure the students had to the humanities, the higher they rated on different tests in areas like empathy, problem-solving, 3D spatial reasoning, and tolerance for ambiguity.

“Basically, the more exposure to humanities, the higher they scored,” Wengel says.

Besides the research this orchestra could contribute to, there are artistic possibilities to consider. Brooks said the program may grow to have guest artists, they may tour, or there could be exchanges with other medical orchestras.

None of those possibilities are on the minds of the performers, though. For now, they are content fine-tuning those staccato rhythms in The Nutcracker.

And, more pressing, they’re thinking about acing that exam next week.

Visit unmc.edu and unomaha.edu for more information about the partnering universities.

A Literary Prescription for Success

December 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dr. Lydia Kang glanced at her ringing phone. It was her literary agent (who typically emailed). The unexpected phone call delivered some shocking news.

“We have a preemptive offer from Penguin,” the agent said.

Kang jumped up and down, silently screaming. “Yes, I’ll take the deal,” the physician recalls answering. Her writing career launched that day, Sept. 7, 2011, from her office at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Wittson Hall.

Her first young adult science fiction novel, Control, landed on bookstore shelves nearly two years after that pivotal phone call. The sequel, Catalyst, followed two years later.

Then…nothing. A three-year drought between book contracts. Kang tracked her queries, near misses, and request rates. Her diagnosis after dissecting the evidence? Wow. That’s a lot of rejection.

It was not the first setback in Kang’s literary career. She had sent other manuscripts to agents that were never picked up. She knew the harsh realities of the business. Like the title of her first book, authors can’t control what pitch will work.

“I don’t do well with sitting and doing nothing,” says Kang, a mother of three who writes in between her parenting obligations and her jobs as an internal medicine specialist and assistant professor at UNMC.

Luckily, Kang is a prolific researcher and fast writer. It wasn’t long before her author bylines continued to grow. Her next book was A Beautiful Poison (published in August 2017).

Kang also paired up with freelance journalist Nate Pedersen to try her hand at nonfiction with Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. The book, released in October 2017, plunges into the darker history of medicine.

Need a cure for drowning? A smoke enema will do the trick to save someone from the brink of death. Ever hear the phrase, “blowing smoke up your ass?” Now you know it came from 18th-century medicine. Human blood was used for all sorts of ailments, such as fevers or hair loss. Readers can find a yummy blood jam recipe from 1679. Have achy joints? How about a little human fat harvested from a corpse?

Evident in many of Kang’s books, her medical background comes in handy when characters are injured or near death. “My writing life can take these characters to an exciting critical level because no lives are at stake,” she says.

She steered away from the macabre with November Girl, a work of literary fantasy, published a month after Quackery. It won the 2018 Nebraska Book Award for Best Young Adult Fiction.

Many of her ideas spring from falling down a Wiki rabbit hole searching for random information, sometimes on morbid topics like grave robbing. Medical schools needed fresh corpses to perform autopsies in the 1800s. Body snatchers, known as “resurrectionists,” received lucrative sums of money to dig up the remains of the recently departed. 

Kang’s next book resurrected these gruesome fascinations in print. The work of historical fiction, The Impossible Girl, was published in fall 2018.

Protagonist Cora Lee sneaks into funerals during the day while stealing bodies of those with peculiar anomalies at night. The young lady has her own secret. She was born with two hearts and must keep one step ahead of those who want to murder her. The medical parts in the book, including Cora’s birth, are described as only a doctor could pen. Grisly details such as “the pool of bloody birth water staining the sheets” and “ignoring the black, muddy stool already staining the fabric” are realistic and vivid. 

“You have to have a strong stomach for some things,” Kang admits.

She returned to her science fiction roots in Toxic, which came out in November. The protagonist, Hana, was secretly genetically engineered on a sentient biological spaceship. When the entire crew disappears, and as the ship dies, Hana must confront a team of mercenaries and her own blossoming romance.

Although busy with so many books, Kang has learned to balance her time. She still loves seeing patients at the Durham Outpatient Center. And writing is an artistic complement to the medical side of her life.

“[It] brings me so much incandescent happiness when I bring books to life. There is nothing like that,” she says.

Kang, 47, is currently piecing together a large map of 1899 Manhattan as research for her next book. Having attended Columbia University and the New York School of Medicine, she sets many of her stories in the city.

Her uncredited writing partner in all these projects is a black and white shih-poo named Piper, who loves laying down on her research materials. Kang hopes the dog doesn’t discover the maps.

This next book project was born from her research from Quackery. It is a dark tale about a drug-addicted heiress who unearths some vampire-like corpses. Tentatively titled Opium and Absinthe, the book is slated for 2020 publication.

Visit lydiakang.com for more information.

