UNO resident folk hero Dana Elsasser’s softball run coming to an end

Hard-throwing pitcher to leave legacy of overcoming obstacles

The University of Nebraska at Omaha has a veritable folk-hero in its midst in hard-throwing senior softball ace Dana Elsasser, who's overcame serious challenges to become a pitching phenom. With her near legendary career fast nearing its end, fans have only a few chances left to catch her in action.

In her No. 1 pitcher role she'ill get the ball at least twice in this weekend's (April 25-26) three-game home series against Summit League foe IUPUI. She enters the circle for the final time at home versus Drake on April 30. UNO, with an RPI in the 60s, concludes its season May 2-3 at Western Illinois. The team's guaranteed to finish with a winning record and Elsasser should climb UNO's career pitching charts.

Entering Tuesday's doubleheader versus North Dakota she was 21-7 on the year and 65-24 in her career with a lifetime ERA of 1.44.

Though soon exhausting her eligibility, her legend's sure to grow as a foundational figure in UNO's transition from Division II to D-I.

Her departure's coming too soon for head coach Jeanne Scarpello. She's been enamored with Elsasser's ability and character since first laying eyes on her in 2010.

"From day one you could tell she's a different kid – just the drive and what she wanted to do and what she wanted to be. She's never going to back down from a challenge. She gives 100 percent and expects the rest of us to do the same. She pushes us to be better."

Scarpello's admiration only grew upon learning the obstacles Elsasser faced en route to becoming a winner.

"She does have quite a story," the coach says.

Born "a premie" in San Antonio, Texas to a teenage mother, Dana started life in foster care. After raising kids of their own Rick and Barb Elsasser of Hershey, Neb. were looking to adopt and the white couple got matched with Dana, an African-American, when she was a week old. She became the only black resident of Hershey until the Elsassers adopted more children of color.

Dana was an athletic prodigy, proving a natural at seemingly whatever she tried, including softball, basketball, volleyball and track.

"Dana’s balance, hand-eye coordination and kinesthetic sense have always been exceptional," says her father, a principal and coach who worked with her on her fundamentals. especially her pitching mechanics. "Every time she was shown a new skill she would master it quickly. She has always hated to lose but she used to become discouraged easily when her team was behind and that affected her play. Experience in athletics has given her the tenacity to fight through disappointment. Her UNO coaches deserve a great deal of credit for instilling a fierce competitive spirit."

Just as she was turning heads athletically as a teen she developed scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine. She underwent fusion surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Pieces of her hip bone were fused to her spine with "rods, nuts and bolts to keep everything intact," Dana says.

"The scoliosis thing was scary. Dana faced it all with great courage and determination," Rick says.

Once cleared to resume athletics she and her dad left the hospital and drove around until they found a ball diamond and began playing catch.

"I was a little scared I wouldn't be able to pitch again but I recovered relatively quickly from the back thing and it just gave me fuel to get stronger because I had to work two times as hard to get where other people were. I just did as much as I could. I ran a lot, I did sprints. I was in the weight room. I got really strong. I think strengthening my body is what helped me be prepared for college," says Dana, who's known to workout on game days and on off days following games.

"I feel I need to do to get in the mood of It's go time. Otherwise, I feel tired and sluggish and just not ready to go."

After opting to specialize in softball her pitching took off under her dad's tutelage. Her high school didn't field a team, She made a name for herself out west playing summers with the North Platte Sensations.

Typical of the upbeat Elsasser, she takes in stride everything that's been put in front of her.

"Honestly, when I was growing up I really didn't see much of the adversity I overcame as a disadvantage. I haven't thought of it as things that set me back. When I tell people my story they're like, 'Wasn't it weird being the only black person in town?' I never thought of it like that. My parents did a really good job of just making things normal for me."

Rick Elsasser says Dana has an innate sbility to adapt and persevere.

"Dana has always had tremendous resolve. I remember when she was about 5 or 6 years old, I spent about 15 minutes showing her how to shoot a basketball and then left her to practice. I went back outside about two hours later and found her still shooting. I had to make her stop and eat."

Scarpello long ago gave up trying to get Elsasser to ease off. The coach still smiles at nearly missing on this model student-athlete who outworks everyone. After all, Dana was a-best-kept secret in the sticks, where her exploits four-hours away fell on deaf ears here.

Scarpello first heard of her via a letter Dana wrote her while a senior in high school. Dana mentioned she was (then) 5-foot-4 and threw 65. Scarpello didn't buy it. She'd never heard of someone so short throwing so hard. It took corroboration from two coaches before she decided to see this little dynamo for herself. Scarpello and pitching coach Cory Petermann drove to Hastings expecting to see Elsasser pitch in a game only to have it forfeited when the opposing club didn't show. The coaches had Dana warm up with her father for a private audition. Rick had caught his daughter countless times in the yard of their home sitting on a bucket as she threw from a make-do mound. This was different. The stakes were higher, though that didn't register with Dana until reminded of it.

"I was really nervous but actually I don't think I even realized how important it was when they were watching me – that if I do good I'm going to have college paid for," Dana says. "When I started out I wasn't throwing my hardest. My dad told me, 'Get it together, this is your time right here to do it." Then I knew it was a big deal.'"

With a radar gun trained on her she consistently clocked 65 and Scarpello had seen enough to be convinced.

Rising to the occasion is something Scarpello's come to rely on from Elsasser, who acknowledges she thrives in such situations.

"I like it when I'm in pressure spots and everyone is looking to me. I just like how my team puts their trust in me and it just motivates me to do better. I like being in charge in that moment."

Five years since discovering her, Elsasser will leave UNO as one of the storied program's best pitchers. She's proven herself against elite competition despite being lightly recruited and not looking the part of a mound master with her lithe frame and diminutive stature. Her long limbs, strong core and compact delivery allow her to average 68 miles an hour on her "go-to" pitch, the drop-ball. She's hit 70. Her effortless appearing motion, honed over thousands of hours, makes it appear she's not throwing as hard as she is.

Armed with her heater, a change-up and a rise-ball, plus pin-point control, she has enough stuff to hold her own with the best.

"She is a go-right-at-you kind of kid. She's not a strikeout pitcher, though she's getting a lot more strike outs this year, but she really just lets batters put the ball in play and lets the defense work behind her," Scarpello says. "And she's a great defender as a pitcher."

Last year Elsasser one-hit Big 12 power Oklahoma State and three weeks ago she beat Big 10 heavyweight and in-state rival Nebraska 3-2 in Lincoln. She calls the victory over NU "the greatest moment I've ever had." The win followed UNO coming up short against the Huskers several times and redeemed a 10-0 drubbing at their hands earlier this year that Elsasser blamed on herself.

"I means everything to me. I got that win for my dad. That was our goal when I made my commitment to UNO – beat the Huskers. I told myself I'm not going to let them make a fool of me on the mound again."

Per usual, her folks were there to cheer her on and as always she heard her dad's voice above everyone else.

"I could him during that game yelling at me from the stands. I looked up there and I saw him jumping around. It was really emotional."

Scarpello says Elsasser has shown she "can play with the big dogs," adding, "She could be playing at any of those programs."

Elsasser says she and her teammates are often underestimated and use their underdog status as fuel to prove they belong.

"We always hear, 'Who's this Omaha team that keeps winning? Who are these people?' But we know we're capable of getting it done."

Overturning doubters seems hard-wired in Elsasser.

She would have been UNO's ace as a true freshman if not for two returning All-America pitchers. She made the most of her limited opportunities, going 10-1. Her pitching mates got most of the starts based on experience, not talent. She also struggled with illegal pitches due to a habit of lifting her foot off the mound during her delivery. She corrected the problem over the summer and prior to the following season Scarpello handed her "the torch to carry the program." Elsasser ran with it to become "our identity" but she first had to make a tough decision. UNO went D-I, initiating a transition period that made it ineligible for the postseason. Scarpello gave her players permission to transfer and she feared Elsasser might move on.

"She knew she would not to get to play for championships and that's what she came here to do," Scarpello says, "and I knew that bothered her because she wanted to make a mark. We've tried in various ways to give her some great opportunities, to challenge her, so she could make her mark and have no regrets she stayed here. Those games against top teams have become a measuring stick for her and for us."

Elsasser's sure of her legacy as a program builder but she can't imagine life without softball.

"What I'm going to miss the most is the relationships and being in the circle. The field feels like home to me. If I come to practice in a bad mood I always leave in a good mood. These girls are my best friends, we do everything together. We're just like a big family. It's kind of unsettling to know I won't have that type of bond and closeness I've been used to every day for four years."

Everyone says she'd make a great coach. "She's a real student of the game," says Scarpello, adding, "I'd hire her in a heartbeat."

"Coaching could be my career," says Elsasser. She''ll be coaching a younger sister this summer who's showing great promise as, you guessed it, a pitcher. Clearly, this legacy has legs.

UNO plays at 2 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Noon on Saturday and 6 p.m. April 30 at Westside Field at Westrbrook.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at

posted at 08:43 am
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Blowing in a New Direction, Renewables on the Rise, Republican Sells Power to OPPD

By Cheril Lee

“It’s worth it to have a hobby I enjoy. I’m a Republican but I still believe in the environment,” said homeowner Ken Engle from his home in Midtown Omaha.


Everything runs off solar in Engle’s house. He said he pumps power out but also gets it back. For Engle, having solar has already paid dividends. He has been selling power back to OPPD and rarely gets a bill.


As solar and wind are increasingly affordable, the Omaha Public Power District has been making a major shift away from the dirty energy sources increasing the cost of electrical bills and threatening Nebraska and the world’s climate. Environmental groups have played an important role and are turning up their urgency. Individual homeowners are making some big differences.


The Sierra Club is running a Beyond Coal Campaign with a goal of shutting down a certain number of coal plants by 2020 and 2030. Associate Organizing Representative Graham Jordison, on sabbatical with the Dave Domina campaign, said Beyond Coal started because the Sierra Club realized that if they really wanted to address climate change on a serious level they would have to go after the largest and biggest polluters in the country. Most of those polluters were coal fired power plants. 


“That’s where we realized 40 percent of the carbon dioxide in our air was coming from. To do our part in the country, we realized we were going to have to shut down a certain number of coal plants and replace that with clean energy like wind and solar,” Jordison explained.


He said many of the pollutants created by coal generation contribute to global climate change, including sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter. And Jordison said there is scientific evidence that individuals living near these types of plants are more likely to develop conditions like asthma because of the particulate matter that is dispersed into the air through coal generation.


“We can move in a fast direction toward coming up with a retirement date for the North Omaha coal plant. We don’t expect to shut the plant down overnight but we do think OPPD could commit now to projecting a shutdown in 2015/2016,” Jordison said.


He cites Fort Calhoun as evidence this is possible. When that station was offline, OPPD didn’t need to supplement the power lost. Jordison said the power was fine for 2 ½ years, with no blackouts.


There are four options being considered by OPPD regarding North Omaha Station. “Converting the plant to natural gas, installing technology so the plant can continue to burn coal, replacing the coal production with energy efficiency options or shutting it down,” said Jordison.


“It’s not worth discussing installing control technology to retrofit the plant. There is a billion dollar technology that would keep some of the pollutants, like mercury and sulfur dioxide, out of the environment. But that doesn’t do anything about carbon dioxide and it doesn’t address the issue of mining coal or disposing of coal. The people of Nebraska don’t want to have that discussion,” asserted Jordison.


He said Nebraskans are intelligent and there have been lots of studies done across the state that show Nebraskans understand climate change. More than 50 percent get climate change. They understand that humans are causing it and that we should do something about it. Jordison said a lot of Nebraskans really like the idea of using wind energy.


As President of the Nebraska Farmers Union John Hansen would say, “There are no documented wind spill damages.”


Nebraska is finally starting to catch up with its neighbor. Anyone who has driven east on I-80 toward Des Moines has likely noticed the large, white wind turbines peppering fields to the left and right of the interstate near cities like Adair and Walnut.


Based on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) ranking of wind capacity, Nebraska is actually third in the nation in wind resources. Hansen said the NREL’s rankings are based on their modeling which is shaped by actual data from wind projects and their actual generation.


So the wind is blowing steadily in Nebraska and wind farmers are ready to increase their production.


“At the start of last year, we had 459 megawatts of wind and by the end of next year, we will have 1207 megawatts,” said Hansen.


But what exactly is a megawatt?


To better understand just how much energy we are talking about, it takes 746 watts of electricity to equal one horsepower. 1 kilowatt is a thousand watts. And a megawatt is 1000 kilowatts or a million watts. A megawatt is a lot of electricity. 


Iowa currently has 5133 megawatts of wind, Wyoming has 1410, Colorado has 2301 and South Dakota has 783. Nebraska is still a bit behind in terms of wind production but Hansen said we are starting to catch up.


