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Greg Fripp’s Whispering Roots Takes Root with Community Aquaculture in North Omaha’s Highlander Village

February 1, 2019 Leave a comment

Greg Fripp’s Whispering Roots Takes Root with Community Aquaculture in North Omaha’s Highlander Village

 

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Appearing in the July-August 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine

(http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/whispering-roots/)

 

The Highlander Village on North 30th Street between Lake and Cuming is a dramatic new development meant to revitalize the depressed neighborhood surrounding it. The center of this community (planned by 75 North Revitalization Corp.) is the Accelerator. The 65,000 square foot, Z-shaped building serves as a Creighton University and Metropolitan Community College-led health-education hub. An event venue and a ground floor coffee shop will be joined by established eateries and entrepreneurial startups.

But what most grabs the eye is the Accelerator’s futuristic-looking urban agriculture facility for nonprofit tenant Whispering Roots. A see-through greenhouse sits majestically atop floors dedicated to education and production—all centered on aquaculture, aquaponics, and hydroponic growing. As Whispering Roots founder and executive director Greg Fripp explains, nearly everything at the $4.2 million, 18,000-square-foot green site is designed for the next generation. Like the rest of Highlander, he says the custom design and construction, plus elevated location, are meant to raise people’s expectations in a high-poverty environment.

Slated to open by late summer, the facility is built on years of seeds sown by Fripp and company in inner-city public schools and neighborhoods. Whispering Roots teaches students how to build and maintain aquaculture systems that grow fish—tilapia or steelhead trout—for consumption. Fish waste is used to fertilize crops grown in the same system. The closed system’s water is naturally cleaned and recirculated. Floating raft crop, drip irrigation, and raised bed techniques are taught.

The new digs will allow Whispering Roots to expand learning opportunities for youth and adults around organic agriculture, healthy cooking, and nutrition. It will refer participants in need of human and social services to on-site partners.

“We focus on growing, feeding, and educating,” Fripp says. “We’re touching different aspects of the community to address where the gaps are. By working with different folks and actually being out in the community and listening to the feedback—what’s working, what’s not working—it allowed us to design a facility that meets the needs of the community.”

Fripp says residents of the community have said they need more locally produced food, hands-on experiential learning, and STEM education, “and that’s what we do.”

To help address the community’s lack of access to fresh, local healthy food, Whispering Roots will sell the fish and vegetable crops it harvests on-site at farmers markets and select stores and to neighboring Accelerator food purveyors.

Fripp sees this as just the start.

“The model is what matters—the techniques and how we build them and improve them in underserved communities—and then taking that model and replicating it at whatever scale makes sense for a community,” he says. “Where a lot of people make mistakes is they try to force a model and scale in a community that’s not ready to deal with it. The community’s overwhelmed.”

Fripp’s interest in urban ag and aquaculture goes back 20-plus years, to high school. After a U.S. Navy logistics career, he worked in the corporate world. He left an executive human resources position at TD Ameritrade in Omaha to follow his real passion full time.

He founded Whispering Roots in his home garage and basement lab with his own savings, and in less than a decade it’s now supported by major philanthropic players such as the Sherwood, Weitz Family, and Suzanne and Walter Scott foundations.

Funders bought into his vision, allowing it to ramp-up from micro to mega level. In learning to build and operate aquaculture systems, grow, harvest, package, market, and sell food, students will acquire portable skills.

Whispering Roots already has a presence as far away as Haiti and Madagascar and as near as Iowa and Missouri. It’s currently building a facility in Macy, Nebraska.

On the planning table is a full-scale commercial production facility that would supply food in quantity and create jobs.

“We not only want to replicate what we’re doing here but also to do economic development by developing this pipeline of kids and adults from the community who can then work in or run those facilities,” Fripp says.

Fripp and his team are much in demand as consultants.

“We’ve become subject matter experts for other communities that would like to do the same around the country. We have people calling from Kansas City, Minneapolis, wondering how we’re pulling this off in Omaha,” he says, adding that the model is what’s interesting to them. It challenges the way people view urban agriculture, hands-on experiential learning, and STEM in underserved and impoverished communities.

“We’ve been able to navigate government and policies and work on the community side, in schools, and to figure out how all these pieces work together,” he says.

