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Back Home in the Fields of Comfort and Plenty


Back Home in the Fields of Comfort and Plenty

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared iin The Reader (www.thereader.com)

It’s not everyone that would leave a successful national food television career to do a start-up bakery in Omaha. Especially not when it’s your first entrepreneurial effort. Or when a recession is on and tight consumer spending makes the already daunting prospect of a new business even scarier.

But Christianna Reinhardt is used to going her own way. Her Sweet Georgine’s Bakeshop opened April 22 at the site of the former Benson Bakery, 6109 Maple Street. The gourmet bakery adds to the historic business district’s expanding cultural scene.

While she believes Benson is “becoming THE hip new place to be” that’s not what sold her on ditching a sure-thing for the uncertainty of a new venture with predawn wakeups, heavy lifting and 14 hour days. No, the history conveyed by the 1904 building spoke to her and her interest in baking “the way it used to be.”

“I get really attached to the history of things,” she said.

Consider her 2004 purchase at auction of an abandoned Carnegie library slated for razing in her hometown of Burwell, Neb. and her conversion of the two-story, 3,000 square foot brick edifice into a private residence and cultural sanctuary.

She worked as a Food Network programming/development manager in New York when a notice in the Burwell Tribune — a paper her parents once published and she subscribes to as a link to home — noted the library’s fate. She came to inspect it and found it sound. She made the lone bid on it. On breaks from New York she returned to fix up the circa 1914 library. Wanting to preserve its integrity she made minimal changes — restoring the original tin ceiling and wood floors and installing new heating-cooling-plumbing systems. She put in a high-end kitchen.

The project made her and the library objects of much curiosity. She left it open so visitors could pop inside for a glimpse or a reminscence. She understood. It was the town library for 88 years. She was the prodigal daughter come home.

In New York she missed what she’d put so much of her money and self into. She reassessed what she wanted to do. Food TV wasn’t it anymore. She left the network and the Big Apple for Omaha in early 2007.

“I thought long and hard about whether I was going to leave,” she said, “because I know it was the best job I was ever going to have in television and food. It was really hard to leave. Inside jobs there are so coveted that once you leave you never get back in. But I wanted to do other things. I wanted to feel like I was making some contribution to society. I wanted to feel like I had a life.”

Her eagerness for a fresh start in Omaha, where she did some food journalism, turned desperate when months passed without landing a job.

Driving by the closed Benson Bakery one day she spotted the “For Lease” sign out front and found her new calling. Even though she was born in Burwell and by age 9 moved with her family to Arizona, Benson runs through her blood. Her folks grew up there. Her grandparents lived there. The old bakery was like a family heirloom.

“I probably would not have done this if it weren’t for this particular space. It is the history of this space. This has been a bakery for so long and people miss it. It made a lot of people happy and I want it to become a neighborhood place that people kind of dwell in again. I feel really strongly about preserving pieces of history and culture and how they tie into the community.”

More than a small business owner she’s a resident homeowner in the Holy Name neighborhood just east of Benson.

She’s remade the bakery’s small retail front more open and inviting with smaller display cases, a few tables and chairs, sleek hanging lights, a new peach, sky blue and pale green color scheme and some old family photographs, including images of the bakery’s namesake, Georgine — Reinhardt’s late paternal grandmother.

During the makeover Reinhardt reverted to her Burwell ways and kept the doors open. Sure enough, people stopped by to share memories of the old place.

The large commercial kitchen, which resembles the galley and bowels of a ship with its oversized cooking equipment, prep tables, vents and ducts, provides ample room for her creative jags, which entail much pacing.

“I love the space. It’s huge.”

She even appreciates its limited, outdated wares.

“It fits really well with what I want to do with food. I really am inspired by baking the way it used to be,” she said. “Baking wasn’t uniform. Grandma didn’t have a proofing oven in her kitchen…I don’t want a $5,000 proofing oven that’s going to get a loaf of bread perfect every time. I want people to know how this stuff varies.

“It’s still going to be a good loaf of bread but it’s going to look different coming out of the oven on a 90-degree day then on a 75-degree day. It changes. Before it goes in the oven it’s a living culture, a living thing and the temperature, the humidity, the amount of flour, changes the whole thing. I appreciate those differences. I’m literally banking on the fact hope other people will, too.”

She hopes her artisan, hand-crafted approach is also embraced by customers.

Besides breads, Sweet Georgine’s offers scones, muffins, tarts, puff pastries, donuts, biscotti, brownies, cookies and whatever else strikes Reinhardt’s fancy. In season she’ll feature fresh fruits. Everything will be from scratch and contain local ingredients. She’s drawing on America’s melting pot of cultures for influences. Fresh brewed coffee is available.

Simple hot breakfast plates and grilled lunchtime sandwiches are also served.

Her life in food all makes sense now but she’s come by it in a circuitous way. After earning a philosophy degree from the University of Arizona in preparation for intended law school studies, she lost her zeal to be an attorney and went off to find herself in Portland, Oregon. She bartended in a nightclub before getting on as a production assistant with Will Vinton Studios, creators of the California Raisins and The PJs. She liked TV work and set her sights on the Food Network, where she could indulge her passion for cooking.

In the wake of 9/11 TV jobs in New York were scarce. Then a field producer’s slot opened on Tyler’s Ultimate, the show that served as her network entree.

To sharpen her largely self-taught culinary schools she talked her way onto the kitchen line at Bobby Flay’s chic Mesa Grill in New York. She also moonlighted as a private chef to monied Manhattanites. She was always learning. Part of her producing duties was spot checking the research staff’s work, which put her in contact with chefs. She pumped the pros for ideas.

All that was behind her or so she thought when she resettled in Nebraska. She intended marketing her library in Burwell as a culinary retreat but dropped that plan when she couldn’t affordably access gourmet ingredients. Suddenly she found herself stuck without steady work and a mortgage to pay.

So when a supervising producer gig came up on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives she jumped at it. She officed out of the Minneapolis, Minn. production company that delivers the show to Food Network. What was to be a two-month stint dragged on for seven months, by which time she remade her pledge to exit food television.

Back in Omaha she came upon the bakery and what she hopes is her permanent ticket out of TV food land. Whenever she needs a getaway she can always escape to her own personal Carnegie retreat.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City offer living history lesson about national pastime from black perspective

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City offer living
history lesson about national pastime from black Perspective
©by Leo Adam Biga

Monuments of both the human and brick-and-mortar kind abound at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, Mo., where the story of a vital but long neglected chapter in the national pastime’s history is told. The NLBM preserves a rich heritage alongside the American Jazz Museum it shares space with in a sleek modern facility of bold colors and designs. It’s only right the NLBM calls Kansas City home, as that city gave birth to the Negro leagues and for decades hosted one of the great black ball clubs — the Kansas City Monarchs.

KC is also the adopted home of Buck O’Neil, widely considered the elder statesman of the Negro leagues. An all-star player and manager with the Monarchs of the Negro National League, the 94-year-old O’Neil co-founded the museum, which opened in a much smaller facility in 1991. The present structure opened in 1997. The NLBM is located smack dab in the middle of the historic cultural hub of KC’s black community, the 18th and Vine District, a gentrified neighborhood of brick, circa-1900s buildings, that in its day featured a 24/7 promenade of people taking in the area’s many clubs, eateries and stores.

