Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Omaha History’

Life Itself XII: Omaha History Stories


Life Itself XII:

Omaha History Stories

Cathy Hughes proves you can come home again

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/28/cathy-hughes-pro…-come-home-again

Coming home is sweet for media giant Cathy Hughes

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/05/coming-home-is-s…ant-cathy-hughes

North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/30/north-omaha-rupt…f-playfest-drama/

John Knicely: A Broadcast Journalism Career Five Decades Strong

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/02/26/john-knicely-a-l…e-decades-strong/

Dundee Theater: Return engagement for the ages

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/10/28/dundee-theater-r…ent-for-the-ages

 

 

The Urban League movement lives strong in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/11/17/the-urban-league…-strong-in-omaha/

Native Omaha Days: A Homecoming Like No Other

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/08/11/native-omaha-day…ng-like-no-other

Brenda Council: A public servant’s life

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/26/brenda-council-a…ic-servants-life

South Omaha Museum: A melting pot magic city gets its own museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/04/13/a-melting-pot-ma…s-its-own-museum

Mural project celebrates mosaic of South Omaha culture

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/19/mural-project-ce…th-omaha-culture/

 

One Hundred Years Strong: Bryant-Fisher Family Reunion

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/23/100-years-strong

Baseball and Soul Food at Omaha Rockets Kanteen

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/23/baseball-and-soul-food/

In their own words – The Greatest Generation on World War II

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/02/in-their-own-wor…-on-world-war-ii/

The tail-gunner’s grandson: Ben Drickey revisits World War II experiences on foot and film

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/02/the-tail-gunners…on-foot-and-film

Love affair with Afghanistan and international studies affords Tom Gouttierre world view like few others

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/21/love-affair-with…-like-few-others/

Father Ken Vavrina: Crossing Bridges

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/29/father-ken-vavri…e-serving-others/

Omaha Children’s Museum all grown up at 40: Celebrating four decades of letting children’s imagination run free

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/07/omaha-childrens-…ination-run-free/

Eighty years and counting:

History in the making at the Durham Museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/31/eighty-years-and…he-durham-museum

Durham Museum to celebrate 40-and-40: Forty years as train station and four decades as museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/04/durham-museum-to…ecades-as-museum

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“Nebraska Methodist College at 125: Scaling New Heights”

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/15/nebraska-methodi…ling-new-heights

Omaha history salvager Frank Horejsi:

Dream calls for warehouse to become a museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/11/omaha-history-sa…-become-a-museum

North’s Star: Gene Haynes builds legacy as education leader with Omaha Public Schools and North High School

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/02/norths-star-gene…orth-high-school/

Alone or together, Omaha power couple Vic Gutman and Roberta Wilhelm give back to the community

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/09/29/alone-or-togethe…to-the-community

Creative couple: Bob and Connie Spittler and their shared creative life 60 years in the making

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/12/23/bob-and-connie-s…rs-in-the-making/

David Corbin and Josie Metal-Corbin: Moving Right Along

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/07/03/moving-right-alo…wn-in-retirement/

Ben and Freddie Gray: North Omaha Power Couple

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/13/gray-matters-ben…hways-to-success/

Omaha’s old lion of philanthropy Dick Holland slowing down but still roaring and challenging the status quo

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/12/04/omahas-old-lion-…g-the-status-quo

Ed Poindexter and David Rice in 1970, North Omaha, Nebraska

 

Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/30/crime-and-punish…o-life-in-prison/

North Omaha: Voices and Visions for Change

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/29/north-omaha-voic…sions-for-change

Two Part Series:

After Decades of Walking Behind to Freedom, Omaha’s African-American Community Tries Picking Up the Pace Through Self-Empowered Networking

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/13/two-part-series-…wered-networking

Mike Green and Dick Davis: Lifetime Friends, Former Backfield Mates, Now Entrepreneurs

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/20/lifetime-friends…-black-citizenry/

Two families suffer Omaha’s segregation and waken the conscience of a nation

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/11/09/my-newest-cover-…ence-of-a-nation/

When New Horizons Dawned for African-Americans Seeking Homes in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/17/when-new-horizon…ericans-in-omaha

South Omaha stories on tap for free PlayFest show; Great Plains Theatre Conference’s Neighborhood Tapestries returns to south side

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/06/south-omaha-stor…o-the-south-side/

Image result for omaha community playhouse

 

Celebrating 90 years, the Omaha Community Playhouse takes seriously its community theater mission

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/03/omaha-community-…-theater-mission

Playwright turned history detective Max Sparber turns identity search inward

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/02/07/playwright-turne…ty-search-inward

Jim Trebbien: Lifelong love affair with food led to distinguished culinary arts education career at Metropolitan Community College

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/02/culinary-artist-…ommunity-college

The Artist in the Mill: Linda Meigs brings agriculture, history and art together at Florence Mill

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/08/01/linda-meigs-brin…at-florence-mill

 

Patrick Drickey: Golf Shots

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/05/golf-shots-pat-d…eat-golf-courses/

Nancy Kirk: Fabric and Faith

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/21/nancy-kirk-arts-…erfaith-champion/

Edith Buis: A Life Immersed in Art

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/eddith-buis-a-life-immersed-in-art

Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/28/life-comes-full-…ger-carol-rogers

Goin’ down the Lincoln Highway with Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/01/goin-down-the-li…-anders-erickson

 

Omaha’s Old Market: 

History, stories, places, personalities, characters

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/19/omahas-old-marke…ities-characters/

The X-Men Weigh-In on Designing a New Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/25/the-x-men-weigh-…ning-a-new-omaha

Designing Woman: Connie Spellman Helps Shape a New Omaha Through Omaha By Design

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/13/designing-woman-…-omaha-by-design

Play considers Northside black history through eyes of Omaha Star publisher Mildred Bown

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/04/29/play-considers-n…-of-mildred-bown

Mike Saklar: Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My Brothers

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/01/whatsoever-you-d…t-you-do-unto-me/

Teela Mickles: Nurturing One Lost Soul at a Time

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/29/nurturing-one-lo…-back-to-society/

 

 

Kent Bellows: Soul in Motion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/21/kent-bellows-soul-in-motion/

Kent Bellows legacy lives on

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/13/bellows-legacy-lives-on

Young artist steps out of the shadows of towering presence in his life

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/03/a-young-artist-s…ence-in-his-life

Exhibit by photographer Jim Krantz and his artist grandfather, the late David Bialac engages in art conversation through the generations

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/28/photographer-jim…-the-generations/

Book explores University of Nebraska at Omaha’s rich history

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/02/book-explores-un…has-rich-history/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief history of Omaha’s civil rights struggle distilled in black and white by photographer Rudy Smith

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/02/a-brief-history-…apher-rudy-smit

Rich music history long untold revealed and celebrated by Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/a-rich-music-his…sic-hall-of-fame/

 

The History Man, Gary Kastrick, and his Project OMAHA lose home base

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/03/gary-kastricks-p…es-its-home-base

Omahans recall historic 1963 march on Washington

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/12/omahans-recall-h…ch-on-washington

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

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/07/30/great-migration-…s-never-far-away

THE GREAT MIGRATION: WHEREVER PEOPLE MOVE, HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/07/the-great-migrat…ere-the-heart-is

CIVIL RIGHTS: STANDING UP FOR WHAT’S RIGHT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/07/civil-rights-sta…ake-a-difference/

The Omaha Star | by National Register

 

The Omaha Star celebrates 75 years of black woman legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/11/the-omaha-star-c…ack-woman-legacy

Marguerita Washington:

The woman behind the Star that never sets

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/marguerita-washi…-that-never-sets

Omaha World-Herald columnist Mike Kelly:

A storyteller for all seasons

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/04/02/omaha-world-hera…-for-all-seasons

Bob Hoig’s unintended entree into journalism leads to career six decades strong

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/25/bob-hoigs-uninte…cades-strong-now

Omaha Fashion Past

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/04/omaha-fashion-past

Theater-Fashion Maven Elaine Jabenis

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/04/theater-fashion-…n-elaine-jabenis

Timeless Fashion Illustrator Mary Mitchell: Her Work Illustrating Three Decades of Style Now Subject of New Book and Exhibition

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/07/timeless-fashion…k-and-exhibition

 

From the Archives: Warren Francke – A passion for journalism, teaching and life

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/from-the-archive…eaching-and-life/

Documentary considers Omaha’s changing face since World War II

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/15/documentary-cons…nce-world-war-ii/

Omaha Community Foundation project assesses the Omaha landscape with the goal of affecting needed change

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/10/omaha-community-…ng-needed-change/

Omaha Community Foundation:

A Giving Connection Serving Those Who Serve

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/09/30/omaha-community-…-those-who-serve

Everything old newly restored again at historic Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/15/everything-old-i…-church-in-omaha

photo

Remembering Omaha Old Market original, fruit and vegetable peddler Joe Vitale

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/19/in-memory-of-a-o…ddler-joe-vitale

From the Archives: Ode to the Omaha Stockyards

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/14/from-the-archive…omaha-stockyards

Last days and halcyon times of the Omaha Stockyards remembered

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/the-last-days-an…yards-remembered/

“Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores, Omaha, Lincoln, Greater Nebraska and Southwest Iowa”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/12/memories-of-the-…southwest-iowa-2/

 

Retired Omaha World-Herald military affairs newsman Howard Silber: War veteran, reporter, raconteur, bon vi vant, globetrotter

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/06/retired-omaha-wo…nt-globe-trotter

From the Archives: Former Omaha television photojournalist Don Chapman’s adventures in imagemaking keep him on the move

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/29/from-the-archive…-him-on-the-move

Omaha’s KVNO 90.7 FM turns 40: Commercial-free public radio station serves the community all classical music and local news

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/11/omahas-kvno-90-7…ent-set-it-apart

Nancy Bounds, Timeless Arbiter of Fashion Beauty, Glamour, Poise

http://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/04/nancy-bounds-a-t…ty-glamour-poise

Charles Jones: Looking Homeward

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/03/looking-homeward/

Back in the Day:

Native Omaha Days is reunion, homecoming, heritage celebration and party all in one

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/back-in-the-day-…party-all-in-one

Native Omaha Days: A Black is Beautiful celebration, now, and all the days gone by

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/native-omaha-day…the-days-gone-by

The Ties that Bind:

One family’s celebration of Native Omaha Days

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/the-ties-that-bi…ative-omaha-days

photo

photo by Cyclops-Optic (Jack David Hubbell)

My Brother’s Keeper, The competitive drive MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson’s older brother, Josh, instilled in him (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/my-brothers-keep…instilled-in-him

Luigi’s Legacy, The Late Omaha Jazz Artist Luigi Waites Fondly Remembered

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/18/luigis-legacy-th…ondly-remembered/

Carole Woods Harris Makes a Habit of Breaking Barriers for Black Women in Business and Politics

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/carole-woods-har…ess-and-politics

By land, by sea, by air, Omaha Jewish veterans performed far-flung wartime duties

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/22/by-land-by-sea-b…g-wartime-duties

Omaha’s Tuskegee Airmen

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/the-tuskegee-airmen

Donovan Ketzler: Last of the Rough Riders

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/last-of-the-rough-riders/

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

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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

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

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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

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Rev. Everett Reynolds Gave Voice to the Voiceless

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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

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UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

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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

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

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Men of Science

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Blacks of Distinction

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The Myers Legacy of Caring and Community

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Cool Cat Billy and the Sportin’ Life

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Art Missionaries, Bob and Roberta Rogers and their Gallery 72

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

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

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A force of nature named Evie:

Still a maverick social justice advocate at 100

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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

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

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Gospel playwright Llana Smith enjoys her Big Mama’s time

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Doug Marr, Diner Theater and keeping the faith

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When We Were Kings: A Vintage Pro Wrestling Story

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

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Preston Love: His voice will not be stilled

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

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North Omaha champion Frank Brown fights the good fight

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

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When Boys Town became the center of the film world

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

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Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

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

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Otis Twelve’s Radio Days

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

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Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop:

We Cut Heads and Broaden Minds, Too

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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

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Durham Museum to celebrate 40-and-40: Forty years as train station and four decades as museum

March 4, 2015 1 comment

There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed Omaha was hell-bent on tearing down its history.  All manner of historic structures were razed: the old United States Post Office ; the Fontenelle Hotel, a huge tract of warehouses in Jobber’s Canyon, the Medical Arts Building. Thank God more jewels were saved than lost: the Old Market district; the Orpheum Theatre, the Rose Theater; Union Station, Burlington Station, the Brandeis Building, Joslyn Castle, the Storz Mansion, the Mastercraft, Omar Bakery, the Livestock Exchange Building, St. Cecilia Cathedral and many more that have been protected, renovated, and repurposed.  Some of those survived narrowly escaped being razed.  It took agitation, activism, vision, and purpose by determined people to save some if not all of those treasures.  The tension between new development and historic preservation continues, as witnessed by the recent loss of the apartment buildings just east of Midtown Crossing and the Johnson & Johnson Mortuary on South 10th Street.  One of the most signifcant saves was Union Station ,which today goes by the name Durham Museum to reflect its adapted reuse as a museum charting Omaha’s and the nation’s history.  My new story about the Durham for Metro Magazine (/www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) explains how that building has now reached the same number of years, 40, in its role as a museum that it served as a passenger rail station for Union Pacific Railroad.  It is one of those grand structures, certainly  by Omaha terms, that never fails to mesmerize and impress me by its sheer size and grandeur.  My eyes automatically fix on the far upper reaches of that proletarian palace.  I never met or caught a train there, but I recently had the privilege of delivering a lecture there and I hope to have the opportunity to do so again in the near future.

 

Durham Museum to celebrate 40-and-40: Forty years as train station and four decades as museum

Dual milestone for historic landmark thriving in new use
Museum’s growth spurred by champion and namesake
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Metro Magazine (/www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

 

Forty years. That’s the length of time the former Union Station in Omaha operated as a passenger train center and come 2015 that same Art Deco-style building marks 40 years as the Durham Museum.

It’s not often a grand public space celebrates a dual legacy with a shared milestone of service. From 1931 to 1971 millions of rail passengers passed through. Starting in 1975 the old Union Station became a cultural-historical venue that millions more have visited.

Much like the history it celebrates, Durham Museum was not built in a day. Neither was its home, Union Station. Union Pacific began construction on it in 1929, the year the Stock Market Crash triggered the Great Depression. The Gilbert Stanley Underwood-designed structure opened in 1931, the year when a congressional resolution officially made the “Star Spangled Banner” America’s national anthem.

As soon as Union Station closed in 1971 the site’s future lay in doubt. Its survival looked bleak the longer it sat abandoned and untended. Even after UP donated the place to the City of Omaha in 1973, most officials regarded it as a burden or albatross, not a gift. Many called for the “eyesore” to be torn down. Enter a group of preservationist-minded private citizens who formed the Western Heritage Society as a vehicle for reopening the former train station as a museum. If not for their efforts this monument to Omaha’s vigor may have gone the way of other historic buildings that got razed rather than saved.

Originally known as the Western Heritage Museum, the institution was resource-poor its first two decades yet managed to give new life to the old digs that had seen far better days. Most importantly it built a formidable body of artifacts related to early Omaha, including the Byron Reed Collection of rare coins and documents and the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection of late 19th century-early 20th century photographs. It also originated events, such as Christmas at Union Station, that became community traditions.

Durham executive director Christi Janssen admires the vision and fortitude of those angels, including Itey Crummer, Emi Baker and Ron Hunter, who made the old train station a museum.

“Their challenges were way different than our challenges today,” she says. “They were really fighting hard to raise money to turn the lights on essentially.”

Chuck to the rescue
Then, in the mid-1990s, the struggling museum that long postponed much-needed renovations and improvements for lack of funds was gifted with tens of millions of dollars through a Heritage Services drive. That campaign also brought the museum one of its greatest champions, the late Charles W. “Chuck” Durham, who grew HDR Inc. into a national engineering firm and became a major philanthropist.”Fortunately, Chuck Durham showed up with a keen architectural and engineering instinct. Walking into this Union Station Chuck could see beyond the collapsing roof, the peeling paint and the tarnished light fixtures and envision its magnificence with the right amount of money and the best of architecture and construction firms,” recalls Heritage Services President Sue Morris.As an active museum board member Durham committed himself to helping it reach its potential and restoring the building to its former glory. His children note their father saw great value in the work the museum did and in the history the building represented.Daughter Sunny Lundgren says, “He thought this is Omaha’s history and we need to preserve it and so the first thing he did was give money to this place and then he started knocking on doors and saying, ‘Do you know what an important building this is? It’s part of Omaha, we need to restore it.'”

“He led the charge in raising dollars from community leaders who responded generously,” daughter Lynne Boyer adds.

Among those Durham reeled in was then-Kiewit Corporation CEO Walter Scott. His support was recognized when the museum’s most iconic space was renamed the Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall.

“The building and I have something in common. We were both ‘born’ in 1931,” Scott says. “Many years later it was Chuck Durham who introduced me to its role as a museum. He convinced me to help him establish the museum’s relationships with the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and National Archives. Chuck had a vision for what the Durham Museum could become, and I think he’d be pleased to see the board and staff have realized a good part of his vision.”