From concept to completion, he says, “One of the biggest challenges is helping people understand the vision because it’s so new. When I started my organization in 2011 and said we’re going to put fish and plants in classrooms to teach kids about science, people thought that was crazy. They said, ‘It’s never going to work, kids aren’t going to be interested.’ Now our problem is we don’t have enough bandwidth to handle all the requests we get from the schools. But when I started, no one believed this was even possible.”

Even after capturing the attention of kids—who started winning science fairs—and making converts of educators, he says, “In talking about where we were going to build our new facility, we had people questioning why we wanted to go into the inner city and offering us free land to build in rural areas. But the goal was to do it in an underserved community to prove it’s possible to go into the toughest areas, build this thing, and show it can work. That’s not easy because you run into a lot of roadblocks. There’s a lot of preconceived notions about what education looks like in an underserved community, what people will tolerate, what will work. What we’re trying to do is change that view.”

On a recent tour of the new Omaha facility, a woman who resides nearby told Fripp, “I’m glad that you are here. This is close to my heart. It needed to be here. This is such a beautiful and good thing that the community will protect you.”

“That feedback,” he says, “tells me we’re on the right path. The key is that you are a part of the community so that people feel like they have ownership—this is their resource. That’s what we want. We want that community base. If it’s just a community place and there’s no connect, people don’t care. They’re like, ‘That’s not ours anyway.’ But if it’s community-based, then, ‘It’s ours.’”

Part of that buy-in, he says, is “trying to build our own pathway and network of students who then become the experts who teach and train.” The goal is creating self-sufficiency so that communities can feed themselves.

Having an African-American at the head of it all is a powerful symbol.

“When intersecting with the African-American community, students need to see people who look like them doing this work,” Fripp says. “Then they can internalize it by saying, ‘Me, too.’ They need to know this is a goal that is achievable.”


Visit whisperingroots.org for more information

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Greg Fripp teaches aquaculture, aquaponics, and hydroponic skills to the next generation.

Categories: Uncategorized

Lifelong fascination with history feeds Bill Gonzalez and his photo archival work at Durham Museum

December 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Lifelong fascination with history feeds Bill Gonzalez and his photo archival work at Durham Museum

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-perico.com)

A glass plate portrait loaded with family secrets and a chance exposure to a noted photographic collection foreshadowed the photo activist work Bill Gonzalez does today at Durham Museum.

He grew up in South Omaha the oldest of eight children of Mexican immigrant parents. An old image of his grandparents in Mexico intrigued him enough as a boy to ask questions. He discovered his maternal grandfather was a wealthy rancher who married multiple times to younger women. Then there was the tale of a great aunt in the family’s ancestral village who was hidden from marauding bandits in the lawless post-Mexican Revolution years.

“I found all that about my heritage really interesting,” he said. “The stories I heard provided me with a connection to that part of my family I never knew.”

A 1967 slideshow at South High School showing select photos of early Omaha from the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection motivated him to learn about the stories behind the people, places and events of his hometown.

“Those pictures made such a deep impression on me. Something that happened so far back led to something a lot greater in my life.”

Studying historical photos, he said, “is like looking through a window into the past.”

“You can see people as they were doing what they were doing at a certain period in time. You can’t travel into the past but you can look into it. That’s kind of neat.”

Gonzalez was always inquisitive and an avid reader.

“I mean, how many 11-year-olds do you know that read ‘The Illiad’? I was a nerdy kid. I wasn’t into playing baseball and things like that. I spent a lot of time in the South Omaha library.”

He’s the product of tough love.

“When I found out other kids got an allowance, I broached the subject with my dad. I said, ‘Popi, don’t you think I should get an allowance?’ He said, ‘Hijo, I allow you to live.’ So I started hustling – running errands for neighbors, cutting grass, shoveling snow. I got my social security card at 12. I’ve done everything – you name it.”

Nothing was as satisfying as his current Durham gig.

“The best part of my job is helping people find pictures they have personal connections to, like the neighborhood church, school, movie theater or park they used to go to. When I can find a picture that means something special to somebody, that is the best high I can get.