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

Head shot Dr. Lydia Kang in lab coat with stethoscope

The Genetics of Speed

October 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The family that accelerates from 0-60 in under 3 seconds together stays together. That observation holds true for at least one area father-son duo, Drs. Kam and Max Chiu. They are both radiation oncologists (Kam practices in Lincoln, while Max is completing his residency at UNMC). They both developed a love for automobiles early in life. And they both own ultra-high-performance sports cars built in Woking, England, by storied race car manufacturer McLaren.

The elder Dr. Chiu, whose love of fast cars is rooted in the hours he spent playing with toy cars at his father’s Hong Kong toy factory, kicked off this family’s mini British Invasion in 2013 with the acquisition of a McLaren MP4-12C Project Alpha. This English answer to Italian and German exotic dominance boasts 616 horsepower from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine nestled behind the carbon-fiber passenger cell. The description, along with assorted industry reviews, was compelling enough to encourage Kam to make his purchase without driving any McLaren, let alone this $300,000-and-change special edition.

“I bought it off the internet…from [a dealer] in California,” Kam nonchalantly admits. He even traded in his beloved Ferrari F430 as part of the deal, not knowing if he would instantly regret the decision.

“So [the dealer] picks up the F430 and drops off the 12C, and that first spin? I take it out and it’s just fantastic,” recalls Kam. “The 12C is a lot more comfortable than the 430.” As one of only six Project Alpha cars created in collaboration between dealer McLaren Chicago and the factory’s McLaren Special Operations division, the orange-and-black 12C is a rarity among rarities.

Following his father into the world of mechanized speed was an easier decision for Max than following him into the medical field. And when it came time to dip his own right toe into the exotic market, the answer was obvious: The third generation of the MP4-12C, now christened the 720S (for 720 metric horsepower, or 710 by U.S. standards). “The 720 is definitely a lot more refined [than the 12C]. I drove it almost every day for the last month,” Max says of the 2017-edition vehicle. “But then I took it out on some twisting country roads last week…and it’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

While the doctors’ McLarens are two of only a handful in the area, they are part of a (perhaps surprisingly) thriving exotic automotive scene in Nebraska. “In a state of only a couple million, you have plenty of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, things like that,” reveals Kam. But the pair lament a lack of dealerships or other service options—the closest McLaren locations are in Chicago and Denver.

Numerous cars have cycled through their hands over the years, and the Chius currently own a handful of other high-performance vehicles, including a rare-for-America JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the McLaren magic doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. “I would most likely purchase another McLaren sometime down the road,” offers Kam. “It has the substance to back up the looks.” 

Although, when pressed to pick his favorite among all the vehicles he has owned in three decades of collecting, Kam admits, “If I could only own one car ever, it would be a minivan.”

Because even in the world of cars, sometimes function is more important than fashion.

Visit mclaren.com for more information.

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

Dr. Max Chiu between the 720S McLaren (left) and the Project Alpha 12C.

A Relic of Hinky Dinky

September 25, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the University of Nebraska Medical Center expands in midtown Omaha, it digs up memories for residents who have seen the city change from a big small town to a metropolitan area. Such was the case when UNMC announced in October 2016 that it had bought a lot on 42nd and Leavenworth streets on which stands an Omaha icon. To many, that building is “Charlie Graham Auto Body,” but to others, the building is synonymous with Hinky Dinky grocery stores.

The name Hinky Dinky brings a smile of recognition to many longtime Omahans. Although it sounds like part of a nursery rhyme, the name came from the World War I soldier’s song “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” which contained the chorus “hinky dinky parlez-vous.”

The stores were Omaha landmarks, beginning with the first one, which opened in 1925 at 24th and Vinton streets. They were eventually sprinkled throughout the city. 

The company was founded by the Newman family, longtime owners of grocery stores, starting in the 19th century with Baruch “Bernard” Neumann, who ran a general store in his small Hungarian village. His daughter, Fanny Neumann, came to the U.S. in the 1880s, where she met and married Moritz Newman. The couple ran M. Newman grocery store in Sioux City. Fanny and Moritz had four children: Jules, Henry, Albert, and Sally. After World War I, Jules opened a grocery store with a partner named Wohlner, eventually buying him out. Jules, along with his brothers and cousin Ben Silver, then started the Hinky-Dinky chain. 

That first store on Vinton Street was soon followed by others. As the company expanded during the mid-1920s, the owners rented their first warehouse at Ninth and Dodge streets. When they outgrew that warehouse, they bought a larger one at 11th and Jones streets. This one bordered Union Pacific railroad on one side, allowing them easy access to shipped-in supplies. 

In the 1930s, the chain faced several challenges. Soon after the 1929 stock market crash, Piggly Wiggly, a national chain with over 2,500 stores at that time, sued Hinky Dinky, claiming the name was too similar. The courts ruled this to be a weak argument and Hinky Dinky’s name remained. Hinky Dinky was also caught in an Omaha price war battle, in which Safeway began drastically slashing prices to drive other stores out of business. Yet another challenge was the house labels of the emerging supermarkets. These labels could far undersell the nationally advertised brands. In retaliation, Hinky Dinky, along with several other regional chains, developed their own private label called Topco. 