A short jaunt off the Paseo exit finds you on John Buck O’Neil Way, which traverses a mixed commercial-residential area of brownstone walk ups — the Jazz Hill Homes — and places of worship — St. Stephen Baptist Church, Paseo Baptist, Bethel AME Church — whose names signify black culture. You arrive at 18th and Vine, to find an Old Market-style environs surrounded by the Blue Room, the Historic Lincoln Building, the Gem Theatre and the Swing Shop. Like a shrine stands the combined baseball-jazz museum and its homage to the game and the music that served to unite and thrill the black community.

The last Negro leagues team folded more than 40 years ago. The color barrier that precipitated the formation of the Negro leagues fell just after World War II ended. Yet African American pioneers in baseball are very much on people’s minds these days due to the July 30 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction of 17 Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues figures. It’s the largest group from early black baseball to be elected to the Hall at one time.

A name conspicuous by its absence from this new crop of inductees is Buck O’Neil’s. In addition to his feats as a player-manager, he’s devoted himself to ensure the history of the Negro leagues not be lost. He’s perhaps best known for his narration in Ken Burns’ acclaimed Baseball documentary. His vivid descriptions of Negro leagues lore and the rousing place players-teams enjoyed in black communities, put a face on this story as never before. Long before the film, however, he lobbied for recognition of the Negro leagues as a singular slice of history and led the drive for its stars to be inducted in Cooperstown.

“I always thought the story should have been told and I’ve been telling it for the last 50 years,” O’Neil said. “But nobody listened to me until the Ken Burns documentary. Now everybody wants to talk to Buck about it.”

NLBM Marketing Director Bob Kendrick said O’Neil knows well his place in baseball history. “He’s a very proud man. He understands the fact he’s a trailblazer. He understands what this story represents to the core and he’s doing everything in his power to make sure others will have an opportunity to know about those who made great sacrifices and were trailblazers like himself. Education has been at the forefront of his life, and we’re talking about someone who’s the grandson of a slave, who was denied the opportunity to attend public high school in Sarasota, Fla., even though his parents were tax payers, who rose above that to become this elder statesman and icon for everything that is good in this country. He has been everything to this museum. If you had to point to a single individual for the building of this institution and keeping alive the legacy of the Negro leagues, it would be Buck O’Neil.”

“And that’s why we felt so disheartened by the fact the doors to the Hall of Fame were shut on him,” Kendrick said. “It’s difficult to assess his 70-plus-year baseball career and say he wasn’t worthy of inclusion as a contributor. You know, it leaves you to wonder what their criteria were, but certainly all of us understand the remarkable contributions this man has made to the game of baseball, across the board. Fans across the country were not just disappointed but outraged because he is the face of the Negro leagues now. Just as Satchel (Paige) was during his heyday, Buck has become the face of the Negro leagues. He is the reason people care about the Negro leagues. There’s no question about it.”

Ever the diplomat, O’Neil downplays the Hall’s snub. “I had an idea I had a chance” to be elected, “but having been on the Veterans Hall of Fame Committee for 20 years I knew what could happen.” He prefers to take the high road. “We’re fixing to put 17 more in there at the end of July. Isn’t that wonderful?” Kendrick doesn’t rule out O’Neil might one day still get in, but he only hopes it’s not too late. “We hope Buck will get this coronation at some point in time, but the thing is we hope that it comes in his lifetime.”

Hall or no Hall his name’s soon to grace the planned Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center that will mark the NLBM’s largest expansion project in a decade. The center will be housed in the nearby Paseo YMCA, a National Historic Landmark regarded as the birthplace of the Negro leagues. A $15 million rehab will provide state-of-the-art facilities for the museum’s oral history and archival work.

The museum O’Neil’s dedicated the past 16 years of his life to charts, in words and images, the rise and fall of the Negro leagues. A “Field of Legends,” complete with life-sized bronze statues of Negro league greats arrayed on a mock diamond, puts you right there in the action. If there’s a recurring theme, it’s that these teams and players made it possible for future generations of blacks to enter major league baseball (MLB).  Without the Negro leagues, equal rights for blacks in baseball and other aspects of society might well have waited another generation.

“As Buck so eloquently puts it,” Kendrick said, “it’s nice sometimes we celebrate those who built the bridge as opposed to those who crossed over the bridge. That’s what we’re doing here — we’re celebrating the bridge builders.”

Kendrick said major league players who visit the museum come away awe-struck.

What most captivates people are the stories, told in interactive exhibits, that make this living history come alive. That’s especially true if you’re lucky enough to be there when O’Neil happens by to regale anyone within ear shot with tales of those halcyon times. The much-beloved O’Neil is a familiar figure there. An ebullient man, whose bright attire reflects his sunny disposition, he chats up visitors and staff, charming everyone he greets.

For a recent Legends Luncheon held at the Madrid Theatre in KC, a program that raises funds for the NLBM, O’Neil made the rounds at each table to welcome attendees — “Good to see you guys” —  to sign autographs and to pose for pics. During an auction of baseball memorabilia, he worked the crowd, imploring and cajoling them to up their bids. “We’re going to start this off at $40. Forty, who’s going to say 40 for Buck? Fifty? Who’s going to give me 55? C’mon, bro. Thank you, brother. Who’s going to give me $60? What do you say, sugar? There you go, love. Going once, going twice…I’ve got to let her have it,” and with that he saunters to the woman, embraces her and plants a kiss on her cheek.

“The man has never met a stranger in his life,” said Kendrick, who often travels with O’Neil to spread the gospel of the museum’s mission. “I’ll tell you what, he’s the most charismatic individual I’ve ever encountered. The energy he exerts at 94, it’s just amazing to me how he does it. Just his sheer love of humanity, his love of life. When you meet Buck O’Neil, you’ve just got to be on his team.”

O’Neil loved being a Negro leaguer. The way of life it afforded him. The people it allowed him to meet. The game he loved it enabled him to play.

“The only experience I would have traded it for would have been to have done it in  the major leagues,” said O’Neil, the prime of whose playing career came before the color barrier fell. “Yeah, that’s the only thing.”

Until the color barrier was broken in 1947, the Negro leagues offered black ballplayers, coaches and managers the next best thing. It was their major leagues.
The warm embrace blacks once extended to the game is in sharp contrast to their low participation in it today. Where blacks used to identify with baseball, it’s now largely seen as a white or Latino or even Asian sport. But not so long ago black-is-beautiful and baseball went hand in hand. The Negro leagues constituted a cultural institution that fostered black pride and generated black commerce.

“The painful images of blacks are pretty much out there — the images of slavery, the struggle of the civil rights movement — but very rarely are our success stories celebrated, and this is a success story” Kendrick said. “Blacks succeeded at the highest level you can succeed playing this game and went on to spark social change in this country. I think it’s an inspirational illustration of what blacks were able to accomplish in the face of tremendous adversity.

“It was an economic stimulus for black businesses. It created a sense of pride in the African American community because while this was shared by others, it still was intrinsically ours. It had been born, anchored and become successful” in the black community, He said. “Negro leagues baseball brought tremendous joy to African Americans during a time that was very difficult for blacks in this country.”

“I always share with our visitors that the story of the Negro leagues embodies the American spirit unlike any other,” Kendrick said, “because in it is everything we pride ourselves in being Americans. It’s a story of courage. It’s a story of men who flat out refused to accept the notion they were unfit to play America’s co-called national pastime. They created leagues of their own that actually rose to rival, and in many cities across this country, surpass the major leagues in popularity and attendance. They were determined, they persevered, they did whatever they had to do to prove to the world they could play this game as well as anyone. That is the prevailing American spirit.”

During an era when a “gentlemen’s agreement” among major league owners and commissioners kept blacks off the field, African Americans created their own baseball universe. In 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster — “the father of black baseball” — held a meeting with other black team owners at KC’s Paseo YMCA and the result was the Negro National League, the first organized black pro league. Other leagues followed. The hope was the big leagues would eventually take-in one team from each main Negro league. It never happened.