Choosing a site for a wind farm isn’t as easy as plopping a turbine in the ground and watching the blades spin. Hansen said because Nebraska is home to the North American migratory flyway, we have to be mindful of those portions of the Platte River where there are huge concentrations of migratory birds.


The Nebraska Farmers Union works with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and other federal wildlife agencies to be mindful of wind project sitings where there are obvious migratory bird conflicts.


The good news is there is a substantial portion of our state that has good wind resources. Hansen said a lot depends on prevailing wind patterns and flows as well as elevations.


“As you go up in the air, wind speeds increase in more of the wind streams. That’s why towers these days are on average 80 meters in the air. More and more towers are being built up to 100 meters in the air,” Hansen explained.


And he said once you get the up-front capital costs paid for, there’s no fuel cost associated with wind energy production. There are other benefits as well.


“Wind doesn’t consume any water and it doesn’t emit any carbon. It also helps provide domestic economic development in our state and benefits to rural communities. There are lease payments to landowners and increases to the local property tax base. There are a whole host of industries and sectors that benefit from wind generation and activity,” said Hansen.


There are small wind and solar projects in the state, but they are for commercial wind development. Hansen said we don’t export any wind out of the state at this point. All wind generated in the state goes to Nebraska utilities.


“We have built our utility on a diversity of fuels and now that wind is a viable fuel for us to use, it will create benefits and value for our customer owners in that diversity and in those longer-term low cost contracts that we have in place,” said Tim Burke, Vice President of Customer Service and Public Affairs for Omaha Public Power District (OPPD).


OPPD has been holding a series of open meetings where they provide stakeholders the opportunity to not only listen to the information shared at the meetings but also to offer their thoughts or ask questions of OPPD. Burke said the objective of the open meetings is to make sure that all decisions they make are equitable for all customers.


He said by the end of 2018, around 33 percent of OPPD’s portfolio will be made up of renewable sources, with most of that coming from wind. Burke explained most states, even on the west coast, may have a 30 percent renewable energy standard but aren’t expected to reach that goal until 2020-2025.


And more wind equals less coal generation. As recently as last month, Burke said OPPD has been getting some pretty good performance out of the wind farms they have today. That has meant some significant reductions in OPPD’s North Omaha facility production.


Burke said because the wind doesn’t blow every day, it’s considered an intermittent source of energy. That means wind energy will never be able to fully replace all current power sources.


“You can’t make the wind blow but you can help schedule the power from it and use it efficiently because we are increasingly able to predict when the wind is going to blow,” explained Hansen. “It’s actually easier to predict wind blowing than when it’s going to rain.”


Broken down, Burke said wind is an important component in energy generation, “A base load unit is traditionally a nuclear or coal unit or even natural gas in some parts of the U.S. If you picture a chart, nuclear is on the bottom. It’s a must-run (meant to start, operate and run). Intermittent resources like wind are above that. Natural gas is on top and is used in the event OPPD needs additional generation to support an increased peak load.”


One of the common questions that has come up during the stakeholder process has to do with people asking why we can’t just put up a bunch of solar panels and wind farms and shut down other power plants, such as the North Omaha coal plant.


According to Burke, it isn’t that simple. When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, you still have to have the capacity to be able to support the power load needed and you do that by maintaining that coal facility, even if it may mean on most days you operate at a lower capacity or end up replacing it with something that can ramp up fast like a natural gas facility.


It’s tough for most people to fit a wind turbine in their yard, especially if they don’t live in a rural area. So what can you do if you want to create your own energy from your very own home? Solar energy may be a viable option. It was for homeowner Ken Engle. Engle has Solar World Panels at his house that he ordered through United Electric Supply and he couldn’t be happier.


“I love my system. It’s a wonderful way to live and cut down on your electric bills,” he said.


Engle has 16 panels at his home and each inverter puts out a maximum of 225 watts, so he ultimately has 3600 watts capability. He said the inverter is what converts the electricity from DC current to AC.


The panels are daisy chained together in his system. The power they harness from the sun runs through a central inverter and subsequently moves through a charge controller, which charges batteries so Engle can use his battery system at night when there is no sun. 


Though it didn’t take him long to have the system installed, Engle said it’s important to educate yourself and get the appropriate help to avoid costly and potentially injurious mistakes.


“There are a lot of electrical things you can hook up and they will work. But it’s not safe and you shouldn’t have it working,” Engle said.


Robert Webber, Master Electrician and Inspector General of the IAEI (International Association of Electrical Inspectors), was recommended to Engle by an electrical inspector. Webber went to Engle’s house, helped him make some corrections and got his system up and running, code compliant and working properly.


“Ken is a mechanical person and he is still adamant about saying you have to get someone to help you design and install your solar panels. When I went over there, I found he had some pretty dangerous situations that he hooked up and didn’t realize it,” said Webber.


He said a big part of the problem with people trying to do-it-themselves is when they do grab solar panels, put them in and don’t do it right, they just assume solar is not good because it doesn’t work. Webber said solar works when you pay attention to every detail and install it correctly.


Not limited to rooftops, there are a variety of ways to take advantage of solar panels. You can do them over a carport or cover your back patio. Engle has one in the backyard on an actuator so he can adjust the panels by moving them up or down to get full maximum usage of the sun.


And Nebraska is a great place to try solar with an average of 4 ½ to 5 hours of peak sun per day.


Webber said it’s important to remember that investing in a solar power production system is like investing in a house. He said payback, if the system is installed and designed correctly, would take about 7-10 years, depending on what you’re putting in.


Admittedly, there is a lot less power generation on cloudy days, especially in winter when it’s colder.


“In winter, the panels produce more voltage so Ken actually has a three pronged approach to his power: battery backup, solar panels and a generator,” Webber said.



The key to selling power back to the utility company is a piece of equipment known as a net meter. The net meter keeps track of the energy that’s produced and also tracks how much is used. If Engle produces more than he uses, the power company (through a purchase power agreement) credits him back.


Hansen said the state net metering law could definitely be improved, “We are not near as robust as we should be in Nebraska with smaller wind and solar producers. The Nebraska Farmers Union fought to help get net metering in the state for 15 years before we finally got it done. It’s not what we would like but it’s a start.”


For Webber, he said the only way to overcome the myths and misconceptions associated with solar energy are with installations that are correct, safe and maximize power production. He said there haven’t been any wars over sunshine yet.


“Given the challenges we are facing, from human impact that releases large amounts of additional carbon into the atmosphere, if we can generate a fourth or a third of our nation’s electrical generation by not emitting any carbon, then that’s a huge win for the environment and for society as a whole. It improves air quality. Renewable energy has no harmful emissions,” Hansen said.


He said it’s important that all people become responsible stewards of our earth.


For their part, Burke said OPPD is purchasing wind to help hedge against rising prices of other generating fuels, such as natural gas and coal.


OPPD will continue to offer open meetings for stakeholders to allow people to engage with the utility on a number of different items, including renewable energy in the state and the future of the North Omaha coal plant.


“You will continue to see us out in the public gathering that information and feedback from our customer owners. We are really trying to put the ‘public’ back into public power,” said Burke.


For more information:,,,










posted at 10:30 am
on Monday, April 07th, 2014

<p>  Jeremy Lafrentz from Backstage Entertainment interviewing Jeph and Quinn from The Used</p>

photo by

Backstage Entertainment

Jeremy Lafrentz from Backstage Entertainment interviewing Jeph and Quinn from The Used

Taking Back Sunday and The Used at Sokol Auditorium

Backstage Entertainment interviews Taking Back Sunday and The Used

On Wednesday, April 2nd the much anticipated show with Taking Back Sunday and The Used came to Sokol Auditorium in Omaha, NE. Many fans remember that the show was supposed to take place a few months back but had to be rescheduled. I think I speak for many of the fans when I say it was worth the wait! Along with Taking Back Sunday and The Used, Tonight Alive and Sleepwave opened the show for the sold out crowd and got the crowd ready and energized for the main acts.


Backstage Entertainment was there covering the show and got a chance to meet with members from Taking Back Sunday and The Used to talk about the tour and their new music. First, we talked to Shaun Cooper from Taking Back Sunday and asked about some of the interview questions he hates to answer along with Shaun telling us a weird question he got asked about playing shows on Sundays. We also discussed their new album, “Happiness Is,” and if it’s easier or harder in the writing process releasing new albums.


Next, we talked to Jeph and Quinn from The Used and mentioned that the new album is out, “Imaginary Enemy,” and discussed their thoughts on digital piracy. The guys like people supporting the local record stores and buying the album from those stores but think how we’ll obtain music may change in the near future. Their hit single off the new album, “Cry,” is on the radio now and we asked their feelings on what their thoughts are when singles are released now compared to when they first heard themselves on the radio. Another topic of discussion was their Wikipedia page and how they have a “cult” following.


Make sure to check out the links below to watch the interviews and see the photos from the night.


Taking Back Sunday Interview

The Used Interview

Photos from the Night

Article courtesy of Jeremy Lafrentz of Backstage Entertainment. Check out their interviews, photos and contests to win autographed prizes by going to their Facebook page and clicking “Like” on the page: Backstage Entertainment.

posted at 09:59 am
on Monday, April 07th, 2014

Great Migration stories

For African Americans who left the South for Omaha, the specter of down home is never far away

The July 31-August 5 Native Omaha Days will feature metro-wide black heritage celebrations that on the surface don't seem to have much to do with the American South. But when local African American families gather for the biennial Days most can point to someone in their family tree who migrated from the South.

The same holds true for almost any black family gathering of any size here. Whatever the occasion, there's likely a Southern strain rich in history, tradition and nostalgia.

The Great Migration saw millions of African Americans leave the oppressive pre-civil rights South for parts all over the nation from the 1920s through the 1960s. Everyone who participated in the movement has a story. That's certainly the case with two Omaha women who made the migration during its waning years, Luriese Moore and Lorraine Jackson.

Moore, 72, came from Boligee, Ala. in 1959 in her late teens. Her family had been sharecroppers but eventually become land owners.

"My grandparents lived and worked on the white man's land," she says. "Most everything went to the white man. They didn't have a chance to show anything for their labors. That's why my daddy was so inspired to get something of his own. He made it reality, too, when he saved up enough to buy 98 acres of land. He farmed it on weekends when home from his steel mill job in Tuscaloosa.

"My brothers and I grew up working the land. You got up when the sun rose and you almost worked until the sun set."

The family still retains the property today.

Lorraine Jackson, 66, migrated from Brookhaven, Miss. in 1964 at age 17. Her grandparents were sharecroppers but eventually bought the cotton-rich land they toiled on and handed the 53 acres down to Jackson's parents. Picking cotton was a back-breaking, finger-cutting chore. Adding insult to injury, you got cheated at the end of the day.

"You were supposed to get $3 for picking a hundred pounds but it seemed like you could never get a hundred pounds because the scales were loaded. But if you wanted to make money you picked cotton. I saved my money," says Jackson.

The land she sweated on is still in the family's hands.

Jackson says by the time she graduated high school she couldn't stand being a second-class citizen anymore. She and her friends wanted out.

"That was the thing to do, you got out, you left."

When Mississipians who'd already made the migration wrote or called or came back with news of plentiful jobs and things to do, it acted as a recruitment pitch.

"They would tell you about all the bright lights in the big cities and all the places you could go. They told you can have a better life. It made an impression that I needed to get away. I thought it was right for me. Besides, I was kind of rambunctious. I wasn't the type to just sit there and say nothing or do nothing.

"I remember about a month before I left threatening my mom that I was going to sit at the Woolworth's counter in town and she about had a heart attack. I said, 'Mama, all they're going to do is ask me to leave.'  It was time for me and I said, 'I'm outta here.'"

Jackson came by train eager to start her new life.

Moore came by Greyhound bus and she says on the way here she was filled with mixed emotions of excitement and fear.

Each woman was among the movement''s last generation.

Another Omaha woman, Emma Hart, 87, was born in rural Ark. in 1926 but raised here, making her a child of the Great Migration.

Many other Omahans are variously fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of the migration. Few first generation migrants survive. A large extended family in Omaha made their exodus here from Evergreen, Ala. over a generation's time. A group of Christians from Brewton, Ala. migrated here in 1917 to found Pilgrim Baptist Church. Practically every black family, church, club or organization has its own migration connection and story.

The precise circumstances and motivations for leaving the South varied but the common denominator was a desire for "a better way of life," says Hart. That's what drove her parents to come in 1921. The Big Four packinghouses were booming then. The promise of steady work there was still a powerful lure decades later when Moore and Jackson's generation made the move north.

Migrants may not have thought of it in these terms, but implicit in their pursuit of a better life was the search for self-determination. Only by leaving the South, they felt, could they fully engage with and benefit from all that America offered.

