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Just Like Fire

Aleah Peters woke up this morning as Miss Nebraska for the last time.

This is the 36th blog post I’ve written this spring about the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants. Out loud, that’s been my excuse for why it’s taken me so long to write an article about Aleah, her final send-off in blog form. Subconsciously, I think I’ve been avoiding writing this.. because I want her to stay Miss Nebraska forever.

Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

As volunteers, we work so hard to make Miss Nebraska relevant, memorable, a woman with substance in our state. From Day 1, Aleah GOT IT. She used every single moment of her year to make a difference, to market herself, to positively represent the Miss Nebraska brand and to take our organization to the next level. She is kind, she is passionate, she is hardworking, she is dedicated, she is down-to-earth, she is smart, she is talented, she is powerful. And with tears in my eyes as I write this, I’m not ready to see her go.

She hugged every child who approached her, and signed every autograph. She accepted every media interview I threw at her, and nailed it with charisma, articulation and humor. She thanked, acknowledged and was truly grateful for every supporter and loved one who stood by her throughout her journey to Miss Nebraska three times and to Miss America. She crisscrossed the state, visiting 2-3 schools every week in addition to fundraisers, galas, and volunteer events. She awed students with her innate talent to twirl, but many remember her long after for the powerful, personal message about bullying she brought to thousands. We want a Miss Nebraska who makes a difference. Aleah Peters changed our part of the world, one visit at a time.

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“I can’t believe that my year is already over and pretty soon it will be someone else’s turn,” Aleah told me recently. “This year has been a huge blessing and an amazing opportunity. Truly a transformational year. Although I feel like I blinked and it was over, there were some weekends and days that felt like a long year of work. A few drives that seemed to take forever or weeks jam-packed with events and appearances I thought would never end. But I wouldn’t trade the long weeks or long drives for anything. Being Miss Nebraska is work. It is a full-time job, but luckily, it’s a fun job.”

When Aleah was crowned Miss Nebraska 2016, she had just graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She was a mature young woman who truly understood that this moment of sheer excitement was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that she embraced and ran with from day one.

“I had a very clear idea of the job that I was applying for and what I was getting myself into,” said Aleah. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish as Miss Nebraska and I knew I wanted to share my message in schools. However, I didn’t realize what a voice I had or what an impact I could make until I did. I never knew how many kids needed to hear my message. I never knew how many eyes would light up when I walked into a room. I never knew I had the power to make every child in the room silent by telling my story. That is how this job became so much more than a job.”

Throughout her years just competing for the title of Miss Nebraska, Aleah spoke to thousands of students about Cyberbullying Awareness. As she told me throughout that journey (click here to read more!) her passion was based on her own experiences being bullied as a teenager by a group of girls from school. Her mission to #MakeKindnessViral is increasingly important in today’s climate of technology and anonymous assault; even Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has made Cyber Safety a key platform based on ongoing problems affecting children, adults and businesses across our state and beyond. Schools across Nebraska asked Aleah to come in and talk to their students, and in October, DeMoine Adams and Teammates brought Aleah on board to visit even more.

Several principals within Westside Community Schools invited Aleah in after she was crowned Miss Nebraska, asking her to share her platform. Over and over, she told hundreds of students about those dark days when she was afraid to answer the phone, when she was afraid to leave her house, when ‘mean girls’ simply made her life hell. In every presentation, she found ways to connect with the students she spoke with, helping them understand her story and hopefully, sending them back out into the world more equipped to deal with bullies, and less likely to become one themselves. One of Westside’s Teacher Leaders told me months later, “our students still talk about her and what she said.” This same scenario played out at schools over and over again throughout this past year.

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“One little girl in a wheelchair asked her teacher if I would meet with her after the school assembly to help her with her project,” said Aleah. “She explained to me that she experienced bullying because she is different from the other students. Another powerful moment was when I spoke in a town that recently experienced a suicide. Many of the students raised their hands to ask what I thought of suicide. It was very clear that there were still some open wounds and a lot of healing for the town but the students were trying to learn more and understand why this happened. Any time a student approaches me and lets me know that they appreciated hearing my story, it makes it all worth it.”

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“One of the highlights of my year was meeting Dr. Mark Adler,” said Aleah. “[Dr. Adler is] the Superintendent of Ralston Public Schools who lost his son to suicide because of cyberbullying. Dr. Adler thanked me for the work I was doing, and that meant a lot to me.”

Aleah’s stories from each visit are varied and often, hilarious. To countless children, especially our youngest Nebraskans, Aleah was a princess personified.

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“I will never get over walking into an elementary school assembly and seeing their eyes light up,” said Aleah. “At one school, the principal was trying to get the students to quiet down and she said ‘obviously we have a very special guest with us here today’ and they all started applauding. Elementary school kids are so much fun and they asked the silliest questions. ‘Did you take a limo to get here?’ ‘Do you live in a castle?’ It was always fun to explain what Miss Nebraska is to them. In one 3rd grade class we lined up to take a picture and the teacher told a student to stop being goofy. With a grin from ear to ear he said ‘I’m so happy right now.’

Among Aleah’s favorite moments as Miss Nebraska was representing our state at the 2017 Miss America Pageant.

“Miss America was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aleah. “I am so happy for Savvy Shields, our Miss America 2016. She is an incredible Miss America and is doing a GREAT job. Regardless of how the competition went, I still won. I won 51 new friends. I won with the relationships I made. I walked away from the competition so fulfilled. I put my very best on the floor and that is exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what place I earned. Some of my favorite Miss America moments include: catching my somersault trick on stage and going crazy! I ran off stage with pure joy and excitement and jumped into Chris the security guard’s arms. I love twirling for an audience and that was one of the most adrenaline rushing performances I have ever done. Another Miss America moment that I look back on and appreciate now is filming our introductions in a hurricane warning. The wind was insane! We went from an amusement park to go out on a boat. I remember curling up in a ball because I was freezing, more than ready to get off, when the camera crew said ‘let’s do that again!'”

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“After we all got done with our swimsuit prelim competitions we crushed about 10 pizzas between 8 girls at our meeting that night,” said Aleah. “I also loved seeing my cheering section in the audience. I was able to spot them right away the second I walked out because there were huge N’s and pictures of my face.”

