From the Notebook, a new World-Herald blog

Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write daily about people, places and events around Omaha.
Grace: Update on Stella

Grace: Update on Stella

Stella Ehrhart, the Dundee Elementary second-grade charmer last year, is now a third-grade writer.

This Omahan just snagged her first byline, writing for a group called

Here’s my story about Stella, whose claim to fame is dressing up as a different historical figure each year.

And here’s Stella’s story about one of my historical women faves: Annie Oakley.

By March 1, 2013 16 comments Read More
Kelly: Van Cliburn played before Husker football game

Kelly: Van Cliburn played before Husker football game

Famed pianist Van Cliburn, who died this week, once played the national anthem before a University of Nebraska football game.

On Sept. 22, 1990, as the Huskers were about to play the Minnesota Gophers, workers set out temporary flooring and hauled a grand piano out to the sideline – followed by Cliburn.

He had played a concert the night before at the Lied Center in Lincoln, but his playng of the anthem before the game came as a surprise. He dedicated it to the people of Nebraska and troops in Operation Desert Shield.

Don Bryant, then NU’s sports information director, said it was the first time a classical pianist had performed the national anthem before a Nebraska football game.

“We’ve had Gordon MacRae, who was a Broadway performer, and we had Joe Feeney, who was with Lawrence Welk,” Bryant said. “In 1939, Woody Herman directed the university band. But we never had a pianist before. For one thing, it’s kind of hard to get a grand piano in here.”

Though the pianist was classical, the game was not a classic. NU won 56-0.

Hansen: Ranking colleges on the bottom line

Hansen: Ranking colleges on the bottom line

This week I wrote a column about the Creative Center, a west Omaha design college whose graduates have a median student loan debt of $52,000, the highest in the United States.

I wanted to share a couple resources that helped me with this column, and can assist teenagers and their parents as they make a college choice.

The College Scorecard is part of a federal government push to make higher education information more available to the public.

Click here for College Scorecard.

Say a high school junior is looking at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Using the easily searchable scorecard, she can learn that the average UNO student pays $10,370 per year in net price, which is the cost of tuition and fees minus what the average UNO student receives in scholarship and financial aid that they don’t have to pay back. (The fact that the government is calculating net price is fantastic, I think, because it gives parents and students a more realistic picture of college cost than the tuition number often quoted by schools. It’s a little like going into a car dealership and being able to see the real number instead of the sticker price on that new Chevrolet.)

By February 28, 2013 2 comments Read More
Kelly: Brother and sister take Omaha by storm

Kelly: Brother and sister take Omaha by storm

The World-Herald’s “Go” section on Thursday noted an amazing coincidence – brother and sister James Valentine and Amanda Valentine featured prominently and separately.

James is a member of the band Maroon 5, playing to a sold-out crowd this Sunday at the CenturyLink Center. Amanda is a clothes designer who has appeared on the reality-TV show “Project Runway” and whose work is part of Omaha Fashion Week.

They grew up in Lincoln, where they graduated from Southeast High School.

Amanda said it wasn’t until a few days ago that they realized they would be able to hang out together in their home state.

Their parents are Robert and Shauna Valentine, who lived in the same brick house in Lincoln for three decades before moving to Utah in 2004 to be near grandkids. According to a family website, the couple met while attending Brigham Young University, married in 1967 and raised five children in Nebraska.

By February 28, 2013 Comments are Disabled Read More
Kelly: Cell phone rang in sewer

Kelly: Cell phone rang in sewer

It’s happened to most of us – a sudden, embarrassing moment.

Dropped off outside a restaurant Feb. 17 at Midtown Crossing in Omaha, Carrie Fleck decided she didn’t need her coat, and tossed it back into the car.  As she did so, her cell phone went flying – straight into a storm sewer.

“I had my husband call it, and we could hear it ring,” Carrie said. “It’s the worst feeling. I thought I had lost everything – contacts, pictures. Our whole lives are now in those tiny phones.”

Even though Carrie told onlookers to forget it because the phone was a goner, private officers Jarad Shively and Gerard Zak of Frontline Security offered to help.

A manhole cover was lifted, and Gerard reached down while two men held his legs.

Voila! He retrieved the phone.

He and Jarad waved off Carrie’s attempt to tip them and her offer to pay for dry-cleaning Gerard’s uniform.  She wrote to their boss to say she was “beyond impressed” with their willingness to help.