Moore's parents could not exercise their right to vote in the South without courting danger. She says her father risked his anyway by driving black protestors to voting rights marches. He left her a legacy and bequest she couldn't ignore.

"My dad sacrificed his life. He could've got killed doing what he was doing, just to get the vote. My mother was concerned about Daddy getting killed because if you had a lot of people in your car during that time when the protests were happening the Klan would think you were freedom riders coming from the North.

"Daddy always preached to us, 'Hey, when y'all get the chance to vote you vote,' and I've never missed voting. The people before us gave their lives so we could vote."

Moore married in Ala. Her husband moved to Omaha ahead of her to find work and a place to live. After she joined him they started a family. She worked for a time in a packinghouse, then she got on at J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store downtown. Her three brothers all moved here for a time and worked packings jobs. Those jobs were vital for many black families getting a foothold here.

"That's where we really got our start, my husband and I," she says. "We ended up buying two homes. It was good paying money at the time compared to other jobs we could get."

Always looking to better herself Moore attended a local beauty college and she eventually opened her own salon – something she likely would not have been able to do then down South. Her clientele here included white customers, which would have never happened there.

Jackson, who married and raised a family in Omaha, worked in he Blackstone Hotel kitchen before going to beauty school and opening her own shop. She catered to customers of all races. An older brother preceded her to Omaha and drove a city bus for 35 years.

Both women continue doing hair today.

Emma Hart married and raised a family in Omaha, where she was almost never without work. She and many of her relatives worked in the packinghouses. Her first job came in a military laundry during World War II. Then she got on at Cudahy and when it closed she performed an undisclosed job in a sensitive area at Strategic Air Command. Two first cousins, brothers William and Monroe Coleman, enjoyed long, distinguished careers as Omaha Police Department officers. They could not have managed equivalent careers in the South then and even if they could it's doubtful Monroe could have reached the post of acting deputy director he achieved here.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America's Great Migration, says, "The only way blacks could be recognized (as citizens) was to leave one part of their own country for another part. That's why they're like immigrants but they're not immigrants. To me, it makes the story even more poignant because they had to do what immigrants had to to do just to become (full) citizens."

"It wasn't a political movement in the formal sense of the word but it had the impact of seeking political asylum or defection, almost in comparison to the Cold War when people tried to get on the other side of the Iron Curtain and had to go to great lengths to do so. This is a similar kind of defection that occurred within the borders of our own country and yet the people who were part of it didn't see themselves as part of any demographic wave, they saw themselves as making a decision for themselves and their families. Ultimately this was about a search for freedom."

Life outside the South was hardly paradise. Blacks still encountered segregation and discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation. The De Porres Club and the 4CL staged marches and demonstrations against inequities here. Late 1960s civil disturbances in northeast Omaha expressed rage over police misconduct. Moore and Jackson experienced first hand blacks' confinement to a small swath of North Omaha by housing covenants and red lining. Public places were not always accommodating. Many local businesses and organizations used exclusionary practices to deny or discourage black employment and patronage.

"To a certain point there were no restrictions," says Jackson, "but there were some undertones. You could go anywhere. There were no signs that said you couldn't. But because I lived it I could feel it but nobody really could do anything about it. You know subtle things when you see them."

She recalls being made to feel invisible by the way people ignored her or talked past her.

In terms of housing barriers, she says, "My goal was to move past 30th Street because I couldn't for so long, and I did. Some goals you just had to accomplish."

Still, restrictions here were nothing like what they were in places like Mississippi, where state-sanctioned apartheid was brutally enforced.

"MIssissippi didn't play, It was like a foreign country," says Jackson.

When a member of her own family got into a dispute with a white person he had to skip town in the dead of night and stay way for years before it was safe to return.

Many blacks saw no option but to pack up everything they owned and leave everything they knew to start all over in some strange new city.

"I think the fact they would go to such great lengths is an indication of the desire and desperation and hopefulness they had that this next place will be a good place for me," says Wilkerson.

This epic internal movement of a people wasn't an organized thing but an organic response to harsh social-economic conditions. Punitive Jim Crow laws severely curtailed the rights of blacks. Widespread drought and blight forced many blacks off the land they worked as sharecroppers or farmers. The prospect of better paying industrial jobs in places like Omaha and Chicago, where packinghouses and railroads hired minorities, was all the reason people needed to move.

"Ultimately a migration is about determining for one's self how one's life is going to be and merely by living they are fulfilling the destiny and imperatives of their migration," says Wilkerson. "For those who decided they could no longer live with the repression, they opted to  plot out a course of their own choosing, and that is what a migration truly is. By just leaving they are doing the very thing they're seeking to achieve. The leaving itself is the act of self-determination and courage."

Those who made the trek to forge new lives elsewhere encouraged others to follow. Thus, an uninterrupted stream of migrants flowed from the South to forever change the makeup and dynamic of cities in the East, the North and the West.

Some streams fed into receiving cities located on direct rail lines from the South. Where black enclaves from certain states got established up North, they became magnets that drew ever more blacks. While Omaha received migrants from all parts of the South it primarily drew transplants from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Ironlcally, where Omaha once offered more opportunity than the South, the situation has reversed and countless Omaha blacks, many of them children and grandchildren of the Great Migration, have made a reverse migration.

But when Luriese Moore came in the late '50s there was no doubt the Midwest was an improvement over the South. "I found it much better," she says. For starters, there was nothing like the overt segregation she knew growing up.

"Everything was black and white just all over (there). It was just a way of life. We didn't like it but it's what was happening. They had one side of the street for colored and the other side for white. They had one water fountain for the black people and one for the white people. When you went into a store you just didn't get in on the white side because you knew where you were supposed to be. We couldn't go in some exclusive stores in my hometown that sold very fine clothes. They didn't want us to try on hats and things.

"Up here the integration and everything was all new to me. It was just totally different from where we were. I didn't see the signs we saw in Ala. for blacks only or whites only. You could just go to anywhere you wanted to here. You could go to any store you wanted to."

Blacks were not immune from harassment, intimidation, threats, outright violence in places like Omaha – witness the 1919 lynching of Will Brown and resulting race riot – but the South was a much more treacherous landscape.

Lorraine Jackson says while she never laid eyes on the Ku Klux Klan during the time she lived in Miss., their presence was felt in incidents like cross burnings.

"They were there. They were killing people. We saw a lot of cross burnings in front of people's houses. We knew those people, we went to church together. That was scary. You never get that fear out of your mind. It was a fear that you had because really you hadn't done anything, you were just black and that's all you had to be."

She says blacks perceived to be too aspirational or ambitious by the white ruling class could be targets. A cross burning was a message to stay in you place.

"I mean, you really had to walk careful," says Jackson. "You were expected to work in the fields and things like that."

Moore recalls similar menace in Alabama.

"There was one town right out from Birmingham that was known to be very dangerous and to hang black people, You could not be on the highway too much at night either because they would end up shooting you or running you off the road.
Oh, I don't even want to think about it. I had kind of pushed it out of my mind.

"My parents were wonderful parents because we were sheltered from a lot of things going on down there, Those were very crucial times. Where I came from if you didn't do what they told you to then then they would start going around your house and everything. If they wanted your property they made it awfully painful for you to keep it. They'd start doing things to your family, pestering you, messing with you, like running you off the road. People would say, so and so had an accident, well they wouldn't have an accident, they would be run off the road. It was mean. It was not a pleasant thing. We saw a lot of that down there."

Moore appreciates how far African Americans have come in her lifetime.

"We've come to a place where things are much better and I thank God for it. We have come a long ways. When we sing 'we shall overcome,' well, we have overcome. I'm glad we've moved past that. During the time it was happening it was a bitter feeling. I felt angry. i was looking at race as the human race and they were looking at color. I just couldn't see how a person could treat another person like that .Sin causes people to lose sight of life and to do terrible things to each other."

Jackson says the root of racism people's "fear of what they don't know."

Emma Hart doesn't recall her parents mentioning any specific fear they fled. The poor sharecroppers just went where the jobs were and when two relatives came and made a go of it here, Emma's parents followed.

Where Emma's relatives in the South attended all black country schools she attended integrated Omaha grade and high schools and where her relatives lived  strictly segregated lives she lived in an integrated South Omaha neighborhood.

"Everything was mixed in South Omaha," she says.

On one of only two visits she made to the South she experienced the hand of Jim Crow when the passenger train she was on left St. Louis for Ark. and blacks were forced to change cars for the segregated leg of the trip. That same racial protocol applied when Jackson took the train and Moore rode the bus in Jim Crow land.

Even when Moore made auto trips to the South she was reminded of what she'd left behind. "There were certain places they wouldn't even sell us gas," she says. "We couldn't even get any food to eat, we had to pack up our own food to take south and to come back until we hit the St. Louis line."

Hart may not have grown up in the South but she's retained many Southern traditions she was brought up in, from fish fries to soul food feasts featuring recipes handed down over generations.

Lorraine Jackson keeps her Southern heritage close to her. "I brought my traditions – like Sunday dinners with the family. I raised my kids with the same culture and the same core values. There isn't much I changed. I remained who I was – a daughter of the South. I'm very proud of it."

Every now and then, she says, she just has to prepare "some fried chicken and biscuits from scratch" for that taste of home.

She's sure the way she and her siblings were raised helps explain why they've all done well.

"All of us graduated from high school. Some of us went to college. A sister has a master's degree. It's amazing we're successful. I think it was the upbringing. In that time we lived in we had to be strong, we had to be respectful. We had a work ethic – that was another good thing. Faith was a big factor, too."

Jackson and Moore have made regular pilgrimages to the South since moving to Omaha. They marvel at its transformation.

Moore says she never dreamed her hometown of Boligee would have a black mayor, but it does. She's also pleasantly surprised by all the open interracial relationships, blended church congregations and mixed gatherings she sees.

Jackson says, "When I go back to Mississippi it almost shocks me to see the change. Sometimes it catches me by surprise and I think, Where am I? It's almost better than it is here."

Both women say that when they gather with family or friends who share their past it's the good times they recall, not the bad times. And whether their kids and grandkids know it or not, the family's Southern roots get expressed in the food they eat and in the church they attend and in various other ways. These Daughters of the South may have left but their hearts still reside down home.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at

posted at 09:49 am
on Monday, July 22nd, 2013

<p>  From left to right: Sharif Liwaru, Sarah Moore, Nikole Roach of UNO's Attendance Collaborative</p>

photo by


From left to right: Sharif Liwaru, Sarah Moore, Nikole Roach of UNO's Attendance Collaborative

Showing Up

Collaborative shares attendance best practices

“Attendance is one area where 90 percent does not equal an A,” according to Sharif Liwaru, Elementary Schools Director at UNO’s Attendance Collaborative. That is because a 90 percent attendance rate equals 20 days of absence -- the number that triggers a referral to the County Attorney as mandated by LB 933. 

“A kid missing a couple days of school every couple of weeks may not seem like a lot of days gone, but academically, it has a greater impact than many parents are aware of. There is now increased communication between the school and parents about what it takes to be successful and what attendance expectations are.

"The preferred rate should be 95 percent of the time. Five percent absenteeism is less than 10 days per year. If they can keep it under 10 days, that’s good attendance,” Liwaru said.

UNO launched the Attendance Collaborative in 2009 with funding from Building Brighter Futures as a vehicle to study the problem of high absenteeism and to come up with a pilot program for improving attendance in Douglas and Sarpy county schools. In addition to Liwaru, the team includes Sarah Moore who focuses on middle schools and Nikole Roach at the high school level. The success of local school districts is important to UNO. “The impact of graduation rates is so direct on the university’s applicant pool that they wanted to be involved,” Liwaru said. “They were a neutral party, but still greatly affected by the issue.”

According to the collaborative, every year 1.2 million students drop out of school nationwide, which is 7,000 students every day. The Nebraska Department of Education reports that the statewide drop out rate is 10 percent, but the rate for Douglas County is closer to 25 percent. Absenteeism is the first indicator that a student will drop out of school.

Pilot Programs

Since its inception, the collaborative has been studying a sample of schools with an eye on developing pilot programs or best practices that can be implemented district wide. 

“We are currently serving 18 schools within OPS, three within Ralston and two within Millard,” Moore said. “What we do is provide support at the school level. We don’t work directly with the students. We help schools enhance and create sustainable strategies to improve attendance. We look at what already exists, including state law, district level policies and procedures, and additional strategies they have in place. We examine those with the school and through research of national practices we help enhance those efforts,” she said. 

“Through those efforts with those 23 schools we have created a ‘Guide to Achieving Excellent Attendance,’” Roach added. “It’s a culmination of the most effective strategies that are taking place at the elementary, middle and high schools.”

