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.

 

Rocky Mountain Romance

Grasses and shrubs show fall colors along trail to near Mills Lake.

Grasses and shrubs in fall color along the trail to  Mills Lake.

Last week I cleared five days on my calendar and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park with my son.  I have visited the park in the past, and I eagerly anticipated the mountain vistas of evergreens, yellow aspen trees and red tinged shrubs and grasses.  The cool night time weather and low 70’s daytime temps were ideal for hiking.  As I expected, the scenery was magnificent.
What I did not anticipate was the the spectacle of rutting season. In late September and early October, the elk that spend the summer at higher elevations in the park come down to the meadows to mate.  The show is nature’s version of “The Bachelor.”
According to a presentation by RMNP Park rangers, during the “rut,” mature bull elk do not eat or sleep.   They spend day and night bugling and posturing to attract females, rounding up harems and then defending the harems from from other bulls.  During rutting season the bulls can lose up to 35 percent of their body weight.
In the evenings during mating season, tourists and locals with cameras and binoculars line the roads surrounding the meadows to view the show.   And just like the reality show, many of the spectators come evening after evening to watch the drama unfold as bulls compete for the attention of fickle females.
We camped at Moraine Park which is prime elk rutting territory. Throughout the night, even in my sleep I could hear bugle calls of bull elk sometimes far away and sometimes near while coyotes yelped in the distance. Rocky Mountain National Park is spectacular any time of the year, but in September/October, it is an extraordinary experience.
Bull elk keeps track of his harem in Moraine Park near our campsite.

A bull elk keeps track of his harem in Moraine Park near our campsite.

Bull elk stops traffic to confront competitor.

A bull elk stops traffic as he crosse the road to  challenge a  competitor.

Bull elk in Moraine park.

A bull elk in Moraine park surveys the territory.

Admiring the deep yellow Aspen trees along the trail to Bear Lake,

Admiring the deep yellow Aspen trees along the trail to Bear Lake,

Kevin Burns rests along along Timberlake trail west of the the Continental Divide.

Kevin Burns rests along along Timberlake trail west of the the Continental Divide.

Late afternoon looking west on Emerald Lake with Hallett Peakn in background.

Late afternoon looking west on Emerald Lake with Hallett Peakn in background.

Joe (me) above the timber line on Timber Lake trail.

Joe (me) above the timber line on Timber Lake trail.

Remembering the Blizzard of ’75

If you lived in eastern Nebraska in the 70’s, you will most likely have memories and stories of the Blizzard of ’75 which occurred 40 years ago last Saturday.

The storm rolled in from the southwest with a speed and ferocity that caught weather forecasters, and those who depend on the forecasts, off guard.

The morning commute was in progress and students were arriving at school for classes.  I was a relatively young teacher at Benson High School at that time. I remember standing in the hallway and watching students and faculty members wearing leather jackets and jeans or sweaters and poodle skirts for ’50’s day.

The announcement that school would be closing due to the quickly approaching blizzard arrived before first period began. Some buses turned around before unloading students and headed back. Other buses returned to the building to pick up students who had arrived earlier. Of course the students, and staff, were overjoyed.

By midmorning, the students were all out of the building and staff members were advised to go home immediately.  At that point the roads were not that bad, and I joined a group of teachers at a local watering hole in downtown Benson. Big mistake.

By the time I was heading home to my apartment, the blizzard was in full force and Maple Street was snow packed and crowded with homebound traffic. As I neared the intersection at 90th and Maple, I could see that traffic was at a standstill.  I abandoned my little yellow Vega in a restaurant parking lot and slogged my way like Dr. Zhivago through the blizzard to my apartment at Camelot Village.

Later that afternoon the thought of being cooped up in my efficiency apartment for a day or more was not that appealing, so I strapped on my cross-country skis and headed out to a friend’s apartment on Fort Street nearly 2 miles away.

Whiteout conditions made seeing more than a few yards difficult and snow drifts obliterated roadways and intersections. The trek was foolish, but it was an adventure, and it was fun. While I was 27 at the time, I still felt and acted like a kid. I had independence, income, and few responsibilities.

Three days later on Sunday, the weather was bitter cold, but bright and sunny. The storm was over.  As usual, I could count on my Dad to help me get my car started. That afternoon my brother and I helped dad retrieve his truck, and with the help of friends, we dug out my parent’s drive way. Life was good.

The Paul Harvey, “Rest of the Story,” is that my dad suffered a heart attack that night and died two weeks later. And that’s when I grew up.  I no longer could count on my dad to help me out in a jam, and as oldest son, I took on the responsibility of looking out for my mother and the family home and finances

This is where I add the John Lennon quote: “ Life is what happens to you when you are busy making plans”

Extraordinary events such as the Blizzard of ’75, and our recent June hailstorm from which our city is still recovering makes us pay attention to and respect Mother Nature. It makes us appreciate and cherish home and family. It is also the stuff of memories and of stories.

-Joe Burns

So here we are, in the Washington County Jail

Inmates at the Washington County Jail play basketball during re time.  Inmates are allowed one hour or recreation  time a day.

Inmates at the Washington County Jail play basketball during re time. Inmates are allowed one hour or recreation time a day.

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.

The  editorial and series can be found online at http://www.enterprisepub.com/

Washington County Jail Corrections officer Ross Jones points pout some suspicious behavior by two inmates in the rec room on a recent Saturday night.

Washington County Jail Corrections officer Ross Jones points pout some suspicious behavior by two inmates in the rec room on a recent Saturday night.

Washington County Jail corrections officer Jenny Meyer searches a cell Saturday Night while officer Shawna Brown watches.

Washington County Jail corrections officer Jenny Meyer searches a cell Saturday Night while officer Shawna Brown watches.

Washington County Jail corrections officer Shawna Brown searches a cell Saturday night during a cell search Saturday night while inmates are at rec time. Officers search the cell blocks periodically in a two week period.

Washington County Jail corrections officer Shawna Brown searches a cell Saturday night during a cell search Saturday night while inmates are at rec time. Officers search the cell blocks periodically in a two week period.

turday night during a cell search Saturday night while inmates are at rec time. Officers search the cell blocks periodically in a two week period.

Saturday night during a cell search Saturday night while inmates are at rec time. Officers search the cell blocks periodically in a two week period.

Online and Arlington Citizen Editor Leeanna Ellis videos a cell search by Washington County Jai corrections officer Shawna Brown and Jenny Meyer.

Online and Arlington Citizen Editor Leeanna Ellis videos a cell search by Washington County Jail corrections officers Shawna Brown and Jenny Meyer.

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.

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.

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.

Washington County Jail corrections officer Shawna Brown dispenses medicine to female inmates in Block A.

Washington County Jail corrections officer Shawna Brown dispenses medicine to female inmates in Block A.

Washington County Jail trustees select items from the food pantry to stock in the kitchen Saturday night.

Washington County Jail trustees select items from the food pantry to stock in the kitchen Saturday night.