Week 52 – Matt

I spent the past four days, sunrise to sunset, at the Cox Classic wandering around the event, helping out where I could and just taking in the tournament, a wonderful community event.

The 9th hole was one of my favorite places to watch and there in front of me near the 9th green was a young man, Matt, from Atlantic, Iowa. He was dressed like a pro golfer with bright shirt or shorts or both (depending on the day) and standing right where the players walk off of the 9th green.

Matt has attended the Cox Classic over the past few years and even talked his parents into getting him out of school for Friday’s round. Matt has collected signed golf balls and other souvenirs from the golfers as they leave the hole as he stands there and applauds.

jason gore golf ballMatt caught my eye, so with the help of the Cox Classic volunteer tent and Lexus of Omaha, I went and got him a bag of stuff…hats, a shirt, and other things from the event.  I also gave him a $50 bill and told him to do with it as he wished.

I never met his parents, although they weren’t far away. They were somewhere in the stands, but clearly they have made their mark on this fine young man.  He was very impressive and handled himself like a professional…maybe a professional golfer someday!

My Giving50x52 presentation to this 12 year old (7th grader) was the most public of all of my gifts during the year. Several others listened in as I told him of my Giving50x52 and my gift to him as week52. I thought best with his age to do this gift in the most public way possible and this blog does not have a picture of him to respect his privacy.

Matt is such a fan of the Cox Classic that he talked his parents into bringing him to Omaha for the event so he could camp out on the 9th green and meet the golfers and get an occasional signed golf ball or other hand out…for three days!  He told me he had well over 40 signed golf balls prior to this tournament and I’m sure he got many more this year.

Matt plays football and basketball, but his passion is golf.

I found it appropriate to end my Giving50x52 year with a young person that impressed and caught my eye. I know that Matt is on the right path and will do great things. He has determination and great family support.  I wish him well!

P.S. Nan, Matt’s Aunt, posted on the main Giving50x52.com page a little more information about Matt. I would agree with all she said as Matt didn’t boast about his aces and was incredibly respectful. He shook my hand and looked me in the eye and was making friends around the 9 green by the minute!


This concludes the year and likely the blog, at least for a while.  A few thoughts on the year:

  • I am very glad I did Giving50x52 and if I had the chance to do it all over again…I would.
  • The journey greatly exceeded my expectations.
  • I am amazed at the wonderful people I met…truly great souls who made as much of an impact on me as I ever could on them.
  • I often felt uncomfortable approaching people for these gifts and was usually out of my comfort zone…and loved it.
  • I learned about some local and international non-profit organizations and the great work they are doing.
  • I learned much about people, organizations…and myself.

I want to thank you for reading, commenting and supporting the journey. The blog, as I suspected, was an absolute necessity to ensure accountability to me to fulfill the year. I can’t imagine completing this year if I didn’t have a public journal to hold me accountable. Having someone actually read some of these blogs was not only a surprise but a tremendous motivator and, again, I am greatly appreciative of your time and following!

God bless!

Week 51 (part 2) – OCSF…aka Cox Classic

A little over a week ago, Jason Dufner won the 2013 PGA Championship, one of the four major events on the PGA Tour. Dufner is close to all of us here in Omaha who are associated with the Cox Classic presented by Lexus of Omaha, since he played here in 2001, 2002, 2003 & 2006 (his best finish being T8 in 2001).

Jason Dufner 2006

(Photo shown is Jason in 2006 at the Cox Classic courtesy of PGATour Images, 2006).

I’ve been involved on the board of the Omaha Community Service Foundation (OCSF dba Cox Classic) since the spring of 2006. At my first event as a board member in 2006 I watched this new 2013 PGA Champion “struggle” to finish -11 and tied for 28th.  But big things were in store for him!

That’s the beauty of the Cox Classic, which is a PGA Tour event on the Web.com Tour. The Web.com Tour is the developmental tour and the pathway for players to get to the U.S.-based PGA Tour. At the end of the Web.com season, the top 25 players on the money list are given PGA Tour memberships (cards) for the next season.  These 25 PGA Tour cards for the 2014 season will be handed out at a ceremony in Omaha immediately following the conclusion of the Cox Classic on Sunday, August 25th.  Another 25 cards are awarded to the top finishers in a four tournament series of events involving players from both the Web. com Tour and the PGA Tour.