“Through all the dinners, rehearsals, and late night meetings, I just remember laughing for two weeks straight,” said Aleah. “I won so much more out of the Miss America competition than a crown and scholarship money. I made memories and friendships to last me a lifetime.”

In one of Aleah’s last school visits, she talked to a group of Kindergartners about success. She shared how she competed for Miss Nebraska three times.. winning 3rd place, and then 2nd place before winning our state title. She explained to these children that to her, success was more than just winning Miss Nebraska… it was about working hard, having a great attitude, and being the best version of herself she could be.

To Aleah Peters, this year has been so much more than a pretty crown. She has maintained an INCREDIBLE physique because she learned how to be healthier as part of this journey, and stuck with it. She continued to visit schools and schedule appearances even after her time at Miss America was done, because she wanted to make a difference with the time she had. She opened her heart to this year’s 16 Miss Nebraska contestants, constantly offering guidance and support. She talked about the $26,585 in cash scholarships she has won, and encouraged other young women to sign up for the same journey she’s had.

“I wanted people to know Miss Nebraska,” said Aleah. “I wanted people to relate to her, to be able to talk to her, to try on her crown, learn how to twirl baton, and to be inspired by her.”

As this journey ends, Aleah, true to form, is ready to begin another. She is getting married in September and moving to Florida, where she plans to work in communications.

“The Miss America Organization has given me so much,” said Aleah. “Not only scholarship money and best friends but it has helped me become the best version of myself. It has helped me find a passion in service. This organization has transformed me into the type of woman I want to be. It has given me confidence, shown me what commitment and dedication look like, and pushed me to accomplish more than I thought was possible. I am excited for the big changes ahead! Only God knows what is in store for me and I am so excited for him to show me.”

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I’m having a hard time perfectly explaining why this woman is such an incredible role model not just to countless children, but to ALL (myself included!) I am in complete awe of how she takes care of herself, eating healthy and getting to the gym everyday despite her crazy schedule. I am so impressed with her strategic business skills marketing herself to make the most out of every moment of this year. I am humbled and inspired by her sheer kindness and goodness, even towards the ‘mean girls’ who inspired the life changing messages she’s taken to so many.

“I think everyone should be proud of all they have accomplished, including those mean girls,” said Aleah. “So instead I say thank you for giving me a story to share. Thank you for allowing me to relate to so many children who have been bullied. To freshman year Aleah, [I would say] you will get through it and you still be stronger because of it. Appreciate the obstacles you’ve had to overcome because they shape who you are.”

We all wake up every morning with a choice.. to get through the day, or to use every day to our full advantage. The Miss Nebraska Class of 2017 has already accomplished so much in their communities, on their campuses and for so many others around them. They each have a spark; so did Aleah at this time last year. And look what she did with it… a young woman who became Miss Nebraska and simply put, was just like fire.

Just like fire, burning out the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way
Just like magic, I’ll be flying free
I’mma disappear when they come for me
I kick that ceiling, what you gonna say?
No one can be just like me any way..

No one will EVER be like Aleah Peters. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for your spirit. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for being YOU, our forever Miss Nebraska.

“Appreciate the little things, word hard and dream BIG! Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Realize that you can always find a commonality with someone and you can always learn from someone. Be a friend and make kindness viral. Appreciate the journey every step of the way.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * The Year of the Phoenix

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Fighting For Hope

CLICK HERE * 2014 * How Do You Like Me Now?

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Energizer Bunny

Happy Easter, everyone!  What an absolutely FANTASTIC weekend filled with family, sunshine and love.

Click here for a little glimpse into the adventures of our little egg hunters!

For our family, this was arguably a PERFECT day.. and it was nonstop!  My husband and I both spent our afternoons working on projects at home.  He cleaned our garage top to bottom, and I tackled all of the landscaping in our backyard.  Every, single muscle in my body hurt by the end of the day, but it didn’t feel like work.  I loved feeling the sun on my shoulders, hearing my sons singing along to the Sing soundtrack while they played in the yard, and the gratification of yanking out weeds threatening our hostas.  (I may or may not have muttered ‘resistance is futile!’ to the stubborn ones.. #StarWarsForever)

My Dad used to tell me, ‘find what you love to do.  Then, every day, it doesn’t seem like you’re going to work.’  A western Nebraska teenager has been ‘working’ nonstop since the start of October, and appears to be loving every step of her journey.

Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little

Brianna Little is 16 years old, a junior at Scottsbluff High School.  She is a BUSY young woman, a competitive cheerleader who travels several hours twice a week for training in Colorado.  This is also her second year as a titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program, a responsibility she does not take lightly.

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February 23, Brianna posted on Facebook: ‘A huge thank you to Lincoln Heights Elementary for letting me come and share my platform yesterday!’

Scrolling through Brianna’s Facebook page, it’s difficult to find a stretch longer than a few days where she’s not serving her community as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen.  Often, her message focuses on her personal platform ‘Be Kind Be The Change’.

“It’s all about spreading kindness at schools and within daily life to make it go viral,” Brianna posted on Facebook.  “With all the conflicting politics and stereotypes, or even the way bullying still exists within schools, kindness has started to rapidly fade from our society and been replaced with negativity.  We need to stop this trend and start making kindness our first instinct again.”

Brianna is taking that message to schools all over western Nebraska, distributing bracelets and T-shirts reminding everyone of the power of kindness.  She’s also leading by example, volunteering at local events and leading her own efforts to help others.

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December 10, Brianna posted on Facebook: ‘Busy day today!! Started off with a coat drop off at The Truck Full of Love. With the help of our community, I was able to donate approximately 50 new and used coats!! Next stop was Volunteering for The Salvation Army ringing bells. Ended the afternoon at Mi Sinaloa Restaurant in the Monument Mall. They are taking donations to help a special family in need this Christmas!! I love this season of giving!’

It’s clear from her posts that children, especially those facing medical challenges, hold a special place in Brianna’s heart and in her mission of kindness.  She’s visited both the Colorado Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.

Brianna also advocates for and takes part in family fundraisers, even hosting a ‘Last Chemo’ party last weekend.  She posted on Facebook, “Come help us celebrate Ashlynn’s last chemo treatment! 7 bounce houses for the kids to enjoy. Cupcakes, cookies and refreshments will be provided. The bounce houses will be sanitized prior to the event. With that being said, please refrain from bringing anyone with an illness due to Ashlynn’s compromised immune system. We hope to see you there!”

