Gil Savery, ’40
Ink Still Runs in His Blood By Linda Ulrich, ’71
Gil Savery and his wife, Averil.
uch has been made about the death of newspapers. And many predict that death is imminent. Gil Savery, former Lincoln Journal managing editor, is saddened by the decline, but he fervently hopes newspapers live on. “Technology is unstoppable,” he said. “But if newspapers die, we’re going to have to reinvent them.” Some journalists believe that the end of newspaper journalism could be a threat to democracy, a notion that Savery thinks has some merit. “Broadcast words are so fleeting and lack the capability of newspapers to be the first draft of history.” He often thinks about the quotation above the main entrance of the state Capitol: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” Realistically, he said, “Citizens can’t be all that watchful so reporters become the surrogates of the public in that role. They can monitor the institutions of society, and I think in many ways that is being put aside.” For 44 years, he helped the Lincoln Journal, an evening paper, fill that role. Savery, 91, who attended the University of Nebraska from 1936 to 1940, doesn’t have a journalism degree, but he knows newspapers – and he clearly loves them. People who know him describe him as a good newspaperman in the classic sense – ethical, fair, always respectful of others and their divergent views, and a strong supporter of the First Amendment. Even under the most intense newsroom deadline pressure, he was known for his ability to remain calm, soft-spoken and seemingly unflappable. Journalists sometimes talk about newspapers being in their blood. That fits Savery but he wasn’t born with newsprint ink running through his veins. The son of a minister, Savery grew up in a family that read a lot, and early on, he developed a love for the written word. Growing up, he knew he wanted to be a writer but he didn’t really consider journalism. After graduating from Lincoln High School, he attended the university, first in the College of Arts and Sciences and then in Business Administration. He had far more hours than were required for a diploma but they didn’t add up to degree requirements for either college.
COURTESY Lincoln journal star
Savery’s newspaper career began in 1941 after he received rejection slips – including one that said “almost” – for writing he had submitted to various publications. It was during the Depression and jobs were scarce. He went to the Lincoln Journal hoping to find work in the business office. There were no jobs there, but, he was told, the Journal was always looking for reporters. He went to the newsroom and after an interview that lasted less than 20 minutes, he was hired as police reporter. Savery hadn’t taken any journalism courses but he went to a bookstore and paid 85 cents for a book, “Editing the Day’s News.” “I read it that night and went to work at the Journal the next morning,” he recalled. During his 44 years at the Lincoln Journal, Savery was a general assignment reporter, religion editor, night news editor of the Nebraska State Journal (same newspaper but with morning editions), city editor, news editor and assistant managing editor. He became managing editor in 1980, a position he held until his retirement in 1985. He was news editor when the Lincoln Journal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the “most disinterested and meritorious public service by any newspaper during 1948.” And he designed many historically significant front pages, ranging from the end of World War II to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The “good old-fashioned friendly competition” between the morning Lincoln Star and the evening Lincoln Journal is something he still misses. “It took me a long time to quit looking for the evening paper,” Savery said, smiling. He and his wife Averil lead active lives and particularly enjoy spending time with their combined families of seven children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Savery is mindful of the quadruple bypass surgery that he had 11 years ago and works out three times a week. But, he said, “Being mentally active is just as important as being physically active.” Since retiring, Savery has enjoyed reading and writing. When the interview for this story was conducted, he had finished reading Ted Sorensen’s “Counselor, A Life at the Edge of History” and “Mayor Helen Boosalis, My Mother’s Life in Politics” by Beth Boosalis Davis. Next on his reading list was “The Audacity of Hope” by President Barack Obama. continued on page 60 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE
Gil Savery, ’40
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Savery’s byline has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Christianity Today, Nebraska History magazine, and Quill, the Society of Professional Journalists’ magazine. He writes a column, “Front Porch Journal,” for the Lincoln Area Agency on Aging Seniors Foundation. Last summer, he wrote his recollections of traveling with his parents to England to visit their kin on the Berengaria, a luxury ocean liner, when he was 6. The article was published in Voyage, the Titanic International Society journal. Through the years, he has served on the boards of many civic and social service agencies, including the Lincoln Lancaster County Board of Health, and the boards of the Food Bank of Lincoln and the Red Cross. He gladly served on those boards because, he said, it’s his way of trying to improve the human condition. His many awards include Director’s Award for Midwest Region of the National Association of Local Boards of Health; Community Service Award, Seniors Foundation of Lincoln and Lancaster County; Dean’s Award for Service to Journalism presented by UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications Dean Will Norton Jr.; the Gilbert M. Savery-Sigma Delta Chi Scholarship established in his honor by the undergraduate chapter of Sigma Delta Chi (now the Society of Professional Journalists), and the Nebraska Press Association Lifetime Membership. He was inducted into the Nebraska Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2005. Always self-effacing, Savery would rather talk about the many people he worked with, rather than talk about himself. He refers to the Journal Star’s location as “Lincoln’s magical incubator block” where he worked with many fine writers and editors, some of whom moved on and had distinguished careers in journalism, academia and other fields. “I was surrounded by marvelous people with great skills, and we had wonderful camaraderie. We had really smart people who made the news editor look good,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said of his career. “I can’t remember a day when I didn’t want to come to work.” Spoken like a true journalist with ink in his blood. n
Shirley Maly, ’54
Shades of Pollyanna and Isadora By Ruth Raymond Thone, ’53
hirley Maly – 1954 university graduate in journalism, English, and history – is well on her way to living at least nine lives. This Nebraska native counts the parts of her life as three, although Shakespeare’s seven ages of man might fit better. They consist of: 1. Growing up and getting schooled, marrying, putting a husband through school and raising five children; 2. Divorcing and working full time as a single mom and then a small business owner; 3. Embarking on a Peace Corps career at age 60 when the children left home, and returning to Lincoln three years later to write, paint and reflect on her travels. The reader can count at least nine lives in those three graphs, and be surprised to discover that Maly is neither tired nor worn-out nor dismayed about reaching old age. At 77 years, she could be described as vital, vigorous, energetic, passionate and full of order and direction. During journalism school, as Shirley Murphy, she found work on The Daily Nebraskan. A job at Miller & Paine in retail advertising was her first job to help support her family. College degree required, pay was 75 cents an hour. She and her husband and children then lived in Taylor, a Sand Hills town in Loup County, and Milford. When her husband received his masters’ degree, the family returned to Lincoln in 1962. Divorced at age 42, and with children (Randy, Rhonda, Rory, Reed and Regen) to raise, she took a job at city hall and developed a rideshare program for Lincoln from 1977 to 1984. For the next eight years she ran her own public relations business, helping to promote books by Nebraska authors; developing a downtown ridesharing program similar to Lincoln’s for Fort Worth, Texas; and planning the grand opening for the first Magnetic Resonance Imaging site in Lincoln. When she joined the Peace Corps, this adventure-loving woman closed her public relations consultancy, and went off to Uruguay for three years. There she taught small business procedures, learned how to live in a town that resembled Lincoln of the 1940s, and improved her Spanish in the bargain. In the tiny pueblo of LaTentacion, everyone walked or rode horses, except for a very few who had pickups or motor scooters. Maly kept in good physical shape by walking. It was seven miles to the highway to flag a bus if it was not a bus day in the pueblo. In the larger town 30 miles away, she walked four miles to get to work and back and more for recreation or appointments. City buses did come every 15 minutes but walking was often easier.
She stayed an extra year in order to complete the acquisition of a child-care building in a nearby pueblo. After three years, coming home was not easy. She missed the interaction and cultural challenges of conversation and gatherings of friends and clients. When she returned, she sought organizations with an international flavor: United Nations Association and Lincoln Literacy where one can tutor immigrants and refugees, and International Tea and Talk. She rejoined The League of Women Voters and looked for other new opportunities like Nebraska Herbal Society. Lifetime Health provided physical fitness training. She became one of the original hosts on Aging Services’ “Live and Learn” television show. She continued with a Spanish class in order not to lose her fluency. After a trip alone to Australia and New Zealand in 2000, Maly met an artist who convinced her to “doodle” or “sketch” highlights and details of each trip in a journal. By 2005, the sketches turned into collages of trips to 17 favorite places among 12 countries in the western hemisphere. “Love Affair with the Americas, a primer of travel memories,” is full of short vibrant stories, illustrated with bright paintings she sketched while abroad. She hopes that her stories help others to know that “we are all much more alike than different.” Her first book came out of travels to Uruguay and other South American countries. Among her many adventures, she helped develop a catalog of artisan products in Guatemala; taught English at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico; and crewed on a tall-sailed ship and joined an Elderhostel in the San Juan Islands. Maly also became part of a Friendship Force to Brazil and an Elderhostel to Puerto Rico with a week add-on to visit a rain forest and the island of Vieques. She revisited Uruguay and went on to Argentina and Chile; she became a Global Volunteers Worker in Costa Rica; and she visited Ecuador and the state of Michaucan in Mexico. Maly and UNL social work professor Anne Coyne led great books discussions for English faculty at the university in Leon, Nicaragua. Maly has written, drawn and designed a new calendar with brilliantly-colored illustrations which she calls “an any-year calendar.” It features: China where she and Sara Stephenson, a classmate in her Spanish class, taught English to elementary students with Global Volunteers before seeing the Three Gorges Dam and exploring the Yangtze River; a Friendship Force trip to South Africa where she lived with 80-year-old Ma Mathys, an elder and gentle activist of the African Methodist Episcopal church in Cape Town; a New ZealandAustralian trip with five homestays; and hiking the footpaths of continued on page 58 Cornwall, plus a few days in London. NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 57
Recipient of the Lillian Carter Award in 2007, presented to an outstanding former Peace Corps Volunteer every two years, this hard-working, positive woman said the Peace Corps “reaffirms my belief and faith that people care about each other. We have something to offer each other. We’re more alike than we are different. We want to feel needed, and be friends, and help one another. There is a common consciousness if we just listen.” The award is based on former President Jimmy Carter’s mother’s volunteer service as a medical worker in India when she was 68. “In my experience,” Maly said, “‘jubilados,’ or older people in other cultures, are treated with great respect … for their life experiences. I truly had the most rewarding challenges in my life and a sense of truly being accepted and liked just as I was. “I believe persons who’ve lived 50 years or so have the life experiences to enjoy the Peace Corps challenge to the fullest and show our culture in its best light. I get so excited I may want to do it again!” Now, she begins her days with yoga and walks one and a half miles with a neighbor. Three days a week, she goes to the Senior Center for aerobic walking, does water aerobics on Wednesdays, and especially enjoys swimming and bicycling. Her self-created fun consists of “drawing, painting, reading mysteries and biographies and books set in countries where I’ve been or think I want to go, sitting outdoors watching butterflies and dragonflies, and cooking and trying new recipes.” She likes to “try something to see if it will work, like cutting my own version of a pattern and sewing it up.” “I tailor my annual goals to something I might be able to achieve, and forego competition. I believe it’s the challenge or process of doing the action that’s fun and having fun or achieving a sense of satisfaction with various challenges is where I’m at … still evolving but integrated in life’s tapestry … someone who encourages myself and others to be all they can be and do things within my means. “As you can tell, Pollyanna and Isadora Duncan are two of my favorite icons,” concludes this intrepid traveler, “one for helping so many people and the other as a free spirit.” n
Mary, ’54, and Gary Renzelman, ’55
An Elegy of Retirement By Ruth Raymond Thone, ’53
ike a soaring aria of life, notes of music and stanzas of poetry find deep expression in the teaching and retirement lives of Mary Robinson Renzelman, ’54, and Gary Renzelman, ’55. One version of their life story can be heard in a haunting memoir in poetic form in which Gary lists the cars that have carried them across the country – from Lincoln to Valentine; Interlochen, Mich.; southern California; Bloomington, Ind.; and finally, Woolrich, Pa. There, they taught for 26 years before retiring: Gary as professor emeritus (voice and choral music) and Mary as professor emerita (piano) at Lock Haven University. Gary earned his master of arts degree in music education at UCLA and his doctorate in vocal pedagogy at Indiana University. Mary received her master’s degree in music education from Penn State University. In Valentine, where Gary and Mary began their music teaching careers together (1955-57), their first musical collaboration was the production of the community’s annual Valentine Coronation Ball. Their collaboration continued in Newport Beach, Calif., and at Lock Haven University where Gary, as choral conductor, and Mary, as piano instructor and accompanist, performed more concerts than their memories hold. When pressed to name two of their favorite “gigs,” they chose the UNL Madrigal Singers, and hosting the Pennsylvania Collegiate Choral Festival led by William Hatcher, ’57, ’60, originally from Scotia and director of choral music at Iowa University. A native of Scottsbluff, Gary brought his 6-foot-7-inch lanky frame to the University of Nebraska basketball squad in 1951, making the traveling team second semester as center/forward, first playing under Coach Harry Good and finishing his basketball career in 1955 under Coach Jerry Bush. Bush called music education major Renzelman “piano fingers” and on road trips urged his center to play jazz piano during pre-game meals. Although the coach wished Renzelman (nicknamed “Gus” after his father) had another year of eligibility to fulfill his potential, Gary said, “His best advice for me was to stick with teaching.” Renzelman won the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association Scholarship his senior year. Gary and Mary met as students in their UNL music history class – the same first letter of their last names seating them side by side in those more structured teaching days. At UNL, Mary became
senior concerto soloist with the orchestra and was a member of Delta Delta Delta social sorority and president of Delta Omicron music sorority. Gary served as president of the Sinfonia music fraternity. After their marriage in 1955, they spent two summers in Interlochen, Mich., as counselors at the National Music Camp. Today, enroute to and from Scottsbluff to visit his remarkable mother – at 98 a beloved charter member of The Village, a retirement home high on Cemetery Hill above this western town – Gary and Mary travel in their ’92 platinum 500 SEL Mercedes Benz, the best car in which Gary can fold his long legs. They save a few days to stop in Lincoln to visit their friends, Fran and Art Bates. Mary and Fran are childhood friends from Bertrand. The Bateses, Wesleyan University graduates, are also retired music educators. Gary was considered a” little kid” by me in Scottsbluff, the difference of two grade levels one not easily breached. Through a clipping his mother Louise sent her son from The Scottsbluff Star-Herald of a speech I gave there about growing up in the North Platte Valley, Gary and I became reacquainted. For several rich years, he and Mary and the Bates invited me over for tea and an exquisite recital by both the visitors and their hosts. On one such occasion, I could hardly believe my good fortune to hear an old favorite from my long-ago piano lessons, Schumann’s “Traumeri,” played by their violist son Brek, followed by Fran, Art, Mary and Gary playing “Joplin Rags” on the Bateses’ two grand pianos. Regular mail and e-mail bring me Renzelman’s poetry, and news of upcoming concerts in their home. A thick packet in the mailbox makes my heart sing – holding a collection of Gary’s latest poems which are full of tender, often funny, always revealing glimpses of their lives and his memories. Gary’s interest in writing poetry began at the bedside of his father in the St. Mary’s hospice in Scottsbluff in July of 1983. “Although having been involved in much poetry via songs and choral music, I tended to focus more on the music than the text” he said. “During those last days with my father, writing ‘poetically’ seemed the best way to express and to summon the Germanic Das Gut I’d heard from my father. I knew little about ‘making’ poetry but eventually used my love for sound and rhythm.” continued on page 56
Mary, ’54, and Gary Renzelman
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Gary’s debt to his hard-working father was strengthened in high school when he played trumpet with his father’s dance bands in western Nebraska, which is where he began to “hear to learn jazz piano.” During his poetry life, he became aware that telling about “a rope being strung across the creek” (Chatham Run behind their home in Woolrich) is not as meaningful as: From tree to tree bright yellow guide my highway to the other side. “With delicious time to explore the world of literature and the craft of poetry,” in 1995 Gary audited classes at Lycoming College and Bucknell University, and tutored with the late poet, Penelope Austin. Today he continues to meet, as the eldest among young writers, with members of Austin’s original writing group. Gary’s poetry leads him to express his political passions, his view of the ordinary in their daily lives, his deep love for Mary, and their relationships with their grown children – Brek in Milwaukee and Todd in Cleveland – and memories of long trips back to Nebraska. One of these memories inspired his poem, “Nebraska’s Music,” excerpted here: For its music, shaped by wind, you’ll not likely find the fugue, invention, sonata divertimento, concerto, toccata, … The Italian terms are shrouds, no match for Nebraska clouds. Most days find this musician-turned-poet stretched out in his big recliner in their post-and-beam music room, pencil with yellow legal pad on lapboard in hand, to continue that day’s labor of love on the current poem, light slanting off Chatham Run illuminating his life’s work. “Responding more metaphorically to imagery and daily events has heightened my joy of reading – triggering ideas for poems and interesting epigraphs,” Gary said. His “obsession” with poetry, as he calls it, has brought publication in The Kit-Cat Review, Lilliput Review, Nebraska Life and Watershed: the Journal of the Susquehanna. His poetry books include: “The Shape of Nebraska,” ”Some Kind of Memoir in Poetry,” and the chapbooks “Vignettes of Cherry County” and “Lady Woolrich.” n
Gary Bowen, ’64, ’74
Golden Architect By Suzanne Smith Arney
ary Bowen never doubted his professional calling to architecture. Although he was raised on a ranch surrounded by open prairie and his first subjects of childhood scrutiny were the plants and animals of western Nebraska, and although his university studies demanded tenacious diligence, Bowen never wavered. In September 2009, 45 years after earning his bachelor of architecture, he was awarded AIA Nebraska’s highest award, the Harry F. Cunningham Gold Medal for Architectural Excellence. He is proud that his career has been rooted in Nebraska. Both sets of grandparents were cattle ranchers. Childhood days, often spent alone and outdoors, taught him the value of hard work and responsibility, and provided time to think and an opportunity to learn about nature. He appreciates the quality of life in Nebraska. And he is quick to point to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as “opening a door, providing opportunities.” “Everything the profession has given me goes back to the university,” he said. “I got an education there; I met my wife, met peers and professors who encouraged creativity.” In return, Bowen and his wife, Beth, are creating a scholarship at the University of Nebraska Foundation for underprivileged students at UNL’s College of Architecture. “I see students coming in with a weak high school education,” he said. “I see myself in the mirror.” Bowen attended a one-room school where he was the sole student in his grade level throughout elementary school. His high school graduating class numbered 16. “We never studied things like calculus, so the coursework at university was a struggle for me.” There was also a cultural shift, from a town of 180 to the capital city’s nearly 130,000 . “I know how to work hard,” said Bowen, and he did. His dedication also paid off in field trips and a fellowship to study in London. He fulfilled his educational goals when he earned his master’s in two years, while working full time and commuting from Omaha. Bowen has been with Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects in Omaha since 1974 and is now a principal of the firm. Paul Jeffrey, BVH president, who nominated Bowen for the AIA Gold Medal honor, spoke of his “ageless design style,” humility, inspiration and talent as a watercolorist and renderer. (Bowen won gold, silver and bronze medals in the 2009 Art By Architects exhibition, and continues to draw his architectural designs by hand.)
He designed his own home in Omaha after the steeply hilled, wooded and diagonal lot had defeated earlier architects. Complementing the landscape, rather than conquering, he built a stepped residence with an open floor plan and many windows. Trees surround the house, a vista that is open to precious sunlight in winter and coolly green in summer. Warm woods and other natural materials are used throughout. The home is graced with Bowen’s personal touch, including his framed watercolors. The design garnered AIA Honor Awards in 2000 from both Nebraska and the Central States Region. In 1977, BVH won a national competition and the commission to create a unified home for UNL’s College of Architecture by renovating and joining Architecture Hall and the adjacent Law College library, now Architecture West. The tour-de-force project, completed in 1990, won a design award from Progressive Architecture Magazine. Working with the BVH team on his alma mater felt “friendly” to Bowen. Keeping the buildings’ historic features intact, such as the wooden trusses in the former attic (now studio space), was a requirement, a challenge and a pleasure. “It has a lot of character,” he said. Bowen’s designs have won 60+ AIA awards. His projects have included homes, civic buildings, churches, schools, country clubs, banks and offices. One project he is especially proud of is Omaha’s Gene Leahy Mall, begun in 1976. “It’s probably done the most to influence change in the city,” he said. “Almost single-handedly it has changed attitudes of downtown Omaha and had a major impact in its revitalization. It’s become an icon for the city.” Bowen has served on Omaha’s Park and Recreation Board and Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission, as well as the Friends of Parks organization, reorganizing the latter. Professionally, he has been elected to every position in AIA Omaha and Nebraska, and has served on the national board – only the fourth Nebraskan to do so. “Architecture is a service organization,” Bowen said of his work on professional, civic and citizen boards. “It’s very gratifying.” He also finds satisfaction – and congruence with his work – in his hobbies of golf and painting. Golf combines “relaxation, focus and challenge. You get a grade every time.” continued on page 48 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 47
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Painting, he said, requires persistence. He describes himself as a “right-brain architect” who enjoys finding the interesting details, a building’s shadows and colors. “Each project is an opportunity to serve people and to provide environments that make their lives better.” It is in the details of his carefully-drawn designs that this architect has shown his unique understanding of nature and materials, and of a person’s place with and within those elements. It is in the details of his dedication that Bowen has shown his understanding of relationship – to history, landscape, and to each other – and the impact of individual choices. Those details have shaped a career capped in gold, a fitting symbol of hope and endurance, an image of sun-ripened fields and math-perfect domes. For Gary Bowen, a career in architecture has become a work of art. n
Barbara Arnold, ’65, ’68
Practicing the Visual Arts BY HOLLY SPENCE, ’65
BARBARA ARNOLD AND CATHER COLLEGIAN RACHEL GUBBELS AT THE SPRING 2009 CATHER CIRCLE MEETING. PHOTO BY SHANNON CROSS, ’08.
arbara Arnold leads two distinctly different lives, and they seem to provide her with a soothing balance. During the day, often 13 hours a day, Dr. Arnold is focused on her medical practice and “policy-related issues in organized medicine.” “I’m always balancing patient care to many of the “underserved” in our community. Often times, the medically indigent, diabetics and other patients are too sick to be employed.” After that, many nights are filled with research on issues regarding the state medical society and her representation in the Northeastern California district of the American Medical Association.” But then, there is Barb, the artist. “No wonder I retreat to painting,” she said. “I bury myself in my avocation, escaping to give undivided attention to my painting – a kind of seclusion in the work itself.” The love of art began when she started painting murals in the fifth grade in Alliance. “Those who finished their school assignments on time could go to the blackboard covered in large rolls of brown wrapping paper and draw the rest of the afternoon,” she reminisced. “I liked what I could do on paper, and by the sixth grade, I was drawing large images of birds.” After a few blue ribbons at the county fair, she was hooked on drawing, which gave her a nudge of faith when it came to her artistic ability. “By the seventh grade, I was copying Frank Netter (a wellknown medical illustrator),” she recalled. “I knew I wanted to do medicine from the fourth grade.” After high school, she was off to medical school, “where we were required to draw what we saw under the microscope, proving that we had seen and understood details of tissue, cellular structures and pathology.” “Once I was through the three-year residency program in ophthalmology at the University of Colorado in Denver, I began taking oil painting lessons one night a week,” she recalled, adding, “landscapes at timberline and detailed paintings of historic Victorian homes interested me most.” She hung her paintings in the reception area of her clinic and many patients bought her work, which was gratifying.
“While raising a family, I put painting aside, but continued to sketch on medical records in colored pencils,” she recalled. “Often, a quick sketch was instant documentation of patient findings, and provided easy visual comparison for years and changes to come.” But she never forgot Nebraska. She kept the family farm after her parents passed away, and had an interest in returning to Alliance. “I even brought back some of my own artwork to display at the Carnegie Arts Center, a former public library that is now a nonprofit center for art lessons and gallery display,” she recalled. I was loyal to this building, as I was an avid reader and held this place sacred, since I first discovered the biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first woman doctor.” Alliance friends told Barb about visiting art teachers and week-long workshops, and though her art work was mostly pastels and oil, she decided to learn watercolor. Rose Edin was the visiting teacher, and they became friends. “Rose led workshops internationally, so I took the earliest opportunity to travel with her when she was instructing for two weeks in Italy,” said Barb. “I loved the results and the people I met as fellow painters.” Barb continues art instruction in California and travels with her teachers – to Greece three times, France and Italy twice, and Spain and England. “I have always felt that color was my logo,” she said. “In restoring sight for people with cataracts, often the most dramatic result for patients is the return of better color vision.” Her office walls are covered with her paintings, which she believes offers serenity to her patients. And she has done five magazine covers for The Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society, as well as donating prints to numerous charity auctions for local fundraisers including the library and the neighborhood community center. She also has had showings of her artwork locally. “I am always overjoyed when folks want my paintings in their homes.” n Editor’s Note: Barbara Lawrence Arnold is member of the Nebraska Alumni Association’s Cather Circle. NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 51
Robert Milligan, ’67
Getting Down to Business BY ANTHONY FLOTT
uring the Depression, John Milligan used to say, even people who never intended to pay him quit shopping at his Scribner, Neb., general store. And things only went downhill from there. Milligan, recalls grandson Robert Milligan, “lost nearly everything” during the 1930s, including the store. Yet his family not only survived but eventually thrived. John continued to farm and sent four kids to college. One of them, son Harland, earned a law degree, ranched 100,000 acres, farmed thousands more and owned a chain of grain elevators. Harland’s son Robert has worked for two presidential administrations, runs a company with global sales and now represents more than 3 million business owners as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board of Directors. “Only in America,” Robert says. An America once more facing hard times on many fronts. Milligan and the Chamber are focused primarily on employment. “We need to create about 23 million jobs in the next decade to put people who are currently unemployed or underemployed back to work and to create job opportunities for new entrants to the market,” Milligan says. “One of the things that the chamber focuses on is how can we keep the playing field and the rules of the game such that entrepreneurs and businesses can come back?” Milligan was elected to his high-profile post in June 2009, the same month his wife, Cynthia Wood Hardin Milligan, retired as dean of the University of Nebraska College of Business Administration. Her husband’s appointment completed a climb that began long ago with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. He’s pushed jobs and business in wide travels and meetings, including a stop at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in Singapore in November and during a chamber luncheon this February with Spain President José Luis Rodrîguez Zapatero. Not too shabby for a Nebraska farm boy who once thought he’d return to the farm in his father’s footsteps. That first meant attending UNL, where family ties date to the Depression. Despite those hard times, Milligan’s grandmother, Maggie, pushed her children on to higher education. All four earned degrees, three from Nebraska. “Remarkable,” Milligan says. “What I call prairie pioneer
PHOTO BY IAN WAGREICH / U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
determination. My father worked, as did his brothers, two and three jobs.” Harland, ’37, earned a law degree but never practiced, instead working the lands and animals from his homestead between Hooper and Scribner. He farmed in Dodge and Dixon Counties and ranched in Cherry and Sheridan. Robert, one of six children, followed an older brother and sister to UNL. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1967 in vocational agriculture and agricultural economics. After graduating, he and Cynthia, daughter of former NU Chancellor Clifford Hardin, headed for the beltway to attend law school at George Washington University. That brought them closer to Cynthia’s parents – Hardin was working as Secretary of Agriculture under President Nixon. Milligan earned a juris doctorate in corporate law and stayed in the capital, landing posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He worked in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, at the Justice Department as a tax trial attorney, and at the Department of Commerce as a deputy assistant secretary for policy development. He went private in 1976, investing in a Virginia start-up, M.I. Industries. One year later, at the urging of Cynthia, he took over the company as president and CEO. In 1978 he moved the company to Lincoln. “I took a roll of the dice,” he says. “One thing led to another. Her career took off and my career with this company developed nicely. “I never got back to the farm.” M.I. Industries produces nutritional, biological and pharmaceutical pet products (Milligan’s 115-pound Labrador, Ludwig, is among the company’s best taste testers). Production takes place in the United States, the Netherlands, China and Brazil. Brands including Nature’s Variety, Honey Creek Farms and Happy Pet are sold throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. UNL has been part of the success. M.I. works closely with the university’s food processing center on new technologies and equipment, and Milligan has hired two former faculty members for his team. It’s an industry that’s weathered the economic downturn well. “I wouldn’t say that pet food is recession-proof,” he says, “but it certainly is recession-resistant.” continued on page 52 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 51
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The company noticed the quirk a decade ago when the Japanese economy turned sour. Pet ownership rose, and so did M.I. exports there. The same phenomenon is occurring today in the United States. If his business stands out in tough times, Milligan also stands out with the U.S. Chamber. More than 96 percent of its members are small businesses with 100 employees or fewer. Yet its chairmen often are decidedly big business. Milligan’s immediate predecessor, Donald Shepard, was CEO of AEGON, one of the world’s largest insurers. Other chairmen since 2000 include Caterpillar’s group president and executives with Edward Jones, Alticor (parent company of Amway), and Landstar System, one of the country’s largest transportation providers. “I was flabbergasted when I was asked to become chairperson,” Milligan says. “It was going from large business to a peanut-sized business.” In late January he brought U.S. Chamber chief economist Martin Regalia to a Lincoln chamber luncheon. Days before, Congress increased the country’s debt limit to $1.9 trillion. “Larger than the aggregate amount from President Washington through President Reagan,” Milligan says. Jobs were a big topic of conversation. Milligan says 70 to 75 percent of jobs come from small- and medium-sized businesses, but now many are operating in uncertainty. The chamber’s main thrust, he says, is removing that uncertainty. “I’m optimistic because there will be job creation coming from things that we’re not currently thinking about,” he says. “What gives me optimism about the future is that spirit of America, a spirit of enterprise that people who were down on their knees could come back.” Just like Grandpa Milligan. n
Gary, ’67, ’75, and Janet Zastrow Cook, ’66, ’74
Willa Cather’s Eastern Connection A
llegany College of Maryland recently hosted a celebration of the Janet Zastrow Cook Willa Cather and Rare Book Collections. The two collections, honoring the memory of Janet Cook, late professor of English and speech communication at the college, are housed in the Donald L. Alexander Library on the campus in Cumberland, Md. Native Nebraskans Janet Zastrow and Gary Cook both attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, earning two degrees each – Janet, her bachelor’s (’66) and master’s (’74) degrees in education, and Gary, his master’s (’67) and doctorate (’75) degrees in speech and dramatic art. During their nine years together in Lincoln, Janet taught at Norris High School and Irving Junior High School. Gary served on the faculties of the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art and the Department of Secondary Education at UNL. In 1975 the couple moved to Maryland where Janet taught English and speech at Allegany College of Maryland and Gary speech and theater at nearby Frostburg State University. They retired in December 2000. Early in their marriage, Janet began collecting first edition and signed copies of the works of Willa Cather, also a Nebraskan and 1895 University of Nebraska graduate. She took pride in that collection and continuously sought to enrich her understanding of this acclaimed writer for whom she held such a passion. After Janet succumbed to cancer in 2005, Gary determined to complete her collection of Cather special editions and to assemble additional resources pertaining to the writer. He donated that collection, along with a number of non-Cather rare books from the Cooks’ personal library, to the Allegany College of Maryland Foundation. The Rare Book Collection includes first editions, many signed, by such authors as Coleridge, Milton, Dickens, Longfellow, Thoreau, Faulkner, Wolfe, Sandburg and Frost. The two collections form the nucleus for the Janet Zastrow Cook Willa Cather and Rare Book Collections. The Willa Cather Collection holds a variety of important Cather materials to be used for reading enjoyment and research purposes. In addition to the limited and trade editions of Cather’s works, the collection contains an impressive number of books written about Willa Cather by eminent scholars. Gary Cook’s goal is to have the Janet Zastrow Cook Willa Cather Collection also offer books written by and about Willa Cather’s friends and associates. These people were certainly a part of her life and development, he noted.
The stature of Willa Cather as a writer and as a research subject possibly has no better attestation than the number of doctoral dissertations written about her. Since her death, 257 dissertations have been produced in universities throughout the United States and Canada. These dissertations are all available on microfilm or microfiche in the collection. Gary Cook considers the Willa Cather Collection an act in progress. The excitement, he contends, comes in the constant search for and acquisition of letters, books and periodicals pertaining to the writer. Cook has brought to fruition his late wife’s vision of a collection devoted to her favorite author. Speaking to more than 100 friends, former colleagues and family visiting from 10 states during the celebration of the collections’ unveiling last spring, he said: “Janet was my beloved wife of 39 years and my best friend for 40 years. She was and continues to be the greatest human influence and inspiration in my life.” The day was an eventful one for the University of Nebraska, too. By coincidence, the current president of Allegany College of Maryland is also a Nebraska native and three-time UNL graduate. “This collection has a special place in my heart,” said Dr. Bruce Exstrom, ’83, ’94, ’03. “Janet’s legacy makes me so proud as a Nebraskan and as president of Allegany College of Maryland.” Gary Cook finds it fitting that a significant Willa Cather collection, honoring these two Nebraska women, be situated in Cumberland. The campus at which Janet served is about 50 miles from Cather’s birth house and her childhood house (before moving to Nebraska at age 9), “Willow Shade.” These two former homes still stand alongside highway 50 west of Winchester, Va. Both are identified by historical markers. Regional historian Harriet Moore probably said it best in a recent issue of the Journal of The Alleghenies. In an article entitled “Willa Cather Comes Home,” Moore writes about the life and works of Cather and about the collection now housed at Allegany College of Maryland. She concludes with these words: “From the little girl living near Winchester who hated leaving her pet dog behind, to a woman internationally known for her literacy process, Willa Cather cemented her place in history. Thanks to Dr. Gary Cook, the Janet Zastrow Cook Willa Cather and Rare Book Collections have brought Willa Cather back to the lands close to her roots.” n NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 51
Ruth Brown, ’68, ’00
Inspiring Communicators of the Future BY KERRY HOFFSCHNEIDER
here is a quote on the wall outside Ruth Brown’s office in Andersen Hall on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln campus. “Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.” Leo Burnett Brown, associate professor at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications has impacted many minds throughout her career in the communications field. As a result, IABC-Lincoln honored her with their Leader in Communication Award Nov. 18. Brown recalls the beginning of her journalism career well. “I remember taking a picture in front of the Chicago Tribune as a young journalism student ... and then ending up in Brookings, South Dakota.” She may have not started her career in the “Windy City;” however, Brown did jump into her work at the Brookings Register with gusto, demonstrating her talent at covering news. The semi-weekly newspaper soon rewarded her hard work and what began as a part-time position, turned into a full-time position as news editor, a great opportunity for a young woman just out of college in the late 1960s with degrees in journalism and English from UNL. “The smell of ink got to me ... and my husband said that I was taking more Excedrin than my paycheck covered,” she said, with a smile. Eventually, Brown would generate her greatest career influence in the collegiate arena where she continues to inspire young minds going out into the diverse communications field. At both the University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska– Lincoln, Brown has had a profound impact on the communication programs. Her direction of the UNK communication department’s advertising emphasis made it a top draw for students. Most recently, she is putting classes online and helping in the development of NU’s Online Worldwide advertising and public relations master’s degree. “I know Ruth best as a teacher,” said Charlyne Berens, professor and associate dean at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “She really cares about students and gives them all she’s got, both in the classroom and outside it. She fits right in with the student-centered culture of this place, and we are lucky to have her on our faculty.”
“Dr. Brown’s leadership and passion for her profession are inspiring,” said Christy Rasmussen, coordinator at Saint Elizabeth Foundation and a former student. “Ruth has a gift for helping others identify their talents. She has inspired countless people to become professional communicators. Her role as a trusted adviser and a mentor has never ended for me.” Over the years, Brown has found ways to give her students additional opportunities, such as selling Barn Candles to raise money to attend conferences like “Meet the Pros” and to go on field trips to big agencies in large cities, like Leo Burnett in Chicago. She has also nominated her top-notch students for experiences offered by the American Ad Federation and had them selected for internships in New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas. And they have returned the favor. Brown was selected Outstanding Professor of the Year by The Order of Omega Honor Society at UNK in 2005, based on a nomination by one of her students. “I always tell my students the principles never change,” she said. “Academics are about teaching those principles. You have to know the rules before you can break the rules.” Brown eventually left UNK and came to UNL for another opportunity, and Keith Terry, UNK professor and former chair of the Communication Department said, “We certainly miss Ruth Brown at UNK. She helped build some very strong programs here.” “Her students praise her careful advising in addition to her fine teaching,” said Amy Struthers, sequence head and associate professor of advertising at UNL. “Ruth works tirelessly to help each of her students find their place in the world of communications. She is an inspiration to her colleagues as well, bringing a thoughtful and informed perspective to our work and serving as a role model for those of us who aspire to attain her level of expertise.” “Ruth’s hard work and leadership are models for her colleagues at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and across the state. We’re pleased her work is being recognized by this honor,” said Gary Kebbel, dean of the college. Brown’s level of expertise never ceases to grow in reach either. Her dissertation: “The Process of Community Building in Distance Learning Classes,” has been cited by nearly 300 researchers in the field. continued on page 50 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 49
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Her son, Nathan Brown, an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense, commented on his mother’s ability to stay ahead of the times. “I didn’t really understand her dissertation topic when she wrote it, so I kind of ‘yawned’ it off, assuming it was an esoteric issue. Actually, it’s part of a big, big deal. We all realize now the Internet’s effect is not only eroding traditional social relations, but also creating opportunities for new modes of interaction. She was on the leading edge of the field and had these thoughts more than a decade ago. It has just taken me that long to catch up with my mom.” From news editor to college professor, Brown is adamant that all the relationships she has developed and experiences she has had, regardless of the time in her career, have been valuable. She has appreciated working with KRVN, where her husband, Eric, is general manager. She also enjoys her three adult children and three grandchildren, but they have to share her time with students and Nebraska Press Women, which she currently serves as president. Brown does not plan on “slowing down” her communication efforts. She finds it exciting to keep up with new media and to show students how to use new media strategically. “Traditional media needs to learn even more how to incorporate new media into their current way of operating. We need to see new media as a complement instead of a competitor.” n
Dale Lindgren, ’69
The Penstemon Man By Linda Ulrich, ’71
IANR PHOTO BY DANIEL SCHAAF
Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.
is work as a plant breeder has been different than Burbank’s, but Dale Lindgren has fed a lot of gardening souls. Lindgren, horticulture specialist at UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center, is a mathematician turned plant breeder. There’s no doubt that his interest in math has aided his scientific work. There’s even less doubt that the world of native ornamental plants is much richer for that career change. Lindgren earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska in horticulture and agronomy. He began his undergraduate studies in mathematics but decided during the first year it wasn’t the right choice for him, so he changed his major to horticulture. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lindgren, a Nebraska native, then moved back to his home state, where he has spent more than 30 years in plant breeding. He has worked with dry edible beans and other crops, but he is best known for his development of wildflowers and native plant species. Soft-spoken and unassuming, Lindgren is not one to mention that he is internationally known for his work with penstemon, an ornamental native plant, which is part of his emphasis on sustainable landscape and ornamental horticulture systems. “I’m not a real fan of using a lot of pesticides,” Lindgren said. Penstemon is a good fit with the growing trend of using native plants that are drought-tolerant and require less disease and insect control. Although advances in technology, such as tissue culture, have changed the way commercial nurseries produce plants, Lindgren’s breeding work is done much the same as when he began collecting penstemon seeds in 1977. He grows seedlings in cold frames and transplants them in the field. Most of the crosses are made in a greenhouse. There are more than 270 species of penstemon, and that’s a good thing. “The one thing a plant breeder needs is genetic variation,” Lindgren said. Although he has made thousands of crosses, only about 11 percent of those crosses produce seed. This spring, he and his
– Luther Burbank
technician, Dan Schaaf, planted 3,000 seedlings. In the past, they planted as many as 10,000 in a year. His years of experience have given him an expertise that few have. Lindgren often can tell whether a cross will be a good one simply by looking at the seedling. “One of our top priorities is hardiness,” he said. Disease and pest tolerance and characteristics of the flowers and foliage are other critical criteria. Patience is definitely a virtue in penstemon breeding. Generally, Lindgren said, it takes a minimum of eight years to develop a new cultivar. Here are a few of Lindgren’s penstemon successes: “Husker Red,” Lindgren’s best-known release, was named 1996 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. It continues to be recommended by many gardening experts. Three of his cultivars have been patented by the university: “Dark Towers,” “Prairie Twilight” and “Sweet Joanne,” named after his wife. Lindgren was president of the American Penstemon Society for three years and edited its newsletter nine years. He is co-author of the book, “Growing Penstemon: Species, Cultivars and Hybrids” as well as many NebGuides and scientific journal articles. Lindgren also has been experimenting with clemantis. “We are putting our interest in shrubby, rather than vine-type, clemantis,” he said. He also has done work with dianthus, chrysanthemums, carnations and native grasses, but penstemon continues to be his primary focus. “One thing about people who are interested in penstemon is that they are really enthused about penstemon,” he said, smiling. Lindgren is definitely one of those penstemon-loving people. n Reprinted from the Summer 2009 issue of ARD SCIENCE FOR LIFE
Sriyani Tidball, ’72, ’91
Bringing Global Views To Students BY SARA MCCUE, J NEWS STAFF
n 2004, when tsunamis devastated Sri Lanka, relief efforts brought two worlds together: East and West. Sriyani Tidball, who joined the University of Nebraska– Lincoln journalism faculty as an advertising lecturer in January 2009, has seen both worlds. Originally from Sri Lanka, she came to the United States as a teenager in the fall of 1967. She attended Lincoln East High School through a study abroad program with the American Field Service, which brings countries together through a youth exchange. Tidball said she became an “ambassador of America not even meaning to be.” Her host family sister, Laurie Smith, said Tidball overcame many challenges by studying in the United States. “There’s nobody from Sri Lanka (here),” Smith said. “She had to go out and make all new friends.” During the past few decades, Tidball has moved between the U.S. and Sri Lanka several times, working, serving both communities and attending school. Before earning her master’s degree from the J school in 1991, she earned a bachelor’s in architecture from both UNL and the University of Sri Lanka in the early ’70s. Years after Tidball’s first experience in the United States, Sri Lanka is still not well-known to many Nebraskans. “Sriyani comes from a part of the world that, up to this point, has not been represented,” said Amy Struthers, head of the advertising sequence at the UNL J School. Struthers said it’s important to offer a global perspective, saying students must recognize that “effective communication has to take into consideration language and culture and worldviews.” And Tidball believes students need to understand the advertising world is expanding, too. “Traditional advertising methods are changing,” she said. “Because if people are reading newspapers and they choose to read their news online, it changes that whole industry.” Advertising agencies have to change too, she said. “Mass communication has become more individual and interpersonal.” Tidball has seen advertising evolve firsthand because her childhood was filled with dinnertime talk about the profession. “When you grow up with it, it’s kind of in your blood,” Tidball said. Her dad owned both McCann Erickson and Draftfcb advertising agencies in Sri Lanka.
Tidball’s father set examples for her. “He saw things in a much bigger scope,” she said. “You know, he thought big.” Smith, who has remained a good friend since their high school days, said she and Tidball see the world in a larger way now. “We have such a bigger perspective now of what happens in the world.” But, of course, there have been changes since their days as high school buddies. Tidball is now married. Her husband, Tom, is a freelance photographer, and she broke into journalism when she began writing stories to accompany his photos. In 1992, Tidball founded “Lincoln Today,” a lifestyle magazine for new residents and visitors to Lincoln. Although she has turned to teaching, she remains editor and publisher of the annual publication. Tidball loves working with students. “They challenge you to offer even more than you plan to offer,” she said. She also said her students have difficulties ahead of them because of the advent of new technology. “You have to understand the times you’re living in because it’s all about communication,” Tidball said. “You know, the old methods don’t work.” Joe Starita, a journalism professor at UNL, praised Tidball’s ability to “offer a view of the world to students whose jobs, whose careers, whose lives depend on their abilities to function in a global society.” And Tidball tells students they can have an impact on that society. “People need to be socially responsible, and what they do, a component needs to be how they can make a difference in society,” Tidball said. “… Some of them really could change the world.” Starita said Tidball’s teaching style reflects her personality. “Her style is endless energy, exuberance, passion and the inspiration that comes from not getting mired down in negatives and hopelessness,” Starita said. Starita has known Tidball since 1971 when she came back to Nebraska to complete her architecture degree. He said he has always recognized her desire to help others. In 2006, he traveled to Sri Lanka with a reporting class and saw a children’s home that Tidball and her husband operated. The school feeds about 400 destitute children breakfast and lunch each day. “That’s 400 more than I feed every morning,” Starita said. continued on page 58 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 57
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In addition, Tidball helped to found Morning Star School, a school that takes in children from the beaches of Sri Lanka and teaches them to read, write and do math. She also worked to help Sri Lankans who lost homes during the tsunami. She helped build close to 600 homes after the disaster. Many of Tidball’s projects are supported by Community Concern Society, an organization she and her husband founded in the early ’80s. It tries to help disadvantaged Sri Lankans and funds projects through grants and donations. Struthers first met Tidball in the summer of 2008, when Tidball taught a global advertising course at UNL. Tidball had not been looking for a teaching career but said it just happened. “I’m very picky about who I work for,” Tidball said. But she credits Dean Will Norton Jr. for being an “innovator” and an “inspirer.” “That’s why we have such an unbelievable college here.” n
Chery Griffin, ’75
Best-selling Author Started in TV News BY ROBERT MCLEAN, J NEWS STAFF
en in prison love Victoria Alexander. They send the author letters asking for money, a get together in five-to-10 and relationship advice. A world away in Afghanistan, an American soldier wrote the author to say the books helped her forget she was in a combat-zone. “Victoria Alexander” is the pen name UNL graduate Chery Griffin uses to publish romance novels. Her latest book, “The Virgin’s Secret,” debuted in May. “My stories – stuff I made up – took these people away from their own lives for a few minutes – very often even if they were in prison,” Griffin said in a speech to writers. “And that’s what my books are supposed to do.” She did not start writing fiction immediately after graduating from the UNL J school in 1975. Griffin was a TV news reporter in Nebraska and West Virginia before turning to novels. She loved being a journalist, but the erratic hours were trying. She heard about a local Romance Writers of America chapter while covering an Omaha-based author. It piqued her interest, and Griffin started attending its meetings after she finished the story. Since that meeting more than 20 years ago, she’s published 23 novels and six novellas, been on The New York Times best-seller list and was honored with a career achievement award this year for her fiction. Griffin brings the newsroom’s accuracy to fiction. She researches time periods and political climates to make sure her historical romances are believable. Griffin said writing fiction is much harder than news reporting. A novel’s plot has to make sense; the real world is packed with weird events and unexpected twists. She said tragic stories were the most memorable in her reporting career. She recalled a story she did in West Virginia, where a construction scaffolding collapsed – killing 52 people. Fiction is different. Griffin is able to punish the villains and reward the heroes in novels, something that doesn’t always happen in real life. The writing process is difficult, but she tries to write two books a year. Griffin said it is the most difficult task she has ever had. “Best part about writing is finishing,” she said. Literary agents appreciate writers with journalism backgrounds. Meg Ruley, Griffin’s agent at the Jane Rotrosen Literary Agency,
said former reporters always understand deadlines and are not offended by edits. Griffin, who lives in Omaha, has had luck with both fictional and real romance. She and her husband, Chuck Lenosky, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in June. The couple met at the Charleston, W.Va., CBS affiliate. Griffin was a reporter, Lenosky a production assistant. She asked him to a station function, and the relationship progressed from there. Lenosky, the director of learning environments at Creighton University, said his wife and best friend is a driven person. She reached one goal after another: sold a book, got a great agent, made it to the New York Times mass market paperback bestselling list and eventually became its No. 1 author. “I’m really, really proud of her,” Lenosky said. Griffin works her husband into her fiction as only a loving wife could: She names characters’ kind-but-dead husbands “Charles.” The pair enjoys traveling together, which can lead to some interesting situations. They went to Europe a few years ago with food on their minds, attending a culinary school just outside of Florence, Italy. It was a school where couples learned cooking, then helped and learned from each other. One day the staff brought out a chicken for Griffin to cook — its head still attached to a limp neck. Her husband will never forget the face Griffin made when she saw that dead chicken’s head. The couple has two grown children. Griffin used their two names as her pseudonym: Victoria and Alexander. She decided to use a pseudonym because she still worked as a reporter when her first book came out. Griffin didn’t want readers to confuse her journalism and fictional writing. 2009 was a big year for Griffin. In February she was named a “Face on the Ballroom Floor” at the Omaha Press Club, and in April, she received the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for Historical Romance. Her new book hit bookstores last May. Griffin’s agent predicted “The Virgin’s Secret” would be a hit. “Her readers will love it.” Ruley said. “It is quintessential Victoria Alexander.” n NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 49
Julie Vosoba, ’83
For the Common Good By Linda Ulrich, ’71
ulie Vosoba has stuck her neck out at times. That makes her perfect for her current job – executive director of the Giraffe Heroes Project, an organization that honors risk-takers who are largely unknown but have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good. The “sticking their necks out” factor is critical, says Vosoba, a 1983 UNL graduate. Rather than simply doing good, these two-legged Giraffes are “working on every issue under the sun” while doing something long-term that’s a risk for them. Giraffes are of all ages and races and are found in every state and 27 countries. A couple of examples of Giraffes: • John Bangura saw his parents, other relatives and many friends killed fighting for Sierra Leone. He lived for vengeance until he was inspired to work for peace and his country’s recovery. His program, Hope-Sierra Leone, does community development. • Sara Herr, a high school cheerleader in Bettendorf, Iowa, trained a whole new squad of cheerleaders, the Spartan Sparkles, made up students with special needs who are usually sidelined from many teen activities. More than a thousand Giraffe heroes are in the organization’s database. Nebraska has four Giraffes: • Steve Cockerham of Grand Island, a USDA meat inspector who blew the whistle on filthy and diseased meat shipments, despite orders to look away. • Lowell Fisher, a rancher near Spencer, who formed an association with 27 of his neighbors to stop the site of a five-state radioactive waste dump in Boyd County. • Carolyn Holmberg, also of Boyd County, who incurred threats and abuse and endured arrest to fight authorities planning to create the nuclear waste dump. • Ethel Clark Starrett, who was honored when she was 99 for a lifetime of sticking her neck out. She ran a program for girls and young women in Beirut and then ran trailblazing YWCAs in Nebraska, Argentina and Chicago. The Giraffe Project is a national organization founded by Ann Medlock in the early 1980s. The nonprofit has a staff of six headed by Vosoba in offices on an island north of Seattle. Their work is supplemented by trainers across the U.S. A volunteer jury of friends of the project – some Giraffes themselves – meets three times a year to select new Giraffes. Each Giraffe receives a commendation and their stories are told on the group’s Web site (www.giraffe.org), in schools and, sometimes, in the media. The intent is to inspire more people to become active citizens and to foster the citizen courage and know-how that are essential
for a just, ethical and compassionate world, Vosoba said. Giraffe Heroes does that not only by commending real heroes, but by creating and delivering Giraffe workshops, speeches, curricula and training for kindergarten through high school. Vosoba came to Giraffe Heroes with a great deal of fundraising and leadership experience in nonprofits, including serving as west coast regional coordinator for a national feminist group’s national campaign to stop violence against women. While it might not seem apparent, there is a connection between her UNL undergraduate degree in fine art in printmaking and her work with Giraffe Heroes. After graduation from UNL and earning her MFA from the University of Washington, Vosoba struggled with the isolation of making art in her studio with her interest in social activism. “I tried to incorporate political messages into my art but it was just awful,” she said, laughing. Eventually, she combined her two passions by serving as Seattle and Pacific area coordinator of educational programs for children for an international nonprofit foundation. She also taught art to at-risk youth. “I really have a strong interest in working with kids, and one of the key things in working with kids who are troubled is helping them develop empathy for other people,” she said. “If you’re not very good in school or in sports, you can get a sense of power from helping others.” Giraffe Heroes can play an important role in developing that, she said, and she and her staff are working to create new curricula for after-school programs. “For a variety of reasons, it is becoming more and more difficult for teachers to spend time on altruism in the classroom, but it really is an essential thing to learn in life.” When Vosoba works with kids, she talks about the difference between an idol and someone who is really a hero. “What are the qualities of a true hero? Does being famous make someone a hero? she asks students. “I believe a hero is someone who takes personal risks to help others.” One of Vosoba’s personal heroes is her father, Joseph Vosoba, also a UNL graduate, a former state senator and one of the founders of the Wilber Czech Festival, and the Czech museum and library there. “I learned a lot about the importance of volunteering and giving back to the community from him,” she said. n NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 55
Daryle Brown, ’84
Multimedia Pioneer Is Prepared By Erin Starkebaum, J Alumni News staff
t a time when the journalism industry is reducing personnel and consolidating departments, two-time Emmy awardwinning television producer Daryle Glynn Brown has an advantage over other journalists of her generation. “News is a 24-hour monster,” Brown said. And journalists today are expected to present it on every platform possible. But the 47 year old, who grew up in Omaha and has worked in the Los Angeles market for the past 17 years, already has the skills the converging industry now requires. In fact, she is one of the pioneers of the trend. Her skill set includes efficiency in television, newspapers, magazines and radio. Brown graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications with a broadcasting degree in 1984. When she was unable to find a job in the small Midwest television market, the dean, the late Neale Copple, offered her the chance to take a year of print news classes so she could work in newspapers, which had a larger job market at the time. In essence, she became one of UNL’s first multimedia students. Brown is a “forerunner of the multimedia journalists we know today,” said Carla Kimbrough, long-time friend and classmate of Brown’s. Kimbrough also completed the extra year of newseditorial classes with Brown and now is an associate news-editorial professor at UNL. With both broadcast and print news training, Brown has had a varied career in journalism. She’s been a newspaper reporter, a writer, a live television producer, a field producer, a segment producer and a post-production editor, to name a few. She’s been in the small TV market, the large TV market and in radio and magazines. “Basic skills can take you anywhere you want to go,” Brown said. Her experience in all these areas has put her one step ahead of colleagues trained only in specific areas of journalism. Brown’s passion is for broadcast, which she been doing for the past 14 years at KTTV FOX 11 and the FOX News Channel in Los Angeles before that. When 110 of Brown’s co-workers were laid off from KTTV last year, it was “pretty shocking,” she said. Now when she looks around the office that was once filled with 235 employees, half the
desks are empty. What’s even more shocking is the fact that the station is producing the same amount of content with only the 125 people who are left. Brown works the 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. shift at the station. Normally, she is the associate producer of the 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. morning news show. She writes and edits video for the teasers that keep the audience watching during commercial breaks, answers questions from writers and reporters and manages the workflow while the producer is in the control room. “It’s a juggling act,” said Brown who loves the work for its variability. She is also the backup producer of the morning news, so if the producer is gone, she takes over selecting the day’s news content, deciding how it will be presented and assigning the stories to writers and reporters. “She has the qualities of a great producer,” Kimbrough said. “She’s curious, inquisitive, has very strong communication skills and very strong organization skills.” All of those are great to have in any newsroom, Kimbrough added. Those qualities helped KTTV FOX 11 win two Emmy Awards for live coverage of an unscheduled news event. Brown was part of the award-winning teams that produced the live coverage of a fire in 2003 and a van crash in 2004. Brown’s enthusiasm for journalism began in the sixth grade when she started writing for a school paper. She liked being able to ask “nosy questions,” she said, and making people answer tough questions. She was also active in her high school newspaper at Omaha Central. Her adviser emphasized the basics of reporting but also encouraged the students to “scratch below the surface,” which Brown said helped her at UNL. She completed her first two years of college at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln and then transferred to the UNL to make a career out of journalism. During college, Brown had a daughter, Summer, who is now a 27-year-old therapist for children and teens in LA. Between schoolwork and being a single mom, Brown wasn’t as involved on campus as she would have liked to have been. continued on page 48 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 47
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“Ask me now, and I have no idea how I did it,” Brown said. “I just know that I did.” Her parents never gave her the option of quitting. They knew having a college degree was the best way to get ahead in life. The goal was always, “graduation, graduation, graduation,” Brown said, and when she finally graduated, she added the extra year of education on top of it. Her effort paid off, though. After a quick summer internship at The Omaha World-Herald, Brown was hired full-time. After two years, she went to the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times for two years and then switched to broadcast at CNN, where she worked for four years. In 1993, Brown left for LA, and until taking the job at the FOX News Channel in 1996, she dabbled in freelance writing, radio and television work. Brown said she would love to get the chance to work as a live producer again as she did at the FOX News Channel and CNN before that. It was the kind of work that involved all of her favorite things: communication, organization, thinking on her feet and working under deadline. “Life is more exciting because you’re in the moment,” Brown said. She would hop on a plane to cover natural disasters or other intense situations, land in another country and go right to work behind the camera, managing the reporter and video coverage while coordinating with the network back in the States to get it on the air. Brown said she loves that “pressure-cooker kind of situation” and rush she gets from journalism. Jobs used to be easy to come by in LA, Brown said, but she knows the industry today is volatile and that any day at the station could be her last. “That’s just a reality,” she said. “It’s not something to stress over or be worried about; just be prepared.” And with the skills she’s acquired at UNL and on the job, Brown knows very well how to be prepared.n
Nebraska Alumni Association.
Kelly Poling, ’85
Bringing Art to Life By Paul Heumphreus, ’81
picture may tell a thousand words, but Kelly Poling’s artistry paints a thousand stories. Poling is a favorite son of Chillicothe, Mo. He has painted murals on 18 local buildings, bringing depth to the community through shadowing and color gradients. Loosely translated to “tricking the eye,” Poling relies on trompe l’oeil techniques to create stunning depictions of century-old scenes, bringing historical black-and-white photographs of the region to vivid life. Humans are naturally enticed by that which is hidden, and Poling exploits that curiosity with painted windows, shaded faces and hints of something just beyond our perception. Windows aren’t merely black; lines of grey tease the eye with something captivating, lying behind a seemingly transparent pane of glass. Satin curtains? Elegant cabinets? A curious tenant peering back? A neighbor strolls in the shade of a building a couple of blocks away. Mottled cobblestones show a rugged roadway, worn from the hustle and bustle of a thriving town. Shading in tree branches is so adroit that the eye perceives leaves rustling in the breeze. Everyone is welcome in these scenes.
Poling’s artwork often focuses on nostalgic features, such as horse-drawn wagons, trestle bridges, 19th-century hotels and other reminders of days gone by. Wooden stairs and balconies reappear on buildings. Painted awnings extend over window frames, appearing to shade the windows they surround. Tranquil creeks reflect lush greenery, concealing bountiful fish beckoning for an angler’s lures. With the animation in these paintings, a casual
pedestrian can get lost in time while strolling among his murals. Poling showed exceptionally competitive physical and artistic
talents early. His first major artistic accolade came from a watercolor painting done in second grade that was chosen for display in Omaha’s Jocelyn Art Museum. As a teen, he dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. His superior skill as an American Legion pitcher earned him the option to be drafted by the KC Royals, or to become a scholarship student-athlete. He capitalized on the scholarship, attending the University of Arkansas while he refined his pitching skills. Tragically, Poling’s rotator cuff tore during his sophomore year, ending his baseball career. After the injury, Poling turned his focus to artistic skills, and moved back to Nebraska to complete his bachelor of fine arts degree at UNL. He credits Keith Jacobshagen’s tutoring for igniting his passion in art. After graduation, Poling designed menus for Brittany’s in Lincoln, also developing his culinary skills as a gourmet chef. Next, he became a joint owner of a downtown Bar and Grill named Pitzel, before succumbing to the urge to search out new frontiers. The call of the wild led him to Las Vegas, where he was commissioned to create paintings with oil, acrylic or charcoal, depending on which media best complemented each gallery. In the hallways of the Palace Station Casino, Poling portrayed the railroad’s role in opening up “The Old West.” MGM Casino commissioned him to create a series of mixed media paintings illustrating classic movies, allowing him to pour his love for old movies into dramatic visual compositions. continued on page 48 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 47
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After completing 20 works of art, Poling decided to follow his tracks back to the Midwest. He joined his parents in running a ranch near Eagle Rock, located in the southwest corner of Missouri. Raising livestock is as removed from artistic design as painting murals is from pitching baseballs, but Poling’s adaptable demeanor allowed him to establish himself as a skilled cattleman. While living on the farm, Poling met his future wife, Angela Gabel, a licensed Angela, Kelly, Gabriel and McKenna psychologist in nearby Monett, who convinced him to make painting his full-time career. When a business opportunity opened up in Chillicothe for her psychology practice, Kelly and Angela relocated. Shortly after establishing roots, they opened Original Artworks by Kelly. A year later, the Chillicothe Development Corporation commissioned Poling to paint a mural – a circa 1890 depiction of the old town square – on The Ice House Restaurant. His painting impressed the community so much that they hired him to paint more murals as a tourist attraction. Poling has also painted murals in other Midwest locations, including Maryville, Excelsior Springs, Bethany, Cuba, and Centralia, Missouri; Bedford, Iowa; and Omaha. He has established himself as one of the premiere muralists in the heartland, and plans to continue expanding his business as recognition of his works grows. Artistry and the studio are Poling’s livelihood, but his life is focused around Angela and their children, Gabriel and McKenna. At 13 years old, Gabriel is showing hints of his father’s powerful athletic skills. At 9 years old, McKenna is an open canvas; her artistic skills are growing, and some of her works are proudly displayed in the gallery. A picture may tell a thousand words, but a thousand words can only hint at the talents of Kelly Poling. n
Ruth Macnamara, ’86
Pioneering a Fifth UNMC Nursing Campus A
nurse with degrees from three of the four University of Nebraska campuses plus Creighton has been appointed assistant dean of the new University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing Northern Division in Norfolk. Ruth Pakieser Macnamara is the founding and transitional dean. One of her tasks will be to identify a permanent assistant dean by January 2011. The Norfolk facility, named the J. Paul and Eleanor McIntosh College of Nursing, is scheduled to open in 2010 and will house nursing programs of UNMC and Northeast Community College. Private donations of $11.9 million funded the project. Annual operating costs will be funded by the state. As liaison between the UNMC College of Nursing and Norfolk, Macnamara helped finalize work begun when representatives from the region initiated the request for the college to establish a fifth campus in Norfolk. (The others are in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Scottsbluff.) “The people of the community and the health care community are uniformly enthusiastic and so very supportive of this project that it has been and will be a joy to work with them in this position,” she said. “I look forward to being part of this historic partnership, which has truly been energizing.” Macnamara has served as an associate professor and clinical instructor in mental health nursing since 2007, and in the last year has been laying the groundwork for UNMC’s new division that will serve the northeast region of Nebraska. This is her second stint with the UNMC College of Nursing. She previously served as director of the UNMC College of Nursing Learning Resource Center from 1988 to 1996. She also served as assistant professor in the UNMC School of Allied Health Professions from 1988 to 1996.
University of Nebraska Medical Center Photo
“We couldn’t have hoped for anyone with a better foundation of experience,” said Virginia Tilden, dean of the UNMC College of Nursing. “Dr. Macnamara brings a wealth of knowledge in nursing education, organizational development and academic administration.” Macnamara, who has 40 years of academic nursing experience, began her academic career as an instructor at St. Joseph School of Nursing in Omaha. Since then, she has held positions, including nursing program director and division chair at Mount Marty College of Nursing in Yankton, S.D., and as dean of the School of Health Care Professionals at College of Saint Mary in Omaha. She has already established working relationships with the university’s partners in the initiative to bring UNMC to Norfolk, including Northeast Community College, Faith Regional Health Services, and many community and critical access hospitals. “Ruth Macnamara brings just the right combination of skill and expertise to the position,” said Bill Path, president of Northeast Community College. “Dr. Macnamara’s enthusiasm is contagious and she brings a vested interest to the project here. She will hit the ground running, building what I am sure will be an exceptional team of faculty and administrative staff.” Macnamara, who grew up north of Mason City, Iowa, has called Nebraska home since 1963. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Creighton University in 1965, a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1970, a doctorate in industrial/ organizational psychology from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1986 and a master’s degree in nursing from UNMC in 1993. n
Karen Stelling, ’87
Championing Women in Engineering By Tiffany Lee, ’07, ’10
aren Stelling still remembers the day one of her undergraduate chemistry professors distributed the results of the first exam. “What’s your major?” he asked her. “Industrial engineering,” replied Stelling, referring to the branch of engineering that emphasizes business principles. “You can do better than that,” he said. As Stelling points out, it’s a bit unfair to label the heavily math-based mechanical engineering as “better” than the processoriented industrial engineering. Still, though, her professor had a point: Why avoid math and science if you’re good at it? That conversation, along with her positive experience in a drafting class, were the pivotal moments that spurred her to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, which she earned from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in December 1987. Today, Stelling serves as an associate vice president with Burns & McDonnell, a consulting engineering and architecture firm. And, just as her professor predicted, the world of mechanical engineering suits Stelling perfectly. “I can’t help but look at something and wonder how it’s made,” she said. Stelling works in the Aviation and Facilities practice, where she oversees project managers, helps with operations and manages financials. She also leads a sustainability initiative within the company, which focuses on ensuring that designs are environmentally friendly. Stelling said this emerging “green” mentality is an exciting development at Burns. “It hasn’t been but for the last five to 10 years that clients have been willing to let you think about incorporating that into the designs,” she said. Stelling, who also holds an executive MBA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Bloch School of Business, has been with Burns & McDonnell for the 22 years since she graduated from college. She started as a design engineer, but always aspired to manage projects because she likes to “help other people do their job well.” Her climb up the ladder hasn’t been easy, though, in part because of the field’s pervasive gender bias. Stelling said recent
statistics show that just 13 percent of engineering graduates are female, which is reflected in the composition of the workforce. “When I started my career, it was pretty unusual to be a woman in the field, and it was unusual for women to be project managers,” she said. “There were some people who had to get comfortable with the idea that I would be working on their project.” Rather than ruminating about such problems, Stelling adopted a pragmatic perspective. Getting mad, she realized, would get her nowhere. “I didn’t want to have a chip on my shoulder,” she said. “Whatever background you come from, there will be people who will hold it against you, and people who will want to help you.” To best position herself, Stelling decided to give 100 percent to every project she worked on. That way, whenever she crossed paths with someone who might want to help her, it would be worth their time. The strategy worked. Now, Stelling devotes some of her community work to encouraging young people of both genders to pursue engineering. But particularly close to her heart is drawing more women into the profession. “There is no reason to be afraid,” she said. “If they [girls] like story problems, they will be able to figure it out.” Several factors coalesce to push women away from engineering, Stelling said. First is old-fashioned fear. Although girls test as well as boys in math and science until the beginning of high school, somewhere along the way they become afraid of pursuing professions like engineering. Second, Stelling said, is the “helping” factor. “Girls want to feel like they’re making a difference,” she said. “That’s why many might go into medicine. But look at all the things around you. Engineering makes a big difference with things like refrigeration, cooling systems and cars, for example.” Also contributing to the gender difference is a simple lack of awareness about what “engineering” actually entails. She distinctly remembers taking a history class with a classmate who majored in engineering. At the time, she – like many other college students – was oblivious about the ins and outs of the major. She would always nag him: “So what is engineering? What is it?” continued on page 58
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One way that Stelling encourages young people of both genders to pursue engineering is by serving as the co-chair of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area Industry Council for Project Lead the Way, which is an engineering curriculum for middle and high school students. The goal, she said, is to plant a seed in the minds of students that engineering is a viable career. Ideally, they would decide on an engineering major before starting college. From Stelling’s perspective, the climate for women is warming. When she started at Burns, she was keenly aware of the precise number of female engineers at the company. No longer can she cite such numbers off the top of her head. “To me, it’s a good thing that I don’t know the number,” she said. “Because if I knew the number, that would be a problem.” n
Emily Levine, ’89
Creating an Online Presence for Campus Gardens By Troy Fedderson, ’95
mily Levine has rolled her love for plants and history into a new Web site dedicated to campus gardens. The UNL Gardens site, http://unlgardens.unl.edu, offers information primarily on the Maxwell Arboretum. Anchored by photos of campus plantings, the site outlines prime bloom times, plant and tree types and locations on campus, the history of campus landscapes, book reviews and other landscape information. “UNL Gardens grew out of a need for this type of information, primarily for use in agronomy and horticulture courses,” said Levine. “It was an idea I cooked up two years ago.” Levine has worked in a variety of UNL roles since her first job as a darkroom technician for ag communications in the mid 1970s. The bulk of her UNL career has been in Landscape Services, where she worked up to become grounds supervisor for the Maxwell Arboretum. Her campus roots draw down even further as her parents (David and June) were both UNL professors. Levine accepted her current post as a special horticulture projects research assistant after outlining the Web site concept to Friends of the Maxwell Arboretum, the UNL Botanical Gardens Association and agronomy and horticulture administrators. The UNL Gardens site features historic information Levine gathered in the University Archives and while working for Landscape Services. “When you are in landscaping, it’s easy to become intimately connected to what you are working on,” said Levine. “You get a real sense of how something pretty exceptional was built right here. And, it all started with Charles Bessey.” The site also features Levine’s own photography and observations about what plants are coming into bloom. “The hope is this site becomes a resource for faculty, staff, students and the public,” said Levine. “Bottom line is I love this campus and I want others to come and see how wonderful it is as well.” The site is already gaining recognition among agronomy and horticulture faculty. Kim Todd, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, uses the site as a reference in plant identification courses, planting design and landscape management, and in two 800-level courses (one is a distance course).
Photo by Troy Fedderson
“The UNL Gardens Web site is one that celebrates the beauty of the landscape and the science of the institution,” said Todd. “Emily’s writing, her research capabilities and her photography have been combined in this site that demonstrates the connectivity between the arts and the humanities and horticulture. The intricate ways in which plants are woven through literature and history, the ways in which scientific principles and miracles are displayed, are all celebrated in this Web site.” n
Millie Louviere, ’91
Fraternity House Mom Stays Young at Heart By Ashlee Cain
ext to rows of fraternity rooms adorned with beer paraphernalia, pin-up girl posters and makeshift bars, lays a French country styled apartment, complete with old photographs and teddy bear chotchkes. Seventy-one-year-old Millie Louviere has called this residence home for the past three years. She speaks in a soft voice with her hands placed gently in her lap. Her calm demeanor acts as a sharp contrast to the rough and raucous ways of her roommates, the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Louviere is the fraternity’s live-in house director. She has 20 years of experience and is the only housemother for a fraternity on campus. Her career began with an ad in a Nebraska paper. After a divorce, Louviere picked up the newspaper and took note of an advertisement for a house director for Theta Chi Fraternity at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She made the call and scheduled an interview for that Monday night. At the same time, Louviere’s daughters had taken note of the same newspaper advertisement. “I have three daughters in Nebraska and one in Colorado. Each one of the girls in Nebraska called me and said, ‘Mom, there is a job that is perfect for you and they’d be so lucky to have you,’” Louviere said. With encouragement from her daughters, she went to the interview. And the next week, Theta Chi offered her the position. “They told me they would pack and move me into the house and I was really impressed with that,” Louviere said. “It was really just amazing. Right away, there was a great warmth in my heart.” Louviere broke her leg just a week before she was set to begin her new job. She had to have major knee surgery to correct it. “It just amazed me so, because three of the Theta Chis came to the hospital and were such gentlemen. They brought me candy and flowers,” she said. Louviere remembers joking with the fraternity men by warning them that they only had one week before she became a permanent fixture in their household. “Here’s your chance to change your mind,” she chuckled. She never anticipated that week would mark the first of 20 more years as a housemother. She was the house director for Theta Chi at Nebraska for 13 years until she was asked to move and be the housemother for Kappa Alpha Theta at the University of Arizona. In 2005, she moved to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at Arizona.
During her 13 years at UNL, Louviere made the effort to create lasting relationships with many of the fraternity men. “It was hard for me to leave the boys, it truly was, because we were family,” she said. Some of the Theta Chi brothers even became her classmates. She decided to attend the university as a student and received her bachelor’s degree in 1991, exactly 35 years after she graduated from high school. “We even had classes together, me and the boys. I remember we were in developmental psychology and the instructor kept picking on us for scenarios for our class,” she said. “I can picture him now. He was a young guy, real cool.” Louviere spent four years studying and attending classes with the fraternity men until her graduation day. “We really kept each other going,” Louviere said. Many of Louviere’s “boys” have kept in close contact with her. A Theta Chi who graduated from the University of Nebraska– Lincoln sent Louviere on the trip of a lifetime. “One of the boys worked at an embassy in Africa and he remembered my birthday and e-mailed me and said, ‘Mom, it’s time for you to come visit me,’” Louviere said. She spent four weeks abroad and the two traveled throughout the continent each weekend. “And so that was my birthday gift. I went to Africa to visit him for a month. Oh, it was wonderful,” Louviere said. In 1995, one of the Theta Chi brothers asked Louviere on a date. This was no ordinary invite, however. The invitation was four years in advance; he wanted to ring in the new century with her. “I said, ‘Steve, you’ll be someplace far off in 1999. That’s a long time away,’” she said. To Louviere’s surprise, four years later, Steve called and said, “I’m waiting to see when you’re coming for New Year’s Eve.” Louviere flew out to New York, Steve’s treat. “I got to see the old century out and a new one in, in high class,” she giggled. “I’m still getting requests to come to Germany, from one of the boys,” Louviere smiled. “I’m just so blessed. I had a significant birthday last year and the e-mails I got from all the places that I have been … they had remembered.” continued on page 56
Millie Louviere, ’91
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But Louviere isn’t always jet setting to visit old fraternal friends. In the meantime, she lives in Sigma Alpha Epsilon ensuring that the house is running and the men are acting like true gentlemen. “The boys are respectful. One of my goals for them is to follow the three Rs. Respect yourself, respect others and responsibility. And that really encompasses everything in life,” she said. So how does a 71-year-old housemother survive living in a fraternity house with 152 men? “I have a great sleeping pattern,” Louviere said with a grin. She attributes this skill to helping her endure the fraternity parties and events of the past 20 years. Even Marcos Rodriguez, the president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon admires Louviere’s ability to put up with college guys. “She’s a sweetheart and she’s always there to talk to. You can basically tell her anything because she’s seen it all,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know how she handles 152 guys, but she does.” Louviere has help from a few women who have an idea of what it’s like to be Millie. She attends monthly meetings that act as a forum for all the house directors on campus, and she was president of the House Director’s Association for the past two years. “Everybody loves Millie, including me. No exaggerations,” said Mailisa Anderson, the house director for Alpha Phi. “She is huggable and loveable. She is the kind of person you would pick up the phone and call in a crisis.” Louviere’s favorite activity with the other house directors occurs during the homecoming parade each year. “We’ve always been in the parade on the man-powered bikes. It’s fun to be on the one that does some wheelies,” Louviere said with a laugh. “It’s a real uplift for the house moms. We’re always ready to be on the bikes.” Louviere will continue her role as a house director indefinitely. She said that while she is in “an aging process,” being a housemother is too rewarding to retire just yet. “I have many wonderful years of experience in both fraternity and sorority houses,” she said. “I work from my heart and that’s hard to put on a resume.” n Editor’s Note: Ashlee Cain is a junior studying journalism at the University of Arizona. She is vice president of the UA Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists and has held prominent positions on the executive board of her sorority, Alpha Phi. She looks forward to pursuing a career as a magazine editor.
Kevin Kugler, ’94
Sportscaster in Perpetual Motion By Mitch Sherman, ’98
very fall and into the winter months, Kevin Kugler could use an understudy – you know, someone to fill his chair when Kugler’s schedule gets so overloaded that he appears required to occupy two places at one time. Thing is, though, the 38-year-old sports broadcaster apparently doesn’t need it. For five years, he’s juggled an afternoon talk show with responsibilities as an NFL play-by-play voice for Westwood One national radio and the weekly host of “Big Red Wrapup” on Nebraska Educational Television. “I’m about at the limit of what I can do,” Kugler said. Sixty-five to 70 hours of work each week will do that. So what’s his secret? “He’s just the most organized person I’ve ever met,” said Mike’l Severe, radio co-host with Kugler of “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” on Omaha’s KOZN-1620 AM. Kugler and Severe talk Nebraska football and other topics from 2 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. It’s a year-round show, but Kugler’s workload gains steam in September, when the NFL season opens. He calls a weekly game for Westwood One, the lead man on one of two Sunday afternoon crews with former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mark Malone. The 2010 season marked Kugler’s second in the NFL booth. He worked the national college game of the week for Westwood One’s NCAA radio network with ex-Auburn coach Terry Bowden from 2006 through 2008. Additionally, Kugler has handled play by play for the NCAA basketball game of the week since the 2006-07 season. He’s called the past three Final Fours, working alongside the likes of wellknown voices Bill Raftery, Bill Walton, Jim Gray and former Georgetown coach John Thompson. Kugler hosted the Masters golf tournament for Westwood One in 2009 and 2010. He filed radio reports for the network from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. And let’s not forget his first foray into the national work: Play-by-play voice of the College World Series in Omaha for Westwood One since 2004.
“The play-by-play side is why I got into the business,” Kugler said. “That’s always been my passion. If I could do just one thing, that would be it.” But he savors the opportunity to keep his Nebraska ties intact through the weekly TV show that spotlights Husker football, on which he has worked since 1999, and especially the talk show. It debuted in 2000. “It allows my creative side to come out a little bit,” Kugler said. “I try to put together some humorous bits and have fun. Around here, it’s so centered on Nebraska football that once you know what happens in the game on Saturday, it branches off from that. I think anybody can do a football show in the fall. “The key is to make it interesting 12 months out of the year. Luckily, I’ve got a co-host who is extremely good at this.” By all accounts, Kugler rates about as good as it gets at play by play. Howard Deneroff, vice president of sports at Westwood One, needed little time to recognize Kugler’s talent. The network contracted with KOZN in 2004 to broadcast the College World Series. Kugler called the action in early-round games and worked sideline duty during the best-of-three championship as Westwood One used a national voice for play by play. After two years of such an arrangement, Kugler began to broadcast the entire CWS. And in July 2006, Deneroff hired him for the college football gig. Things have skyrocketed from there. “A lot of it has to do with Kevin’s dedication to preparation,” said Neil Nelkin, operations director at NRG Media, which owns KOZN, “and I’m talking about his daily show, his play by play and his travel. He is absolutely in charge of every minute of his day. He knows what he’s doing, where he’s doing it and how he’s doing it.” Nelkin describes Kugler’s style of calling a game as “natural.” “He comes off as Kevin,” Nelkin said. “You get the same thing sitting across the table from him at lunch as you do on Sunday afternoon, listening to him call an NFL game.” According to Severe, Kugler’s co-host in Omaha, it’s all about the time he invests. continued on page 52 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 51
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“He’s such a good storyteller,” Severe said. “He takes what he sees and gives it to you exactly. That’s hard for so many guys to do, because they’re all looking for a catch phrase. Kevin doesn’t need a catch phrase. He just knows all the material.” Kugler said he studies 20 to 25 hours weekly before leaving Omaha for his weekly NFL destination. A basketball game, with far fewer players, requires less prep work. Asked about future aspirations in broadcasting, Kugler shrugs. “I’m not sure where the mountaintop is,” he said, “what the next thing is that I’m supposed to do.” The Super Bowl, perhaps? Sure, Kugler said, but he’s happy with his current assignment. It’s a long way from his first play-by-play job at the Nebraska Shrine Bowl in 1994, four months before his graduation from the University of NebraskaLincoln. He earned regular work in 1996 as voice of the Omaha Racers’ basketball team before the organization and its league folded a year later. Kugler called football and basketball at the University of Nebraska at Omaha prior to earning the national jobs, and he has earned Nebraska’s sportscaster-of-the-year award six times. He relies on his wife, Michelle, for support. She’s an attorney by trade but left a position at Rembolt Ludtke in Lincoln to care for their daughters, Mackenzi, 10, and Cassidy, 7, while Kevin jets around the world to talk sports. “She’s extremely understanding, very organized and a great partner is all this,” Kugler said. “For me, it’s a seven-day-a-week deal. I’m always doing something. Not a lot of hobbies, especially in the fall, which is fine. I like it. My hobby is my work.” n
Joyce Yen, ’95
Advancing Women’s Careers in Math, Science, and Engineering By Tiffany Lee, ’07, ’10
or Joyce Yen, becoming a professor seemed like the natural end of the road. First came her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (1995). Next was a master’s degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (1997). Then, the capstone: A doctoral degree in engineering, also from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (2001). “I thought perhaps I’d be able to be influential if I were a faculty member,” said Yen, a native of Hastings, Neb. So forward she went: At the end of 2000, Yen was named an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. The gig wasn’t half bad. She was teaching, researching and advising graduate students. But Yen – a bubbly, charismatic woman who describes herself as “happy by nature” – sensed a bumpy road ahead. It seemed that her interests ran contrary to academia’s evaluation criteria. “I realized after awhile that it wasn’t quite the right type of position for me, mostly because the aspects of the job that gave me energy were the things that needed to be reduced because they were not how I would be evaluated for tenure,” Yen said. Put another way, Yen did not want to spend all of her time on the arduous research that academic advancement demands. Working with people is her natural forte, and Yen wanted to capitalize on it. That’s when opportunity knocked. In 2003, Yen saw an open position for Program/Research Manager of the ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change (ADVANCE) with the University of Washington-Seattle. She applied for and got the job, and has since experienced boundless career satisfaction. “The job switch was an effort to align my career with the things that give me energy,” Yen said. “It was not that I was running away from being a professor, but rather I was really running toward something.” One of ADVANCE’s paramount goals is to identify and remedy barriers to women and other underrepresented groups in science, engineering and mathematics, which Yen seems particularly well-suited for. As a female who succeeded in the male-dominated fields of mathematics and industrial engineering, Yen is intimately
familiar with the ever-present gender hurdles in certain professions. The biases aren’t always overt, she said, but they are relentless. Yen is inspired in part by her own experiences as an assistant professor. She said she not only experienced gender bias during her academic tenure, but also ageism. Her youthful appearance sometimes prevented her from being taken seriously. Such experiences now help her relate to other women and minorities. “I help them step back and realize, ‘It’s not just me,’” she said. “There are larger elements at work here.” To combat inequities, Yen seeks to create more positive and supportive science and engineering environments for women and minorities while also encouraging indviduals to be empowered to seek information, network, ask questions and improve their skills. “Being savvy about these things helps them avoid being blindsided by unconscious biases,” Yen said. “When you are a minority, you wonder: Is it just me, or is it a pattern?” Yen’s day-to-day activities are multifaceted and unpredictable. Her position is the antithesis of a mundane 9-to-5 office job and includes organizing campus and national workshops, mentoring faculty and students, writing grant proposals, facilitating networking opportunities, and acting as a liaison to national university networks. It doesn’t stop there. Yen led the charge on eight successful proposals that yielded almost $2.5 million, which was used to propel the platforms of ADVANCE. On a national level, she has co-organized three different national workshops aimed toward supporting professional women in science and engineering. She’s also given more than 35 national presentations and training sessions focused on academic diversity. The work is neverending, but Yen’s enthusiasm for her job outweighs the stress. She is invigorated by the opportunity to connect with people facing workplace struggles, whether it is a longtime university professor or a just-out-of-school researcher. “A lot of what I do in general, and my greatest contribution, is providing faculty at all levels resources ranging from the emotional to the intellectual,” she said. “We help them be successful in however they define success.” continued on page 60
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Yen doesn’t just enjoy what she does – she’s also really good at it. She is a three-time nominee for the University of Washington Distinguished Staff Award, the 2007 winner of the UW College of Engineering Professional Staff Innovator Award, and the 2004 University of Nebraska Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Yen insists that her success is attributable to the energy she draws from her job. If you believe in what you’re doing, she said, you don’t dread Monday morning. “I love what I’m doing now and I’m pleased with the way things turned out,” Yen said. “I don’t have any disappointments with my career. My husband even told me the other day, ‘You come home happy every day.’” n
Kai Wilken, ’95
Holy Lunchbox, Batman! By Mitch Sherman, ’98
or someone who crafts the Bat Signal out of a hard-boiled egg and makes Big Bird from a pot of macaroni and cheese, Kai Wilken is a pretty good guy. Not a bad dad, either. Wilken, a 35-year-old graphic designer, husband and father of two, has gained national attention over the past several months for his lunch creations. Starting in August, he sent his oldest son, Laddie, 5, to Omaha’s Dundee Elementary with superheroes in tow. Wilken forms the characters and themes – Batman and Robin to Nemo, Curious George and the Cowardly Lion – from everyday healthy foods. He uses cheese, vegetables, fruits, bread and meat, among other items. The Omaha World-Herald caught wind of Wilken’s creativity and published an article soon after the meals began to arrive at school in Laddie’s lunchbox, usually twice a week. ABC’s Good Morning America followed with a piece. The Wilkens showed up on Yahoo. Syndicated host Rachael Ray televised a feature produced by the Incredible Edible Egg, which sent a camera crew to the Wilken home and to Lori Holland’s kindergarten class at Dundee. Kai and Laddie then traveled to New York to film a segment with Ray. “I think you’re one of the greatest dads I’ve ever met,” Ray told Wilken while fighting tears on the show. Laddie and his 3-year-old brother, Rosey, agree. Wilken documented his son’s journey through kindergarten with a blog, www.whathaveibittenoff.blogspot.com. It sheds light on Wilken’s inspiration and his motivation behind each lunch. For Laddie, each character represents a new way to bond with classmates, easing his transition to elementary school. He became an “instant celebrity” among the 5- and 6-year-olds, according to Lisa Bower, the Dundee paraprofessional who serves as lunchroom aide for Holland’s class. “The kids were so excited to see what Laddie was going to bring,” Bower said. “I don’t know if it was his dad’s intention, but
it helped make lunch time more enjoyable for everyone in the room.” In a way, that was Wilken’s intention. “I don’t want to take too much credit, but I think it helped a little bit,” he said, “especially on that first day, to have Batman in his lunchbox. They instantly had something to talk about.” The idea to build characters out of food was born last summer, as Wilken and his wife discussed an idea to help Laddie eat healthy at school and enjoy the experience. The Wilkens first found a Batman lunchbox for Laddie. “We put him in his batman shirt, on that first day of school,” Wilken said. “He had a batman-themed meal with blackberries and licorice as the night sky and a little egg as the Bat Signal.” When Laddie left school, his dad asked about lunch. Laddie said he liked it but then opened his lunchbox to reveal an uneaten sandwich, raising Wilken’s concern that Laddie would not eat his meal for fear of disturbing its artistic form. “It turned out he just didn’t have enough time,” Wilken said. “Right there in the car, he started to eat the sandwich, and then he asked if he could have Robin tomorrow. “It just grew from there.” And quickly. “After I looked deeper,” Wilken said, “I saw there was some pretty cool stuff you could do.” Wilken grows many ingredients in the garden. For others, he stocks up at the grocery store but rarely makes special trips to buy an item for the perfect fit. Almost always, he said, he “makes due” with what’s at home. If that means Tarzan got roast beef for dreadlocks instead of a more appropriate piece of meat or cheese, no problem. It’s not about the artistic perfection as much as it is the experience. Wilken said he spends at least an hour on each lunch. He finds a Zen-like quality from the process and derived some of the initial inspiration from a Japanese method of attention to detail in food preparation and other aspects of life. In Japanese culture, Wilken said, every creative process includes an introspective element. So yes, there exists an element of adult thinking in the lunch creations.
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“So much of it is the eye of the beholder,” Wilken said. “To me, it’s the creation process. There’s a focus to it that occupies all of my creative energy when I’m doing it. “It makes you examine the components closely. If you’ve got a piece of broccoli, turn it over in your hands to look from different angles and determine what it could be.” Wilken has not seriously considered marketing his work as a business venture, though he has discussed an opportunity as a spokesperson with a deli meat company. For now, it remains primarily about Laddie’s enjoyment, though Wilken enjoys the publicity. “It’s been kind of wild,” he said. “I wouldn’t have ever expected this, but something about it catches people.” n
Rulon Gardner, ’96
More Than a Medal By Randy York, ’71
ne of America’s most famous Olympic athletes ever returned to his alma mater last fall, and if any of Nebraska’s 550-plus student-athletes wondered about the No. 1 reason they’re in Lincoln, Rulon Gardner reminded them – to get a college diploma. Gardner is proud of his gold medal from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and just as proud of his bronze medal from 2004 in Athens because for him, it was an even tougher personal path to take. “But medals are just symbols. They lose their luster. My teaching degree from Nebraska is more important to me than anything I’ve achieved,” Gardner said. “It represents my most difficult journey of all and became the foundation for everything else I’ve ever accomplished.” He was not exaggerating. Even though the former Husker All-America heavyweight defeated the greatest Olympic wrestler of all time in the “Miracle on the Mat” eight years ago, one of the biggest hills he ever climbed – and some of the longest odds he’s ever beaten – were in getting a college degree. Gardner, you see, grew up on a Wyoming dairy farm wondering if he’d ever get a high school diploma, let alone a college degree. He struggled with reading speed and comprehension and was tagged with the “learning disabilities” label. Gardner became the butt of his classmates’ jokes. He worked hard at home, milking cows, feeding calves and chopping grain. He and his brother, Reynold, would often wrestle to see who had to do the most chores. Wrestling quickly became his ultimate outlet and his greatest individual strength. The youngest of Reed and Virginia Gardner’s nine children, Rulon had a gift, and he used it to win a Wyoming state high school heavyweight championship in 1989. Two years later, he won a national juco heavyweight championship at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Athletically, Gardner was a prize recruit and a number of schools, including Wyoming and BYU, offered scholarships. He feared no one on a mat, but virtually everyone inside a classroom. All seven of his living brothers and sisters ended up graduating from the University of Wyoming. “I was the black sheep of the family when I decided to go to Nebraska,” Rulon said, “but I knew Nebraska offered more academic support than anyone else. They were so positive and so caring. They told me if I worked as hard as I could and went to class every single day, they would do everything they could to help me earn a degree.” That’s all Rulon needed to hear, and it matched up well with what his eyes were telling him. “All that red – it impressed me,” he
SCOTT BRUHN, SPORTS INFORMATION
said. “I knew this was a special place. Even schools who wish they had Nebraska’s loyalty know that the ‘N’ means something – whether it’s football, wrestling or anything else.” Nebraska, Gardner said, helped him develop the discipline to achieve what was once considered an unreachable dream – a degree in physical education. Once he got his degree, his mind knew no boundaries. Few have gone from greater obscurity to worldwide prominence than Gardner. His best NCAA finish at Nebraska was fourth in 1993. By 1995, he was a USA Wrestling Greco-Roman national champion. He even won the World Cup Greco-Roman title in 1996, but a staph infection prevented him from participating in the U.S. Olympic Trials that year. Anyone else might have moved on, but not Gardner. With a college degree and a newfound confidence, he developed his own seven-step program and earned a gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, upsetting three-time Russian Olympic champion Aleksandr Karelin in the gold medal match. Karelin hadn’t lost in 13 years, so Gardner’s win was considered the biggest individual upset in any sport in Olympic history. For the closing ceremonies in Sydney, American teammates voted Gardner the highest honor possible – USA’s official flagbearer. The constantly striving and overachieving farm boy from Wyoming not only won every individual award imaginable, but also became a familiar face on Leno, Letterman and Oprah. Gardner describes his riveting journey to earning two gold medals and surviving two near-death situations (a snowmobiling accident and a plane crash) through the following seven steps: Go back to the basics: “When I struggled in school in Wyoming, and they put me in special education classes, I had to go back to the basics and measure my improvement little by little every single day. By giving my absolute best at all times, I developed a mindset that I could do almost anything. That meant I could never stop pushing myself, and I never did.” Turn negatives into positives: “I knew how strong and focused Karelin was, yet I never bought any of the hype that he was superhuman. I’d carried cows across icy farm fields. I’d survived my brother’s death and our barn burning down. I’d gone to college and graduated, for crying out loud – don’t tell me about long odds. My faith and my dreams were still mine continued on page 54 to do with what I want.” NEBRASKAMAGAZINE
Rulon Gardner, ’96
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Enlist other people: “Steve Fraser won an Olympic gold, became our coach and helped me defy expectations. Bruce Baumgartner (U.S. Olympic freestyler and two-time gold medalist) brought me to Pennsylvania to train with him because he knew I had absolutely no fear of him. Matt Ghaffari overcame several major knee injuries and was as influential as anyone in my career.” Train hard every day: “I learned the value of dedication, perseverance and heart at Nebraska. I knew there were bigger, stronger and technically better athletes, but I drove myself more than my coaches drove me. I wrestled grinders two hours straight every day. It physically tore me down, but I knew there wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen or anything I couldn’t get done.” Take care of business: “The idea is to have a game plan – to attack and to stay in your opponent’s face and never back down. Karelin got frustrated because both of us knew I was better prepared for overtime. He had nothing left. He lost his strength and his confidence. With eight seconds left, he put his hands on his hips, bowed his head and conceded victory.” Aim high when you’re feeling low: “In 2002, I nearly froze to death when I was separated from a snowmobiling party on an 11,000-foot peak in Wyoming. It took 17 hours before I was rescued in 25-below temperatures. My body temperature dropped to 80, and they had to amputate the middle toe on my right foot. I survived because I concentrated on one thing – my blessings.” Don’t rest on your laurels: “I never allowed my new physical limitations to enter my mind in preparations for Athens. I gave everything I had in me to win a bronze medal.” Rulon Gardner continues to gain worldwide fame and some measure of fortune. He’s written a best-selling book – “Never Stop Pushing,” a compelling account of his life from a Wyoming farm to the Olympic medals stand. He gives motivational speeches for corporations, charities, schools and wrestling camps across the country. He shows up on national television, and he was more than willing to accommodate Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s associate athletic director for Life Skills when he asked Gardner to address Husker student-athletes and the entire athletic department last fall. “Anytime you can get a former student-athlete to share his life experiences with our current student-athletes, it’s your classic win-win,” Zimmer said. “We had two captive audiences, and they heard an inspiring story from one of America’s best athletes. He beat the odds in the classroom and then explained how his graduation from Nebraska enabled one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. That’s pretty good theater, even eight years later.” n
Matt Waite, ’97
Pulling in a Pulitzer BY ANTHONY FLOTT
ick Streckfuss was down to one lung – it ravaged by cancer “A light bulb went off,” Waite says. “Suddenly, here I am … able – and had just months to live. to get stories no one else can do and find stories others can’t. That set a tone in my whole journalistic career.” Still, he could see the future a hell of a lot better than Matt Waite could. This April the 34-year-old Waite received an actual Pulitzer for his work developing PolitiFact, a Web-based project of the St. A Nebraska journalism professor, Streckfuss spent part of his Petersburg Times that checked on the veracity of statements made final days exploring a new type of journalism – database analysis during the 2008 presidential campaign. that helped reporters get deeper, big-picture stories. He thought Waite, a sophomore in his beginning reporter class, would be good He’s no longer a journalist, though. The Times calls Waite a at it. “news technologist,” a harbinger of the industry’s changing times (see sidebar). Waite’s Twitter bio also mentions that he’s a Waite thought drinking beer and chasing girls sounded better. “developer, geek, father and Nebraskan-in-exile” (though no As his professor’s conditioned worsened, though, Waite saw less longer beginning last month). of Streckfuss. “He came into Add witty master of the the college one day,” Waite one-liner. recalls. “He looked so horrible. So gaunt, so sick. You just knew “Dear World,” Waite wrote it was bad.” on Twitter while watching his beloved Tampa Bay Rays, Yet Streckfuss wasn’t giving “Watching a baseball game up – on Waite. “He grabbed me from the owner’s suite does not by the scruff of my neck, suck. Love, me.” dragged me into his office and St. Petersburg Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair on Matt Waite says, ‘Look, you’d be good at Waite got to Florida via this computer-assisted Arkansas and the Democratreporting thing.’ Gazette, where he worked after graduating from UNL. He had been one of the Dem-Gazette’s many UNL interns. “The Daily “He’s with … months to live, and at that point is worried about Nebraskan South,” says Waite. He worked the “blood and guts my future, is worried about what I’m doing with my time and my shift” as a night police reporter and put his computer to work career. You cannot tell a man in that position no. You just can’t.” analyzing car accident, robbery and murder trends. Waite embraced the new journalism. And he was good at it. That caught the attention of the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s Now, with the Internet, he’s molding it into something new – a largest newspaper, which hired him in 2000. More computer work possible lifeline for the ailing newspaper industry. exploring the home price boom, grade inflation, et al. If only Streckfuss could see Waite now, Pulitzer Prize in hand. In 2003 Waite tackled his biggest project to date, teaming with fellow Times writer Craig Pittman to investigate Florida’s vanishing wetlands. Through a series of articles published over three years the pair showed how federally protected wetlands often became Waite’s first computer-assisted reporting came at the Daily valuable waterfront property. The work won investigative and Nebraskan. In May 1997 – six months after Streckfuss died – environmental journalism awards. This March the series was published Waite’s analysis and reporting of crime in Lincoln neighborhoods as a book by the University of Florida Press, “Paving Paradise: earned him a Hearst Journalism Award – the Pulitzer for student Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss.” newspapers.
“He’s willing to try anything that’s new and different. He’s not bound by the old conventions of journalism. He wants to reinvent American journalism – a goal that I share.”
PLYING HIS CRAFT
In April 2007, Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair called Waite with an idea to report on the presidential primary in Florida “differently than anyone else.” A Web-first project, it would incorporate databases used to fact-check political statements by reporters and editors. The two had never met, but Waite “had already proven he was somebody who knew about the power of computers as a reporting tool,” Adair wrote in an e-mail. Waite convinced the Times’ IT department to give him an abandoned computer with a decrepit version of Windows. That became his “little sandbox” as he went to work building his first Web site. Soon, he had a demo to show senior editors. Though it was “the ugliest, nastiest looking thing ever,” it was a functional concept that included most of what PolitiFact is today. “I went to him with a relatively simple approach – a database of fact-check items,” wrote Adair. “But he broadened that to make a much richer database that you could explore lots of different ways – not just by candidate, but also by subject, by ruling and even by author. “The result is a completely new form of journalism that breaks the mold on how politics is covered.” PolitiFact launched in August 2007, just four months after initial concept. “In start-up Web development, that’s pretty fast,” says Waite. “In newspapers, that’s working at light speed.” The site rates statements on the “Truth-O-Meter.” If correct, they register “True.” On the opposite end of a sliding scale is “Pants on Fire!” Joe Biden got a “Pants on Fire!” after saying President George Bush was “brain dead.”
The site medically defined loss of brain function and noted that, “There’s no evidence Biden performed the necessary medical tests to make such a diagnosis.” Most of the ratings are serious-minded – like North Korea’s recent claims regarding nuclear testing – but the humor comes by design.
“We weren’t trying to be a newspaper, we were trying to be different,” says Waite. “And way too much of political journalism takes itself way too seriously. Watch cable news for any length of time and you’d go nuts. We did not want to contribute to that, nor to the mental health of any of our staffers in trying to have to be able to do this day in and day out. We wanted to be serious but not take ourselves seriously.” The site examined 750 claims during the campaign. Today it’s tracking 514 of President Obama’s promises via the Obameter. PolitiFact also checks statements made by congressman, lobbyists, and anyone or anything weighing in on politics – even bloggers and chain e-mails. Waite can’t provide specific site statistics but does say that traffic “exceeded our expectations” and that the Obameter’s introduction pushed PolitiFact to nine of its 10 best traffic days ever. And to think that Adair and Waite were prepared for the site to die once the Florida primary was done. “Hell, we had no experience doing this,” says Waite, who actually abhors politics. “We didn’t know if it would work, if people would respond to it, if it would get any traffic, let alone win any award, let alone the half dozen that it has won, up to and including the Pulitzer Prize, which still is just shocking to me.” PolitiFact was entered in the public service category but the Pulitzer board moved it into the national reporting category, where it received its award. Adair called Waite with the news. “I nearly wet myself,” says Waite. “It’s like throwing a ball left-handed. It just doesn’t feel right.” He can’t say what the Pulitzer board liked, but he has an idea. Fellow journalists tell him PolitiFact gives them hope that important, accountable journalism will be around for a long time. “I think what I am doing is part of the future of journalism on the Web,” he says. “It’s taking things that journalists have done for a very, very long time – fact-checking campaign ads and checking things candidates said. It’s not like we invented a new form of journalism. We took it and blew it apart in atomic pieces and reassembled it for the Web.”
A Future for Journalism?
Waite’s doing the same with other traditional reporting. He is the main developer of Neighborhood Watch, an automated real estate site that transforms databases of home sales information into price stories, graphics and trends. He also co-developed Mug Shots on the www.tampabay.com site. It provides not-soflattering photos – and names – of people booked in the last 24 hours in four Florida counties, searchable by gender, age, height, eye color and weight. The site drew 100,000 page views in its first three hours. “Mug Shots has seen just silly traffic,” says Waite. Waite also has formed his own company, along with Chase Davis of the Des Moines Register. Their venture, Hot Type Consulting, works with media, nonprofits and journalism startups to provide Web development, database optimization, etc. Its first project was helping launch BankTracker for the American University School of Communication. The site uses FDIC data to display financial performance details of more than 8,300 banks nationally. And more is forthcoming. “We have about a half dozen projects in the air traffic control system now,” Waite says. Beginning in early June, Waite was working on his multiple projects from his new old home – Lincoln. He moved back to his home state in early June, returning with his wife, Nancy, a fellow UNL grad who left her job as a public information officer at Bayfront Medical Center. The couple has two children, Brady (2) and Paige (6). The move was made to be closer to family: Waite’s parents still live in Blair, where he grew up, and much of his wife’s family lives in Lincoln or her hometown, Duncan. In a nod to the capabilities of this new journalism, Waite will continue to work for the Times. “I’m the founding chief for the Lincoln bureau of the St. Petersburg Times,” he says. “My career in journalism is all kind of right place, right time.” Including a visit with Dick Streckfuss. “One of those cosmic moments in my life,” says Waite. n
ouretta Waite was something of a Lois Lane for Iowa’s Woodbine Twiner newspaper. More like a superwoman, actually. The Twiner’s longtime managing editor, Waite wrote stories, edited copy, set type, sold ads and loaded papers into the back seat of her car for delivery to area farms. “Every last piece of newspapering all by herself,” says her grandson, Matt Waite. Things have changed. For one thing, Waite’s grandson won himself a Pulitzer Prize. For another, newspapers have become endangered species. Ad revenues and circulations are plummeting, staffs are shrinking and doors are being closed. “I don’t think that journalism, in the broadest interpretation of journalism, is in any danger of going anywhere,” says Matt Waite. “There’s going to be journalism long after you and I are dead and forgotten. What I think are in danger are the institutions that support journalism, that pay people to be at city council meetings, to watch the government, to do stories of real public interest. Those folks are in deep trouble.” Waite, who counts himself among the guilty unvigilant, says the industry’s primary problem was failing to realize how fundamentally different the Web was from printing. Newspaper dot-coms, he says, simply push print content onto their sites with little change. “What we call shovelware,” he says, “that tries to map a print method onto a fundamentally different medium, and it just doesn’t work. “There’s not a single newspaper in the country that isn’t guilty of sitting on their hands for far too long.” Waite offers a ray of hope, an idea of what can be, with PolitiFact.com and other Web-based projects. He’s showing how old school journalism can adapt to a new school medium. “Can I say that PolitiFact is the way?” Waite asks. “No, I can’t. But I can say it’s a way. “The question is, is it too late or is there enough room for newspapers to maneuver still with moving what they’ve traditionally done onto the Web? Senior newspaper people are desperate for some time that this whole future thing is going to work out; that there’s light on the other end of this absolutely tumultuous and revolutionary time we are in with this medium, and I absolutely believe there is.” n
Sydney Brown, ’98
Riding Her Way to Success By Jessica Simpson
ydney Brown never gets bored. She’s the mother of three teenagers. She works full-time as an instructional technology specialist at UNL. She’s working on a Ph.D. And she’s an elite cyclist, ranked among the top women athletes in the country. Her small office is simple, yet reflects her style. Loose papers adorn her desk. A weathered road bike perches near the door. Brown is multitasking: She’s jotting notes, checking her phone and organizing tasks on a Web site called Remember the Milk. Without that site, she said, she would forget everything. “You can really only do three things well,” Brown said. The J school grad’s top three priorities are her family, her work and cycling. “I’m really only happy if I’m just totally maxed,” she said. “I’m happy, and I go with it and fill it in with positive things.” And cycling has become a huge part of those positive things. Since she was a little girl in Lincoln, Brown has been a quick study. Her dad, a former football coach and rodeo competitor, coached Brown in barrel racing and showing horses. “I spent my whole life being told what to do to be a better athlete,” Brown said. That drive led Brown to pursue cycling after she sustained foot injuries running. In 2005, she tuned up her bike and began commuting to work on it. She got on the Internet, learned about cycling, bought some gear and pedaled straight to work, seven miles each way. “Pretty soon, I lengthened my commute,” Brown said. “I took these long circuitous routes, so I was getting about 40 miles a day on my bike.” Her athletic instinct inspired her to aim higher. She began riding with local groups and started training for the annual Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska. BRAN includes more than 600 cyclists each year who ride across the state raising scholarship money and bringing awareness to cycling. Realizing her cycling potential, Brown tapped into her resources. As a technology specialist, she knew that Tim Farnham, a master’s student at the College of Engineering, was a racer.
“I decided to bug him and told him I wanted to try racing,” she said. Her initial success spurred her to do more. She began riding with an elite group on Wednesday nights. New riders need to learn cycling etiquette, and Brown said the group taught her the basics. Riders, depending on the direction of the wind, use specific formations. A peloton, or field, refers to a group of riders. If cycling into a head wind, riders align themselves one behind the other in a pace line. Riders fall into a diagonal line, or echelon, if the wind is blowing at them from the side. The riders move in a cohesive group by taking turns rotating. The front rider takes their “pull” by cycling hard into the wind for about 30 seconds. Then the front rider falls back into the direction of the wind while the next rider takes the front. “It gives you a rest; it’s like doing intervals,” Brown said. “You always pull off into the wind so the next person coming up gets relief as soon as possible.” Learning to ride safely is important in a group of cyclists. It becomes dangerous if a rider is in the wrong spot, Brown said. And taking pulls to preserve energy is essential. “Once you have the fitness and you understand the basic rules, then the game gets really interesting,” Brown said. “The game is ‘who’s my friend right now’ and ‘what’s my strategy?’” Brown’s role is usually the breakaway rider. She consistently has excellent time trials and notable physical power. “As a rider I am known for power – power climb, attacks – because my goal is to get off the front,” Brown explained. Physical fitness alone does not make a strong cyclist, though. Riders must have a strong mental will and ability to analyze a race. “That’s why road racing is my favorite,” Brown said. “Because it’s not the strongest rider that wins. It’s the smartest rider.” In fall 2006, Brown began training with coach, Marc Walter, of Rightway Personal Training. Walter creates a training schedule for Brown that breaks the year into cycles. He also helped her accomplish the three goals she set in fall 2008. She was the top amateur in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, going on to win the Nature Valley Pro Ride. She is a National Masters Time Trial Champion, which is age-group based. And she made the podium in a Superweek Pro Tour race. continued on page 50 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 49
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Brown also sees a nutritionist regularly who will help her achieve her goal of dropping from 15 percent body fat to 11 percent. Assistance with nutrition and coaching isn’t the only thing that keeps her going, however. She also has support from family members and sponsors. The sponsors include Rightway Personal Training, Joyride Bicycles and PepsiCo. “Without that kind of support, it would be impossible to compete at the level that I do,” she said. “I wouldn’t have the fitness to go do it, and I certainly wouldn’t have the equipment.” In addition to her sponsors, Brown’s family is behind her. Nancy Brown, her 67-year-old mother, understands the training it takes to cycle at the top level. For her 65th birthday, Nancy asked for a bicycle so she could ride eight miles to Wal-Mart, she said. Apparently, mother and daughter have a lot in common. “Pretty soon, I took the basket off, and then I took the fenders off. Then I got pedals and shoes, and I wanted to go faster,” Nancy said. With Sydney’s encouragement, Nancy entered and won a race last February. Now, Sydney’s mom is training with Walter, too. And Brown’s passion is obvious. “Part of my mission is to bring the exposure [to cycling], and bring it to other people so they have a chance to try it, ” she said. n
Zach Harvey, ’98
Walking Free in Guatemala By Bill Citro, ’09
arm and breezy Caribbean weather, clear oceans and ancient historical sites certainly serve as tantalizing reasons to visit Guatemala. Nebraska grad Zach Harvey, ’98, spends his personal vacation time in Guatemala for another reason: helping children regain function. An Alliance, Neb., native, Harvey has helped pioneer a volunteer-based grassroots prosthetics-training program in Guatemala, where many children lose limbs for various reasons, including cancer, automobile accidents and birth defects. Harvey starkly remembers the day a 10-year-old girl came into a Guatemalan hospital needing a hip disarticulation prosthesis to be able to walk. “We didn’t have a hip joint,” he said. “So that’s where we had to really use our creativity and some MacGyver tactics to make a hip joint there on the spot.” Harvey started with a prosthetic knee joint, hack-sawed it in half, formed the hip plate out of spare metal and found the bolts and elastic bands that would fit. It worked. “A year later, the girl was still walking successfully,” he said. Fittingly, the program’s name is “Walking Free.” Its mission is to train and educate healthcare officials on proper amputee care and rehabilitation in areas with acute need. Harvey has been volunteering for the program, which is under the direction of the government non-profit Physicians for Peace, since 2004. Harvey discovered his love for prosthetics as an undergraduate in psychology at UNL. As a student, he volunteered at Madonna Rehabilitation Center and loved every second of helping to rehabilitate patients. ”I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. Nebraska doesn’t have one of the seven prosthetics schools in the country, so Harvey went on to Texas for additional education. There he met the man who would later convince him to help expand “Walking Free” into Guatemala. Harvey had been working at a similar program in the Dominican Republic, and Ben Blecha saw him on a PowerPoint slideshow for the program. Soon after, Blecha convinced Harvey to help him pilot a “Walking Free” venture in Guatemala. Surprisingly, Blecha is from Nebraska as well, unknowingly completing his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in 1998 alongside Harvey at UNL.
“We never met in Nebraska,” said Harvey, chuckling. They later discovered that they had lived just a few houses apart on Vine Street. When his team of volunteers – a doctor, physical therapist, prosthetist and translator – arrived in Guatemala to find a home base for the program, they uncovered an ideal situation. “We found these technicians without any training and this beautiful lab,” Harvey said. The Spanish Red Cross had come and set up a prosthetics lab in a hospital before losing funding for their operation. As a result, Harvey had much of the equipment he needed to start helping people immediately. Although he is the lead prosthetist currently working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Harvey wanted “Walking Free” to focus on education. “That was really what we wanted to do – not come down there and do all the work for them, but be able to have them take the knowledge we were giving them and put it to use right away,” he said. The program encountered many minor hurdles. “We always had to prepare for more people to show up than we had planned,” Harvey said, “and we learned to be mindful to work alongside local businesses.” Nonetheless, the problems were trivial in comparison to the hard work done to improve hospital training and win back hope for Guatemalan children with amputations. “I saw how rewarding it was – how easy it was, really,” he said. Not only does Harvey’s work help improve people’s lives, but it also makes economic sense. Three-quarters of Guatemala’s population lives in poverty, and those unable to work due to disability further strain the households supporting them. Harvey’s new leg of “Walking Free” helps allow former dependents to become financially independent. In September 2008, former president George W. Bush invited Harvey to the south lawn of the White House and mentioned him during his speech on volunteerism for his volunteer work with Physicians for Peace. “It was a shock to me to get the call that I was invited down to the White House,” Harvey said. continued on page 52 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 51
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Bush said of Harvey: “He says the only payment he receives is the pride that comes with children – seeing children walk again. And Zach, we are proud to have you here and thank you for your service. Zach doesn’t want anybody to look at him – but you can’t help it when you’re that kind of kind man. Appreciate it.” Harvey also enjoys helping fit amputees for skiing and snowboarding in Breckenridge, Colo. “Turning disabilities into abilities and focusing on the positive makes my job rewarding,” he said. Harvey’s vacation time is valuable and limited, but he said moments like seeing that girl walk keep him coming back to volunteer for “Walking Free.” “That’s why I got into the field of prosthetics: to help restore mobility. There’s a lot of need in the world with that.” n
Grant Wistrom, ’99
College Football Hall of Fame Inductee W
hen Randy York, ’71, found Grant Wistrom at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in July, waiting to catch a plan to South Bend, Ind., for the National Football Foundation’s Enshrinement Festival, he grabbed him for a quick question-and-answer session amid the noise and congestion. Q. At Nebraska, you were a two-time unanimous All-American, a two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a Lombardi Award winner. You played on teams that won 49 of 51 games and three national championships. Every coach, player and media member I’ve ever talked to says you were successful because you had a motor that never stopped. Is that something you’re born with or something you developed? A. I think I was born with my motor running. My parents tell me that I was so active that by the time I was 3 or 4 years old, they couldn’t get me to sleep. They said they couldn’t stop me from constantly talking and walking around my little crib. When they couldn’t get me to sleep for like five days straight, they called a doctor, and I guess he gave me something that just knocked me out. Melissa and I have a 5-year-old son (Wyatt) who has the same problem, but we don’t worry about it because karma is a beautiful thing. Q. Jason Peter, the All-American and fellow first-round NFL draft choice who played next to you at Nebraska, says you were the most intense player he ever saw in college or pro football. Since no one can be born with that kind of intensity, where does it come from? A. That’s the way I’ve always approached football – like a job, whether it’s high school, college or pro. I’ve always believed if you’re going to do it, do it right, play together and play every play as hard as you can. If you’re not going to focus and sell out every play for your teammates and yourself, why even bother? I went to Nebraska because I wanted to win every game, and the two I remember most were the two we lost (Arizona State and Texas). I’ll be honest. I never felt I was ever a great enough athlete to take a play off, and the way we were coached, we couldn’t take a practice off either, not even a walk-through. Q. How did you motivate yourself, day after day, play after play? A. It was easy. I played for Coach Osborne, Coach McBride, my dad, my brothers, my teammates. That was enough for me to practice hard every day and to play hard every Saturday. I would visualize how much I was willing to give for people I loved and teammates who were like brothers. I was always twisting
something into motivation. I don’t want to name the team, but there was one that had an All-American left tackle, and I had his picture posted on my wall all week. I was kicking his butt all over the field until I got injured right before halftime. Whether it was a quote, a picture, whatever, I could manipulate it and use it to my advantage. Once, all week long, I just thought about the color purple, and it worked on Saturday. Q. I remember seeing you get off the bus one Saturday morning when Nebraska played Washington in Seattle. I was a few yards away and stayed in my tracks when the bus pulled up outside the stadium. The second you stepped off the bus, you went straight to your dad. You hugged him, told him you loved him, kissed him, then headed for the locker room. How strong is that relationship with your dad? A. In my four years at Nebraska, my dad (Ron, retired from the trucking business) never missed a game, home or away. He’d watch my brother (former Husker tight end Tracey) play high school football in Webb City (Mo.) on Friday night. Then they would drive to Texas Tech to see me play the next day. When you have a family sacrifice like that to see you play, I’m going to sell out for them as much as my teammates. Q. Tracey was an All-American and Academic All-American at Nebraska just like you were. You lettered in 1994-95-96-97, and he lettered the next four years. Jason and Christian Peter were brothers who played together. Did you ever wish that you and Tracey could have shared the field? A. I would have loved to have been able to play more with Tracey. I have a good relationship with my brother, but if I could go back in time, I would do some things differently. I don’t think I appreciated him as much as I should have. I’m really proud of him. Q. What’s your fondest memory playing at Nebraska? A. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any of the national championship games. It was the last home game of my junior year – the day after Thanksgiving against Colorado. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my last game at Memorial Stadium, so I did something I’d never done before – told myself that this game was so special, I was going to take the time to absorb everything I could. I soaked up everything. It’s funny. I was always so focused that I’d never really heard the crowd before. That game was the first time in my continued on page 58 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 57
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life that I really heard the crowd, felt the crowd and reveled in the crowd. I was so tuned in. It was a great day, and we played a great defensive game (holding Colorado to 51 yards rushing on 32 carries and 12 completions in 38 passes with two interceptions in a 17-12 win).
Q. That (10-2) 1996 season was your worst in four years, yet you beat Virginia Tech 41-21 in Miami. Since both you and Jason were considered likely first-round NFL draft choices as juniors, did either of you think the Orange Bowl was your college swan song? A. Maybe, but we weren’t sure. We were both so disappointed that we didn’t win a third straight national championship that the thought of coming back to win another one was really appealing. I think Coach Osborne was expecting us to go when we went to his office. He never once tried to persuade us to stay. We asked him to call some people he trusts in the NFL, and he put the phone on speaker and called a couple of people. We both might have gone in the first round, but we weren’t going to be top 10 picks. I got the information I needed and knew immediately what I was going to do. I was coming back, and so was Jason. I don’t know if anyone’s ever seen Coach Osborne shocked, but I think he was very surprised that day. We caught him off guard, but you could see the sparkle and the twinkle in his eye when we left. Q. A year later, after winning a third national championship, the St. Louis Rams made you the sixth pick in the first round of the NFL draft. You spent six years there and played on a Super Bowl champion. You also started on a Super Bowl team in your three years with the Seattle Seahawks. Was winning the Super Bowl your favorite memory as a pro? A. There is absolutely no question about that. In the NFL, it doesn’t get any better than winning the Super Bowl. It was pretty darn cool, an awesome feeling really. I will never forget the feeling on the field after that game, and yes, my family was there to share the experience. I’m fairly certain if we hadn’t won, I never would have been asked to judge the Miss America Pageant. Q. Any thoughts you’d like to share about Bo Pelini or Nebraska going to the Big Ten Conference? A. Coach Pelini gets what Nebraska is and can be. I’ve never heard a bad thing about the man. He took a team with some talent and instilled pride. He and his staff made the players take ownership in themselves, on and off the field. They would not tolerate anything less than your best. Coach Pelini completely turned around the entire attitude of the program. You can tell how much harder they play for him, and that means everything to me. As far as the Big Ten goes, I’m excited just like everyone else. I can’t wait to watch Nebraska play at Ohio State or Michigan or Penn State, but we have a big season coming up in the Big 12, and I’m definitely looking forward to that. n
Brandon, ’99, and Tiffany Verzal, ’02
Focusing on Brain Injury Rehab Awareness BY MITCH SHERMAN, ’98
ven during the darkest days of spring two years ago, Brandon and Tiffany Verzal believed their daughter would make a difference – that tiny Alexis, alive with the aid of machines, unable to see or move, faced this incredible challenge for a reason. They didn’t know how or when she would do it. Most important, perhaps, they never asked why. Tiffany Verzal (BA ’02), in particular, felt a desire to document the aftermath of the tragedy that rocked their family on April 3, 2008. Alexis, at 13 months, was hospitalized while under the supervision of a Texas daycare provider. She suffered severe brain hemorrhaging, the result of a shaken baby incident, according to doctors who treated her. Alexis remained in a coma during the early portion of her 25 days at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas. All the while, Tiffany carried a video camera. It was in her blood, after all. Brandon (BA ’99) and Tiffany met as University of Nebraska–Lincoln undergraduates. Later, she helped manage his staff at Texas A&M University’s 12th Man Productions, the Aggie equivalent to HuskerVision. “I remember at least once, I looked at Tiff and said, ‘Don’t shoot this,’” Brandon said. “It was the bad stuff. Alexis would cough and her whole body would convulse.”His wife was emphatic. “I don’t know how,” she told him, “but this is going to be important.” Brandon, an Omaha native who worked two stints in professional sports before settling in College Station, Texas, in 2004, and Tiffany, from Lexington, Neb., were not allowed to touch their daughter. They couldn’t speak loudly near her bed for fear of providing stimulation that would elevate Alexis’ brain pressure to dangerous levels. Alexis was a vibrant 1-year-old before the injury. She walked at 12 months, sang and laughed with unusual fervor. In the immediate aftermath, tubes flowed into her body. A ventilator allowed Alexis to breathe. Her pain required heavy doses of medication. Brandon and Tiffany slept on the floor of her hospital room. Yet Tiffany persisted with the camera. “There’s a couple ways you could go when something like this happens to a family member, especially your child,” she said. “You’ve got that option of falling apart, or you’ve got the option to realize there’s a bigger reason for this.
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER PHOTO
“For us, there was going to be a reason.” Less than two years later, that reason is abundantly clear. In October 2009, the Verzals premiered a 65-minute documentary entitled “Pathways.” It follows the progress through brain-injury rehabilitation of Alexis and three other patients at Lincoln’s Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, to which Alexis was transferred less than a month after her injury. The first 20 minutes of the documentary largely features footage captured by Tiffany in those horrific days after the injury, long before the Verzals planned their groundbreaking project. “We hope this video will help people understand what rehabilitation really is,” said Marsha Lommel, Madonna president and CEO. “It’s a first.” Inspired by Alexis’ story and the documentary, Nebraskan Dan Whitney, better known as the comedian Larry the Cable Guy, and his wife, Cara, pledged $1.2 million in December for the development of the Alexis Verzal Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital at Madonna. It opens in July, renovating Madonna’s rehabilitation center for children to include 14 beds, a gymnasium and family room. How’s that for making a difference? “It’s impossible to fathom how many lives that hospital will affect,” Brandon said. “The fact that Alexis’ story was mostly the inspiration behind this, it’s something that she can take so much pride in for the rest of her life. “Despite what she had to go through, she was able to help so many other kids in an indirect way.” Alexis continues to require 20 hours of weekly therapy at Madonna, upping the total to more than 1,500 hours since her arrival. She’s made huge strides. Her vision returned, but she struggles with speech and may not regain complete use of her right arm and leg. From a cognitive standpoint, though, she’s a normal 3-year-old. Brandon, 32, and Tiffany, 29, quit their jobs in Texas and returned home. Their east Lincoln residence serves as a picture of the couple’s dedication to Alexis and her recovery, with spacious play areas and a montage of family photos splattered throughout. The Verzals started a video-production business out of their home, V2Content, allowing Brandon and Tiffany to attend daily therapy sessions at Madonna.
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Cara and Dan Whitney, aka Larry the Cable Guy, pose with Alexis, Brandon and Tiffany Verzal at the grant announcement.
Their devotion is noticed. “Brandon and Tiffany are spectacular people,” Lommel said. “We were most impressed with their total focus on Alexis, instead of focusing on the legal battles. They’ve just had the most positive attitude, and their impact has already been incredible.” Motivation for the Verzals, beyond Alexis’ continued recovery, involves the advancement of education about brain injuries and the importance of rehabilitation. According to Lommel, 1.4 million Americans annually suffer traumatic brain injuries. Only one-third of the injured receive rehabilitation therapy. Alexis, meanwhile, has become something of a poster girl for the hospital. Molly Nance, director of strategic planning and marketing for Madonna, describes her work with the Verzals on the documentary as “the most personally rewarding experience” of her career. It’s no different for so many who cross paths with the Verzals. And conversely, they’re touched by the wave of support that extends well past the Whitneys’ donation. Texas A&M women’s soccer coach G Guerrieri raised $30,000 through his foundation to help defray the Verzals’ medical costs. They attended his charity bash in August 2008 and met country music star Garth Brooks, who privately matched every dollar collected by the coach.
“There’s no way to even express the gratitude and support,” Tiffany said. The events of the past two years allow the Verzals to develop a renewed sense of appreciation for life in general. It’s just another of the gifts from Alexis. Through Madonna, they plan to enter the documentary in numerous film festivals this year – all with the goal to spread awareness about the ability to overcome brain injuries. And still, a sense exists that Alexis is not finished with her inspirational journey. Not even close, said mom. “I strongly believe that this is just the beginning,” Tiffany said. In May 2008, Tiffany knew little of struggles ahead as she crouched at the bedside of her 14-month-old daughter, who fought daily for her life. Even then, Tiffany called Alexis an inspiration, a witness and a “miracle by virtue of even being alive.” Consider the path they’ve traveled since. There exists little reason to doubt the Verzals now. “Maybe that’s why I always thought there was a bigger reason to this,” Tiffany said, “because I continued to be inspired by her every day. For years to come, she’ll be an inspiration.” n
Jeremy Stanbary, ’00
His Life Is But a Stage BY ANTHONY FLOTT
eremy Stanbary exited Lincoln stage left, diploma in hand, thinking he’d become a priest. Well he did become Pope John Paul II. And even St. Paul. But never a priest. For the stage – not the altar – was Stanbary’s true vocation. In the nine years since graduating from Nebraska, Stanbary has carved a niche in theater-loving Minneapolis with Epiphany Studio Productions, a nonprofit theater company. He’s performed internationally and on television. He’s lectured on college campuses and developed youth drama training programs. But though his path veered from priest to performer, Stanbary never strayed from his faith. He toils exclusively in the field of Christian theater, first as a means of evangelization, but also as an attempt to “raise the bar in terms of professionalism and artistic creativity in Catholic, Christian-based theater.” “There’s a lot of … negative stereotypes, even among Christians, toward Christian theater,” said Stanbary. “We tend to think of … cheesy skits we’ve seen at retreats we were on in high school.”
Stanbary gives personal testimony to the saving powers of faith and theater. He was raised mostly in Sioux Falls, S.D. His parents divorced when he was 3, and Stanbary grew up “a pretty troubled kid,” getting into fights at school and becoming a rebel without a cause – other than butting heads with his mother. In high school, theater became his “emotional and creative outlet.” He enrolled at Nebraska and pursued a fine and performing arts degree, earning scholarships for his sophomore and junior years. William Grange, Hixson-Lied Professor of Theatre Arts at Nebraska, remembers Stanbary as “extraordinarily talented.” “He had a vocal range that exceeded most young men of his age, and he was adept at playing a wide variety of roles,” said Grange. That included a “superb” performance in George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance.” Grange was equally impressed with Stanbary offstage. “He was enrolled in my theater history classes, and his intellect was first-rate,” said Grange. “Rarely have I encountered a curiosity like his. As I recall, he was fairly gifted at articulating his ideas about
JEREMY AND SARAH STANBARY WERE MARRIED IN MAY. COUTESY PHOTO
theater, its role in society and its history.” But offstage also was where Stanbary’s greatest dramas unfolded. Early on, he said, “I was living that very self-focused, if-it-feelsgood-do-it sort of lifestyle. The theater world of entertainment is very dominated by this very self-focused anything-goes mentality, and I got caught up in that.” By the end of his freshman year he was “completely empty and depressed.” He also was about to take on the role of a dad, having fathered a child out of wedlock. “That completely flipped my life upside down,” he said. “My life was a mess.”
Becoming a father at just 19 years old, though, set in motion dramatic changes in Stanbary’s life. “I knew I had to take some responsibility. I knew I needed to not run away from it but to face it head on and be a good father,” he said. He continued his schooling, and before the end of his sophomore year he had a son, Aidan. “He’s been the biggest part of my life over the past 10-and-a-half years now.” Stanbary said his son was the instrument that sparked “an Augustinian conversion.” A nominal Catholic growing up, he became involved with the university’s Newman Center. He simultaneously grew less involved with university productions, citing “moral conflicts” with some content. Halfway through his junior year, Stanbary stopped auditioning for plays and considered leaving UNL. He forfeited his scholarship but stayed enrolled, earning his degree in 2000. He then set his sights on a different stage – the priesthood – and through the Lincoln Catholic diocese joined the seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. After a year, though, he discovered he was miscast. He left the seminary. “God didn’t want me to continue on that, but he wanted me there that year in the seminary. It was one of the most formative years in my life, spiritually and intellectually and personally, and it really set me up well for what I’m doing in terms of formal education in the faith.” n
Elizabeth Moore, ’02, ’05
Psychologist Helping Hoarders on TV By Linda Ulrich, ’71
ob and Betsey’s home was a bewildering maze of furniture, appliances, and high heaps of toys, books and papers, much of it outdated or broken. Many of us lament that we have too much stuff. But Bob and Betsey were different. They didn’t simply accumulate too many possessions. They were hoarders and they were part of the A&E television show “Hoarders.” A University of Nebraska–Lincoln alumna, Elizabeth Moore, was part of a team that has provided professional help for Bob and Betsey and other hoarders on the show. While she was studying at UNL, Moore never dreamed she would be featured on national TV. “Being on television just was not something I ever thought about doing,” she said. She has been selective about which shows she is on, in large part because of ethical considerations. Although she is “a psychologist first and a TV person second,” she is pleased that the show has increased awareness that hoarders are not simply lazy but rather have a mental illness. Viewers are fascinated with hoarding, perhaps because they can relate to having a cluttered home. In reality, though, hoarding is much more than clutter. It is a complex mental disorder that often includes financial and medical problems as well as depression or other mental illness. It can require as much as two years of treatment. “On the hoarders show, we demonstrate treatment techniques but that’s not the same as true treatment,” she said. “The cleanup of the home lasts two days but just because the house is clean doesn’t mean the problem is solved. I try to help them understand that hoarding is not about possessions. It’s about the decisions they make and how they think about their possessions.” Moore follows up with hoarders she worked with on the show and helps them find continuing treatment after the show is filmed. “I try to emphasize that I am just ‘rent-some-help for the weekend’ and that the true treatment needs to be ongoing with local providers,” she said. Hoarding has only recently been understood to be its own separate disorder that needs its own research and its own study. “Not much research has been done but the research so far shows that if someone grows up poor, there is a greater likelihood of hoarding,” Moore said. “Although there is some evidence of hoarding among children, especially if the parents are hoarders, the
majority of people become hoarders later in life and many are part of the geriatric community. Hoarding tends to be related to a complex interaction of biological, neuropsychological and emotional factors.” Moore also has appeared on “The OCD Project,” a series on VH1 that focused on helping people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Of the two shows, Moore has enjoyed being on “The OCD Project” the most. “I have enjoyed the OCD program more because we are directly involved in treatment and it is a more realistic reflection of that,” she said. Her work on “The OCD Project” also is more closely aligned with her career. She is a staff psychologist at the Anxiety Disorders Center at The Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., where she primarily works with patients who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias. Special techniques that are part of cognitive-behavioral therapy can help people with those disorders make great progress in a relatively short period of time, Moore said. She works with clients of all ages; about 25 percent of her work is with children. Moore received her master’s degree (2002) and Ph.D. (2005) in clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “The faculty was outstanding and very student-oriented. They shared opportunities with their students. It was a very collegial environment,” she said. “It was kind of like a family, and I am still in touch with many of them.” She has particular regard for her adviser, Deb Hope, who helped her adjust to life in the “big city” of Lincoln after growing up in a small town in upstate New York. Her undergraduate degree was in music education but she turned to psychology because, she said, “the human mind is fascinating.” Moore loves her work, but she has a variety of interests outside her career. She enjoys hiking, running and biking. She likes crafts, she can juggle and she can do magic tricks, including folding a dollar bill into an elephant. But there’s nothing magic about her work with clients – it’s the result of an excellent education at UNL and the skills she has developed. “I love being hands on, and to help people overcome their anxiety is very rewarding,” Moore said. “It is a really great feeling to see people get significantly better. To see them so invested in their treatment is incredibly inspiring.” n NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 51
Daryl Farmer, ’02, ’07
Retracing a 5,000-mile Bicycle Odyssey By Sara Pipher Gilliam, ’98
s a high school senior, traveling west was on Daryl Farmer’s mind. He read an article about bicycle touring in a magazine and thought it seemed like a good way to “escape.” He began planning his route and saving money, and two years later – in 1985 – he was ready to roll. The resulting journey was an arduous 5,000-mile odyssey through the national parks of the American West. Covering dozens of miles every day, he encountered hailstorms, rattlesnakes, saloons, mining towns and unforgettable characters – men and women who could have stepped out of a collection of Raymond Carver stories. Twenty years later, Farmer – then a graduate student in creative writing at UNL – decided to do it all again. “Physically it was harder when I was 40, as you would expect. But when I was 20, I had never been out of Colorado and everything was new to me, so while that was more exciting, there were more highs and lows,” he said. “On the second trip, I was more mature, so in a way it was quite a bit easier. The hardest part was being away from my wife.” Farmer conceived of the second trip as the framework for his dissertation, a memoir, “Bicycling Beyond the Divide,” published this spring by the University of Nebraska Press. It chronicles both journeys, using them not only as a method of measuring personal growth and change, but also to observe the shifting landscape of the West. To recreate the story of the first ride, Farmer relied heavily on photographs and journals he kept to document day-today events and statistics. The hardest part of writing the book, he said, was deciding what to exclude – he had more than enough material to work with. At 20, Farmer rode almost exclusively without a bike helmet, braved extreme weather conditions, and raced a pronghorn antelope down Wyoming Highway 191. On his second trip, securely strapped into a helmet and not above hitchhiking when the weather turned foul, his route was interrupted by a herd of bison in Yellowstone. One night something – probably a coyote – sniffed around his tent as he tried to sleep. He got caught in a snowstorm and dodged semis on narrow highways. As with his first journey, Farmer tried not to plan much in advance, preferring the spontaneity of random meetings and unexpected detours.
“With the Internet, people are planning more, but for me that’s less adventure; I don’t like knowing where I’m going to be at the end of the day when I’m traveling,” he said. “That’s one of the things I like the best about bike touring. Also, I love just being in the wilderness areas. The bicycle connects me more to the natural world than a car ever would.” As he traveled, Farmer noted significant changes in the landscape of the West. Ponds once filled with wildlife were drained to accommodate luxury condominiums. Sprawl overtook formerly pristine mountains. For a guy on a bike, access to wild areas diminished. “Many of the wilderness areas were similar, although things were much more expensive,” he said. “On my first trip I stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge for $29/night. This time it was close to $150. That’s a sign of more than just inflation. In Vail, on the first trip I camped right on a golf course. There was a different sense of security then. This time it was surrounded by ‘no trespassing’ signs. Part of that is that Colorado has grown so much. Part is a different sense of security, a new level of mistrust.” Towns have grown or diminished, depending on their level of trendiness. Farmer also noted that the culture of national parks has changed. “I stayed at Signal Mountain Lodge in Grand Teton National Park on both trips,” he said. “That first trip, everyone working there was from colleges around the country. National parks were places where people congregated in the summer. This time, everyone working at the lodge was local, working their second or third jobs trying to make it in a very expensive town. There was a kind of wilderness ethic that developed among college kids that worked in parks in the summers; something’s been lost in that transition.” Farmer is reflective about his own youth. He is affectionate, not judgmental, towards his younger self. In his memoir he writes, “I wished I could meet that kid now, buy him a drink, teach him a thing or two. Instead, I ordered a beer in his honor and drank it to the past. Then, just to make things square, I ordered another and drank to the present.” Farmer received his doctorate from UNL in 2007. Last fall, he began teaching at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He bikes to work. n NEBRASKAMAGAZINE
Ryan Brewster, ’03, ’05
Advising Iraqi, Afghani Farmers BY CHERYL ALBERTS IRWIN, ’86, ’00
yan Brewster is not one to sit on the sidelines. That’s why he took on the role of a USDA agricultural adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I wanted to contribute to the U.S.-led efforts,” Brewster said. “I did not want to sit on the sidelines while others were sacrificing so much to stabilize these two countries.” Brewster helped organize farmer cooperatives for a year in Iraq and now is doing the same thing in Afghanistan. The 2003 College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources animal science graduate from a Butte dairy farm also earned his MBA from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2005. He worked at the Western Dairy Association, and in Scottsbluff as agricultural director for former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel. There he learned his expertise could help with reconstruction efforts in Iraq. After training with the U.S. Department of State, Brewster flew to the Diyala province in northeast Iraq. He worked with farmer cooperatives producing eggs, dates, poultry, honey and vegetables. (See http://www.fas.usda.gov/. Click on “Once in a Lifetime – USDA Agricultural Advisors in Iraq.”) Brewster offered technical advice and new technologies to the farmers, whom he described as welcoming and taking pride in their work. “Coming from an agricultural background, I was very comfortable working with (the Iraqi farmers) and they were comfortable with me,” he said, adding most conversations took place through a translator.
Ryan Brewster, right, says his CASNR education and experiences helped develop communication and team-building skills essential in helping organize farmer cooperatives in Iraq. Brewster, seen talking to a member of an Iraqi poultry cooperative, now is doing the same thing in Afghanistan.
Key concepts Brewster taught the Iraqi farmers were use of a business plan and an operating budget. Previously, he said, the Iraqi government provided all the inputs and collected more than half of the production. That has changed dramatically, with Iraqi farmers now trying to compete in the global market. CASNR, Brewster said, provided him a great education and was a perfect fit for his interests. While on campus he was a member of the meats judging team, an animal science ambassador, a meat lab employee and a genetics class teaching assistant. “CASNR not only provided the agricultural background, but more importantly provided the communication and team-building skills that are an essential part of the job,” Brewster said. His job, while dangerous because he’s working in one of the most violent provinces in Iraq, has been rewarding. “There were some bad times, but the good outweighed the bad and made the entire experience worth it,” Brewster said. “Seeing farmers realized that things were getting better and seeing their successes was amazing.” In Afghanistan Brewster currently is stationed near Gardez, in the eastern Paktia province, through March 2010. n
David Graff, ’05, ’06
Software Winning Converts in the “Hudl” By Mitch Sherman, ’98
avid Graff knows he got lucky. If he was a year or two older, Graff’s company likely never would have taken flight because the technology didn’t exist to support it until shortly before his graduation from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A year or two younger, and Graff wouldn’t have possessed the expertise in time to corner the market on networking video to help football coaches teach and scout. “You’ve got to be very lucky,” said Graff, chief executive officer and co-founder of Agile Sports. “It’s true.” Luck, though, only takes you so far. It may get you in the door to see Brett Favre or Bill Gates. But Graff and his partners had to do the rest. Two years after Graff and former college buddies John Wirtz and Brian Kaiser first distributed Agile Sports’ Hudl software beyond Memorial Stadium, they’ve sold it to more than a dozen major-college football programs, three NFL franchises and approximately 1,600 high schools. Hudl Pro, the program offered to college and professional organizations, utilizes a secure Internet-based system for coaches and players to view and manipulate video stored within their in-house networks. It removes the need for the time-consuming task of burning DVDs and, more notably, provides users with remote access to playbooks and video of practice, game action, opponents’ film and grouping of pre-selected plays. “The kids absolutely love it,” said ex-Nebraska defensive back Andy Means, the head football coach at Millard South in Omaha. “They’re tech-savvy anyway, and Hudl just makes everything so much more accessible, so much easier to study film.” Millard South, among Hudl’s 11 pilot high school programs in 2008, advanced to the state-championship game in Nebraska’s largest class that fall. A year later, the Patriots won their first title since 1995. Graff and Kaiser, both 27, and Wirtz, 28, run their 20-person operation out of a 4,000-square-foot office in Lincoln’s Haymarket district. They recently earned recognition among Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30: America’s coolest young entrepreneurs. Not bad for a trio who met as freshmen while living at the Kauffman Academic Residential Center. They graduated from
Graff presented a NU Fooball jersey to Bill Gates, shown with Jeff Raikes in 2005.
UNL’s Raikes School of Computer Science and Management – right as the idea for Hudl and parent-company Agile Sports was born. It sprung to life early in 2006. Graff, as a student assistant in the Nebraska sports information department, had proven his skill in working on a few statistical projects for then-football coach Bill Callahan and chief football administrator Tim Cassidy at the suggestion of NU media relations director Keith Mann. “He always went above and beyond,” Mann said. “He gave you what you asked for and broke it down further. The first couple things he did with (the football staff), they were very impressed. And at some point, they started going straight to him.” Callahan and Cassidy approached Graff about incorporating video into a project for the Huskers in the spring of 2006. And it just so happened that Jeff Raikes wanted to help. Raikes, a former ground-level employee at Microsoft, Nebraska native and Husker fan for whom the UNL school was named, agreed to serve as the primary investor for Agile Sports. Kaiser, now chief technology officer at Agile Sports, programmed a demonstration of about five Nebraska plays from its 2005 Alamo Bowl win over Michigan for Callahan and Cassidy. “It was a ton of smoke and mirrors,” Graff said. “But they liked it, and they committed to work with us over the next year to develop the product.” The Hudl product made vast strides over the next year and half, during which time Graff and Wirtz completed their master of business administration degrees. They also gained encouragement from one memorable comment spoken by Callahan, who coached the Oakland Raiders before coming to Lincoln in 2004. “He told us when he was out in Oakland, people were coming to pitch him all the time,” Graff said, “but this was the first product he saw that would actually make a difference for a football team. That’s what spurred us on to think this was something we could build around.” Fate intervened again in 2008, when Callahan landed with the New York Jets as an assistant coach. He recommended the product to head coach Eric Mangini, who met with Graff at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. continued on page 50
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Soon, the Jets were on board with Hudl, which brings the story back to Favre – who quarterbacked the New York team in 2008. Usually, Graff or his employees teach the HUDL system to coaches or video staff, who train the players. Not with Favre. Graff himself sat down with the NFL legend for a tutorial. Turns out, the quarterback logged more time on Hudl that season than any other Jet. As for Gates, the Hudl co-founders met him first during a presentation at the Raikes School. Later, Raikes, now CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, arranged a meeting for the Hudl crew with the Microsoft founder and multi-billionaire in Seattle. “We were one of 30 companies who sat down for 15 minutes and did tech demos for him,” Graff said. “He had a whole legal pad worth of notes on Hudl. It was really impressive. Just how quickly he could wrap his head around something was amazing.” Hudl added the Cleveland Browns last year and the Denver Broncos before this season. Among colleges, Penn State, Michigan, Arizona State, Stanford, Southern California and Oregon rank among the most prestigious clients. Nebraska has maintained its relationship with Hudl under third-year coach Bo Pelini. And Graff wants Agile Sports to keep growing. The company added an office in Austin, Texas. It develops software under the Hudl label that has meshed with 13 sports. More meetings with the likes of Favre and Gates seem inevitable. “It was our hope from the beginning to build something big,” Graff said. “We’ve had a lot of fun so far, and we’re excited to see where it goes.” n
Andy McEntee, ’06
Dream Becomes Reality TV By Anthony Flott
hey didn’t have rats climbing in the walls of Kimball High School, where Andy McEntee went to school. No crumbling, graffiti-covered walls through which weeds grew. No rooms submerged in flood muck. McEntee saw all that and more this summer as segment producer with NBC’s newest reality TV show, “School Pride.” “Kids are naming the rats,” he said of students at Detroit’s Communication and Media Arts School High School. “I had no idea really what it was like until I was on this show. If you can name it, we probably saw it.” So did viewers of “School Pride,” which debuted Oct. 15. Its premise has expert hosts visiting dilapidated schools to inspire students, teachers, parents, the community and sponsors to renovate them. It’s a lot like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” only design takes a back seat to narrative. And there’s plenty to tell. Like the stories at Compton’s Enterprise Middle School, nicknamed “Enter Prison” by students for its ramshackle condition. “We’re following the story,” McEntee said. “We want to know about the students and the teachers and we want to know about the staff and community members. There’s much more story.” As there is with McEntee, whose “School Pride” post already is his 10th reality show gig in just four years since graduating from UNL. How he managed such a rapid rise is a lesson in blind faith, gumption, sweat equity and … a bit of good luck. McEntee came to the University of Nebraska wanting to be a doctor. He tabled that aspiration close to his senior year, but without an alternative. “Everyone started asking me, ‘What are you going to do, what are you going to do?’” His answer came one night when his parents had him watch “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” “I thought that was a cool show,” he said. “It did good things for deserving people, and I just decided I wanted to work for that show. I started telling people, ‘I’m going to work for “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.”’” How that would happen, he wasn’t exactly sure. McEntee had no TV experience or connections. His parents were supportive … but encouraged him to have a Plan B. McEntee sent a few e-mails to people he’d heard had worked for the show, but got nowhere.
Mike Rowe and Andy McEntee on the set of “Dirty Jobs”. courtesy photo
Graduation was three months away and Plan A wasn’t looking so good. That’s when the “Extreme Makeover” bus rolled into Lincoln to work on the Fullerton-Machachek house. McEntee again scrambled to find a contact with the show and finally did so – the friend of a friend of a friend who once worked for “Extreme.” She gave McEntee phone numbers and e-mails, and just as “Extreme” hit Lincoln, McEntee sent messages begging to volunteer for it. “I was freaking out thinking I’d lost my chance of getting in,” McEntee said. Instead, he had a response in less than a day: “Can you be here by tomorrow?” McEntee became one of the show’s two local production assistants, working noon to midnight, with pay. Had they known, he would have worked for free. McEntee juggled midterm tests while working eight 12-hour days for “Extreme” doing mostly go-fer work – emptying trash, fetching coffee, etc. But he also made an impression – and plenty of connections. The show left town but called McEntee days later asking him to work in Ohio as a PA on its next segment. Unable to miss two weeks of school with graduation looming, he had to turn down the offer. “I was really bummed,” McEntee said. “I thought that was kind of the end of it right there. I just went back to my normal life of school and working.” But only for a while. McEntee graduated Dec. 16 and that week began e-mailing and calling the show telling them he once more was available. This time they asked him to meet the crew in Georgia. He did, then finished “Extreme’s” final six episodes that season. Less than a month later, in May 2007, he moved to LA and became the show’s production coordinator, directing half a dozen other PAs on sets that stretched up to four square blocks. At times he’d have a walkie-talkie going in each hand and his cell phone ringing, too. “It is hundreds, thousands of people volunteering, working 24 hours a day,” McEntee said. “It’s the most realistic thing on reality TV.” McEntee worked all of season 5 and started season 6 in September 2007 once more as production coordinator. But, because the show’s so good, he decided to call it quits. continued on page 54
Andy McEntee and
photo Ty PeNNington. courtesy
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How’s that? “There’s not a lot of room to move up,” McEntee said. “I have bosses that were there since the show began season 1. I didn’t seem to be going anywhere.” So he left. One day after cleaning his office he earned another job as an associate producer on TLC’s “10 Years Younger,” working under executive producer and reality show veteran Mark Allen. McEntee’s willingness to tackle any task left an impression. “Andy started out in a way that most people probably wouldn’t even consider, but it is often done,” said Allen, a fellow Nebraskan and 1987 University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate. “You would be amazed how easy that is to do, frankly.” Allen and McEntee finished “10 Years Younger” by Christmas 2008. McEntee next worked on Oxygen’s “Pretty Wicked” and then three other shows in 2009 (“Broke and Famous,” VH1; “More to Love,” Fox; Tool Academy, VH1) and three in 2010 (“The Millionaire Matchmaker,” Bravo; “Losing it With Jillian,” NBC; “Hayneedle Your Home with Eduardo Xol,” Web series) before making it to “School Pride.” It was steady unsteady work. “A lot of reality shows are very short,” McEntee said. “Most of us in the reality world are looking for jobs every couple of months.” With a good reputation, though, finding work has been easy for McEntee. “The cast is everything in a reality show,” Allen said. “And Andy has a way of making them feel at ease, while getting to be themselves on camera. That last part is so crucial and getting harder and harder as more people, it seems, just want to be on TV to show their family and friends they were on a reality show.” With “School Pride” that meant working closely with teachers and students to determine their needs and then coordinating those with the renovation team. McEntee is hoping to make “School Pride” a longer stint than what he’s had the last two years. It’s the first show since “Extreme,” he said, that’s “doing good things, not trash television.” NBC executives ordered six episodes after seeing the pilot. McEntee hopes for a similar reaction, and more, by viewers. “More than anything else what we’re really hoping to do is inspire this to happen all over the country,” he said. “But you don’t need us to do this. Any community can gather together and fix these schools.” n
Matt Baumeister, ’07
Pan-American Spontaneity Tour By Bill Citro, ’09
BAUMEISTER Climbing into the thin air, Huascaran National Park, PERU (TRIP BLOG: www.panambikeride.com)
att Baumeister pedaled his bike from the northernmost tip of frigid Alaska to still frigid Argentina – the closest thing to an earthly pole-to-pole journey by road. But for him, the trip was not about the number of miles (14,000) he traveled. It was about the people he met and the cultures he discovered. They have become a part of him in the way an infinity of back roads cannot. “It was a truly amazing experience,” he said. Every journey has a beginning. After finishing his geography degree at UNL as a non-traditional student, Baumeister and a friend “decided, for a graduation present, that I was doing to do something kind of crazy.” After considering a trip featuring his passion for hiking outdoors, Baumeister gave in and upgraded to a bike, allowing him to travel farther. “The idea was to start at the northernmost point by road in North America and finish at the farthest southern point by road,” he said. Baumeister called a hiking buddy, pitched the idea and got an enthusiastic response. With a committed riding partner, he was able to save up money and leave in nine months. “For me, it was a spur of the moment thing,” he said. “A few people (other travelers he met) had planned the whole trip out. They’d been planning it for 10 years.” However, Baumeister said, “to show you a map of what we did – it would be very convoluted.” Instead, Baumeister and company opted to forsake any sort of plan. “We were just like, ‘We’re gonna grab a map, see what we want to see and make our way south,’” he said. “You can do it the other way, but this way is so much more fun.” He had ideas about what he wanted to see along the journey but compromised on some of those, because each day he woke up feeling differently about what he wanted to do most. He even stowed his bike to boat through the Amazon and to Antarctica as the opportunities arose, both detours he hadn’t planned. The day after Easter in 2008, Baumeister and his riding partner came upon a stunningly beautiful countryside, about 70 miles north of Mexico City. They stopped at an Aztec temple there. “It was an old temple complex off the beaten path,” he said. There, they met a local cyclist from a town not even listed on Google maps: Santiago de Tequixquiac.
“He invited us to stay with his family, and we kind of debated about it for about one night … We ended up staying for two weeks,” Baumeister said. “People in the village got to know us a little bit, and started inviting us to all this stuff. We went to a Mexican funeral, which was something I’d never seen before – never even heard about before. It’s a seven-day deal.” American funerals typically feel somber and reflective. This funeral was just the opposite: “It’s a huge party where they have popcorn sellers, and dancing, and ice cream and food. It’s just a riot!” he said. “Every night people get together to celebrate the life of the deceased person.” Now a veteran of world travel – he’s also been to Europe, Nepal, India, Egypt and Thailand – Baumeister didn’t leave the United States until he was 23 years old. “I had never been exposed to these ideas of a larger world and other cultures besides a passing note in class,” he said. The bike ride became more than just a feat or a challenge. “I started realizing how amazing the world is – how cool it is to see other people and how they live,” he said. “Differences exist in culture, but the bottom line is people are all the same.” He hopes to share these ideas with high school students by teaching geography, history, social studies, psychology or sociology. For Baumeister, it’s not so much about teaching a particular subject matter, but opening the eyes of students to the larger world around them. With both his fiancée’s family and his own family nearby, Baumeister is ready to settle down – a bit. “If I didn’t have a financial issue – running out of money – and I didn’t have my fiancée back here waiting, I don’t think I would have stopped,” he said, his tone more serious. “I received hospitality from people who didn’t have anything to give,” Baumeister said. “Some of the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life are people that had nothing.” Just as these realizations transcended the miles he traveled, he expects the lessons he will share with future pupils will transcend the curriculum. After all, the world’s always changing, and a spontaneous personal field trip could only make him a better teacher. “I would do it – without a doubt – again,” he said. n NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 49
AlumniProfile Trina Creighton, lecturer in broadcasting, sits at a news desk in an Andersen Hall studio. Inspired by her graduate thesis, Creighton created a documentary that examines the social stigma of higher education among black men.
Trina Creighton, ’08
Documentary Explores Minority Opinions on Education By Troy Fedderson, ’95
rina Creighton is giving black men a voice that is helping others understand social stigmas attached to higher education. Inspired by her graduate thesis, Creighton – a broadcasting lecturer in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications – has created a documentary that features 10 black men from North Omaha talking about their education paths. Four of the individuals are enrolled at UNL, another graduated in August, and the other five remain in Omaha (two are in prison). Creighton has presented the documentary, “The Academic Achievement Gap: We Do Better When We Know Better,” to groups in Lincoln and Omaha, both on and off campus. She purposefully left the documentary raw, allowing the young men to talk in their own words about their opinions on higher education. “I wanted people to hear about this from the mouths of the young black men who live in this community,” said Creighton. “I read all the research when I was preparing my thesis. But I became frustrated because it all came from people who did not live in the environments they were talking about. “This part of the community simply did not have a voice.” Forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech about equality between races, earning a college education remains a difficult task for the majority of blacks – with a particularly strong social stigma among black men. According to the 2007 Minorities in Higher Education report by the American Council on Education (which used data from 2005), only 28 percent of black men and 37 percent of black women between ages 18 and 24 were enrolled in college. Among white counterparts, those percentages are 40 and 45, respectively. As a young girl, Creighton loved reading and writing. She remembers those interests drawing questions about why she was “being white.” “The education stigma among the black community is something that I experienced as a young girl and it continues today” said Creighton. “It’s something that really baffles me – and it inspired me to move forward with this documentary.” Creighton worked with UNL’s Institutional Review Board to define how the project would be completed and developed a list of nine questions asked to each of the 10 individuals. Topics of the questions centered on the academic achievement gap, racism,
discrimination, poverty, peer pressure, the threat of “acting white,” teaching pedagogy, family structure, self esteem and self-motivation. After completing the first two interviews with two men not in college, Creighton had a difficult time moving forward. “I was logging tapes and it really depressed me,” Creighton said. “I’m a black woman with a son and daughter who thought she knew what was going on with young black people. I was embarrassed and horrified at what I didn’t know.” She found the interviewees had a lack of role models, a wrong definition of what is healthy, and did not believe someone cared for them unconditionally. Jerrid, an 18-year-old serving a prison term for robbery and use of a weapon, summed up most of what Creighton found. He lacked a father figure in the home and got involved with gangs as he felt no one cared for him. Jerrid said the gangs provided a sense of family. “I used to think school was a good thing, a place where I could get an education and there were girls there,” Jerrid said. “After a while, I figured I could get a better education on the streets, that school can’t teach me how to live.” While many men and women from North Omaha strive for success, Cameron, one of the UNL students, said the road can be especially difficult because of feelings within the community. “The African-American race is like a bucket of crabs,” Cameron said. “That’s because, when we see someone doing something positive or doing something right, we pull them back down again.” Creighton said self-motivation and family support were the primary reasons the five young men came to UNL. “Out of the five here on campus, three grew up with fathers in the home,” Creighton said. “The other two did not. However, those two had very strong sisters who pushed them to get an education.” The majority of the five mentioned they were getting an education to help their families. The campus group also voiced a number of stories that could have drawn them into a life of violence instead of education. continued on page 48
Tina Creighton, ’08
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Melvin, an 18-year-old enrolled at UNL, said he had his “bad years” but received clarity when a gun was held to his head. “I got kidnapped at around 13 or 14 and had a gun held to my head and all that,” said Melvin. “I thought, ‘What am I doing? Why am I here? What brought me to this situation? Why am I doing this?’ Luckily I had someone looking over me, the Lord or someone, and they just let me go. I went home and told everyone that I was done with the gang. “My mom and dad were like, ‘there’s no other way to go but college.’” The five from UNL continue to venture home. While they avoid being dragged back down, they also try to plant seeds that college is attainable – and cool. “My biggest fear was that I could never get out,” said Erick in the documentary. “Now, I go home and walk around hoping people ask me where I’ve been. I get ecstatic when kids run up to me and I get to tell them that I’ve been to college. I make sure to tell them to stay out of the gang life. And, that if I can get out, so can they.” When she shows the video to groups, Creighton said the reaction is nearly the same every time. “It’s kind of like getting a slap in the face,” she said. “People sit quiet for a few minutes, then the questions start coming.” Stemming from the documentary, Creighton has started to consult with Building Bright Futures, an Omaha organization working to create educational excellence and equity. She is also planning other documentaries. “I would love to do one about the fathers of these kids,” said Creighton. “And, I’ve already started to work on another one about single fathers caring for their children.” Creighton continues to show “The Academic Achievement Gap” documentary to groups. For more information, or to arrange a viewing, contact Creighton at firstname.lastname@example.org n
Becca Swanson, ’98
Staying Strong By Anthony Flott
t’s a good thing Becca Swanson is the strongest woman in the world – ever. Because for some time, it’s as if she’s been carrying the weight of the world. Perhaps, though, Swanson was never stronger than she was this spring when she cast off her old life, packed everything she owned into a car and headed 1,500 miles west. “It was a huge decision for me to choose failure in order to open up my life for a new prospect,” Swanson said. Calling Becca Swanson the strongest woman ever isn’t hyperbole meant merely to convey that Swanson is “really strong.” It means exactly what it says. No other woman ever has lifted more weight than Swanson. A competitive powerlifter for 12 years, Swanson hoisted a total of 2,050 pounds in three events – squat, bench and deadlift – at an October 2005 meet in Chicago A ton and change. Double what the world record was in 1977, and at least 250 pounds more than any other woman. Swanson also has world records in each individual event, hitting 854 pounds in the squat (Chicago, 2005), 600 in the bench (Omaha, 2008) and 683 in the deadlift (Helsinki, Finland, 2005). “Insanely huge numbers,” wrote Steve Wennerstrom, historian for the International Federation of Body Building and Fitness. Hardcore NU volleyball fans might recall a much smaller Swanson lettering for the Huskers in 1993. She was one year removed from Papillion LaVista High School, where she ran track and played volleyball with NU legend Allison Weston. The Monarchs were state runners-up her junior and senior years. “I was a really good athlete but never the best,” Swanson said. An injury-beset Husker volleyball team sought her services, though. Swanson played just three minutes in three games, registering one serve and one dig. “I thought I was a good hitter but … these girls eat, sleep and drink volleyball,” she said. “I was nowhere near as good.” She stuck to her studies in mechanical engineering. The program included a three-month co-op working for Union Pacific in De Soto, Mo., just south of St. Louis. There she joined a gym and discovered powerlifting. “Instant passion,” she said. “Instant.
“From having known failure with volleyball, I could recognize the passion I found for weightlifting. I was into it. I was lifting all the time. Nothing would stop me.” Guys told her it was too much. Try fitness competitions instead, they’d say. Family thought similarly. “Mom made it clear she didn’t like the muscular female body,” Swanson said. Brother Scott, a standout baseball player at North Dakota State in the 1990s, wasn’t surprised at his sister’s commitment. “Becca has always been a competitor,” he said. “The thing that sets her apart from most athletes is that she is never satisfied with where she is and she pushes herself to be that much better. “But to say that I was overly supportive would be a lie. I thought that weightlifting was just a hobby or activity that Becca did. Over the years I have seen that weightlifting was not just a hobby or activity; it was her life.” Swanson returned to school in Lincoln but continued to lift. When she began another co-op, in Omaha with Union Pacific, one of the first things she did was look in the phone book for a “hard-core gym.” She met powerlifting coach Rick Hussey and the two hit it off athletically, romantically and professionally. Before Swanson graduated in 1998, she and Hussey opened Big Iron Gym. Her life was changing. Her body was changing. Swanson got into bodybuilding, winning titles such as Ms. Nebraska, Ms. Midwest and Ms. Rocky Mountain, but powerlifting was where she excelled. She slowly added mass, increased her lift totals and, eventually, became the “Strongest Woman EVER to Walk the Planet.” She began to brand herself that way – literally – tattooing her title in pink and white on the back of her neck. She emblazoned it on her business cards and Web site (www.beccaswanson.com). Big Deal Productions produced a documentary on her, “Strongest Ever.” (To date it has played only in Germany and Finland but a trailer can be found online). She and Hussey built Big Iron into one of the Midwest’s premier strength training facilities. But becoming strongest ever came at a price. “There’s only so much a person’s body can handle,” Swanson said. “I had torn both biceps and an inner thigh muscle and had nerve pain coming down the center of my upper back going through my shoulders.” continued on page 50 NEBRASKAMAGAZINE 49
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At 250 pounds, she wanted to “look normal and kind of regain my femininity.” At 36, she began to see her life in macrocosm. “Rick and I never got married and had no kids, so there were sacrifices,” she said. “Big ones.” By the end of 2009, blaming “relationship mumbo-jumbo,” Swanson cut ties with Hussey and Big Iron Gym. “I just wasn’t happy,” she said. Swanson wrote a life plan, deciding to “physically let go of the past and start focusing on the future.” Among her goals promoted on her Web site: “I will become a World Renown Female Muscular Icon!” That took her back to where it all started – Missouri. Swanson trained at the Harley Race Wrestling Academy in Eldon and within months was crowned the World League Wrestling Ladies Champion. She sought a bigger stage, though. In March she took all her furniture to a thrift store, put everything else into her car and headed for LA. “Seems I have always lived that way,” she blogged on her Web site. “Living like I am leaving. I think that just tells me that I was not meant to settle… YET!” By April she was sleeping on mats at a friend’s house, working out at Gold’s Gym in Venice, and training at the American Wrestling Federation with Ric Drasin, wrestler/bodybuilder and one-time training partner to Arnold Schwarzenegger. She met with the big-stage WWE hoping to land a contract, but no dice. “I’m too big for what they consider a diva,” Swanson said. “I weigh 100 pounds more than their girls. Not that it won’t ever happen; it’s not a closed door. I’m good enough to wrestle [and] they like what they see except for my size.” Drasin says Swanson’s “look and ability to sell in the ring is a good plus” and “unusual.” But, he adds, wrestling is a “tough political business, and even though she has the look and can work pretty well, it’s still very hard to get the push. Just takes time and the right people, and even then there’s no guarantee.” In the meanwhile, Swanson also has turned her hopes to TV and film. Perhaps her muscular build and athletic prowess could land her a role as Vin Diesel’s sister, she said, or a “Vasquez role in ‘Aliens’ – a bad-ass female Navy Seal or whatever.” By May, Swanson was blogging about casting calls and had signed with a commercial agent. “This is big, Big, BIG!!” she wrote. “I’ve lived more than most will ever,” she said shortly after arriving in LA. “You only get one life and that’s why I’m going with what’s going to make me happy.” No matter how heavy the lifting. n
Andrew Stewart, ’08
Learning the Lingo in L.A. By Bill Citro, ’09
ost bosses will be happy to divulge that putting a vary so much from the valley, to the ocean, to downtown, that all smiley-face on a resume is unprofessional, witless and three zones merit separate weather projections. downright laughable. But it worked for Andrew Stewart, Most people think of movie stars when they think of L.A. Upon a recent University of Nebraska–Lincoln graduate and editorial reflection, Stewart will admit that meeting and writing about intern at Variety Magazine, a Los Angeles-based team of film movie stars is exciting. aficionados. “Samuel L. Jackson was really cool. He was actually really, “I got a call back – and so here I am,” Stewart said. really cool. You see him in the movies and you see that, but he It wasn’t quite that simple. Stewart spent his elementary school actually is really cool, in real life. He’s the shit,” said Stewart, days in Murdock, Neb., grabbing lunch from a nice lady who laughing. happened to be the cousin of his current employer, Kirstin Wilder, He’s also chatted with Anne Hathaway, John Travolta, Ashton also a UNL grad (journalism ’89) and the deputy managing editor Kutcher, George Lucas and Cameron Diaz. at Variety. A few years later, one of Stewart’s “Knowing how a film is made just enriches university friends had dinner with Wilder in It’s “Slanguage” that appreciation for the final product,” he Los Angeles and casually mentioned that she “Bofo” – Major box office said. had a friend interested in film and studying player; i.e., “The Dark Knight” Stewart wrote a front-page article on the journalism. Three years after that, Stewart “Ten pole” – Major summer Golden Globe Awards being aired live for was done with classes and ready to pursue blockbuster; i.e., “Terminator the first time this year. He also authored a his dream of being a film critic with Variety. Salvation” feature story about Hollywood going green. “It’s such a weird thing,” Stewart said. “Legit” – Legitimate theater; “Variety is a big deal,” Stewart said. “It’s “So many people spend their entire lives i.e, a play like Shakespeare’s been around forever. It has an amazing trying to get to where they want to be. And “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” reputation.” here I am: a 24–year–old who is doing “Mogul” – High-up exec; i.e., One of the publication’s quirks is exactly what I want to do. That doesn’t Warner Brothers President “slanguage.” “It’s our own kind of lingo that happen very often.” Brad Globe we use at Variety,” he said. The shorthand, While other kids were handcuffing and edgy terms Variety uses seem to fit well with moon jumping, Stewart was watching the culture of the film industry. “To have movies. At UNL, he decided to major in both news-editorial and your writing be a part of that – and to be incorporated in its style film studies. “I always wanted to be a film critic,” he said. – is fun,” Stewart added. “It makes your writing a part of the “Journalism was the best route to do that.” tradition.” Stewart has gotten a mouthful of big city life. Stewart counts himself lucky to have found his dream job so “I eat, sleep, breathe film,” he said. “I feel very lucky.” early in life. He plans to attempt to make a career for himself at He lives in Mid–Wilshire, the cultural hub of Los Angeles. “It’s Variety in L.A. basically smack–dab in the heart of L.A.” he said. Instead of “What I love the most is just being in this environment,” he said. getting just one weather forecast – as in Murdock – on the 6 Lesson: If the boss is the lunch lady’s cousin from one’s rural o’clock news, Stewart now gets three. hometown, one can probably get away with a smiley face on a “They have three different temperatures. I’ve never really resume. n experienced that before,” Stewart said, laughing. The temperatures
Josh Swartzlander, ’08
From Journalism to Math Classroom By Elizabeth Venrick, J Alumni News staff
osh Swartzlander was a journalism student. He never expected to be teaching high school math. But now, currently in his second year as a Teach for America teacher, Swartzlander can apparently handle the challenges of both mathematics and journalism. A 2008 J school graduate, Swartzlander has a resume that includes internships at the Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha WorldHerald, Scripps Howard Foundation Semester in Washington and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As a J school student, Swartzlander also worked on a depth report about Sri Lanka. During his senior year at the J school, he read about Teach for America and met with a recruiter. “I had read about the underlying problems in this country’s education system. I couldn’t think of a better way to give back to the country for providing me an excellent education than to help students who really needed it,” Swartzlander said. He teaches Algebra I at East High School in Kansas City, Mo. “It’s hard because many students at East arrive without the background knowledge they should have in an algebra classroom,” Swartzlander said. “But we quickly remediate and try to make up for lost time by investing students in their education and giving them the tools to succeed in class.” The job offers an intense but positive experience. Swartzlander said the kids are the most rewarding part. “I have brilliant kids who just need more people telling them that a) they can succeed, b) they need an education to succeed, and c) they can positively affect their families and communities by putting their education to work,” Swartzlander said. His work as a teacher has made an impact on his own family. “Josh’s teaching experience has given me an incredible depth of perspective when I talk about Lincoln Public Schools,” said Mary Kay Roth, Josh’s mother and communications coordinator for Lincoln Public Schools. “His experience has given me gratitude for the public education system we have in Lincoln.”
Having attended Lincoln Public Schools where, according to Swartzlander, teachers teach and students learn, he said it’s nearly impossible to describe the challenges facing his students. “The most challenging part of teaching is working in a system that seems determined to make its students fail,” he said. For Swartzlander, this profound contrast between the school where he teaches and his own education carries over to his memories of the J school as well. He said two professors who influenced him were Joe Starita and Mary Kay Quinlan. “Starita was the best editor I have ever worked with, and Quinlan helped me improve my editing skills and helped me get an internship in Washington, D.C.,” Swartzlander said. Starita recalls Swartzlander’s maturity. “He was one of those young men who is almost unimaginably conscientious and responsible given his age,” Starita said. “He also was always polite and considerate of his interview subjects. I much appreciated his maturity and professionalism.” Starita also said Swartzlander works well under pressure. “He was extraordinarily well-organized and could effortlessly multi-task without getting frustrated or losing his concentration and focus,” Starita said. Those skills may have served Swartzlander well in teaching. Now in his last year in Teach for America, Swartzlander has to decide whether he wants to get into education or journalism. “I will probably stay in teaching for a while, perhaps at my current school,” Swartzlander said. “Becoming a school administrator is another possibility. Or getting back into journalism, if newspapers make a comeback down the road.” Right now, Swartzlander enjoys being a teacher and doesn’t have to make any immediate decisions. “I would highly recommend Teach for America to anyone who is interested in helping out the nation’s students who need help the most,” Swartzlander said. “It is an incredibly rewarding experience. We need bigger representation from schools like UNL.” n
Josh Rusler, ’10
Life after Gymnastics Includes TV Career BY JACKIE WALLGREN
Roman philosopher once said, “Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.” For Josh Rusler, a Husker gymnast and broadcast journalism major who completes his final season of competition this month and graduates this summer, the quote could not be truer. Last summer, while interning with the entertainment television show “Extra,” Rusler enjoyed an unforgettable experience. His preparation began in the summer of 2003 when he was selected to appear on “Switched!,” a reality television show broadcast on the ABC Family Channel that featured two teenagers who swapped lives to see what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. In his appearance on the show, Rusler, a native of Norman, Okla., ventured to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he worked at a fish market and spent time on a sailboat. But his real lessons came from watching the behind-the-scenes action in the overall production of the show. That experience, Rusler said, inspired him to pursue work in the television business after he receives his UNL diploma. As a talented gymnast, Rusler was considering a handful of schools for his college career. Knowing that he wanted to work in television, he sought out an institution with a strong journalism school. After learning about Nebraska’s broadcasting major and noticing that it felt a lot like home when he visited, Rusler came to Lincoln, unaware that it would become his ticket to an internship in Los Angeles. Two years later, Rusler met opportunity in the airport in Las Vegas while returning to Nebraska from a competition. During the layover, Rusler spotted Jon Kelley – former Husker running back, 1988 NU grad and one-time host of “Extra” – and bravely introduced himself. Noticing Rusler’s Nebraska T-shirt, Kelley inquired about his background, and eventually learned that Rusler was interested in working in the entertainment business. In a kind gesture, Kelley offered to arrange for a tour of the “Extra” set if Rusler ever found himself in Los Angeles. Taking Kelley up on his offer in the summer of 2008, Rusler made an immediate impression and earned a 5-week, unpaid internship at “Extra” last summer.
Rusler spent his time with the show working under the wing of multiple Emmy Award-winner Jerry Penacoli, a correspondent for “Extra.” Rusler assisted producers, worked red-carpet events, helped stage manage Mario Lopez, and researched background information for stories. One of the highlights of his internship was working the “Inglourious Basterds” movie premier event alongside Penacoli. When asked about his least favorite part of the internship, Rusler joked that compiling a list of “10 facts you wouldn’t know about the Jonas Brothers” doesn’t rank high on his list. However, he said that leaving work was his least favorite part of the day. Even though he worked in close proximity to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and got access to red-carpet events, Rusler said his favorite part of the internship was “just being in L.A.! The city is amazing,” he said. “You never know who you’ll run into!” Rusler left Los Angeles with a world-class mentor in Penacoli, someone he continues to speak with on a regular basis. After hearing Rusler reminisce about his experience with “Extra,” one might wonder what comes next for the senior gymnast. He is, after all, on track to graduate in August, and hopes to move to Los Angeles and pursue his career in entertainment television shortly thereafter. Some might call it Lady Luck knocking on his door. Rusler, though, sees it differently. He considers LA and entertainment television as an opportunity that may have started with a little luck, but one that now requires working harder and getting luckier. Would you expect any other attitude from an aerial specialist in Nebraska’s lineup? It seems like a natural progression for a young man who’s made a college athletic career out of performing at high levels and at high heights. Luck left the equation a year ago. Now, for Rusler, it’s just like competing in gymnastics where you develop a strategically sound strategy, execute it and then get rewarded for it. After being “up in the air” for most of his career, Josh Rusler soon will prepare himself to be “on the air” and, he insists, stay there for as long as possible. n