Archive

Archive for the ‘North Omaha’ Category

Where Love Resides: Celebrating Ty and Terri Schenzel

February 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Where Love Resides: Celebrating Ty and Terri Schenzel
TY AND TERRI SCHENZEL
Laying a Foundation of Hope
Faith. Hope. Love. A Legacy.

I was privileged to write this Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) piece to commemorate the lives and works of the late Ty and Terri Schenzel as part of the pub’s Journeys series. The new issue is themed Loving Legacies: Love that Lingers, Love that Lasts. Anyone that knew the Schenzels know that they embodied love. The unconditional kind.

Laying a Foundation of Hope

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the February-March-April 2016 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

Ty and Terri Schenzel: Laying a Foundation of Hope

January 28, 2016 1 comment

 

I was privileged to write this Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) piece to commemorate the lives and works of the late Ty and Terri Schenzel as part of the pub’s Journeys series.  The new issue is themed Loving Legacies: Love that Lingers, Love that Lasts.  Anyone that knew the Schenzels will tell you that the couple embodied love.  Upon reading this story a friend of the Schenzels, named Ivy Jackson Ginn, posted, “Our best sentiments can never summate how much we loved and adored the Schenzels. Every day brings a new memory filled with laughter and fullness of life. They are irreplaceable and greatly loved by everyone they came in contact with. May each word bring joy and comfort over all who read them.” #carryingthebaton

 

 

 

 

Ty and Terri Schenzel: Laying a Foundation of Hope

Faith, Hope, Love, A Legacy

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the February-March-April 2016 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

 

Where Love Resides

inspiring • compassionate • caring • loving • unconditional • dedicated • committed

When the shocking news of Ty and Terri Schenzel’s August 20 fatal automobile accident spread, it was as if the thousands whose lives they touched let out a collective gasp. Many questioned how this could occur to an admired couple whose gifts for engagement, invitation, acceptance and frivolity endeared them to many, A sentiment often expressed upon their passing is that they had the ability to make people feel a part of them even upon meeting for the first time.

This was not supposed to be how things ended for this golden, well-yoked pair, both popular pastors whose love affair began in seminary and never wavered in 30 years together. It seemed a cruel, premature exit for a duo who created a youth serving center and a marriage healing ministry founded and named after their core belief – Hope.

“When something like this happens there’s always questions like why and how could this happen,” says friend and fellow pastor Lincoln Murdoch. “They were getting ready to move into probably the sweetest time in their lives in ministry. These are questions that are never answered, especially when you consider how many marriages they would have impacted and saved through their ministry, and that makes it hard. But as I said at their funeral, we’re going to turn our why into thank you for knowing them, for being in our lives, for the influence they had on us and on so many others. We find some comfort when we go there with gratefulness.”

There is gratitude for all the work the Schenzels did at Trinity Church, where Ty was a youth minister, and the house of worship it transitioned into, Waypoint, where he was an associate pastor.

A ministry he and Terri developed out of Trinity led to their founding the Hope Center for Kids in North Omaha. There they leave behind not only a brick and mortar symbol of their community-based work but a thriving organization giving more and more at-risk youth the skills, services and resources needed for success.

At the October 2 annual Hope gala held in the CenturyLink Center Grand Ballroom, nearly 1,200 people attended and more than $600,000 was raised. It was direct confirmation of how far the Schenzels took what began as a vague dream in 1998. A video tribute and remarks by emcees and hosts paid homage to the Schenzels.

An earlier, much larger outpouring of love happened during the August 26 memorial service at Countryside Community Church, where 3,000-plus gathered to mourn their deaths and celebrate their lives. A pageant of people eulogized the Schenzels on that emotional occasion, when the loss was still fresh and raw. Speakers included the couple’s children, Emily, Annie, Tyler and Turner, along with old friends and colleagues.

 

 

 

 

 

Impact

In addition to their four children the Schenzels left behind two young grandchildren, with a third on the way. They left behind, too, scores of people they ministered to, worshiped with, counseled and advised. Their shared passion was helping people improve themselves and lead better lives.

‘They always had groups in their home they were leading, doing Bible studies with, mentoring,” Murdoch says. “You can’t just do that, you’ve got to have a gift to pull that off.”

Their legacy may also live on in the manuscripts each Schenzel was working on at the time of their deaths. The family is exploring their publication. Additionally, Ty left behind dozens of leather-bound journals he kept that could be a primer for faith, family and marriage.

The legacies left in the wake of their passing extend to countless friendships that came easily to the extroverted, fun-loving couple.

“I just miss the joy-filled friendship and the spontaneity of connecting,” Murdoch says, “and it was a real friendship formed over 35 years. They’re kind of rare nowadays and you don’t replace those.”

He referred to the times he and his wife spent with the Schenzels as “laughter therapy.”

“People loved being around them because within two minutes you were laughing. We loved getting together with them because if we were going through a hard time in ministry or in life we’d engage with them and laugh for a couple hours and feel a whole lot better by the end of the evening.”

Despite all the friendships they cultivated and the 24-7 demands of serving others, the three pillars of faith, marriage and family always came first for the Schenzels. That legacy lives on not only in the individuals they led to be born-again Christians, but in the way they raised their children and in the youth, family and marriage building work they did.

Murdoch always knew their wide impact but he was taken aback by the throng that came for their memorial. He was even more impressed by the fact they reached so many but still made family their priority.

