Tag Archives: wedding

Vernetta Kosalka

January 20, 2017 by
Photography by Ani Luxe Photography

This sponsored content appears in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/b2b_0217_125/56

Being trusted with the most important day of a couple’s life or executing the planning of companies event or non-profit’s gala is humbling,” says event planner & designer Vernetta Kosalka, who began her first business in 2007. “In 2013, I added floral design services, the brand, Florist of Omaha, specializing in wedding and event design.

“Also in 2013, I began working with a committee to plan the Omaha Police Officer’s Ball, which ignited my passion for planning and designing full-time. We work annually to raise funds benefiting Special Olympics Nebraska.”

She turned her attention to helping nonprofit and corporate groups.

“I want to have a legacy known for being a trusted source in the management of events and design, helping nonprofits reach their goals. Additionally, I want to be known for giving back to the Omaha community by helping women realize their potential and leadership.”

She has realigned her business and services, additionally offering corporate/nonprofit event planning and design services. All services are aligned under the name, “VK Events | Floral | Planning.”

“I know couples and companies have a choice, and I am so thankful they choose me and my services to assist them,” says Kosalka. “Our clients appreciate and need professional help to guide the planning process.”

“Nearing the end of my senior year at College of Saint Mary, I landed a job at one of Omaha’s largest full-service hotels as a catering administrative assistant, assisting one of Omaha’s leading and sought-after event professionals.”

She says her company is a one-stop shop for couples and clients. “I also pride myself in taking an active role with my nonprofit and corporate clients by being active on the committee and boards. Therefore I fully understand the goals and guide the planning process internally.”

Her service and attention to detail keep referrals coming. “I take the planning off your shoulders but not out of your hands. My couples and clients know I will work hard to anticipate needs, follow through on responsibilities and protect their interests.”

She is the first in her family to graduate from college. “A quote that stands out to me most is by Catherine McAuley, ‘No work is more productive of good to society than the careful education of women.’”

Kosalka holds a Master of Science in organizational leadership from the College of Saint Mary, She received the college’s Queen of Heart Award based on values, character, and service.

And that’s not all of her bragging rights. She has received the Wedding Wire Couple’s Choice Award annually for Event Planning and Floral Design. She is the recipient of the 2016 Volunteer of the Year for the Ralston Chamber of Commerce.

“Our design work is regionally published in Nebraska Wedding Day Magazine: home of award winning services—The Wedding Planner Omaha LLC & Florist of Omaha,” she says.

“As a child, I knew I wanted to own businesses and plan events. ‘Wow’ that’s a big picture for a 7 year old,” says Kosalka. “Many of America’s greatest businesses were started in homes with a dream and faith.”

801 S. 75th St.
Omaha, NE 68114


Individual Rights

March 2, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine

The following anecdote explains much about retiring federal judge Joe Bataillon, but, more importantly, it is perhaps the greatest Creighton basketball love story ever told.

Bataillon left the U.S. Federal Courthouse early one spring day a few years ago to get home in time to watch Creighton play in an NCAA tournament game. When he opened the door to his back porch, he looked down and saw a small rectangular metal box. It was not his. There was no message on the box. Considering some of the killers he has sent to prison, there was good reason to fear it was a bomb.His conundrum: If he called the U.S. Marshal’s office, he knew he would be forced to leave his house.

His brother, Douglas County District Court Judge Pete Bataillon, relates the rest of the story: “So Joe just goes inside and watches the game and only calls when the game is over to see if that’s actually a bomb on his porch,” Pete says. “The marshals come, make him leave, blow the thing up, and realize it’s an outdoor utensil set. A few weeks earlier he had presided over a wedding and the people dropped by with a present. They probably should have left a note.”

“The marshals were not at all happy that he put his life at risk for a basketball game,” his brother says.

So Joe Bataillon, graduate of Nebraska City Lourdes High School and Creighton Law School, is a big Bluejays fan. Got it. (He actually was the equipment manager for the basketball team in college. “We were low-budget back then. The guys had to really blow out their [Converse] Chuck Taylors before I could give them new ones.”). But there’s more there. After 17 years on the highest bench in Nebraska, ruling on everything from misdemeanors on tribal lands to brutal murders involving drug kingpins to the constitutionality of Nebraska laws, he is obviously a man courageous and seasoned enough to be walking calm in a world in which some very bad people might prefer him dead. And despite the gravity of his rulings on a massive number of cases (Judges of Nebraska’s federal district court have the eighth-highest caseload out of the nation’s 94 federal districts.), he’s still known in eastern Nebraska for giving up his limited free time to preside over wedding ceremonies.