Instead, it took another 27 years before the majors let in blacks. In the meantime, the Negro leagues continued to prosper. The first Colored World Series was held in 1924. New leagues followed. The boom was from 1933 to 1947, with teams in KC, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Memphis, Baltimore, New York, et cetera.

The Negro leagues featured comparable talent as the majors and, as the museum highlights, offered innovations, such as night baseball, years ahead of the bigs. A period poster on display called the attraction “the greatest drawing card outside the major leagues.” Also documented, in box scores and anecdotes, is the fact Negro league teams fared well against major league teams in exhibitions. One only imagines how the record books would be rewritten had greats “Cool Papa” Bell, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard or Josh Gibson played in the majors. Or if pitcher Satchel Paige made it there in his prime rather than at the tail end of his career.

The museum provides a glimpse into what’s called a “parallel” baseball experience, but one relegated to the back pages of white newspapers and to the shadows of mainstream history. Yet this other world of professional baseball enjoyed every bit the cache and support among black fans the major leagues did among white fans.

Black baseball also attracted white fans, particularly when Negro league teams like the Monarchs barnstormed to play exhibitions versus local town teams or major league clubs. Fans flocked to see the Monarchs at Western League Park and Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha and American Legion Baseball Park in Council Bluffs.

The high times of being part of this unique experience is what O’Neil recalls.

“All you needed was a bus and I’ll tell you what, we traveled in some of the best money could buy during that period. And actually we stayed in some of the best hotels in the country — they just happened to be black owned and operated. We ate in some of the best restaurants in the country. Of course, during that time, the best cooks in the world were black,” said O’Neil his sing-song patios swelled with the solemnity of a preacher and the jive of a hipster. “In that bus you’d have 20 of the best athletes that ever lived. To be able to play, to participate, to compete with these type of athletes, oh, it was outstanding. As a young man from Florida, yeah, up north here in Kansas City playing baseball, outstanding really.”

Black athletes and musicians were THE celebrities in black communities and they socialized together. In KC, they stayed at the Streets Hotel, right down from where the museum stands today.

“At the Streets Hotel I might come down for breakfast and Duke Ellington and them might be there and say, ‘Come over and have breakfast with us this morning.” Or Sarah Vaughn. You’re talking about jazz and baseball. That was here, that was Kansas City,” said O’Neil, whose plaintive voice rises and falls like a soft riff.

When the Monarchs were in town, it was news. “Yeah, we were very well respected,” he said. “I’ll tell you how much — I courted a preacher’s daughter.”

Churches heeded their presence. “Sunday, 11 o’clock service, but when the Monarchs were in town, service started at 10 o’clock so that they (churchgoers) could get to the ball park. And then they would come looking good — dressed to kill. It was actually not only a ball game, it was a social event. The Monarchs, this was the thing. You saw everybody that was somebody there at the ball park. People would hobnob with their friends. Yeah, mmmm…hmmm.” Or as Henry “Pistol” Mason, a Monarchs pitcher O’Neil signed and managed, said, “We had a different brand of baseball. People wanted to see our brand of baseball, with its action and enthusiasm, running and bunting. It was more festive when we played. Going to the ballpark was just like going to a picnic. We had something to prove too — that we were good enough to play in the major leagues.”

Amen, said O’Neil, who feels this extra motivation explains why Negro leagues teams often beat major league teams in exhibitions. “We wanted to prove to the world they weren’t superior because they were major leaguers and we weren’t inferiors because we were Negro leaguers,” he said. Besides, he said, major leaguers “couldn’t afford to twist an ankle or break a finger in an exhibition ball game.”

Home or away, O’Neil said he and his fellow Negro leaguers felt the passion of fans.

“Oh, man, listen, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at his Abyssinian Baptist Church
in Harlem, New York, preached a baseball sermon for the New York Cubans, the New York Black Yankees, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Memphis Red Sox before a four-team doubleheader at Yankee Stadium,” he said. “He preached that sermon, and man, the church was full. They followed us to the ball park. We had 40,000 at Yankee Stadium. We played over at Branch Rickey’s place” — Ebbets Field, home to general manager Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers — “and we had 20,000 there.”

It was Rickey who signed Jackie Robinson away from the Monarchs in 1945 and brought him to the majors in 1947. Robinson was one of five blacks called up to the majors that year. O’Neil said Rickey’s enlightened move to buck the system made sound business sense. “Branch Rickey, the astute businessman that he was, saw this as a brand new clientele” to be mined, O’Neil said.

O’Neil emphasizes the men who broke baseball’s color barrier helped to spark a social revolution. “When Branch Rickey signed Jackie (Robinson) to that contract that was the beginning of the civil rights movement,” he said. “That was before Brown versus Board of Education. That was before sister Rosa Parks said, ‘I won’t go to the back of the bus today.’ Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a sophomore at Morehouse (College). Jackie started the ball rolling right there in baseball.”

In O’Neil’s opinion, “What kept us out of the major leagues was in fact not the fans, but the owners. See, the baseball fans, all they ever asked — Could you play?”

Robinson’s success and the success of players like Larry Doby proved, once and for all, blacks belonged on the same field, paving the way for others to follow. With integration underway, MLB increasingly tapped the Negro leagues’ deep talent pool. Sadly, many greats were deemed too old to invest in and thus never played in the bigs. Even Negro leagues teams began to prefer young prospects, whose contracts they could sell, over old veterans. Devoid of their stars, Negro leagues teams folded and then entire leagues disbanded. The last survived into the early 1960s. By then, blacks were regarded as essential cogs to any successful MLB franchise with the exception of a few hold outs (most notably the Boston Red Sox),

The impact black players had on the majors is undeniable. From the inception of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1949, seven of the first 10 winners were black. From 1949 to 1959, nine of 11 National League MVPs were former Negro leaguers. Future legends and Hall of Famers Robinson, Doby, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, among others, all came out of the Negro leagues. Besides their talent, they brought a livelier style of play — the hit-and-run, stretching a single into a double or a double into a triple, stealing home.

As a teen, Omaha’s own baseball icon, Bob Gibson, turned down a Monarchs offer to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals. By then, blacks were established in the majors while the Negro leagues were on their way out.

In a 33-year Chicago Cubs scouting career, O’Neil brought great black talent to the bigs, signing, among others, future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock. He became MLB’s first black coach with the Cubs. He later scouted for the Royals.

He doesn’t think much about his own place in history. He’s too busy “running all over the country raising money” for the museum. “But, you see, I’m 94 and I ain’t going to live but 20 more years,” he said, smiling. “After I’m gone I want this to be here forever. That’s why we need an endowment.” To garner that support he meets with everyone from MLB superstars to commissioner Bud Selig to billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to Hollywood celebs to ordinary fans.

What makes him a great ambassador for the Negro leagues and for the game itself is his ability to engage folks from every walk of life. He said he’d like to be remembered as “a spokesman for the Negro leagues — to keep this memory alive.”
To close the Legends Luncheon he did what he usually does at his public appearances — he invited people to join hands and sing along with him a melody from an old song that best expresses the way he feels about baseball and its fans.

“The greatest thing, in all my life, is loving you. Thank you, folks.” Thank you, Buck.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. For details about the museum, its permanent and traveling exhibits and its many educational programs, check out the web site www.nlbm.com or call toll-free at (888) 221-NLBM.