As the country was working its way out of the Depression, Hinky Dinky’s profits were increasing. The stores were able to offer nearly all their items in both private-label and advertised brands. And they operated the type of cash-and-carry grocery store people know today, as opposed to credit-and-delivery stores common at that time. At credit and delivery stores, clerks would take phone orders or lists, complete the order, and send the groceries out with employees to be delivered to customers at home.

The stores were pioneers in their markets. They were the first to offer customers wheeled shopping carts, wider aisles, and automated checkout counters. They also introduced frozen foods in open “coffin-style” sales cases, self-service meats from refrigerated cases, and automatic entrance doors. 

As early as the mid-1930s, Hinky Dinky’s share of the Omaha retail grocery market was at least 30 percent. The family-run grocery store continued to expand as Jules’ children reached adulthood.

Jules’ second son, E.R. “Bob” Newman, began working for Hinky Dinky when he was 14 and rode the streetcar to the warehouse to sort ration stamps. It was the beginning of a career for him, as he joined the business full-time after serving in the Korean War. 

“It was wonderful working with my dad and brothers; we all shared the responsibilities,” Bob says.

In 1956, Jules realized that it was time for the next generation to take over. Oldest son C.M. “Nick” Newman became president, Bob became executive vice president, and youngest son Murray Newman began learning the buying end of the business.

This dominance in the Omaha grocery market continued until the mid-1960s. At its peak, Hinky Dinky had 18 stores in Omaha, three in Lincoln, four in Des Moines, and about 15 in smaller towns.

In 1972, Hinky Dinky was sold to the Cullum Company of Dallas, Texas. 

“It was sad, especially for my dad, but it was time,” Bob says.

After the change in ownership, the stores began losing money. Many were small and outdated, and funds that were promised to improve them never materialized. It also became increasingly difficult to compete against nonunion competition. New stores were opening throughout Omaha, and Baker’s gradually became the dominant chain in town. Cullum closed the chain’s last remaining 25 stores in 1985, just before Hinky Dinky’s 60th anniversary.

The name still makes many smile and also stirs fond memories. In fact, the Facebook page Forgotten Omaha has many loyal Hinky Dinky fans who swap stories, post photos, and compare sightings of former store buildings with a passionate, almost cult-like obsession.

Bruce McCorkindale, whose family shopped at the store on 84th Street and West Center Road, was 11 years old in 1971 when his mother won a Winnebago in a Hinky Dinky contest. And Amy Bielewicz, who started working at the 72nd and Dodge streets store in 1976, formed a friendship with Tom, a co-worker. Romance blossomed in the produce aisle and the couple have now been married over 20 years. 

The continued sentiments about the stores make Bob happy. “I’m a little surprised, but pleased,” he says. “I guess it means we must have done some things right.”

Although that former Hinky Dinky store on 42nd and Leavenworth streets best known for its glazed tiled front will not be around forever, previous Charlie Graham Auto Body owner Jim Champion says the neighborhood surrounding the area is part of what kept him in that old building.

“The area has always been very diverse,” Champion says, “which is one of the main reasons I liked having my business there. People from all walks of life were our customers.”

Charlie Graham Auto Body, which is now Great Plains Auto Body, is moving to the southeast corner of 42nd and Leavenworth streets, taking with it the iconic neon sign that Charlie Graham had installed on the art-deco building after he bought it in the late 1960s. Local devotees, including Champion, are excited that the much-loved Charlie Graham sign will be moved to the new building.

“As for the future, seeing the building go away will be sad,” Champion says, “but it has served the area well since 1942. It housed Charlie Graham Body and Service longer than it did Hinky Dinky, but it will always be known as ‘The old Hinky Dinky store.’ And rightfully so.” 

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

Goodbye, Mother India

September 14, 2018 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Mother India Restaurant is permanently closing this weekend.

Saturday, Sept. 15, will be the restaurant’s last day of business, says Preethi D’Souza. The restaurant is open noon-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m on its final day.

“My father is retired,” she says. “We can’t keep running the business because my dad has Parkinson’s, and we can’t find enough people in the kitchen. We’d like to thank all our customers for supporting us all these years, being there for us, loving us, and loving our culture.”

Even though Preethi works with her parents (father Joseph and mother Eppie) at Mother India, running the restaurant has been so overwhelming that they found it difficult accommodate quality time together.

The family had been trying to take their breaks together when the restaurant’s bustling activity slowed enough that the family restaurant’s other two employees could manage things.

A painting of Mother Teresa decorated the side of Mother India Restaurant’s modest building.