By February 28, 2013 24 comments Read More
Hansen: Barb at the Jail

Hansen: Barb at the Jail

She met me in the jail lobby, the first face I saw after crossing through the metal detectors.

Barb was beaming.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Officer Selina Sanchez, the hard-working librarian at the Douglas County jail.

But that day I also got to know her boss, a woman named Barb Gillan Glaser, who ran the jail’s programs for inmates. Barb insisted on taking me on a tour of the jail. She breezed past sullen prisoners and cruised through security points and chatted me up as we passed men in handcuffs. As you may expect, the Douglas County Jail is a cold place. But Barb practically radiated warmth.

I emailed Barb both before and after the story, to check facts and then to thank her for her hospitality. Her emails were as kind as her smile, and I loved how she signed them: “Barb at the Jail.”

Barb was at the jail. Barb wanted to be at the jail. Any dummy could see that Barb made the jail a better place. The programs she ran taught inmates to read and offered them job training. The library. The legal services. The GEDs. These are Barb’s lasting impact.

They are her legacy, because last week Barb died when her parked car slipped down her snowy driveway and struck her. She was 61 years old. She was the jail’s longest serving employee.

Here’s what she told me when I met her: “If we don’t try to teach them another way to think, we accomplish nothing. Just locking people up accomplishes nothing.”

Here’s what I’ll remember: You can make any corner of this world better if you want to. Barb at the Jail wanted to. And she did.

By February 27, 2013 26 comments Read More
Kelly: Ex-farm kid from Nebraska ABC Washington correspondent

Kelly: Ex-farm kid from Nebraska ABC Washington correspondent

Jeff Zeleny, who grew up on a farm near Exeter, Neb., has exited a top reporting  job at the New York Times and accepted a high-profile spot at ABC News.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate, he will become the network’s senior Washington correspondent covering Congress and politics. Besides reporting, he will appear regularly on the network’s Sunday-morning “This Week” program.

Jeff grew up doing farm chores and then worked at a Pizza Hut in Geneva, Neb., before reporting part-time at the York News-Times — similarly named to the paper where he would gain journalistic fame. In college, he became editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Nebraskan. In Decmber, he was UNL’s graduation speaker. 

Zeleny has covered Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency and his time in office, and has traveled to all 50 states and about two dozen countries. He is the third and youngest son of Diane and the late Robert Zeleny, who died in a tractor rollover accident in 2002.

Jeff once told me his career choice was greatly influenced by his father, who read “every inch” of two newspapers daily.








By February 26, 2013 20 comments Read More
Grace: “In my day …”

Grace: “In my day …”

Who’s not a snow wimp?

Fred Aliano of Elkhorn is not a snow wimp. The 86-year-old told me about the winter of 1936, a particularly brutal year to live in Omaha with record or near-record highs and lows.

Let’s go back in time to a  frosty February 14, 1936. On that Valentine’s Day, Fred is an 11-year-old kid. It has snowed a foot. It is freezing outdoors. Omaha is mid-month through what is THE coldest month on record.

Is school called off?

By February 26, 2013 6 comments Read More
Grace: Helping Lauren

Grace: Helping Lauren

By now a lot of Omahans have heard the story of Lauren Hacker, the fifth-grader fighting cancer at Children’s Hospital.

When four teenage boys heard about Lauren’s battle with acute mylecytic leukemia, they wanted to do something. So these boys, musicians in a jazz band they call Escape from AlcaJazz, have organized a concert fundraiser from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. March 30 at the Benson Pizza Shoppe, 6056 Maple St.

There is no cover charge. The teens will put out a donation jar.  Proceeds will go to the local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And the Pizza Shoppe has agreed to donate 10 percent of its sales to the cause.

Band members are: Skye Junginger (sax), a sophomore at Logan View High School in Hooper, Neb., Ed Berry (piano), a junior at Elkhorn South High School, Josh DeCoster (drums), a senior at Papillion-LaVista South High School, and David Bredthauer (bass), an eighth-grader at Brownell Talbot.


By February 26, 2013 Comments are Disabled Read More
Mentally weathering the weather

Mentally weathering the weather

Before I oh-so scientifically studied Omaha’s weather wimpiness, I went to an actual scientist.
A psychiatrist and Omaha native.
Who better to probe the dark corners of our soul than Dr. Steve Wengel from UNMC?
Here’s what the good doctor had to say about our weather worries.
By February 25, 2013 22 comments Read More