Not yet a senior in high school, Brianna is ready to take her mission to the next level, partnering with The Kindness Revolution in Gering.

“We came up with tons of ideas to spread kindness through the community and schools,” Brianna posted.  “Be looking out, big change is coming😄”

Change that could start in less than a week.. Brianna competes for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen on Saturday.  It’s hard to imagine adding a statewide agenda, or national agenda, to the already busy schedule of a competitive athlete and dedicated student. Call her Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen or the Energizer Bunny… Brianna Little is ready for the job.

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“It doesn’t have to be a difficult thing,” Brianna posted on Facebook.  “You can start by smiling while holding a door open for a stranger, sitting with the kid at lunch who is all alone, or providing someone with a meal.  Small things will lead to big change if we all remember how to work together. #BeKindBeTheChange.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little on Facebook!

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen Program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Amanda Vogel by emailing maoteenchadron@gmail.com or calling 308-665-5595.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days 2017 Courtney Pelland

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Meet The Fosters

When I was a green, giggly young reporter at KETV, I was blessed with an incredible opportunity to fill in anchor for our weekday morning show.  I was so nervous.. anchoring for 2 hours straight everyday?  Would people like me?  Would I screw up the energy and chemistry that was already in place?  Little did I know, I would get to work 3am – Noon everyday with some phenomenal people.

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I guess when you work completely whackadoodle hours your form a deeper bond than most.  And those concerns I had?  They all evaporated on an early morning reading a story about the Beatles, when I accidentally said ‘Sir Rob McCartney’ instead of Paul.. and my co-anchor John Oakey stepped INTO camera view to say ‘um, excuse me.. he makes you call him SIR Rob McCartney?!?! I usually just call him Rob..’

John is one of the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met.  He’s HILARIOUS, talented, and incredibly devoted to his family, church and community.  I will always remember seeing the interaction between John and his wife, Kristi, and how in love they still are after 25+ years of marriage.  That love expanded 4-fold a few years ago.

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John and Kristi were the proud parents of two teenagers, but had been told many years ago they were unable to have anymore children.  For years, they considered adoption but from where? How? They began the long process of background checks and referrals from family and friends, and one day, received a phone call: a 9-month old baby girl needed a home.  They welcomed Trinity with open arms.  A few months later.. another call.. Trinity’s biological mom was pregnant again.  Hoping to keep the sisters together, the Oakeys welcomed Alivia, and began caring for two children 16 months or younger.  This happened twice more.. and each time the Oakeys welcomed another child, first Kaleb and then Kinley.  Here’s what John wrote about getting that call (again!) that Baby Kinley needed a home, too.

“Here’s the thing. How do you say No? There were countless reasons not to take her. Life was already crazy and hectic. Adding a fourth? Wow. But I was struck with the image of this girl, 18 years later, finding me and asking why I took her three siblings and not her. I did not have an answer. Except the overwhelming confirmation that we have been blessed. We are able to provide for our family. The Lord has looked after us. Now it was our time to look after this baby girl.”

This process was agonizing for the Oakey family; the fight to formally adopt was long and hard, and at one point, they were forced to return their children to their biological mother’s custody.  All four are now officially OAKEYS, enrolled in school and THRIVING thanks to the incredible parents who opened their hearts and homes to them.  (I encourage you to read more of the Oakey’s story on John’s fantastic blog Young Dad, Old Dad. CLICK HERE!)

Right now in Nebraska, several hundred children are waiting to be adopted.  Countless more are in need of foster homes.  A young woman from Gering, Nebraska is already planning her future foster family.. and encouraging others in her community to learn more.

Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

“I have grown up around little kids; I LOVE kids,” Haylee told me recently.  “My aunts and uncles used to have foster kids in their homes.  I remember most of them very vividly.  They are part of the family.”

Hayley attended Community Christian School and enrolled at Gering High School last fall. As she mentally prepared for both high school and the public school setting, she wanted to find a way to become active in her community and meet the friends she would go to class with everyday.  She found those opportunities in a local pageant that also qualified her to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“I love getting out in my community,” said Haylee.  “I had never really volunteered in my community much until I got my title, and I am quite sad I didn’t start earlier, yet very glad I am realizing now what an influence I can have.  The girls and strong women involved in the pageant, whether they are competing, mentoring or organizing are and will always be a blessing.  Getting to know them has been amazing!”

“I’ve never been shy, but I’ve never really thought that I could do very much in our community at a young age,” said Haylee.  “The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant has shown me otherwise.  I have the power of making an impact on kids, which are the future of our community.  Being a good influence goes farther than I ever could have imagined.”

From schools to events to superhero fundraisers, Haylee has been all over Scotts Bluff County making the most of her title, hoping to show everyone she meets they are represented by a thoughtful, charismatic and fun-loving young woman who wants to build others up and help them succeed.

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“I love people,” said Haylee.  “I always strive to see the best in them and then bring it out so others can see it, too.  Pageants are a way for girl to build confidence in who they are and what they are capable of.  The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant is very focused on giving out as many scholarships as they can, which helps us girls have a better opportunity at a great college education and therefore a great future in which we can contribute to the world.”

Haylee is also channelling that impact into the family atmosphere that helped shape the young woman she is today.

“My platform is Fostering The Future,” said Haylee.  “It focuses on the need to support our local foster care families, foster care children, and the great people who work with these families and children at our Department of Health and Human Services.  I want kids in foster care to be part of a family, too.  I want my community to support our foster care families so the families can focus on loving the foster children in their homes.”

Families like the Oakeys, who are now raising three, little princesses who I hope grow up watching Miss America and maybe someday, walk across the Miss Nebraska stage with their proud parents in the crowd.

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John, if your little girls need a royal role model, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Haylee Umble is your gal.

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“My main goal at the pageant is not necessarily to win, but to do my very best,” said Haylee.  “I want to build lasting friendships with all the girls as well.  In the future, I wish to impact children as a teacher.  I want to make the lasting statement on them that they matter, are special and are loved.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble on Facebook!

