2017 Memorable musical moments

There is nothing more moving than watching performers from toddlers to adults put their heart and soul into the moment during performance for an appreciative audience.

While there were many magical moments, the most moving performance for me was a dance by Chloe Ostrowski and Kelley Meeder during the Spring Pops Concert  to honor cancer victims.

Denise Lueke Hallalujah 129489joeburns 186929
Denise Luke leads alumni and combined choirs in the traditional performance of th Hallelujah chorus during the Winter Vocal Music concert.

Below are just a small sampling of some of the many outstanding performances by young and old across the county. Thank you for the memories!

2017 favorite photo story of the year: Blair Library and Tech center opening

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.

Blair Library Grand Opening
Excited library patrons pour though the library entrance following the ribbon cutting ceremony. Blair Library Grand Opening.





Occasional images December 30, 2017

About this time each year I don’t necessarily make resolutions, but I do think about some possible goals and maybe a bucket list for the new year.  One of the first items on my To  Do list for 2018 is make a reservation for a photo blind to view the Sandhill cranes along the Platte river in mid to late March. There is nothing quite like watching wave after wave of birds fly in at sunset and settle on sandbars and listen to them chatter all night.  Before dawn I silently peek out of the  blind’s viewing  slot into the early morning light like child at Christmas attempting to gain a glimpse of Santa.  I literally pray that the birds stay on the river until after sunrise and then wait in anticipation of that deafening beat of maybe a half million wings as the birds rise in mass from the river.

Sandhillk Cranes Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary, Gibbon NE
Sandhill cranes by the thousands head toward the river to roost.

While there may be nothing – anywhere in the world – quite like the Sandhill crane migration along the Platte, there are plenty of natural wonders  in our own backyard as well.  This morning I drove down by the river and then over to Desoto NWR.  As I watched  geese, ducks and swans and wildlife from the comfort of the visitor center, two new thoughts crossed my mind.  One was to go home and fill my own bird feeders before the deep freeze sets in.  Another was to do a better job  of updating my Washington County Journal blog.

DeSoto geese
Swans and geese at DeSoto NWR Dec. 30, 2017

I have kept my blog for over four years now.  Sometimes I get a lot of hits, and sometimes not so much.  For the most part I post my favorite photos from events I have covered for the newspaper and my own personal projects.  I like keeping the blog because it I can showcase some of the photos that I particularly like that may or may not have run in the paper.  In addition, some of my family members and friends ( believe it or not)  are not on social media and would not see my photos on Facebook or Twitter.

My gentleman’s agreement is that I won’t post photos from events that I have photographed for a newspaper assignment until after the publication deadline.  By that time my interest has sometimes cooled, and I neglect or put off publishing them on my blog.

My new “resolution” or at least goal for the new year is to pay more attention to my blog and post fewer photos directly to Facebook.   I also plan to post some  “occasional images” – random images and visual poetry that catch my eye while I am out shooting the next newspaper assignment of personal project.  Happy New Year!




It’s a celebration! Christmas concerts and events in Washington County 2017


Holidays a time to celebrate, give back

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.

Fort Calhoun Christms Tree lighting
Fort Calhoun choir members sing around the lighted Christmas tree in the Market Square gazebo.

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.   

Sugar Plum festival
From left, Kinzlie Johnson puts money in the Salvation Army bucket with Kaylie Johnson, Andyn Ruwe & Kaiya Johnson.

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.


Sugar Plum festival
A hay rack pulled by Jenson Shires gave free rides along Washington Street Thursday evening during the Sugarplum festival

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.

Otte School pig kissing
Dressed as a strip of bacon, Blair Otte history teacher Terry Bellamy kisses a pig held by Sarah Lambrecht.

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.

BHS Food drive
From left, Sydney Andreasen, Alec Tapp, Dustin Hovanec, Mitsy Dasa, Ben Brunick-Clark relay boxes filled with canned and packaged food items at the Blair Area Food Pantry. BHS Food drive

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.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Michele Dean ladles the gravey on a plate heaped full of turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing. Community Thanksgiving Dinner

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.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Blair residents Beverly and Martin Homes enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with family members at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Francis Borgia Church Thursday. Bev and Martin live at Carter House.

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.

Breakfast for the Coat
Ellie Schrad with mother Angie thanks Santa for the sucker at Christmas for the Coat Wednesday at Fernando’s Cafe and Cantina.

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.

Blair area Band and Choir Concert
Blair Area Community Choir performed five numbers during the Sunday afternoon combined community and and choir concert held in the auditorium at Blair High School.

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.



Snapshot wandering at WC fairgrounds

Wandered around the Washington County Fairgrounds to make some images for some upcoming publications.  The newer facilities are much more comfortable for both humans and animals, but I love the architectural style of the older structures that have been around for many, many years.

I have no idea why they are there, but for some reason, Cinderella left her glass slippers in the swine barn.


BHS presents ‘Guys and Dolls’

Blair High School music and drama departments will present “Guys and Dolls” on Thursday through Saturday evenings and a Saturday Matinee in the Blair High School Auditorium.  The classic ’50’s musical features many memorable songs, and the talented cast does a great job of singing them.  In fact, there is such a wealth of quality performers that BHS director Kelli Westphal and music director Dan Hutsell double cast the roles of Adelaide and Sarah Brown.

BHS Musical Guys and Dolls
Sarah Brown, played by Maddy Nannen, and Adelaide, played by Jenna Carlson sing “Marry the Man Today” during rehearsal for Blair High School’s production of Guys and Dolls” BHS drama director Kelli Westphal double cast the female leads.

Senior Jenna Carlson and Junior Maddy Nannen play Adelaide and Sarah Brown respectively, for the Thursday night and Saturday matinee performances.  Junior Payton Murray and senior Maddie Knudtson assume the roles on Friday and Saturday nights.