“Yeah, really amazing, their influence was so wide. My wife and I were like, ‘Man, how did they have time to do that? How did they touch so many lives in the amount of years they had?’ They had this huge reach and yet amazingly enough they were able to give their family the best of themselves and everybody else got what was left over. But there was a lot left over. They were so engaged with their children, they spoke love and worth into their lives all the time.

“They had their values and priorities straight and they kept them straight. That’s a pretty rare thing nowadays. Even for well-intended people it’s tough to balance, especially in ministry because your job is never over. It can be like this black hole that never ends. But they were able to draw the boundaries they needed in their life. Great role models that way.”

 

 

Hope Center for Kids | Omaha, NE View Gallery »

 

 

 

Shining examples

The hurt of losing a couple that gave so much and had so much left to give runs deep but what consoles those who knew and loved the Schenzels is the assurance that they maximized their time on Earth.

Ivy Jackson was an original Hope staffer but she went back with the Schenzels before that – to when Ty did youth ministry at Trinity. If you knew one Schenzel, you knew the other. You became like family. She says their impact on her reflects how transformational a relationship with them could be.

“Everything Ty and Terri did, they were all in. You didn’t get half of them, you didn’t get a third of them, you got everything they were,” Jackson says. “Their legacy is that when you do find that thing you know you’ve been specifically made for – that’s something Ty was very big on –  you go in completely 100 percent and you do it well. Everything they did, they did well. They loved well, they ministered well, they laughed well. They did everything with all of their heart.

“They were all about what legacy will you leave in everything you do –when you kiss your children at night or talk to your spouse after a long day at work or engage with the checkout clerk at the grocery store.”

Because the Schenzels didn’t skimp on life, it makes their loss easier to accept, Jackson says.

“When you see everything they’d done up to this point you think to       yourself, It’s OK they’re gone because you didn’t see any holes in their lives. You couldn’t look back over their life together with regrets like, Oh, I wish Ty and Terri had a a better relationship with their kids or patched up that thing with so-and-so. They never left anything undone. So even though it’s hard to see them go and not be here…we know they lived life to the fullest. They could look at each other and say, ‘We did well.” I think that’s the legacy they leave to us – do it well, You love your children well, love your spouse well, and that’s what they did.”

The late couple’s eldest child, Emily Lanphier, agrees, saying, “They modeled well what it is to have a good life.”

“My parents were not perfect,” Lanphier adds, “but just authentically committed to their family. There wasn’t any double standard – like what you saw from the pulpit is what we experienced our whole life. There was a total authenticity and congruence. I think that is what made them so beloved because people sensed that when they met them. They were so genuine. Who they were is who they were to any person.”

Lincoln Murdoch says, “They were not pretentious, they were not overly spiritual in a religious kind of way and they were open with their lives, their marriage, their failures. They didn’t try to make you think they were something they weren’t and that’s endearing to anybody.”

Not long after being introduced to Ty Schenzel Level 3 Communication founder Mike Frank helped buy the former Boys and Girls Club building on North 20th Street as the Hope Center home. He only knew the Schenzels socially at first but then he got to experience their caring. That’s when he caught their vision.

“Ty was completely sincere, completely real,” Frank says. “He was guileless. And he was kind of geeky. He wasn’t like this really cool guy.  But his heart was really for the underdog, the disadvantaged and the hopeless. Terri just had a passion for living. She had a deep love for Ty and she was going to do everything she could to add to it. That was very contagious – that enthusiasm, that excitement.

“We became really close friends. Ty buried my youngest daughter and married my eldest daughter. He led my best friend to the Lord. Our lives were intertwined pretty deeply. When I was around Ty he made me be better because he was so in love with his wife and with Jesus. He was so passionate about the disadvantaged and so excited to serve and he called me up to be a better man.”

He says he carries with him the Schenzels’ example of “how to walk the talk.”

Emily Lanphier says her parents exemplified good living to everyone they came in contact with and that extended to her and her siblings.

“Their example of getting life right was such a gift to us because I think most people are trying to figure out how to do that, and we kind of know how that works. Not that life is perfect, we still have life issues, marriage is work and it takes a whole lot of effort. But it feels like we started out 10 steps ahead of everyone else in life just because of the kind of love we received growing up. All four of us are confident, we know who we are, we’re happy individuals.”

Nick Reuting and his wife Andria came under the Schenzels’ influence through the Hope Filled Marriage workshops Ty and Terri were making their ministry focus after stepping away from the Hope Center. Like everyone who came near their orbit, the Reutings got swept up in it.

“The image I’m left with is walking into their home, getting a hug from Ty, getting a hug from Terri, and the first things out of their mouth were, ‘How’s your heart, how’s your marriage?.’They were constant givers. They wanted to make sure you were all right, your marriage was all right. When you had a success there’d be such a joy in their faces,” Reuting says.

“They showed an example of what a healthy marriage looks like and what healthy commitment to work, to marriage and to faith looks like and how to balance that. They both freely admitted their own faults, which made it easier to accept that OK, I can make a mistake and it’s not the end of the world – everything can be worked out.”

Reuting and others have picked up where the Schenzels left off to continue the Hope Filled Marriage series.

He says he will miss the “warm loving feeling” that came with their radical hospitality.

“And I’m going to miss Terri’s cooking as well. She made a lot of lunches for me.”