One player who will receive a PGA Tour card on Sunday in Omaha is Tim Wilkinson. We had the pleasure of having Tim stay at our house during three tournaments from 2006 to 2008. He has had a great year on the Web.com Tour and irregardless of how he does at the Cox Classic, he will end up in the top 25 on the money list. I have followed him every week on the Web.com Tour over the past several years…and next year will get to follow him and watch him on the PGA Tour!

So, you might not know many of the players on the Web.com Tour…now.  But you will likely know many of them someday. Case in point is Jason Dufner and Tim Wilkinson and the dozens of other players on the PGA Tour who have come through Omaha.

The Omaha event, the Cox Classic, is a gem of a tournament at any level.  The Web.com players look forward to coming to Omaha because it gives them a feel for what the PGA Tour will be like. In fact, Omaha has more of a PGA Tour feel than many PGA Tour events!  The Omaha event draws over 120,000 spectators, generates over $9 million of economic impact to the area, raises over $100,000 for local charities and is assisted by nearly 1,000 community volunteers. It’s an outstanding community event.  This week Giving50x52 made a contribution.

cox classic 2013 2


What the Omaha tournament will look like after this year is not perfectly clear. The event is in the last year of a contract with major sponsor Cox Communications and with the Champions Run golf course.  Both have been outstanding partners for the event!

One thing that is certain is that we plan to be back in 2014 with another Web.com Tour event. Omahans care about this event and its presentation, and we will do whatever it takes to host another quality event in 2014!

Week 51 – Justine

Justine caught my attention…and the attention of most every car passing her on the street.

She was standing, rather dancing, on the sidewalk holding a sign for Firehouse Subs. She was smiling, waving, singing, dancing and jumping up and down. I pulled over and watched for about 5 minutes and cars were honking and people driving by were smiling. Some were pulling in to the business.

She was making people laugh and smile.

So, I approached her and introduced myself, Giving50x52, and asked her to be week 51. She got excited and said yes.

Justine 2

A little about this impressive young woman…Justine is from Birmingham, Alabama but has lived in Omaha for 12 years. Her dad used to be a minister but now is a regional manager for Direct TV. Her mom is a caregiver and also homeschools Justine and her 5 siblings. Of the six kids in her family, Justine is third oldest and they are all girls except for the youngest.

Justine is in her last year of high school and is starting to look at colleges. She said she wants to stay close to Omaha and is considering Creighton and UNO. (I told her we really want her to come to UNO!).

Justine has worked at Firehouse Subs since November 2012 and two of her sisters also work there. She said she loves to sing and to play tennis.

But back to Justine’s sidewalk antics…she approached her task of waving the sign at motorists with such tremendous passion, enthusiasm and fun. She was not wearing headphones and listening to music…she was creating it by singing and dancing and swinging around.

Justine provided a great reminder to us all that you might not be doing a task you necessarily love or want to do the rest of your life, but you can still give it your all. Do it with gusto.

Just when I think I’ve met about the most impressive person on my Giving50x52 journey, along comes Justine and then I’m not so sure. Justine was very personable, bright and fun. I really hope to see her at UNO in the fall of 2014!

Week 50 – Gary

We largely ignore the homeless. We pass by them and seldom acknowledge their existence.

And by “we”, I really mean “me”.

On Friday I was downtown for a luncheon and heading back to campus and noticed what looked to be a homeless guy on the sidewalk. I pulled my car over and had a chat with him.

Gary, who is 59 years old, was born in Omaha but mostly raised in Council Bluffs. He lived in Florida for many years and worked as a supervisor for 22 years at a furniture manufacturer until they went out of business.

Gary1Gary has never been married and says he has no interest in being married, but did live with the same woman for 15 years for a stretch while in Florida. He came back to Omaha about seven years ago because of the loss of his job and this is where he has lots of family…his mom, sister, and nieces.