Sue Morris says Durham was persuasive enough that the Heritage Services-directed campaign raised more than $30 million for the museum. The funds underwrote a major 1996 project that entailed constructing a new parking deck, installing a new roof as well as new mechanical and electrical systems and creating new office spaces, classrooms and permanent exhibits. The Great Hall was repainted and restored and interactive sculptures added. A 22,000 square foot addition was built over Track #1.

A new name and mission
In recognition of Durham’s efforts, the museum was renamed in his honor in 1997 as part of a general rebranding.”It’s always been centered on Omaha’s history and western heritage,” Janssen says, “but as the museum has evolved we have aspired to be much more than that. We want to be a gathering place. The events we host are a great way to celebrate traditions. Beyond Omaha’s history and its western heritage our mission is to share the nation’s story. We are a significant piece of that. We mirror the national story in terms of rail travel and the industry that built this community. So we have broadened our scope quite a bit over the years. Thus, we’ve been able to tap into a new audience.”Janssen says “a very strong education focus now takes front and center,” adding, “We get into school classrooms, we host school field trips and summer camps down here, we offer a scholars in residence education series that is much sought after.” The museum does special programming around various history months, such as Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Jazz Appreciation Month (April), National Hispanic Heritage Month (September) and Native American Heritage Month (November).The lecture hall is fully outfitted for distance learning. Presentations made there are regularly fed to classrooms, community centers and other sites around the nation. A mobile video camera unit allows educators to focus on various architectural details of the Great Hall, for example, as part of distance learning history curriculum.

“We continue to look for ways to engage people and to make the museum a presence wherever we can,” Janssen says. “We want people to realize it’s not just about the permanent and traveling exhibits, it’s about lectures, films, concerts, the Ethnic Holiday Festival, Christmas at Union Station, the authentic soda fountain and more.”

As the building transformed from dusty relic to gleaming palace once again and the museum grew its programming, attendance increased. In the first decade of the new millennium Chuck Durham contributed a generous match to new philanthropic gifts that funded several more infrastructure needs and the building of the Stanley and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall.

Public trust and uninterrupted growth

From that point forward the museum has seen its greatest growth in terms of attendance, membership and donations, Janssen says.”I think the thing that gets people to invest in us is a proven record and we have that now because of the growth we’ve enjoyed and the hard work we’ve been doing. We can get their attention because they see something happening here. They see we’re actually going to do what we say we’re going to do. That’s foundational for us – we never say we’re going to do something and then don’t. We’re intentional to always under promise and over deliver.

“But I think the thing that continues to get people excited about the museum is that everyone leaves with an appreciation for the history and the experience they find here. We are a repository of stories and we share those stories through our artifacts and our programs. We have been able to capture and retell those stories, and again this building speaks louder than words.”

With the museum’s finances stabilized and the institution becoming an affiliate of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution (in 2002), whose popular traveling exhibits show there, Durham was pleased by how far things had progressed and how bright the future looked.

“My father enjoyed watching the museum come alive with outstanding programs and exhibits which attracted large numbers of visitors from all over the city, state and country,” Boyer says. “It gave him a sense of great satisfaction to know the museum would continue to educate and entertain visitors of all ages for generations to come.”

Right up until his death in 2008 Durham, then wheel-chair bound, made a point of visiting the museum as often as he could.

“He enjoyed coming to the museum,” Janssen says. “Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that we had ice cream. He appreciated the opportunity to visit the soda fountain. He loved to eat a sundae.”

The Durham family remains involved. Lundgren formed the museum’s guild and served as its president one year. She supports various education efforts there and still volunteers at events. She says her family’s Christmas is not complete without visiting the museum.
Boyer enjoys taking her grandchildren there, saying, “When I visit the museum with them I view it through their eyes and gain an even greater appreciation for all it has to offer. It is an educational gem.”

Janssen says the Durham could not have blossomed without the generous support of individual members, families, corporations and foundations or without the committed work of board members, docents, volunteers and staff. She says the museum has been fortunate to have both good leadership and stewardship.

The Durham has become a major attraction – welcoming a record 204,000 visitors in 2013 and on pace to record a similar number in 2014. Its household membership base is over 7,000.

 

 

New directions and neighbors
That kind of support, she says, “just changes the way we can do business.” There’s no time to rest on laurels. “Our job is always to take it one step further,” Janssen says. “A big focus going forward is incorporating technology into the experience, both in digitizing our photo archive and in making our gallery exhibits more interactive.”

After years of being an outlier the Durham’s poised to be one of many anchor attractions along a revived South 10th Street. It can partner with such new neighbors as the House of Loom, the resurgent Little Italy district, KETV, which is moving into the restored Burlington Station, the new Blue Barn Theater and the coming Omaha Public Market. That’s in addition to North Downtown, the Capital District, the Old Market, Lauritzen Gardens and the Henry Doorly Zoo.

All of it, she says, speaks to “a new vibrancy” in the area. “It’s not just about us anymore. It’s about everybody around us. We can do so much more if we do it together and we become a destination corridor.”

Follow the 2015 anniversary events at durhammuseum.org.

 

From the Archives: An Ode to the Omaha Stockyards

June 14, 2012 4 comments

 

 

I grew up in North Omaha but most of my extended family lived in South Omaha, where my father was born and raised.  On visits to South O to see my paternal grandparents, Adam and Anna Biga, the impossible to ignore acrid stench emanating from the stockyards and packing plants located only blocks from their home burned my nostrils and eyes.  For that matter, anywhere in South O carried a whiff of the stink, which came to be known as the Smell of Money for the immense commerce those twinned industries represented.  I had many relatives work at the packing plants and my father, his brothers, and my grandfather certainly knew their way around the stockyards.  Growing up, my only contact with the yards was on a school field trip and my dad driving me and my brothers there a few times to catch the sights and sounds and, that’s right, smells, of that bustling place.  By the time I worked as a journalist the stockyards was on it’s last legs, a true anachronism and eye sore in a city trying to break from its cow town past and reimage itself as a progressive, cosmopolitan metropolis.  For a while there it looked like Omaha would never have the will and vision to do the necessary reset to rebrnad itself but as the national media has been reporting for a decade now the city got its collective act together and is in the midst of a full-scale makeover.  The downtown and riverfront transformation gets most of the attention but the decline and eventual move of the Omaha Stockyards and the closing and razing of the packing houses, followed by the subsequent redevelopment of the huge tracts of land they stood on is every bit as impressive.  Where the yards and plants operated are now apartments, businesses, a giant Kroc Center, a booming community college campus, and many more ameneties.  The one remnant of that industrial behometh that survived is the Livestock Exchange Building, which has a new life of its own.  This story, written and publsihed mere months before the stockyards shut down here and moved to Iowa, recounts all that was lost in this transition from the Old World to the New.  The stockyards had to go to make way for the new Omaha but its impact was so vast that its history and contributions to building Omaha should never be forgotten.  If you enjoy this kind of history, check out an even more extensive piece I did on the stockyards that I’ve posted on this blog.

Here is a link to another depth story I did around the same time on the Stockyards, in this case for The Reader (www.thereader.com), that takes a nitty-gritty and nostalgic look at what it was like to work in that culture and community that constituted the yards–

From the Archives: An Ode to the Omaha Stockyards 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the New Horizons

 

By the turn of the century the historic Omaha stockyards will be gone from the site it’s operated at for 114 years, leaving an uncertain future for one of Omaha’s oldest active businesses.  The move, prompted by a city-sponsored redevelopment project, will mark the end of a once mighty enterprise built on brains, brawn, guts and ambition.  After surviving ownership changes, world wars and wild economic swings, the stockyards will finally succumb to changing times and attitudes.

A throwback to an earlier era, the stockyards was a male-dominated arena where high finance met Midwestern hospitality.  Where a man’s word was his bond and an honest day’s work his measure.  Its departure will close a rich, muscular chapter in Omaha’s working life — one whose like may not be seen again.  One where men moved a constant flow of animals through a maze of tracks, chutes, alleys and pens spanning 200-plus acres.

“This was a huge, huge operation.  A big mammoth place.  At one time we employed 350 to 400 people.  We stretched from the railroad yards at about 26th Street clear up to 36th Street.  We were beyond ‘L’ Street to the north and beyond Gomez Avenue to the south.  We ran crews 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.  There was always something going on.  At times you never thought you had enough help with all the pens and animals to maintain,” said Carl Hatcher, a 43-year veteran at the yards and current manager of the Omaha Livestock Market.