 

 

 

 

Putting marriage and family first

Nurturing came naturally to the Schenzels, who never left any doubt they loved their kids.

“Even through our growing up we each had different times where we weren’t perfect kids and their loving commitment was so unconditional,” says Emily Lanphier. “They cared more about being connected to us as mom and dad than they did about us making the right choice. Our heart connection with them was really important.”

She says even with her parents’ busy schedules she and her siblings never felt neglected or shortchanged.

“They were incredibly intentional in making time for family. Sundays after church my mom would do lunch. There were different points during the week when we knew we were going to see them. They were really good at that.”

The kids maintained that closeness with them even in adulthood.

“When we had free time we would all want to spend it with our parents.

Like they were our friends, too. They loved being grandparents. My mom was actually present for the birth of both of my children. My dad was there with the second baby. That’s the kind of relationship we had. They were some of the most busy people I knew but my mom spent every Wednesday with me and the kids.

“I’m so grateful I got to know them as adults. When I’d see my mom she’d confide if she was struggling with something. She was so honest.

If she and my dad had a disagreement she’d acknowledge it without bashing him. They let you know life is messy. They would always say how hard they had to work on their marriage because they were so emotional, and my dad’s emotions would affect my mom, and her emotions would affect him, and they had to work through that.”

The vulnerability and transparency that friend and fellow minister Ron Dotzler referred to in an Omaha World-Herald commentary “was refreshing to see,” Lanphier says, “because it gives you a realistic perspective for relationships. It’s not like you’re perfect together and you never have any fights. No, you’re going to have to be so committed and love each other so much that you’re going to be willing to go through anything together.”

Lanphier admired that her parents made a rock solid commitment to staying together.

“When they were dating my dad said he told my mom, ‘Just so you know, if we decide to get married divorce will never be an option.’ And so they settled that even before they were engaged. They were like, We’re all in or we’re not going to do it.”

Ivy Jackson says the Schenzels embodied better than anyone she knows the basic values and principles for right living. She says their lives demonstrated that doing the right thing is both simple and hard.

“In my little circle when we talk about Ty and Terri it’s funny because all of the things we say sound like cliches, although they are hard to follow because they require intention and work. Ty and Terri almost seemed cheesy because they were so cliche but they had the fundamentals down and they did them well. That’s who they were. If they went down a list of morals, fundamentals, codes of how you live your life, they checked the box good. They were an inspiration.”

Jackson draws on that inspiration daily.

“Every day I wake up I am literally a changed person because I knew them. I cannot wait to do well, to love well. and I literally do that. Upon their passing I feel like that’s what I’m doing – I’m entering into what that meant in every sermon Ty said and what he did.”

Nick Reuting says Ty had a way of connecting with others.

“I thought of Ty as the best heart engineer you could think of. He could build a bridge from his heart to your heart quicker than anybody I’ve ever seen. There was immediate connection and give and take.”

Lincoln Murdoch says Terri had her own way of connecting.

“She loved to teach, she loved mentoring younger women. I think the ladies immediately felt this was a woman they could trust to open up their hearts to and that Terri would be a confidante.”

mentors • friends • parents • pastors • good shepherds

Good times and bad times

Not everything was hearts and roses for the Schenzels and the people they served.

Pastor Ed King was at Hope when “Ty didn’t know what he was doing but he knew he was supposed to do it.” They learned an inner city calling will have casualties when gangs rule some streets.

It angered the Schenzels so many lives were lost to gun violence and the metro seemed indifferent to it or tolerant of it.

“They felt the community needed to take more ownership in the inner city and what happens there,” daughter Emily Lanphier says. “They felt like this is our city, we should all be really upset that this is happening and do something to change it.”

Some kids the Schenzels served were lost in the carnage.

Fittingly for a mission called Hope, Schenzel held hope the center  positively changed lives.

“My dad always said he dreamed about a day when it was not just funerals but weddings, graduations, kids going to college and on mission trips all over the world, which did happen before he died. It’s so great to know he saw that in his lifetime – those tangible expressions of the difference the Hope Center made,” Lanphier says.

“The longer the Hope Employment and Learning Academy was around, more and more kids were graduating high school and going to college. That was huge for him.”

Ed King says the good experiences far outweighed the bad.

“Over 20 plus years of friendship we got a chance to experience a lot – from some of our kids who didn’t make it, going to court, going to jail,  presiding over their funerals. Ty always would tell the kids the day was going to come when we’re going to perform your guys weddings and that most definitely came to pass – we had the privilege of co-officiating the wedding of a former Hope youth.”

 

 

 

 

A father’s heart, a mother’s heart

Lincoln Murdoch says the Schenzels’ “huge hearts as parents bled out all over the place, so when they were called to North Omaha they saw and loved these kids as their own and the kids felt it. Something that made their ministry so powerful is they genuinely embraced those kids and had them to their home. Parenting the next generation was very powerful in their hearts. Ty was a great spiritual surrogate father to a lot of guys. Terri was phenomenal from the maternal side. She was a parent to anybody who hung around them at all.”