Gary is now homeless and calls the Francis House his home.

At first when I approached Gary on the street, he was defensive and unsure of why I was talking to him. My guess is that homeless people aren’t approached often by people in suits who want to say hello and shake their hand. But we got past the initial uncertainty and I told Gary of my Giving50x52 and that I wanted him to be week 50 and his eyes lit up and got very big. He said, “SURE”!

Gary thought what I was doing with the Giving50x52 was a little strange (ok, a lot strange). He couldn’t understand why I was doing it or why anyone would do it. Maybe my reason is the smile it put on his face and the brief moment of excitement it gave him. In just a few minutes, I saw Gary’s mood change dramatically.

We had a good conversation. Gary told me of one of his favorite times of going to Busch Gardens in Florida. As I left, I asked him what he might use the $50 for and he said to get something to eat and to get some cigarettes.

I’m glad I didn’t ignore Gary on Friday and had the chance to meet him.

Week 49 – Brent & Stephanie

I absolutely love those surprise soldier homecomings or reunions at sporting events. Sometimes I see them on ESPN and think, “dang, wish I was there”. They move me.

On Friday night (July 26th), my wife and daughter and I went to the Omaha Storm Chasers game. While I was walking back to my seat, I overheard the between inning quiz/interview with a wife of a U.S. soldier. She was asked a number of questions and at the end she was asked what she would want to say to her husband, who is deployed overseas.  She said something to the effect of, “Love you and I can’t wait to see you in a week”. Of course the announcer said, “why wait, tell him now…he is here tonight!” They hug, kiss and everyone applauds.

Almost immediately, I headed over to the top of their section and waited for them (as I suspected, they decided not to stay for the rest of the game!)

When the couple walked up, I introduced myself and my Giving50x52 journey and my request that they be my week 49. They agreed.

Brent & Stephanie_2Brent, from Georgia, just returned from 8 months in Afghanistan. He is in the Marines. His wife is Stephanie and they were officially married in December, but they said a true ceremony is yet to happen…likely this fall.

They met while Stephanie was travelling with the USO in Twentynine Palms, CA.

Stephanie’s dad is retired military and their family moved around a lot, but Papillion has been home for the past ten years and is where her father retired.

I’m proud of and appreciative of our military personnel. These surprise homecomings captivate the emotion of the separation, and the reconnection, with their family.

Brent, I salute your service to our nation…and Stephanie, I applaud your strength and support.

I was honored to meet both of you!


Below is an e-mail I received from Stephanie on July 31st:

Hi! This is Brent and Stephanie from the Omaha Storm Chasers game. We are so thankful to be a part of your 52 weeks of giving. We wanted to let you know how much it meant to us that our reunion touched your heart, the way it touched ours. We apologize for the delay in writing to you, but we have been on the road for the last 5 days. Our journey is taking us to Albany, Georgia, where Brent is now stationed. It was my last night in Nebraska, and I had planned to spend it with my family prior to leaving the state to meet Brent the following week. He was “scheduled” to return on my birthday (August 3rd), but had been planning with my family all along to sneak up on me at the game! I have watched so many of those homecoming videos, and always had Brent watch them along with me…it was my way of getting through the deployment. I’m so glad we were able to have a moment of our own…it was definitely an unexpected surprise of a lifetime for me. We are so glad you were able to share in it with us. We wanted to let you know that your gift was put to good use. We used the $50 to assist in getting Brent home to reunite with his children…another long awaited, special moment for our family. Thank you so much for all that you are doing. I imagine you have touched so many lives this year; even more than the 52 people you have crossed paths with. What a wonderful example you are setting for so many. We were touched and inspired by your kindness, and look forward to following your continued journey of giving.
All the best,
Brent and Stephanie

Week 48 (part 2) – Outward Bound Omaha

On May 22nd, as part of the OmahaGives! day, Giving50x52 gave $50 to Outward Bound Omaha. This organization is headed by my good friend Scott Hazelrigg, who worked hard to bring Outward Bound to Omaha.

