The storm that began last Sunday, January 27, as rain and sleet morphed into a blizzard on Monday, dumping six inches of snow in areas of Washington County creating whiteout conditions and closing schools for two days.
Ten schools from across the area participated in the Blair Music Department fifth annual show choir workshop. The performers worked with show choir experts Dan Hays and Jennifer Toney. Hays, the Midland Vocal Music director, was BHS vocal music director Dan Hutsell’s predecessor.
The choirs worked on staging elements, choreography and show pacing to improve their shows.
“The performance has no competition aspect to it so the students have the opportunity to be everybody’s fan and support each other,” Hutsell said. ” As audience members they (performers) have the opportunity to see some of the things that make a group good or great, or maybe not quite there yet and hopefully each student can apply that to their own individual and group performance.”
The opening of the new 24,000-square foot Blair Library and Technology Center is my favorite 2017 good news story of the year. I could fill a small hard drive with photos documenting the construction of the new building, the move from the old building to the new, the ribbon cutting and grand opening, and the summer reading program and activities that have quadrupled library attendance figures.
Each year as I get out the tubs of extension cords and Christmas lights I think of Clark Griswold in the “Lampoon Christmas Vacation” movie. I love everything about the Christmas holiday season, and look forward to it every year. Like Clark, I have been known to stand on the top step of a ladder and reach precariously to hang a light on a bough that is just slightly out of reach.
I thought about skipping the lights this year, but the warm sunny weather last week inspired me to get out the ladder and get to work. The colorful lights highlighting the branches and shimmering in the breeze creates a sense of magic.
Another favorite tradition is making a family trip to a local Christmas tree farm to find and cut down the perfect family Christmas tree – at least perfect in our eyes. We have been doing this since the kids were toddlers, and the trip is associated with fond memories. Speaking of memories, I can’t remember a year when we have strolled the hills in shirt sleeves and sneakers instead of snow boots.
On Saturday I joined the revelers that crowded around the gazebo in Market Square in Fort Calhoun for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The Fort Calhoun choir performed a number of Christmas carols before and after the tree lighting. In addition to lots of hot chocolate and cookies, some of the children and adults walked away with some nice prizes.
In Blair, the Sugar Plum Festival kicks off the Christmas season. It is always fun to see the streets filled with families. The decorative lights, the Downtown Brass ensemble, the Country Bible Church carolers and hay racks rolling up and down Washington Street were just some of the sights and sounds that gave the city center the appearance of a Hallmark Christmas movie set. As families walked along the streets picking up trinkets and treats at local businesses, many dropped coins and bills in the Salvation Army red kettle and contributed to other worthwhile causes.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year are filled holiday concerts, social events and religious services that inspire a sense of wonder, joy and community. When we feel good about ourselves and our community, more than likely we also want to share and give back.
Schools throughout the county do their part to encourage sharing. Before Thanksgiving break I stopped by Joseph’s Coat to take pictures of Blair FBLA members unloading around 4,500 food items collected in the Blair schools. Blair students, staff and teachers also contributed nearly $5,000 in cash to the Blair Area Food Bank. I also photographed Otte Middle School teachers Terry Bellamy and Kristi Baker puckering up and kissing a pig after the students raised nearly $400 for the Food Bank. Maybe some of the kids donated just because they like Mr. Bellamy but still they experienced the joy of giving.
On Thanksgiving Day I attended the Community Thanksgiving dinner. While it is held at St Francis Borgia Catholic Church, it is a community event for all. What a fantastic opportunity for neighbors to come together to prepare and share a festive dinner with friends and multiple generations of family members. In addition to a satisfying meal, you could not come away from that dinner without feeling a sense of gratitude and good will.
A new opportunity to show gratitude and goodwill is to participate in the first ever “Giving Tuesday” in Washington County which is November 28 -the day this newspaper is published. The Blair Area Community Foundation and the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce have combined forces to create awareness and inspire people to be generous to Washington County nonprofits. Donations may be made online at wcnegives.org or in person at the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce office and other drop-off locations throughout the county.
Another opportunity to give and get a good breakfast is the seventh annual Christmas for the Coat to be held at Fernando’s Café and Cantina on Dec. 6 from 6:30 to 9 a.m. Last year the event raised over $43,000 for the Washington County Food Pantry.
With this column, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. I hope that we all will take advantage of the many opportunities to celebrate and find our own best ways to give back to our community.