Categories: Uncategorized

Mark Martinez Embarks on new chapter in his law enforcement career

March 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Mark Martinez embarks on new chapter in his law enforcement career

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

Former Omaha Police Department deputy chief Mark Martinez doesn’t make a big deal about it, but he’s part of a long family legacy in law enforcement. He’s added another historic chapter to it in his new post as U.S. Marshal.

He made history as the first Latino captain and deputy chief with the OPD. Now he’s the first Latino to be the U.S. Marshal of the Nebraska District, where he oversees two dozen marshals and a half-dozen administrators. The modest Martinez is aware what his ground-breaking appointment means.

“I just consider it a new challenge,” said the Omaha native. “Certainly I’m blessed, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s an opportunity to continue public service and to have a hand in law enforcement.”

He’s continuing the tradition of public service his father, Al Martinez Sr., a retired OPD cop, began and that Mark, an uncle, two brothers and several cousins have followed. “It’s a neat thing to think about how quite a few of us ended up in law enforcement,” he said. “We’re proud of our accomplishments and how we have served. My father was always community-oriented, civic-minded, so I think I had an idea I wanted to be a public servant. You’re helping solve problems and making things better. That attracted me to it.”

Martinez’s own community focus has found expression leading the local Latino Peace Officers Association and serving on the Omaha School Board. His U.S. Marshals appointment required he give up his seat on the board.

He went to Washington D.C. in January to be sworn in, culminating a long approval process that reached the desk of President Barack Obama. In February a second swearing-in occurred at the Hruska federal courthouse in downtown Omaha.

In March 2009, Martinez retired after 25 years with the OPD. The South High graduate rose up the ranks — from street officer to sergeant to lieutenant to captain to deputy chief. The Goodrich scholar prepared himself for advancement by earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where be became an adjunct faculty member in criminal justice.

After leaving the force he wasn’t sure what he would do next.

“I hadn’t really thought about continuing in law enforcement. I mean, I always knew that was a possibility but I wasn’t focused narrowly on just wanting to do law enforcement. There were other options out there,” he said.

He worked the security detail of Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, putting him under the command of his brother, and former OPD cop, Al Martinez Jr.. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) approached Mark about the four-year U.S. Marshal post. When Martinez expressed interest Nelson recommended him to President Obama, who nominated him to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

A September White House press release announcing the nominations of Martinez and other U.S. Marshal candidates referred to their “courageous and selfless dedication to protecting their fellow Americans” and their “relentless…pursuit of justice.” In December Martinez won the approval of the Judiciary Committee. Nelson issued a statement, saying, “Mark Martinez has had a very impressive career in law enforcement which will help him carry out his new duties with professionalism and distinction.”

Martinez appreciates the extraordinary means that placed him in this position.

“Opportunity is the word that jumps out at me, because how many times do you get recommended by the senior senator of your party and then appointed by the President of the United States with the blessing of the Senate Judiciary Committee?”

Besides the prestige, he said “what’s equally attractive” is learning ‘the federal side of things.” That entails much study for the “eager-to-learn” Martinez. “I like challenges, but coming to a new organization is an adjustment, and maybe a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. It’s not a feeling I’ve had for quite a while — that unfamiliarity.”

He attended a three-day orientation in D.C. and anticipates a week-long training in the fall. He acknowledges there are many aspects of the work that can only be learned on the job. He counts himself lucky to have veteran staff around him.

“I really depend on my assistant, Chief Karen Thomas, to teach me about the day to day workings of the U.S. Marshals Service. I remind myself there’s so much I’ve learned in four months. It’s really meaningful to learn about the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal courts and federal agencies.”

The Marshals Service is the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, tracing its start back to 1789, when the first Congress created it. Martinez said “it’s awesome” being part of a lineage of service that goes back so far. The USMS is closely aligned with the nation’s courts.

“We have numerous responsibilities,” said Martinez. “First and foremost, we guard and protect the federal judicial process at the federal courthouses in Omaha, Lincoln and North Platte. We also protect the court family, including the federal judges and magistrates, the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We guard prisoners, defense attorneys, and anybody and everybody within that court family. We transport prisoners to and from court locally and longer distances.

“We also search out fugitives on federal warrants through a task force made up of local law enforcement and ourselves. We’re involved with the Witness Protection Program. We serve civil process papers and we do asset forfeiture.”

When he permits himself, Martinez marvels at how far he’s come. He’s quick to credit role models who inspired him.

“There’s plenty of people, like my father and Jim Ramirez at UNO, that pioneered not only for themselves but for others, to set an example and say, ‘Hey, you can do it — it takes a little work, but it can be done.'”

This family man — he and wife Cyndi have four children —  is keen to have others follow him, too. He’s aware how much his success mean to the Hispanic/Latino community. “There’s a lot of people who have written me notes and made phone calls and given me hand shakes to say, ‘We’re proud of you, keep up the good work.’ That’s gratifying,” he said.

His alma mater, UNO, recently honored him for his achievements.

He no longer directly serves the southeast precinct he grew up in and policed in and where, he said, “my heart is,” but he remains a man of his people. He hopes law enforcement and the community continue working proactively together.

Categories: Uncategorized

Baseball and Soul Food


When baseball still ruled as the national pastime, Omaha showcased the game’s still prevalent but loosening black-white divide. In 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, the barnstorming Omaha Rockets began…

Source: Baseball and Soul Food

Categories: Uncategorized

This post falls under the heading: This is why I do what I do

August 15, 2016 Leave a comment

This post falls under the heading:

This is why I do what I do.

 

Received the amazing email message below from Kac Young. She fell under the influence of a dynamic group of radical feminists at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood, California of all places during the late 1960s. These were provocateurs who challenged all kinds of conformity and many of them were the nuns who taught there. These women were unafraid to challenge the status quo when it came to the Catholic Church, higher education, culture and society. They were known as the Rebel Nuns of Hollywood. They brought cutting edge figures to the campus, including activists and artists. Among the resident artists was Megan Terry, a major figure in the New York and national experimental theater scene then. Kac Young appeared in the original production of Terry’s “The Tommy Allen Show” at the college. Kac found a Reader cover story I did on Megan and Jo Ann Schmidman, who together forged compelling, socially relevant work at their Omaha Magic Theatre. Kac wanted to make sure Megan knew that one of those cheerful subversives at the college, in fact the very woman who brought Megan there, had passed away.

 

 

Megan Terry

 

You can linl to that Reader story at–

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/19/the-magical-mystery-tour-of-omahas-magic-theatre-a-megan-terry-and-jo-ann-schmidman-production/

I have also included, thanks to Kac, links to some content about the places, the figures and the times she references in her message.

Kac says some very nice things about my writing but you should know she enjoyed quite the career as a television director before changing careers a few years ago. She’s also an author. Check out her website at http://www.kacyoung.com/about-kac-young/ and her LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kacyoung1.

Kac Young

Here is the message she sent that made my day yesterday and that I think you will enjoy too (that’s Kac on the right).