As background…in 2010, Outward Bound Omaha was created to bring high quality experiential education programs to Nebraska. Based on a curriculum that is focused on developing high quality leaders within the Omaha metro area, they serve students through school-based programs, one-day challenge course programs, and backcountry expeditions. In addition to youth programs, Outward Bound Omaha provides programs that focus on corporate teambuilding and educator training.

Outward BoundPreviously, I’ve been invited to participate in the Outward Bound Omaha Hitchcock High Ropes Challenge Course but could not attend, so when another invitation came this summer I made it a priority to participate on June 30th…and did it with my whole family.

The first part of the session included several activities to get to know the others in our group. There were the four Conleys and ten others in this group. We then went to their Team Development Course and worked as a group to solve a couple problems that just may have saved the world!

Finally, it was time to ascend up the 40 foot Hitchcock High Ropes Challenge Course. After we climbed up the cargo nets to the first landing the instructor asked us if we were “a) in our comfort zone, b) in our learning zone, or c) in our panic zone.”

Well, at that point, I’m thinking this is pretty simple, “A…bring it on”.

Yep, maybe I was a little over confident at that point.

The next activities involved walking on a thin cable about 25 feet up in the air and having to cross over another cable in the middle. I can’t do justice to the level of “learning” and often “panic” that this caused. We were always tethered and safe, but that seemed to provide surprisingly little comfort.

But in the end, it was a really fun and challenging way to spend a Sunday. I didn’t think I’d be challenged.  I was. The activities creatively and firmly reinforced the importance of teamwork. I might still be up on that wire if it weren’t for the great help of my team.

The website for Outward Bound Omaha says that by completing the Hitchcock High Ropes Challenge Course you might discover that there is more in you than you know.

Very true.  You also might find out that there is a great team around you and the importance of working together.

Week 48 – Jodi & Nikki

I almost struck out this week.

Another busy week, so I ventured out on Friday during lunch.  First stop was in midtown near 33rd and Jackson where I met three people from Myanmar…I think. I’m not entirely sure because they spoke no English and we fumbled through a brief encounter. I offered them the $50, but I think I scared them. Swing and a miss, strike one.

Second opportunity was an older, skinny man walking down Dodge Street around 54th. I pulled over and approached him and started talking to him. Let’s just say that he was on a different frequency. He looked at me but it was like he was looking through me. He was talking, or mumbling, but it didn’t make any sense to me. [Maybe he was saying, “keep going, your destination is still in front of you”…who knows?]. Strike two.

So I drove further west to the Goodwill Store parking lot at 78th & Dodge and saw a VW bug with eyelashes on the headlights. That looked interesting, so I decided to wait for the owner to come out.

That person was Jodi and she was with her friend Nikki. By the time I got to their car, they were in the car and the car was running. Jodi looked a little puzzled when I walked up and started talking to them. Who wouldn’t? I gave them the background on Giving50x52 and they agreed to participate. A hit…and a double!

Jodi & Nikki2Jodi is from Omaha and is a dancer. I was quite surprised to hear that she has four children, the youngest of which is 20 years old. Surprised because she looks about 20 years old herself.

Nikki does massage therapy and is also a dancer. She is from Denver and in Omaha for a couple weeks.

Jodi shared that she is a strong Christian, evidenced by her words and even her tattoos. She said that we need to surrender to God’s will/plan. She said life is not easy and said she felt somewhat misled or misguided (earlier in life) on how we are “programmed” about what is important in life.

It’s not things”, she said.

They both spoke of life’s challenges, in general. I sensed that they had each had some difficulties. I didn’t pursue specifics…just offered encouragement. They both had a positive attitude of perseverance.

Jodi’s spiritual beliefs were deep and strong. I was impressed. Perhaps there was a reason that it took three times to get this week’s gift accomplished. Maybe it was important for me to be inspired by her!

It was great to meet them both..they are both wonderful people.

Week 47 – Liz

I’m going to call this week…patience and patients.

It hasn’t gotten much easier…approaching people that I don’t know, initiating conversation and handing them a $50 bill.