The stockyards teemed with activity its first 100 years.  In 1955 Omaha overtook Chicago as the nation’s largest livestock market and meatpacking center, a position it held until 1973.

Today, the stockyards is but a shell of its former self.  With receipts in steady decline for three decades, it’s systematically shrunk operations to the present 15 acres, dramatically scaled back the market schedule and severely downsized the workforce.  Abandoned pens and dilapidated buildings stand as forlorn reminders of its former greatness.

“We’re not the big yards we used to be,” Hatcher, 60, said.  “It’s not a thriving business the way it used to be.  The only way we’ve been able to keep in business is to reduce the facility in proportion to the reduced demand in the industry.”

 

 

 

 

Those, like Hatcher, who recall the glory years know there can never be a return to the daily spectacle along “L” Street when livestock-laden trucks arriving from points near and far lined-up in a procession running from 36th to 60th, waiting to unload their mooing, squealing, bleating cargo.

“It was a sight to see,” said the City of Omaha’s official historian, Jean Dunbar, who saw the epic lines of trucks with his own eyes.

James Rosse, 95, a former editor with the Daily Journal Stockman and past executive with Livestock Conservation Inc., recalls a banner 1944 pig crop brought a convoy of hog-filled trucks extending to 72nd Street.

The congestion got so bad that stockmen often doubled as traffic cops to keep trucks moving smoothly on and off the “L” Street viaduct.  Truckers at the end of the line waited hours before unloading.

“We would on occasion send out coffee and sandwiches to the truckers,” recalls Harold Norman, 77, retired secretary-treasurer of the stockyards.  To try and avert logjams, he said, stalled trucks were pushed to the side.  The addition of chutes speeded up the delivery process.

While trucks replaced trains as the dominant mode of transporting livestock by the 1940s, large numbers of animals continued being shipped by rail through the ‘60s.  The stockyards even operated its own railway to handle incoming and outgoing loads.

“It was a continuous thing of livestock coming in here one day, being sold and then moving out,” Hatcher said from his office in the Livestock Exchange Building, the grand South Omaha landmark that’s long been the headquarters and hub for the livestock industry here.  “Whenever you’ve got thousands and thousands of head of livestock being moved, it’s a real challenge to do that on an orderly basis.  You never had a time, even in the wee hours of the morning, that there wasn’t some livestock either arriving or being delivered out of here.  It was amazing.”

“We were essentially a hotel for livestock — a place to bed, feed and water,” said Norman, adding the company had no stake in animal sales or purchases, but instead made money from yardage fees and office rentals.

More than a hotel, the yards constituted THE central market for livestock producers and buyers in the region.  During its peak years, anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 head of cattle, 40,000 to 60,000 head of hogs and 10,000 to 20,000 head of sheep arrived weekly via rail and truck.  In a single year as many as six million head of livestock were received, with an estimated value of more than half-a-billion dollars.  By comparison, a good week’s receipts today total 1,000 cattle and 3,000 hogs.

With such a huge volume of activity, crews had to work effiiciently unloading unruly animals, flogging them down chutes and herding them through alleys into open pens.  Once stock was yarded, the real business of the marketplace commenced.  Commission men representing producers negotiated with buyers to obtain the fairest price on cattle, hogs, sheep.  Once a sale was made, the animals were driven to a scalehouse, weighed, and held in pens until the buyer led them off to slaughter or feed.

Somehow, it all worked like a well-oiled machine.  And the next day, the process began all over again.  It still works the same way today, only on a much smaller scale.

The bustling market was a melting pot of diverse interests and types.  A central gathering point where rural and urban America merged.  Where rich cattlemen in gabardine splendor and dapper bankers in double-breasted finery rubbed shoulders with overall-clad farmers and blood, mud, manure-stained laborers.  The massive Exchange Building was an oasis where one could eat a good meal, down a few drinks, buy a cigar, get a haircut, send a telegram and dance the night away in its ballroom.

“I’d like to live those days over again,” Rosse said, “because that was exciting.  There was always something new.”

Demolition of the stockyards
A commerical plaza, among other things, went up in its place
The Kroc Center is an impressive addition on the site of one of the old packing plants

 

 

For all the market’s staggering numbers and feats, one item bears special notice:  Then, as now, livestock deals were made verbally, without a written contract, and sealed with a handshake.

“Millions of dollars changed hands there just on a handshake,” Hatcher said.  “It’s not done in other businesses, where you gotta have contracts and a lawyer standing over each shoulder to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed.”

“I can’t believe it yet,” said Rosse, who was also struck by the frank manner buyers and sellers transacted business.  “The way they talked to each other, you’d think they’d never speak to each other again.  They were rather a rough bunch.  They didn’t spend much time at it.  It was either yes or no, and away they’d go.  It was a tough business, and yet they were pals again when they weren’t working.  There was a lot of camaraderie.”

If the stockyards supplied the fuel for this powerful industrial machine, then its engine resided in the many meatpacking plants surrounding it.              Between the plants’ smokestacks and the waste-ridden yards, an acrid odor formed that carried for miles.  The yards, which earned the wrath of neighbors who daily lived with the stench, formed a Stink Committee to handle complaints and find solutions.  “The Smell of Money,” as Omaha
historian Jean Dunbar describes it, was a small price to pay as the industry employed thousands and provided thousands more customers for area businesses (bars, eateries, stores) catering to the stock-packing trade.

Said Hatcher, “A lot of businesses sprang up around here and thrived and survived on the people who worked at the market and the packing houses.”  Johnny’s Cafe, the noted steakhouse just east of the yards, benefited from the traffic streaming through. “There was just a huge concentration of people moving in and out of the ag business around here.  We served meals around the clock to the truckers, the cattlemen, the bankers, the commission men…anybody that had anything to do with the livestock industry,” said Jack Kawa, Johnny’s proprietor and a son of its  founder, the late Frank Kawa.

After selling livestock at market many producers spent their profits in South Omaha — on lavish meals or shopping sprees.  “It was kind of a culmination and celebration of feeding cattle or hogs for six or nine months,” Kawa said.  He adds these hearty men lived hard and played hard and concedes the restaurant’s heavy, masculine, western decor and emphasis on beef reflected their tastes.

The combined purchasing power of the stockmen and packers, as well as their customers, pumped countless millions into the South Omaha economy.  Indeed, the community owes its very existence to the stockyards.  What was farm and scrub land sprouted into the city of South Omaha soon after the yards opened in 1884.  An envious Omaha coveted its neighbor to the south and after much resistance finally annexed it in 1916.

If Chicago could rightly be called the city of broad shoulders, then surely Omaha was its husky little brother.  Early Omaha survived as an outfitting haven for Western pioneers and settlers. The growing city continued drawing industry here because of its direct river access and central location.  The event that opened Omaha to serious expansion was the transcontinental railroad’s coming through in the late 1860s.  With Omaha established as a major rail center, it fast became a convenient gateway for transporting goods and services east and west.

It wasn’t long before a group of Omaha businessmen, led by the formidable William A. Paxton, saw the potential for forming a stockyards that could provide a central market for western livestock producers and eastern packers.  At the time, Chicago was the nearest market for western producers, but with further westward expansion it became burdensome to ship cattle so far east.

Paxton, an ex-mule skinner, cattle ranch operator and bridge builder,  defended his stake in the venture from powerful interests that prized it too.

“He definitely was a guy who played hard ball.  He was a very hard-driving guy.  He was truly one of the ground-floor men,” said University of Nebraska at Omaha history professor Harl Dalstrom.

The stockyards deal swung on Paxton securing the backing of Wyoming cattle baron Alexander Swan, who craved a central market for his own vast herds.  Together with such local powerbrokers as John A. McShane and John A. Creighton, these men formed what became known as the Syndicate.  They bought 2,000 acres south of early Omaha, setting aside 200 for the stockyards and the rest for the community they envisioned developing around it.  The Union Stockyards Company opened in 1884 and, just as expected, a full-fledged city soon emerged.

“South Omaha grew up all of a sudden…in less than a generation.  It was a boom town,” said historian Jean Dunbar.   “It did not create the instant rich men that oil or mining towns produced.  South Omaha’s boom produced a lot of good jobs for a lot of immigrants.  It was an immigrant community.  A mosaic of Czechs, Poles, Irish and others.  For them, it was an opportunity to find a new life.  It was hard, dangerous work that took a strong, remarkable breed of men, just like the men it took to farm on the dusty, desert-like Great Plains.”

At first the yards served as little more than a feeding station for stock in-transit to Chicago, and would have remained so without meatpackers  opening plants.  To entice the packers the Syndicate gave away money, land, buildings and shares of stock in the company, and one by one they came, led by the Big Four — Cudahy, Swift, Armour and Wilson.