“Anytime I find pictures of South Omaha, they evoke memories in me, I know that part of town. South Omaha in its own right is very historic. It’s such an eclectic mixture of ethnic groups and nationalities. It’s contributed heavily to the prosperity of this town. Thousands upon thousands of people are living here today because an ancestor came to South Omaha to work in the packinghouses.”

He takes seriously the role the archive serves.

“We’re the keepers of the past. I really think what we have here and what we do here is very important. It provides a continuity of memory. Museums and archives really are the storehouses of memories of humanity.”

In searching for pictures in the Durham collections, he said, “it helps if you’re a native Omahan.”

“I know about places that used to be, things that happened. Not just pieces of memories, but history. I’ve got a mind like a black suit that picks up white lint or in this case little pieces of information. I am not an expert, but I know a little bit about a lot of things, and it’s all useful.”

Experience helps, too. “I’ve been here 13 years-plus, so by now I have a fairly good idea of what we have in the collections that might be pertinent. Sometimes I have to piece together information to figure out what I’m looking for and where to find it .Where to find it is the trick because we have so many collections. Usually I can narrow it down to one collection.”

 

From the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection, this 1911 image was taken on top of the Union Pacific Railroad Building at 14th & Dodge streets looking east.

 

He compares the searches he makes to a hunt.

“I go out and hunt pictures down for people. It’s a lot easier now than when I started because we didn’t have any of this stuff digitized in a searchable data base. There’s still a lot of hit and miss searching. I strike out a lot. I wish I could have a picture for everything everybody wants, but I don’t. But now you can go online and search for this stuff by keywords. It makes it more accessible to more people more of the time.”

He conducts searches for “a wide range of people with a wide range of interests from personal to professional.”

Educators, historians, journalists, students, laborers, and folks from other walks of life request his help.

He works with highly educated interns and staff but feels he has something to contribute they cannot.

“Here I am a high school graduate and yet I can sit and talk to them about things they don’t have any background on.”

Gonzalez might never have done this work if not for an injury on his previous job that forced early retirement.

“I was sitting at home trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life when this came along. It pulled me back into the world.”

He began as a volunteer before joining the paid staff.

“I couldn’t have found a better position for someone of my bent who enjoys history and loves the history of his town. I don’t really think of it as a job.”

He’s discovered “there’s a whole world of people out there that have the same interest” he does in history.

The Durham photo archive is a resource for the whole community, he emphasizes.

“It belongs to everybody.  It’s available for the public to use.”

For Gonzalez, there’s nothing better than sharing his passion with others.

“I love showing my pictures to people, telling them what they’re looking at.”

He’s grown a following for his Flashback Friday posts on the Durham’s Facebook page.

He makes occasional public presentations.

“I’d like to do more of that because that’s what got me hooked on this. I’d love to go out and talk to a group of kids and maybe have one of those kids study history or get involved with the museum because of what they saw. That would be a neat thing.

“It would be full circle.”

Contact the museum’s photo archive department at photoarchive@durhammuseum.org or by phone at 402-444-5071.

The archive can be searched online anytime at durhammuseum.contentdm.oclc.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.


Image may contain: one or more people, tree and outdoor
No automatic alt text available.

Stereoscopic photo of 3rd Nebraska Volunteers in parade after their return from the Spamish-American War and the

viewfinder used to see this and other early 3D images.

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd, wedding and outdoor
From the John Savage Collection. When Omaaha’s downtown sidewalks teemeed with people.
This is from circa 1967 outside J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store.

Omaha’s Fight Doctor, Jack Lewis, and His Boxing Cronies Weigh-in On Omaha Hosting the National Golden Gloves


Omaha’s Fight Doctor, Jack Lewis, and His Boxing Cronies Weigh-in On Omaha Hosting the National Golden Gloves

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

For the first time since 1988, Omaha plays host to the National Golden Gloves boxing tournament, one of this nation’s showcases for amateur boxing. The 2006 tourney is a six-day event scheduled April 24 through 29 at two downtown venues. The preliminary rounds and quarterfinals will be fought at the Civic Auditorium the first four days, with the semi-final and championship bouts at Qwest Center Omaha the final two days.

Historically, the national Golden Gloves has produced scores of Olympic and world champions. Former Gloves greats include Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones, Jr..