“Dear Leo: I was in the original play The Tommy Allen Show that Megan Terry wrote and directed at Immaculate Heart College in 1969.  I was searching for her and found your incredible interview with her and Jo Ann Schmidman. I’m now following you and what you write about because you are terrific and there are no accidents. Thank you for a great piece on Megan.  I am writing to you because I want to get in touch with Megan. The beautiful nun who hired her to come to our drama department passed away two summers ago. She was Sr. Ruth Marie Gibbons that we all called “Ruth.” She was one of the leading drama teachers and persons of theatrical merit in the 60’s and 70’s having worked with Joe Papp, The Bread and Puppet Theater and La Mama. She graduated from the then Carnegie –Mellon and was way ahead of her time and vocation. Ruth brought Megan to our campus for the experience of having a radical playwright in residence at Immaculate Heart College which was frequented by The Berrigan Brothers and other anti-war protestors. These are the nuns who rebuked the Vatican and left the church because the powers that be in Rome wanted them to get back in their habits after a two-year experiment without them. The nuns found that being out of the habit made their work in the community more effective and in line with their purpose which was to serve humanity. The uniform habits proved to be a barrier and they wanted to be effective not quaint.  They were a feisty lot and they were smart. They owned the deed to the property at Western and Franklin in Hollywood, where AFI now sits, and were able to subsidize their mission statement with the proceeds from the sale of the College land.  They formed a lay community and have been doing good in the world ever since.

“I wanted Megan to know Ruth died. I thought maybe you could connect me with Megan. Or at least forward my info to her.  It was 47 years ago that we worked together. I became the 4th woman to join the Director’s Guild in 1973 and have three Doctorates to my name and other rabble-rousing credits.  It would be great fun to speak with Megan and let her know what an impact she had on all of us and the theatrical world. She probably already knows that, but it never hurts to tell her again.

“I love your writing Leo and I thank you for anything you might be willing to pass along to Megan on my behalf. Thank you…Your help is much appreciated. Thank you and I’ll be reading what you write from now on.  Thanks a zillion.” -kac

Love and Heartlight

 

The Mary’s Day Parade at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles,1964

The Mary’s Day Parade at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles,1964
Reproduction permission of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles

 

The Immaculate Heart College silkscreen room in 1956. Corita Kent is in the middle in the back, standing and pointing.

The Immaculate Heart College silkscreen room in 1956. Corita Kent is in the middle in the back, standing and pointing.
Courtesy of the Corita Art Center

 

Here are some links about the times and the place that was so alive in the 60’s.

http://www.laweekly.com/arts/the-rebel-nuns-of-hollywood-why-they-embraced-the-60s-and-broke-from-catholicism-5726544

http://www.independent.com/news/2008/aug/28/how-group-ex-catholic-nuns-saved-their-famous-mont/

http://www.skylightbooks.com/event/rebel-nuns-immaculate-heart-community-discuss-art-and-legacy-sister-corita

The most famous of them all: Sister Corita Kent.

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-01-28/entertainment/ca-236_1_fine-art

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine was performed first in LA at The Mark Taper Theater and was based on the Berrigan work.  Those were the people who gathered at the college along with Megan Terry, our playwright in residence.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-berrigan-legacy-20160501-story.html

Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary II

August 12, 2016 3 comments

 

French Quarter scenes

 

Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary II

From the land of Yes, sir…Yes, ma’am…and Y’all have a good time

After never being in the American South the first 57 years of my life, I made a purely pleasure road trip to St. Louis and Memphis  in June. My partner Pamela Jo Berry and I made the journey with her daughter Beaufield and Beau’s husband Rob and their baby boy Shine. We took in the National Blues Museum, the St. Louis Basilica and the St. Louis Fine Art Museum. We toured Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum. We checked out the Beale Street scene. Good food and music were plentiful.

On the way home we stopped in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and Branson, Missouri for some more down home country sights and experiences. Then, just two months later, Pam and I headed to the South again – only this time to the Deep South for her family reunion. We traveled with Pam’s mother Janis and two of Pam’s sisters, Pat and Theresa, to Kansas City, where we rendezvoused with close family friend Jill Anderson. Caravanning with us in another car to K.C. were Pam’s nieces Ashley, Amber and Aubrey and nephews Christopher and Tyler. While the others flew from KC to the site of the reunion, New Orleans, Pam and I drove with Jill to The Big Easy. En route, we passed through Arkansas and Mississippi and made it to the epicenter of Let the Good Times Roll by way of Baton Rouge.

We just got back from four days and three nights in the tropical clime of that storied port city best known for its rich cuisine, jazz and blues music, raised cemetery plots, voodoo subculture and stew pot mix of French, African. Creole, Cajun, African-American influences and traditions. New Orleans is first and foremost a city of the waters – both ocean and fresh water – whose diversity comes to it from every nook and cranny courtesy the international boats that dock and disembark there. The heavily trafficked Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain all intersect New Orleans and feed the city with distinct elements of river culture, community and commerce.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we had to get there and our staging ground for the drive down south was Kansas City. On the ride into K.C. Pam, her sisters and mother would instantly react to any good soul, R&B and jazz tunes by swaying and grooving to the music. I am afraid that even sharing close quarters with four black women this white guy still didn’t acquire any soul, not even by osmosis.

We spent a night in K.C. at the industrial chic apartment Jill shares with her roommate Jake, who generously gave up his bed to us. That night in K.C. before splitting up the next morning for our New Orleans jags by plane and care, we all went out to eat. Walking to the bar-restaurant we passed through the lively Country Club Plaza district with its Spanish-style architecture adorning shops, galleries and eateries. We hadn’t walked more than a couple blocks when Pat, followed quickly by Theresa and ultimately Janis, joined a line dance in progress at a little open square that three DJs turned into an outdoor dance floor.

At the Granfalloon Restaurant & Bar everyone in our party except me went for the Taco Tuesday special. Always the outlier, I went for the Falloon Burger with its Angus beef patty topped by smoked cheddar and peppered bacon on a Brioche bun. This good eats was on point.

 

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 Jill

 

 

Now let me share some more impressions and incidents from the rather circuitous path we followed in making our way down to the Heart of Dixie and that town of grassroots mystique called New Orleans, the original Crescent City. Instead of taking the Interstate, we opted to drive on a series of highways in a south by southeasterly direction. This meandering approach was a collective decision and included taking a scenic river path into New Orleans but as you’ll read that didn’t turn out the way we envisioned.

Well into our slog through Missouri and somewhere near the Arkansas border we happened upon an off-the-beaten-track Amish-run farmstead, where we stocked up on fresh fruit and veggies, including juicy, just picked Missouri peaches. A pit stop for gas and provisions turned up an unexpected delight when Pam spotted battered, deep-fried chicken livers and gizzards for sale as a uniquely Southern road snack. She and I both grew up eating those organ meats and so with every bite it took us back to our childhoods. I never did acquire an appetite for gizzards, but livers, well, that’s a whole other matter. These were just as they should be – soft and creamy inside with a flavorful not too crunchy breading on the outside. If cooked just right, as they were, it’s not an oily dish at all. Of all the good food we ate on the trip, and as you will read we ate some downright righteous stuff, the livers may have been the single best bite of the whole experience.

Traversing the surprisingly hilly country of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas we stopped to visit Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs. This impressive glass and steel structure sits atop native stone in a clearing amid forest. More than 400 windows provide a panoramic immersion experience  in nature that is both serene and sacred. Pam and I meant to stop there on our earlier trip down South but never made it, and so getting to see it on this trip was well worth the wait.

We stopped in Little Rock, where with more time at our disposal we would have visited civil rights memorials, but settled instead for dinner at Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken in the city’s downtown River Market district. The chicken comes spicy hot and it was better than average but not that much to brag about. Neither were the pedestrian sides. Our waitress was a bona fide Southern sweetheart who at one point sat herself down at our table for a down home, right quick break from being on her feet all day and a welcome to Little Rock how-de-do. Jill’s rental car got a less than how-de-do ticket violation for being parked in a spot where the citation read no parking is allowable at any time, This unwelcome surprise came despite no visible warning not to use that spot. The full lot’s only signage declared, “Public Parking.” Pam and I encouraged Jill to protest the ticket via whatever means the city of Little Rock allows. This wouldn’t be the last time Jill’s car attracted the unwanted attention of law enforcement despite our collective best efforts to obey the law.