“The owners of the stockyards paid off these big packers and offered them inducements to do business here,” Dunbar said.  “These were big,
powerful men of tremendous personality.  Of course they were acting in their self-interest, but they also risked great sums of their own personal fortune to make Omaha a great city and Nebraska a great state.”

With the packers in place, the yards flourished.  “The stockyards were only the catalyst.  The packing houses were the key.  They’re the ones that employed people by the thousands.  The one’s the dog, the other’s the tail,” Dunbar said.

But after four generations of nearly unbroken success, the tide slowly turned and the frontier empire that rose up from nothing diminished in size and importance.  There are many reasons for the decline, but it really all boils down to economics.  It goes back to the mid-1960s, when a shift occurred away from central markets like Omaha’s to a more diffuse, direct marketing system.  When the Big Four found their massive multi-story plants too costly to modernize, they closed them and built smaller ones in rural areas closer to producers and feeders.

Large producers soon realized they had no need to ship to a central market, much less consign livestock to an agent, since packer-buyers were eagerly knocking on their door.  Instead, producers sold directly to buyers, who also found it a more economical way of doing business.  Thus, the traditional role played by a central market like Omaha’s — of bringing together producers and buyers in a competitive arena, became obsolete for most large producers.  The need for a middle man had vanished except for the smallest farmers or ranchers.

A concurrent trend found livestock being raised by fewer and fewer hands, as small farmers-ranchers were bought out or went belly up, leaving production in the hands of relatively few mega-producers who dealt directly with packers.  Consequently, the stockyards lost much of its customer-base, causing receipts and profits to dwindle, forcing cutbacks, et cetera.

Another factor accounting for the decline was that as the local livestock industry shrunk, it lost the economic-political clout it once wielded.  The stockyards also lost any leverage it might have still had when, in 1989, the Minneapolis-based United Marketing Services purchased the livestock operation from Canal Capital Corp. of New York.  The deal let Canal retain ownership of all the stockyards’ property and structures, leaving United a tenant subject to the whims of its landlord.  Prior to that the stockyards or its parent company always owned the property and buildings it occupied.

 
The Livestock Exchange Building has found new life

Making matters worse, as the stockyards consolidated on fewer and fewer acres, Canal let abandoned grounds and facilities fall into disrepair.  The blighted areas gave the stockyards a black eye as the public assumed it owned the problem, when Canal actually held title to the land, including buildings the city deemed “unsafe and dangerous” and had begun condemnation procedures on.

“I think we’re taking the rap for their (Canal’s) bad management.  Any of the property we’ve vacated has become an eyesore.  It looks bad for the city.  It looks bad for our livestock operation.  We would dearly love to have it cleaned up and made presentable,” Hatcher said.

A face-lift can’t save the stockyards now, however.  Bowing to pressure, the financially-ailing Canal entered negotiations two years ago with the city for the sale of 57 acres, including all of the stockyards.  Last November, Mayor Hal Daub unveiled the city’s plans for an office park at the site — minus the stockyards.  Metro Community College plans expanding there and is viewed as a magnet for attracting further development.

Hatcher and his bosses tried convincing city officials to allow the stockyards to remain on-site, even on half its present acreage, but officials wouldn’t budge, leaving the company with a December 31, 1999 deadline to leave.  In September, the city completed its purchase of the site.  Plans call for all traces of the stockyards to be razed, except for the Exchange Building, which is slated for renovation.

Meanwhile, Hatcher is looking for new office space for himself and his staff, as the Exchange Building must be vacated by March 31, and is searching for a new site the stockyards may relocate on.  United is commited to keeping a livestock market in the area, but will only relocate if a new site “makes economic sense,” Hatcher said.  The city is legally obligated to help pay the costs of any relocation.

Hatcher is unhappy with the stockyards’ rather ignoble fate, but he realizes why it came about.  In part, it’s a sign of the times.  As Omaha has moved further from its frontier roots and traditional ag-industrial base, the stockyards is viewed as an unwelcome remnant of the past in what is a politically-correct, environmentally-conscious age.  Neighbors and public officials no longer want livestock, or the unpleasant trappings they bring, confined in the middle of a modern city whose mayor is “re-imaging” it as clean, new age, high-tech — not grimy, old world, blue collar.

“People are not tolerant that way anymore,” Hatcher said.  “Manure being spilled on the streets is not tolerated today.  The smells are not tolerated.  The packing houses are not as welcome as they used to be.  People don’t depend on them for their livelihood.  A lot of the people in the city administration, on the city council and in the community don’t think the stockyards and packing houses pay a living wage.  They don’t feel we’re the type of industry they want in their glorious city.  And I feel sorry for them and feel doubly sorry for us and for our customers that depend on us.”

For Harold Norman, the stockyards ex-secretary-treasurer, it’s “a feeling of rejection, because the company was held in high repute for many, many years and now it seems like we don’t have any friends anymore.  Over the years there were people who opposed us but we were big enough that we could stand our own with them, but today…”

“The negative influences created by the livestock market were not desirable to retain in the future,” said Bob Peters, Omaha’s Acting City Planning Director.  “There is a great deal of respect and sympathy for the livestock market and its employees…and a great deal of warm and wonderful memories of the past heydays of the marketplace, however there is a realization that time has passed the market by.”

Hatcher disagrees.  “The stockyards is still a viable, profitable business,” he said.  “We paid all our bills.  We paid our taxes.  We had all our permits and licenses.  We were not asking anyone to subsidize our business.  But the city has told us they don’t want us here anymore.  To see this all come to an end and to think…there will be no legacy…no more ongoing central market here in Omaha, yeah, that saddens me.”

He will miss the yards, but most of all the people.  “I love the people and this business.  It’s been my life.  There are still some young people in the industry who would like to see this particular operation continue.  There’s still a lot of producers out there that would like to see us continue because they have no other choice to market their livestock.  This location is ideal for our customers in Nebraska and Iowa.”

According to James Rosse, “The city fathers have never appreciated what the stockyards meant to them or to the larger agribusiness economy.  This was a livestock center of national and international importance, but they’re trying now to eliminate that picture of Omaha.”

However, Peters insists the city does recognize the stockyards’ significance.  He adds the use of federal funds for the planned redevelopment requires the city to conduct an historic recordation of the stockyards so “the historical and cultural importance of that site is not lost and will be perpetuated forever in a series of documents, drawings, photographs and essays that deal with its development and its relationship to the development of the city and the region.”  The materials will be filed with the Library of Congress.

With the stockyards’ days numbered, perhaps it’s time some thought be given to erecting a permanent display commemorating the enormous commerce it generated and the vital impact it made.  Norman has tried unsuccessfully to launch such a display.  The city has no plans for one.

“It’s obvious this is a big part of our history and I think it needs to be preserved and interpreted to subsequent generations as effectively as we can,” UNO’s Dalstrom said.  Dunbar agrees, suggesting “a Magic City museum could tell the history of a great era in South Omaha.”

Absent any reminder, Omaha may re-cast itself as an ultra modern city but at the expense of sanitizing its rough-and-tumble roots right into oblivion.  With the stockyards demise, more than its mere physical presence will be lost.  Lost too will be a direct link to Omaha’s frontier heritage.  It will join Jobbers Canyon as a casualty to ‘progress,’ leaving one less trace of the burly, brawling, booming industrial center Omaha has been and still is.

Ironically, “stockyards” will likely be part of any name chosen for the office park replacing it.  The question is:  Will future generations know the rich story behind the name?

The History Man, Gary Kastrick, and his Project OMAHA lose home base

October 3, 2010 10 comments

A frequent enough occurrence finds me reading about somebody in the local daily newspaper and my feeling an immediate connection to the person and what makes him or her tick.  Usually I am responding to a depth of passion the subject has for whatever that thing is that’s become a magnificent obsession in their life.  As a journalist, I then naturally want to take my own crack at telling the story.  That’s precisely what happened when I read about the subject of the two stories posted here, Gary Kastrick. At the time he was an Omaha high school teacher getting off the ground an ambitious history-social sciences program called Project OMAHA, which entailed Kastrick and students collecting, researching, and interpreting local history through multi-media projects.  Kastrick was an award-winning teacher who paired his love of education with his love of history.  Kastrick’s also a lifetime collector who has gathered countless artifacts of Omaha history.  His collecting increased after he started Project OMAHA.  He ended up creating an interactive museum at Omaha South High School that displayed materials he found and that others acquired or donated.  I followed Project OMAHA’s progress from afar, charting its ups and downs.  It was years before I finally caught up with Kastrick, and by that time his beloved project was in a tenuous state.  By the time I completed these two stories this year, one for the New Horizons and the other for El Perico, he had retired and the project retired with him. Thus, my stories are bittersweet in tone, because that’s how Kastrick feels after seeing his magnificent obsession became homeless after 12 years of pouring so much of himself into it.
UPDATE: Since writing that above, Kastrick and some collaborators finally did find a new home for his collection by forming the South Omaha Museum, which still operates today. You can find my story about the museum on this blog.
The History Man, Gary Kastrick, and his Project OMAHA lose home base

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in the New Horizons

 

One of Omaha’s most honored high school teachers retired at the end of this past school year, and with him a singular history project he gave his heart to retired with him.