They were making up for lost time. For nine years, Preethi stayed behind in India with her aunt while her parents moved to the United States to start building a life here. The couple arrived in America with less than $50 in their pockets. Joseph was summoned to Omaha to be the chef at Indian Oven. “It was Omaha’s first Indian restaurant, and they wanted an authentic Indian chef,” Eppie says. “We were very happy and the restaurant was very successful, but we started looking for a small restaurant of our own.” They opened Mother India in 2010.

In the meantime, Eppie and Joseph were fervently trying to get approval from U.S. Immigration to allow Pretthi to join them. Pretthi was eager to reunite with her parents, too. “I heard so many stories about America,” Pretthi says. “We lived in a very poor neighborhood and moving to the United States was a dream that was impossible for some.”

Three times their requests to bring Pretthi over were denied. Unwilling to give up, Eppie made an appointment with an Indian lawyer in Omaha. But when the time came for the appointment, the lawyer was sick and the D’Souzas were assigned to another lawyer at the same firm.

For some people, getting assigned a different lawyer for such a crucial family matter might be annoying. But Eppie soon realized fate had allowed the switch.

“Do you remember me?” asked Matthew Morrisey, the attorney assigned to assist Eppie in getting her daughter permission to come to America. Though she tried to recall his face, she couldn’t remember how she might have known him. It turned out that Matthew, as a child, was babysat by none other than Eppie herself. She didn’t recognize him as an adult.

“God sent angels for me from Heaven,” Eppie says.

Morrisey took on the task of getting Pretthi permission to join her parents in Omaha with determination. “He worked very hard,” Eppie says, and permission was eventually granted. “He’s in our hearts. All of his family is in our hearts. We keep in touch.”

The experience of someone becoming like family to the D’Souza family is not rare. “Our regular customers are like family,” Eppie says.

“We’re lucky to have loyal customers,” agrees Pretthi.

“They’ve joined our family,” Eppie adds, gesturing toward the dining room of Mother India as though it was the dining room of their home. On the Friday before closing for good, a line of waiting customers stretched out along the sidewalk.

The family atmosphere of Mother India is undeniable. When Pretthi isn’t at the University of Nebraska-Omaha studying international business management, she’s at the restaurant helping things run smoothly while trying to sneak in time to do her homework.

She reluctantly agreed to learn how to cook, but quickly discovered that she really enjoys working alongside her father and learning how to prepare Indian dishes. “I didn’t want to cook,” she admits. “But a person was needed, and I liked learning from my father.”

Pretthi’s business degree could have put her in a position to eventually run Mother India, but she was not sure she wanted the obligation. “I don’t want to work 15 hours a day,” she says. “My mom and dad always encourage me in my studies. I’ll see where my path takes me and what opportunities I’ll have in the future.”

Although the family is happy and business has been good, the labor expense proved too much for the family restaurant. Although, they have noticed many new customers since The Conrad apartment community opened in 2017. Pretthi says the age demographic of customers has changed, too: “They used to be older, but now they’re my age.”

People have been drawn to Mother India’s reputation for authentic Indian food. “My dad’s been cooking Indian food for 55 years,” Pretthi says. “He’s cooked Indian food in many different countries.”

An impressive collection of “Best of Omaha” awards and designations displayed at the entrance of Mother India tell the story of a tiny restaurant that managed to capture the hearts of the locals.

The day before closing, Eppie wants the family’s many loyal customers to know that they have captured her heart, too. Or, in her own words: “Make sure to tell the customers how much we love and appreciate them.”

Mother India is located at 1908 Leavenworth St. and can be reached by phone at 402-763-2880.

A line of lunchtime customers stretched outside on Friday, Sept. 14, the day before Mother India closed for good.

Curing Cancer One Machine At a Time

July 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Driving down Leavenworth or Dodge streets, the average person might see the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, located on the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine campus, as something of a museum because of its notable artwork and architecture. 

It is also vital to note the advanced medical technology used to detect and treat cancer at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine. 

Mihaela Girbacica is a registered nurse who works directly with cancer patients every day and depends on smoothly functioning tech to do her job.

“I sit next to a patient one-on-one for their entire treatment,” Girbacica says. “We become like a family. I bond with them, I know what makes them comfortable and [feel] taken care of when they are with us, and when things go well, I’m so happy to be there for that, too.”

Having a support network (or favorite nurse) is a key facet to fighting the cancer battle, but finding and targeting cancerous tumors is at the forefront of fighting the war. 

Dr. Chad LaGrange demonstrates an MRI Ultrasound Fusion Biopsy

Dr. Chad LaGrange, a urologist with the cancer center, has helped to revolutionize the discovery of prostate cancers by using an MRI Ultrasound Fusion Biopsy. Essentially, this procedure, which takes place at Nebraska Medicine’s Lauritzen Outpatient Center, blends the technology of an ultrasound and MRI by combining one image with another, overlaid, image to fuse into a 3-D view.