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant or how you can become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook!  You can also email Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by emailing cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

The Fisherman

POST KETV.. a long awaited trip to the Lake of the Ozarks.  No partying, no late night booze cruises, just family time and the peace of the water.  My Dad says it’s the Dane in us that pulls us to it.. that makes us feel complete serenity when we can hear the calming slap of water on the dock.  Even in sweltering heat; a day at the lake is bearable.  Even when you don’t catch a thing, fishing is nature’s therapy.  There’s something about the water that puts everything in balance.

In a few short weeks, a Papillion family will once again answer a similar calling to the water.  Four, incredible women will stand side by side and breathe in a place that helps them feel whole.. and at peace.

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Sherry was a 15-year old cheerleader at Wayne High School.  In the late 70’s, it was an annual tradition for the girls to muster up their courage and ask a guy to the Sadie Hawkins dance.  Sherry, just a sophomore, had her eye on 17-year old Kevin Murray, a junior football player.

“We grew up together in Wayne, a small town, where everyone knew you,” said Sherry.  “Kevin played multiple sports in school.  He enjoyed hunting and fishing with his family and friends, a real guys’ guy.”

And from the beginning it seems, he was Sherry’s guy.

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Their lives from that point on were a John Cougar Mellencamp song brought to life.  They began dating after that Sadie Hawkins dance, and married less than a year after Sherry graduated from Wayne High.  April 12, 1980.. two American kids doing the best they can.

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“Kevin excelled in industrial tech classes and landed a job with a couple small town contractors building farm buildings,” said Sherry. “Work was slow in the winter months and after adding a child, Jennifer, 1982, to the mix we started to have bigger aspirations.   I had an uncle in Omaha that said he thought Kevin could get a job with Peter Kiewit and Sons Construction Company if he wanted to move to Omaha.”

They did; Kiewit hired Kevin in August of 1984.  He didn’t have a college degree, but he did have talent, determination, and an incomparable work ethic.

“He continued to work his way up the ladder with each job he was on,” said Sherry.  “He impressed his foremen and the company bosses and was promoted many times.”

Kevin Murray climbed to the top; the VERY top, named General Superintendent overseeing all of Kiewit’s work in Omaha, including the First National Bank Tower.  Kevin was superintendent for the project, the tallest building in downtown Omaha.

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“He would say that was his mark left on the city, they couldn’t take that away from him,” said Sherry.  “He had a very high standard that he held himself to. He was very proud of the man he had become, coming from a small town with no college education to holding one of the highest positions in the company’s construction world. He was lucky enough to become a stock holder with Kiewit and earned a fine salary for someone without a college degree, providing his family with a wonderful life.”

By then, Kevin and Sherry’s family had grown to five, the couple raising three beautiful, spirited daughters.  The ‘guys’ guy’ was the ONLY guy in the Murray household, and taught his girls about the same simple pleasures he had known growing up; hunting, camping and family.

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From Sherry: “Kevin had been fishing at a farm pond in Iowa and caught these nice bluegill that the girls helped him clean! Yummy supper that night!”

The Murray girls grew up with barbies, ribbons.. and fishing poles.

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From Sherry: “Kevin and I and the girls fishing at a Buckskin lake up in NE Nebraska 1990!”

The Murray sisters grew up beautiful, well rounded and strong.  Jennifer excelled in the arts, winning leading roles in musical groups and plays throughout junior high and high school.  Ashley showed athleticism early on, a key varsity softball player on 2 state championship teams.  Marissa, a born leader, set trends and standards from school hallways to the football sidelines as a competitive cheerleader.  No matter what their activity, their parents were their rocks.. and their friends.

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Fall of 2004.. Jennifer had moved to Lincoln to pursue a degree in dental hygiene. Ashley had just started classes at UNO, and Marissa was just starting her freshman year at Papillion-La Vista High.  Kevin planned to attend the funeral of his favorite great aunt in Dixon, Nebraska, then stop in Crofton for an afternoon of walleye fishing with his cousin.

“The morning he left he was in a hurry and franticly looking for his sunglasses, and we were having a slight disagreement about a parenting issue. I guess you can say we left each other with mad feelings between us,” said Sherry.  “I called him on the phone about 2:30 that day to let him know I had found his sunglasses in a basket of laundry I had put away. He said Gary already had two fish, he was eager to get out there ,too. He was just getting ready to go out on Lewis and Clark Lake, a place he and I had fished many times together, but this day he would be alone. I told him good luck and I love you.”

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Four hours later, Sherry received a phone call.  Kevin’s boat had been found adrift on the lake, but there was no sign of Kevin.  His cousin, Gary, immediately joined a group of searchers that grew by the day to find any clues.. to find Kevin.

It took five days.  On October 12, 2004.. Sherry’s 43rd birthday.. crews found her husband.

“His death was ruled a drowning,” said Sherry.  “We will never know what caused him to be tossed from the boat.  There was damage to the passenger seat and rod holder that looked as an impact of some sort caused him to be thrown overboard. I have kept those sunglasses and the lesson they taught me: to never forget to say I love you to someone you love. You never know if you will get that chance again.”

Jenni Murray-Rohacik is one of my dearest friends.  In the days crews searched for her dad, I had dreams they found him alive; that everything was OK.  I went to the Murray home during that terrible stretch of days and stood next to Jenni as she knelt down next to Sherry, who stared in her eldest daughter’s eyes, shaking her head, unable to form sentences.  When Jenni and I drove to St. Columbkille to talk to a priest about services, Jenni broke down in grief.  I broke down in tears days later, as Jenni bravely stood in that church and read the Fisherman’s Prayer in tribute to her beloved father.

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I thank the Lord I have never known grief like what this family went through.  At some point in the weeks and months that followed, Sherry and her girls decided to channel their pain into something.. a fishing tournament to honor Kevin.

“That first year planning the fishing tournament gave me something to look forward to and to plan and focus on something positive,” said Sherry.  “I used those sleepless nights to brain storm and ideas just kept popping into my head. With my daughters help, we had our first Kevin J Murray Memorial Fishing tournament September 24, 2005.”

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66 fishing teams signed up.  Countless friends, loved ones and colleagues came to take part, volunteer, or just show support.  Dozens of items were auctioned and raffled off, all raising money for a scholarship or two at Wayne High School for students pursuing building trades just like Kevin did. The tournament was held at the same place Sherry lost Kevin, at Lewis and Clark Lake near Crofton, Nebraska.

