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From Japanese-American Internment Camp to Boys Town: Christmas and Other Bittersweet Memories During World War II

November 13, 2018 Leave a comment

From Japanese-American Internment Camp to Boys Town

Christmas and Other Bittersweet Memories During World War II

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Photography provided by Boys Town

Originally appeared in the Nov-Dec 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine 

(http://omahamagazine.com/articles/from-japanese-americaninternmentcamp)

 

Xenophobic fears ran wild after the Empire of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. promptly entered World War II, and nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated or incarcerated in internment camps across the country.

The Rev. Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, strived to calm the hysteria in part—while alleviating the trauma falling upon his fellow Americans—by sponsoring approximately 200 Japanese-Americans from internment camps to stay at his rural Nebraska campus for wayward and abandoned youths.

Among them were James and Margaret Takahashi and their three children.

They joined the individuals and families escaping to Boys Town from prison-like internment camps. Flanagan offered dozens of families a place to live and work until the war’s conclusion. Some remained in Nebraska long after the war. Many used Boys Town as a stopover before World War II military service or moving to other American cities and towns, says Boys Town historian Tom Lynch.

Few outsiders knew Boys Town was a safe harbor for Nisei (the Japanese word for North Americans whose parents were immigrants from Japan) who lost their homes, livelihoods, and civil rights in the fear-driven, government-mandated evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.

The oldest Takahashi child, Marilyn, was almost 6 when her family was uprooted from their Los Angeles home and way of life. Her gardener father lost his agricultural nursery.

“It was a very disruptive thing,” she recalls. “I was very upset by all of this. I can remember being confused and wondering what was going on and where are we going. I couldn’t understand all of it.”

She and her family joined hundreds of others in a makeshift holding camp at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Stables at the converted race track doubled as spare barracks. Food riots erupted.

By contrast, at Boys Town, the Takahashis were treated humanely and fairly, as the full citizens they were, with all the comforts and privileges of home.

“We felt welcomed and did not have fears about our environment. The German farmers nearby were friendly and kind,” remembers Marilyn Takahashi Fordney.

 

The Takahashis were provided their own house and garden within the incorporated village of Boys Town’s boundaries. James, father of the family, worked as the grounds supervisor. The children attended school. The family celebrated major holidays—including unforgettable, bittersweet Christmases—in freedom, but still far from home.

None of it might have happened if Maryknoll priest Hugh Lavery, at a Japanese-American Catholic parish in L.A., hadn’t written Flanagan advocating on behalf of his congregation then being relocated in camps. Flanagan recognized the injustice. He also knew the internees included working-age men who could fill his war-depleted employee ranks. He had the heart, the need, the facilities, and the clout to broker their release from the Civil Exclusions Order signed into law by President Franklin

Delano Roosevelt.

Helping identify “good fits for Boys Town” was Patrick Okura, who ended up there himself, Lynch says. “It sort of started a pipeline to help bring people out,” and Flanagan “eventually took people of all different faiths,” not just internees from the Catholic parish that started the effort. “People from that parish went to the camps, and they met other Japanese-Americans, and they started communicating about this opportunity at Boys Town to get out of the camps.”

During her family’s four-month camp confinement, Marilyn’s parents heard that the famous Irish priest in Nebraska needed workers. James sent a letter making the case for himself and his family to come.

“People could leave if they had somewhere to go,” Marilyn says. “Permission didn’t come right away. It took writing back and forth for several months. Then, when we were all about to be moved to Amache [Granada War Relocation Center] in Colorado, the head of our camp sent a telegram to the War Relocation Authority. He received a telegram back with the necessary permission. We were released to Boys Town Sept. 5, 1942.”

Boys Town became legal sponsor for the new arrivals.

“It was very radical helping these people,” Lynch says. “Father thought it was his duty because they were good American citizens who should be treated well. But it wasn’t universally accepted. What made Boys Town unique is that we were way out in the country, so we were our own little bubble. Visitors really wouldn’t see the internees much. The men worked the farm or grounds. The women tended house. The kids were in school. But they were there all throughout the village.”

A similar effort unfolded at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where 100-plus Nisei students continued their college studies after the rude interruption caused by the “evacuation.”

During her Boys Town sojourn, Marilyn first attended a nearby one-room public school. She later attended a school on campus for workers’ children taught by a Polish Franciscan nun. Besides the standard subjects, the kids learned traditional Polish folk dances and crafts.

The Takahashis started their new life in an old farmhouse they later shared with other arrivals. Then Boys Town built a compound of brick houses for the workers and their families. “Single men lived in a dormitory on campus,” Lynch says. “Boys Town didn’t host many single women because Father would find jobs for them in Omaha, where they would stay with families they worked for as domestics.”

From Santa Anita, the Takahashi patriarch was allowed to go to L.A. to retrieve his truck and what stored family belongings he could transport. James drove to Nebraska to meet Margaret and the kids, who went ahead by train.

Marilyn’s initial impression of Flanagan was of Santa Claus with a cleric’s collar: “Father came to meet us at the station. He had this big brown bag of candy. I will always remember that candy. It was so thoughtful of him to give us that special treat.”

According to the Takahashi family’s file in the archives of the Boys Town Hall of History, Margaret said she was taken by Flanagan’s humanity, that she “could feel this warmth. I’ve never felt that from another human being. He was so full of love that it radiated out of him.”

According to Lynch, Flanagan considered the newcomers “part of the family of Boys Town.” They could access the entire campus or go into town freely.

Leaving altogether, though possible, was not a realistic option.

“They could leave at any time, if they really wanted to, but there was nowhere to go [without authorization]. They would have been detained and returned,” he says.

Marilyn’s experience of losing her home and living in a camp was dreadful. Going halfway across the country to live at Boys Town was an adventure. Her fondest memories there involve Christmas.

“Christmas and midnight Mass was very special at Boys Town,” she says. “It was something we looked forward to. I will always remember getting bundled up to face the blizzard-like winds. My father would carry each one of us to the truck. We would head off in the dead of night in that blasted cold to get to the church, which was dark except for the altar lights. The boys would be in a long line in their white and black cassocks, with red bows, each holding a big lit candle. They would begin to sing and come down the main aisle. It was an awesome sight and a special experience. The choir was exceptional. There was always one singer with a high-pitched voice who did a solo. It was amazing.”

Father Flanagan and children during Christmastime

 

Flanagan is part of her holiday memories, she says, as “he always made a point to come to our Christmas plays, and we would always take a photograph with him.” For the resident boy population, Flanagan “played” Santa by visiting their apartments and handing out gifts.

“We were happy at Christmas,” Marilyn says. “In the farmhouse, my father would cut a pine tree and bring it in, and the decorations were handmade and hand-painted cones with popcorn strung. He always did the final placement of things so that it looked perfect. We had wonderful Christmas days even though it was difficult to get toys because many things were not available due to the war.”

She continues: “We built an ice rink and would skate in front of the farmhouse or in front of the brick house. We even made an igloo one time. It got so tall the adults came out to help us close the top with the snow blocks because we were too little to reach it.”

Weather always factored in.

“The summers were extremely hot and the winters so severely cold,” she says. “We had never experienced snow. That was a tremendous adjustment for my parents. But, as children, we delighted in it. We’d run out and eat the snow with jam and build snowmen.”

Marilyn recalls visiting Santa at J.L. Brandeis & Sons department store in downtown Omaha with its fabulous Christmas window displays and North Pole Toy Land.

The Takahashis were content enough in their new life that they arranged for family and friends to join them there. Marilyn and family remained in Omaha for two years after the war (and anti-Japanese hysteria) ended.

“Eventually, my parents decided they couldn’t withstand that cold, and we headed back to California in 1947,” she says.

They endured tragedy at Boys Town when Marilyn’s younger brother contracted measles and encephalitis, falling into a coma that caused severe brain damage. His constant care was a burden for the poor family.

Another motivating factor for the family to leave was the father’s desire to work for himself again.

Leaving Boys Town just shy of age 12 was hard for Marilyn.

“I was heartbroken because I loved the snow and cold and all my friends there,” she says. “I did not want to go to California and live three families to a house and struggle. I knew what was coming. I also had a pet cat I was sad to leave. My pet dog Spunky that Boys Town gave me had passed on.”

Her parents had also bonded with some of the resident boys, and with some adult workers and their families.

“We went by Father Flanagan’s residence to say farewell, and he came out to bless us and to bless the truck we drove to the West Coast,” she says.