LaGrange says this tool allows technicians to view a clearer image of the area they must work on to remove all of the cancer. The fusion biopsies also remove needless worry and unwarranted medical procedures if patients are not diagnosed with life-threatening cancers.

“It’s been a night-to-day difference,” LaGrange says. “Patients will come into our office to find out that their regular biopsies didn’t tell the whole story. Our equipment ensures that part of the major diagnosis doesn’t go missed.” 

While this computer-aided detection has been used for mammography and breast cancer screenings for years, its assistance in prostate cancer detection has reimagined—and reimaged—the way doctors analyze potential deadly lesions. 

From easily treatable small cancers to aggressive life-threatening cancers, the next step can often lead to radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

Dr. Charles Enke, chair of Radiation Oncology, regularly uses the department’s Varian True Beam Linear Accelerator, a radiation device that delivers treatment to patients 75 percent faster than any other previous piece of tech used at Nebraska Medicine. 

“We’ve gotten up to seeing 115 patients in one day because of this much more elegant system,” Enke says. “The delivery time for this kind of treatment has decreased from 18 minutes to about three, meaning we have the ability to treat more patients with less machines.”

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is home to three of these machines, which Enke says has increased the speed and quality of most radiation plans. Treatment has transformed from a six-week plan to five simple treatments, maintaining a Nebraska Medicine culture of patient-centered care. 

Enke also has the ability to work from home using the machine’s remote system. This makes room for peace, quiet, and well-rested research, resulting in an environment where work done in the office directly affects patients. 

People often assume a cure for cancer will be a revelation; a singular miracle. However, that in-office work, albeit common and routine, is what will bring further knowledge to the professionals. Curing cancer is a daily goal, comprised of small and strong steps, increased technological advancements, and a medical team ready to work. 

To learn more, visit nebraskamed.com.

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

A Varian True Beam Linear Accelerator at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

A Timeline of Chinese in Omaha

March 18, 2018 by , and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chinese migration to Omaha began, indirectly, during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The “Old Gold Mountain” (i.e., the Chinese term for California) attracted a flood of unskilled laborers known as coolies. Nationwide, the Chinese population grew by leaps and bounds: from 758 (in 1850) to 35,565 (in 1860) to 104,468 (in 1880), according to U.S. Census data on the country’s foreign-born population.

Facing open hostility in the goldfields, many went to work in agriculture, mining, fisheries, started laundry or restaurant businesses, or joined construction of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The railway industry dispersed Chinese migrants throughout the American interior. With Union Pacific’s headquarters in Omaha, it’s likely that the railroad helped populate Omaha’s own early Chinatown. But documentation of Union Pacific’s role in attracting the city’s earliest Chinese residents remains scarce.

“We don’t have archival records of Union Pacific bringing Chinese labor to Omaha, but we’ve seen this pattern throughout cities and towns of the American West,” says Patricia LaBounty, curator of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. LaBounty spoke with Omaha Magazine while preparing a research presentation focused on the contribution of Chinese labor to Union Pacific.

Among the earliest documentation is an illustration of Chinese railroad laborers crossing the frozen Missouri River with Omaha’s sparse skyline in the background—including the old territorial capitol, now the site of Central High School (printed in the Jan. 22, 1870, edition of Harper’s Weekly). 

Mounting opposition to Chinese immigrant labor led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted immigration and banned citizenship. Many American Chinatowns dwindled and disappeared in subsequent years, with Chinese-American communities remaining staunchly Cantonese-speaking due to the early immigration from China’s southern regions. Post-World War II waves of Chinese immigrants predominantly spoke Mandarin, the language of mainland China and Taiwan.

The second wave of Chinese immigrants arriving in Omaha—and the U.S. in general—consisted of Chinese Nationalists and their families coming overseas after civil war split the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the communist People’s Republic of China.

A third wave of immigration followed normalization of U.S. diplomatic ties with Beijing during Richard Nixon’s presidency. This group included highly educated professionals, scientists, doctors, and students from the People’s Republic of China.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the number of students coming to U.S. universities (evident at the University of Nebraska system, Creighton, and Bellevue University) has steadily grown. Meanwhile, what could be considered a fourth wave of Chinese migration to North America has taken the form of wealthy Chinese looking to the U.S. for property and stock market investments.

May 10, 1869

Promontory, Utah—The driving of a ceremonial golden spike signals the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Chinese labor played a critical role in completing the eastbound Central Pacific that met with Union Pacific.

Jan. 22, 1870

Harper’s Weekly prints “Chinese Coolies Crossing the Missouri River” with Omaha pictured in the illustration. The article claims 250 Chinese laborers passed through Omaha to build a railroad in Texas.