It wasn’t only adults who sang the Schenzels praises at the gala. In a video kids delivered personal tributes about the difference Hope’s made in their lives. Kids went table to table to testify to their experience. Most powerfully, a group on stage took turns flipping over cards in sync with a singer-guitarist’s performance of “Beautiful Things.” Kid by kid, card by card, the messages transitioned from where they were (“stressed out,” depressed,” “angry and alone,” struggling in school”)  to where they’ve come – “I look forward to my future,” “I make my parents proud,” “I get better grades,” “I have really good friends,” “I am more happy,” “I have less pain and sorrow.” Then all the kids held up cards that read, “Thanks for giving us Hope.”

Lanphier says the fact her parents regarded Hope youth as their own made it even tougher when the streets claimed some of them.

“There were a few kids they had relationships with who got shot in gang activity and that always devastated them. The funerals were always really hard on them.”

She says those tragedies reinforced their commitment to the mission.

“My dad would say, ‘This is why we’re doing what we’re doing, this cannot continue.'”

 

 

Picture

 

 

Unthinkable

Lanphier didn’t want to get the kind of news her folks got when people they cared about died. But she was the first of her siblings to learn her parents had lost their lives in a crash that also took the life of a family friend and of the driver of the truck that collided with their vehicle,

Authorities at the scene searched for hours to find identification in the remains of the fire that ignited after the head-on impact.

Emily recalls the horror of hearing the unimaginable:

“At 2:15 in the morning I heard a knock on my door. It freaked me out because my husband was away on a camping trip and I was home alone with my kids. My phone was on silent and I picked up and saw that the pastors at Waypoint. Matthew and Amanda (Anderson), were calling me. Amanda said, ‘Emily, come to the front door, we’re here.’ I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘You just need to come down.’ So I got dressed knowing something was really wrong.

“I opened the front door and there’s a police officer with Matthew and Amanda standing beside him. I thought, This is like in the movies, this is going to be really bad news.’ They came in and I was told by the officer what happened. A nightmare. And then I had to tell my siblings. It’s the worst, the worst. It’s bad to know but then when you have to tell people that’s like a whole other level of pain. I remember thinking, I cannot believe these words are coming out of my mouth.”

She prolonged sharing the news as long as possible.

“I actually waited to tell them. I decided to let them sleep because our lives were ruined and what difference would a few hours make.”

After the blur of memorial services and condolences, she posted an online remembrance of her parents that read in part:

“it is such a comfort to know their impact as i journey through this tunnel of grief. There are some moments I want to call them so bad and I feel like I might die from sadness but I keep digging and allowing myself to grieve and heal because I want to be the kind of parents they were.”

She says what “they put in me” provided the resiliency needed to work through the tragedy. She confides that in the immediate aftermath of her loss she didn’t feel so resilient until her training and kicked in.

“I remember thinking, Oh, my God, someone’s going to have to take care of my kids, my grief is incapacitating. And then all of a sudden I remembered, Are you kidding? I know exactly how I’m going to get through this – because everything I need to deal with this they’ve already given me. They prepared me my whole life how to be strong and to let my faith be the bedrock of who I am.”

She also learned from her folks it’s OK to feel your feelings and, if needed, to have a professional guide you through them.

“My parents were both highly emotional but they weren’t sufferers. They dealt with life and if they needed to get counseling they got counseling. It’s OK to be sad, it’s’ OK to need help.”

More profoundly yet, she and her siblings are all believers who know to call on their Higher Power for healing,

“Because this is the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life, I  know what to do and I can handle this because I have the Lord inside me.”

 

 

 

The tributes continued Wednesday for Ty and Terri Schenzel with a ceremony to unveil a commemorative street naming in their honor.

 

 

Moving on and carrying the torch

Lincoln Murdoch has a perspective on the tragedy that took Emily’s parents and his good friends just as they were transitioning from the Hope Center to their Hope Filled Marriage ministry and taking time out for themselves, too.

“It was almost like they put in 17 hard years at the Hope Center and the Lord said, Why don’t you take two or three months off, travel around, enjoy each other, and then I’m going to call you home. We just didn’t know what that would be.”

At their funeral he brandished a baton at the altar to symbolize taking on the vision of hope the Schenzels set forth.

“Being a runner I thought, Well, they left a big gap and they carried the baton and now somebody needs to pick it up. I challenged everybody there to take part of the baton Ty and Terri carried and let’s keep this vision going. It was a call for people to get involved.”

That call has resonated with friends and strangers as Murdoch and others have taken to carrying batons in races and other venues to bring awareness to the Hope Center mission.

“I had no idea the baton theme would kind of get a life of its own.”

It’s not so different than when the Schenzels left suburbia for the inner city on faith alone to plant seeds they never imagined would grow into such strong roots. What began with Ty and Terri as Johnny Appleseeds and Pied Pipers now has an army of soldiers following their lead in helping people bloom.

integrity • character • purpose-driven • faith-centered • family-focused • fun-loving

 

Visit http://www.hopecenterforkids.com and http://hopefilledmarriage.org.

 

 

Nelson Mandela School Adds Another Building Block to North Omaha’s Future

January 24, 2016 1 comment

If you know me or follow my work then you know I have a heart for North Omaha.  I grew up there.  Went to school there.  For a complex set of reasons having to do with how my life unfolded the first 42-plus years and North Omaha’s role in that, I found myself drawn to writing about some of the dynamics there – past and present.  I still do. I am for anything that has the potential to do good there and when I heard about the new Nelson Mandela Elementary School going into the former Blessed Sacrament campus on North 30th Street it certainly caught my attention.  Here is a story i recently did for Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/) that gives a glimpse of the school through the perspective of two key people behind it, Susan Toohey and Dianne Lozier.