And some weeks it just seems more difficult than others. Maybe I’m trying to make it fit my schedule or my plan. It goes back to something I wrote about early on in the year about consciousness and awareness and not forcing something that doesn’t seem or feel comfortable or right. Have patience.

So as difficult as this week was to accomplish, it was well worth it.

Things have been tremendously busy at the office lately and I worked through the noon hour again on Friday, so I drove out for a quick, late lunch. When heading back through Elmwood Park, I unexpectedly spotted my next Giving50x52 participant.

elmwood parkLiz was hanging out in the park on a blanket…studying, listening to music and generally enjoying the day. I selected her because I wished I was doing the same!

Liz is a nursing student at Nebraska Methodist College and will graduate in May 2014. She is from Omaha and attended Burke High School. We figured out that Liz and I have a mutual acquaintance, the son (Nick) of a good friend of mine (Joel).

After high school, Liz studied for three years at UNL. She is taking classes this summer while working at the medical center. Liz and her husband, Will, were married in May 2012 and they live in central Omaha.

[Side note: It might be interesting at the end of the Giving50x52 year to establish various “best ___________” categories and honor the best of the best during the year for various things. If I do this, Liz will likely get the award for the best conversation, which is saying a lot as I’ve had many rich encounters during the year.]

I’m generally fascinated by the reactions I get from people. Maybe I look harmless or evoke sympathy, but everyone I have talked with on the Giving50x52 journey has been really nice. Liz was refreshingly engaging and enjoyable to talk with. Usually I’m the one asking all the questions, but she started asking me questions about my experiences during the year. It was a fun conversation.

Whatever medical organization that hires Liz when she graduates is going to be very fortunate, but perhaps not as much as her patients.

As the saying goes, “It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.”  (Guy de Maupassant)

Week 46 – Alexis & Mike

The sign said, “Traveling, broke and hungry”.  It was handwritten on a piece of cardboard and held by a young woman as I was heading home from work on July 3rd.

Of course I had to stop.

Her name is Alexis, who is from Michigan. Her traveling companion with the guitar is Mike, who is from Connecticut. They met about 2-1/2 years ago in New Orleans.

Alexis & MikeThey travel the country, work jobs when and where they can get them and move on. This was their third and likely final day in Omaha as they make their way to Kansas City from the west coast.

They travel mostly by hopping on freight trains. Sometimes they travel by bus.

Traveling with them is their dog, Porter.

I asked what they might do with $50 and Alexis showed me her shoes that were worn through. She also said they use gifts to buy food and sometimes a hotel room.

I’ve sometimes referred to the Giving50x52 experience as a journey. But my journey is nothing compared to the journey that these two are on!

We had a nice conversation and as I left I wished them well and safe travels.

Week 45 – Maew & Shinichi

On Silvia and my 27th wedding anniversary, we attended the Shakespeare on the Green performance of Titus Andronicus in Omaha. Before the play began, I walked around the grass park and met a wonderful married couple who agreed to be a part of the Giving50x52 journey as week 45.

Maew & ShinichiShinichi and Maew were sitting toward the back of the park, waiting to watch Shakespeare and they caught my attention.  Maybe it was the Japanese mat that they were sitting on…or that they looked like a remarkably engaging couple.

Anyway, I just walked up and sat down next to them and started talking and listening. I’m reasonably certain that they thought it was both weird and funny that I just plopped down next to them and started talking to them, but they played along.

Shinichi, from Japan, is a student at Northwest Missouri State University but is in Omaha this summer attending a program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is studying therapeutic recreation and plans to graduate in May 2014.

Maew, from Thailand, is in the process of writing her dissertation to finish her PhD in plant pathology. Maew and Shinichi met when they both studied at a University in Japan in, I believe, Tsukuba.

It was fun and coincidental that on my anniversary I get the chance to meet a young married couple who are about to celebrate their 2nd anniversary in just a week.

Shinichi and Maew were very friendly and warm people! It was fun talking with them. Both are people that I am really glad to have met and who I hope to have the opportunity to run into again someday.