Retired U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, who advocated for Bataillon’s nomination process in the mid-1990s, after Bataillon’s distinguished career with the county and in private practice, offers insight: “Joe is a terrific federal judge—he has been a very strong protector of individual rights,” Kerrey says. “He’s just a special guy.”

“And unlike me,” Kerrey jokes(?), “he’s extremely likable to boot.”

Be that as it may, Bataillon’s defining characteristic, his brother agrees, is that paramount concern for the rights of individuals when they are squared off against the government and the majority. Bataillon says he would be thrilled if that is, in fact, his legacy.

“You can never lose sight of the fact that these are real people and that you’re impacting their lives profoundly,” he says. “You have a duty to everyone who you’re going to impact to work your hardest to see the whole picture.”

Bataillon was raised in an environment sated in the concept of social justice. Amid his parent’s constant involvement in their community, his father founded and led Nebraska City’s volunteer rescue squad, a sometimes grisly and difficult effort to more quickly get life-saving help to people in crisis. “Caring for those less fortunate” is a foundational ideal of a Jesuit education, he adds. “It’s just an idea that’s always been there.” For one, throughout his career, Bataillon has been a key figure in building treatment and job programs for people trying to right and rebuild their lives after convictions.

Bataillon’s most controversial decision came nine years ago, when, in Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, he ruled unconstitutional Nebraska’s voter-approved amendment to the state constitution that read “only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska.” His ruling for individual rights was overturned by a higher court, but his groundbreaking arguments can be heard in debates on the issue elsewhere in the country.

Bataillon still is impacting the argument over gay marriage. In late January, he ruled not to delay a lawsuit challenging Nebraska’s gay marriage ban while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue on the national level.

Amid a slew of major decisions, one other case stands out. It got Bataillon a lot of snickering press reports, but the fundamentals of the ruling speak to his own fundamental beliefs.

In 2013, Bataillon ruled that the Nebraska State Patrol needed to return more than $1 million confiscated from a woman in a traffic stop in 2012. The cops suspected it was drug money. Bataillon believed the evidence suggested the woman’s story was true.

In fact, Tara Mishra, 33, had been saving the money—perhaps a dollar at a time—over 15 years working as a stripper. Mishra was driving from California to New Jersey with her life savings to buy a nightclub. She wanted a new life, and her story checked out.

““The government failed to show a substantial connection between drugs and the money,” Bataillon wrote in his opinion.

“He understands the government has a tremendous amount of power,” Kerrey says. “It can be unpopular to make some of the rulings he has made, but when individual rights are being abridged, Joe has been there to provide the balance.”

While Bataillon retired from “active service” in the fall, he will continue in a semi-retired role as a senior federal judge. He’ll continue his very active role in national federal judiciary issues. What is quickly becoming clear is that there won’t be much retiring in his “retirement.”

“I’m not finished with this work by any means,” he says.


Classic Space

June 10, 2014 by
Photography by Andrew J. Baran

What do Doug McDermott and the Omaha Press Club, local fashion designers, brides, corporations, and churchgoers have in common?

Congratulations if you said Omar Arts & Events, in the Omar Building at 43rd and Nicholas. All of the above have had events there since it opened almost 18 months ago.

Executive Director/Partner Mark O’Leary says most local venues of comparable size are unlikely to display the character of Omar Arts & Events.

“It’s completely modern but simultaneously has all the charm and character of an old industrial building,” he says.

Ray Trimble, owner of the Omar Building which originally opened in 1923 to house the Omar Baking Co., is an architect himself whose sense of precision guided the space’s renovation.

The Omar Arts & Events space is bright, airy, well-equipped, and, like the building as a whole, a beautiful hybrid of old and new. Omar flour sacks and other artifacts hang in O’Leary’s office.

Original fire doors remain. The gorgeous exterior brick has been sandblasted back to immaculate condition. On-premises parking is ample and free.

“We have the feel of a downtown venue, but you don’t have to go downtown,” says O’Leary.
Most spaces in the Omar Building are arts-related, including the John Beasley Theater, a dance studio, web design firm, photographers, and filmmakers. It also houses a fitness center, law offices, Project Interfaith, and more, garnering comparisons to Downtown’s Mastercraft Building.

“It’s proved to be a really popular building,” says O’Leary. “It’s like it was just kind of waiting to be born so all these people could get in here.”

The event space was the last project completed, but has already hosted Opera Omaha’s gala, Omaha Fashion Week, the Omaha Press Club’s Face on the Barroom Floor for Doug McDermott, and a host of weddings, seminars, sales meetings, and other events.