 

 

NelsonMandelaSchool1

The Nelson Mandela Way

New School Adds Another Building Block to North Omaha’s Future

Published in Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

North Omaha may be reversing five decades of capital resources leaving the community with little else but social services coming in. Emerging business, housing, and community projects are spearheading a revitalization, and a new school with promise in its name, Nelson Mandela Elementary, is part of this turnaround.

The free, private school in the former Blessed Sacrament church and school on North 30th Street blends old and new. An addition housing the library and cafeteria joins the original structures. The sanctuary is now a gym with stained glass windows. Vintage stone walls and decorative arches create Harry Potteresque features. South African flag-inspired color schemes and Nelson Mandela-themed murals abound.

NelsonMandelaSchool2

The school that started with kindergarten and first grade and will add a grade each year is the vision of Dianne Seeman Lozier. Her husband, Allan Lozier, heads the Lozier store fixture manufacturing company that operates major north Omaha facilities. The couple’s Lozier Foundation supports Omaha Public Schools’ programs.

Their support is personal. They raised two grandsons who struggled to read as children. The odyssey to find effective remedies led Dianne Lozier to new approaches, such as the Spalding Method used at Mandela.

Mandela sets itself apart, too, using Singapore math, playing jazz and classical background music, requiring students to study violin, holding recess every 90 minutes, and having parents agree to volunteer. Mandela “scholars” take College for Kids classes at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus.

NelsonMandelaSchool4

It’s all in response to the high-poverty area the school serves, where low test scores prevail and families can’t always provide the enrichment kids need.

Most Mandela students are from single-parent homes. Sharon Moore loves sending her son, Garrett, to “a new school with new ideas.” Eric and Stacy Rafferty welcome the research-based innovations their boy, William, enjoys and the opportunity to be as involved as they want at school. Moore and the Raffertys report their sons are thriving there.

“Parents are really getting into this groove of being here,” says Principal Susan Toohey. “It’s building a community here and a sense that we are all in this together.”

Community is also important to the Loziers.

“We’re just really connected here,” Dianne Lozier says. “Allan and I have really strong beliefs that the economic inequality in the country and north Omaha is a microcosm of a huge issue. It’s a fairness issue and a belief that, if we want it badly enough, we can make a difference.”

She and Toohey are banking that the school demonstrates its strategies work as core curriculum, not just intervention.

“I’m hoping by the end of the first school year here we’ll be able to compare students’ literacy against other places and show that children have developed stronger reading skills,” Lozier says. “Our longterm goal is that all kids will be grade-level proficient readers by the end of third grade.”

For Toohey, launching and leading a school in a high-needs district is appealing.

NelsonMandelaSchool3

“What an incredible opportunity,” she says. “Rarely do you get a chance to start a school from the ground up and pick everything that’s going to happen there and hire every person that’s going to work there. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but my heart has always been in urban education.”

In preparation for opening last August, she says, “I spent a year researching educational practices and curricula and developing relationships with people.” Her outreach forged partnerships with Metro, College of Saint Mary, the Omaha Conservatory of Music, The Big Garden, and others.

“We really want to be a model of what makes a school stronger, and I think having the community involved makes it stronger so it’s not working in isolation.”

Dianne Lozier, whose foundation funds the school with the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, is a frequent visitor.

NelsonMandelaSchool5“I help out with breakfast,” she explains. “I tie a lot of shoes. I get and give a lot of hugs.”

Lozier says her presence is meant to help “faculty and staff feel a little more supported—because this is hard. Every teacher and para-educator here, even the head of school, would say this is the hardest job they’ve ever had.”

Toohey says the difficulty stems from teaching a “very different curriculum” and “starting a culture from scratch. Families are getting to know us, we’re getting to know the families, and this is a really challenging population of kids. Many have not been in preschool programs that helped them moderate their behavior.”

Despite the challenges, Lozier says, “We have incredible families and kids.”

Drawing on the school’s inspirational namesake, each morning everyone recites “the Mandela mantra” of “Education is the most powerful weapon you can produce to change the world,” and “I will change the world with my hope, strength, service, unity, peace, and wisdom.”

“I hope all those things are what this community sees coming out of this school,” Toohey says, “and that our kids develop those qualities of grit and resilience so critical for success.”

Lozier adds that Mandela is a symbol of hope and opportunity.

“To accomplish the things we’re capable of,” she says, “we have to believe we can do that. It’s an opportunity to make improvements and get past impediments, to use internal strengths and be recognized for what you can bring.”

Visit nelsonmandelaelementary.org to learn more.

NelsonMandelaSchool1

 

Father Ken Vavrina Book Signing – Sunday, Jan. 3

December 28, 2015 Leave a comment

 

 

Sunday, January 3, 2016
at 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
St Benedict The Moor, 2423 Grant Street, Omaha
Father Ken Vavrina will sign copies of his new book, “Crossing Bridges: A Priest’s Uplifting Life Among the Downtrodden,” from 10:30 a.m. to Noon on Sunday, Jan. 3 at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church, 2423 Grant Street, In North Omaha. The signing will take place in the social hall located in the church basement. The book chronicles Father’s inspiring life of service at home and abroad. As I helped Father Ken realize the book, I will be there as well. Come out and support Father Ken, a much beloved man of God and of the people whose ministry is both a testimony of faith and a call to action. This social justice champion has served parishes on reservtions and in Omaha’s inner city. He’s worked with lepers in Yemen and with the poorest of the poor in India. He’s aided war refugees in Liberia and earthquake surviors in Italy. He’s given all he has to give and now it’s time for the community to show its appreciation for this once close confidante and colleague of Mother Teresa.

