My co-workers at the Enterprise Publishing Company brought home a load of awards and honors at last week’s Nebraska Press Association Convention in Lincoln. In addition to the sixty-four awards from the Better Newspaper Contest, the Washington County Pilot-Tribune received the World Herald Service to Agriculture and Community Service awards in its circulation category.
I was also pleased to learn that I received the “Sports Photo of the Year” for my photo of USA Triathlon cyclists as they passed through southern Washington County last summer. I also received first, second and third place news photo awards in Class D – which is the class for weekly newspapers in our circulation category.
The majority of the 60 plus honors were awarded to “staff ” – the talented team effort by writers, photographers, editors and visual artists. Well done!
The Adventure Awaits. On opening day, third grade teachers Kim Szlachetka Teachers and Marti Leishman drive past the entrance to Fort Calhoun Grade School ready for new adventures.
Blair Volunteer Fire Department practice burn at 17th and Colfax in Blair
Girl Scouts circle the Christmas tree and sing carols during the Fort Calhoun Christmas Tree Lighting in Market Square.
The Dana College campus cleanup is certainly the good news story of the week. On Saturday, June 25th, more than 150 Dana alumni and community volunteers worked in the sun, heat and humidity to remove tree limbs and overgrown shrubbery and weeds. Another estimated 40 volunteers pitched in on Sunday. The volunteers included Blair Team Mates mentors working side by side with their school age mentees to clean up flower beds. High school and college students who are members of CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, also worked tirelessly throughout the day on Saturday. On Sunday a group of Midland College football players helped out.
Dana College Alumni and Friends Association member and clean-up organizer Linda Jorgensen said she was overwhelmed by the number of volunteers standing in line at the Gardner Hawks Center at 8:00 AM Saturday to fill out waivers and strap on white wristbands and go to work. Starting on the north end of campus at Pioneer Memorial, the teams of volunteers moved south across the campus attacking one tangle of weeds and shrubbery after another.
I helped drag some branches to refuse piles, but more likely got in the way as Tom Jackson, Kathy and Dave McKinnis, and Faith Andreasen removed a jungle of greenery in Letha’s Garden. The Garden adjacent to the Durham Center is a memorial to Letha Jorgensen Pagel and Gordon “B” Jensen. I tried to stay out of the way, but I was fascinated by the statuary that emerged as Tom and Dave cut away bushes and tree branches hiding the terra-cotta statues.
What happened in Letha’s Garden pretty much exemplified what took place all across the campus as volunteers removed unsightly and damaging vines, weeds and shrubs from building facades and walk ways.
On days preceding as well as during the cleanup, McKinnis Roofing and Sheet Metal crews wielded chain saws and trimmers and provided the heavy equipment. Dana repairs project manager Bobby McKinnis was gratified by the size of the turnout, and the amount of work accomplished. “It looks great, doesn’t it?” McKinnis commented.
Jorgensen calls Bobby a “home town hero” for his efforts in making the clean up a reality. Home town hero is an appropriate phrase to describe all who came out to do what they could to beautify the campus.
There are nay sayers who think there is no good reason to work for free when a private developer now owns the property. While owner Frank Krejci has a financial stake in the campus, community members and alumni have a personal and emotional stake in this institution. We all hope that good things will happen to the Dana campus, but we have little control over that.
What we can do is be good neighbors. And we can all feel good about that.
Diane Christenson and Karen Riddle clean up flower beds near the Durham Center. Dana College cleanup
Makenzie Cummings, Halli Ray, and Will Cummings hold an open trash bg for Deanna Kloster.
Bill Henderson drags an arm load of limbs cross the Durham center lawn.
Plaque on a stone commemorating Letha’s Garden
Dean Penner carries tree branch in front of Holling Hall.
Jeremy McKinnis trims tree branches
CJ tree service owner Jesse Burt cuts down a dead pine tree next to the Pioneer center at Dana College cleanup
Tom Jackson removes brush from Letha’s Garden.
Tammy Reeh and John Mark Nielsen carry tree truck to refuse pile.
Parks, libraries, and recreation centers help to create an overall impression of the strength and vitality of a community.
Blair takes great pride in the beauty and diversity of its parks and the quality of its sports facilities. That is why it is particularly discouraging when you see these public spaces trashed and residents upset, intimidated and fearful of using them.
In my estimation, Black Elk-Neihardt Park is our town’s most distinctive and beautiful park. The Tower of the Four Winds at the center of the park can be seen for miles in every direction. Visitors to the city often visit the park to see the monument which is featured on every city and Chamber of Commerce website.
Disc golfers from Omaha as well as Blair describe the park’s disc golf course one of the best, and certainly the most beautiful course in the Omaha and metropolitan area.