In 1999 then-Omaha South High social studies teacher Gary Kastrick’s abiding love of history led him to create Project OMAHA (Oral Memories and Historical Anthologies), an innovative local history educational-interpretive program at the school, which happens to be his alma mater.

After announcing the project and inviting the public to come forward to have their oral histories recorded and to donate artifacts, the positive response that followed took him by surprise.

“We got floods of people and floods of material. A lot of stockyards people came forward,” said Kastrick. “What we have the most material of is the stockyards. I’ve got tons and tons of material.”

But he soon realized his little project struck a chord well beyond the stockyards and South Omaha to include all kinds of people with stories to tell about many different segments of the city.

“There was no rhyme of reason to the people that came down and interviewed. We have such a diversity of people on tape.”

The history and memorabilia added to what Kastrick had been acquiring himself for years. With a museum to put it in, he ramped up the collecting.

“I never expected it to happen like this,” he said, “but stuff just came pouring in. For awhile there I was going to every (estate) sale I could find, I was on e-Bay constantly, just gathering material. When the Durham Museum threw out a lot of stuff I ended up in their garbage heap. I mean, I almost had to literally stop (collecting) because it was just becoming overwhelming.”

Stuff soon jam-packed the subterranean room given over to the project at South. Every last inch utilized. As far back as two years ago he ran out of space, saying then, “I’ve basically used about every inch of space I can in this room. I’ve got hundreds of artifacts more than this. I’ve got stuff in the back of this room, in storage places…I don’t know what to do with all of it I’ve got so much.”

The interactive space encouraged South High and visiting students to pore through the collection. It was harder for the general public to access the project since it was housed in a functioning school, making it perhaps the only museum in a school anywhere, but occasional open houses were held and tours could be arranged by appointment.

It was a sight to see. Photographs and descriptive panels put history in context. Remnants from famous buildings that no longer exist were exhibited. A popular exhibit recreated one of the famous Christmas window displays of the downtown J.L. Brandeis & Sons department store.

“We had an open house here one Christmas and people flocked. We had this place packed. They literally cried in front of the window and started telling their Brandeis stories,” said Kastrick.

Instead of static displays of history that remained distant, this was hands-on, up-close history that students were encouraged to use in multi-media projects that repurposed the material as teaching tools for elementary school students. Working under Kastrick’s direction, South students produced children’s books and videos based on oral history interviews and made these available to 3rd grade teachers and their students.

South students variously described Kastrick as “making history fun” and Project OMAHA as being “different than a regular class.” One student said, “It reminded me of my grandma’s house.” Indeed, it was like the ultimate grandma or grandpa attic overbrimming with things.

While OPS never mandated teachers utilize the project, some 3rd grade classes did make regular treks down there. He enjoyed giving tours of historic Omaha to youths, especially suburban kids who rarely venture that far east. The tours obviously energized him because once he had a captive audience he suddenly turned spry, animated guide and Pied Piper leading his charges up and down South 24th Street or through Prospect Hill Cemetery.

 

 

 

His goal was instilling in children an interest in history they could carry wherever they went. On a 2009 tour for Pinewood Elementary students he told the 8-year-olds to note the names and dates on buildings:

“What I really want you to learn is how to look at buildings or how to look at historical places. By the time we’re through here you should have a real good history of this area without even opening a book. Now when you go around the city you have to look for clues on what might have been there at one time.”

 

 

1928 South 24th Street, Omaha, NE 68107.

South 24th Street, past and present

 

2014 South Omaha, NE - South 24th Street

 

Mr. K, as kids call him, always has a story about whatever site he stops to show a group. He often interjects personal anecdotes, like as a boy his hunting rats around the packing plants or his selling bologna sandwiches to livestock haulers stuck in the long procession of trucks waiting to unload their cargo at the stockyards.

“I love the 3rd graders because they’re at that age where they still have that vim and vigor for things, and they still have that appreciation.”

He still leads a popular South Omaha tour for the Durham Museum and even in retirement he may lead school tours again because of all the requests he gets from teachers. Teachers love how Kastrick’s own childlike passion for history, combined with colorful information, resonates with kids. Teachers refer to the project as “a great asset.”

The interpretive center he created within South was his playground. He loved having his own students as well as visiting students immerse themselves in it. Besides the children’s books/videos South students created, an original opera, Bloodlines Sings of South Omaha Immigrants, was drawn from the historically-based narratives South students gathered about the community’s immigrant experience. Former South teacher Jim Eisenhardt took those stories and enlisted then-Opera Omaha artistic director Hal France and composer-in-residence Debra Fischer Teaser, along with local theater director Kevin Lawler, the Omaha Symphony and local actors and dancers ,to collaborate with South students on the product. It had its world premiere in 2001.

The opera showed the potential of Kastrick’s project.

“It was more of a learning center than it was a museum,” Kastrick said. “It was more to bring kids down and have them do activities. I’m going to miss that, I’m going to miss the activities, I’m going to miss the 3rd graders and trying to educate people about local history.”

Designed as a multi-media learning experience for students at South, an arts and technology magnet school, the project provided opportunities to hone computer, video, Photo-Shop, editing and writing skills. All that activity is suspended now, leaving many unfinished projects and unrealized dreams. Hundreds of taped interviews need transferring to DVD. Kastrick wanted to publish many stories people shared. He wanted to see completed new book/video projects abandoned as students graduated or funds ran dry, including a planned four-set animated history DVD.

The school and school district helped underwrite the project at times, including a technology upgrade. But Kastrick’s vision and ambition seemingly went beyond where South or OPS were prepared to go. The limbo position the project inhabited was perhaps best summed up by spokeswoman Luanne Nelson, who described it as an “unofficial but valuable resource.”

Much recognition came Kastrick’s way for his efforts in the classroom and with extracurricular activities, including an Alice Buffet Outstanding Teacher Award. Shortly before retiring the Omaha Optimist Club honored him for his work with the organization’s Academic Decathlon competition. In September he received the Nebraska State Historical Society’s James C. Olson award for his contributions to preserving local history through Project OMAHA.

Despite considerable media coverage and grant funding, Kastrick bemoaned a lack of support, appreciation and, well, love for his baby. In his mournful Chicagoese “Sou’d O” voice he vented frustration. He complained of burn-out. The craggy-faced Kastrick often looked as bedraggled as he sounded. Chalk it up to a mid-life crisis or to the divorce proceedings he was embroiled in.

The mood of this self-described “pessimist” brightened in light of 2009 developments. He won a tourism grant to enhance displays and upgrade an interview booth used for recording oral histories. Artist Doug Kiser was commissioned to fashion a scale model replica of the Omaha Stockyards. It was enough to have “rekindled” Kastrick’s hopes.

Still, it vexed him there was no plan to continue the project at South and no off-site facility to house it once he retired in May. He rued the prospect of moving the entire works. Then his worst fears were realized when South officials disbanded it. With resignation and resentment in his voice, he told a reporter, “Project OMAHA has ended at South High.” He glumly dissembled the exhibits, hauling away hundreds of items into an already cluttered storage site.

Many items are stacked in a heap: an old cash register, an adding machine, a vintage typewriter, assorted furniture, display cases. Against walls are a floor radio and a juke box. Arranged more carefully are posters, photographs, audio cassettes, newspaper clippings. None of it has any real monetary value he concedes, but it’s history he and others value.

Upon retiring, he grew his gray hair out and sprouted a full beard, giving him a Biblical prophet look befitting his extreme history fixation. He wasn’t letting himself go, instead he was getting into “character” for his gritty South O tours.

Whether or not the collection sees the light of day again, he wants it archived. That task was put on hold when he had hip replacement surgery, followed by a bout of pneumonia. He may be getting his other hip done. For now then, the collection gathers dust, a sad end to a proud program that seemingly came out of nowhere but that was the culmination of a lifetime fascination.

He and former colleague Dean Flyr conceived Project OMAHA. Kastrick devoted countless unpaid hours treasure hunting, interviewing, organizing, supervising, presenting. Flyr and a paraprofessional who once assisted him moved on. Officially, the project was an adjunct to Kastrick’s teaching. Emotionally, it’s what he lived for. It’s where his passion for education and history coalesced.

After giving so much and getting so little in return, he felt like an unrequited lover. A decade into it he still fought to get it institutionalized. Though the project received significant direct grant support, donated equipment and in-kind services from Apple and other sources, it was never an official Omaha Public Schools or South project. Instead, it was Gary’s Chasing Windmills Dream. That precarious position left it at the whim of administrators. It’s why he was always scrounging to keep it going.

Its governance was under the nonprofit Omaha History Inc. The board’s comprised of Kastrick and a friend. South High Alumni Association executive director Dick Gulizia  was a vocal advocate, as was Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt.

 

 

Omaha South High School

 

 

The History Boys sought benefactors to recognize and reward this labor of love. Finding a permanent home was priority one. Kastrick acknowledged his lack of tact was a detriment. “Maybe it’s because I’m not a good politician. I’m not a schmoozer. I’m a stubborn Pollack. I believe this is good enough on its own merit and should be able to sell itself.” He said it didn’t help being “a peon — I’m just a working stiff.”

Denver architect Phil Greenberg did offer $50,000 should a permanent home be found. An Omaha native, Greenberg’s father, Sam Greenberg, owned the South 24th Street landmark, Phillip’s Department Store. The old South Omaha City Hall building was one site Kastrick and Co. eyed. More recently, they fixed on the former South Omaha public library branch at 23rd and M. They asked the City to donate the structure for the Project Omaha/Sam Greenberg Learning Center. But the Omaha Library Board declared the building surplus property and put it up for auction at fair market value, making it a cost prohibitive for the project.

Luanne Nelson said that after some preliminary discussion the district decided not to get involved in acquiring the old South O library for OMAHA.

Kastrick’s been unable to get a line on another building. Even if he did, renovations would likely cost more than the promised $50,000.

He also wanted to to establish an endowment that put the project’s operations on sound financial footing well into the future. With the project disbanded, it seems a moot point now. A part of him is prepared to move on and let the project rest in mothballs, but another part of him is holding out hope a patron will step up and provide a new lease on life. A grant that Metropolitan Community College is seeking could provide a lifeline for a new exhibition space. He’s not holding his breath though.

He sometimes ponders what might have been. He wonders if the project’s scope was too broad for others to grasp or if the inner city location hurt its chances of being endorsed. “Maybe if it wasn’t at South High, maybe if it was at a Burke or a Central, the crown jewels, there’d be more interest,” he speculated. He wanted OPS and the Learning Community to “authenticate this” — to make it a required or encouraged part of the curriculum. He said a project web site was taken down by OPS during a digital redesign. It was never restored.

It was all proof to him that no one cared as much about the project as he did.

His laments are remindful of Bertha Calloway’s. Her grassroots Great Plains Black History Museum struggled on the north side just as Kastrick’s did on the south side. Like him, she found some support but ultimately felt betrayed when she couldn’t get the museum on solid enough ground to secure its future. It’s now closed. The materials Calloway worked so long and hard to accumulate have no permanent home. Kastrick long feared a similar fate for the materials he collected should things not work out and the project forced to move.

For Kastrick, as for Calloway, it’s a legacy thing. It’s about preserving heritage and history for future generations. It’s about saving a lifetime of work. They know without preservation their work’s likely lost forever. After the GPBHM closed, Calloway’s legacy lay in storage for years and only recently a portion of the collection has been archived at the Nebraska State Historical Society.

To understand how much this endeavor meant to Kastrick you have to know he grew up in the neighborhood, shadowing his late custodian father Leo Kastrick on moonlight shifts tending bar and cleaning businesses. The belly-up-to-the-bar stories told by meatpackers, stockyards workers and ethnic immigrants spurred Kastrick’s interest in culture and history.

“I do distinctly remember listening to all these people and their stories. Like in any of these ethnic, industrialized areas the taverns were where the folk history abounded. I found that interesting and I always thought later on down the road I’d like to get together some of these stories,” he said.

His father was a born storyteller. He told Kastrick of the 1919 lynching of William Brown outside a besieged courthouse, the ‘35 streetcar riot, the fatal ‘30 Krug Park rollercoaster accident and Johnny Goodman’s upset win at the ‘33 U.S. Open.

“He loved to tell stories about Omaha,” the proud son said.

History came alive in those moments. “Yeah, there was a passion and fascination for local history, with what used to be. Being an old romantic, I love walking down the street and visualizing what used to be there. That’s really the inspiration for this.”

His dream was to have a large enough space to accommodate groups who could come tell their stories — of working at the Martin Bomber plant or dancing at Peony Park or playing the ponies at Ak-Sar-Ben or shopping at the downtown Brandeis department store — and make digital recordings of them.

He rues not having a venue or apparatus for collecting this history. “Some of these people really love to tell their stories,” he said. “It’s amazing sitting and listening to them and having them recount their lives like that.”

He regrets, too, not having a space where all his stuff can be displayed. His “packratism” manifested early and has never stopped. His storage units overflow with memorabilia collected since childhood. Collecting, he said, is “what got me enthralled” with not only preserving the past but teaching it.

As a fresh young teacher at Bancroft Grade School in the ‘70s he struggled connecting with its at-risk kids. With the old school slated for closure officials wanted to document its history. He volunteered himself and a group of students to do the job. He peeked students’ interest by telling them their old urban digs were where Omaha began.

“We looked through old city directories and found the original Bancroft school building. One of the kids was actually living in it. Sure enough, downstairs was a blackboard. That intrigued me and so then I thought, Let’s do all of South 10th Street. What I saw happening from this was the kids got a whole different perspective of their own neighborhood. This was no longer ‘Aw, they’re just a bunch of old beat-up houses,’ but instead, ‘Somebody famous lived here’ and ‘This company started there.’ They really got into it.”

Noting how history helps kids see with new eyes, he made it his educational focus.

“When I came to South I put into progress the first local history class” in OPS, he said. “By 1987 I had an Omaha history class.”

Twelve years later Project OMAHA was born. He and Dean Flyr were already thinking about a history project when the stockyards announced it would close in 1999, prompting the pair to have students chronicle its rich past. A World-Herald article on the fledgling project and the educators’ interest in recording stories elicited a huge response.

He and South students sought out artifacts for display, conducted oral/video history interviews and researched various facets of local history to inform educational products they produced. He also accepted materials brought in by staff and the public — artifacts, books, photos, newsreel film. The memorabilia documented everything from the history of organized sports in Omaha to the early struggles for civil rights here.

Kastrick even salvaged the last standing cattle pen from the now defunct Omaha stockyards, which once claimed the title of world’s largest livestock market. He regards the pen as if a holy relic.

“A lot of people wanted this wood,” he said, caressing it. “It took me awhile to get that out of there.”

 

Omaha Stockyards

 

 

Even though the project is homeless and he’s short on space, he still collects things, like Omaha Knights hockey memorabilia he recently came into possession of, adding to his already extensive Omaha sports collection.

Whenever he adds a new piece, he feels he’s saved another link to the past. But where to put it?

“What I feel good about is that I had families bring me photographs and newspaper clippings and little pieces from their businesses that otherwise would have been thrown away. If it’s thrown away, you’re never going to find it again. Where would that have gone if I wasn’t here?”

But his heart isn’t in it like it used to be. He’s had it broken too many times. Still, he can’t help acquiring things. Like the Jetter Brewing Co. beer case he obtained. He had to have it. Then there’s that great white elephant, Rosenblatt Stadium, and all the stories and artifacts to cultivate. It sickens him the old ballpark will soon be gone. He covets a row of grandstand seats.

Beyond that, there’s an Alamito Dairy sign he lusts after. And if he can ever locate the old Chief movie theatre’s neon headdress sign, he’ll feel complete.

As much as he’d like to be out from under the avalanche of materials in his care, he cannot renege on the promise he’s made to himself and others to hold onto this “hodgepodge” of ephemera. Even though he’s a curator without a museum now, he feels a custodial duty to preserve what he has.

He admits it’s become a burden. Not that he’d ever do it, but he said “there are times when I want to take it all and burn it, because it’s holding me down. Sometimes stuff can take you over.” Part of him would like to leave it all behind. He talks about getting on a Harley and just taking off. Where to, you ask. “Who knows,” he says.

As much as he craves freedom from his encumbrance, the glint in his eyes tells you he’s not done collecting or leading South Omaha tours. Besides, people just won’t let him alone, always calling or emailing with requests for tours or Omaha history tidbits. He’s always happy to oblige because in truth he’d be disappointed if people didn’t contact him for his expertise. It’s his passion.

Project OMAHA may now be only a heap of junk in the dark, but The History Man’s magnificent obsession still burns bright.

If there’s anyone out there who’d like to help it find a home, Mr. K will gladly listen. Sure, he’s tired, but he’s not dead.

El Perico cover/Reader culture story on Gary Kastrick and Project Omaha

Story sources: interviews w/Kastrick, visits to Project Omaha and his home, etc.

Photo contacts: Kastrick, 905-2538

 

The History Man, Gary Kastrick, Loses the Home to His Beloved Project OMAHA But His Magnificent Obsession Still Burns Bright

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in El Perico

In 1999 then-Omaha South High teacher Gary Kastrick’s abiding love of history led him to create Project OMAHA (Oral Memories and Historical Anthologies). The impetus for this innovative local history educational-interpretive program at the school, also his alma mater, was the Omaha stockyards’ closure. The focus soon extended to all Omaha history.

After announcing the project, he said “stuff just came pouring in. For awhile there I was going to every (estate) sale I could find, I was on e-Bay constantly, just gathering material. When the Durham Museum threw out a lot of stuff I ended up in their garbage heap…it was just becoming overwhelming.”

Artifacts were displayed in a subterranean room at South. In the jam-packed space, South students pored through the collection and, using computer technology, created history materials for 3rd grade teachers in the Omaha Public Schools. Teachers brought their classes to South.

Kastrick loved leading history tours: at the project’s digs; along South 24th Street; at Prospect Hill Cemetery. The activity energized him.

“It was more of a learning center than it was a museum,” he said. “It was more to bring kids down and have them do activities.”

Despite media coverage and grant funding, Kastrick bemoaned a lack of support, appreciation and, well, love for his baby. In his mournful Chicagoese “Sou’d O” voice he vented frustration. He complained of burn-out. The craggy-faced Kastrick often looked as bedraggled as he sounded.

The mood of this self-described “pessimist” brightened in light of 2009 developments. He won a tourism grant to enhance displays and upgrade an interview booth used for recording oral histories. Artist Doug Kiser fashioned a scale model replica of the Omaha Stockyards. It was enough to have “rekindled” Kastrick’s hopes.

Still, it vexed him there was no plan to continue the project at South and no off-site facility to house it once he retired in May. He rued the prospect of moving the entire works. Then his worst fears were realized when South officials disbanded it. With resignation and resentment in his voice, he said, “Project OMAHA has ended at South High.” He glumly dissembled the exhibits, hauling away hundreds of items into a storage site already cluttered with excess.

 

 

Omaha Stockyards

 

 

Many items are stacked in a heap: an old cash register, an adding machine, a vintage typewriter, assorted furniture , display cases. Against walls are a floor radio and a juke box. Arranged more carefully are posters, photographs, audio cassettes, newspaper clippings. None of it has any real monetary value he concedes, but it’s history he values.

Unbound by school rules, he’s grown his gray hair out to shoulder-length, giving him a mad Biblical prophet look befitting his extreme history fixation. Whether or not the collection sees the light of day again, he wants it archived. That months-long task must wait until he recovers from hip replacement surgery and pneumonia.

He thought up and did Project OMAHA with former colleague Dean Flyr. Along the way Kastrick devoted countless unpaid hours treasure hunting, interviewing, organizing, supervising, presenting. Flyr and a paraprofessional who once assisted him moved on.

Officially, the project was an adjunct to his teaching. Emotionally, it’s what he lived for. It’s where his passion for education and history coalesced. After giving so much and getting so little in return, he felt like an unrequited lover. A decade into it he still fought to get it institutionalized. Though the project received significant direct grant support, donated equipment and in-kind services from Apple and other sources, it was never an official Omaha Public Schools or South High project. Instead, it was Gary’s Chasing Windmills Dream. He was always scrounging.

Its governance was under the nonprofit Omaha History Inc. The board’s comprised of Kastrick and a friend. South High Alumni Association executive director Dick Gulizia  was a vocal advocate, as was Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt.

The History Boys sought benefactors to recognize and reward this labor of love. Finding a permanent home was priority one. Kastrick acknowledged his lack of tact was a detriment. “Maybe it’s because I’m not a good politician. I’m not a schmoozer. I’m a stubborn Pollack. I believe this is good enough on its own merit and should be able to sell itself.” He said it didn’t help being “a peon — I’m just a working stiff.”

Denver architect Phil Greenberg did offer $50,000 should a permanent home be found for the collection. An Omaha native, Greenberg’s father, Sam Greenberg, owned the South 24th Street landmark, Phillip’s Department Store. The old South Omaha City Hall building was one site Kastrick and Co. eyed. More recently, they fixed on the former South Omaha public library branch. They asked the City to donate the structure for the Project Omaha/Sam Greenberg Learning Center. But the Omaha Library Board declared the building surplus property and put it up for auction at fair market value, making it a cost prohibitive deal for the project. Kastrick’s been unable to get a line on another building. Even if he did, renovations would likely cost more than the promised $50,000.

It seems a moot point now.

He wonders if the scope was too broad for others to grasp or if the inner city location hurt the project’s chances of being embraced. “Maybe if it wasn’t at South High, maybe if it was at a Burke or a Central, the crown jewels, there’d be more interest,” he speculated. He wanted OPS and the Learning Community to “authenticate this” — to make OMAHA a required or encouraged part of the curriculum. He said a project web site he launched was taken down by OPS during a digital redesign. It was never restored.

To understand how much this endeavor meant to him you have to know he grew up in the neighborhood, shadowing his custodian father on moonlight shifts tending bar and cleaning businesses. The belly-up-to-the-bar stories told by meatpackers, stockyards workers and ethnic immigrants spurred Kastrick’s interest in culture and history.

“I do distinctly remember listening to all these people and their stories. Like in any of these ethnic, industrialized areas the taverns were where the folk history abounded. I found that interesting and I always thought later on down the road I’d like to get together some of these stories,” he said.

 

 

Gary Kastrick leading a tour

 

 

His old man was a born storyteller. He told Kastrick of the 1919 lynching of William Brown outside a besieged courthouse, the ‘35 streetcar riot, the fatal ‘30 Krug Park rollercoaster accident and Johnny Goodman’s upset win at the ‘33 U.S. Open.

“He loved to tell stories about Omaha,” the proud son said.

History came alive in those moments. “Yeah, there was a passion and fascination for local history, with what used to be. Being an old romantic, I love walking down the street and visualizing what used to be there. That’s really the inspiration for this,” he said, taking in what’s left of the project, caressing the last stockyards pen salvaged from the Omaha Livestock Market as if a holy relic.

Objects are one thing, interviews are another. “Some of these people really love to tell their stories,” he said. “It’s amazing sitting and listening to them and having them recount their lives like that.”

His “packratism” manifested early and has never stopped. His storage units over-brim with memorabilia collected since childhood. Collecting, he said, is “what got me enthralled” with not only preserving the past but teaching it.

But his heart isn’t it like it used to be. He’s had it broken too many times. Still, he can’t help acquiring things. Like the Jetter Brewing Co. beer case he recently obtained. He had to have it. Then there’s that great white elephant, Rosenblatt Stadium, and all the stories to cultivate. He covets a row of grandstand seats. There’s an Alamito Dairy sign he lusts after. And if he can ever locate the old Chief movie theatre’s neon headdress sign, he’ll feel complete.

Whenever he adds a new piece, he feels he’s saved another link to the past. But where to put it?

“What I feel good about is that I had families bring me photographs and newspaper clippings and little pieces from their businesses that otherwise would have been thrown away. If it’s thrown away, you’re never going to find it again. Where would that have gone if I wasn’t here?”

As much as he’d like to be out from under the avalanche of materials in his care, he cannot renege on the promise he’s made to himself and others to hold onto this “hodgepodge” of ephemera. Even though he’s a curator without a museum now, he feels a custodial duty to preserve what he has.

He admits it’s become a burden. Not that he’d ever do it, but he said “there are times when I want to take it all and burn it, because it’s holding me down. Sometimes stuff can take you over.” Part of him that would like to leave it all behind. He talks about getting on a Harley and just taking off. Where to, you ask. “Who knows,” he says.

As much as he craves freedom from his encumbrance, the glint in his eyes tells you he’s not done collecting or leading his Gritty City tours. Besides, teachers clamor for him to resume his Old Omaha jaunt. He won’t commit, saying only, “I’m going to miss the 3rd graders and the activities and trying to educate people about local history.”

Project OMAHA may be in moth balls, but The History Man’s magnificent obsession still burns bright.

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