Refreshments will be served. All are welcome. We hope to see you there.

 

 

Shining Light: News of Omaha Star publisher’s illness spurs admiration for her stewardship and interest in historic paper’s future

December 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Shining Light: News of Omaha Star publisher’s illness spurs admiration for her stewardship and interest in historic paper’s future

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the December 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

One of the things that makes North Omaha North Omaha is the Omaha Star, the historic black newspaper made famous by Mildred Brown. For the first time since Marguerita Washington took it over from her late aunt in 1989, the future of the 77-year-old newspaper is unclear as Washington battles cancer. But those close to the situation say under no circumstances will they let the paper fold because it means too much to the community it serves. Check out my Reader story about the legacy of the Star under Brown and Washington and how strongly people feel about it and what it’s meant to them. Read, too, about people’s admiration for what these black women did to give Black Omahans a voice.

News of Omaha Star publisher’s illness spurs admiration for her stewardship and interest in historic paper’s future

December 4, 2015 Leave a comment

North Omaha is more than a geographic district.  It is a culture and a state of mind.  That is particularly true of African-American North Omaha.  For generations the voice of that community has been the Omaha Star, which started in 1938.  Flamboyant Mildred Brown made the Star an institution as its publisher, managing editor and gudiing spirit.  When she passed in 1989 her niece Marguerita Washington, who grew up around her bigger-than-life elder and the advocacy-minded paper, took it over.  Washington’s kept the paper’s vital voice alive and relevant all these years, even as print publications have become endangered in the digital age.  She’s reportedly put everything she has into keeping it afloat.  Now though Washington is facing an end of life scenario that for the first time in her tenure as publisher – Washington never married and has no children – leaves the future of the Star in question.  Phyllis Hicks has been acting publisher during Washington’s health crisis.  But those close to the situation say there is no way the Star is going to fold if they have anything to do wth it.  My story below for The Reader (www.thereader.com) assesses what the Star has meant and continues to mean to people and what may happen with it moving forward should certain events play out.  I called on several folks for their perspective on the Star, past, present and future, and on the legacy of the two black women who have made it such a resource all this time.  Some of the most interesting comments are from Cathy Hughes, the Radio One and TV One communications titan from Omaha who got her media start at the Star and at KOWH.  This is at least the third time I’ve written about Washington, Brown and the Star and you can find the earlier stories on Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories at leoadambiga.com.

 

 

 

statue

Marguerita Washington on the left standing beside a bust of her aunt Mildred Brown pictured on the right

 

 

News of Omaha Star publisher’s illness spurs admiration for her stewardship and interest in historic paper’s future

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the December 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 
The Omaha Star has given African-Americans a voice for 77 years. The newspaper is not only a vital mouthpiece for locals, but a valued hometown connection for natives living elsewhere.

It became an institution under the late Mildred D. Brown, a force of nature who became an icon with her ever-present smile, carnation and salesmanship. She charmed and challenged movers and shakers, near and far, with her insistent calls for equality. Through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Cold War, the late 1960s riots, it never missed an issue. Upon Brown’s 1989 death, niece Marguerita Washington, who worked at the paper as a young woman, took over the helm. She reportedly used her own money to pay off debt her aunt accumulated. Despite financial shortfalls, this grassroots, advocacy, activist, community-minded paper has never missed a beat. Not through the 2008 economic collapse or the decline of print and concurrent rise of online media. While circulation’s dropped and the Star’s now published bi-weekly instead of weekly, its social conscience, watchdog, give-voice-to-the-voiceless roles remain intact.

For the first time though since Brown’s death, the Star’s future is unclear because Washington, the woman who’s carried the torch lit by her aunt, is now terminally ill. The 80-year-old Washington was diagnosed earlier this year with lung cancer. The cancer spread to her brain. Meanwhile, there’s no direct heir to inherit the Star because she never married and has no children. When Brown passed she divvied up shares to Washington and other family members. Washington is the majority share holder and out-of-town relatives who’ve never taken an active hand in its operations own the other shares.

Star advertising and marketing director Phyllis Hicks has been acting managing editor and publisher during Washington’s health crisis. Hicks began at the Star in 2005 and grew to be Washington’s closest colleague.

“It was a growing relationship that became more of a personal one than a business one,” Hicks says.

 

Phyllis Hicks

 

The two formed the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center as a vehicle for preserving the paper’ legacy and the Junior Journalists program to encourage youth to enter the field. The pair obtained historic status for the Star building at 2216 North 24th Street.

Brown’s brash, bigger-than-life style lent the paper panache and edge. By contrast, the quiet, unassuming Washington, an academic with a Ph.D., exhibits a “walk softly and carry a big stick” tone,” said Hicks, adding, “Marguerita is not one to be vocal and take the lead and sound off, but she’s going to support from the background to do what she can to make it happen.” For each woman, the Star became a labor of love. Washington’s never drawn a salary as publisher and maintainer of a historic line of female leadership that made it the longest continuously published black newspaper owned and operated by women.