Early documentation of Chinese labor passing through Omaha


The 1872/1873 Omaha City Directory lists Chinese laundries for the first time. There are two: “Yingalongjingjohn & Yingyang” between Farnam and Harney on 10th Street, and “Hong Lee” on Harney between 14th and 15th streets.

June 4, 1874

The Omaha Daily Bee reports on the burial of “Ting-a-ling” at Prospect Hill Cemetery, noted as the city’s first Chinese burial. His death is attributed to “too much ironing and ice cream.” The article explains that his remains will be exhumed after two years to be returned to China for final burial in accordance with traditional custom. The article also notes that the local Chinese population consists of 12 men and one woman.


Omaha has 14 Chinese residents.*


The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.

May 6, 1892

The national Methodist Episcopal Conference is held in Omaha. A speaker condemns the Chinese Exclusion Act for jeopardizing U.S. missionary work in China, denounces the U.S. president and Congress, and argues “that the Chinese had the same right to be here as other foreigners, notably the Irish” (according to the New York Times on May 7, 1892).


Omaha has 91* or 93 Chinese residents.**

Feb. 15, 1893

Dr. Gee Wo Chan goes to the Supreme Court of Nebraska for practicing medicine without a license. He will lose his case, but his traditional Chinese medicine practice continues. At the peak of his business, he operates storefront clinics in Omaha, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The Omaha Daily Bee frequently publishes full-page ads promoting that Dr. C. Gee Wo “the greatest doctor that China ever produced is in your city.” His 1892 marriage to a Caucasian woman in Chicago was reported in the Omaha Daily Bee. His life story will be featured in a free online book, Chinese Medicine in Post-Frontier America: A Tale of Three Chinese-American Doctors (published in 2016).

Dr. C. Gee Woh ad in June 7, 1891 Omaha Daily Bee

Aug. 31, 1894

An article in the Omaha Daily Bee covers a revolutionary meeting of 150 Chinese “from Denver, Cheyenne, Sioux City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and other surrounding towns within a radius of 200 miles,” who meet to discuss overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. Chinese revolutionaries draw support from overseas Chinese communities around the world. Years later, China’s Revolution of 1911 will overturn the country’s last dynasty and set in motion the establishment of the Republic of China.


The 1895 Omaha City Directory lists at least 21 Chinese-owned laundries (featuring names that appear to be Chinese).

Oct. 23, 1898

The Omaha World-Herald reports that 438 men, women, and children—including artists, performers, and cooks—were brought to the United States from China to help with the Chinese village at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. The expo allowed them to bypass the Chinese Exclusion Act restrictions. The newspaper alleges human trafficking and claims that women were sold into slavery or prostitution.


Omaha has 94* or 103 residents.**

Aug. 19, 1900

The Illustrated Bee publishes an article titled “Chinese in Omaha—Some Prominent Men,” which claims a Sunday school has offered English language education to Chinese youth since September 1885. Laundry is the chief occupation of local Chinese residents, and cleaners tuck “good luck mottoes” into fresh linens. Opium smoking is on the decline (allegedly the only crime in an otherwise “peaceable, quiet, and law-abiding” community). A sort of Chinese credit union offers loans to the immigrants at exorbitant rates. Joe Wah Lee is named as the community’s best English interpreter, the wealthiest local Chinese person, and the shrewd owner of Bon Ton Restaurant. Leo Mun, head of Quong Wah Co. is named the community’s most educated in Chinese but lacking in English skills.“Henry” Hong Sling is noted as affiliated with the community but based in Chicago where he is a railroad passenger agent.


Omaha has 53 Chinese residents.*

January 1912

Gin Chin opens the Mandarin Cafe at 1409 Douglas St.

Nov. 22, 1916

The Omaha World-Herald reports on the opening of a “new hall” for the Omaha Chinese Merchants Association at the first known site of the On Leong Tong (111 N. 12th St.). Leo Wing is president and Chue Fing Sue is secretary. The report claims there are 150 Chinese living in Omaha.

The former home of the On Leong Tong, photographed in 2018


Omaha has 126 Chinese residents.*

Sept. 16, 1920

Gin Chin opens the King Fong Cafe near 16th and Harney streets.

Photo from the September/October 2007 edition of Encounter Magazine


Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.*


Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a city directory is not printed in 1930. The 1931 Omaha City Directory lists at least eight Chinese laundromats remaining in Omaha (six are included under a “Chinese Laundry” category, two are listed as hand-laundries). Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.* “When the Depression came in, there was no more business,” says Jeanette Chin, wife of Carl Chin (Gin Chin’s son). “If families could save some money, they could go back (to China) and live like royalty.” She came to Omaha in 1942 from a prominent family in New York City’s Chinatown. Local Omaha papers claimed her 1942 marriage to Carl was the city’s “last arranged marriage.”

July 16, 1938

The Omaha World-Herald reports on firecrackers and festivities involved in the dedication of the relocated On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St. The article notes that the tong is raising funds for China’s fight against Japan in the war effort.