Each building has a School Engagement and Attendance Team (SEAT) that is encouraged to determine what works best for their institution. The Attendance Collaborative serves as a clearinghouse for idea sharing among the various schools.

“We missed you!”

One of the core values of the Attendance Collaborative is positive messaging. “We encourage staff to tell the students ‘We want you here. We missed you,” instead of “Why weren’t you here?” Roach said. 

Another value is personal engagement. Teachers and administrators greet students when they arrive at the school building. Home room has been transformed from a place to take attendance into an opportunity for one teacher to monitor and mentor the same group of students from freshman through senior year. 

Parents are kept informed about their children’s attendance through letters, phone calls and personal contact. One high school utilizes robo-calls to let parents know immediately if their child has missed a class they were expected to attend.

Additionally, there are four non-profit organizations sponsoring six Youth Attendance Navigators who work directly with students in the schools. Completely Kids is at Norris Middle School. The Urban League is at Monroe Middle School, Benson High and Northwest High. The Latino Center of the Midlands is at South High. The “Y” is at McMillan Middle School. “Hopefully, there will be additional funding to have more YAN’s in the future,” Moore said.

The community is also engaged in promoting attendance through engagement. Mentoring and after-school programs are critical to keeping students interested in school. 

The good news is that perfection is not expected. “We encourage schools not to concentrate on perfect attendance,” Liwaru said. “Statistically, there is no academic difference between 0 and 8 days missed. We don’t want people to come to school when they are sick or to miss going to their grandmother’s funeral.”

Graduation rates have improved in OPS by a few percentage points in the past year. “It’s not going to improve dramatically overnight,” Liwaru said. “But we are in this for the long haul.”

posted at 01:58 pm
on Monday, March 11th, 2013

<p>  Zach Wahls and Moms</p>

Zach Wahls and Moms

My Two Moms

Zach Wahls brings his message of equality to UNO human rights lecture series

With gay marriage being assailed during an Iowa House Judiciary Committee public hearing in 2011 Zach Wahls offered counter testimony that not only charged the proceedings but the national dialogue about the issue.

Raised by same sex partners, Wahls made the case that sexual preference has nothing to do with effective parenting. He used himself as a case in point. The 21-year-old University of Iowa student and Eagle Scout, who happens to be straight, owns and operates his own tutoring business, Iowa City Learns, that hires local high school students to tutor peer students.

What Wahls spoke that afternoon became a YouTube sensation and ever since he's emerged as a leading LGBT advocate.

His 2012 book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family, distills his thoughts and experiences as the son of a lesbian couple. The book's message picks up where his testimony ended, when he said "the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero impact on the content of my character," and frames his frequent public talks. He's the featured speaker for the March 12 Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Lecture on Human Rights at the Thompson Alumni Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His 7 p.m. address is free and open to the public.

Wahls will emphasize what unites people, not divides them.

"I obviously grew up in a family that is in some ways very different from the median American family," he says, "but at the end of the day I think there's much more that makes us similar to most other American families than makes us different. So my remarks are really going to be focused on trying to find this common ground."

The 2011 plea he made before Iowa legislators did not stop the Republican-controlled Iowa House from passing the same sex ban, which the Democrat-majority Senate has thus far blocked. But the argument he made for gay marriage and parenting resonated far beyond the confines of that state debate.

"My family really isn’t so different from any other Iowa family," he told lawmakers. "When I’m home, we go to church together. We eat dinner, we go on vacations. But we have our hard times too. But we’re Iowans. We don’t expect anyone to solve our problems for us. We’ll fight our own battles. We just hope for equal and fair treatment…

"So what you’re voting for here is not to change us. It’s not to change our families, it’s to change how the law views us, how the law treats us. You are telling Iowans, 'Some among you are second-class citizens who do not have the right to marry the person you love.' I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot of testimony about how damaging having gay parents is on kids. But not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple."

His remarks went viral online overnight. Life hasn't been the same since. He's given national media interviews and appeared on The Daily Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

"It's an interesting place to find one's self, no doubt about it, especially at such a young age," he says of the notoriety. "The thing a lot of folks don't necessarily  understand is that when you are the son of a same sex couple, especially in a place like Iowa or Wisconsin, where I was born, you are already an ambassador  simply because there aren't a whole lot of us. And so growing up I was really the only kid that a lot of folks knew who had gay parents and that put a certain amount of pressure on me when I was younger."

Active in the Scouts for Equality campaign to end the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts, he's hopeful a policy change is near. He says the organization is listening to the Scout community and trying to formulate equality language to be voted on May 24 at the meeting of its national council.

He's embraced the activist role that's come his way and is encouraged by the support he's encountered in his many travels.

"Over the last two years now I've had this incredible opportunity to go all over the country and have a conversation with people who are similar to me, who are different from me about this question and this debate the nation is currently having about marriage and family and tried to make some sense of it.

"My message really resonates with people both on the left and the right politically. In my generation I've found there are increasingly very few people who view this as a partisan issue and it think that is a very good thing. As I've had the chance to speak with young conservatives and liberals and libertarians I've found there's interest in coming together to find solutions and a desire for collaboration and problem solving and less interest in fighting this culture war that's dominated American politics."

He says his advocacy role "has absolutely changed me," adding, "When my generation was growing up we were always told by our guidance counselors that we could change the world. I think a lot of us thought it was b.s.. We didn't necessarily think it was true and this showed me that well, actually, it is true. There is nothing more powerful than an idea thats time has come."

Several times now, he says, people have told him his words have helped change their minds about gay marriage and parenting and he calls this feedback "a very powerful reminder of the ability we all have to impact other people's lives and to expose them to different ideas and new points of view."

Follow Wahls on Facebook and via his website,

Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at

posted at 08:22 am
on Monday, March 04th, 2013

photo by

Kietryn Zychal

If it feels hotter, that’s because it is

Global warming breaks new records, patterns of extreme weather increase

After the hottest start to a year ever recorded in the United States, local activists gathered to point out the obvious from a symbolic spot.

Career National Weather Service meteorologist John Pollack is devoting his retirement to educating the public about climate change, suggesting ways to lower carbon emissions. Standing in front of the “high and dry” Salute to Labor statue on the riverfront that was underwater last summer during the flood of 2011, Pollack warned that “the Earth is catching a fever.” 

“The average temperature during the past 12 months in the lower 48 states has been 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal” Pollack told reporters, “While that may not seem all that significant, think of how your body feels with a 101.5 temperature, 3-degrees above our normal 98.6.” 

Pollack was joined by Tim Rinne of Nebraskans for Peace and David Corbin of Physicians for Social Responsibility. They held up a banner from the organization, which takes its name from the fact that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is what scientists consider safe for humanity. The currently level is 392 ppm. 

In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed in its State of the Climate report that the first six months of 2012 were the hottest on record in the United States since record keeping began in 1895, producing drought conditions over much of the country. A sample of record breaking temperatures in Nebraska includes McCook’s all-time high of 115 on June 26th and Omaha’s July 6th high of 104.

Pollack cited the figure that 98 percent of climate scientists agree recent weather-related disasters -- heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and a derecho (straight-line windstorm), are part of a pattern made more frequent by global warming. The 98 percent figure came from a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of 1,372 climate researchers who conduct research and publish in peer-reviewed journals.

Hotter weather has an effect on Nebraska’s signature industry, agriculture. Higher temperatures reduce yields per acre, especially when corn is pollinating. Livestock suffer and die in extreme heat. Violent weather patterns cause damage to crops, structures, and the economy at large. 

Extreme weather is hard on the taxpayer. The U.S. Forest Service is projected to have a record year of spending on burned-area recovery efforts largely due to wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado. The Department of Agriculture also will assume additional financial obligations in Colorado.

In addition to being a weather scientist, Pollack and his colleagues are working to advocate for change, focusing on solutions to reduce carbon emissions now. “As a nation, we need to very quickly implement energy-efficiency measures by insulating homes and businesses and shift to utilizing Nebraska’s vast renewable wind and solar energy resources rather than rely on out-of-state coal and oil for our energy supply,” he said.

David Corbin, who ran for OPPD board but lost, cited some specifics of Nebraska’s energy potential. Nebraska still has the 4th best wind resources in the U.S. and the 13th best solar resources. Iowa supplies 25 percent of its energy needs from wind power, but Nebraska generates only 4 percent. Iowa firms invested in wind because of tax subsidies, explained Corbin, but Nebraska is the one state that only has public electrical power so there is no tax incentive to invest in wind farms. According to Corbin, OPPD CEO Gary Gates said recently that private firms could build wind farms and sell the electricity to OPPD, “That’s progress,” Corbin said.

Pollack, Corbin and Rinne have a vision that western Nebraska, which has the strongest wind in the state, could supply energy to eastern Nebraska where the population needs it. “What benefits Nebraska most?” asked Rinne. “Shipping coal from Wyoming or paying farmers out west for wind power?” They also envision building transmission lines to move wind energy from west to east. 


“We can do everything we need to do to get off carbon,” Pollack said, “If we exercise the political will to do it.”

posted at 09:10 am
on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Anatomy of an Election

Douglas County Election Commissioner Runs With Labor And Paper

It takes months of planning, last minute details and tight organization to make an election go smoothly. “Election Day is the part that everybody sees,” said Election Commissioner Dave Phipps in his office at the Douglas County Election Commission on 115th and Davenport Streets. “Nobody wants to really know what happens and how you get to that point.”

“They just want to know that they can go to their polling place, get their ballot, vote it and be done for the day.”

Phipps and his staff take hundreds of steps to get to the big event. “For us, election season starts five or six months before and goes for five or six weeks afterward to make sure everything is cleaned up and accounted for. We have a relatively small staff to take care of all that.”

Elections in Douglas County are run with labor and a mountain of paper. Voting is done by paper ballot and registration requires filling out a form in advance of Election Day, signing it and mailing it back. Registration forms can also be completed at a library, Department of Motor Vehicles office or by a volunteer Deputy Registrar, all to later be entered into the computer at the Election Commission (EC). As a presidential election approaches, voter registration and re-registration requests increase exponentially. “There are so many people who vote only in that one election,” Phipps said. “We get tens of thousands of requests.” People move, get married or divorced, change their political party. There are usually 60 or 70 temps hired in the months leading up to a presidential election.

There are only 13 permanent employees at the Election Commission. The organizational chart is thin, with two rows under Phipps. The Deputy Democratic Commissioner, Lisa Wise, The Elections Manager Justine Kessler and the Public Relations Coordinator, Maria Anderson report directly to him. There are six departments to handle technology (GIS mapping), polling places, poll workers, voter registration, office administration and accounting. Most of the salaries are in the $30,000 - $40,000 range with one 20-year employee making $9,000 less than the Election Commissioner himself at $78,000.

In addition to voter registration, they handle requests for early voting ballots, interact with candidates who want to run for office, determine the locations of polling places, update the website, generate precinct maps based on voting statistics with GIS software, handle hundreds of vote-by-mail elections, print ballots, prepare boxes of supplies for all the polling places and make sure the disability equipment for blind voters is programmed to work properly. The budget for personnel, including the temporaries and poll workers hired on Election Day was $1 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. The rest of the budget -- $250,000 -- includes printing, mailing, and all other contract services from computer software to the moving trucks that delivered supplies to the precincts.

On Election Day itself, Phipps gets up at 4 a.m. and is in the office by 5:30. At 6 a.m. the telephone operators start to arrive. Poll workers are either long-time volunteers who enjoy the public service or they are drafted to work, similar to being selected for jury duty. A drafted poll worker is required to serve for four elections. Poll workers make minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, typically working a 13.5 hour day with no overtime. They receive about an hour and a half of training a few weeks before the election, so there are often call-in questions about set-up and procedure. Five poll workers, no more than two from any one political party, are assigned to each polling place, including an Inspector who has worked an election in the past,

At 7 a.m. the first set of replacement poll workers arrives at the Election Commission to be sent out in the field if necessary. At 8 a.m. the polls open, and operators take calls from voters with questions such as “Where is my polling place? How do I get there?” Or, “What’s my party?” When voters are not listed in the registration book at the polling place in their precinct, a worker will call the Election Commission to find out where to send that person. If they are in the right spot but not listed, they are allowed to vote a provisional ballot, placed in a envelope so the EC can verify the registration before counting the ballot.

At 2 p.m., everything stops at the polling places for the mid-day ballot transfer. The ballot box is opened and the number of ballots counted in front of everybody. The metal ballot box is then sealed for the rest of the day. Ballots are put in a cardboard transfer case and sealed with a paper seal, signed by two poll workers from opposite parties who both drive to one of 16 collection centers where two poll workers from opposite parties are collecting boxes from a dozen or more polling places, before delivering them to the Election Commission.

“It cuts down how much we have to count in the evening,” explains Phipps. In 2006, the Secretary of State encouraged the counties not to do a midday transfer, resulting in a 24-hour work day with staff counting ballots until 5:30 a.m.