As an adult, Marilyn shared her story with archivists just as her parents did earlier.

“We considered ourselves fortunate,” Margaret told interviewer Evelyn Taylor with the California State University Japanese American Digitization Project in 2003. (This article for Omaha Magazine merged excerpts from that oral history with original interviews conducted over the telephone and

e-mail correspondence.)

There are occasions when Marilyn’s internment past comes up in casual conversation. “It is amazing how few people know about this,” she says. “It is now mentioned in history books in schools, but it wasn’t for a long time.”

When she brings up her Boys Town interlude, she says, “It is always a surprise and I am asked many questions.”

The retired medical assistant, educator, and author now runs family foundations supporting youth activities. She credits her many accomplishments to what the wartime years took away and bestowed.

“The internment made me an overachiever. Because I was the eldest and experienced so much, I have become actually the strongest of the siblings,” she says. “Nothing can stop me from reaching my goals.”

Her late parents also felt that the experience strengthened the family’s resilience. Margaret said, “I think from then on we were very strong. I don’t think anything could get us down.”

The kindness shown by Boys Town to relieve their plight made a deep impact.

“We are forever grateful Father Flanagan hired my father to take care of the grounds,” Marilyn says, “because it enabled us to get out of that internment situation.”

She came to view what Flanagan did for her family and others who had been interned as a humanitarian “rescue.”

Then there were the scholastic and life lessons learned.

“A Boys Town education gives you the tools needed to succeed in life,” she says.

Even though discrimination continued after the war, the lessons she learned during the internment and the Boys Town reprieve emboldened her.

“I am grateful that I went through the experience because it made me who I am today,” she adds.

Internees were granted reparations by the U.S. government under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Marilyn received $20,000, and she gave it all away.

She divided the reparations money into equal parts for four recipients: two younger siblings who also grew up in poverty (but did not experience the internment camps of World War II), to create the Fordney Foundation (for helping future generations of ballroom dancers), and Boys Town.

Forty-four years after the Takahashis left their safe haven in Nebraska, Marilyn returned to Boys Town in 1991. During the visit, she made her donation to the place that gave her family a temporary home and renewed faith in mankind.

Uchiyamada and Takahashi families with Father Flanagan in March 1944

 

James Takahashi’s Letter to Father Flanagan

Soon after arriving at Santa Anita Assembly Center, James Takahashi learned that Father Flanagan was hiring individuals with certain skills to work at Boys Town.

James hand-wrote an appeal to Flanagan asking to be considered. He provided references. The priest wrote Takahashi back requesting more information, including how many were in his family, and checked his references, all of whom spoke highly of “Jimmy,” as he was called, in letters they sent Flanagan.

Here is the text of the original letter James wrote (references excluded):

Dear Father Flanagan,

Today in camp I heard that you are asking for some Japanese gardeners. I am very interested as I have been a gardener and nurseryman in Los Angeles for the past five years.

Just before the evacuation, I was gardener at St. Mary’s Academy in Los Angeles. I re-landscaped the grounds and put in several lawns.

I am 30 years old of Japanese ancestry but was born and educated in this country. I was converted to the Catholic faith by my wife, who is half Irish and half Japanese.

I studied soil, plants, insect control, and landscape architecture at Los Angeles City College, and am confident that I would be able to handle any gardening problem.

I would be so grateful if you would consider me for this position.

Very sincerely,

James Takahashi

Visit csujad.com for more information about the California State University Japanese-American History Digitization Project.

Visit boystown.org for more information about Boys Town.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

 

Toshio “James” and Margaret Takahashi with their children at the Boys Town Farm, 1944

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AppleMark

Warren Buffett, left, and Stan Lipsey at the Omaha Sun in the 1970s.

 

An Omaha legacy ends, Wesley House Community Center shutters after 139 years — New use for site unknown

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/21/an-omaha-legacy-…for-site-unknown

Sun reflection: Revisiting the Omaha Sun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of Boys Town

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/28/sun-reflection-r…ose-on-boys-town/

Burden of Dreams:

The trials of Omaha’s Black Museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/14/burden-of-dreams…a’s-black-museum

Long and winding saga of Great Plains Black History Museum takes new turn

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/14/long-and-winding…kes-a-new-turn-2/

Coloring History:

A long, hard road for UNO Black Studies

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/25/coloring-history…no-black-studies

 

Omaha’s Monty Ross talks about making history with Spike Lee

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/06/monty-ross-talks…-with-since-1981/

Radio One queen Cathy Hughes rules by keeping it real: Native Omahan created Urban Radio format

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/radio-one-queen-…-keeping-it-real/

Show goes on at Omaha Community Playhouse, where Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire got their start

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/04/the-show-goes-on

Omaha’s Grand Old Lady, The Orpheum Theater

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/omahas-grand-old…-orpheum-theater

Magical mystery tour of Omaha’s Magic Theatre, a Megan Terry and Jo Ann Schmidman production

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/19/the-magical-myst…idman-production

Nancy Duncan: Her final story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/09/her-final-story

From the Archives: Nancy Duncan’s journey to storytelling took circuitous route

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/01/from-the-archive…circutious-route

Bertha’s Battle: Bertha Calloway, the Grand Lady of Lake Street, struggles to keep the Great Plains Black History Museum afloat

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/berthas-battle

Requiem for a Heavyweight, the Ron Stander Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/requiem-for-a-heavyweight

This version of Simon Says positions Omaha Steaks as food service juggernaut

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/this-version-of-…rvice-juggernaut

Bedrock values at core of four-generation All Makes Office Furniture Company

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/17/bedrock-values-a…urniture-company/

Customer-first philosophy makes family-owned Kohll’s Pharmacy and Homecare stand out from the crowd

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/18/customer-first-p…t-from-the-crowd

Altman on Altman: A look at the late American auteur Robert Altman through the eyes of his grandson, indie Omaha filmmaker Dana Altman, and other cinephiles

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/altman-on-altman

A Contrary Path to Social Justice: The De Porres Club and the fight for equality in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/a-contrary-path-…quality-in-omaha

University of Nebraska at Omaha Wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/uno-wrestling-dy…of-social-change

Academy Award-nominated documentary “A Time for Burning” captured church and community struggle with racism

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/15/a-time-for-burni…ggle-with-racism

When Omaha’s North 24th Street brought together Jews and Blacks in a melting pot marketplace

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/when-omahas-nort…-that-is-no-more

Filmmaker Alexander Payne and his father George remember the family’s Virginia Cafe

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/01/filmmaker-alexan…ys-virginia-cafe/

Cover of

Billy Melton served with Omaha’s “Sweet Sixteen” in the all black 530th Quartermaster Battalion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/omahas-sweet-six…master-battalion

In her 101 years, ex-vaudeville dancer Maude Wangberg has lived a whirl of splendor

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/in-her-101-years…hirl-of-splendor/

The Brandeis Story:

Great Plains family-owned department store empire

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/the-brandeis-sto…the-great-plains

In Memoriam: George Eisenberg

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/27/in-memoriam-george-eisenberg

 

 

Charles Hall’s Fair Deal Cafe

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/11/charles-halls-fair-deal-cafe

Deadeye Marcus “Mac” McGee still a straight shooter at 100

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/15/deadeye-marcus-m…t-shooter-at-100

The series and the stadium: CWS and Rosenblatt are home to the Boys of Summer

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/25/the-series-and-t…e-boys-of-summer/

 

A Rosenblatt Tribute

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/a-rosenblatt-tribute

 

El Puente: Attempting to bridge divide between grassroots community and the system

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/22/el-puente-attemp…y-and-the-system/

Rabbi Azriel: Legacy as social progressive and interfaith champion secure

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/05/15/rabbi-azriel-leg…-champion-secure

Nebraska’s Changing Face; UNO’s Changing Face

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/03/18/nebraskas-changi…os-changing-face

Good Shepherds of North Omaha:

Ministers and Churches Making a Difference in Area of Great Need

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/the-shepherds-of…ea-of-great-need

When Rosenblatt was Municipal Stadium. At the first game, from left: Steve Rosenblatt; Rex Barney; Bob Hall, owner of the Omaha Cardinals; Duce Belford, Brooklyn Dodgers scout and Creighton athletic director; Richie Ashburn, a native of Tilden, Neb.; Johnny Rosenblatt; and Johnny Hopp of Hastings, Neb.:

©Omaha World-Herald

When Rosenblatt was Municipal Stadium. At the first game, from left: Steve Rosenblatt; Rex Barney; Bob Hall, owner of the Omaha Cardinals; Duce Belford, Brooklyn Dodgers scout and Creighton athletic director; Richie Ashburn, a native of Tilden, Neb.; Johnny Rosenblatt; and Johnny Hopp of Hastings, Neb.