“It was a gathering place for friends and family and coworkers who had come to help in the search at the time of his accident. It was the place where we had our summer home. It only seemed fitting that we have a reunion of sorts,” said Sherry.  “I never dreamed we would have the response we did. But I also knew Kevin had so many friends and family that loved him and all wanted to do something to pay tribute to him as well.”

That first year, the tournament raised $8,000.  Every year since, the Murrays have returned with another bigger and better event.  Kevin’s daughter, Ashley, spends months in advance contacting sponsors, bringing in raffle prizes, and organizing the tournament.

“We have all types of fishermen; some who are local to the area and have never met our family, others who are friends and family from the Wayne or Omaha area. Some are experienced fishermen; others who fish once a year for our event,” said Sherry.  “Regardless of fishing knowledge or expertise, our fishermen come away with memories, maybe a prize, and probably many exaggerated fishing stories.”

Later this month, the Murray family will hold their 12th fishing tournament honoring Kevin.  Their hope: to top $100,000 in money raised for Wayne High.  That plan for ‘one or two scholarships’ has grown to 25 scholarships and awards, as well as playground equipment, weight room rubber mat flooring, treadmills for rehabbing athletes, to welders for the tech department, softball and baseball field repairs, and more.

“I think Kevin would be very proud of the event,” said Sherry.  “He would love to be sitting around telling fish stories with all the guys after a day of fishing. He would be happy that we have honored him in such a way.  Together we leave a mark in history, to the place where it all started for us, Wayne High School, In Wayne, America as it is known there!  I think he would be surprised that people still think of him and continue to come after all these years.”

His family thinks of him every, single day.

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Of all of the incredible things Kevin Murray accomplished during his time on earth and inspired by how he lived his life, I’d argue THIS is what he’d be proudest of.  The three confident, striking, INCREDIBLE daughters he raised who are all successful and happy.  Joe and Deven, the two men who are raising his grandchildren and offering love and friendship to his girls.  Nathan, Kyler and Maggie.. the kiddos who never got to meet their grandpa, but no doubt know him and learn his fishing secrets every year at the annual tournament named in his honor.  And his high school sweetheart, wife and best friend who dug deep to find a new path, never forgetting what always mattered most to them; finding happiness through love, family, and to simply live like you were dying.

“After a tragedy you have choices to make.. shrivel up and die or move forward,” said Sherry.  “I chose to move forward, with the emotional support and love from my family and friends. I guess when life throws you lemons make lemonade, is a message I always heard. A guy who was a small town boy made it in a big town. People like to see others succeed in life. He was a success. Although he didn’t get the chance to live a much longer life, being taken in his prime at the age of 45, I know he lived what he had to the fullest. He loved big and worked hard and always found time to enjoy the outdoors with his friends and family.”

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I pray that I may live to fish, Until my dying day.
And when it comes to my last cast, I then most humbly pray:
When in the Lord’s great landing net, And peacefully asleep
That in His mercy I be judged, Big enough to keep.

On August 27, hundreds of people will once again drawn to the water to share their love and respect for a great friend.  It’s another opportunity to raise money for students who want to follow in the footsteps of a man who climbed to the very top. One more day for Kevin’s family to remember their father, grandpa and husband, and to remind each other to make the most of every day we have.

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“I have a different perspective on the fishing tournament than my daughters do.. I guess I think of it as a tribute to a man I loved. A love story of sorts, I guess you could say,” said Sherry.  “Through the help of my friends and family all with a common goal to raise money with our event, it has helped to heal the hole left in my heart with Kevin’s absence. It is my way of paying him back for the wonderful life he gave me and our children.”

***

The 12th Annual Kevin J Murray Memorial Fishing Tournament will take place August 27, 2016 at Lewis & Clark Lake near Crofton, Nebraska at Weigand Marina.  Teams of 2 are welcome to sign up in advance online or in person the day of the event; cost is $120/team, which includes shirts and a buffet meal at a banquet following the tournament at CJ’s in Crofton.  Prizes include $500 for 1st place, $250 for 2nd and $150 for 3rd largest weight totals.  Prizes are also awarded for largest walleye and largest non-walleye.  Raffle prizes are available all day at the tournament.

For more information, CLICK HERE to visit the event’s website or

CLICK HERE to visit the event’s Facebook page

With More Complete Coverage..

Journalism 101.  Start every story with your best sound and your best video.  Don’t bury the lead.  With that… this month is my last at KETV, after 15 years as a journalist at the only station I’ve ever known.

***

When I was a little girl, I used to sit on the stairs in our split level house in Papillion, with my legs dangling through the steps and a notebook in front of me.  I would just write.  I would write about my day.  I would play the game Life by myself, and use each space as a prompt to write a fictional story.  I’ve kept a journal since I had huge glasses and buck teeth.  In college, long-form essays and papers weren’t hassles, I relished them; I love letting the words just HAPPEN, and the surge of accomplishment when those words come full circle and everything just FITS.

I’ve always been a natural ‘performer’.  I was the ham hogging the attention for our 1st generation camcorder, jumping in front of my Dad with a goofy voice or song whenever he had the thing rolling.  I tried out for show choir every year I could, and joined the speech team my very first year of high school.  Speaking just came easily for me; and I was GOOD at it.  Forensics, theater and choir were my LIFE in high school.

I was never in journalism.  I didn’t carry around a Barbara Walters lunchbox.  I floated around my first year of college not knowing where I belonged or what my future looked like.  My sophomore year at UNL, I took Introduction to Broadcasting with Tom Spann, and was fascinated by a world of history, SHARING history, writing, and reporting.  Somehow the idea of an internship surfaced, and KETV was the station I grew up watching.  My mom bumped into longtime weekend anchor/reporter Pamela Jones at a city meeting, got contact information for the intern program, and I emailed Managing Editor Joe Kasmir the next day.  I showed up for my interview a good half an hour early.. and I will never forget walking through the Newsplex doors, overwhelmed to see the same set and newsroom I had watched on TV for so long.  Julie Cornell and Rob McCartney were just finishing the 6pm broadcast, and Julie looked up and smiled at me.

***

How do you sum up 15 years?

My first breaking news live shot at NP Dodge Park… that was God awful.