Omaha has 69 Chinese residents (44 native-born and 25 foreign-born).***


The year after the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed (1943) during World War II, Gen. Albert Wedemeyer takes command of U.S. forces in China, relieving Joseph Stillwell. Wedemeyer was born in Omaha in 1897. He was likely familiar with Omaha’s ethnic Chinese community as he attended Creighton Preparatory School (when the school was located near downtown on the Creighton University). In 1919 he went to West Point Academy. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Tientsin, China, where he learned to speak Mandarin and gained a deeper understanding of China’s turbulent political climate with the consolidation efforts by the Nationalists and the rise of the Communist movement.


The 1946 Omaha City Directory lists one business under the category “Laundries—Chinese” (Louie Chas at 209 S. 13th St.), and the name disappears in the next year’s directory. The Chinese laundry category vanishes from record in subsequent city directories.


Omaha has 106 Chinese residents.*


Omaha has 130 Chinese residents.****


Omaha has 186 Chinese residents.****


Joe Kuo and his wife, Alice, open the Great Wall Restaurant at 72nd and Farnam streets. The restaurant’s success will spawn other Great Wall restaurants downtown (at 11th and Farnam streets), near 84th and Center streets, at Oak View Mall, and in Council Bluffs. Kuo had graduated from Fort Hays State University in Kansas with a mathematics degree in 1972, but with a new family decided against doctoral studies to enter business as a restaurateur in New York City and Chicago before coming to Omaha. The Kuos were founding members of a Christian fellowship of Omaha Chinese (established in 1977), which started as a bible study group (officially renamed the “Omaha Christian Chinese Fellowship” in 1980, and again renamed as “Omaha Chinese Christian Church” in 1986). Kuo’s restaurants host bible study gatherings. The church’s founding minister, Pastor Job Lee, is married to Joe’s elder sister (Grace). The church fellowship serves as a center for Chinese language and culture education. The Kuo family will sponsor local Chinese cultural events, leading to the creation of the Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association.


Omaha has 374 Chinese residents.****

The Omaha Chinese Christian Fellowship rents space at First Presbyterian Church. A few years later, in 1983, the fellowship will relocate to First Christian Church on 66th and Dodge streets.


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association forms with the goal of bringing all Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese together, regardless of regional origins or political affiliation. The organization’s board includes Dennis Chin (a Bellevue Public School educator and Gin Chin’s grandson), his wife Betty Chin (a research organizer at Creighton and UNMC), and UNL engineering professor Bing Chen, among others. The association will eventually discontinue as political tensions mount and the community shifts to a predominantly mainland Chinese orientation.

From left: Dennis Chin, Betty Chin, and Bing Chen (at the Nebraska Chinese Association in 2018)


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association’s Chinese New Year celebration moves to UNO’s Milo Bail Student Center for a Chinese meal cooked by UNO chefs under the watchful eye of Joe Kuo followed by music, acrobatics, and dance performances at the Strauss Performing Arts Center. During its years of operation, the group also participates in the Omaha Ethnic Festival at the Civic Auditorium and hosts Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Dragon Boat Festival gatherings.


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church purchases its own building at 81st and Blondo streets.
Omaha has 553 Chinese residents.****


Mainland Chinese in Omaha are believed to organize local community events, including Lunar New Year gatherings. (Individuals known to be involved did not respond to Omaha Magazine’s request for comment.)


Omaha has 1,155 Chinese residents.****
In 2000, UNMC begins a formal faculty exchange program with Shanghai University. It is the first time the Chinese government has “awarded and funded a faculty exchange program between a Chinese medical school and [a] U.S. medical school.” In subsequent years, UNMC’s exchange programs with Chinese medical institutions continue to develop. By the year 2018, UNMC’s Asia Pacific Rim Development Program will have established partnerships with more than a dozen Chinese medical schools.


Creighton philosophy professor Jinmei Yuan begins annual student trips to China, supported by the Rev. John Schlegel (president of the university) and Soong Ching-Ling Foundation in China.  


Omaha-born filmmaker Alexander Payne is part of a group that buys King Fong Cafe from the Huey family that has managed the restaurant in the years following Gin Chin’s passing. Also in 2007, the Confucius Institute (which operates around the world teaching Chinese as a second language) opens at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the institute will become a key sponsor for holiday celebrations with the UNL chapter of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, Lincoln Chinese Cultural Association, the Asian Community Center in Lincoln, and the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association/Nebraska Chinese Association.


In 2008, Creighton’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions establishes a three-month Rehabilitation International Summer Program. By 2014, the university will establish the China Honors Interprofessional Program for medical students and health care professionals in China. Partner schools will include 10 universities across China (along with universities in five other countries).