 

Art imitates life for “Having Our Say” stars, sisters

Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, and their brother Ray Metoyer

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/05/art-imitates-lif…ther-ray-metoyer

Brenda Allen’s real life ccuntry music drama took her from Nebraska to Vietnam to Vegas

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/01/brenda-allens-re…vietnam-to-vegas

Ex-reporter Eileen Wirth pens book on Nebraska women in journalism and their leap from society page to front page

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/03/22/ex-reporter-eile…ge-to-front-page

Documentary shines light on civil rights powerbroker Whitney Young: Producer Bonnie Boswell to discuss film and Young

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/03/21/documentary-shin…e-film-and-young/

Free Radical Ernie Chambers subject of new biography by author Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/05/free-radical-ern…bala-ali-johnson

Creighton College of Business anchored in pioneering entrepreneurial spirit and Jesuit philosophy

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/19/creighton-colleg…esuit-philosophy

Gender equity in sports has come a long way, baby; Title IX activists-advocates who fought for change see much progress and the need for more

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/gender-equity-in…he-need-for-more/

One Helluva Broad: Mary Galligan Cornett

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/09/one-helluva-broa…galligan-cornett

When a building isn’t just a building:

LaFern Willams South YMCA facelift reinvigorates community

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/03/when-a-building-…-just-a-buildin

 

 

Carolina Quezada leading rebound of Latino Center of the Midlands

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/03/carolina-quezada…-of-the-midlands

Allan Noddle’s food industry adventures show him the world

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/28/allan-noddles-ad…ow-him-the-world

Devotees hold fast to the Latin rite

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/devotees-hold-fa…o-the-latin-rite/ 

 

Steve Rosenblatt: A legacy of community service, political ambition and baseball adoration

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/27/steve-rosenblatt…seball-adoration

From the Archives:

Peony Park not just an amusement playground, but a multi-use events facility

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/08/from-the-archive…-events-facility

Making the case for a Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/27/making-the-case-…rts-hall-of-fame

El Museo Latino opened as Midwest’s first Latino art and history museum-cultural center

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/el-museo-latino-…r-in-the-midwest/

The Garcia Girls

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/06/the-garcia-girls

South Omaha’s Jim Ramirez: A Man of the People

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/01/jim-ramirez-a-man-of-the-people

Community-builders Jose and Linda Garcia Devote Themselves to a Life Promoting Latino Art, Culture, History

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/09/30/community-builde…-culture-history/

Jose and Linda Garcia find new outlet for their magnificent obsession in the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/25/jose-and-linda-g…-of-the-midlands/

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (©Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson)

Afghan women arrived in Omaha under the sponsorship of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Saleemah, a teacher from Kabul and wearing a scarf is hugged by Masuma Basheer, an employee of America West Airlines in Omaha and a formerly from Afghanistan. (Omaha World-Herald photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Afghan women arrived in Omaha under the sponsorship of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Saleemah, a teacher from Kabul and wearing a scarf is hugged by Masuma Basheer, an employee of America West Airlines in Omaha and a formerly from Afghanistan. (©Omaha World-Herald photo by Bill Batson)

tom-karzai-at-uno-reduced

Tom Gouttierre conferring UNO honorary status on Hamid Karzai during the then-Afghan president’s visit to Omaha

UNO Center for Afghanistan Studies plays role in multi-national efforts to restore Afghan educational system

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/25/uno-center-for-a…ucational-system

UNO Afghanistan Teacher Education Project trains women educators from the embattled nation

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/20/uno-afghanistan-…embattled-nation/

The enchanted life of Florence Taminosian Young, daughter of a whirling dervish

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/10/the-enchanted-li…whirling-dervish

Louise Abrahamson’s legacy of giving finds perfect fit at The Clothesline, the Boys Town thrift store the octogenarian founded and still runs

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/05/louise-abrahamso…uns-at-boys-town

Shirley Goldstein: Cream of the Crop – one woman’s remarkable journey in the Free Soviet Jewry movement

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/shirley-goldstei…t-jewry-movement

An Open Invitation: Rev. Tom Fangman Engages All Who Seek or Need at Sacred Heart Catholic Church

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/09/an-open-invitati…-catholic-church

The Sweet Sounds of Sacred Heart’s Freedom Choir

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/the-sweet-sounds…ts-freedom-choir

Salem’s Voices of Victory Gospel Choir Gets Justified with the Lord

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/salems-voices-of…ed-with-the-lord

Voices of Victory Mass Choir of the Salem Baptist Church CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After steep decline, the Wesley House rises under Paul Bryant to become youth academy of excellence in the inner city

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/27/after-a-steep-de…n-the-inner-city

Song girl Ann Ronell

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/19/song-girl-ann-ronell/

A Family Thing: Bryant-Fisher Family Reunion

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/04/a-family-thing-b…r-family-reunion

Rev. Everett Reynolds Gave Voice to the Voiceless

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/18/rev-everett-reyn…to-the-voiceless

From the Archives: Minister makes no concession to retirement, plans busy travel, filmmaking schedule

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/01/from-the-archive…mmaking-schedule

From the Archives: Golden Boy Dick Mueller of Omaha leads Firehouse Theatre revival

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/23/from-the-archive…-theatre-revival/

 

Requiem for a Dynasty: UNO Wrestling

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/28/requiem-for-a-dy…ville-university/

UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/17/uno-wrestling-dy…-social-change-2/

Image result for don benning omaha uno

 

Magazine and mission founded on spirit of giving: Metro Magazine publisher Andy Hoig celebrates philanthropy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/06/a-magazine-and-a…tes-philanthropy/

Lucile’s Old Market, Mother Hubbard magnificent obsession: From one eccentric to another – Mary Thompson on her late mother Lucile Schaaf

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/11/28/luciles-old-market/

Finding Forefathers: Lincoln Motion Picture Company Film Festival gives nod to past and offers glimpse of future

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/11/20/finding-forefath…limpse-of-future

Freedom riders: A get on the bus inauguration diary

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/21/get-on-the-bus-a…-ride-to-freedom

Joan Micklin Silver: Maverick filmmaker helped shape American independent film scene and opened doors for women directors

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/10/joan-micklin-sil…-women-directors

Joan Micklin Silver: Shattering cinema’s glass ceiling

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/shattering-cinemas-glass-ceiling

Sam Cooper’s freedom road

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/07/sam-cooper’s-freedom-road/

Man on fire: Activist Ben Gray’s flame burns bright

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/ben-gray-man-on-fire

Two blended houses of worship desegregate Sunday: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection and New Life Presbyterian are houses undivided

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/30/two-blended-hous…houses-unidvided

Hidden In plain view: Rudy Smith’s camera and memory fix on critical time in struggle for equality

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/hidden-in-plain-…gle-for-equality/

Isabella Threlkeld’s lifetime pursuit of art and ideas yields an uncommon life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/04/isabella-threlke…an-uncommon-life/

Men of Science

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/men-of-science/

Blacks of Distinction

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/18/blacks-of-distinction-2

The Myers Legacy of Caring and Community

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/the-myers-legacy…ng-and-community

Cool Cat Billy and the Sportin’ Life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/01/sportin-life

Art Missionaries, Bob and Roberta Rogers and their Gallery 72

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/art-missionaries

Get your jitney on: August Wilson play “Jitney” at the John Beasley Theater resonates with cast and crew

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/get-your-jitney-on

Puttin’ On the Ritz: Billy Melton and the crew Rrcall the Ritz Cab Co.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/puttin-on-the-ritz

A force of nature named Evie:

Still a maverick social justice advocate at 100

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/16/a-force-of-natur…e-advocate-at-99

The Storz Brewery
The building at 1807 N. 16th St., which housed the operation until it closed in 1972. It included a hospitality room patterned after a brew house called “The Frontier Room” and a hunting lodge-style room adorned with the stuffed heads of big game called “The Trophy Room.”
THE WORLD-HERALD

 

 

The Storz Saga: A Family Dynasty – Their Mansion, the Brewery that Built It, the Man Who Loved It, a Legacy of Giving, the Loss of a Dream

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/the-storz-saga-a…-loss-of-a-dream