Covering my first night of tornadoes as an intern, Scott Buer at the wheel of the car, and me in the passenger seat wearing a green skirt suit and heels, trekking around in mud and rain COMPLETELY unprepared, but willing to stay out as long as Scott did.

Talking to a suspect in jail dubbed the ‘Bare Butt Bandit’, and hearing later from my best friend’s now-husband: ‘I said, Please God, let Brandi be doing that story..’

An Iowa shooting late at night with photojournalist Mike Richard, and then lying in the backseat on the way home  with my eyes squeezed shut, battling a nauseous migraine.

Live shots on the field at Memorial Stadium with Rob on one side and Jon on the other.. when a stray football was punted right into the side of my face.  Hearing my Assistant News Director Vonn Jones yelling in my ear ’30 seconds!!’ as I tried to regain my composure.. as did Jon and Rob (from dying laughing…)

Driving 8 hours throughout the night with Justin Riviera to cover an arrest in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder in Boulder, Colorado.  I was overwhelmed by literally HUNDREDS of rabid reporters; he shoved me and said ‘get in there, Petersen!’

Covering an afternoon and evening of tornado threats across western Iowa with photojournalist Dave Hynek.  Laughs because of a nerve-wracking live shot.. laughing that turned to chaos and sheer sadness when we learned less than an hour later about the tragedy at the Little Sioux Boy Scout Camp.  We worked through the night side by side, waiting for the details that would shake our community and the country.

Countless tears when things went wrong.  Crying to my roommate, wondering what I should have done better.  Coming home and sobbing to myself, questioning my decisions as not only a reporter, but a human being.

Westroads.  Derek Ruth.  The Butternut fire. The paralyzed bride.  Clayton Hildreth.  Evan Sharp.  Pediatric brain cancer.  Amber Harris.  Baby Lawrence.  La Paz, Mexico.

JP Carter.  John Matya.  Trisha Meuret.  Tom Elser.  Joe Kasmir.  Cathy Beeler.  Jay Roberts.  Vonn Jones.  Jon Schuetz. Sean McMahon. Justin Riviera.  Renee Ludvik.  Kristyna Engdahl.  Jeremy Maskel.  Adrian Whitsett.  Andy Ozaki.  Natalie Glucklich. Melissa Fry.  ROB, ANDY, DAVE. My coworkers that have become my family.

Through KETV, I met my husband.  I was on air throughout my pregnancies with both of my boys.  We moved; twice.  This is where we grew up; this is home.

At KETV we lost Joe, my mentor who hired me, fueled my passion for journalism, and always, ALWAYS pushed me to be better, while making me feel like I was really something special.  I often wish he had been alive to see me anchor ‘the big show’.

We lost Jeff Frolio, the photographer who told me about jazz, and how special music was for him and his wife.  It was the music at his final service that broke me down.

***

Just like my stories… in so many ways, THIS story has come full circle for me.  My sweet ‘baby’ boy Easton will start Kindergarten in a few short weeks.  Guys, I need to be here with my children.  I need to hear about their days, I need to be there for school concerts and carnivals and dinner on our deck.  I need to hear THEIR stories, and I need to be PART of their stories when they look back and share them throughout their lives.  News is a business like no other; it never stops.  Tornadoes don’t drop from the sky from 9-5, Monday through Friday.  Tragedies don’t happen just while we’re on the clock.  There will be another journalist, waiting and ready, to slide into that spot next to Rob to anchor our evening newscast every night, but I am my boys’ ONLY MOTHER.  I am the ONLY MOMMA they will ever have.

God works in mysterious ways; he always has a plan, though we may not understand it as it’s unfolding.  Next month, I will join the Communications team with Westside Community Schools.  I still get to tell stories; GREAT stories about incredible students, teachers making a difference, programs that impact generations of kids.  I get to showcase the GOOD in our world; I get to WRITE.  But every day, I also get to go home to my family.  We can eat dinner together.  We can play at the park, and watch the sunset, wake up the next morning and do it all over again.  I know I’ll be home every Christmas morning, I’ll get to watch fireworks with my kids every 4th of July, I get to stay at the pool with them Sunday mornings instead of putting on my makeup, straightening my hair and heading to the station.  I need to say this: I have SO MUCH RESPECT for working parents, regardless of their shifts.  People all over America work crazy hours, love what they do, and love their lives at home.  I work with many of them here at 7!

For me.. it’s just time.  Still, as I write this, I still feel the tears welling up behind my eyes.  I am so excited for this new opportunity and new chapter in my life, but it truly is so hard to say goodbye.  My fear is that I didn’t matter.  That time will go on and it will be like I was never there. That sounds really narcissistic and egotistical; truly, I’ve tried to make a point in my career to NOT make everything about me, to make our stories about THE PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ISSUES we are sharing.  But to everyone throughout these 15 years who’s made me feel ‘like a big deal’.. to everyone who has watched us, followed us, trusted us.. THANK YOU.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I don’t have words beyond that.. but I hope you understand the deep gratitude from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

WATCH KETV.  You will NEVER find a better journalist than Rob McCartney.  This dude is one of the best human beings I have ever known; he cares, he listens, he is always asking questions and trying to dig a little deeper to share the most complete story possible, and I’d argue NO ONE is trusted as a journalist in our state more than Rob.  He is noble, smart, a leader, compassionate.  He is a good friend.  Bill Randby is HANDS DOWN THE BEST meteorologist you could ever turn to; NO ONE cares more about providing people accurate information than this guy, and truly one of the most genuinely KIND people I have ever met.  Kristyna Engdahl is BRILLIANT.  Her writing is phenomenal, she’s fair, she has a GIFT for public speaking and thinking on her feet, and I WISH everyone at home could meet her and feel her energy in person.. because she makes EVERY DAY better when you’re around her.  Andy Kendeigh is the big brother I never had–always supportive, always caring, just an AMAZING GUY and such a wonderful friend.  And holy crap, is this guy GOOD.  Athletes and coaches LOVE him for a reason–he’s hilarious, hard working, devoted to what he shares every night and throughout every season.  In addition… our future is so very bright.  Alexandra Stone, Chinh Doan, Laurann Robinson, Sean Everson, Matt Serwe, Cem Brinklow, Ashley Nodgaard, Josh Gear, Davonte McKenith, David Earl, Katie Bane, Tanner Kahler, Matt Lothrop, Camila Orti… all of the people you see and many you don’t… they are HUNGRY for good journalism.  They want to tell good stories.  They are willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, personal LIVES, to make KETV the best it can be.  This team IS TRULY THE BEST.  You will not find local news in our state that is better–YOU JUST WON’T.