Eight counting machines costing $65,000 each -- the model 650 from Omaha’s own Election Systems & Software -- were purchased by the Nebraska Secretary of State through federal funds provided by the Help America Vote Act.

At 8 p.m., the polls close and the slot in each ballot box is locked and sealed to be driven to the Election Commission in a single car by two poll workers of opposite parties. The five drop boxes for early voting ballots -- three in libraries, the Charles B. Washington in North Omaha, the South Omaha branch and the Bess Johnson in Elkhorn, and drop boxes at the Millard Public Schools Foundation and outside the Election Commission, are also closed.

As cars pull up, ballot boxes are loaded into carts and delivered by a local Boy Scout troop to the counting room. The supply box and the large auto-mark disability voting machine must also be returned to the Commission.

Also at 8 p.m. the Commission announced the results from the midday transfer. At 8:45, a second announcement is made which includes the results of the early voting ballots. The vote tally is updated every 45 minutes thereafter until all the ballots are counted.

Traditionally, most of the ballots are back to the EC by 9:30 p.m. During a primary election, the counting usually stops before midnight. For a presidential election, it typically goes until 2 a.m. Any provisional ballots from voters whose address or information changed will be verified in the seven day period following the election.

posted at 12:00 pm
on Tuesday, June 05th, 2012

2012 Douglas County Poll Closing Analysis: Process, Methodology And Analysis

Read the full story here.

2012 Voter File:

The initial voter data for 2012 obtained by The Reader was not useable for this initial analysis because it did not have polling location for each voter listed. It did have a large amount of voting data that would prove useful later.

The Reader obtained a new file with voters and polling places linked below. This file contained 314,969 voters and the date suggests it is from a polling place mailing list as of 2012-03-05. This data has all voters and their polling place.  Shape files are also available upon request.

2008 Voter File:

In order to do a comparison of the voter’s distance from their polling places, The Reader obtained a 2008 voter file from just prior to the 2008 general election with linked polling places. This file contained 315,257 voters and is linked below.


Both files are large and the Election Commissioner requests that voter files not be used for commercial purposes. If it’s your intention to contribute to this analysis in the public interest, please email us the details of your interest to share access to these files.


GIS Data:

Note: All GIS processes were conducted in ArcMap 10.

All GIS data from the Election Commissioner included 2012 polling places and precincts along with 2010 polling places and precincts. Deciding to use the 2008 voter file for comparison to 2012, a new 2008 polling place file was created based on the 2008 voter file. A point file was created by using the 2008 voter data and running a pivot table on polling places and address. With a list of all polling locations in 2008, we were able to geocode (place on the map based on address). A new polling places file was created because the polling places file for 2010 didn’t match the voter file for 2008. Some polling places changed between 2008 and 2010.


Data Creation Process:


The first step was to geocode all of the voters in the two file (2008 and 2012) to generate a distance to polling place value and determine what Census Tract each voter was in to give them demographic data from the census. We used an address locator created from a 2011 street file and parcel file for Douglas County. Douglas County GIS has wonderful data available here.


After running the geocoding process in ArcMap 10 we were able to match the voters to the rates below:



Total in Voter File             315,257

Total Matched                    312,169                                 

Percent In This Analysis                 99.02%                                      



Total in Voter File             314,969               

Total Matched                    312,497 (312,499 were actually matched and two were later remove)

Percent In This Analysis                 99.22%                  


Some voters we not matched because their address could not be found. While there are likely some remaining voters who have been incorrectly matched in both years, the majority of the address were matched with a 100% match rate. The mismatched voters will not have a dramatic impact on the results.


Straight Line Distance

The next step in the process was to give each voter a distance to their polling place. With no quick and easy way to give each voter a distance based on their travel by road, a straight line distance method was used. In this method, each polling place and the voters connected to that polling place were placed on the map by themselves. This consisted of one point for the polling place and a point for each voter connected to it. These two data sets were then spatially joined so that “Each point will be given all of the attributes of the point in the layer being joined that is closest to it, and a distance field showing how close that point is (in the units of the target layer).” In order to speed this process up, multiple polling places were done at once as long as they were far enough apart as to not allow a voter to be joined to the wrong polling place. These exported files contained only a few polling places and their voters with a distance. Once each polling place was done for the given year, they were joined back together to form a new voter file with all matched voters and a distance to their polling place.


This process was done using the matched voters in 2012 and the 2012 polling place shapefile provided for the 2012 data. The 2008 data was done using the matched voters in 2008 and the 2008 polling place shapefile that we created. The resulting data, if viewed for all voters at one polling place in ArcMap 10 would look like the screen shot below if shown with the shortest distance in green and the longest distance in red.





Census Data

The final step in the setup of these data sets was a process of joining census data to each voter. Because we did not have individual demographic data for each voter, we used Census data from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey (ACS). We downloaded a number of tables from the American FactFinder website that pertained to the demographics that we wanted to use to analyze change in distance. These tables include data on poverty, race/ethnicity, employment, education and median household income. These data tables were condensed and combined into one file that was then joined to the census tract GIS layer in ArcMap 10. Once joined to the census tract GIS layer, voters could be joined to census tracts and, in turn, joined to the data pulled from the ACS. This process, similar to joining the voter points to polling points, uses voter points and census tract boundaries to join voters to the census tract that “it falls inside”. In other words, the voter was given all attributes of the ACS based on what census tract that they fell inside of. Below are the fields of census data added:



Population for whom poverty status is determined


Population Below Poverty


Percent Below Poverty for the Population for whom poverty status is determined


Population 18 and Over for whom poverty status is determined


Population 18 and Over Below Poverty


Percent Below Poverty for the Population 18 and Over for whom poverty status is determined


Total Population


Minority Population (All people who are Not Hispanic or Latino and White Alone)


Percent Minority


Percent Black Alone Population (Not Hispanic or Latino)


Percent Hispanic or Latino or any race or combination of races


Percent of the population 25 and over that is a high school graduate or higher


Percent of the population 25 and over that has a bachelor's degree or higher


Population 16 and over


Population 16 years and over who is Employed


Population 16 years and over who is Unemployed


Total Households


Median Household Income



Below is an example of what that might look like for one polling place.  All of the voters from the Beadle Middle School are in census tract 74.60 and thus were give the poverty percentage, minority percentage and median household income of that census tract according to the 2006-2010 ACS.



This process was done for the 2008 and 2012 voter files using the 2006-2010 ACS data. Because we wanted to maintain the same areas in the distance comparison between years, it was important that we used the same ACS data for both voter files. It was initially suggested that we should be comparing the voter data by precinct between 2008 and 2012, however, because these boundaries changed between the years, a comparison would between them would not work. Using the census method, voters counted in >50% minority census tracts in 2008 and 2012 should be people in the same geographic area.




Once these modified voter files were finished, the data was exported into excel for analysis. These two files are available under the same guidelines as above in regards to voter files.


Pivot Table Comparison

The primary method of analysis is the pivot table feature in excel. The pivot table tool allows you to summarize data by defined columns and rows. In all cases my column was the average distance of voters to polling place as defined by my row, or, the defined area based on census tracts of specific median income, minority percentage, poverty percentage, education percentage, employment percentage or county quadrant. Using the table below as an example, the pivot table allowed us to calculate the average distance of every voter from their polling place (as defined by the straight line distance calculation defined above) in all census tracts where less than <10% of people age 25 and over (according to the 2006-2010 ACS) had a bachelors degree. We also did this for the remaining data breaks  as they were initially defined by for minority percentages ( < 10%, >= 10% and < 20%, >= 20% and < 50% & >= 50%).





Percent of the population 25 and over that has a bachelor's degree or higher: 2006-2010

Average Distance

Total Voters

< 10%



>= 10% and < 20%



>= 20% and < 50%



>= 50%



Grand Total





These analyses were conducted for both the 2008 and 2012 voter files and then compared between years. Because the same ACS data was joined to voters in each year, the same areas are being compared between years just with slightly different voters and changes in polling place distance. This analysis can be seen in the file named Comp_2008vs2012. Any additional census data (or commute time data) could be joined to the voter files by census tracts and then analyzed. Additionally, the data could be broken down in any number of ways that has not been previously done by us.

The Analysis can be summed in this document: VoterComp_2008vs2012

And is narrated below:

Voters in the northeast and southeast quadrant of the county as divided roughly by 72nd and Dodge streets experienced a 43% and 45% increase respectively in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in the northwest and southwest quadrants experienced a 19% and 21% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place respectively from 2008 to 2012. The northeast and southeast quadrants made up about 35% of the total voters in 2012.

Voters in Census tracts with median household income between $0 and $24,999 experienced a 30% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with median household income between $25,000 and $49,999 experienced a 53% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with median household income between $50.000 and $74,999 and those over $75,000 experienced a 14% and 17% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively. Voters in census tracts with incomes below $50,000 made up about 43% of the total voters in 2012.

Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% of the population over the age of 24 with a bachelors degree or greater experienced a 68% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters living in Census tracts where the population over the age of 25 with a bachelors degree or greater was between 10% and 20%, 20% and 50% and over 50% experienced a 35%, 32% and 12% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

Voters in Census tracts with 20% to 50% and over 50% minority populations experienced a 47% and 53% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively. Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% and between 10% and 20% minority populations only experienced a 27% and 9% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively. Voters in census tracts with over 20% minority populations made up about 40% of the total voters in 2012.

Voters who were Republican experienced a 24% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 while Voters who were Democrat and Libertarian experienced a 32% and 41% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% of the population over the age of 17 in poverty experienced a 17% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with 10% to 20% and greater than 20% of the population over the age of 18 in poverty experienced a 45% and 62% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% of the population over the age of 15 unemployed experienced a 23% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with 10% to 20% and greater than 20% of the population over the age of 15 unemployed experienced a 61% and 39% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

posted at 12:00 pm
on Tuesday, June 05th, 2012

Regenerative Medicine Helps the Body to Heal Itself

Medical Futurist Alan Russell Speaks April 11 as part of Holland Lecture Series

Regenerative medicine is a new way of treating injuries and diseases, using specially-grown tissues and cells, along with artificial organs. The goal is helping the body to regenerate itself.

It’s an emerging field with great potential, according to the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

“These approaches can amplify our natural healing process in the places it's needed most, or take over the function of a permanently damaged organ,” according to the Institute’s web site.

Alan Russell is the founder of the McGowan Institute, and a leader in regenerative medicine.
He will speak in Omaha at 7:30 p.m. on April 11 as part of the free Holland Lecture Series at the Holland Center.

Research is also being done locally in regenerative medicine, including work at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University.

Alan Russell
Russell’s biography calls him a medical futurist and a pioneer in regenerative medicine. Crossing the fields of chemistry, biology, and materials science, Russell’s research lab studies how to help damaged tissues and organs to rebuild themselves.

For example, he is currently developing an artificial ovary so that women with cancer may undergo radiation treatment and still be able to have children.
Russell has also attracted attention beyond the scientific community. Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the “100 People Who are Changing America,” and he spoke at the TED Conference in 2006 on regenerating our bodies.

In that TED talk, Russell said, “Regenerative medicine is an extraordinarily simple concept. It’s simply accelerating the pace at which the body heals itself in a clinically-relevant time scale.”

This work makes Russell a logical choice as speaker for the Holland Lecture Series, according to Steve Hutchinson, chairperson of the Holland Lecture Committee.

“Part of what we want to accomplish is to inform people about where the science is going, and to raise questions about the implications of that science,” he said. “We think he’ll be interesting, and it will increasingly impact people’s lives. It’s time to start getting informed and think about the implications.”

The Holland Lecture Series is free to the public. It is sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Omaha, and is funded by local philanthropist Dick Holland.

The series has its roots in the Frank R. Hoagland Lectures, which were held at the Unitarian Church between 1954 and 1964.

“When Dick Holland was a young guy, he attended the Hoagland Lectures. They were trying to bring provocative ideas into the community, and he wants to bring that back,” Hutchinson said. “That’s why he decided to sponsor this series.”

The Holland Lecture Series began in 2005, and has since brought to Omaha two well-known speakers annually. According to Hutchinson, these lectures provide open discussion of provocative ideas that are not usually heard in Nebraska.

Tickets are free, but must be reserved through the Holland Center box office.  Reservations will become available on March 26. You may reserve up to six tickets, and can make reservations by calling (402)345-0606 or online at

Stem Cells
Hutchinson believes the combination of scientific, economic, and ethical issues presented by regenerative medicine make it worthy of public discussion.

“We had someone speak on stem cells in 2005, but we wanted to go back and touch upon that, because a great deal has happened,” Hutchinson said. “Regenerative medicine does include stem cells, but is much broader than that. The whole field has really come into existence over the last couple of years.”