In the next few weeks I plan to show up at many of the concerts and events throughout the county. Making photographs is my job, but also my way of giving back – of showing appreciation for the generosity and sense of community that has been shared with me.
Volunteers prepare 850 meals at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Blair
The phrase “salad days” describes a season when the taste of life, like the spring garden harvest, is fresh and sweet. My first years of teaching were salad days. I was young and enjoying the moment, living the life and learning my craft. There was the reality of hard work and some heartache and frustration, but I had few cares or responsibilities other than myself. Life was good – or at least fresh and fun.
Shakespeare coined the phrase “salad days” in the tragedy Cleopatra to mean “green in judgement,” and certainly that could be said of me at that time. More broadly the term evokes the light heartedness, vitality and optimism of youth. I think of late spring like that – an idyllic time of freshness, novelty and fun – and I have tried to capture that spirit in my photos.
Memorial Day is one of those salad days. From my youth, I associate the holiday with blue skies and sunny days. My memories are of pleasant walks with family along cemetery lawns filled with colorful displays of flags and fragrant flowers. The cemetery visits were a significant family ritual and history lesson. This year I attended and photographed ceremonies in Herman, Fort Calhoun and Kennard as well as visited and placed flowers on graves of my own relatives in Omaha. I still prefer and often use the old term “Decoration Day.”
The last weekend in May now has added significance because my daughter Erin is now Erin McElroy. She and her husband Declan were married on the Saturday before Memorial Day in a beautiful ceremony in the Fontenelle Park Pavillion in Omaha. While I had absolutely nothing to do with selecting the venue, I grew up on Ames Avenue in Omaha, and the park brings back many childhood memories.
Nothing evokes images of youth and summer more than swimming at outdoor pools. No matter the temperature, kids dive, splash and play. The weather and the water temp was near perfect the week that the Blair pool opened. Unfortunately, a few days later the pool was shut down while a maintenance crew removed shattered glass particles imbedded in paint at the bottom of the pool.
Gateway to The West events and similar summer festivals bring out the kid in many of us. Blair Otte Middle School was the new venue for Taste of Blair and the Blair Area Community Band Summer Concert. Holding the concert in the Otte commons area seemed to be an excellent fit and everyone enjoyed the performance.
While June Jam was again held at The Depot in Lions Park, the revamped park layout is a significant improvement. Kids swarmed the new and relocated playground. Concert goers could see and hear the band while families picnicked and watched their kids swing, slide and climb on the new playground equipment. The park will be even more family friendly when the modern all-season restrooms are completed.
Despite the toasty weather, families filled the sidewalks along the Gateway to the West parade route. Fire trucks spraying water, and parade participants throwing frozen treats to parade watchers proved to be particularly popular for the kids. After the parade, I stopped at the Blair Volunteer Fire Department beer garden for a refreshing beer and bratwurst before watching the kids and fire fighters water fight contests.
I can think of no better example of youthful vitality and celebration than the Kids Triathlon which took place this past Saturday. I have no interest in stats – I have no idea who won or even how many kids took part. I do know that for over an hour I watched kids ages 5 to 15 of all ability levels take part in the challenge and have a great time doing it. I watched a host of volunteers organize, monitor and keep kids safe while family members cheered the kids on.
I also applaud Kids Triathlon organizers for instituting the “Do Moore, Be Moore” award. which was presented to BHS graduates Alec and Evan Wick. The two outstanding and record setting cross country and track athletes have assisted with the triathlon each year since the event was first organized.
“Do Moore, Be Moore” honors recently retired PE teacher and Kids Tri co-founder Sandy Moore. Physical education teacher Kim Leggott said, “The award is based on all things ‘Sandy’, – hard work, kindness, compassion and dedication!”
Spring is at an end, and summer officially begins this Tuesday at 11: 24 PM. I am looking forward to the vacations and summer activities ahead, but I will miss the soft green salad days of spring.
We all look up to Blair balloonist Rich Jaworski when we see his brilliant red and white striped balloon float through the skies over Washington County on a calm morning or evening. Following his induction into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame Enterprise on-line editor and reporter Leeana Elis interviewed Jaworski, and I searched through my archive for photos I have taken over the years to accompany the article.
I have watched Jaworski and his crew prepare for take off many times, but the most memorable for me was standing in the parking lot of St.Francis Borgia in the wee hours of a frigid morning in 2007 as the balloonist prepared for a long distance flight.
Congratulations to Rich, and thanks for the joy you provide as we view your balloon floating over the countryside. – Joe Burns