Summer snapshots, Washington County 2017

Blair Balloonist Jaworski inducted into Hall of Fame

Jaworski Hot Air Balloon
Over hill and dale. Rich Jaworski pilots his passengers above the hills north of Blair in March, 2016.

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

Saturday  Heritge Days
Rich Jaworski greets guests as they climb aboard for a bird’s eye view of Fort Atkinson during Heritage Days in Fort Calhoun.

Jump into the deep end and start swimming

Huesman class
Becket Scott pies South School engineer Steve Ray.

I cannot remember  a new year as fraught with drama and trauma as the one that is upon us.  At this point I don’t think anyone of any political persuasion has a clue as to what the political, social, or economic ramifications of the new presidential administration will be.

But living in fear doesn’t do any good.  Based upon what has worked for us in the past, we must make plans and make choices  that will help us achieve our dreams and goals.

Personally I have always been a fan of fresh starts.  My experience has been that the best way to pursue happiness is to jump into the deep end of life and start swimming.

My first paid teaching experience was working as a substitute teacher in the Omaha Public Schools.  I remember waking up and listening for the phone to ring with feelings of  both anticipation and dread.  I needed and wanted the work, but I never knew quite what the day would bring.

Walking into an unfamiliar school and class room each day was an adventure. The regular teacher may or may not have provided detailed lesson plans. Some times the students were polite and cooperative, and other times they saw me as fresh meat.  I learned to be flexible, to think on my feet and to stay calm no matter what took place.  I learned that each classroom and each child is unique.  Usually I succeeded in teaching the planned lesson, but sometimes not so much.

Substitute teaching was a valuable  experience because whether I ended the day feeling successful or frustrated, I could walk out that door and start all over fresh the next day at another school in  another classroom with a new set of students and a different set of challenges.  Over the course of the semester my self confidence increased. I met and modeled successful teachers who became my mentors. I observed successful teachers and administrators and they observed me.  That spring I was offered a full time position at Benson High School for the following year.

As an English teacher and then as a journalism and photography teacher I liked the idea that each school year and each semester provided an opportunity for a fresh start for both the teacher and student.  Each year I tweaked my lesson plans and prepared new strategies to more effectively engage students and present the material. I never grew tired of reading and teaching Chaucer, Shakespeare Wordsworth and Coleridge, because each time I taught the literature I learned something new myself.

I approach my job as a photojournalist with the same passion. While I have attended hundreds, even thousands of school and sports activities, each event  is a new challenge and an opportunity to tell a new story in a new way.

Over the New Year weekend, I reviewed my images from 2016 to pick out the keepers.  The secret to becoming  a successful photographer is to edit your work and  show and publish only your best images.  Out of thousands of images I captured last year, I came up with maybe a couple hundred keepers.  As I scrolled through the images frame by frame I would often pause to think about the people, the day, and the story associated with one or a set of images.  Some of my favorite photos have more to do with the memories they evoke than with photo composition.  As an example, I love the picture (above) that captures the moment before Becket Scott plants a pie on South School engineer Steve Ray’s face during a school assembly.

Viewing my photos from last year has me psyched to begin the new year capturing  unique and compelling images.

In 2017 I hope to extend my photo treks beyond Washington County. This year marks 150 years of Nebraska Statehood, and I am eager to take part in some of the many celebrations that will take place across the state. I am also inspired by my recent visit to the Joslyn Art Museum to see “Dirt Meridian,”  an exhibit of photographs by Andrew Moore.  The monumental inkjet photographs document the landscape along the 100th Meridian from Texas, through Nebraska and the Dakotas to Canada.  While I have no expectations of making great art, I want to experience and photograph these landscapes for myself.

While I can’t remember a time when I have been less optimistic about the future, I do hope that my fears prove to be unfounded, and I do wish everyone a satisfying and rewarding new year.

WCF Rodeo

Washington County Fair Mutton Busters

Quilts in the Country show and garden walk

Dana campus cleanup

Dana College cleanup
Kathy McKinnis and Faith Andreassen remove branches in Letha’s Garden.

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.