We stayed a night at a Days Inn in Pine Bluff. All three of us skipped the promised complimentary breakfast after discovering it consisted entirely of white flour, sugar-based products that are no-no’s for people with diet restrictions like two of us.

Speaking of food, we had killer snacks on the ride down thanks to Jill, who packed a nice supply of her homemade vegan tamales featuring Jack Fruit and a yummy, spicy blend of seasonings.

Half-way on the aforementioned scenic river route in Louisiana Jill mapped out is when we realized we were lost or at least not where we should be because all we saw were flood control berms and heavy industry complexes. The sheer size and scale of operation of those various industry works were a sight to behold but decidedly not scenic. High above us ran conveyance systems from either side of the road. Do the overhead pipes carry water from the river to feed into whatever industrial processes are going on there? Don’t know. All I know is that whatever does happen at those plants is securely tucked away behind barbed wire and perhaps electrified fences. The giant works themselves, with their smoke stacks, cranes, valves and such, have a kind of heavy beauty to them in their interlocking tangle of mechanics and machinery, Not everything we glimpsed was so oppressive. There were a few roadside shotgun shack residences and bars. All through the parts of the South we traveled we saw lots of played out towns and abandoned structues that reminded me of what one sees trekking across Nebraska or any rural stretched. We did pass a raggedy plantation as well as some dreamland site full of white stone structures. Convinced we needed to ask someone where we were in relationship to the Mississippi River and to New Orleans, we pulled into an automotive and towing business called Joey’s on the side of the road and hollered at the first person we saw, who just happened to be Joey. In his thick Creole accent he informed us we were on the wrong side of the river to see anything remotely scenic and provided clear directions for getting us into New Orleans.

 

"Live like a Saint, Laugh like a Who Dat, Love New Orleans like nothing else." By popular demand, we have finally made a shirt of the quote on the wall at our Magazine Street shop. They are words to live by. Printed on Next Level tees for a curvier fit. Female size is a slight scoop neck. Pre-shrunk. Female sizes are a heathered grey tri-blend, Unisex are black cotton.:
New Orleans tagline to take to heart

 

We were no more than a few minutes traveling across the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, which is the world’s longest bridge over a body of water with its nearly 24 mile span, when we hit rush hour traffic. Lake Ponchartrain is so immense and my sense of geography so poor, that I assumed we were over the Gulf of Mexico at that point. Then things really got interesting when a thunderstorm broke out and rain went from moderate to heavy to a torrential downpour. Visibility was reduced to a car or two in front of us, in back of us and on either side of us. Amidst all that gray and all those vehicles it was a claustrophobic inching along that tested faith and patience. Finally the shroud lifted and we got back to a semblance of normal travel speed. but bursts of jagged lightning bolts hitting a few hundred yards away made for an ominous arrival in our destination city. The Superdome loomed large ahead as we snaked our way through jam-packed streets to find the Embassy Suites on Julia Street, where we stayed three nights.

Over the next four days we ended up doing the French Quarter and French Market, but we avoided Bourbon Street. As a prelude to our first French Quarter foray the entire family gathered for the reunion took a riverboat cruise aboard the Steamboat Natchez. The food was disappointing but the cruise did give an appreciation for the grandeur of the river and for the scale of its commercial traffic as a bustling thoroughfare of ships and barges transporting people and provisions. Naturally, there was a “house” band entertaining us with old-timey jazz and ragtime music.

Our first truly New Orleans meal came at Peche Seafood Grill just a couple blocks from the hotel. Pam had a smothered catfish entree that she loved though I didn’t care for the red chili sauce that covered it. I had a killer gumbo with a scrumptious side of roasted beets and pistachios accented by fresh thyme.

Very near Peche is an Emeril’s restaurant and since we’re both big fans of his from watching cable cooking shows we decided to do dinner there one night. Eating at Emeril’s was hands down the best and most expensive meal we had on the trip. Trying to keep costs down, we both opted for the grilled salmon dish served on a bed of farro (a barley-like grain) and a tomato and corn chouchou, with some pickled string veggies tied in a bow atop the fish. The salmon was prepared perfectly, with the skin a nice black and crisp and the flesh moist and buttery. This was fine dining done right. The experience included at least four different wait staff who attended to us, each with a specific function, and somehow none made themselves obtrusive or a nuisance.

I forget what night it was down there, but Pam and I were walking back to the hotel after dinner and decided to explore a little bit and we heard, as you often do there, live music coming from somewhere. We followed the sound and before we knew it we were enveloped by a small marching band and their brassy instruments and dozens of rollicking merrymakers dancing to the joyous rhythms of When the Saints Go Marching In.

 

Steamboat Natchez

Steamboat Natchez

 

The day of the cruise didn’t begin so well but it certainly ended nicely. Waiting in line to board the boat became a mini-ordeal because of the oppressive heat and humidity that left us from more temperate Northern and Western climes sodden messes. Hand held fans were our only relief until we got inside the AC of the dining cabin. After a pale imitation of Southern cooking for lunch we went outside to stand or sit along the deck. A cool spray of water got kicked up by the paddle wheel below and a refreshing breeze made being outside in New Orleans a comfortable time for once.

We no sooner clambered off the boat then we headed right for the French Quarter, where a Satchmo Summerfest featuring live jazz and a sidewalk art show of diverse work drew good crowds. There’s much to see and do in the Quarter, of course, and we stopped in a number of galleries and shops, including a praline shop whose proprietor was a very short lady speaking in a very big voice. Her natural amplification made it sound like she was speaking through a bull horn. Our walking party through the Quarter consisted of Pam and me, Pam’s sisters Cheryl and Veronica, and Pam’s brother John.

During the course of our adventures in New Orleans we passed any number of praline places but we never got any. We were both trying to be good with our diets in a place where the abiding philosophy is diets-be-damned. But we had moments of splurging with food and other things.

Our stroll through the Quarter and on back to the hotel seemed like a forced march at times because of he humidity. It clings to you as if you’re walking with a warm damp towel over your head.

If we ever get back to New Orleans, I would like to have more time to explore the Quarter and to peak into those distinctive, tightly packed homes and buildings with their multicolored pastel facades, arched entryways, cozy balconies, ample windows with shutters and interior courtyards.

We also never got around to visiting a plantation or a cemetery. Next time must-dos.

The French Market is a big bazaar off the French Quarter filled with commercial buildings and open air stalls. We perused its Flea Market, where you can find an impressive variety of cooked to order food, fresh produce, apparel, jewelry, art and a hundred and one other things for sale. Pam had some interesting encounters with a charismatic vendor there by the name of Stefano Velaska. The story goes he wound up in New Orleans after fleeing his native Czechoslovakia, where he purports to have been a wanted dissident. He has been a vendor at the market since 1990. He’s also a founding member of the Dutch Alley Artist’s Co-op located within a short walk of his booth. He makes and sells his own handcrafted jewelry. He apparently suffered heavy losses in the Katrina disaster. He likes to quote Tennessee Williams and whether serious or not, he tried to interest Pam in interesting me to visit NOLA’s red light district to marvel at if not sample the whores. She was not sure how to take that or what to do with it but he twice “propositioned” her with the suggestion, which coming from a mustachioed, heavy-accented, flamboyant man in a decorated top hat does make one wonder or pause. Not far from the Flea Market is the famous Cafe DuMonde and its signature beignet and coffee. The takeout and gift shop lines went on forever and the open air dining area was packed too but we managed to just walk right in and sit right down. These were our first beignets, the legendary doughy delights smothered in powdered sugar, and I must say they’re quite good but hardly the revelation I was led to believe. During our repast there two older women turned out in gaudy mardi gras garb sat at nearby table and Pam asked if she could photograph them and they complied. A great pleasure on this trip was that Pam took photos practically everywhere we went. She is a superb photographer who years ago made a name for herself for her photojournalistic and art photography before life intervened and she eventually dropped the camera and morphed into a mixed media artist. Seeing her little by little pick up the camera again does my heart good. We intend to work together on a project one day featuring her images and my words.