The McGowan Institute divides regenerative medicine into three areas: medical devices and artificial organs, tissue engineering, and cellular therapies.

Stem cells are the best known aspect of regenerative medicine. According to the National Institutes of Health, stem cells are unspecialized cells capable of developing into many different cell types in the body, such as muscle, red blood, or brain cells.

“In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive,” according to the NIH’s stem cell information web site.

The use of stem cells in research has attracted controversy in the past, because some are taken from human embryos. Other stem cells are taken from adults.

In 2006, researchers identified a way to genetically reprogram some cells to assume a stem cell-like state. These new types are called pluripotent stem cells, and may be used in future research.

University of Nebraska Medical Center
The phrase “wouldn’t it be great if…” comes up frequently in conversation with David Crouse.

Crouse is a professor of genetics, cell biology and anatomy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).

“Many health problems are related to the loss of function of tissues and organs. These problems persist because something is wrong or missing,” Crouse said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve these problems by replacing those tissues or repairing them?”

About 20 researchers at UNMC dedicate at least part of their work to regenerative medicine, particularly to stem cells.

This work is interdisciplinary.  In addition to medicine, researchers come from backgrounds including biomaterials, engineering, and cellular biology.

“This is a regenerative medicine initiative, not a program,” said Crouse. “There are quite a few graduate students working on these projects, including PhD students and postdoctorates.”

Related research has been conducted for years at UNMC, but its formal initiative began in 2008 when Nora Sarvetnick was hired to lead its efforts.

“She has a group of researchers with one floor in Durham Research Tower II,” Crouse said. “Even though they are in different academic departments, they are located together. This kind of science is more driven by concepts than departments.”

The basic ideas of regenerative medicine go back decades. One of its first common applications was the repair of severe burns. Crouse said physicians originally took unburned skin from a healthy part of the body to replace burned skin.

Over time, organ transplantation developed from this basic idea of trading good tissue for bad tissue.

UNMC is now a major force in organ transplantation, but Crouse and his colleagues focus on newer and less developed aspects of RM research.

For example, Crouse said that cell transplantation may one day replace organ transplantation.

“We can transplant livers. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could transplant just liver cells?” Crouse said. “You could just inject them into the blood and they would find their way to the liver and fix the problem. It’s been done in animals, but not yet in humans.”

The liver is a large organ, and obtaining enough liver cells would be a challenge, but Crouse believes the benefits of avoiding surgical trauma will eventually make cell transplantation therapy successful.

In the same way, cells from other major organs and tissues could be transplanted and allowed to heal the unhealthy part of the body.

One group at UNMC is currently researching the regeneration of retina tissue related to sight damage, and another is studying the possibilities of using cells on Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.

The U.S. military is now funding RM research, and UNMC is in early stages of getting involved.

“There is horrible damage caused in military actions,” Crouse said. “The military can now get people to survive this damage, but they have missing or nonfunctional limbs or organs. The military is investing money and effort into recruiting scientists who can find solutions to these kinds of problems.”

The hope is that regenerative medicine might be able to help those suffering from crushing or other trauma, including military actions, auto accidents, and sports injuries.

“Wouldn't it be great to treat that? We are just beginning in this area,” Crouse said.

Creighton University
A number of researchers at Creighton University are also studying regenerative medicine, across several departments.

One of these is researchers is David He, a professor of biomedical science, who is studying the possibilities of regenerating hearing.

According to the National Institutes of Health, our ability to hear depends on bundles of hair cells in the inner ear. These hair bundles convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, which travel to the brain by way of the auditory nerve. When hair cells are damaged by disease or injury, people experience hearing loss.

Although fish and birds are able to grow new hair cells, mammals typically cannot.

“Our hair cells are vulnerable to noise. Teenagers use iPods. Military people are exposed to noise. Chemotherapy kills these cells,” He said. “Before this happens, we can prevent the cells from becoming damaged.”

He’s work focuses on regenerating hair cells, helping the body to repair them and possibly restore hearing loss.

While stem cells are instrumental in many types of RM research, He does not believe they are the best choice for the auditory system.

“The inner ear is a unique structure. Stem cells are unable to regenerate themselves. You have to introduce new cells,” He said. “I am focusing on repairing your existing cells through gene therapy.”

Damaged auditory cells will eventually lose their function and die, but it might be possible to spur a regenerative process and reverse the damage. He said that cells need a genetic signal to regenerate themselves, and his goal is to introduce that signal where needed.

“We can put the gene into a virus,” He said. “When the virus is introduced into living tissue, it will integrate its genetic materials with host genetic materials. These code genes will eventually trigger cell repair or stabilize cells when they are injured. You are putting a new gene into tissue, and those new genes help the injured cells.”

One obvious side effect of this method is that it requires the use of a virus. People normally think of a virus in negative terms, because of the direct and indirect effects it introduces into the body.

“A virus is scary,” He said. “We would have to modify the virus to reduce any toxic effect. The major problem is that the virus will continue to reproduce itself, and that would cause damage. If you can prevent that problem, this can work. We still have to modify the virus to make it safe.”

It might eventually be possible to use nanotechnology devices to carry the genetic signal into the damaged cells, without using a virus.

This kind of RM research on auditory cells has been done in animals, but not yet in humans.

When the auditory cells of guinea pigs were damaged, they lost their hearing, according to He. When gene therapy was introduced, partial hearing was regained by most of the guinea pigs within about one month.

“Maybe in five years this can be used in humans,” He said. 

A Hot Topic

David Crouse at UNMC calls regenerative medicine a hot topic in health care. New journals and books are being published regularly, and new research departments are starting up nationwide because of available funding.

“If you do a web search with the words ‘regenerative medicine,’ you will get a lot of hits,” Crouse said.  “People are living longer and therefore having more degenerative issues consistent with older age. People are getting into accidents more than in the past.

“As long as you have young people doing things that hurt them and old people aging, regenerative medicine will be needed.”

posted at 11:51 am
on Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Environmental Alchemy

Green solutions may lie buried in the sludge of a century-old sewer system

When it rains in Omaha, it pours raw sewage, industrial waste and toxic chemicals into nearby waterways. The city’s century-old sewer system is designed to either put it there or into your basement. Neither is an inviting option. But that design is changing thanks to a federal mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency. The oldest part of the city — nearly everything east of 72nd St. — currently works on a combined sewer system (CSS) where one pipe handles both storm water and sewage. During dry conditions it works great. Sewage is carried away from homes and businesses to one of two treatment plants where it is treated and then safely released into the Missouri River and Papillion Creek. If it rains heavily enough, however, the storm water rushing down drains in the street mixes with the raw sewage in the same pipe and frequently overwhelms the system in what the EPA calls a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)event. The combined runoff – typically 85 percent storm water, 15 percent sewage, according to the city – then flows directly to the Missouri River and its tributaries throughout the area. Omaha isn’t alone. Nearly 800 other communities are undergoing similarly massive sewer separation projects as part of the EPA's CSO Control Policy. Since 2002, Omaha has averaged 86 overflows a year, pumping 3.5 billion gallons of sewage and storm water annually into receiving streams. The goal is to reduce that number to about four a year by 2024. No matter where you look, it’s a big and expensive project. Atlanta is spending $3 billion to control its CSOs. Cleveland is protecting the Cuyahoga River with a $1.6 billion project. Omaha officials estimate the city will spend nearly $1.7 billion over the next 15 years to address 51 square miles of aging sewer lines in East Omaha. The Sewer Maintenance Division of the Public Works Department, with a staff of 64 employees and a $2.9 million budget in 2011, is in charge of making the change happen. “I believe it’s probably the biggest public works project we’ve ever undertaken,” says Marty Grate, the city’s environmental services manager. “This is like building the West Dodge Expressway, a $100 million project, every year for 15 years.” Just like that expressway, the sewer project will disrupt daily life. Streets will be torn up. Traffic will be diverted. But Grate says the project will ultimately improve more than just the city’s water quality. Omaha’s CSO Control Project is an opportunity for the city to get a little bit greener as well. Old Omaha There was a time in Omaha's history when raw sewage flowed through the streets — not by accident, but by design. Or, rather, lack thereof. For the first few decades of the city’s existence, Omahans simply emptied their outhouses and privies through trenches that poured directly into the street. Human waste pooled in wagon ruts during rainy weather and baked in alleyway cesspools during the hot summer months. Faced with a calamity of unsanitary conditions and citizen complaints, the City Council proposed Omaha’s first sewer system in 1878, according to city records. The city tried to do it right. The original plan called for separate sewer systems for storm water and sewage at a cost of nearly $1 million dollars, a $20 million project today. But with Omaha’s explosive growth in the early 20th Century, the plan was abandoned in favor of a much quicker and more common solution – the combined sewer system. Until the mid-1960s, all of Omaha’s wastewater emptied directly into the Missouri River without treatment. The city began to build separate sewer systems in developing West Omaha and constructed two treatment plants that sterilized all of the city’s wastewater prior to release into the waterways to service East Omaha under normal conditions. Combined sewers were the exception, and the City of Omaha, along with the other cities, operated under special permits from the EPA and state regulators due to the limitations of their antiquated system. But as concrete replaces grass and cities continue to grow, so does the amount of storm water runoff. By 1994, the EPA had developed its first control plan to address the growing dangers of combined-sewer overflow and had set a series of minimum controls for cities to meet by 1997. Omaha met that deadline, but a new one emerged in 2005. Because of increased federal requirements in the Clean Water Act, the EPA gave Omaha two years to have a draft of its longterm plan to address overflow issues in place. In 2009, the city submitted its completed plan to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the state organization charged with monitoring the project. The Health Factor Pat Nelson doesn’t look at a rainstorm the way most people do. She’s been working with storm water for more than 20 years, and as the compliance team lead with Clean Solutions Omaha, it’s her job to ensure the city meets all of its state and federal water-quality requirements. “The perfect place for storm water to go is into the surrounding natural bodies of water,” she says. “That’s just part of the natural hydrological cycle.” But when storm water and sewage mix you introduce a potentially potent cocktail of pollutants into the water system. Rain water can pick up pollutants from a variety of sources as it washes over yards and streets, gathering industrial waste particles from the air, car fluids, fertilizers, pesticides, and pet and animal waste. Raw sewage is a breeding ground for the E. coli virus, the most common pollutant found in overflow material. Combined is a filthy mix of heavy metals, chemicals and bacteria in our lakes and rivers. The National Resources Defense Council reports that combined-sewer overflows contain more than 100 times the concentration of fecal coliform colonies than treated waste water. At its worst, high fecal coliform concentrations can lead to a variety of human health risks from ear infections to food poisoning, and can endanger fish and other aquatic life. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality maintains a biennial list of impaired waterways that do not meet state water quality standards when tested for pollutants. In 2006 and 2008, Omaha’s segment of the Missouri River and Papillion Creek — the two major waterways receiving CSO runoff — were listed as Category 5 waterways, the EPA’s most severe pollution ranking, due to elevated levels of E. Coli. In 2010, both waterways were upgraded to Category 4 for E. Coli levels, but remained on the Impaired Waterways list because they contained other chemical pollutants. Based on those risks, the backbone of Omaha’s CSO control plan is to keep storm water and sewage separate through a variety of control mechanisms. In addition to sewer separation — approximately $700 million of the total $1.7 billion cost according to Grate — the city will also install a 5-mile long underground concrete tunnel along the Missouri River to accept CSO runoff. That’s the gray part of the equation, but Nelson says a large part of cleaning up Omaha’s waterways happens before storm water even reaches the sewer system. And that’s where Omaha becomes more environmentally sustainable. More Grass, More Green A number of institutional and individual solutions can help reduce a city’s storm water runoff, but they all primarily focus on soaking up as much water as possible before it reaches the storm drains. Few things do this better than vegetation. But that presents a challenge for city engineers facing firm regulatory requirements and deadlines. Everyone wants green solutions where possible, Grates says, but those efforts must be supported by structural controls that can deliver precise results. Like most cities, Grate says Omaha is working to the balance the gray solutions already in place with constantly evolving, and perhaps cost-cutting green solutions. Emily Holtzclaw is one of the engineers making that happen. As a water resources engineer and project manager with environmental engineering firm CH2M HILL, Holtzclaw does everything from work with computer models of the Omaha sewer system to conduct field visits as workers are lowered 50-feet underground to check the condition of century-old pipes. The solutions she comes up with might be multi-million-dollar projects or they may be as simple as making sure the city doesn’t have any manhole covers with holes in them. But the connecting thread, she says, is a devotion to become more environmentally sustainable. “We’re working to find other ways to deal with storm water. And one of our first tasks is always to identify and, if possible, use the green solution,” Holtzclaw says. “We’re always looking to save space and save cost and do something that’s more environmentally supportive.” In the first phase of the longterm control plan, the city is undertaking three major projects based on environmental sustainability. Last summer, Omaha received a $200,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to restore ponds that were drained in 1931 at Spring Lake Park in South Omaha and to add a planned wetlands area to the site. Native plants with deep root systems are better equipped to soak up water, and Grate says the plan “lets nature reduce the runoff we have to deal with.” The city estimates the four-year, $1.5 million project could eventually save $2 million in overall CSO project costs. Nature is doing part of the work in sewer separations near Aksarben Village and Saddle Creek Road, as well. Rather than build an entirely new, separate sewer system, engineers are using the natural landscape to direct storm water to the waterways. Three dry detention areas in Elmwood Park will collect storm water, reducing peak-time runoff and safely depositing solids in the water before it reaches the Elmwood Park Creek. The city estimates the project will save $1 million. An above-ground, open channel will work similarly west of Saddle Creek Road, allowing soil and vegetation to clean the storm water naturally prior to its entry into Little Papillion Creek. The Saddle Creek extension is estimated to save $2 million in infrastructure costs. But the bill for Omaha’s CSO project is still potentially enormous and how the city will pay for it is debatable. The federal mandate to fix the system was unfunded, leaving the city and its citizens to pick up all of the cost. For now, the plan is to gradually increase the city’s sewage fees for residents. The average residential rate in Omaha in 2010 was approximately $15 per month. By 2017, the city estimates sewer fees could reach $50 per month — more than a 200 percent increase over the next seven years. Some local politicians are fighting to reduce that cost. In late March, Mayor Jim Suttle traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for federal funding for the project. On March 22, the City Council approved a resolution asking Nebraska’s Congressional delegation to lobby for a 50-50 federal cost share for the project. Omaha State Sen. Heath Mello has a proposal before the Nebraska Legislature that would return state sales taxes associated with the increase — a windfall of about $48 million over the next 15 years — to the city of Omaha to help defray costs. But for now, the only certain cost-cutting measure is to go green whenever and wherever the city can. The key to cleaner, safer, more modern Omaha may lie in the mud and sludge of a century-old sewer system. “We’re not putting in green solutions because they’re cool but because they improve the project, they benefit the city and they’re cost effective,” Nelson says. “We’re going to see more and more of these solutions as time goes on.”