May 2008

The Omaha Chinese Culture Association establishes in the wake of China’s tragic 2008 Sichuan earthquakes. In China, more than 69,000 are confirmed dead and 5 million people are displaced. Bellevue University’s director of global partnerships in Asia, Julie Verebely, was born in the area devastated by the quake. Verebely knew her home was affected, but she didn’t know how badly. She couldn’t contact any friends or family in the province. “She called me up and said, ‘We need to do something. It’s my hometown,’” recalls Linda Steele, who works with Verebely at Bellevue. With a core group of more than 30 Chinese-Americans and Chinese expats, they arrange several fundraisers that accumulate more than $30,000. During their fundraising efforts, Ping Ye (a systems analyst at HDR) suggests to fellow volunteers that they organize as a continuing Chinese association. Ye is the Omaha Chinese Culture Association’s first president, followed by Mae Keith, and then Steele. John Zhang is the association’s first chairman of the board, followed by Hong Zheng.

Linda Steele


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church moves to its current location at 4618 S. 139th St.


Omaha has 1,437 Chinese residents.****

Feb. 3, 2009

The first Lunar New Year Gala is hosted by the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association at Christ Community Church. Locations will change in later years: Millard North High School in 2010, Burke High School in 2011-2012, Westside High School in 2013, Westside Middle School in 2015-2017, and Burke again in 2018.

April 2009

In April, an Omaha delegation visits Yantai (in Shandong province) at the invitation of the mayor of the northeastern Chinese city. In October, Yantai officials will visit Omaha to sign a letter of intent to become “sister cities.” In June 2010, Omaha’s Mayor Jim Suttle will visit Yantai, China, in a trip to establish Omaha and Yantai as “sister cities.”

Oct. 3, 2009

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts the first annual Mid-Autumn Chinese Cultural Festival at Zorinsky Lake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

June 4, 2011

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts its first annual Dragon Boat Festival on a Missouri River cruise.


Bellevue University establishes a partnership with Guangzhou College of Commerce in 2012. The first group of Chinese students will arrive in 2015. Also in 2012, the UNO College of Business Administration begins annual study trips to China.

August 2012

During a visit to China, Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman announces the state will open a trade office in China.


The UNO College of Business Administration hosts a China Conference focused on US-China economic relations and business partnerships. The conference continues for a second year in 2014.

March 18, 2013

Ceremonies in Nebraska and Shanghai are held to announce the opening of the Nebraska Center China in Shanghai. Upon taking office in 2015, Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to foster China-Nebraska trade relations with trade trips in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The Omaha Chamber also participates in overseas trips to China on an annual basis.

May 2014

An estimated 1,000 Chinese investors visit Omaha for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. In China, the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett is known as “the God of Stock Investing.” The number of Chinese visitors to Omaha during the shareholder meeting will continue to grow every year. An estimated 2,000-3,000 Chinese investors will visit Omaha for the shareholder meeting in 2016.


The Nebraska Chinese Association replaces the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association under the leadership of local Omaha businessman Hong Zheng (owner of the Asian Market) and its president Linda Steele (an adjunct professor Bellevue University).

Hong Zheng

April 2016

Lion Dancers help the Nebraska Chinese Association celebrate the grand opening of the Nebraska Chinese Center in the site of a former church at 8206 Blondo St. The center offers language classes, cooking classes, a farmers’ market, tai chi exercise programs, and other cultural events.


King Fong Cafe closes “temporarily.”

May 2017

The annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting continues to draw more Chinese visitors every year. Buses take Chinese tour groups to Warren Buffett’s home in Dundee for photographs. In 2017, Linda Steele estimates that there are 3,000-4,000 Chinese visitors. A gala dinner hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association introduces overseas investors and local businesses. Steele expects 5,000 Chinese visitors for the Berkshire meeting in 2018.

June 14, 2017

Forty boxes of beef arrive in China from Greater Omaha Packing Co. The Omaha-headquartered business has emerged as an industry leader in reopening U.S. beef exports to China. It is the first shipment of U.S. beef to China since 2003 (following a mad cow scare that halted imports).

November 2017

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes the historic status of the On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St.


In the 2017/2018 academic year, Bellevue University has 258 overseas Chinese students; UNMC has 96 students from mainland China; UNO has 124 overseas Chinese students; Creighton has 36.

March 3, 2018

The 10th anniversary of the Lunar New Year Gala hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association/Omaha Chinese Cultural Association takes place at Burke High School. Of the approximately 200 volunteers organizing the gala, 100 are overseas Chinese students. The association’s members include close to 800 people.

Nebraska Chinese Association board members from left: Grant Wu, Hong Zheng, May Yap, Jun White, Linda Steele, Li Li, Sarah Luo, Qiuming Zhu, Ping Ye, Jenny McAtee

*Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society

**Source: An Almanac of Nebraska: Nationality, Ethnic, and Racial Groups (published in 1975)

***Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska Library Commission

****Source: U.S. Census data provided by University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

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