The disc golfers from Omaha that I interviewed last week said they come here two and three times a week to play. Before playing, they say they often pick up trash strewn usually within arms length of the trash receptacle. They say they enjoy the park and want to keep it looking nice. They also shake their heads and say it’s too bad the park has become a hangout for the teenagers congregating in the parking lot.
There are many, many people who love and respect the park. Friends of Black Elk Neihardt Park – formerly the Black Elk-Neihardt Park Board – were instrumental in getting the park built nearly 40 years ago. The Thomsen Shelter is dedicated to Dana College professor Rev. F.W. Thomsen who designed the tower and was the driving force behind the creation of the park.
Several years ago two large bronze relief sculptures of John G. Neihardt and Black Elk were cast. Construction of a plaza to display sculptures was scheduled to begin this year, but the plan is on hold and a new location sought, due to fear of vandalism if they are installed in the park.
The vast majority of the young people who visit the park do not cause problems, but there are some who feel they should be able to say or do or act in whatever way they please.
The park should be used and is used by people of all ages. There is nothing wrong with meeting friends in the park and enjoying the day or the evening, but park patrons and neighbors should not have to put up with vandalism, vulgar language, blaring music, screeching tires, and reckless driving.
Recently a woman I know was walking in the park in the late afternoon. She watched as a pick up truck raced backwards through the lot spinning its tires. When she attempted to take a picture of the truck and license plate with her cell phone, the young men in the truck yelled at her and told her not to take pictures. They yelled and intimidated her to the point where she left the park.
So what’s to be done?
Blair Police Chief Joe Lager says call the police. If you see illegal activity or feel threatened, call 911. If you don’t want to call 911, but see suspicious activity or a situation that may get out of hand, call Washington County dispatch 402-426-6866 any time, day or night.
In Lager’s words, “The tail should not wag the dog.” A small group of youth should not be able to dictate who should use the park.
A regular or even an irregular police presence that goes beyond a patrol drive-by can also make a difference. During the several weeks following a July City Council meeting and the report by homeowners of reckless behavior, the Chief directed his officers to spend time sitting in the parking lot while doing their reports, and to keep their cameras running. During those weeks, and for some time after, the inappropriate activity subsided. Police presence works.
I understand that police often have higher priority matters to attend to, but at least occasional visits by the officers that go beyond driving through the parking lot could go a long way to help mitigate the problem.
Another possibility is to install a surveillance camera. The camera would not have to be permanent. The device could be moved to other parks and facilities when the need arises.
The last thing I want to do in this column is to discourage people from spending time in the park. When the Boy Scouts hold meetings, and when there are other events and adult supervised activities, trouble makers go somewhere else. The more the park is used by patrons for appropriate activities, the better for everyone.
The parks should be inviting and welcoming to all. Measures need to be taken to protect our parks and the city’s reputation as a family friendly community.
Every time I think about my night at the Washington County Jail, the lyric and tune from the old 1959 Kingston Trio ‘Tijuana Jail’ tune keeps playing in my head. The song is quaint, and in some ways, so is the local lock-up. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The purpose of the visit by Online/Citizen editor Leeanna Ellis and myself was to document a typical night at the facility. A two part series written by Ellis and photos by Joe Burns ran in the December 12 and December Washington County Enterprise newspapers. While the17-bed facility was state-of -the-art when it was built in 1977, a lot has changed in 40 years.
The latest State of Nebraska Jail Standards Inspection Report Confirms that. The report, which was completed in August lists nine standards the facility is not meeting and therefore puts the jail out of compliance with jail standards program.
The editorial in the December 19 Enterprise takes the position that the time has come to move forward on a plan to address the jail situation because the current facility is putting jail staff at a safety risk.
Washington County Jail corrections officers Shawna Brown, left, and Jenny Meyer fill out paperwork after completing a cell search. All searches must be documented, including any contraband that was found.
Turkey Trot, Turkey Trot, Run Run Run! For years this chant has started each heat of the annual Arbor Park Turkey Trot, and this year was no exception. The students trained by running a mile after school each week for six weeks.The event is a fun run, not a race. The students help each other when needed, and cheer each other on. The event not only encourages students to learn the many benefits of running, but also serves as as community service project. One student from each class will be selected to join physical education teacher Sandy Moore in delivering five turkeys to Joseph’s Coat for families in need.
As a part of Fire Prevention Week activities, third grade students from across the Blair district visited the Schuyler Fire Department fire prevention and education smoke trailer parked at Deerfield primary school on Friday. October 10.
The students viewed a melted fire helmet and other items damaged by the intense heat of fire. After entering the smoke trailer the students were asked to spot potential fire hazards such as a frayed extension cord or a heater touching an area rug.
After a fire alarm sounded and theatrical smoke released, Blair fire fighters coached students as they moved down low and exited by way of a window