Joining us after awhile at Cafe du Monde were Pam’s sisters Veronica, Victoria and Cheryl. We found a neat little gallery featuring the work of an artist who’s also the gallery owner.

During our meanderings through the French Market we heard some good jazz being played by a variety of musicians, including a sidewalk trio of a young man drumming and singing, an older man blowing his trombone and a young girl tearing it up on the trumpet. They attracted quite a few onlookers and admirers. Count us among them, Pam got some great shots of them.

 

Cover Photo

We Are Family

 

The big family gathering that reunion week was a dinner and dance at Mulate’s Cajun Restaurant. The staff put out a nice buffet spread highlighted by a great jambalaya and these scrumptious little meat pies. The main bill of fare though was the four generations of the Williams-Jackson family gathered for this celebration. Family and friends of family joined as one. Folks came from California, Nebraska, Missouri, Virginia and Georgia. Pam’s mom  Janis, who is called Mother by one and all, headed the program, assisted by her daughter Cheryl. A cousin of Pam’s named Alexandra from the Kansas City side of the family has a beautiful, trained singing voice and she treated us to a rendition of “Ave Maria” and a gospel hymn. An unannounced segment of the reunion dinner program featured Pam’s daughter Beaufield Berry and her man Rob Fisher ecchanging marriage vows before the assembled Williams-Jackson clan. They wanted to share their wedded union with the extended family. I happened to be holding their 2-year-old son Shine during most of the ceremony and while he was just fine he sure couldn’t understand what mommy and daddy were doing up there.

 

Image may contain: 2 people , hat
Rob and Beau getting hitched again

 

We baby sat Shine two nights there after long days when we knew we weren’t getting back out into the party fray. We left the late nightlife revelry to the younger folks. Besides, we have a ball with Shine, whose sweet joy takes the edge off everything.

Once in New Orleans we didn’t see much of our driver, Jill, but we did find out she got a parking ticket for an expired meter and then a tow boot put on her car, which is no way for a city to treat the visitors who keep its economy afloat. After that, we decided it was better to pay the hotel parking garage fee of $37 a day, which all three of us originally balked at, and we split the cost with her. It turned out to be cheaper than searching for the scant street parking available and then getting hammered by the parking Nazis there.

For our return journey back home we took a much more direct route. We won’t soon forget the stark landscape of Mississippi, the winding roads of Arkansas and the rolling fields of Missouri. We crossed some spectacular old bridges that are epic and sculptural in addition to being practical. We were passing through Cleveland, Mississippi this past Sunday when hunger overtook us and not knowing where to stop we took a flyer on the Southern Cafe & Grill, which to our delight offered the best roadside, all-you-can-eat buffet imaginable for $10.99. Everything in that buffet line was country soul food done right: greens, lima beans, green beans, mashed potatoes, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, both fried and broiled chicken and some wonderful chicken stew-like dish. All of it was down home, real deal, succulent pleasure personified. It was one of those, Now-you-can-take-me-home-Lord meals that just don’t come around that often. We knew we were in the right place when after church crowd began filing in – white and black – dressed in their Sunday finest.

We spent another night at Jill and Jake’s place in K.C. before heading back to Omaha with Beau and Shine. After two straight adventures in the South I really like it there. The humidity does a number on me but its doable. I like the people, the landscapes, the attractions and the lifestyle. Mostly, from what I could see, the South is, just like the Midwest and pretty much everywhere for that matter, made up of honest, hard working folks who don’t take themselves too seriously but who have fierce pride of ownership in the places they call home. They love sharing their culture with outsiders if you show genuine interest in it.

 

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Pam and Beau

 

As an interracial couple visiting the South in 2016 we don’t have to contend with the cruelties and dangers that mixed couples and people of color faced in the past. We never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome. Seeing Confederate flags proudly displayed in the windows of homes and on private flag poles gives a moment of pause but those sights are few and far between. Pretty much everywhere we went we were greeted with cordiality, kindness and politeness. We even got a compliment from some random guy in Eureka Springs about what a great looking couple we are. Pam, as often happens with her, was told more than once how beautiful she is and how lovely her clothes are.

We were in good hands with Jill behind the wheel and she’s great company. A very sweet and smart woman who doesn’t stand for any nonsense.

I don’t know when we will next get back to the South, except that Pam feels called to do some serious family research in Georgia, where there are mysteries in her family line she is bound and determined to unravel. Depending on what she finds, it could be the makings of a highly personal photo essay or book or film or all or none of the above. If we don’t make it down there in 2017, we do know the next family reunion is set for Atlanta in 2018, so one way or the other I will be posting a new installment of my Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary. Until then, I’m dreaming of that heavenly Sunday buffet and counting candied yams, not calories.

 

Room with a view: Omaha Design Center

August 2, 2016 Leave a comment

The Omaha Design Center is THE swank new spot to hold events in town. It’s owned and operated by the people behind Omaha Fashion Week and they’ve crafted a flex space that hosts a diverse slate of events. Read my story about the Omaha Design Center and the entrepreneurs who make it happen in the Fall issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/).

 

 

Room with a view: Omaha Design Center

Creative space is new home for Omaha Fashion Week and more 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in Fall 2016 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

If Nick and Brook Hudson appear calmer at Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) this fall, it’s because they’ve found a permanent home for this once gypsy event at their recently opened Omaha Design Center (ODC).

Upon founding Fashion Week in 2008, the Hudsons were its sole proprietors and producers until bringing in Greg and Molly Cutchall as partners. Now the two entrepreneurial couples have joined forces as owners of Omaha’s newest event facility. Located in the former TipTop Ballroom at 1502 Cuming Street, ODC opened in March with the Spring OFW show. Omaha native Kate Walz, an OFW veteran and star Parsons School of Design student, was the first designer to show there. The space has earned raves from the fashion community from clients who’ve held weddings, parties, receptions and charity events there.

“People are just amazed at how beautiful and open the space is,” Brook Hudson says. “It’s impressive.”

“We’ve gotten lots of good responses,” Greg Cutchall confirms.

Nick Hudson says Fashion Week regulars and newcomers “loved it,” adding, “Our attendance was up 15 percent. People really like the energy of the space.” Its size and flexibility allows OFW to do more shows, including a new Kids Rule Fashion Show.

A 31,000 square foot flex space that is Fashion Week’s own rather than leased and that seamlessly accommodates diverse, design-oriented events is what drew the partners to purchase and refurbish the facility.

Supply and demand meet vision

The deal made sense for Fashion Week and for the catering operations the Cutchalls have. The couples met when Greg’s catering division started doing food and beverage service for Fashion Week VIP tents. They saw a shared opportunity for a year-round event space. The Cutchalls purchased the building last December and financed the remodel work. The Hudsons became co-owners in a stock swap.

“Nick and Brook are the marketing force behind the business. They’re great at creating and branding events of all kinds. My wife and I and our office team are more the business and operations side,” Greg says.