The Magnificent Obsession of Art Storz Jr., the Old Man and the Mansion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/15/the-magnificent-…-and-the-mansion

Gospel playwright Llana Smith enjoys her Big Mama’s time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/gospel-playwrigh…r-big-mamas-time

Doug Marr, Diner Theater and keeping the faith

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/doug-marr-keeping-the-faith

When We Were Kings: A Vintage Pro Wrestling Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/when-we-were-kin…-wrestling-story

RIP Preston Love Sr., 1921-2004. He Played at Everything

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-192…ed-at-everything/

Preston Love: His voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-his…l-not-be-stilled

The Smooth Jazz Stylings of Mr. Saturday Night, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/mr-saturday-night/

North Omaha champion Frank Brown fights the good fight

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/15/north-omaha-cham…s-the-good-fight

John and Pegge Hlavacek’s globe-trotting adventures as foreign correspondents

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/02/john-and-pegge-h…n-correspondents

 

 

When Boys Town became the center of the film world

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/when-boys-town-b…f-the-film-world/

Flanagan-Monsky example of social justice and interfaith harmony still shows the way seven decades later

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/flanagan-monsky-…y-60-years-later

Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/rich-boys-town-s…-legacy-recalled/

Winners Circle: Couple’s journey of self-discovery ends up helping thousands of at-risk kids through early intervention educational program

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/couples-journey-…-of-at-risk-kids

Otis Twelve’s Radio Days

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/otis-twelves-radio-days/

Thomas Gouttierre: In Search of a Lost Dream, An American’s Afghan Odyssey

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/19/in-search-of-a-l…s-afghan-odyssey

Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop:

We Cut Heads and Broaden Minds, Too

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/goodwins-spencer…roaden-minds-too/

Now Wasn’t That a Time? Helen Jones Woods and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/17

Black Women in Music

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/black-women-in-music

Life Itself V: Jewish-themed and related stories from 1998-2018


Life Itself V:
Jewish-themed and related stories from 1998-2018
Holocaust/War
Milton Kleinberg: Omaha resident who survived little-known chapter of Holocaust history releases new edition of memoir
Art trumps hate: 
‘Brundinar’ children’s opera survives as defiant testament from the Holocaust
Leo Adam Biga’s survivor-rescuer stories featured on Institute for Holocaust Education website
A not-so-average Joe tells his Holocaust story of survival
Holocaust rescue mission undertaken by immigrant Nebraskan comes to light: 
How David Kaufmann saved hundreds of family members from Nazi Germany  

Holocaust Survivor's Personal Story

 
Kitty Williams finally tells her Holocaust survivor tale
The Artful Dodger: Lou Leviticus survived the Holocaust as an escape artist
Walter Reed:
Former hidden child survives Holocaust to fight Nazis as American GI
Piecing together a lost past: The Fred Kader story
The Hidden Child revealed: 
Marcel Frydman, Fred Kader, Tom Jaeger share childhood survival stories in gathering like no other
Sisters of the Shoah:
Three survivor tales, three golden fates, three iron wills
Lola’s story: Out of the ashes, destined to live
Holocaust survivor Helena Tichauer: Destiny’s child
Bea Karp: Holocaust survivor feels obligation to share painful memories
Rescuer curriculum gives students new perspective on the Holocaust
Ben Nachman remembered heroes of the Holocaust
Bringing to light hidden heroes of the Holocaust 
Ben Nachman’s mission
Ben Nachman:
At work in the fields of the righteous
By land, by sea, by air, Omaha Jewish veterans  performed far-flung wartime duties

Jewish Life in Omaha and Lincoln: A Photographic History

Social Justice/Community
Abe Sass: A mensch for all seasons
Norman Krivosha’s life in law
Steve Rosenblatt: 
A legacy of community service, political ambition and baseball adoration
Leo Greenbaum is collector of collectors ofJewishArtifacts at YIVO Institute 
Louise Abrahamson’s legacy of giving finds perfect fit at The Clothesline, the Boys Town thrift store the octogenarian founded and still runs
The life and times of scientist, soldier and Zionist Sol Bloom
Shirley Goldstein: Cream of the Crop
One woman’s remarkable journey in the Free Soviet Jewry movement
Sam Cooper’s freedom road
Retired Omaha World-Herald military Affairs newsman Howard Silber: 
War veteran, reporter, raconteur, bon vi vant, globetrotter
Howard Rosenberg’s much-traveled news career
Flanagan-Monsky example of social justice and interfaith harmony still shows the way seven decades later
Winners Circle: 
Couple’s journey of self-discovery ends up helping thousands of at-risk kids through early intervention educational program
Alone or together, Omaha power couple Vic Gutman and Roberta Wilhelm give back to the community
A force of nature named Evie: 
Still a maverick social justice advocate at 100

Faith/Religion
A matter of faith: Beth Katz and Project Interfaith find bridges to religious beliefs
Identity gets a new platform through RavelUnravel
Rabbi Azriel’s neighborhood welcomes all, unlike what he saw on recent Middle East trip; 
Social justice activist and interfaith advocate optimistic about Tri-Faith campus
Rabbi Azriel: Legacy as social progressive and interfaith champion secure
Temple Israel Omaha embraces new home and new era
History in the making: $65M Tri-Faith Initiative bridges religious, social, political gaps
Omaha Tri-Faith pioneers seeing fruits of interfaith collaborative take shape

photo

Business/Development
Master developer Jay Noddle and his Noddle Companies transform Omaha
Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development
Customer-first philosophy makes family-owned Kohll’s Pharmacy and Homecare stand out from the crowd
Bedrock values at core of four-generation All Makes Office Furniture Company
This version of Simon Says positions Omaha Steaks as food service juggernaut
Allan Noddle’s food industry adventures show him the world
The much anticipated return of the Bagel Bin

 
Omaha History
The Brandeis Story:
Great Plains family-owned department store empire
“Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores, Omaha, Lincoln, Greater Nebraska and Southwest Iowa”
Once upon a time an urban dead end became Omaha’s lively Old Market
Omaha’s Old Market: 
History, stories, places, personalities, characters
In Memoriam: George Eisenberg
A man intimate with the Old Market’s origins is gone, but his legacy lives on
George Eisenberg’s love for Omaha’s Old Market never grows old
Buffett’s newspaper man, Stanford Lipsey
Sun Reflection: Revisiting the Omaha Sun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of Boys Town
When Omaha’s North 24th Street brought together Jews and Blacks in a melting pot marketplace
Omaha native Steve Marantz looks back at city’s ’68 racial divide through prism of hoops in new book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central”
Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled
Roaenblatt-College World Series

6141-borsheim-s-fine-jewelry-and-gifts-remodel-7631

Arts/Culture/Entertainment
Potash Twins making waves in jazz:
Teen brothers count jazz greats as mentors
Identical twin horn players set to lead Omaha jazz revival
Author Scott Muskin – What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing writing about all this mishigas? 
Author Rachel Shukert: 
A nice Jewish girl gone wild and other regrettable stories
Rachel Shukert’s anything but a travel agent’s recommended guide to a European grand tour
Omaha Lit Fest: 
In praise of writers and their words: Jami Attenberg and Will Clarke among featured authors 
Being Jack Moskovitz:
Grizzled former civil servant and DJ, now actor and fiction author, still waiting to be discovered
Playwright turned history detective Max Sparber turns identity search inward
The magical mystery tour of Omaha’s Magic Theatre, a Megan Terry and Jo Ann Schmidman production
Theater-Fashion Maven Elaine Jabenis
Old Hollywood hand living in Omaha comes out of the shadows: Screenwriter John Kaye scripted “American Hot Wax” and more
Murder He Wrote: 
Reporter-Author David Krajicek finds niche as true crime storyteller

Living the dream: 
Cinema maven Rachel Jacobson – the woman behind Film Streams
Film Streams at Five: Art cinema contributes to transformed Omaha through community focus on film and discussion
Omaha’s film reckoning arrives in form of Film Streams, the City’s first full-fledged art cinema
Joan Micklin Silver: 
Shattering cinema’s glass ceiling
“The Bagel: An Immigrant’s Story”
Joan Micklin Silver and Matthew Goodman team up for new documentary
Joan Micklin Silver’s Classic “Hester Street” Included in National Film Registry
Women’s and indie feature film pioneer Joan Micklin Silver’s journey in cinema
Carol Kane Interview
Actor Peter Riegert makes fine feature directorial debut with ‘King of the Corner”

Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest
Dan Mirvish strikes again: Indie filmmaker back with new feature “Between Us”
Crazy like a fox indie fimmaker Dan Mirvish makes going his own way work
In Memoriam:
Filmmaker Gail Levin followed her passion
Filmmaker Gail Levin followed her passion
Forever Marilyn:
Gail Levin’s new film frames the “Monroe doctrine”
A filming we will go: Gail Levin follows her passion 
Gail Levin takes on American Master James Dean
Dena Krupinsky makes Hollywood dreams reality as Turner Classic Movies producer
Bill Maher Gets Real
The wonderful world of entertainment talent broker Manya Nogg
Entertainment attorney Ira Epstein: Counsel to the stars
For artist Terry Rosenberg, the moving human body offers canvas like no other
Rebecca Herskovitz forges an art family at Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts
Song Girl Ann Ronell
Radio Day: “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know?” Live from Omaha 
Radio DJ-Actor-Singer Dave Wingert, In the Spotlight
Wild about chocolate

Harvesting food and friends at Florence Mill Farmers Market, where agriculture, history and art meet

June 6, 2018 1 comment

 

Harvesting food and friends at Florence Mill Farmers Market, where agriculture, history and art meet

©by Leo Adam Biga, Originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Food & Spirits Magazine (http://fsmomaha.com)

The Mill Lady is hard to miss at the Florence Mill Farmers Market on summer Sundays. She’s the beaming, bespectacled woman wearing the straw hat adorned by sprays of plastic fruit and vegetables.

Market vendors include local farmers, urban ag growers, gardeners and food truck purveyors. It’s been going strong since 2009 thanks to Linda Meigs, aka The Mill Lady. As director of the historic mill, located at 9102 North 30th Street, she’s transformed a derelict site into a National Register of Historic Places cultural attraction “connecting agriculture, history and art.”

She “wears” many hats beyond the fun one. As market manager, she books vendors. She organizes exhibits at the Art Loft Gallery on the mill’s top floor. She curates the history museum on the main level. She schedules and hosts special events. She writes grants to fund operations. Supervising the mid-19th century structure’s maintenance and repairs is a job in itself.

 

 

 

Ever since she and her late husband John acquired the abandoned mill in 1997. Meigs has been its face and heart. An artist by nature and trade, she also has an abiding appreciation for history.

“Omaha would be such a beautiful city with some of the architecture we’ve torn down. This is not the most beautiful architecture in Omaha, but it is the oldest historic business site and the only still-standing building in the state that bridges the historic eras of the overland pioneer trails of the 1840s with the territorial settlement of the 1850s. That’s a very small niche – but what a cool one. And it has this Mormon heritage and connection to Brigham Young, who supervised its construction.”

It took her awhile to arrive at the ag-history-art combo she now brands it with.

“I had very vague, artsy ideas about what to do. But that first summer (1998) I was in here just cleaning, which was the first thing that needed to be done, and I had a thousand visitors and the building wasn’t even open. A thousand people found their way here and they were all coming to see those 1846 Mormon hand-hewed timbers

“It was like those timbers told me it needed to be open as an historic site after that experience.. This is my 20th summer with the mill.”

She made the guts of the mill into the Winter Quarters Mill Museum with intact original equipment and period tools on view. Interpretive displays present in words and images the site’s history, including the western-bound  pioneers who built it. She converted the top floor into the ArtLoft Gallery that shows work by local-regional artists. Then she added the farmers market.

“It was not really until after it happened I realized what I had. Then I could stand back and appreciate the integrity of it. I felt like it was a natural fit for that building because it was an ag industrial site and an historic site. The pioneer trails is certainly a significant historical  passage of our country.

“Then, too, I’m an artist and a foodie. I think supporting local is good for both personal health and for conservation of resources. It promotes individual health and the health of the local farm economy. It has less impact on the environment with trucking when you bring things in from close by as opposed to far away.

“I’m into fresh, locally-produced food. In the summer I pretty much live on local vegetables. I am a gardener myself and i do support my farmers market folks, too.”

Farmers markets are ubiquitous today in the metro. Hers owns the distinction of being the farthest north within the city limits. It proved popular from the jump.

“That first farmers market started with six vendors. Hundreds of people showed. It was a crush of people for those vendors. And then every week that summer the number of vendors increased. I think we ended up with about 40 vendors. I was pleased.

“Really, 30 is about the perfect number. It’s the most manageable with the space I have. I’m not trying to compete with the maddening crowd market.”

 

 

Finding the right mix is a challenge.

“You want to have enough variety to choose from, but you also have to have the customers that will support those vendors or they wont come back. If the community doesn’t support it, it’s hard to keep it going.”

Other markets may have more vendors, but few can match her setting.

“This one is quite unique. It’s in a field. It’s inside and    outside an historic ag building. And it feels like an authentic place for a market.”

She cultivates an intimate, upbeat atmosphere.

“It’s like a country fair. I have live music. Dale Thornton’s always there with his country soft pop ballads in the morning. The afternoon varies from a group called Ring of Flutes to old-time country bluegrass circle jams. Second Sundays is kind of a surprise. One time I had harpists show up. Lutist Kenneth Be has played here several times. I’ve had dueling banjos. Just whatever.”

A massage therapist is usually there plying her healing art. Livestock handlers variously bring in lamas, ponies and chickens for petting-feeding.

A main attraction for many vendors is Meigs.

“Oh, she’s beautiful. Nice lady, yeah,” said Lawrence Gatewood, who has the market cornered with barbecue with his T.L.C. Down Home Food stall.

Jared Uecker, owner of O’tille Pork and Pantry, said, “Linda’s exceptional to work with and really cares about the market and its vendors. She’s passionate about local food and is a frequent customer of ours.”

Jim and Sylvia Thomas of Thomas Farms in Decatur, Nebraska are among the produce vendors who’ve been there from near the start and they’re not going anywhere as long as Meigs is around.

“Everybody loves Linda. She’s what makes it,” Jim Thomas said. “She’s really doing a good job and she’s pretty much doing it for free. I mean, we pay her a little stall fee but for what we get its a deal.”

“Jim and Sylvia Thomas came in the middle of that first season and they’ve come back every year,” Meigs said.

“We kind of grew along with it,” Thomas said. “It’s a really nice friendly little market. We’re also down at the Haymarket in Lincoln, but it’s touristy, This (Florence Mill) is more of a real, live food market.”

Thomas is the third-generation operator of his family farm but now that he and his wife are nearing retirement they’re backing off full-scale farming “to do more of this.” “I like the interchange with the people. I guess you’d say its our social because out in the boondocks you never see anybody. The thing about Florence is that you get everybody. It’s really varied.”

That variation extends to fellow vendors, including Mai Thao and her husband. The immigrants from Thailand grow exquisite vegetables and herbs

“They came towards end of the first season and they’ve always been there since,” Meigs said.

Then there’s Gatewood’s “down home” Mississippi-style barbecue. He learned to cook from his mother. He makes his own sausage and head-cheese. He grows and cooks some mean collard greens.

Gatewood said, “I make my own everything.”

“I call him “Sir Lawrence,” Meigs said. “He’s come for the last three years. He smokes his meats and beans right there. He grills corn on the cob.”

Gatewood gets his grill and smoker going early in the morning. By lunchtime, the sweet, smokey aroma is hard for public patrons and fellow vendors to resist.

“He’s a real character and he puts out a real good product,” said Thomas.

Kesa Kenny, chef-owner of Finicky Frank’s Cafe, “does tailgate food at the market,” said Meigs. “She goes around and buys vegetables from the vendors and then makes things right on the spot. She makes her own salsa and guacamole and things. You never know what she’s going to make or bring. She’s very creative.”

Kenny’s sampler market dishes have also included a fresh radish salad, a roasted vegetable stock topped, pho-style, with chopped fresh vegetables, and a creamy butter bean spread. She said she wants people “to see how simple it is” to create scrumptious, nutritious dishes from familiar, fresh ingredients on hand.

“From a farmers market you could eat all summer long for pennies,” Kenny said.

More than a vendor, Kenny’s a buyer.

“She’s very supportive,” Meigs said. “For years, she’s bought her vegetables for her restaurant from the market.”

“It’s so wonderful to have that available,” Kenny said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meigs said that Kenny embodies the market’s sense of community.

“She comes down to the market and does this cooking without advertising her own restaurant. I told her, ‘You need to tell people you’re Kesa of Finicky Franks,’ and she said, ‘No, I’m not doing this to advertise my restaurant, I’m doing this to support the market and to be part of the fun.’ That’s a pretty unique attitude.”