“The role of the Omaha Star in the history of this community cannot be overstated,” says Gail Baker, dean of the School of Communication, Fine Arts and Media at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “The Star, like other black papers, is key to developing and maintaining the community. Under both Mildred Brown and Marguerita Washington, the Star’s voice has been loud, clear and critical. Whether championing the rights of African Americans, calling the community to action, covering the stories others did not see fit to print or just shining a light on what is important to its readers, the Star is that beacon of light leading the way. Its place in Omaha is without parallel.”

Chicago Crusader editor-publisher Dorothy Leavell writes in an email about Washington, “I appreciate all of her support of things I hold dear. I love her loyalty, sense of humor and dedication to the Black Press as well as the fighting spirit of Mildred Brown that we shared memories of. I know she is putting up the good fight…”

Hicks, who shares power of attorney for Washington, has watched her friend endure radiation and chemotherapy to try and arrest the cancer. She and other friends of the paper are weighing what might happen to the Star in the absence of Washington. Discussions have grown more urgent as doctors recently discontinued treatment.

Washington, who suffers from dementia, is cared for at a northwest Omaha assisted living facility.

Hicks and others close to the situation have been selling off some of Washington’s possessions and are looking for a buyer for her home.

“We’re dealing with her business, we’re dealing with her and her doctors and we’re trying to sell her things and her home so we can have money for her care,” Hicks says. “I guess at one time she was quite wealthy but with all the money going into the Star and her never taking a salary her wealth has dwindled. My goal is trying to make sure she’s safe for the remainder of her life.”

 

  • office

 

 

A means to continue the paper, including finding a buyer-publisher, is also being discussed.

For folks of a certain age the Star is part of what makes North Omaha, North Omaha. It’s a touchstone for those who reside here and for natives who left here. More than any other institution it holds fast the community memory of a people and a district. Those who grew up with the publication are bound and determined to do whatever it takes to keep it alive even as its leader nears the end.

“It’s my goal and her goal as well the paper remain in North Omaha and remain black owned if we can sell it,” Hicks says. “Some mention female owned. That’d be nice but I don’t have any desire to own and run a paper. Lots of folks have approached me and asked what’s going to happen, and it’s not up to me to make that determination. I’m power of attorney with one of her nieces in Kansas City.”

Asked if she sees any scenario in which the paper would close, she says, “I’m hoping that with the amount of people expressing interest and working towards its survival that that won’t happen. It’s my hope that somebody or somebodies will come forth.

“The officers of the Study Center are working on coming up with a plan. We’re looking at avenues and ways. We’re even looking at if the nonprofit Study Center could own the paper as a for-profit arm.”

Omaha Economic Development Corporation executive director Michael Maroney says, “A lot of people want to see it survive, that’s for sure,
There will be a solution found, we just don’t know what it is yet. I’m quite confident it will survive in some form or fashion.”

“Now is a pivotal moment for the Omaha Star and the Near North Side community,” says Amy Forss, author of the biography, Black Print with a White Carnation: Mildred Brown and the Omaha Star. “I am emphatically stressing the need for a successor because if the Omaha Star ceases to exist, then the longest-running record no longer exists and neither does the regularly published voice of the black community and that would be a piece of history you cannot replace.”

Omaha native Cathy Hughes, a national media czar through her Radio One and TV One companies, has credited Mildred Brown and the Star, for whom she worked, as a direct influence on her own entrepreneurial communications career. She says much as Ernie Chambers has been its militant voice in recent years through his column, the late Star reporter Charlie Washington once served that “rabble rouser” role.

“Charlie and the Omaha Star actually showed me the true power of the communications industry,” she recalls. “The Star took the mute button off of the voice of the black community in Omaha. It was more than just advocacy, it was a safety net. It has fostered and nurtured and promoted progress. It glorifies the success and accomplishments of Africa Americans in that community, which says to our young people, ‘You too can do it.’ It has been a vehicle for inspiration and motivation.

“I think that’s why it’s been able to successfully survive all these years and I pray that it will continue for many decades more.”

Hughes admires what Washington’s done.

“She could have done a lot of things with her life,” she says of the publisher, “but instead she came home because. It’s in her blood.”

“I believe it was commendable of Marguerita to take up the banner. I think she understood and saw the need of what it meant to the community and she also had the desire to continue her aunt’s legacy,” OEDC’s Maroney offers.

Retired photojournalist Rudy Smith says, “To her credit she continued the legacy, integrity and mission of the Omaha Star. Mildred Brown was a pioneer and a trailblazer and it’s hard to follow a pioneer but Marguerita was able to do that..”

 

 

Marguerita Washington  Marguerita Washington

Mildred Brown

 

 

According to community activist Preston Love Jr., who pens a column for the Star, “There was pretty much a transparent and no wrinkle transition from Mildred to Marguerita. It happened without much of a blip in terms of the paper being published. I think Marguerita’s played several roles. To some degree early she played a caretaker role. Then she emerged to take more of an editor-in-chief role and she has moved into the role of publisher. So while the paper’s made a transition she has, too. She’s made some tough editorial decisions as well. All of that is a testament to her stewardship.”

Like her aunt before her, Washington’s been much honored for her work, including last summer by the Urban League of Nebraska. More recently, the City of Omaha proclaimed Tuesday, December 1 Marguerita Washington Day for her “commitment to the community and issues that have impacted African-American people” and for “her great sense of social justice and social responsibility.”

