Summer snapshots, Washington County 2017

Arlington VFR grain elevator rescue training

Arlington volunteer training
Trainer Craig Berg and John DiGiorgio  grain assemble  a grain elevator rescue equipment in a grain wagon on the Dunklau Dairy Farm.

Grain Bin Rescue trainer Craig Berg joined Arlington Fire and Rescue personnel inside a grain wagon at the Dunklau Dairy Farm Monday evening to practice grain elevator rescue.  The assembled rescue tube allows responders to extricate grain elevator victims who have been caught in a grain collapse and unable to get out without assistance.

The tubes were purchased through a grant from Farm Services of America.   All three Fire and Rescue departments in Washington County are now equipped with the life saving rescue tube kits.  Farm Services of America donates 100 sets of rescue tubes in a 5 state area each year.

Awe inspiring opportunity: Eclipse puts small town Nebraska on the map

Solar Eclipse August  2017
360 degree sunset during totality near Wymore, NE, August 21, 2017,

While Monday, August 21 was not an official holiday, it felt like one, and visitors from around the world came to Nebraska to join the celebration. The diagonal path of totality that crossed our state literally put some of our smallest communities on the map. And travelers in search of the optimal astronomical experience could not have asked for more agreeable and accommodating hosts.

I drove down to Beatrice on Sunday to join in the fun. While I grew up in Nebraska, I had never been to Beatrice or the Homestead National Monument.  There is no play book for preparing for a weekend influx of thousands of people, but Beatrice did an amazing job.  After returning on the shuttle from the Heritage Center at the Monument to Beatrice, I ate dinner at Valentino’s Sunday evening with a couple of friendly local volunteers who invited me to join the at their table. They had spent a long day helping with some of the kids’ programs, and would be back to catch the shuttle at 5 a.m. to begin again on Monday.

I spent Sunday night camping with friends on a farm near Wymore and lay in the bed of my pickup gazing at the stars.  In the morning clouds and thunder moved in from the south, and the chances of viewing appeared dim.  As the moon began to take a bite out of the sun the showers ended and the clouds began to part.  Thankfully we did get a magnificent view of totality.  As many have said, words cannot describe the experience.  I remember standing in awe, looking at the sky and saying to myself, “My God that’s it totality!”
I fumbled with my camera and fired off a few shots, and told myself again, don’t worry about the pictures, experience the moment.

For me and I presume for most of us, we will remember where we were and with whom we shared this maybe once in a lifetime event.

Solar Eclipse August  2017
Some light clouds did not diminish the experience of witnessing totality near Wymore, NE. during the total eclipse

‘Salad Days’ are the sweetest

Do Moore Be  Moore
Sandy Moore stands between “Do Moore, Be Moore recipients Alec and Evan Wick.

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.


Enterprise Publishing earns awards at NE Press Convention

Omaha Triathlon

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!


Colorado Springs scrapbook

Colorado Springs  CO
View of Pikes Peak from Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Recently  I  drove to Colorado Springs  with my kids Kevin and Emily to visit our aunt Dorothy. We were blessed with pleasant weather for much of our five day visit.  Our first sight seeing stop was  Garden of the Gods which is just a few minute’s drive from our aunt Dorothy’s  home. The deep red sandstone rock formations framing Pikes Peak is always a magnificent site. In the afternoon we drove a few miles south to North Cheyenne Canyon for a picnic along an ice crusted stream.  My wife Kris often talked about returning to this spot for a picnic, and we are all sure that she was with us in spirit. We drank a root beer toast to her memory.

After acclimating to the altitude, Kevin and Emily and I returned to the canyon  for a  hike along Seven Bridges Trail.  The trail is steep, but the views are gorgeous.  We turned around and headed back as the weather conditions deteriorated and occasional snow squalls set in. The mix of Aspen and pine trees along the upper reaches of the trail must make for a spectacular Autumn view.
Although I have been to Colorado Springs a number of times, I have never been to Cheyenne Canyon Zoo located in the shadow of the Will Rogers Memorial Shrine of the Sun. From what I understand, this is the only zoo built into the side of a mountain, and the views overlooking Colorado Springs and the plains is spectacular. The exhibits are modern and  both visitor and critter friendly. The Giraffe herd is touted to be the largest of any zoo.

In Colorado as in Nebraska, you never know what the late winter weather might bring,  but all in all,  we could not have asked for a more pleasant late winter getaway.

Making Portraits

Arbor Park faculty in tee shirts
Arbor Park Intermediate School Faculty and staff stand in the shape of a heart in the school’s gym. The educators are wearing T-shirts in honor of reading teacher Kris Burns who died suddenly of heart failure in September. The teachers purchased the T-shirts or made donations which will be given to the American Heart Association in Burn’s name.

If you picked up a copy of the  Citizen or Enterprise newspaper last week you found it wrapped around our annual Washington County Progress edition. This slick covered publication is packed with 100 or so photos, not counting the advertising and nearly as many articles about the people and history of our county.  Progress always reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner – all that planning and preparation for a feast that it is placed before us and then consumed in one sitting with plenty of leftovers to return to later.

The planning for this 80 plus page section begins in October and much of the interviewing, writing and photography is completed before the new year begins.  I have the easy part, and I think the fun part which is making the portraits and producing images that matches and hopefully enhance the fine writing by my colleagues.  I enjoy accompanying my co-workers or going out on my own to meet these interesting and accomplished people and to find unique visual ways to tell their stories.

Last week the P-T and Citizen newspapers were also packed with stories and images chronicling performances by Washington County Athletes at the State wrestling tournament at Century Link in Omaha.  I was pleased to assist sports editor Grant Egger in capturing images that helped to tell the stories of our wrestlers’ performances at the state meet.  I can totally relate to Grant’s comments that sports writers attempt to capture, “The powerful moments that, unfortunately, not everyone can see up close.”  I try to do the same thing in pictures.

For the past 13 years I have covered state wrestling, first in Lincoln when the tournament was held at the Bob Devaney, and now at Century Link in Omaha. In my opinion, there is no other sports event quite like it. I am addicted to the energy and to the intense rollercoaster ride of emotion that erupts from the mats that fill the arena.

Another fun activity that I usually photograph in February each year is the K-2 Jump Rope for Heart.  Photographs of the kids jumping rope will be featured in the Classroom of the Week in the Enterprise.  The “Pie the Teacher” assemblies celebrate the efforts by students to collect money for the American Heart Association.  Some of the pictures of smiling students and their pie-in-the-face teachers are in the paper today. This year the combined total for the K-2 effort approached $17,000.  That is no small piece of change!

I get online comments once-in-awhile from people who think it is terrible that kids hit their teachers with pies, but the pies are more placed and smooshed than thrown, and always with TLC.  Teachers and celebrity staff members happily volunteer and literally stand in line to get pied.

And finally, I want to comment on the Arbor Park and Blair Community Schools fundraiser in honor of my wife Kris Burns. Arbor Park physical education teacher Sandy Moore contacted me weeks ago to tell me about the T- shirt fund raiser they had planned. Sandy knew Kris well, and told me that the tee shirt they were designing would be simple and a design that Kris might wear. And she was right.  On Wednesday, wearing my ‘Forever a Piece of our Hearts’ tee shirt I was in the Arbor Park gymnasium before school with assistant editor Leeanna Ellis to do my job and take the picture of the Arbor Park teachers standing in the shape of a heart.  The picture and the accompanying story are something I will always treasure.

There is an intimacy to my job that is incredible.  Whether I am working on my own or with co-workers I try to make portraits that capture the qualities and character of the people in Washington County.