“Kesa’s also an artist. She I knew each other back at the Artists Cooperative Gallery in the Old Market. She quit to open a cafe-coffee shop and I quit to do an art project and then got the mill instead. It’s funny that we have reconnected in Florence.”

Jim Thomas likes that the market coincides with exhibits at the ArtLoft Gallery, which he said provides exposure to the art scene he and his wife otherwise don’t get.

“I really enjoy the artsy people and the crafts people. They’re so creative. I guess what I’m saying is for us it isn’t about the food as much as it is about the people.”

Being part of a site with such a rich past as a jumping off point to the West is neat, too.

“That’s some big history,” said Thomas.

He added that the variety and camaraderie keep them coming back. “It’s really diverse and we’ve developed a lot of friendships down there.”

“It’s a great mingling of different nationalities and cultures.” Sylvia Thomas confirmed. “All the vendors help each other out, which is very unique. At a lot of markets, they don’t do that. Here, if you don’t have something that someone’s looking for, we’ll refer you to who has it. After you’ve been there long enough like we have, vendors and customers become kind of a family. Our regular customers introduce us to their kids and grandkids and keep us posted on what’s going on, and they ask how our family’s doing.

“We kind of intertwine each other.”

The couple traditionally occupy the market’s northeast corner, where gregarious Jim Thomas holds court.

“Linda (Meigs) tells us, ‘You’re our welcoming committee.’ It’s very fun, we enjoy it a lot,” Sylvia Thomas said.

Lawrence Gatewood echoes the family-community vibe found there.

“It’s real nice there. Wonderful people.”

Even though business isn’t always brisk, Gatewood’s found a sweet spot on the market’s southeast side.

“Not every Sunday’s good, but I still like being out there mingling with the people.”

But food, not frivolity, is what most patrons are after.

“Our big deal in the summer is peppers and tomatoes,” Jim Thomas said. “We also have onions,p ottos,  cucumbers, eggplants. We do sweet corn but sweet corn is really secondary. Early this year, if we get lucky, we might have some morels down there. Morels sell like crazy. We can sell just as many as we’ve got.”

In the fall, Thomas pumpkins rule.

The veggies and herbs that Mai Thao features at her family stall pop with color. There are variously green beans, peas, bok choy, radishes, fingerling potatoes, cucumbers, kale, cilantro and basil.

Makers of pies, cakes and other sweets are also frequent vendors at the market.

The farmers market is not the only way the mill intersects with food. Meigs has found a kindred spirit in No More Empty Pots (NMEP) head Nancy Williams, whose nonprofit’s Food Hub is mere blocks away.

“We both have an interest in food and health,” Meigs said as it relates to creating sustainable food system solutions. “Nancy is also into cultivating entrepreneurs and I guess I am too in a way.”

Jared Uecker found the market “a wonderful starting point” for his start-up O’tillie Pork & Pantry last year.

“It was the perfect home for us to begin selling our meat products. I really enjoyed its small-size, especially for businesses new to the market such as ourselves. It gave us a great opportunity to have a consistent spot to showcase our products and bring in revenue for the business. I particularly enjoyed the small-town family feel to it. It’s filled with really great local people using it for their weekly shopping as opposed to some other bigger markets which can feel more like people are there more to browse.”

The mill and NMEP have organized Blues and Barbecue Harvest Party joint fundraisers at the mill.

Meigs has welcomed other events involving food there.

“I’ve hosted a lot of different things. Every year is kind of different. In 2014 the mill was the setting for a Great Plains Theatre Conference PlayFest performance of Wood Music. The piece immersed the audience in reenactments of the mill’s early history, complete with actors in costume and atmospheric lighting. A traditional hoedown, complete with good eats and live bluegrass music, followed the play.

Kesa Kenny catered a lunch there featuring Darrell Draper in-character as Teddy Roosevelt. A group held an herb festival at the mill. Another year, crates of Colorado peaches starred.

“I occasionally do flour sack lunches for bus tour groups that come,” Meigs said. “I make flour sacks and stuff them with grain sampler sandwiches that I have made to my specifications by one of the local restaurants. It’s like an old-fashioned picnic lunch we have on the hay bales in the Faribanks Scale.”

The mill is part of the North Omaha Hills Pottery Tour the first full weekend of October each year. The Czech Notre Dame sisters hold a homemade kolache sale there that weekend.

Visit http://www.theflorencemill.org.

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

 

 

Sculptor Benjamin Victor gives shape to Ponca Chief Standing Bear’s enduring voice

May 1, 2018 1 comment

Sculptor Benjamin Victor gives shape to Ponca Chief Standing Bear’s enduring voice

 

©Story by Leo Adam Biga

©Photography by Sarah Lemke

Appearing in the May’June 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com)

 

In creating the larger-than-life likeness of Chief Standing Bear for the Nebraska state capitol’s Centennial Mall, sculptor Benjamin Victor felt communion with the late Native American icon. Victor was “captivated” by the principled ways of the Ponca leader, whose eloquent advocacy for his people led to a historic federal court ruling at Fort Omaha that declared the nation’s indigenous peoples to be legally “human” for the first time on May 12, 1879.

“He was a true servant-leader,” Victor says of his subject. “The things he wanted were very basic, inalienable human rights everyone should be afforded. He carried himself with dignity even through demeaning treatment. He had a higher moral code of ethics during a time when the laws were not moral. He had the courage to stand up for right through many injustices.”

Based in Idaho, the Boise State University professor and resident artist felt connected to Standing Bear through every stage of his artistic process—from preparatory research into the famous Nebraskan, through molding his clay form, to casting the Ponca leader in bronze.

“His story and spirit definitely were speaking to me,” Victor says. “As an artist, you try to get that voice through your artwork to speak to viewers who see it. I felt humbled to be working on it. In the sculpture itself, I tried to keep the spirit of Standing Bear alive as much as I tried for an accurate portrait. An accurate portrait is important, but to me a spiritual portrait is just as important. I hope it really inspires other people to study his life. If my work does that, then it’s a success.”

The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and Donald Miller Campbell Family Foundation commissioned the 11-foot-tall sculpture, unveiled Oct. 15, 2017. Then, over the winter, a pair of Nebraska state senators (including Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha) introduced a bill to replace the state’s two sculptures—of J. Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan—in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall with those of Willa Cather and Standing Bear. A donor, Donald Miller Campbell, pledged funds for a copy to be made of Victor’s Standing Bear work.

“To have him as a towering icon in the U.S. Capitol would be important. His story should be on the national scale. He should be known in every school,” Victor says.

The artist already has two works in the Hall. One is of Northern Paiute activist Sarah Winnemucca on behalf of the state of Nevada. Anything Native holds profound meaning for Victor, as his late step-grandfather was a member of the Juaneño—a coastal California tribe engulfed by Spanish missions.
“It’s always a big deal to me whenever I do a Native American piece that it’s done right and with purpose. I always think of my grandpa when I do them. He liked the images I created of Native Americans with a strong stance and with dignity. That really meant a lot to him. If he’s looking down, he’s really proud of this one.”

Victor’s second sculpture in the U.S. Capitol represents Iowa—Norman Borlaug, the father of modern agriculture’s “Green Revolution.”

Working from photos, Victor “modified” Standing Bear’s pose “to capture a hint of motion,” as if the chief were moving forward slightly. In an attempt to “capture every detail,” he created folds and the look of heaviness in the blanket draped about his subject. Ornamental details included intricate beadwork, a bear claw necklace, and peace medals. Victor symbolized the chief’s dual roles as warrior and ambassador by having him holding an ax-peace pipe.

The bronze is positioned in front of a wall carved with the eloquent words of Standing Bear on trial (as translated by Omaha Native Susette “Bright Eyes” LaFlesche): “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

The project selection committee for the state capitol’s Centennial Mall learned about Victor from George Neubert (director of the Flatwater Folk Art Museum in Brownville, Nebraska), who befriended the artist when he did a commission for Peru State College, where his bronze of a hulking football player adorns the Oak Bowl.

Although Victor originally hails from California, he developed deep roots in the Great Plains while attending Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he discovered his love of sculpture.

“When I picked up clay the first time in college, the medium just clicked for me,” he says. “I felt like the concepts I was trying to get across were very readily expressed in sculpture. I really like the physicality of sculpture, how you move the clay with your hands and manipulate it. I like everything about it. I also work in marble—so I do the subtractive process of carving, the additive process of clay work, and the replacement process of bronze.”

