Tag Archives: wife

Karen Sokolof Javitch

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The image of Karen Sokolof Javitch singing and camping it up on YouTube in the music video of her song, “I’m Not Obama’s Babe” doesn’t square with the unassuming, quietly engaging, makeup-less woman who buys flavored water at her favorite coffee shop. Not surprising, since there are many facets to the Omaha native: singer, songwriter, author, playwright, radio host, advocate, teacher, wife, mother, daughter, philanthropist.

Music is actually Karen’s second act. After earning a degree at the University of Texas, she began as a teacher of visually impaired children, a career inspired by her late mother, Ruth Sokolof. “My mother taught blind children for years. Everyone loved her. Film Streams Theater is named after her.”

It wasn’t until Karen’s own three children were in school that her life headed in a different direction. “It was around 1993. I was talking to a friend of mine, Jim Conant, and he said he had just written the book for a musical, but he hadn’t written any of the songs. And I said to him, ‘Um, can I try this?’”

Karen proved to be a natural at writing both the words and the lyrics to 13 songs for the production entitled Love! At The Café! The show ran for about seven weeks at a small venue in Benson. “It was like a faucet turned on in my brain. The lyrics came first, and then I could hear the music in my head to go with them.”

Karen next collaborated with her good friend, local actress and author Elaine Jabenis, to write more shows, including the tribute Princess Diana, The Musical. Another key player in Karen’s success, Chuck Penington of Manheim Steamroller, orchestrates her music. Whether a song is catchy, rhythmic, and Broadway-like, or a touching ballad, Karen’s melodies stay with the listener.

“It was like a faucet turned on in my brain. The lyrics came first, and then I could hear the music in my head to go with them.”

Where did her talent come from? “My father, Phil, was a song-and-dance man before he became a successful businessman. He tried his luck in Chicago when he was 17. He finally realized he couldn’t be the next Frank Sinatra.”

Phil Sokolof would later use some of his fortune from his drywall company to wage a one-man crusade against cholesterol—a decades-long fight that resulted in nutrition information on food packaging.

Karen has written hundreds of songs, penned four musicals, and released 13 CDs, singing on many of them. While she should be swimming in royalties, the Westside High graduate has instead followed her parents’ legacy of giving back to their community.

“All proceeds from my music go to charities, mostly in Nebraska,” says Karen.

Does she make any money at all?

“Well, let’s just say my goal is to break even,” she says with a smile.

Over the past 20 years, Karen has raised over $300,000 in service to others. One project in particular remains dear to her heart. The “Nebraska Celebrities Sing for Sight” CD, for which she wrote most of the music and lyrics and featuring 20 celebrities from the area (including a terrific country vocal from former U.S. Senator Ben Nelson), raised money for visually impaired children. The man who couldn’t compete with Frank Sinatra also sings a track.

“Dad was alive when I started to do my music. He was very proud.”

Karen’s CDs can be found at the Nebraska Furniture Mart or online at CD Baby. Her radio show, “It’s the Beat!” with Jody Vinci, airs Saturdays at noon on KOIL 1290.

Love to Last a Lifetime

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was 1961. John Kennedy was inaugurated President of the United States. The U.S. began military involvement in Vietnam. East Germans and Soviets built the Berlin Wall. The Bay of Pigs disaster went down in Cuba. Russian Yuri Gagarin went up in space. And the Shirelles sang “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”

Against this backdrop, nine Omaha couples—most in their early 20s or late teens—married and set out on what would be a lifelong journey to answer that lyrical question. Seven marriages made it to 50 years and counting. Two marriages ended with the death of a spouse—Eileen Erman and Sherman Neff. Judy and Shelly Brodsky moved to California.

The remaining six couples are still here in Omaha, bonded not only to their life partners but also to the others who started out in married life with them. Omaha Magazine introduces these Omaha couples to you with the hope that their love stories, which have withstood the test of 50 years of marriage, will encourage and inspire you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Don and Nancy Greenberg’s families have known each other for many years. When Nancy heard that Don might be asking her out, she asked her grandfather about him. He said Don was the hardest-working man in his family’s business. That sounded good to Nancy as she was brought up to work hard as well. Each speaks respectfully about the other’s family. It meant a lot to Nancy that Don sent little gifts to her mother. Their secret to a long marriage and friendships is to work hard, stay in touch, be patient and forgiving, and share events with family and friends. They have two children and five grandchildren.

Deanna and Larry Gilinsky are one of two couples with one out-of-towner. Kansas City transplant Deanna met Larry, a native Omahan, at the University of Oklahoma when both were 18. They married at 20. Larry said that they grew up together along with the other couples, all of whom Larry has known from childhood. His friends became her friends and they’ve all stayed in touch for 50 years. Their major challenge occurred when Larry was shot by a robber, whom he chased out of his jewelry business. He recovered and is back at work today. They have two children and six grandchildren, including triplets. Their secret to longevity of marriage? Compromise and pick your battles, and celebrate one another.

Mike and Barb Platt also married at 20. Barb is the only one who converted to her husband’s religion prior to marriage. (All the others shared the same religion, which they said was a significant factor in the stability of their marriages.) To this day, Mike is touched by her conversion. They have five children and 13 grandchildren. Barb moved to Omaha in eighth grade, went to Central High, met Mike, and the rest is history. Mike went to nursery school, grammar school, and high school with some of the members of the group; Barb was accepted and became part of that group. Their families became friends and even now, some of their children are friendly with children of some of the other couples.

Bob and Bobbie Epstein almost never were a couple. In high school, Bob broke his first date with Bobbie to go out with another girl. Bobbie didn’t speak to him for a year. The summer after graduation, the two both found themselves in Chicago. Bob asked Bobbie for a date and she relented.  After that, Bob never went out with another girl. Bobbie went away to Ohio State for college. Bob stayed in Omaha to work for his family’s business but went to visit Bobbie twice. At Christmas, she moved home and they married the following June 1961. Asked what has kept their marriage together, Bob said, “We were in love then, and we are in love now.” They have three children and nine grandchildren.

Norman and Joodi Veitzer married in February 1961. Joodi went to UNO but stayed at home after the first of their three children were born. They now have six grandchildren. Norman went to Creighton Law and practiced briefly before going to work at the family business, Omaha Bedco (made famous by actress Julia Roberts, who had a great night’s sleep at the Four Seasons Hotel and bought the mattress right off the bed.) Norman and Joodi credit the longevity of their marriage to being a part of the social group they grew up with.  No one considered divorce. Joodi says that’s because they don’t talk politics.

Phyllis and Dick Glazer are the second couple to include an out-of-towner. Dick is from Fort Dodge, Iowa. After he and Phyllis married, they moved into the house where they live today, 51 years later. They agree that health has been a major challenge in their family. When they learned one of their grandchildren was deaf, their initial reaction was great sorrow. But they soon turned that sadness into a project, which resulted in closed captioning at one of the Rave movie theaters in Omaha. Phyllis says that golf, Husker football, events for children and grandchildren, and a whole lifetime of connections support their marriage. Dick has faced recent physical challenges and felt unwell the summer of their 50th anniversary year. He got himself out of bed to participate in all the activities planned to honor and celebrate their union. Dick’s closing statement was that theirs had been ‘a Good Life.’

Charles Gifford and Michele van Deventer

October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The story of the Gifford family legacy in Omaha has added a new chapter. The return of Charles Gifford to the city of his birth after nearly a lifetime spent in the Northeast ensures a continuation of the narrative that dates back to the 1880s.

How and why the Boston University graduate and Harvard-trained architect picked up the thread to his lineage reveals a deep familial respect. Omaha, in turn, is reaping the benefits of what Gifford and his wife, urban designer and landscape architect Michele van Deventer, bring to the table: over three decades working at top architectural firms in New York City and designing on both national and world stages. Both have a keen sense of what makes a city thrive. They feel they have something to offer Omaha.

“My feeling was this is my only shot at Plan B. I’ve got to do it now.” – Charles Gifford

“My [ancestors are] all buried out at Forest Lawn…a place where you see all these great Omaha names that have become meaningless over time,” says Gifford, whose family donated land that became Gifford Park in Omaha, Gifford Farm, and Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue. “My feeling was this is my only shot at Plan B. I’ve got to do it now.”

Mission accomplished for Plan B. Two years ago this fall, Gifford and van Deventer combined their considerable talents and business acumen and opened the Bath and Tile Corporation in Omaha’s historic Flatiron building—a venture prohibitively expensive in New York. The smart, chic, and brightly lit storefront boutique brings a touch of SoHo to 17th and Howard streets—until now, a no man’s land when it comes to retail.

“Many people will come to the [Flatiron] Café for dinner and they’ll say, ‘What’s that?’ And they’ll call us the next day,” says Gifford.

Word traveled fast, from the contemporary condos at Midtown Crossing to the traditional Dundee homes—and for good reason. With its subheading “architecture for the bath,” B + T offers one-of-a-kind, top-of-the-line fixtures you won’t find in boxy warehouse stores: the Neorest 600 paperless toilet for over $6,000; dual flush, cyclonic flush, skirted, tall, wall hung, and traditional toilets, much more moderately priced; sinks of all shapes, depths, and sizes; bathtubs made of real cast iron with feet; plain tiles, decorative tiles, or tiles with a slightly raised design. Want beige? Customers can choose from what seems like 50 shades of the same color.

“It’s a huge amount of work that Charlie does. He fetches and delivers and follows up and finds things, all unpaid. He’s remarkable. It’s part of the service of making the project come out.” – Michele van Deventer

Though sales are their main focus, Gifford and van Deventer often slip into the role of architect if a customer runs into spatial or functional problems.

“It’s a huge amount of work that Charlie does,” says van Deventer, a native of South Africa with a graduate degree from Princeton. “He fetches and delivers and follows up and finds things, all unpaid. He’s remarkable. It’s part of the service of making the project come out.”

As a couple in life and in business, Gifford and van Deventer fit. “Whatever it was that went into the making of us, we got dollops of the same thing,” he said, returning the admiration.

Though he comes from a long line of prominent ophthalmologists, Gifford seems to have received the biggest dollop from his mother, Emmy.

“My mother was a deft drawer and went to art school in New York. She wanted to stay there. But she lived in a culture that wouldn’t have her as an artist,” explains Gifford.

Emmy Gifford became a wife and mother but fed her creative gene by establishing Omaha’s first children’s theater in 1948, now known as The Rose Theater. In many ways, Gifford has fulfilled his mother’s dream—on his own terms. Now, he’d like nothing better than to see young adults fulfill their dreams right here in his hometown.