Omaha Fashion Week had higher attendance than previous such events at other venues, and organizers swiftly signed on again for 2015. Citylight Church has a five-year contract to use the space for Sunday worship, when they hold two services to accommodate their diverse, inclusive congregation of 1,400-plus.

“It’s been remarkable,” says O’Leary. “We thought our first year would be slow, because for this size venue people are usually booked a year in advance. But as you see on that calendar behind you, every one of those X’s is an event for this year, and we’re still adding one to two a day.”

Suffice to say, X marks many spots on O’Leary’s wall calendar.

“We’re trying to bring back midtown and the Omar Building has become kind of a center point in that,” he says, adding that it’s gratifying to watch the neighborhood he grew up in revitalize around him. “It’s really a quiet, safe little neighborhood, and it’s got great access.”

“I’m a midtown guy and I just like to see these older parts of the city come back,” says O’Leary, who also owns the Cornerstone Mansion and has worked as a producer, actor, event planner, and photographer. “The neighborhood has been completely positive. They’ve loved that there’s some life here and a legitimate business investing in their neighborhood. We work to stay a cut above, and people have responded to that. Plus, we’re one of a kind. There’s just not another venue like us in town.”

The Persistence of Memory

February 27, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A brilliant band of wildflowers will soon bloom in Kelsie Hollingshead’s garden. Forget about the fact that she’s an apartment-dweller with no plot of land to call her own. And never mind that the fresh tendrils of her vibrant harbingers of spring will push through the soil of a garden that is a full 20 miles from where she lays her head at night.“My grandfather planted those wildflowers,” she says, wiping a tear from her cheek. “He planted them the year before as we planned our wedding so that they would be beautiful for the reception,” she says, reflecting on her August 2013 nuptials to Sean Hollingshead. “Those flowers remind me—reminded all of us that night of the reception—that a little part of him was still with us.”

Her grandfather, Patrick Clarke, founder of NorthStar Financial Group, had perished in a plane crash along with one of his sons, Dr. Scott Clarke of Springfield, Mo., nine months before the wedding.

Clarke’s wildflowers still thrive on a majestic hilltop near Schramm Park State Recreation Area. The site offers a panoramic view of the Platte River far below, and the 50-acre country retreat is known to the Clarke clan simply as The Farm. Its main structure, The Barn, is home to family gatherings most every Sunday. The rustic, 4,600-square-foot lodge was built in 2009 by Curt Hofer & Associates. Downhill from The Barn is the sleeping quarters known as The Bunkhouse.

The subtext of any story on these pages is a testament to how our homes reveal who we are, how we live, and what we value. Such stories are usually accompanied by words-words-words on architecture, landscaping, appointments, and interior design. There will be none of that here. The accompanying photos will have to suffice as a substitute for the customary narrative dedicated to descriptors of the floor-to-ceiling variety.

Instead this home story will keep the focus where it should be—on one family and how the persistence of memory creates a legacy.

“My dad didn’t built this for himself,” says Todd Clarke, Kelsie’s father. “He didn’t even build it for his kids. He built it for the grandkids, and one day, for their kids and generations to come. Each and every member of the family has a different way of remembering him. His presence is always particularly powerful when we are here at The Farm.”

Memories can sometimes be triggered in unexpected ways. What kind of 14-year-old boy would list a common household chore, for example, as one of his favorite weekend activities?

That would be Todd’s son, Brooks.

“I don’t get to see my cousins much during the week,” Brooks says. “Out here we get to play foosball, ride ATVs, and play indoor football. Those are all fun things to do, but cleaning out the shed is my favorite.”

A raised eyebrow is the only signal Brooks needs to realize that he has just introduced something of a disconnect.

“Oh, you don’t understand,” he continues. “Those are grandpa’s things out there. That’s where he kept all his tools. Playing with all the stuff in the shed reminds me of him and how we used to…” his voice trails off as a pensive expression creeps across his face, eyes averted.

“Patrick and I were blessed with a terrific family—beautiful kids and beautiful grandchildren,” says family matriarch Lana Clarke. “This was his dream. It’s our place where memories are made. I count my blessings every day we gather here. I know he’s looking down on us, smiling.”

Each of the coming days will grow longer as the eagerly anticipated progression to spring breaks into a trot and then a gallop. Gardens slowly thaw and bide their time awaiting attention. The flowerbeds on a certain wind-swept hill overlooking a ribbon of water are no exception.

That’s where you’ll find Kelsie Hollingshead tending to her wildflowers.

Here Comes the Bride

March 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as April marks the arrival of springtime, so, too, does it signal the beginning of wedding season—typically viewed as mid-April through mid-October—and the onset of “wedding fever” for many excited soon-to-be and wanna-be brides.

Regardless of whether your nuptials are a year away or far off in the distance, wedding season is a great time to attend Omaha bridal fairs and visit bridal boutiques, floral shops, and other wedding businesses in the metro and start making a list of all your must-haves for your special day. After all, creating your dream wedding takes time and planning—why not get started now?

To celebrate wedding season, we’re spotlighting three metro businesses that provide distinctive products and services for Omaha brides: gown boutique, Rhylan Lang; accessories vendor, Inez Gill; and floral service, Flowers for Special Occasions. All three are owned by local, young women who are not only on top of national trends, but in fact are leading the way in the Midwest with unique, high-end wedding fashions and accessories.

Rhylan Lang

The goal of upscale bridal boutique, Rhylan Lang, is simple—to make sure that each bride leaves with a dress that is as amazing as the memories created. “Every dress in the store is made from silk fabrics,” says owner Tracy Ponec, 29, of her unique collection. “If there is beading, it is Swarovski. If there is lace, it has intricate details. I want brides to be able to tell the difference in quality.”

Ponec, who has a joint degree in textiles and journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been working in the wedding gown industry for nine years. “In college, I [did] bridal alterations,” she says. “I never thought I was going to make a career out of it.”

After graduating, she moved to Kansas City. “I had done a few internships that were more in-line with fashion-related public relations, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for that in the Midwest.” But with years of bridal alterations experience on her résumé, she took a shot and applied to the highest-end bridal salon in Kansas City, even though they weren’t hiring. Of course, she got hired. She even had the opportunity to do some professional training in New York with bridal design teams for Vera Wang and Reem Acra. “The owner [of the salon] and I made a great team. I learned so much from him. A few months in, he told me he thought I was born to do this.”20130227_bs_7349 copy

When Ponec returned to Nebraska, she saw the bridal market with new eyes. “Knowing how many of my brides in Kansas City were from Omaha, it was pretty obvious there was something missing for these brides in the Nebraska market.” She worked a bridal position for a short time but then decided it was time to bring her vision to life. A few years later with a business plan in hand, Ponec opened Rhylan Lang.

The name “Rhylan Lang” is actually a play on Ponec’s maiden name, Rhylander. “There is part of me in the name, but [the brand] isn’t about me. It’s about the brides,” she says. Because she cares about her brides, Ponec wanted her gown collection—which starts at a range of $1,600 to $6,000—to be exclusive in the state. From there, it was important to that the dresses were the highest quality fabrics and finishes available at each price point.

“During an appointment, a professional stylist will help select gowns from our inventory based on what a bride is looking for and their budget. The experience here is more intimate and far less chaotic than brides are used to. It’s a pleasant change for those that have been shopping a lot.”

For more information, visit rhylanlang.com or call 402-933-3510.

Inez Gill

Courtney Zurcher, 24, got the itch to start her own accessories business after making scarves for her family and friends. Today, she is the owner and designer at her accessories business, Inez Gill. Since starting Inez Gill, Zurcher’s accessories have been featured in Omaha’s Wedding Essentials and on Daily Candy, an e-mail newsletter and website devoted to what’s new and hot. She’s even designing accessories for the Daily Candy editor’s wedding.

“Inez Gill actually came from a combination of family names,” she explains of her business’ name. “My grandfather’s mom, Inez, was the kind of woman who just painted everything. She even painted the fridge once. She was very eccentric. Gill was my grandmother’s last name. She was a traditional mom and did needlework to make clothing.” Zurcher likes the combination of Inez and Gill because “one was artsy and one was practical,” which is how she’d like to approach her business.

When it comes to weddings, more brides are willing to pay for high-end products that are unique. That’s where Inez Gill accessories come in. “Accessories have a lot of life because you can put it on and it will change an outfit completely,” says Zurcher, who recently displayed her work at Omaha Fashion Week. Most of Zurcher’s bridal accessories are for the brides who want really fun, colorful looks. “I want [my pieces] to feel like accessories from a 1920s hat shop down the street—things that tailors and seamstresses would custom-make.”20130227_bs_7349 copy

While most designers and bridal vendors ship in their accessories, Zurcher creates and designs each piece. “Some designers draw sketches, but I just think of what I have, and then I put it together. I do have to put a lot more thought into how I design an accessory though because I take so many different pieces and put them together. I have my own system, and I don’t buy anything pre-made, unless it’s like a vintage leaf or something.”

With suppliers coming from everywhere (even some out of England), Zurcher has a lot of unique pieces to work with in creating each accessory. Natural stemming, vintage leaves, rhinestones—she finds all kinds of items from her suppliers and antique shops. “I don’t really follow a particular style,” she says of her mix-and-match work.

But just because Zurcher makes her accessories by hand doesn’t mean they look handmade. In fact, she prefers to spend more time making each accessory have a high-end look, even if it takes her more than the usual three to five hours. “I just like making things that make people feel good.”

For more information, visit inezgill.com.

Flowers for Special Occasions

“We have a strong passion for floral design,” says Jessica Pitt, 29, owner and designer at Flowers for Special Occasions. “We are always reinventing our work to stay fresh and in touch with the ever-changing fashion of the [wedding] industry.”

Although Pitt studied Fine Arts at College of Saint Mary and Behavioral Sciences at Bellevue University, she says that the floral business is in her blood. With four generations of her family having been involved in florals, it was only natural for Pitt to take up the business. “I grew up in my mother’s flower shop, spending afternoons as a child playing in the shop and eventually working there from the time I was 15 through college.”

A customer actually gave the business its name. “We were trying to establish ourselves as a vendor who worked exclusively with weddings and other special events. The name just sort of stuck,” Pitt says. But the business is also known as the Flower Design Studio, which Pitt explains comes from their days as a co-op with two other businesses.20130227_bs_7197 copy

Pitt says Flowers for Special Occasions is unique because they custom-make floral arrangements. “None of our work is based on cookie-cutter bouquets,” she adds. “We work with the client to develop a special feel for the event, and we create our pieces based on our collaborations.” Budgets of all sizes are welcomed by the Flowers for Special Occasions team. It doesn’t matter if a couple is working on a small or large budget—Pitt says the floral arrangements will look beautiful.

“We have built a very loyal following through the years. We work primarily through word of mouth. I believe [that] our happy clients and their referrals are what has built and sustained our company, making it the success it is today.

“Since we are a family business, we all have a personal stake in wanting our business to succeed. We never cut corners,” she says. “We have one chance to get it right, so we always strive to give each wedding something very special.”

For more information, visit flowersforspecialoccasions.webs.com or call 402-891-1602.

Ed LeFebvre

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ed Lefebvre, owner of Cupcake Island at 120th and Pacific streets, made his very first cake at age 11. “I made it for a neighbor lady’s 80th birthday,” he recalls. “I really liked her, so I volunteered to do it.”

A baking course at Metro Tech in 1973 was followed by 25 years at Baker’s grocery store, most of which were spent specializing in cakes and decorating. “This is all I’ve ever done my entire life,” LeFebvre said. “Cake decorating in particular is my passion.” He bakes all of Cupcake Island’s wedding cakes personally, just as he did for friends and friends of friends in his home kitchen for 20 years before opening the shop six years ago. “I want it the way I want it,” he confesses, “but I really do need to hand this off.”05 December 2012- Cupcake Island is photographed fro Omaha Magazine.

It’s a timely consideration, given that his plan is to retire in the next three years and travel with his wife, Lois. Their children Katie, Brian, and David are grown with their own careers, so LeFebvre says he hopes one of his staff takes up the business’ torch.

Still, three years is three years, and the ideas aren’t stopping anytime soon. “I eat, breathe, everything, Cupcake Island,” LeFebvre says. He added that while he intends to keep up with the trends and expectations created by shows like The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, he’s always going to focus on quality. “I take pride in doing that for my people,” he says, referring to his customers.

His signature flavor is Ed’s raspberry. The chocolate cupcake has raspberry filling, chocolate frosting, a raspberry on top, and chocolate curls. But his personal favorite? Plain white. “It’s just a really moist, flavorful cake,” he says without a hint of apology for the simple preference. “I’m not a big ‘filling’ person.”05 December 2012- Cupcake Island is photographed fro Omaha Magazine.

To keep things fresh in the new year, LeFebvre wants to put an emphasis on the cupcake’s big brother. “I already have more cakes on the books for 2013 than I’ve ever done in a year,” he says.

Any other visions for the future?

After citing new recipes like snickerdoodle, tiramisu, and turtle, LeFebvre leans forward, eyebrow raised. “I’m telling you this,” he says. “The next thing is food trucks. And I’m not saying anything, but Omaha could use a cupcake truck.”

And what does wife and bookkeeper Lois think about that? “I think he already has enough to do,” she says with a laugh.

Cupcake Island
1314 S. 119th St.