***

I knew this day was coming.  I didn’t think it would be this WEIRD.  That’s the only word that makes sense.  I don’t have enough words, and at the same time, I feel like I’ve said too much.

We’ve got a few weeks left, Omaha–let’s make it awesome.  Westside, I hope to make you proud.  KETV, I hope I’ve made a mark, some kind of difference.

And to my boys.. I love you.  Let’s go hunt some pokemon and have a great morning together.

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Photo courtesy Photography By CB

Twirling To The Top

Last night, I had one of those moments where I just stopped, breathed deeply, and thought ‘this is the life!’  My boys, my man and I were all at the pool.. I was listening to them splash and laugh together, while I laid in the glorious sun for a few blissful minutes.

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Then I immediately felt GUILT… why was I just lying there?!? I should have been in the pool WITH them, right?!?  I *hope my guilt was unfounded.. that after a long two months of blog-writing, documentary-producing, news-anchoring, event-emceeing, etc… it was OK for me to sit and relax.

However, there are those among us who never stop.  They use every moment of every day to their full advantage.They rarely take a break for downtime… and in return, every day they are one step closer to the top of whatever peak they are climbing.  They define ‘outstanding’ in their attitudes, goals, and the way they touch people along that journey.

Steffany Lien has spent the last year twirling to the top.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“It has been a busy year, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!’ said Steffany, who  next week, will pass on her title as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Anyone who was there to watch Steffany last year (click here to read more!) will tell you how outstanding this young woman truly is.

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Steffany started her year as Miss Nebraska’s Oustanding Teen with media coverage across Nebraska.  CLICK HERE to read her story in the Lincoln Journal Star!

Let’s start with her talent… which is WORLD CLASS.

“I compete with baton twirling,” said Steffany.

OK, STOP.  Steffany doesn’t just COMPETE with baton twirling

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Photo courtesy Blinq Studio

Steffany is a 6-TIME World Champion baton twirler.  Her talent WOWED the crowd at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen (more on that later..) and leaves audiences EVERYWHERE in awe.  Steffany and her incredible gift have been featured by Omaha’s Metro Magazine, by television news outlets, by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, by the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, even as part of the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby.  This spring, she was also selected by the University of Louisville to be the school’s featured twirler, a highly coveted position including a full-ride scholarship.Folks, that’s $25,000+ A YEAR.

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Steffany has fine-tuned and perfected this incredible gift with years of training and performing, and showcasing her art has been a highlight of her year as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“I was invited to perform for the Big Red Tailgate to benefit the Completely Kids Program in Omaha,” said Steffany.  “Not only was I proud to be the headliner at the event that raised $175,000 to combat childhood hunger and provide after school programs, but Tommie Frazier sang ‘Dear Old Nebraska U’ a capella while I twirled!”

“Performing at the Kentucky Derby and the Pegasus Parade was clearly a highlight of my year,” said Steffany.  “When I signed autographs and took pictures with people at a festival the same weekend in Kentucky, the people there couldn’t have been nicer to Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen!”

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s performance at Churchill Downs, thanks to the Lincoln Journal Star!

As I’ve written about previously, the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is the ‘little sister’ organziation to Miss Nebraska, all part of the Miss America Organization.  One of the biggest differences between the Teen and Miss program.. these teens are also STUDENTS.  While their Miss counterparts often defer their college entrance or postpone classes during their year of service, Teen titleholders take part in events and service all year IN ADDITION to their time in the classroom.  Steffany is no exception; in fact, she’s set a new standard for what is possible, even expected, out of these exceptional young women.

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“I dance and compete with Madonna ProActive Dance Team, I teach baton twirling at Madonna ProActive, I’m in National Honor Society, and I’ve maintained a weighted 4.28 GPA,” said Steffany, who just graduated this May from Lincoln Southwest High School.  “Most importantly, I had decided early on to leave a legacy of active participation at charitable events, so this year I performed at, appeared for, and worked at an average of two events a week for the year.  This means that I have participated in over 110 events as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  My white sash is now grey, my crown is spotted from raindrops and races, my tennis shoes have logged miles for health runs, and I need new heels!  It has been a very busy schedule, but I have loved every moment because I will remember these experiences for the rest of my life.”

The montage above barely scratches the SURFACE of the photos posted on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page, showcasing Steffany’s service this year.  She also returned to Peru on a mission trip with orphans, work she has dedicated countless hours to over the years. (Click here to read more!)

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“When I became Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, I expected to be out and about in the community, attending charity events and promoting a variety of organizations,” said Steffany, who has volunteered for the Child Advocacy Center of Lincoln, Kids Against Hunger, March of Dimes of Omaha, Food Bank of Lincoln, People’s City Mission, the Autism Family Network, the Alzheimer’s Association, Pinwheels for Prevention, the LSW Parent’s Advisory Council… the list goes ON AND ON AND ON.  “While this was my main focus throughout the year, the part I had not anticipated was how much these experiences would change me and how I view life.”

THIS is the caliber of young woman we want to represent our state, do we not?  And Steffany did, oh so well, at the 2016 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Florida.

For the second year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen finished in the Top 10 in this national competition, in front of the 2016 Miss America Class and tens of thousands, if not more, online.  Steffany had a clear impact on the audience and the organization, later featured by MAOT on their Facebook page, and drawing wide support from fans across social media.

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s success at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, in an article featured by KETV!

“Miss America’s Outstanding Teen was amazing, and so different from any other experience I’ve ever had,” said Steffany.  “I loved meeting other young women from across the US, and gaining friendships that will last a lifetime.  I was surprised to hear my name in the Top 10, because every girl competing at MAOTeen was well-spoke, talented, and we had all been working hard leading up to the national pageant.  For me, it was just an honor to be standing among them, but it was also satisfying to maek the Top 10 and be able to represent Nebraska at the competition.”