Her empowering marginalized people continued a long, unbroken line.

“The paper has been a staple to me and the community for generations.,” Love says. “Other African American newspapers have come and gone here over the years but the Omaha Star endured. In my generation it’s something we all grew up with and hold in very strong endearment.”

Love sold the paper as a boy and was Mildred Brown’s driver summers during college. His late father, musician-educator-author Preston Love, sold advertising for the Star. The son says it’s been a link for blacks here and who’ve moved away “like no other link – you can’t overstate how important that link is.”

If the Star should close, he says, “what would be lost is part of the personality of North Omaha. Embedded in that is history and culture.”

Hicks says blacks would lose a valuable platform for “telling it like it is in the community without having to always be politically correct.”

The Star may not have the readership or pull it once did, but that’s a function of these times.

“When I was growing up in Omaha the Star was all that we had,” Hughes recalls. “Now everyone is in the black lane competing for that black consumer market. When my company went into the cable industry 10 years ago there were two choices for black folks watching cable – BET or TV One. Now every cable and broadcast television station has some type of black programming, which makes it that much more difficult for us to secure advertising dollars.

“Well, Marguerita has really had that problem with the Omaha Star. When her aunt was running it Mildred could candidly say to the head of the electric company, ‘The only way you’re going to reach these black folks is through me.’ Well, that no longer is true, they can reach ’em in social media, in a whole host of other ways.”

It may not be the presence it once was but Hughes leaves no doubt it’s meaning for her.

“When I was on the front page of the Omaha Star I called up and ordered two dozen copies – I was sending my Omaha Star out to everybody. And I laughed at myself and said, ‘Boy, that’s the little girl still in you.’ It was like hometown approval. It’s more than just the hometown newspaper to me, it’s the approval of the folks in Omaha, it’s the cheering, it’s the you-did-good, we’re-proud-of-you vehicle

“It inspired me then and it still does today.”

She says she hasn’t been formally approached about how she might assist the Star but would entertain ideas.

Preston Love says such deep sentiments about the Star are not just based on its rich past but its vibrant life today.

“The contribution the paper is making today should not be overlooked.
So it is not just historical but the present and the future. What it does to provide a platform for columnists, churches, businesses, community organizations and individual accomplishments is all right now.”

He says he and other concerned observers “will fight tooth and nail” any transition not deemed in the best interests of North Omaha.

Having arrived at this each-one-to-teach one and it-takes-a-village juncture, the Star’s fate is in the people’s hands as never before.

Rudy Smith says the fact the Star is both a historical treasure and a still relevant and resonant voice bodes well for it continuing.

“Marguerita put in building blocks that will allow the Star to continue even after she’s gone.Years ago Marguerita and I had talks about the future of the Star and she told me, ‘My goal is for the Star to live beyond me.’ I know for a fact there are things in place now that will allow the Star to continue. Marguerita started preparing the community to embrace the Star years ago.

“I think the community is rallying around the Star more than it ever has
because the Star is a community institution and if it dies part of the fabric of the community dies. The community will not let it die. I’m familiar with some of the things going on now (behind the scenes) to ensure its survival and I’m encouraged.”

Somewhere, Mildred Brown is smiling that people care so much about the fate of the paper she and her niece devoted their lives to.

 

 

Mildred Brown met many dignitaries

 

RANDOM INSPIRATION

November 19, 2015 2 comments

 

RANDOM INSPIRATION
Got a call out of the blue yesterday afternoon from an 86-year-old man in Omaha. He’s a retired Jewish American retailer. He’d just finished reading my November Reader cover story about The Education of a WASP and the segregation issues that plagued Omaha. He just wanted to share how much he enjoyed it and how he felt it needed to be seen by more people. Within a few minutes it was clear the story also summoned up in him strong memories and feelings having to do with his own experiences of bigotry as a Jewish kid getting picked on and bullied and as a businessman taking a stand against discrimination by hiring black clerks in his stores. One of his stores was at 24th and Erskine in the heart of North Omaha and the African-American district there and that store employed all black staff. But he also hired blacks at other storees, including downtown and South Omaha, and some customers were not so accepting of it and he told them flat out they could take their business elsewhere. He also told a tale that I need to get more details about that had to do with a group of outsiders who warned-threatened him to close his North O business or else. His personal accounts jumped from there to serving in the military overseas to his two marriages, the second of which is 60 years strong now. He wanted to know why I don’t write for the Omaha World-Herald and I explained that and he was eager to hook me up with the Jewish Press, whereupon I informed him I contributed to it for about 15 years. I also shared that I have done work for the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society. It turns out the man who brought me and my work to the attention of the Press and the Historical Society, the late Ben Nachman, was this gentleman’s dentist. Small world. I also shared with him why I write so much about African-American subjects (it has to do in part with where and how I grew up). Anyway, it was a delightful interlude in my day talking to this man and I will be sure to talk with him again and hopefully meet him. He’s already assured me he will be calling back. I am eager for him to do so. It’s rare that people call me about my work and this unexpected reaching out and expression of appreciation by a reader who was a total stranger was most appreciated. That stranger is now a friend.

Here is the story that motivated that new friend to call me about:

 

Page01-1 WASP

Page08-1 WASP

Page09- WASP

Page10 - WASP

Page12 - WASP

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,406 other followers

%d bloggers like this: