Page 1

The Daily Nonpareil

Wednesday May 21, 2014

1C

EYE ON THE BALL Wahl a softball lifer Mike Brownlee

mbrownlee@nonpareilonline.com

A softball life. Bob Wahl has spent more hours on a softball field than he can count, playing and coaching from 1974 until 2009. He loves slow-pitch, a sport he says is suited to the All-Star and novice alike. “Softball is the greatest game invented,” he said during an interview at Wahl Optical, where he’s helped customers with lenses, frames and more for 36 years. “The game’s for everyone. Hardcore guys that play all the time and church guys that have a beer in the parking lot afterward.” Wahl, a 1974 Thomas Jefferson graduate, played baseball throughout high school, during which time he also started subbing on a local men’s softball team. “I liked it, so (after high school) I put together a team with my friends,” he said. Wahl Optical sponsored the team and took its moniker as its name, dominating the Council Bluffs leagues before moving to Omaha, where it engaged in a decades-long rivalry with the best team in that city, T’s 13. One of Wahl’s favorite games was before his team moved to the Omaha league and challenged T’s 13 to a game at Bahnsen Park. The longtime softballer recalled coverage by all four news channels and 1,500 fans coming to watch. For the exhibition the teams played nine innings (slow-pitch softball generally plays seven), with T’s pulling out the win – though Wahl noted his team was up after seven. “That was some of the most fun I’ve had in a ballgame,” he said. Wahl also put together coed and women’s teams, all of which traveled around the country for tournaments, playing in Dallas, Orlando, Las Vegas and elsewhere. The player and coach estimated that Optical-sponsored teams have won more than 40 tournaments and 2,000 games. WAHL/See Page 2C

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Faces of Recreation

2C Wednesday May 21, 2014

The Daily Nonpareil

Staff photos/Joe Shearer

Larry Foster stands above Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge on May 15.

MR. GOODTIME

Parks and Rec’s Foster helps Bluffs celebrate summer with LoessFest Kirby Kaufman

kkaufman@nonpareilonline.com

Meet Larry Foster, the life of the party. The 66-year-old director of parks, recreation and public property for the city of Council Bluffs says he was “very lucky” to be involved with community events such as LoessFest and even the creation of Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. “As we began to see the end of that and how wonderful it was going to truly be, there were discussions with the mayor and city council that we should have some way of completing this wonderful addition to not only Council Bluffs parks, but the entire parks system of the metro area,” Foster said. Foster said the annual festival and park were among the most significant projects he’s participated in as he nears his sixth year as director. His department in Council Bluffs does something many cities don’t, which is producing a series of activities over a period of time. City officials realized a celebration at the park could commemorate the beginning of summer. And the more they thought about it, the more the idea grew. “The idea was to have a number of events over three weeks that would showcase what Tom Hanafan park has to offer to not only its residents, but the broader metropolitan area,” he said. “It has been established as the kickoff for the metro area for summer entertainment. It’s made a new mark for Council Bluffs.” Foster also has managed

Larry Foster, director of the Council Bluffs Parks and Recreation department, helps announce the schedule of events for Loessfest 2014 on April 29 at the Dodge Riverside Golf Course. Loessfest will feature several free events at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park between May 25 and June 8. events in Omaha at the Civic Auditorium and Rosenblatt Stadium. He said the process for planning such events begins with “being creative” and finding “what might be different, interesting and not too expensive.” Once the idea is put together, the next step is fundraising. Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park had several large donors from Council Bluffs and Omaha. “Once you get closer, then

there’s a marketing piece on this,” Foster added. Those include whether to advertise in newspapers, television, billboards and on the radio. “How much to buy is a very big part of that,” he said. “The good thing for us is that we have a lot of good help and the great staff. It’s really them that make it all work.” And almost unsurprisingly, Foster is a huge Beach Boys fan. They were the first big name band

to play at during the celebration. “The greatest moment at the park was watching the Beach Boys then seeing the residents turn one way to the pedestrian bridge and another way to see all the people, wall to wall,” he said. “Last year we were lucky enough to find the Beach Boys.” This year, festival-goers will have an opportunity to watch semi-professional football and participate in a golf tournament. “Everything is fun,” he said.

Wahl a member of the Metro Softball Hall of Fame WAHL/From Page 1C Wahl recalled playing a coed tournament in the mid2000s where his squad took on a team that featured twin brothers and former Major League baseball players Jose and Ozzie Canseco. “That was fun,” Wahl said. “And they weren’t even the best guys on their team.” In 2008 the women’s team he coached reached the title game of the “world’s” tournament, which featured more than 80 teams vying for the crown in Orlando. Undefeated entering the championship of the double-elimination tournament, Wahl Optical was “double-dipped” – beaten twice (against a team they’d beaten earlier in the tournament) to lose the title. His men’s team had one top 10 finish at a world’s tourna-

‘Softball is the greatest game invented. The game’s for everyone. Hardcore guys that play all the time and church guys that have a beer in the parking lot afterward.’

– Bob Wahl

ment, losing by a run in a game that would’ve guaranteed them at least seventh place. Wahl played until 2007 and coached another two years afterward, “retiring” a year after the second-place finish at worlds. From the original inception of the Wahl Optical team to 2007, he played with many of the same guys. “We had a good core for a long time,” he said. “And we had a lot of fun. Some of my best friends are people I met playing softball.” Wahl was a member of the

inaugural Metro Omaha Softball Hall of Fame, inducted in 2007. Among the five inductees was Terry Petersen, founder of T’s 13 and a friend of Wahl’s to this day. Bob Wahl estimated that about eight of the roughly 35 members in the hall of fame played with Wahl Optical teams. Today, Wahl helps organize tournaments from time to time when asked and also runs hitting clinics in Omaha and Council Bluffs. “Softball’s been very good to me. I want to give back,” he

said, before passing on simple but sage softball advice: “The difference between a good ballplayer and a great one? One hit a game. Turn that 2 for 4 into a 3 for 4.” “I still enjoy being around the game,” he continued. “I want to help people get better.” On weekends or weeknights in the summer and fall you can still usually find Wahl at a game, whether he’s stopping by the Council Bluffs Sports Complex, Seymour Smith in Omaha or elsewhere. He’ll shoot the breeze with acquaintances, give a tip or two if asked. “The friendships you make,” Wahl said in discussing his love of the game. “That’s probably my favorite part. A lot of my friends for life I’ve made through softball.”

“From fireworks to football, there’s a little bit of everything this year.” Foster is most excited for Disney Day, which is part of this year’s festival. The day, sponsored by the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, will conclude with a viewing of “Monster’s University.” “I’m so curious to see how it all comes off and how it’s received on both sides,” he said. “It’s a great gift for us.” While last year’s celebration drew packed crowds, Foster said he isn’t certain about this summer’s attendance. “I don’t know if there will be 1,500 or 10,000 people,” he said. “We just don’t know.” Previously, Foster worked for the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department for 24 years. He also has served as a department director in various cities in Kansas and Missouri. “This has been my life’s work one way or another,” he said. Foster also is an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where he teaches facilities design and maintenance and administration of leisure service agencies. Many of his students went on to work under him in Council Bluffs. They also move onto bigger and better things. “It’s excellent,” he said. “It’s a rewarding experience.” In fact, Foster’s predecessor, Ron Hopp, was one of his first students at UNO. “(Teaching) gave me an opportunity to identify students who became very good employees where I worked,” he said.

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Faces of Recreation

The Daily Nonpareil

ROADHOUSE Kirby Kaufman

3C

Well-known Crescent biker bar and grill has new owners

Staff photo/Joe Shearer

kkaufman@nonpareilonline.com

There’s a new face to Crescent’s biker bar and grill. Owners Beverly and James Fischer purchased Crescent Roadhouse Bar and Grill in December 2013, which was formerly called Kief’s Full Throttle Bar & Grill. The couple will host a grand opening July 12, which will feature music and other entertainment. The business is located at 23535 Old Lincoln Highway. She and her husband were looking to own a business so they purchased the building. Neither had any experience owning a restaurant or bar. “This is a new venture for both of us,” she said. “We learned a lot in a real short time.” Even with a lack of experience, the couple was more than willing to take up the challenge. “We had the opportunity so we decided to take it,” Beverly said. “We’re risk takers. We just hit the ground running.” Beverly, who is from Omaha, met her husband, a South Dakota native, while he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base near Bellevue, Neb. About four years ago, they decided to purchase an acreage in Council Bluffs. Beverly said they have no horses, but they do have cows, chickens and a garden. The Fischers have full-time jobs outside of the restaurant. Beverly is a nurse while James co-owns a business for telephone systems. Between their full-time jobs and the restaurant, it can be difficult to find time for each other. Sometimes Beverly laughs at how busy she and her husband are, but they are able to keep everything under control. “It’s pretty hectic a lot of times,” she said. “We’re always connected via the phone. The phone’s usually by my ear all the time.” Beverly also said the restaurant’s staff keeps the place on its feet while she and her husband are away. They typically work Friday and Saturday nights when the restaurant is the most busy. The restaurant features chicken wings, all you can eat fish on Fridays, steak, tacos, ribs and a variety of lunch specials. However, the couple will probably get less time to spend with each other as bike season picks up. Beverly said when the weather gets warmer, the restaurant becomes crowded with bikers. She also said the bikers create a unique culture for the restaurant, but it isn’t anything that would scare off what other would call regular folk. “When you take off the black jacket and the bandana, they’re just regular old people, and they like enjoying riding motorcycles,” Beverly said. One of their regular customers is a banker. Another is a teacher. “It’s different than what you’d imagine when people think of a biker bar,” she said. “They think of roughneck kinds of guys, but that’s not really how bikers are.” Beverly and her husband also are bikers. She said that helps them run a restaurant whose primary clientele know the laws of the road and respect of other riders. “You forget about your worries and just ride,” Beverly said. “It’s really taken a big turn.” They are planning a trip to the motorcycle celebration in Sturgis. They also enjoy watching NASCAR. “We split it up a bit,” Beverly said of their activities. Beverly said many bikers make a point to find ways to give back to their communities. For example, bikers have ridden to several southwest Iowa restaurants and bars to donate money to people who have lost homes, to memorials, to holiday drives or other charities. “The bikers in some of the clubs are really geared toward anything to do with kids,” Beverly said. “They look to benefit the kids.”

Wednesday May 21, 2014

Jim, left, and Beverly Fischer pose for a portrait outside the Crescent Roadhouse Bar & Grill in Crescent on May 17.

‘When you take off the black jacket and the bandana, they’re just regular old people, and they like enjoying riding motorcycles.’ – Beverly Fischer, Co-owner, Crescent Roadhouse Bar & Grill

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Faces of Recreation

4C Wednesday May 21, 2014

The Daily Nonpareil

‘You have to be slightly insane. I love this job. Normal people are boring. I love life. I love people. I love history.’ – Carla Borgaila, Director, Historic Squirrel Cage Jail

Carla Borgaila, above and below, shows off a cell inside the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs.

Staff photo/John Schreier

THE GHOSTBUSTER Borgaila says history and paranormal are connected

Kirby Kaufman

kkaufman@nonpareilonline.com

Sometimes the ghosts at the Historic Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs knock her ball cap off. If they’re not feeling so nice, they might pull her hair. But Carla Borgaila, 44, the museum’s director, isn’t worried about the paranormal or historical aspects of the nearly 130-year-old building. She’s even stayed overnight at the jail more than 180 times. “I’ve had my hat pulled off my head,” she said. “A lot of it you get used to. I’ve had my hair played with. You can feel the fingers play through it and watch it pulled to the side.” Borgaila, who’s been the museum’s director for about three years, previously worked as a paraeducator in the Council Bluffs Community School District. As a self-proclaimed history buff, Borgaila is fascinated and borderline obsessed with history. “You have to be slightly insane,” Borgaila said of working at the jail. “I love this job. Normal people are boring. I love life. I love people. I love history.” The Squirrel Cage Jail was built in 1885. The three-story building features a rotating cage with one exit built on each floor. “There’s so much of it that is interesting,” Borgaila said of the jail. In fact, she said, it was surprising that the jail functioned because many of its pieces were delivered to Council Bluffs and constructed on site. Borgaila said many pieces were prefabricated.

Bricks for the jail were used from a former business located on Eighth Street. “So the fact it even worked even though it never quite worked right was incredible for the time,” she said. “If you think about modern technology, they didn’t have it.” The jail had three sets of cranks on each floor, which allowed it to move. It also featured indoor plumbing, which consisted of long water pipes and drains. Her tasks also include preparing historical items such as a 1918 war map that showed control of river ways and bridges during World War I, a city map of Council Bluffs from 1908 and even a yearbook from the former Council Bluffs High School. On the odd and just weird side of things, Borgaila tends to a book of “sliced eyeballs,” which optometrists used to diagnose eye diseases. She also

has an Edison shaving machine from 1908, but it’s not what you think. It’s made for shaving metal. “Nobody will let me put their beard in it anyways,” she said. Borgaila said the jail is arguably the most haunted place in Council Bluffs, which contributed to the site’s popularity among younger generations. She said it could be more haunted than the Black Angel, a memorial to Grenville Dodge’s wife. Many ghost hunters or other people have spent the night to investigate paranormal activity at the jail. Last year, the jail opened on Friday nights to accommodate visitors. Guests stay at the jail from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. “It’s just incredible,” Borgaila said. “It’s not the taboo subject anymore.” Ghost hunters often look for a ghost who is believed to be named Sam-

anatha or Sammy. They say she wanders the halls in the jail looking for someone or something. Borgaila said while there have been only four recorded deaths at the jail, there could certainly be more. The most recent was Special Deputy Claude B. Dail who protected the jail during the Farmer’s Holiday Strike. During that time, she said, the jail was sometimes overcrowded with prisoners. The jail was supposed to house 60 men while its max capacity was 162. At max capacity, prisoners would sleep in shifts. The jail also could house 25 women and children. They were fed twice a day. “There wasn’t any real regulation on the exact treatment, discipline or crowding,” Borgaila said of the jail. “You’d shove them wherever you could.” Borgaila said working at the jail has made her more talkative. She described a younger version of herself as a shy girl who’d always hide behind her father. But now she’s in the company of the unexpected and unusual – all things that reportedly occur at the Squirrel Cage Jail. Sometimes doors shut that shouldn’t, Borgaila said. They’re just things normal people can’t really explain. Borgaila said others have contributed to the paranormal activities at the jail as an “overactive imagination.” However, whether that’s true remains unclear. The constant, she said, is that history and the paranormal coexist. “We wouldn’t have one without the other,” she said.


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Faces of Recreation

6C Wednesday May 21, 2014

The Daily Nonpareil

A MAN AND HIS WINE Kirby Kaufman

kkaufman@nonpareilonline.com

Lee Rice calls himself a “crazy optimist with a cynical soul” for opening a small winery in rural Council Bluffs. The 45-year-old Council Bluffs man said there weren’t any wineries in southwest Iowa when he and his business partner, Thomas Schminky, started planning, but once they were finished, there were about eight. They own Prairie Hawk Winery and Vineyard at 21496 Chestnut Road. “There’s a wine tourist set where people just travel the country trying wine,” Rice said. “It’s kind of fun. You get to ask people strange questions.” Prairie Hawk has seen visitors from Australia, New Zealand, England and Panama. The most peculiar question asked? Whether women in England prefer Monty Python than those in America. A woman answered simply: “Yes.” Rice said that’s because the humor translates better in their culture, but the one thing they share in common is a love of wine. “It’s meeting other people who come in,” he said. “You get regular customers and see foreigners. You learn a lot of things about what’s going around the country and the world.” And it’s those conversations that allow Rice to enjoy day after day. “The other part is seeing how people react to the wine,” he said. “Even if they hate it or love it, it’s fun to see people’s reactions to tasting it, particularly from out of the area where they have local wine. It changes the experience and the people out there.” His most popular wares are his Marquette wines. They’re so popular, he has trouble keeping them in stock. “It gets to the point where I don’t know what it’ll taste like when it ages because it sells quickly,” he said. “A lot of people just come out for tastings. A lot of local people come out for those.” Rice said Marquette grapes are difficult to grow in the Midwest because they are very “finicky.” He plans to plant

Staff photo/Kirby Kaufman

Lee Rice, owner of Prairie Hawk Vineyward in Council Bluffs, hosts bands and other events on his property. more of them in the following season. A bottle of wine can take anywhere from months to a year to make. Sweet wines typically take longer to make than dry wines. “It really depends on what you’re doing,” Rice said. Rice can bottle up to 120 bottles per hour. There are about 8,000 bottles available

at Prairie Hawk. “Whatever you bottle, you bottle,” he said. Rice said he tries to not start tasks he cannot finish if interrupted such as bottling and other manufacturing processes. Aside from making it, Rice said his favorite part about wine is drinking it, though, he is partial to German beers.

He started drinking wine in his 20s, but it wasn’t very often. And, though, he drinks

Rice enjoys company who visit his vineyard and winery beer, he prefers wine. “I’m an equal opportunity beer and wine guy,” he said. Prairie Hawk also hosts musical performances, wedding and other celebrations. The facility can comfortably hold about 120 people. It will mark its fourth year being open on Aug. 1. When he’s not working in the vineyard, Rice can be found behind a wooden bar with a barrage of wine glasses over his head. An old NCR register sits on a back counter bordered by stools. There are about 250 grape plants at the front of the vineyard with a couple thousand in another location. Rice said the 2012 spring frost created some trouble for his crops. Rice funded the winery and vineyard with $5,000 worth of shares in Apple – at $14 a share. He cashed them out at about $50,000 to $60,000. He said he tries not to look at the current cost of Apple shares. However, Rice’s career in wine making started about 13 years ago when he began

making it in his basement. Needlessly to say, his wife was impressed. His wife, Dawn, runs the Pony Creek Daycare out of their house. Rice graduated from Lewis Central in 1986. But it’s not always easy balancing the life of a wine maker and family time, Rice said. “There’s a lot of things that you need to do and have to do,” he said. “So there’s some stressers there. Probably opening any business will stress a relation. We just have too much going on.” Except, Rice and his wife, Dawn make it work. For Christmas, Rice attaches a label with a picture of his daughter, Ashlee, on wine bottles. He then gives them to family members, including grandpa. In the future, Rice looks forward to the Loess Hills Wine District, which will identify wines specifically made in southwest Iowa. “Hopefully by December, we’ll have that,” he said. “We’ll be the first district in this area.”

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Faces of Recreation

The Daily Nonpareil

Wednesday May 21, 2014

7C

Staff photo/Joe Shearer

Connie Vogelzang stands inside Council Bluffs Savings Bank on April 23.

‘I get to know a lot of people, and I have a couple of gals who met on a trip and now travel together and even have lunch once of week. It’s very rewarding.’ – Connie Vogelzang, Council Bluffs Savings Bank

THE TRAVEL GUIDE Vogelzang sees the U.S. with The 50/50 Travel Club

TIM ROHWER

trohwer@nonpareilonline.com

One could definitely say that Connie Vogelzang is a person on the go. Sure, most of her time Vogelzang is sitting behind a desk at the Council Bluffs Savings Bank in downtown, greeting people with her big smile as they come in. But, there are those numerous occasions yearly when she’s traveling the country with others as the head of the bank’s special club. It’s the 50/50 Travel Club, and, over the years the members have traveled thousands of miles to enjoy some of the great wonders of this country, Canada. But, it’s more than just traveling. “We’ve had a lot of friendships made,” Vogelzang said of the club. “I call them my family.” She and some of the members frequently have lunch, even during those off times from the club’s tour schedule. “I get to know a lot of people, and I have a couple of gals who met on a trip and now travel together and even have lunch once of week. It’s very rewarding.” The travel club, which began in 2004, is for individuals age 50 or older who have a deposit at the Council Bluffs Saving Bank. “It’s just a little extra benefit for our customers,” said Vogelzang, who serves as the bank’s administration officer, as well as its travel expert. There are up to 100 members that frequently take advantage of this benefit, she said, with most tour destinations actually arranged from the requests of the members. Tours for 2015 are already in

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Submitted photo

The birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Miss. was among the sites on the recent trip to the South for the members of the Council Bluffs Savings Bank 50/50 Travel Club. the planning stages, she added. The club annually averages six tours, some cross-county excursions, the others day trips. There are also three official luncheons where the members gather for fellowship and keep abreast of the latest news. The longer tours are by motor coach, plane, trains or boats. Past tours have gone to places like Alaska, New York City, the Boston/Cape Cod area, Nashville, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and to the Albuquerque N.M. Balloon Festival. The benefits this club provides include discounted group rates, tours designed by professional travel agents, worry-free traveling, top hotels, tickets to attractions,

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meals provided in the tour cost, local guides at the destination sites, free time for walking or shopping, plus new friendships and plenty of memories, Vogelzang said. In advance of an upcoming trip, Vogelzang will produce a brochure for the members with a complete day-by-day schedule and the attractions to be visited, plus colorful pictures of what they’ll see. Recently, club members took a 10-day trip to the Deep South spending several days in New Orleans. “We spent three nights in the city’s French Quarter,” Vogelzang said. “It was quite an experience. Most were there for the first time.”

There were places that showed the markings on how high the water rose during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she said. Nevertheless, the city appears cleaner now than before Katrina, she added. Other stops on this tour included a visit to the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Miss., as well as a visit to his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn. The group also stopped at the Vicksburg, Miss. National Military Park, where many lives were lost during the American Civil War, plus a drive through the Ozark Mountains. Not only are there memories of distinctive sites, but impromptu moments are easily recalled. During a tour of New York City, for example, Vogelzang’s group decided to spend an early morning with others outside the studio during the broadcast of “Good Morning America,” with weatherman Sam Champion during his thing among the crowd. Vogelzang was able to stand next to Champion, with millions of people watching, as Champion discussed that day’s weather. She recalled seeing actress Betty White at the studio, also. Travelers, however, don’t have to go far for lasting memories, she said. The various day trips are usually sold out well in advance, Vogelzang said. “There are so many interesting things close to home,” she said. David Zimmerman, the bank’s executive vice president, said, “Connie does a great job. She listens to the group and does a fair amount of research before the tour It fits well with Connie and who she is.”

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Faces of Recreation

8C Wednesday May 21, 2014

ARTIST OF THE PARK TIM ROHWER

Photo courtesy/Frank Huster

trohwer@nonpareilonline.com

Seattle-based artist Don Corson designed the “Rays” light installation used at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park.

On cloudless days, the new Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park receives a lot of rays from the sun making a bright background for people to play games. But even after sunset, they can continue their play with the “Rays.” Rays, created by artist Dan Corson, is the park’s interactive light playground that encourages people to visit the park in the evenings. It’s also one of the latest installments of the Iowa West Foundation Public Art permanent collection pieces. “When we began planning for the park, the Iowa West Foundation added an artist onto the planning team and whose role was to look for opportunities to incorporate public art in the park,” Council Bluffs Parks Director Larry Foster said. “During the process, there came the idea of doing something with light. It was attractive from the city’s standpoint in that it could extend the time the public could use the park. This

light show should extend that opportunity into the evening, even during the winter.” The light display runs every day and is even set up so that the color changes with the season, Foster said. Saturated hues are utilized on the snowcovered lawn in winter and colors best displayed on green or brown lawn are selected for those seasons. “I would love to see the park blanketed in snow and how the different colors pop on the

white surface,” said Corson from his Seattle office. The lights turn on at the hour and half hour and dim the regular park lights, Corson said. “They run through a series of pre-programmed sequences that change throughout the night and seasons. In the center of the ‘performance,’ an ‘interactive sequence’ plays a series of games with people wanting to join in. Infrared cameras locate people in the

2014

space and by their actions and movements play with them a series of simple games.” For example, there’s the Cat Laser Pointer game in which a small green spot intelligently dances and dodges the people who attempt to catch it. Jump is another game that if more than nine people on the active lawn area jump up and down together the lights in the field will blink on and off like people jumping. The Flash Mob game also involves more than nine people in the active area. If they run in and huddle and then break out, that action will cause all the lights on the lawn to “go crazy,” as Corson described it, and swirl around for a few seconds. In the Yellow Spot-Blue Spot game, the lights select two people randomly giving each a different colored spotlight. The purpose of this game is to trick the lights into switching the spotlights as they follow the two around the field. Corson’s public art work evolved from working in the theatre, opera and dance. “I worked as a lighting and set designer for many years, so I was familiar with work-

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Corson the man behind the ‘Rays’ art installation ing with larger spaces of the theatre. Then, I got interested in installation artwork, where the art is not just a sculpture or painting in front of you, but rather a whole space you could walk around and inside of. “This merged my love of environment, space, art and the interactive element that I loved in both art and theatre. Most of my work uses light in some aspect, but the work I think brings in other elements as well that activate spaces usually in both day time and night time in different ways. “For this space, I focused only on the night element, because it was already so active and programmed in the

daytime.” Corson has a masters degree in art from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in theatrical design from California’s San Diego State University. His work has received both national and international acclaim. The public debut of Corson’s light display was held during the park’s grand opening ceremonies on last year’s Memorial Day weekend, right after the park dedication concert by the Beach Boys. “I am very pleased with how the park looks and very excited to see how things will evolve and grow over the years,” Corson said.

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Faces of Recreation

The Daily Nonpareil

Wednesday May 21, 2014

9C

Submitted photo

Playland Park operated as an amusement park in Council Bluffs from 1948 to 1969.

FACES OF HISTORY: THE MEN WHO BUILT PLAYLAND John Schreier

jschreier@nonpareilonline.com

One spot in Council Bluffs was the hub for commotion over the Great Depression, gangsters, mermaids and Daytona 500 champions – all over the span of a few years. The landmark behind these and countless more tales? Playland Park. Though it’s been gone for decades, Playland Park evokes some memory for Council Bluffs residents who remember the old amusement park that once sat where Interstate 480 connects to Omaha. After all, a 60-foot-tall roller coaster that passed over city streets within sight of the downtown Omaha skyline is sure to leave an impression on anyone who saw it. Though Playland Park operated as an amusement park only from 1948 to 1969, its colorful history dates both a decade before and after its operation as a midway. The park’s earliest days date back to 1938 when it was known as Susanna Dodge Park, the northern offshoot of Dodge Park. In order to counter the gloom and doom of the Great Depression, the city and Chamber of Commerce proposed a celebration of Iowa’s centennial. The Works Progress Administration built a 5,000-seat amphitheater among many other permanent buildings. Although the celebration was a success,

there were two issues organizers encountered. First, a mermaid’s costume was considered to be too revealing – leading to an indecent exposure charge – for a water show. More importantly, organizers lost $12,000 on the event, a huge sum in the Depression, and now had an empty park. In order to recoup its losses on the park, the city turned to a man famous for his alleged gang ties: Meyer Lansky. Despite his rumored ties to a shadowy world of crime, Lansky turned the park around quickly. He built the city a grandstand and track and rented the land for $1,000 per week, five weeks a year for five years. In 1943 alone, the track generated $140,000, more than paying off the city’s debts. When Lansky left town in 1944, the park sat idle for a few years before brothers Abe and Louis Slusky – brothers from St. Joseph, Mo. – took an interest in the land. The former concessionaires at Omaha’s then-closed Krug Park owned a profitable amusement park and racetrack in Houston called Playland Park. Enlisting the help of Council Bluffs businessman Harry Cohen, the owner of Iowa Clothes, they bought 14 acres and rented another 46 to open Playland Park in Council Bluffs. Despite residents’ concerns about noise, the park opened on Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) on May 30, 1948. The park’s biggest attraction was a wooden

FACES OF THE FUTURE Harrison Smith

roller coaster with a peak 60 feet high that passed over North 40th and 41st streets. Although the amusement park and roller coaster didn’t record any deaths, the racetrack couldn’t say the same. Abe Slusky, who operated the Council Bluffs park while his brother managed the Houston location, struggled to find a use for the track after trying many different types of races, ranging from antique cars to motorcycles. A hot rod race on July 9, 1949, packed more than 4,000 people into the stands to see as Johnny Beauchamp – who won the inaugural Daytona 500, only to see judges award the title to Lee Petty – and two other noted Harlan drivers wowed crowds. However, fatalities on back-to-back nights quickly ended his dreams of a hot rod track. The next choice was stock car racing, a precursor to NASCAR, which was far safer and drew bigger crowds back to Playland’s speedway. Despite the park’s successful 15-year run, its location ultimately proved to be its downfall. The growth of the interstate system led to a connection that needed to be made between Council Bluffs and Omaha far larger than the existing Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge. In a 1963 news report, Abe Slusky said he was aware of the plans, but he didn’t think too much of the land would be used.

In actuality, 40 of the park’s 60 acres were swallowed up with what became the Interstate 480 bridge connecting Interstate 29 to downtown Omaha. The land where the signature roller coaster once sat is now occupied by several lanes of traffic. With the roller coaster demolished, the park briefly closed in 1965 before reopening on the remaining land in 1966. However, the smaller “Wild Mouse” roller coaster couldn’t be seen from the highway, leading people to believe the park was closed. Soon enough, the midway shut down. In 1969, the rides were shipped to the Slusky brothers’ Frontier City amusement park, which is still in operation near Oklahoma City. Shortly thereafter in 1970, Abe Slusky died of a heart attack at the age of 59. Without the park, Playland Speedway raced ahead for a few years, but it, too, closed in 1977. Decades after the park’s closure, it’s come full circle: Once again, much of the land belongs to Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. With its concrete amphitheater and concerts on tap, it bears some similarities to Susanna Dodge Park. However, to many residents who remember it, the iconic roller coaster on the riverfront will always live on as a testament to a bygone park with a history as colorful as the land it occupied. – Information from the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County was used in this report.

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Harrison Smith has had perfect attendance for two straight years while attending Crescent Elementary School. And while that accomplishment shows the fifth-grader’s propensity for the scholarly world, there is no doubt that the upcoming summer break from school is on his mind. “We have about 12 days left [until break],” the 11-year-old said at the time of his interview. “I’m definitely ready.” Smith has been thinking about the break for a while, already having his laundry list of summer activities ready to go. And, as most kids his age are planning, he is ready for a lot of swimming. “My family is going to finish our patio and put a pool in,” Smith said. “I’ll be sure to have friends over for some swimming.” And while he will be spending a lot of time

outdoors in the vast acres of his family’s property, Smith will also spend some time behind the computer screen. Smith has an affinity for “Minecraft,” a massively-popular game where users can create entire worlds and objects out of textured cubes. “I have a few projects I’m currently working on,” Smith said. “I like playing online with other people and my friends, but I really like creating things by myself.” “I’m trying to build a mine cart and track system now.” But all things must come to an end, including summer vacation; and Smith will be taking a big step up to middle school, leaving many friends and his school district behind. “I’m a little nervous, but I have a good friend coming with me [to Underwood Middle School],” he said. “It’s a whole new world.”

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2009 CADILLAC CTS AWD W/1SB, D3028A

CHEVROLET

2009 CHEVROLET COBALT LT W/1LT, D40115A 2011 CHEVROLET CRUZE LT W/1LT, J90364A 2014 CHEVROLET EQUINOX LT, R9100A 2010 CHEVROLET EQUINOX LT W/2LT, D7020A 2008 CHEVROLET IMPALA LT, J5090A 2011 CHEVROLET IMPALA LTZ, C2032A 2012 CHEVROLET MALIBU LT W/2LT, B309 2005 CHEVROLET MALIBU MAXX LS, R9302B 2011 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 1500 LT, R9195A 2012 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 2500HD LT, C6055A 2011 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 2500HD LT, R9306A 2005 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 1500 LS, J5081B 2008 CHEVROLET SUBURBAN LTZ, J90300A 2010 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 2500HD LTZ, R9276A 2005 CHEVROLET TRAILBLAZER LS, D40157A

CHRYSLER

2013 CHRYSLER 200 LX, B311

2013 FORD F-150 SUPER CREW 4X4

#R9162A, Ecoboost, chrome pkg, tonneau cover

$29,990

2004 CHRYSLER SEBRING CONVERTIBLE LXI, J5017R 2008 CHRYSLER SEBRING LXI, JP1096A 2008 CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY TOURING, C6059B

2012 TOYOTA CAMRY SE

#D7032A, Sport, Limited

$22,990

2013 FORD EXPLORER XLT

#C6051A, Leather, rear DVD, 4WD

$32,990

2006 DODGE CHARGER, B352A 2005 DODGE DAKOTA LARAMIE, J90322A

2006 FORD FUSION SEL, J90372A 2003 FORD RANGER XLT, R9193A 2012 FORD SUPER DUTY F-250 SRW XLT, R9348A 2004 FORD SUPER DUTY F-250 LARIAT 2005 FORD SUPER DUTY F-350 SRW HARLEY-DAVIDSON, B305 2008 FORD TAURUS X WAGON LIMITED, C2022A

2012 FIAT 500 COUPE POP, D5138A

2011 GMC ACADIA DENALI, B347

DODGE FIAT

FORD

2012 FORD ESCAPE LIMITED, J90327A 2012 FORD ESCAPE XLS, JP1076A 2008 FORD ESCAPE XLT, D1032B 2013 FORD EXPLORER XLT, C6051A 2007 FORD EXPLORER XLT, C6057B 2012 FORD F-150 FX4, R9307A 2010 FORD F-150 LARIAT, R9358A 2001 FORD F-150 LARIAT, C2034B 2013 FORD F-150 PLATINUM, R9381A 2013 FORD F-150 XLT, R9162A 2009 FORD F-150 XLT, R9384A 2012 FORD FIESTA SE, D40081A 2005 FORD FREESTYLE WAGON SEL, D9087A 2007 FORD FUSION SE, R9339A 2012 FORD FUSION SE, B310

PERFORMANCE

CHRYSLER DODGE JEEP RAM of Bellevue

GMC

HONDA

2004 HONDA ACCORD LX, R9360Q 2006 HONDA RIDGELINE RTL, J90371A

HYUNDAI

2012 HYUNDAI SONATA 2.4L LIMITED PZEV, D9080B 2006 HYUNDAI SONATA GLS, D5133A 2001 HYUNDAI XG300, D40156A

JEEP

2006 JEEP COMMANDER LIMITED, D9064A

KIA

2012 KIA FORTE 5-DOOR EX, J7051A 2013 KIA OPTIMA EX, D9078A 2012 KIA OPTIMA LX, J90321A 2008 KIA SORENTO EX, D5121A 2011 KIA SORENTO EX, J90407A 2011 KIA SORENTO LX, B348

2007 BMW 750I

#R9174A, WOW This is Sweet!

$22,990

2012 CHEVY 2500 HD

#C6055A, Crew Cab LT with topper

$33,490

MAZDA

2008 MAZDA CX-7 SPORT, D40113A 2012 MAZDA CX-9 TOURING, J90414A

MERCEDES

2003 MERCEDES-BENZ C-CLASS 3.2L, J5089A

NISSAN

2010 NISSAN ALTIMA 2.5 S, D9062A 2012 NISSAN JUKE WAGON S, J5142A 2011 NISSAN JUKE WAGON SL, R9276Q 2012 NISSAN SENTRA 2.0, D40138A

PONTIAC

2008 PONTIAC G6 GT, D5074A

SATURN

2008 SATURN OUTLOOK SE, D40090A

SUBARU

2013 SUBARU BRZ COUPE LIMITED, J7058A

TOYOTA

2011 TOYOTA CAMRY LE, J7046A 2005 TOYOTA CAMRY LE, C2031A 2012 TOYOTA CAMRY SE SPORT LIMITED EDITION, D7032A 2010 TOYOTA COROLLA S, D9084A 2012 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER, C6041A 2006 TOYOTA TACOMA PRERUNNER, JP1075A

Espanol 888-306-1698 Hwy 75 & Chandler Rd Exit, Enperformanceauto.com Cars - 888-896-3704 Bellevue, NE New Used402-403-6586 Cars - 888-835-0723

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