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Steffany came home from Orlando with $3100 in scholarship money, adding to the $1500 she won at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She also caught the attention of designers Tony Bowls and Ashley Lauren, nationally renowed photographer Jenn Cady, as well as Lincoln boutique The Black Swan, leading to several modelling opportunities throughout her year.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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“The big events, the fashion shots with Ashley Lauren and Tony Bowls, and all of those wonderful purple bags from the Black Swan Dress Boutique bring me more pleasure than I’d like to admit,” said Steffany.  “However, I had one recent experience that made me understand the real meaning of being an outstanding teen.  Last week, a mom unpacked her daughter’s backpack at the end of the school year.  In it, she found a paper her daughter had written in school after given an assignment to write about someone that is important to her.  I was surprised this quiet, thoughtful child wrote about me.  I had no idea the impact on her values and her perspective about my attitude and ‘kindness’.  And although I giggled that she wrote I am the ‘world’s most amazing teen’, I am humbled and know that the title of Miss Nebraskas’ Outstanding Teen is one that I hold for life and that I better live up to this little girl’s expectations!”

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One year ago, Steffany Lien looked up and focused on her goals and dreams.  While many of us would get tired, and take a break, she kept climbing.. or in her case, twirling.

When Steffany represented Nebraska on the national stage this year, her program’s new directors, Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards, created her catch phrase: #TwirlingToTheTop.

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Steffany Lien has EARNED blissful moments poolside or otherwise.  She IS the top.. the essence of what it means to be outstanding, and a young woman our state will continue to be so very proud of.

JENN CADY

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Even now, as the clock winds down on her time as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Steffany continues to put others ahead of herself.

“More than anything, I am thrilled for the next girl who will earn the crown, and can’t wait to see all the great qualities she will bring to this organization and how she will represent Nebraska.”

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***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT STEFFANY?

2015 * Vision For The Future

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. SPECIAL FEATURE: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Chasing Destiny

When recently asked what his mommy does for her job, my son Easton said ‘my mommy tells the news at the train station.’

YES. Yes I do.

We are now marking our 8th month in our new home at 7 Burlington Station.  This place just RESONATES history.  The floor tiles are the original pieces that travelers walked on when the station opened in 1898.  We have our afternoon story meetings just yards from the same tracks where trains carried countless passengers arriving in Omaha.  Everything from the walls, to the ceiling, to the clock upstairs.. all original and restored.

CLICK HERE to watch Rob McCartney’s Murrow Award winning documentary: The Rebirth of Burlington Station

Certainly not the original architects, perhaps not even those who followed decades later, envisioned that this beautiful building would someday be home to one of the country’s state of the art television facilities.  However, the Burlington is still a hub.  This is still a place our city turns to to connect to the outside world.  Let’s call it FATE.  Some things were just meant to be.

Case in point.. Chadron’s Aubree Noble, perhaps fulfilling a destiny always meant for her.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photograpy

“I’ve pretty much been a part of [the Miss America system] my entire life,” Aubree told me recently.  “My mom was the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest Director along with Marleta Hastings.  Every year, I helped with the pageant, even if it was just small parts of it.  I loved watching the girls advance on to the state and national pageants.”

And Aubree, like so many other titleholders, watched in awe as Miss Nebraska became Miss America in 2010.

“My biggest role model was Teresa Scanlan,” said Aubree.  “It amazed me when she became Miss America.  Her impact she made on the world during her year of service inspired me to get involved in pageants.”

When Aubree was old enough, her mother stepped down from her position as a local pageant director to allow her daughter to compete to become one of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens.  Still, Aubree need one more person’s approval to seal the deal.

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Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Brooklyn Stack and I have been best friends since pre-school,” said Aubree, now Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen.  “We also said that we would do pageants together and be what people call ‘sister queens’.  Well, we may not have won the same pageant, but we have been doing events alongside each other all year!”

And with every event, from Chadron to North Platte and beyond, Aubree has made even more connections she describes as life-long friendships.

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“Some of my fellow titleholders and I talk daily.  We’ve bonded,” said Aubree.  “I love this system because even though we are competitors we are still friends and supportive of each other in every aspect of each other’s lives.”

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Aubree is using her year as Miss Dawes County to spread awareness of her personal platform, ‘Read to Succeed!’, based on her own development with reading and the impact it’s had on her life.

“Studies show that kids who read more often tend to do better on tests,” said Aubree.  “Also, they tend to score higher on their ACT.  I never scored as high as my classmates on the state reading tests, but when I made it my goal to improve my reading, things changed.  My scores improved and reading then became one of my best subjects in state testing.  Last summer alone, I read 19 books!  My favorite thing in the world is escaping to another world through a book.  My goal through my platform was to make kids excited about wanting to read.”

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Aubree is also a passionate dancer with 13 years of training.  She’s completing her second year on the Chadron High Dance Team, a squad that placed 7th at state in 2016.  The sophomore is also involved with math club, speech, student council, she’s a class officer, and she golfs, shooting a hole-in-one at a meet this year.  Outside of school, Aubree plays piano and volunteers at the Chadron chamber of Commerce.  She credits her family for their constant support in all of her activities, bonds strengthened in tragedy when Aubree’s father died a few years ago.

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“My family is most important to me in my life,” said Aubree.  “They are my biggest supporters and my favorite ‘fans’ in everything I do from school functions to pageants.  I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them.”

They’ll have a busy summer; Aubree, on the Leadership Team for Future Business Leaders of America, recently finished first at state in Website Design, beating out 43 other submissions.  She’ll compete at nationals this June.. AFTER she competes for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

‘I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.’ — Forrest Gump

Maybe this title is Aubree Noble’s fate, a breeze that’s swirled around her for most of her life.  But this young woman has worked hard to achieve her successes.  She has persevered despite hardship.  She’s using her ‘destiny’ to her full advantage, and appreciating every step of the journey.

“I have benefitted from this program because of the confidence it has given me,” said Aubree.  “It’s a great way to build self esteem!  Even after competing in one pageant, you’re a new person.  You learn something new about yourself each time you compete.”

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Maybe.. that the road you’re walking is the exact place you’re meant to be.

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble

on Facebook and on Instagram.  You can also email Aubree for appearances and events at noble.aubree@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird!

NEXT.. Miss Kearney 2016 Stacy Pospisil!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!