He was still in school when he landed his first big commission—for the Aberdeen airport.

“I had a family to support,” he says. “I worked at the YMCA part-time, took odd jobs, and went to school full time. I was on food stamps and rental assistance. We had nothing. To get the commission was really amazing because you can struggle your whole life as an artist and never get a commission like that.”

Soon thereafter came the Winnemucca project. Demand for his work has never ceased.

“I never thought I’d get the opportunity to make it on my own in my dream field and career,” he says. “It’s a true American success story. I still don’t take it for granted. Every day I get to do this, I feel very blessed. And then to do something inspiring like Standing Bear. What a dream commission to commemorate him and everything he stood for.”

Upon graduating, Victor was a Northern State teacher and resident artist before Boise State courted him.

“They gave me a beautiful studio space and gallery. It’s been a great home,” he says, adding that he maintains close ties with his former colleagues in South Dakota. “I’ve got so many friends there that are just like family.”

Back at his Boise studio, his studio life intersects with students, patrons, and his three children. Meanwhile, he continues to always keep his ears open to the spirits of his subjects.

Visit benjaminvictor.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

 

Piecing together a lost past: The Fred Kader story

March 27, 2018 1 comment

Piecing together a lost past: The Fred Kader story

©By Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the Jewish Press

 

For the first 52 years of his life Fred Kader lived everyday in the shadow of a lost past. An orphaned child of the Holocaust, Kader’s early years remained an unfathomable mystery that he hoped one day to solve so that he might finally come to know how he survived the Shoah as a small boy in his native Belgium.

That he had been one of an estimated 4,500 hidden children in his homeland during World War II he already knew. That he was the lone surviving member of his immediate family he was certain. That he ended up in an orphanage reserved for Jewish children he definitely recalled. That an uncle found him after the war and took him in to live with his family he also remembered. But precisely how he came to be hidden, where he was protected and by whom were details frustratingly outside his memory’s reach. After all, when the events that eventually, tragically separated Kader from his family first transpired he was about 4 years old — an age when distinct memories are rare in even the best of circumstances. Given the trauma he endured during the four years he was in hiding, he no doubt buried memories that he might otherwise have retained. Adding to his dilemma was the sad fact that the few members of his extended family who were left could provide only partial answers to the questions that dogged him all these years later.

For Kader, a pediatric neurologist with his own private practice in Omaha, the strain of not knowing his own life history left an ever-present void he could not fill and with the disturbing sense that pieces of this puzzling odyssey lay just beyond his grasp. Kader, a soft-spoken man with sensitive eyes, described what it is like to be burdened with such a gulf inside.

“It’s like a big box of unknown,” he said in his delicately-accented voice. “It’s a big box that’s empty, yet it isn’t empty. You know it’s full of things but there’s no way of getting into it. When you have a chance to talk about it, you remember so little that it takes just a few minutes to put in words what you can say about it because the rest of you just represses it all. The pieces you know fill just a small corner of the box and the rest of the box is empty and yet you know it isn’t. And you know whatever is in there certainly affected you and influenced you and has a direct relationship to who you are and what you do. It’s a strange kind of void. It’s part of you and yet it’s separate from you. You must keep going in spite of it and just try and accept it.”

Fragments and snatches of memories from war-torn Europe haunted him, but he could never make sense of them or be sure they were not fabrications of his imagination. Besides, the images in his head were obscured — like shadows filtered through a screen. For example, he recalled resting his head in someone’s lap and crying during a noisy, nighttime road trip, but could not remember who consoled him or why or where he was traveling. Then there was the image of him wandering the streets as a little boy lost and somehow being whisked away to safety by someone. Why he was alone and who rescued him he did not know.

“It was all bits and pieces. Some of it I knew was facts, some of may have come from something I remembered and other parts of it may have come from something I read and incorporated. After a while, things kind of merge and run together and it’s hard to tell what is factual, what’s a memory and what’s a nightmare.”

Striking an uneasy truce with his seemingly irretrievable and intractable past, Kader got to the point of never expecting to fully know what caused him to be spared amid the Holocaust. Then, at the urging of a fellow hidden child from Belgium who, amazingly enough, had also wound up as a pediatric specialist practicing in Omaha— child psychiatrist Tom Jaeger — Kader joined his friend at the First International Gathering of Children Hidden During World War II in a shared search for clues to their missing stories. Heading into the 1991 conference in New York City, the then-52-year-old Kader adopted a decidedly guarded attitude about what he might find, so as not to be disappointed if his questions turned up no real answers. “Emotionally, I was trying to stay pretty calm, cool and collected because I didn’t want to build up any kind of false hopes of being able to find something out,” he said. “I mean, who was going to know anything about this one little Jewish boy in the middle of this immense devastation that went on in Europe?”

 

 

Much to his astonishment, however, he discovered a wealth of information that, for the first time, gave him a near complete picture of how his own hidden child story played out and revealed the identities of those individuals whose actions shielded him from almost certain death. These revelations came about as the result of Kader meeting people at the conference who knew his story either as researchers or as first-hand participants who aided his survival.

First, he met writer Sylvain Brachfeld, the author of a book chronicling the hidden children of Europe, including those in Belgium, and who upon hearing Kader’s original name — Jeruzalski — immediately placed him and his story. “It was really meeting Brachfeld that just sort of put the key in the lock and unlocked the door,” Kader said. “I mean, he just pinned me. He said, ‘I know who you are and I know exactly what page you’re on in my book. I know exactly what you looked like as a kid.’ And the door just swung open and from there I met all these people who knew me and knew what had happened to me. I didn’t know them, but they recognized me. They were actually able to corroborate some of the things I had in my memory. They dated it, they placed it, and a timeline started, so to speak, and my early years sort of got sorted out. It was like catching up with my life story. It was overwhelming.”

Perhaps the most powerful corroboration came from Marcel Chojnacki, who informed Kader that it was his lap the then-4 year-old Kader rested on during that mysterious and road trip at night. It turned out Chojnacki actually discovered Kader and some other orphaned children waiting to be transported to Auschwitz. He put them in the hands of a rescuer, Madam Marie Albert Blum, a nurse who arranged for the waifs to be transported by truck back to safekeeping. At the time, Chojnacki was a fellow hidden child, although older than Kader, in the charge of Blum, who operated the Home of Wezembeek, a former sanatorium-turned shelter for Jewish children that was part of an underground network of safe houses throughout Belgium. The child-saving network that Blum participated in was known and somewhat tolerated by the Nazis and was sanctioned and partially protected by high levels of the Belgium ruling class, including Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.

Before Marcel Chojnacki and Madam Blum intervened on his behalf, Kader had already been rescued twice. His story of loss and survival began in September, 1942. The mass deportation of Jews in Belgium was already well under way. His father had been rounded up with other Jewish men and sent to a forced labor camp in France. His older brothers were already on their way to death camps. One day, Kader found himself with his mother at the Antwerp rail station, where trains were transporting Jews to various way stations en route to Auschwitz. A surviving aunt, who was also at the station that day, later told him that his mother made the heart wrenching decision to try and save her lone remaining son by ordering him to walk away from her. His mother knew he stood a chance because of his Aryan-like features — namely, blond hair and blue eyes. Like a good little boy, Kader obeyed his mother and wandered away, never to see her again. He does not remember his mother’s face or voice or smell or manner. No photographs of her or any member of his family exist. Of that fateful day, he recalls only aimlessly walking the streets of Antwerp and being swept up and carried away by some unknown good angel.

In recent years Kader has learned his rescuer that day was a nun who escorted him to a house near Antwerp set-up for hiding Jewish children. Called the Home of the Good Angels, Kader was there with five other children only a short while before the house was raided. Kader and the other children were sent to Malines, a major train terminal and deportation site for Auschwitz. Meanwhile, the Wezembeek orphanage was also shut down by the Nazis, who forced Madam Blum and the dozens of children in her protection to move to Malines. It was in Malines where the paths of Kader, Blum and Chojnacki intersected. After being thrown out of their hiding place, Kader and his fellow young vagabonds, suffering from lack of food and sleep, were holed up in one corner of a former army barracks in Malines. Soon, Blum and her caravan of orphans arrived, too — unaware of the presence of Kader’s group. All of the children were slated for transport to Auschwitz. A convoy of trains carrying Jews from France were to be their passage. Civilian trains were being employed at this time in the transport of Jews. That day, the trains were late arriving, Kader has learned, because some captives kept jumping off, causing repeated delays as the guards recaptured the fleeing prisoners or shot them on sight. In an ironic and tragic twist, it turns out Kader’s father and uncle were on one of the trains en route to Malines. Neither Kader nor his father could have known the other was so near. And, as fate would have it, Kader’s uncle — his father’s brother — escaped into the countryside during one of the train convoy’s unscheduled stops, but his father did not.