posted at 03:53 pm
on Tuesday, April 05th, 2011

Rockin’ Blues & Roots

Texas blues-rockers Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat hit The 21st Saloon Thursday, April 24, 6-9 p.m. Suhler is an accomplished guitarist and bandleader who showcases the depth of his musical talents in his latest CD Panther Burn (Underworld Records), released in February. There is plenty of rockin’ guitar, but just like with his live shows, guitar solos are only part of the mix. Panther Burn embraces a variety of roots music styles with high-energy musicianship and a joyous celebration of the deep grooves that make roots music infectious. Suhler also hits Lincoln’s Zoo Bar Wednesday, April 23, 6-9 p.m.

Old Market Music
The Harney Street Tavern is the latest venue to bring music back to the Old Market, located at 1215 Harney Street in the basement level. Matt Whipkey has moved his “Whipkey Wednesdays” to the bar and celebrates his birthday with his April 30 show, 9 p.m. Saturday, April 26, Luke Polipnick’s Modern Jazz is up. The venue promises live jazz every Saturday at 9 p.m. The Harney Street Tavern has its music calendar online at

Shadowboxers on the Radio
Josh Hoyer & The Shadowboxers have been heavily promoting their debut CD. Cuts from the disc are now being played on radio stations around the country from Memphis to Eugene, Ore., San Diego, Kansas City and Houston. Hear tracks from the disc and keep up with the band at and also at The band opens for Chicago’s Sidewalk Chalk at Lincoln’s Zoo Bar Thursday, April 24, 9 p.m. 

Hot Notes
Texas blues-rockers Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch are up at Lincoln’s Zoo Bar Wednesday, April 30, 6-9 p.m. Elmore is a friend of Jim Suhler’s and they frequently gig together in Dallas. Lil’ Slim Blues Band plays the Zoo Friday, April 25, 5-7 p.m.
Tres Equis has a reunion show at The 21st Saloon Thursday, May 1, 6-9 p.m.
Big Al’s Free Music Festival happens at The Hideout April 24-27 featuring a variety of musical styles. Look up the event page on Facebook.
Rebecca Lowry presents The Lady Show II at Barley Street Tavern Saturday, April 26, 9 p.m. featuring a variety of female poets, comics and musicians including Sarah Benck Tardy. See
Friday, April 25, McKenna’s hosts a night of Americana and roots with Matt Cox Band, Brad Hoshaw and The Electroliners.
Kris Lager Band has three Hullabacruise nights on Omaha’s River City Star riverboat, May 9, 10 and 11. For details and advance tickets see

posted at 07:09 am
on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


posted at 06:10 am
on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


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on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


posted at 06:06 am
on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


posted at 06:03 am
on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


posted at 06:01 am
on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Maha Music Festival announces lineup

* The summer festival and concert season lineups have poured in the last few weeks, highlighted locally by the announcement of Maha Music Festival's bill. Death Cab For Cutie, the mellow Pacific Northwest indie pop rock act, headlines the lineup for the sixth annual event. Folky indie strummers the Head and the Heart and upbeat Southern California act Local Natives are also featured prominently on Maha's lineup. The Both, a new collaboration between Aimee Mann and Ted Leo will also play, as will Misspuri punk act Radkey, Iowa's the Envy Corps and indie hip hop act Doomtree. Matt Whipkey, M34N STR33T and Twinsmith will be featured on Maha's local stage. The event is scheduled for Saturday, August 16th at Aksarben Village's Stinson Park. Tickets are now on sale for $50. * Stir Cove at Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs has also added a little modern muscle to its initial lineup with the recent additions of shows by the Arctic Monkeys, Fitz & the Tantrums and Foster the People. Arctic Monkeys have exploded recently on the strength if their fourth album, 2013's A.M., so expect their Wednesday, July 30th show to be a sell out. Fitz & the Tantrums, who play Sunday, July 27th and Foster the People, playing Tuesday, August 5th, have built their own fan bases thanks to several successful radio singles. It adds to a Stir lineup that initially went heavy on 90s nostalgia. * Several surrounding festivals unveiled lineups that offer up familiar sounds to Omaha concertgoers. The two-day Des Moines' 80/35 Festival starts Friday, July 4th with headliner Conor Oberst and Dawes, a bill that will play Sokol Auditorium, 2234 South 13th St., Wednesday, June 4th. Other announced acts include regular Omaha visitors Best Coast and Dr. Dog. Saturday in the Park up in Sioux City boasts a slightly stronger and more varied lineup on Saturday, July 5th. They snagged the Avett Brothers and Bonnie Raitt for their free, daylong event.

posted at 07:09 am
on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

The Saga of the MINI Cooper: Pt. 2, Made to Order

The decision to buy a MINI had been made shortly after the automaker announced it would release a new convertible the following year — the first model year being 2005. I’ve always been an early adopter of technology. Despite countless warnings from friends and family to at least wait until the second year of production, I’d made up my mind.

There are three things I look for when buying a new car: 1) I have to fit comfortably inside it; 2) It has to be a convertible or at least have a sunroof, and 3 (and most important) it has to be somewhat obscure. Not so much rare as hard to find or rarely seen on the street. The term for the generic fleet of Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas is “belly button cars” — everybody has one.

The problem with No. 3 is that it often requires leaving Omaha to make the purchase. Such was the case with MINI, which didn’t have a dealership in Omaha back in 2005. The closest was in Merriam, Kansas, just south of Kansas City, which meant I would be buying the car sight unseen — and unsat in. I didn’t know anyone who drove a MINI Cooper. What if I was buying a car I couldn’t get into, or once squeezed inside, felt like a contortionist as I had when I drove my Porsche Boxster?

Everything I’d read about MINI Coopers suggested they were roomy — downright boxy — and a guy my size would have no problem driving one. By then I suppose it didn’t matter what the writer-ups said. I had the bug. I’d made up my mind. There was no stopping me.

I ordered my MINI Cooper online one evening in the fall of 2004. Even back then, MINI had a clever website where you could “build your own” car, allowing you to select the color, style and configuration from the ground up (Now every car maker has a build-your-own online app). I clicked through the colors and selected orange with black “racing stripes,” added the full chrome treatment, chose the sporty “S” package with automatic transmission so my wife could drive it if she wanted to. The final tally was just over $27,000. With a click of my mouse, the order was placed.

The following day someone from the Kansas MINI dealership called to confirm my order, discuss payment options and let me know my car wouldn’t arrive until the following spring. I sloshed through the long, cold, dark winter in my POS Geo Tracker (my “winter car”) dreaming of my shiny new convertible. The wait felt endless. Then came March and the phone call that my car had finally arrived.

Teresa drove me to Kansas City the following weekend, where we struggled to find the dealership, eventually discovering the odd, modern-shaped building situated just off I-35, the one with all the MINIs parked outside like brightly colored Easter eggs. Once inside I got the full “we’ve-been-expecting-you” treatment. I was escorted through the showroom directly to the interior garage where my MINI sat waiting for my arrival.

It looked like a brand new toy right out of the box, like a piece of orange candy, its chrome gleaming under the bright shop lights. Every detail was just as I imaged, right down to the dual exhaust pipes, which I had been told were fashioned after beer cans.

The moment of truth was finally at hand — would I be able to fit inside?

Keep in mind, at this point it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d already bought the car. I’d signed my name on all the papers, along with a sizable check, and had been handed the keys. If my head pushed up against the canvas roof like a circus pole or my knees had to be positioned right below my chin, well, I’d have to live with it for at least a few years.

I opened the door, adjusted the seat, stepped in and leaned back. Compared to the Boxster, the inside of the MINI felt like the interior of a Lincoln Town Car. There was so much leg room, in fact, that I had to move the seat up to comfortably drive. Needless to say, I was relieved.

The dealer walked me through all the features, showed me how to open the top, how to plug in my iPod (at that time, another unique MINI feature), and then told me if I needed service to merely call and the dealership would come and get my car in Omaha and drive it back, “but that won’t be for awhile since we recommend oil changes only every 10,000 miles,” she said. “You’ll find owning a MINI to be a trouble-free experience.”

Those words would eventually haunt me.

But I wasn’t thinking about that then. Instead, the glass-and-metal overhead door rolled open and I drove my new MINI into the bright spring afternoon, thinking it was the coolest car I’d ever seen.

And I wasn’t alone, because whenever I drove my MINI I got comments, lots of them.  People pointed and smiled. Kids rushed across their lawns to get a better look and to wave at the guy (presumably a circus clown) behind the wheel. Every time I rolled through a drive-thru the person handing me my bag of grease would say, “I love your car” or “Good night to have the top down.”

But most comforting of all is what happened whenever I crossed paths with another then-rare MINI Cooper driver. It was an unspoken rule of the road to wave at each other and acknowledge the special bond we shared. It was like a special club. Little did I know it would turn into a similar club whose members included Edsel, Fiat and Yugo drivers.

