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.

Week 44 – Gӓbe

This week the College World Series (CWS) is being played in town. Since 1950, the CWS has been held in Omaha and through the 2010 series, the CWS was played at Rosenblatt Stadium in South Omaha. I have many great memories of going to games in that stadium. In 2011, the CWS moved to the brand new TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha.

On Wednesday, I was heading back to campus from a change of command ceremony for the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base and stopped for a few minutes at the original site of CWS in Omaha, which has been preserved as a small infield, signage, plaques, etc. It’s a shrine to 60 years of CWS in Omaha!

It was a beautiful morning and I walked into the area and relaxed in one of the Rosenblatt seats that are installed around the small infield. A few minutes later, in walked Gӓbe.

Gӓbe, obviously a LSU fan, and I started talking and I asked her to have a seat and join me. She asked what this was for and I said I had a blog…then I revealed the $50 part of the deal and she accepted being week 44.

Gabe week 44Gӓbe was there with her mother, Elodie. Gӓbe is a big LSU baseball fan. She said she missed only two of their home games this year, in spite of being in a cast and on crutches for part of the season. This was her third time in Omaha for the CWS and she said she misses the old ballpark (Rosenblatt).

Gӓbe is a senior at LSU majoring in Sports Administration and Marketing. She works in the LSU Athletics Department. She loves sports, and in particular, baseball. She is hoping to go to graduate school. She is from Baton Rouge and loves being from Louisiana…loves the food, the fishing and Mardi Gras. “People sometimes make fun of us from Louisiana, but they fall in love with everything about us when they get to Louisiana”, she said.

People also fall in love with Omaha when they come to town for the CWS. The CWS is really just an extension of Omaha to the rest of the collegiate baseball community and will be for at least another 22 years. The event brings the best fans to town. I had the pleasure to meet two of them this week!

Week 43 – Forest

In many ways, the Giving50x52 journey has enabled me to better see the “forest from the trees”…and this week I literally saw Forest!

We heard about a local benefit event in Papillion…and I heard there were unlimited waffles and sausage!

So, on Saturday (the 15th ) the whole family got up and went to the benefit for Forest Grapes at Shadow Lake Community Church.

The Waffle Man was working, and there were plenty of waffles. There was also plenty of support for this guy named Forest Grapes, who is battling cancer. He and his wife, Diane, were moving around the room at the benefit event talking with people, thanking them for attending and sharing a few laughs.

ForestAfter Lance Burch, Lead Pastor, got up on the stage and belted out a personalized rendition of “On Broadway” that was both impressive and humorous AND after I had consumed my second waffle, I located Forest and introduced my family to him. He sat down with us for a few minutes to talk.

Forest told me that he is from central Missouri and went into the Air Force. In 1985, he moved to Omaha and got married to Diane, where they lived for a few years before moving to Blue Springs, Missouri. In 1994, they moved back to the Omaha area.  Forest & Diane have three children.

Forest has worked in IT his entire career, his last role was with Best Buy.

Forest was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000 and it returned in 2011. More recently, he learned that the cancer had metastasized and he is going through treatment at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Forest has a positive attitude on his challenge and was friendly.

As we parted I told Forest that there are many people he knows, and many people he doesn’t know, that are thinking about him, praying for him, and wishing him the best.

Happy Father’s Day to all dads!

Week 42 (Special Edition) – NeAD

On February 22, 2013, the Omaha World-Herald ran a story about Giving50x52 (which was very well written by Erin Grace!). By 2pm that day, Frank and Marlene Turk, who I did not know, stopped in my office at UNO and presented me a formal invitation letter and information about the upcoming biennial Nebraska Association of the Deaf (NeAD) conference in June.

This was the first time I had sat down and visited with someone who was deaf. We exchanged handwritten notes for about 15 minutes. They were both very nice, but I made no promises and said I’d think about it.

I thought Frank would forget about this, but he kept in contact with me and introduced me to Jonathan Scherling, president of NeAD. So I accepted their invitation and on Saturday, June 8th, I attended their conference to present briefly about Giving50x52 and to give NeAD a $50 bill. Below is a photo with Jonathan on the left and Frank on the right.

NeAD photo 1NeAD was established in 1902 as the chief spokesperson for all deaf and hard of hearing people. It is affiliated with the National Association of the Deaf, headquartered in Silver Spring MD. Both organizations exist primarily to preserve, protect, and promote the civil, human, and linguistic rights of all deaf and hard of hearing people. 

Their ultimate goal is to enhance public and legislative awareness of the needs and interests unique to deafness specific to bringing to the targeted population the best possible American life.

The best estimates in Nebraska are that approximately 6,000 people are deaf or unable to hear normal conversation (0.34%) and about 70,000 people who are hard of hearing or have difficulty hearing normal conversation (3.93%).

The NeAD conference was well organized and attended (over 130 participants). The theme was “Gateway to Collaborative Partnership”.  Everyone at the NeAD conference made me feel so welcome…it was truly a pleasure and an honor for me to join them and make a brief presentation.

Through my meetings with Frank and Jonathan and attending the NeAD event, I think I’ve gained a greater appreciation of the challenges of the deaf and of the importance for all of us to ensure that our community is inclusive of this wonderful population.


Week 42 – Billie Jo in 20-county

LOUISVILLE, NEBRASKA – In 1922, the state of Nebraska established the practice of using prefix numbers to identify the counties in which vehicles were registered on the license cass county license plateplate for the vehicle. Each of Nebraska’s 93 counties was assigned a number based on the number of registered vehicles in the county at that time. The county with the most vehicles, Douglas (city of Omaha), was assigned the number 1; the county with the second highest number of vehicles, Lancaster (city of Lincoln), was assigned number 2; and so forth. My current county, Sarpy, was 59.

In January of 2002, the State discontinued this practice for the largest three counties, Lancaster, Sarpy and Douglas and began issuing alpha/numeric license plates.  This change and the proliferation of prestige plates has taken away a little nugget of Nebraska history that I miss. Oh, I know that most counties in Nebraska still use these prefix numbers…but it’s not as much fun when only part of the vehicles are in the (prefix) game!

On Friday of this week, I woke up in 59-county and drove to 2-county for an all day meeting. On the way back, I took the long route through 20-county (Cass) and stopped in Louisville. It is there where I met Billie Jo.

I was parked at the combination convenience store/bank/Subway mini-strip mall along Highway 50 when Billie Jo pulled in next to me and went into the C-store. I figured she wouldn’t be long because she left the keys in the car with the car running (we do that in Nebraska!).

Billie Jo was talking on her phone when walking back to her car and I interrupted her and introduced myself. She was talking to her sister, Amanda, and I suggested she not hang up and just let Amanda listen. So on with the pitch…and Billie Jo accepted the $50.

Billie Jo is originally from 6-county (Saunders, and specifically Woodcliff) but moved to 20-county a year ago to live in Louisville with her fiancé, Ben. They are planning to get married next year. She is pregnant (with a boy) and due October 4th. Billie Jo looked very young to me, so I was quite surprised when she said that she had been married before for 15 years (she got married at the age of 17) and that she had previous children. She has four girls from that marriage.

Billie Jo said that she has been off work due to the pregnancy and that the $50 comes at a really good and needed time for them. It was a really good time to meet her, for me…another very pleasant encounter on this journey!