 

 

During the better part of a day and night, the enterprising Blum took advantage of the delayed trains to negotiate with German army officials, some of whom could be bought with bribes, for the release of the children to her care and for a guarantee of their safe transit back to Wezembeek. As the day drew on, some of the older children with Blum, including Chojnacki, wandered off to investigate the barracks compound around Malines. And it was while nosing around one barracks that Chojnacki and his mates came upon the huddled, ragtag forms of Kader and the others, who were brought to Blum’s attention and added to her protective custody. Malines proved to be a crossroads of hearts and fates. While Kader, his uncle, Madam Blum and her wards were spared the horror of Auschwitz, the brutally efficient Gestapo were so intent on meeting their deportation quota that they dragged patients out of hospitals and onto the trains to take the place of the children. It is presumed Kader’s father went to his death in Auschwitz too.

When, in 1991, Kader met up again with Marcel Chojnacki and learned how he came to be with him under Blum’s protection, it was like coming face to face with his long “lost brother” and finding the once closed door to his unknown past opened wide. Kader said, “He knew how I came to be saved. How I survived. Meeting Marcel, the door didn’t just swing open, it came off the hinges. It was just a flood of information. It couldn’t come fast enough. It grew exponentially. I was trying to keep my feet on the ground to make sense of all this.” He and Chojnacki have become close friends in the ensuing years. As part of his attempt to reclaim his past, Kader has traveled to Belgium to visit many of the sites he spent his hidden childhood in and to thank Chojnacki, Blum and other individuals who played a role in his survival. For Kader, the term hero only begins to describe how he feels about Blum, a Jewish woman who risked her life over and over to aid helpless children like himself. Blum has been recognized in her own country and around the world for her rescue efforts.

Kader’s immediate post-war life, like that of many hidden children, was an unsettled affair. He stayed at a convent for a time and for two years he and other children fended for themselves at the by-then vacated Wezembeek facility and grounds. He developed street smarts during this time. “You had to mature fast if you were going to survive,” he said. His uncle found him — purely by accident — and brought him to live with his family. Kader said his uncle rarely spoke about the war or the personal losses endured. “It was too painful to talk about it. He survived and my father didn’t. He was the sole survivor of the family. And here I was reminding him of the family that he lost.” He said his uncle’s family treated him well, but his orphan’s sense of abandonment and wariness made him resist their kindness. “As a kid, you realize there’s nobody there for you. You’re it. You’re on your own. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Whether you’re safe or not. You lived through the war. You ended up in an orphanage. Then, you’re at your uncle’s place. They tried very hard to make a family life for me, but I don’t think I let them because everywhere you go, you wonder, How long am I going to be here?” Kader’s mistrust and alienation only intensified when, at age 11, he was sent to live with a great aunt and her family in Montreal, Canada. “And then all of a sudden you’re transported to a different place. To a different country. With a different family. So, again, you’re left wondering How long” How come? and What’s going to happen next? I looked at it as the next step in being alone and traveling on an ongoing basis. It took me years and years to make sense of my existence.”

Finally, with time, he came to feel he did have a home and a family, after all. “It took a while to accept that there was no more wondering about whether I belonged somewhere. As you get a little older you stop wondering what’s going to happen and you realize this is not just another temporary stopping place, but that this is it. This is the end of the line. This is where you’re going to become part of a new family and this is where you’re going to plant roots.”

 

 

Gradually, Kader began to flourish in his new life. He did well in school, especially upon discovering that education was an opportunity to make something of himself and, in a way, to make up for some of what he had lost. From the time he arrived in Montreal he felt compelled to serve others. “I knew I wanted to do something to help people.” He couldn’t fully understand it then but he has since come to believe his wartime experiences are what drove him to be a physician focusing on children. “It’s no accident I found myself working in medicine with kids. My past was a means to an end. Obviously, knowing what happened to me the first seven years of my life does give you a basis to realize how you got to this point and how you got be who you are. It makes you more whole when you can understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

After training in Canada and the United States, Kader settled in Omaha in 1974, where he worked at the University of Nebraska Medical Center before entering private practice. He and his wife of 36 years, Sarah, are parents to three grown children (two of whom are professionals working with children) and are grandparents to three.

Since discovering his past, Kader, now 62, has spoken publicly about his experience as well as about the horrors and the lessons of the Holocaust. He feels it is the obligation of all survivors to do so. “We have to tell our story because it’s the only way we can teach people what happened. You hope people will listen and you hope people will learn. If you know about it, then when you see bigotry in front of your eyes you’ll recognize it and then maybe you’ll try to put a stop to it.”

Meanwhile, Kader’s search for more details about his family’s exact fate may never fully be completed. For example, his investigations have not been able to determine what happened to his only sister. “There’s still little pieces missing,” he said. “Things that I’ll probably never know. You never quite get to the end. So there’s still a sense of not totally putting closure to it.”

In Memoriam: George Eisenberg

March 27, 2018 2 comments

In Memoriam: George Eisenberg 

A man intimate with the Old Market’s origins is gone, but his legacy lives on.

©Story by Leo Adam Biga
©Photography by Nebraska Jewish Historical Society
Originally published in Omaha Magazine

 

The late George Eisenberg, 88, appreciated the historic Old Market the way few people do because of his many relationships to it. His experience encompassed the Market’s life as a wholesale produce center and eventual transformation into an arts-culture destination and trendy neighborhood.

He began working in the Old Market as a peddler’s son, manning a fruit stall alongside his father, Ben, and brother, Hymie, in what was then the Omaha City Market. Later, he founded and ran a successful niche business with Hymie supplying national food manufacturers’ thrown-away bits of onions and potatoes. The brothers, known as “the potato and onion kings of the U.S.,” officed in adjoining warehouses their father kept for storage and distribution. Eisenberg held onto the building even after the produce market disbanded and the area fell into decline. As the area transitioned and property rates skyrocketed, he became a well-positioned landlord and active Old Market Business Association and Omaha Downtown Improvement District member.

“He went to the meetings and spoke his mind,” son Steve Eisenberg says. More than speak his mind, Eisenberg oversaw the careful renovation of his building and secured many of the lamp posts that adorn the Old Market.

The Eisenberg property at 414-418 South 10th Street housed many tenants over the years, and today is home to J.D. Tucker’s and Stadium View sports bars.

Eisenberg-on-truck-copy_2

Eisenberg was half of the wholesaler Eisenberg and Rothstein Co.

As the Old Market grew, he became one of its biggest advocates and enjoyed playing the role of unofficial historian. He’s remembered as a gentle lion who proudly shared the district’s past with business owners, visitors, media, and anyone interested in its history. He loved telling stories of what used to be a teeming Old World marketplace where Jewish, Italian, and other ethnic merchants dickered with customers over the price of fruit and vegetables.

“Something he really enjoyed doing, especially in his retirement, was going down there and letting people know where the Old Market came from and where it’s going. Up till his last days, he saw such a bright future for the Old Market and was very proud of what all was going on down there,” says Steve.

“George was just terrific, a real gentleman, also a wonderful character with a great sense of humor and compassion. He was revered as an ‘elder statesman,’” says Old Market Business Association member Angela Barry. “He was very sharp and knowledgeable about the neighborhood’s history. Even in his later years, he lovingly and passionately cared about the business of the Old Market.

“He really was something special. When I heard of his passing, it was a sad day.”

Nouvelle Eve owner Kat Moser will remember Eisenberg for his wise and generous business counsel.

Steve Eisenberg will remember his father as “a very hard worker who, even in retirement, kept busy promoting other people’s businesses and the Old Market area itself.”

The Eisenberg presence will live on there. “My siblings and I promised him we’re never selling the building,” says Steve. “It’s staying in the family, and we’re going to run it like he did.”

With Eisenberg’s passing and his peddler pal, Joe Vitale, preceding him in death a year earlier, the last sources with first-hand knowledge of the Omaha City Market are gone. But they leave behind an Old Market legacy not soon forgotten.

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