Three men with long ties to the local boxing scene recently shared their thoughts on the Gloves with the New Horizons. The man heading up the event is Omaha’s fight doctor, Jack Lewis, a 71-year-old internal medicine physician. As a doctor who loves a sport that gets a bad name from the medical community, he’s a paradox. While a staunch supporter of amateur boxing, he’s a fierce critic of the professional fight game, which he’s come to abhor. His experience in the prizefighting arena included serving as ringside physician for the 1972 world heavyweight title fight here between champ Joe Frazier and contender Ron Stander. Dr. Lewis stopped the fight after the 4th round with a battered Stander blinded by blood in his eyes.

“I love the sport of amateur boxing. I was involved in pro boxing and I didn’t like that from a medical standpoint. After just a few years working with the pros, I quit. In some cases, I didn’t know who the fighters were. They were fighting under false names. I’d ask all these questions and the boxer would say the last time he lost a fight was a month ago in Chicago, and then some guy would come up later and tell me that same guy got knocked out last night in Chicago. These pro boxers move around, have fake names, won’t give you their true medical history. Those pro boxing days are behind me. That sport needs to be cleaned up,” Dr. Lewis said.

More than a fan of amateur boxing, he’s a veteran ringside doctor and longtime president of the Great Plains Boxing Association, the main organizing body for amateur boxing in Nebraska. This is the second time under his leadership his hometown of Omaha is presenting the Golden Gloves nationals. He’s optimistic about how the event will fare here even though recent national Gloves tourneys in cities like Kansas City have failed miserably at the gate.

“We’ve done this before. I think our sales are going very well,” he said.

With Omaha’s success as College World Series host and with the Qwest Center filled to capacity for Creighton men’s basketball home games and slated to host a slew of NCAA post-season events, plus the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, the city’s known as a sports-friendly town. That’s why there’s talk of Omaha vying to have the Golden Gloves on a regular basis. As the event is bid out a few years in advance, it would be awhile before Omaha could get the Gloves again.

“Omaha knows how to put people in the seats. Plus, this is really a fight town,” said Harley Cooper of Omaha, a former national Gloves champ serving as the 2006 tournament director. “It’s an outstanding event. Fans will see the best boxing in the country and probably see some future Olympic and professional champions.”

Omaha boxing historian Tom Lovgren joins many others in calling the Qwest “a great facility. The people there do a superb job.”

While he never boxed, Dr. Lewis lettered in football and rugby at Stanford University, backing up John Brodie at quarterback in the late 1950s. He said his athletic background and internal medicine specialization “lent itself” to begin treating athletes. After graduation from Stanford and the University of Nebraska Medical School, he did his internal medicine residency in Oakland, Calif. He came back to Omaha in 1964 to practice with his physician father. Right away, his sports medicine interest found him treating a variety of athletes: jockeys at the Ak-Sar-Ben thoroughbred race track; football players at his alma mater Central High School, where he’s been team physician since 1964; and boxers at the Omaha and Midwest Golden Gloves tournaments. His son John is now in practice with him.

His passion for amateur boxing has only grown. He enjoys the purity of the sport, he applauds the protective headgear and other measures taken to ensure fighters’ safety and believes the competition instills discipline in its participants.

“I think the gutsiest athlete is the guy that steps in the ring and some guy comes after you. I think it builds character. I think it teaches you restraint. It helps you collect yourself. Through those years I’ve been to many meetings and been to many nationals and I’ve been the ringside physician at hundreds of fights and taken care of a lot of medical problems at the fights. Even though I never fought, I’ve educated myself in boxing and in all the trials and tribulations of the kids.”

He said amateur boxing has suffered unfairly from the ills of its pro counterpart. “There’s been a lot of deaths and those deaths really hurt amateur boxing because then parents don’t want their kids to go into boxing. There’s been a lot of unscrupulous stuff. When I started it was a more popular sport. Today, kids are into doing all kinds of other things. They just don’t go into boxing anymore. And the coaching ranks have really declined. It’s an uphill battle.”

Despite smaller numbers, Lovgren said “there are kids around that can fight and the Golden Gloves is still a major contributor to the U.S. Olympic boxing team. It’s a feeder.” He said a Gloves title “still carries weight. If you’re a national Golden Gloves champion, you’re highly respected when you make a turn to the pro ranks.”

Dr. Lewis said another thing unchanged is racial-ethnic minorities drawn to boxing. “Our best boxers in the state now are Latinos. There’s been a great influx of Spanish-speaking kids. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have U.S. citizenship and the rules require you to be a citizen in order to compete at nationals.”

In the history of the Golden Gloves, there’s been but five champions from Nebraska. According to Lovgren, the best of the bunch was Harley Cooper, who won his titles when he was in his late 20s, much older than the typical Gloves fighter. Since retiring from the ring, Cooper’s devoted time to developing and supporting area amateur boxing.

“Everybody wanted him to fight for them,” said Lovgren, a former prize fight matchmaker and a longtime observer of the local fight scene. “The first time anybody saw him in the gym they knew this guy was going to be a national champion. He could punch. He could box. He could do it all. He was the most complete fighter I ever saw from around here. I never saw Harley Cooper lose a round in amateur fights in Omaha. He was that dominant.”

A hard-hitting, smooth-moving boxing machine, then Air Force tech sergeant Harley Cooper twice won the Golden Gloves Trinity by taking the Omaha, Midwest and National titles in both ‘63 and ‘64. The tough Savannah, Georgia native got schooled in the Sweet Science in the military. He first started training for the Gloves after he was assigned to Offutt Air Force Base.

His first title run came, unexpectedly, at heavyweight, culminating in the ‘63 finals in Chicago. Cooper was a natural light heavyweight but after an overseas transfer to Nebraska he didn’t have time to cut weight in advance of the local Gloves. Over the light-heavy limit, his handlers convinced him, against his better judgment, to compete in the heavyweight division, where he felt woefully undersized at 183 pounds. Even after winning the local-regional heavyweight titles, he still campaigned to go back to light-heavy, where he was more comfortable, but “they wouldn’t let me move down,” he says, referring to his trainers. “They kept saying, ‘Well, let’s see how far you can go.’” He went all the way.

In ‘64, Cooper fought at his accustomed light-heavy spot, plowing through to the nationals in Nashville, where he won his second title. In the proceeding 40 years, only one other Nebraska fighter has won a national Gloves title. Lovgren said Cooper was so dominant that the “Harley Cooper Rule” was enacted to set the maximum age limit at 27.

Cooper’s win in Nashville put him in line for the Olympic Trials box-off in New York, which he won. In peak fighting trim and riding an unbeaten streak, he was primed to bust some heads in Tokyo. Fate then intervened in his bid for Olympic glory when, on the eve of leaving for Japan, he was medically disqualified.

Besides Cooper, the only other Nebraska boxers crowned national Gloves champions were Carl Vinciquerra and Paul Hartneck in 1936, Hartneck again in ‘37, Ferd Hernandez in 1960, and, most recently, Lamont Kirkland in 1980. A number of Nebraskans advanced to the semi-finals or finals, only to lose. In general, Dr. Lewis said, area kids are at a distinct disadvantage. “Amateur programs here are not strong. We don’t have enough coaches to train these kids. We don’t have enough fighters to have regular smokers that season them. Every year, our kids go to nationals with maybe 10-12 fights under their belt and they face opponents with 70-80 fights.”

Cooper said by Omaha holding the nationals it can only help raise the level of the amateur boxing scene here. “It will let our kids see what they have to strive to obtain — the different skills and knowledge they will need to be a world class boxer, and seeing is much better than someone explaining to you.” He added that “the biggest difference between our fighters and the fighters from bigger cities is that they’re stronger and bigger and more skilled. Its a big step up.”

“It’s going to be a great weekend for amateur boxing in Omaha, Nebraska,” Lovgren said. “I just hope a couple guys from Omaha can go as far as the finals..”

A raucous home crowd could help spur a local fighter to do great things. “It can’t hurt,” Lovgren said. “Who knows? Anything can happen. Boxing’s a funny game.”

“There’s still some kids out there. We should see some real good boxing,” added Dr. Lewis.

A final elimination stage before the nationals will be held March 17 and 18 at the Civic’s Mancuso Hall. Winners in this Midwest Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions will complete Nebraska’s 11-man contingent for the April national tourney.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

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

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

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