The architectural firm Alley Poyner Macchietto, who offices next door at the TipTop Building, did the redesign. The firm’s Laura Alley, a business development and community relations administrator, first recommended the site to the Hudsons.

“When Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture moved into this building and this neighborhood, we saw the potential for what it could be and we began looking for others who loved design in all its various forms. First we filled our space, then the Co-Lab next door. Then we started thinking of the ballroom. Ryan Ellis with PJ Morgan Real Estate suggested Nick and Brook might be looking for space. They were exactly the kind of passionate, design-minded, creative people we hoped to connect with.

“The space had all the right parts to fit their needs, and our design team – led by Michael Alley and Katrina Stoffel – was able to help them envision how the space could look. We are beyond thrilled to have the Omaha Design Center as our neighbor. It serves as a catalyst for some of our city’s most creative and passionate minds.”

Eight weeks of demo and construction produced an as-new, ready-to-use event space  “That’s kind of how it all came together. It was a big undertaking,” Greg says.

Makeover transforms facility

The facility’s once dull, generic banquet interior has been been remade as a chic, industrial warehouse-meets-party room. Extraneous walls and a drop ceiling were removed to open up the space, whose main ballroom has a high exposed ceiling. Polished concrete floors accent towering glass chandeliers suspended by chains from the metal beam-works. There’s also a smaller adjacent ballroom. An L-shaped granite-topped, mirror-backed bar is built into the lobby. A portion of the lobby serves as an art gallery. Another section supports pop-up vendor wares. Satellite bars can be easily set-up throughout the facility. Vintage furnishings round out the hybrid retro-contemporary feel.

Movable panels covered by sheer curtains can turn the space intimate or expansive. The panels are backlit with colored LED lights that can be programmed to create any mood or atmosphere – from casual to formal, from fun to romantic, from bridal or ball to rave.

“The lighting is immersive – it’s all around you,” Brook says. “It feels like you’re not just looking at the stage but you are a part of it. It’s really interesting.”

The remodel added state of the art lighting and sound systems. Backstage are ample amenities to support events and crowds from 200 to 2,000. There are dedicated bridal and grooms suites that double as green rooms or dressing rooms. two commercial kitchens, storage bays, a loading dock. Offices and meeting rooms are planned.

“We finally have everything we need in one spot,” Brook says, adding  that OFW no longer has to bring in things like portable restrooms or to rent off-site storage units.

The whole works remedies issues the Hudsons contended with during OFW’s first eight years, when the event got staged at various indoor and outdoor sites, most recently under a football field-sized tent in the Capitol District downtown. Certain risks and limitations come with leasing spaces others control. And where the outdoors in Nebraska is concerned, weather plays a factor.

 

metroMAGAZINE’s mQUARTERLY Fall (AUG/SEPT/OCT) 2016 Issue
ISSUU.COM

 

Finding home

Nick says, “Everything possibly that could go wrong at those events would go wrong. The building helps make Fashion Week more stable.”

Before, Brook says, “when things came up, such as inclement weather or equipment failures, we were hostage to the site. Here, we know what to expect. It’s predictable. We know it’s going to be air conditioned and heated, it’s not going to get flooded. It’s a home.”

Participants finally have a venue to display their skills to full effect.

“There’s a lot of different people involved and it’s really important they have a good platform to showcase what they’re doing for their experience and their work,” Nick says. “It’s a very growing and building experience for designers and models, for hair and makeup people, for the photographers, musicians and artists. It is too for the people planning and producing the event. Brook has a whole program of young volunteers and interns who make it their career. This new space means they can have a better experience.”

Brook says, “It’s a place where they can come and be their best.”

“The reason Fashion Week became successful was the basic concept we’re giving a professional platform for all these different creative young people who wouldn’t normally have that opportunity for free,” Nick says. “Now we can do it even more professionally. That is a huge breakthrough for us. The reason we kept moving is we could never find a space quite right in terms of infrastructure. The ceilings were too low, the space backstage was too cramped,”

Brook says, “It took a lot of energy just to compensate for all that and to reinvent the wheel every season and now we know what the wheel is. Now we can focus on just continuing to improve the productions and the creativity and the entertainment value. It opens up so much more time and energy to focus on things we’ve never been able to do before because we were busy getting water and air conditioning.”

Fashion Week audiences can expect ever more theatrical shows to go along with full, well-outfitted guest services at OFW events.

Nick says not only do participants have a better experience, the audience does, too. That’s important to an event that’s been so embraced. “Lots of people have really supported this event over the years, they’ve helped it grow, in some cases they’ve helped support some of the creatives, and because the creatives can focus more on being creative the audience is going to benefit from that as well and have a great evening, so it’s a really big step up for our community.”

Staging events in this flex space affords unlimited possibilities.

“When we have Fashion Week we design it how we want it to look and in a lot of spaces that’s harder to do – you have to take it how it is.

Here, it’s very easy to adapt it individually to what you’re looking to create,” Nick says. “It’s very creative inspiring. You come in here and personalize it to your tastes. There’s lots of things you can do.”

Brook says, “It’s a blank canvas and a playground. It can be used for many different events, in many different ways. It imposes few restrictions. Every time you walk in we have totally different events with totally different setups. It’s always something different. It’s really great.”

Design central

The owners saw that a single venue that could provide the right fit for many kinds of events is in short supply in Omaha.

“There’s a void in the market for facilities that can accommodate       mid-range sized events,” Greg Cutchall says.

“We realized if we needed something like this for Fashion Week there were all these other people who needed something like this for their nonprofit or their family or their business,” Nick says  “We called it the Design Center to reflect the designing of individual events here but also because we encourage design. Besides Fashion Week we do design-oriented things here, which is exciting, and were trying to help the fashion eco system, which this is now a big part of. The fact that it’s in the heart of this North Downtown neighborhood that could be Omaha’s design district is even more exciting.”

Creatives abound in the area. As a creative hub and staging ground,

Omaha Design Center aligns well with creative community neighbors Co-Lab, Alley Poyner Macchietto, the Mastercraft, the Hot Shops Art Center, Slowdown, Film Streams and the coming Kiewit University.

The Center is also within walking distance of several hotels and a short drive from the airport and the Old Market. The site’s already seen a broad menu of events, including a Terence Crawford victory celebration, the Berkshire Hathaway MoneyBall, a fight card and a comedy troupe. It is hosting College World Series events, a Halloween bash and a New Year’s Eve party. Everyone from models to boxers to aerialists to fire dancers to musicians have performed there. Weddings will always be, as Cutchall says, “our bread and butter.”

“We thought there would be demand for something like this and there has been,” Brook Hudson says. “We started promoting it in December and I don’t think this space has been empty since April.”

Nick Hudson says, “We’re now facilitating events for these other communities here in town. It’s exciting having these different communities and organizations coming in and doing events here. It’s all about creating community and the community building you get through events. We’re big fans of diversity. It’s always been very important to us having a really diverse crowd of people doing different things and we’re getting that same thing here. Now we just want more people to be aware there is this new space available to come celebrate through events.”

Brook says, “Yeah, we want people to come make some memories.”

“Bookings are going stronger than we anticipated our first year,” Greg Cutchall notes. ‘We’ve been very pleased and we think it will continue to grow as more people learn about the facility and see what we have to offer.”

After all the moving around OFW did, Brook Hudson is just glad to have a place she and others can count on.

“It’s good to be home,” she says. “My team is excited about that as well. All of our interviews, meetings and programming happen here now. And we get to share this great space with other communities.”

Fall Omaha Fashion Week unfurls there August 22-27.

Visit http://www.omahadesigncenter.com.

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