The first three years with my MINI — the “warranty years”— were pure bliss. After that, the problems started.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

posted at 06:26 am
on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Matt Cox Band, Brad Hoshaw and The Electroliners

posted at 10:08 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

$2 Tuesdays featuring Dwight Smith and Julia Lucille

posted at 10:05 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Max Pain & The Groovies w/Snake Island! and Powers

posted at 10:03 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Accidental Therapy presents Hot Victory w/Worried Mothers, Dromez and Plack Blague DJ sets

posted at 10:01 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Desert Noises w/Winter Sounds and Freakabout!

posted at 10:00 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Backpack in Black

posted at 09:59 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Buds and Suds Tour: Devin the Dude/Berner with Potluck, Cool Nutz, J. Hornay, & Blaze 1

posted at 09:57 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Angel Olsen with Promised Land Sound

posted at 09:57 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Black Lips with Natural Child

posted at 09:56 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Blue Martian Tribe with Pancho and the Contraband and John Larson

posted at 09:55 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Midwest Elite Concerts presents: Break Maiden CD Release with We Be Lions, The Matador and Dirtfedd

posted at 09:54 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Waxahatchee with Carbonleak and Manic Pixie Dream Girls

posted at 09:51 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Glimpse Trio! w/Pure Brown

posted at 09:51 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Academy of Rock

posted at 09:50 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Jason Elmore

posted at 09:50 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

A Ferocious Jungle Cat w/TJ Sadler

posted at 09:49 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Brad Vickers and The Vestapoltans

posted at 09:47 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Bottletops

posted at 09:46 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Lil’ Slim

posted at 09:45 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Sidewalk Chalk w/Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers

posted at 09:44 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The WildWoods

posted at 09:43 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Chris Saub w/The 402

posted at 09:39 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Chris Saub

posted at 09:38 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Simon Joyner & the Ghosts with the Subtropics

posted at 09:37 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Nanahara with Dirty Talker and Post-Verse

posted at 09:35 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

OK Party Comedy presents an all local comedy showcase

posted at 09:34 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat

posted at 09:33 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

On The Fritz

posted at 09:30 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014


posted at 09:28 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Soul Night

posted at 09:25 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Live Music w/Mark Irvin

posted at 09:24 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Live Acoustic Music w/Paul Hart

posted at 09:21 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

1% Productions Presents Jake Bellows w/McCarthy Trenching

posted at 09:19 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Clear The Day CD Release Show w/The Brigadiers and Morse Code

posted at 09:17 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

M34N Str33t Album Release Show Both w/Borealis, Sean Pratt & The Sweats and DJ Nater

posted at 09:15 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Omaha Guitar Trio w/John Larsen

posted at 09:14 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Alter Ego

posted at 09:09 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Earlytown, The Willards Band and Raquel Telfer

posted at 09:08 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Blu Simon

posted at 09:02 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Persuaders

posted at 09:01 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Jessica Errett and Tara Vaughan

posted at 08:59 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014


posted at 08:58 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014


posted at 08:56 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Ben Zinn, John Klemmensen and Matt Cox

posted at 08:55 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Hi-Fi Hangover

posted at 08:50 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Somo w/Kreayshawn, Far East Movement and Ty$

posted at 08:48 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014


posted at 08:46 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Hidden Agenda

posted at 08:45 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Ghost Of Ruin, Valiska, Architect or Arsonist, Dead Echoes, Skummer and Sinnfixx

posted at 08:44 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Callow, Northwest Passage, The Epitomes and Sunleaf

posted at 08:42 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Beaver Damage, Domestica and Kush

posted at 08:41 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Frankie Knuckles Godfather of House Tribute

posted at 08:22 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Undisco Kids

posted at 08:19 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Don’t Stop Please

posted at 08:18 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Jon Wayne and the Pain

posted at 08:16 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Tommy Swanson

posted at 08:15 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Honeyboy Turner Band

posted at 08:13 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

“Whipkey Wednesday” Matt’s Birthday Bash

posted at 08:12 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Luke Polipnick “Modern Jazz”

posted at 08:11 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Chris Shelton

posted at 08:10 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Brits

posted at 08:08 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Zach Ryan and the Renegades w/Meadow Rave and Sons Of The Poor

posted at 08:05 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Dicey Riley

posted at 08:03 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Blazin’ Pianos w/Keith Allen and Matt Neumayer

posted at 07:57 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Tami Hall

posted at 07:53 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

City Limit Band

posted at 07:50 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Bourbon Theatre & Rad Kadillac present KOAN Sound and Minnesota

posted at 07:47 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Kris Lager Band w/Don’t Stop Please

posted at 07:46 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Bunnybrains w/Thundersandwich

posted at 07:44 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Tiny Moving Parts w/Gates, Frameworks and Lighthouses

posted at 07:43 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Dan Tedesco w/Mike Semrad

posted at 07:39 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Lady Show II: A Very Beckstraordinary Production

posted at 07:37 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Daniel and the Lion w/Tribes of Saturn and Moses Prey

posted at 07:36 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Grumble w/Fish House Punch, A Life Led Lucid, Adam Peterson and Hanagrace

posted at 07:32 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Shur Thing

posted at 07:29 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Lesson Studios Spring Recital

posted at 07:26 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Find Your Voice: Beginner Blues

posted at 07:23 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Beethoven Variations and Transformations

Beethoven Variations and Transformations
Friday, April 25, 12:00PM-1:00PM
Free and Open to the Public
BLUEBARN Theatre, 614 S. 11th Street, Omaha 68102

33 Variations, a play by Moisés  Kaufman, asks the question, “Why did Beethoven write so many variations and devote so much time and energy to Diabelli’s insignificant theme?”
In partnership with the Omaha Chamber Music Society, the BLUEBARN Theatre presents Beethoven Variations and Transformations as a precursor to 33 Variations opening May 8th and the OCMS season.  Join host, Hal France and OCMS musicians: Anne Nagosky and Juliet Yoshida on violin, Thomas Kluge on viola and Paul Ledwon on cello; for this noon time informance featuring the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.  The group will share insights into the composer’s techniques of variation and musical transformation. Bring your own lunch and prepare to be transported and inspired by Beethoven's 33 Variations.

posted at 12:31 pm
on Monday, April 21st, 2014


Toast Nebraska Wines

Hosted by the Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association and Blur Parties, the first annual “Toast Nebraska” wine festival is scheduled for May 3 and 4 at Mahoney State Park. Listen to Reggae and sip wine while noshing on unique foods from Omaha's new restaurant Fusion BBQ, who will be serving their slow smoked meats. There will also be wood-fired pizza, Mexican cuisine and cupcakes from Le Cupcake, voted Lincoln's CHOICE for Cupcakes and featured on Cupcake Wars in 2012.  This event is sponsored by the Nebraska Tourism Commission and Nebraska Game and Parks. Tickets can be purchased at 


East Meets West in the BBQ World

Benson welcomes Fusion BBQ to their hip restaurant scene. Located at 7024 Maple, Fusion BBQ focuses on flavors across the globe to create their “fusion” BBQ.  Check them out and let us know what you think by posting your thoughts to the Readers facebook page. For more information on Fusion BBQ, go to


Nebraska’s Best Burger Contest has a Winner

For the second year, Stella's Bar and Grill in Bellevue won the prize of Nebraska's Best Burger, which was recently announced by The Nebraska Beef Council. To see the list of contenders, visit



New to Taste in Rockbrook Village, 11036 Elm St. is executive chef and partner, Ryan Devitt. Devitt hails from South Sioux City where he was named to the Best Chefs America list three years in a row.

posted at 10:21 am
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Local bars featured on Bar Rescue

Three local bars will be featured on the hit Spike TV network show, Bar Rescue. Sorties Tavern which is located in Bellevue, Oasis Hookah Bar and TaZa nightclub, located downtown and O Face Bar, which is located in Council Bluffs, are all the focus of episodes.

Bar Rescue which premiered in July of 2011 features Jon Taffer, a food and beverage industry consultant entering nightclubs and bars with a team of professionals and helping them to reorganize, remodel, and fix any other internal issues the business is suffering from. Taffer frequently offers his professional expertise and is known to be quiet confrontational while he attempts to get his point across to an owner or employee.

Sorties Tavern, formerly O’Banions, was contacted by show producers last year when they were looking for local bars that were willing to be featured on the show. Producers visited the bar 4 or 5 times interviewing owners and Jerry and David Dalrymple, as well as employees. They eventually filmed in November of 2013. Their episode aired this March.

“We were ready or a new and fresh look,” Jerry says. That fresh look included their new name, and a new store front. They also focused on creating new cocktail recipes, training for their bar staff and waitresses as well as helping them implement a system for accepting credit cards, which the bar had never used before. Jerry says that they ultimately “reworked the system.”

“They really showed us what we were doing wrong. We did not have a lot of bar running experience and we were in a rut after 8 years. We just needed a boost.” Jerry says that the bar, which is located near Offutt Air Force Base and has a military theme, is now more focused then ever on providing the best service to their customers who they say are “great people,” many of them are military veterans and are nice people who just want to listen to music, drink and relax. “It’s not a nightclub environment,” Jerry says, adding that you wont go broke buying a beer. As for the state of their bar now, it’s going very well. “We’re seeing a lot more repeat customers, which is always a good thing.”

Oasis Hookah bar and TaZa Nightclub, the second bar featured on Bar Rescue, contacted producers and didn’t hear from them for nearly a year. Owner Jesse Hill also spent several months in contact with producers before they filmed in mid November. Much like Sorties Bar Jesse admits that he didn’t have much experience with running a bar, since their establishment was primarily a hookah bar.

“We were a ragtag bunch,” Jesse says when referring to himself, his management team and employees. “We were really just operating on trial and error.” The filming experience and knowledge that Taffer and his team gave them taught Jesse and his employees “management on everybody’s part.” He says that the show was able to “get us on the edge that we needed to be on.”

Jesse equates filming to a “bar boot camp” and admits that there was a lot yelling but that Taffer and his team pointed out many appearance issues with the club that needed to be addressed. The Bar Rescue team installed a new computer and entertainment system, repainted and installed new furniture. The staff, Jesse included, also learned how important presentation and professionalism is. “We realized that if you don’t give respect the customer wont either.”

Jesse points out that being a part of Bar Rescue has greatly benefited the establishment but he does admit that it wasn’t easy. The first week after the Bar Rescue team left the club was “dead.” This was due mostly to the hookahs being removed and minors no longer being allowed into that section of the club. Loosing their “core demographic” hurt them so they eventually reinstated the hookah bar. While doing this they created a more modern, Moroccan theme.

Jesse says that people should come and experience his club because the staff is now more concerned with their performance. “It really starts from the top down, we’re more focused on providing a good experience.” He wants his customers to come away impressed by the staff, management and the environment that has been created. He also emphasis that many first time customers don’t know what to expect when visiting a hookah bar but that his staff is very knowledgeable and willing to give advice.

O Face Bar was unavailable for comment for this article but are located at 2400 9th Ave in Council Bluffs. Their establishment was featured on the March 23rd episode of Bar Rescue. Oasis Hookah bar and TaZa Nightclub is located at 1507 Farnam Street, their episode will air on April 27th.

posted at 07:55 am
on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Murphy’s Memories

David Murphy Releases New CD

David Murphy, Omaha singer, songwriter, producer, pianist and author extraordinaire with five books and one solo CD, has released a second album that is sure to tug at your heart strings and allow you to dive into his memories and perhaps your own.

Audiences will get a chance to check out Murphy's new album, My Fraudulent Memoirs, at his CD release party Thursday, May 1, at PS Collective, 6056 Maple St., in Benson from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Murphy will be joined by his band "The Fraudulenteers," featuring Mark Haar, Ron Cooley, Mike Deluca and Camille Metoyer Moten, among others.

My Fraudulent Memoirs took Murphy eight years to complete. With this long of a process, he wasn’t solely focused on the album. “Well, I was busy doing a lot of other stuff too during those years. I wrote five books and produced, arranged and recorded three CDs for other people. All the while my next CD was percolating in my head and when I had chances, I’d work on it.”

Murphy’s first CD, Shining in a Temporary Sun was released in 1998, he reflects on his past, but he is always looking towards the next project, “My next album should be out in a couple of years. Meanwhile, this spring, I'll be working on putting together Camille Metoyer Moten’s next CD.”

Influenced by songwriters Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, Burt Bacharach, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchel and more, Murphy was shaped by what he absorbed and studied from these great writers along with his experience of living in Los Angeles for 25 years. He used all of this to guide him while working on this CD. My Fraudulent Memoirs is a very unique album in the way the lyrics are presented. The songs begin and you think you’re listening to a classical piece, but Murphy’s voice carries its way in and through this unison the stories are told. Murphy was intentional with this, “In many ways, this is a very retro album, with multiple genres represented. It's not about image or what's current or flashy aspects – it's about songs and storytelling and getting out of the way of the tune.”

Murphy took his time developing this style and it shows from the time you listen to the first song throughout the whole album. “Here's my goal each time: the lyrics, melodies and harmonies have to be part of the package and have to serve the songs' storylines.”

Murphy believed real instruments needed to be used in order to capture the best emotion behind each tune. Through the use of local and distance recording Murphy was able receive the help he needed for this album. “I can record a piano part in my home, tell a musician what the metronome marking is and then send that player an mp3 of the tune. He or she can then pop it into their recording system, play the song down and send me back their part or parts once they're done. It's amazing!” Mark Haar, bass player on “Violet is the New Blue,” and friend of Murphy was just one of many musicians to contribute to this album. Murphy said this allows each song to have its own vibe and distinct energy.

“There is no such thing as something too personal the more personal it gets the more universal it is,” Murphy said in a radio interview with Dave Wingert. One song in particular, “Watching the Little Planes Land” and others on this album were gathered from Murphy’s past. This song taught him that there are no stories too personal. “That tune grew out of my childhood experience and sometimes looking back can be emotional, but that's all good, right? The deeper the feeling, the more universal it is. A tune that I thought folks wouldn't relate to has become one of my most popular songs.”

“‘Memoirs is different to me because I feel like my skills are better than they've ever been and I think the album reflects that.”

Check out or and see if Murphy’s Memoirs is the type of music to get your groove going or your memories rolling. If you can’t wait and want to hear Murphy play before buying the CD head over to the Jackson Street Tavern in the Old Market where he plays the piano Friday and Saturday nights.

posted at 05:53 pm
on Sunday, April 20th, 2014


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