Archives

True Colors

This blog comes you to from 36,000 feet up in the air.

Photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I left Omaha Wednesday on a bleary-eyed 5:30am flight bound for La Paz, Mexico!  Through the months of May and June, we’ll show you the mission that’s been weeks in the making for us and months, if not YEARS in the making for an Omaha team.

13010596_10156798173120023_9032004970138378647_n

CLICK HERE to see a preview of Operation: Open Hearts on KETV!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ashley and me to tell incredible stories.  Truly, THAT is why we both got into this business in the first place.  I think to some extent there’s an assumption about people in TV News, that we do this because we want to see ourselves on television.  I admit, the first time I reported on camera.. the first time I sat in the anchor chair for a broadcast.. those moments were exhilarating.  BUT.. that sheen wears off in time, and for MANY years now, my adrenaline rushes have come from knowing we are sharing powerful stories of things going on in our city, state, and in our world, and seeing the difference that can come from that.

I have a feeling my friend Payton Merritt is reading this, thinking ‘Preach!!’  She’s not a journalist, but she is a young woman trying to prove that her mission isn’t about big hair and glitter, it’s about making a difference with a powerful tool she’s been given.

12829488_10204106065610755_4274371804905662113_o

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The world is filled with need—I want to use the gifts that God has blessed me with to positively impact my small window of the world,” Payton told me recently.  “It was within the Miss Nebraska Organization that I found this window, and my desire to be a leader and role model for my state brought my greatest dream full circle.”

12038043_10203428438870510_6339962773211720165_n

Payton will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska this June, currently Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016.  Complete disclosure… I kinda love her.  I first met Payton when serving as a judge and then volunteer for the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant—Payton was our teen titleholder, then years later, crowned Miss Omaha.  She’s this teeny, petite, blonde, but when she sings, her voice is anything BUT petite; it’s soulful, deep.. it makes you utter ‘dang!’ from your seat in the audience.  Singing was Payton’s initial tie to the Miss America Organization, an added element to what was already a magnetic draw for a child watching on TV from home.

“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming Miss America,” said Payton.  “I would stand on the coffee table at our house and pretend to be on stage, waving at the audience, and singing ‘Little Red Wagon’ at the top of my lungs. (My mom says I wasn’t quite as in tune as I am today.)  Initially, it was about me and the pursuit of my dream.”

10455922_10152456986992419_4424741347575843623_n

Payton also focused on her studies, graduating from high school a semester early and earning a nearly full-ride academic scholarship to Creighton University.  On the Miss Nebraska stage, Payton showed hundreds intelligence and confidence.  That became part of her goal this year.. to show pageant critics the depth of character and abilities so many of these titleholders represent.  (It’s worth noting the Miss America Organization has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in cash scholarships to young women focusing on STEM; science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

“I would tell them to look and listen far beyond the two hours of national television coverage.  We are a force of young women devoted and determined to make an impact within our communities,” said Payton.  “The phases of competition are representative of things beyond the surface—ultimately our poise, discipline, intellect and depth show that we can walk the walk, talk the talk, and then put it all to music!”

Payton also notes that she and the rest of the Miss Nebraska Class of 2016 are constantly seeking out ways to be visible, positive role models.  Payton and several other local titleholders recently joined Miss Nebraska Alyssa Howell to make Alyssa’s signature Miracle Bags for patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center; the girls then hand delivered them to those kids.

Payton, a devoted big sister to several admirers at home, has also connected to children in classrooms during school presentations, talking about her personal platform, ‘The Political Workout: Exercising Your Right To Vote.’

993551_548937701955482_3430257197733811150_n

“I am passionate about empowering people to utilize our most sacred right,” said Payton.  “Because of the sacrifices of many, we have been given a life of opportunity and choice.  I see other countries, and their battles and oppression, and know countless people would risk life and limb to live in a country in which they have the power to choose.  We Americans who do maintain that right, don’t exercise our greatest freedom in choosing who represents us, those who ultimately speak for us.”:

Payton often shares messages and quotes on her Miss Nebraska State Fair Facebook page, encouraging people of the power and importance behind the vote.  For Payton, it’s an issue she plans to pursue long after this often divisive 2016 Presidential Election; she’s pursuing Political Science and Economics degrees at Creighton with plans to attend law school.

12743679_545980968917822_8050931973169633897_n

“I think in part [voter apathy] can be traced back to a lack of understanding and education about our political process,” said Payton.  “I want to do my part to show others how important exercising your right to vote is within a democracy.”

UNDERSTANDING AND EDUCATION.  We at KETV have a motto—more complete coverage.  It’s not just our catch phrase, it’s something I remind myself of when I’m tired and want to wrap up a story and move on.. is there more I could or SHOULD include?  Is there another angle to this?  At the end of the newscast, as complimentary (and sometimes not..) as it is to hear about my hair or my dress or the color of my lipstick, I want people to remember MY STORIES.. YOUR stories.  I want our viewers and readers to learn something new about a disease or a law or a PERSON.  Every time Payton Merritt performs the national anthem for the Creighton basketball or baseball games (click here to listen!), every time she dons her sparkling crown to visit a child or speak to a group, she wants to open new eyes to everything she stands for.

12473776_527630107419575_7097157825095300323_o

Photo courtesy Brown Harano Photography

“I see the role of Miss Nebraska as one of service,” Payton said.  “Ultimately, I have a cause that I am dedicated to speaking to, one that is not only timely now, but maintains longevity for the democracy of our country.  I aim to serve God, my state, and hopefully my nation through my ability to relate to others, and through a commitment to impacting those who I encounter.  I am humbled by the opportunities I am blessed with, and though I am seeking a very public role, I am not seeking a personal place in the spotlight, but an opportunity to make an impact.”

***

Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.  You can also contact Payton for appearances and events by emailing paytonmerritt@hotmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PAYTON?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Omaha! Omaha!

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun!

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!

Wonder Woman

I have a confession to make.. I am a JUNK FOOD JUNKIE.  Some days I run, stay focused, and feel like Superman.. and then my Kryptonite, peanut butter, takes me down. (mmm.. peanut butter..)

With the help of my friend and coworker, KETV First News Anchor John Oakey, I lost about 8 pounds this winter.  My husband and I spent a few GORGEOUS days in sunny Cancun, and I felt like a new woman!

IMG_6982

I came home.. and within a few weeks I not only fell off the wagon.. the wagon ran over me a few times.  Easter baskets, Girl Scout Cookies.. and NUTTY BUDDIES. (Be still my heart..) I kept saying ‘I’ll start again tomorrow.. I’ll start again Sunday..’ and before you knew it, I got on the scale and had gained several pounds back. Even THAT didn’t push me back on the wagon…

gal

..but Gal Gadot did!  Gal is the new Wonder Woman in the DC Comics movie franchise.. and SHE. IS. AWESOME.  I left Batman Vs. Superman (which isn’t terrible, by the way!)  DETERMINED to rediscover the self-discipline and drive to become the physically fit, healthy woman I know I can be.  Sometimes you just need a little motivation.. and sometimes change is forced upon you whether you want it or not.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Lianna Prill altered nearly every facet of her diet and lifestyle because of a debilitating medical condition.

Screenshot_2016-02-20-11-56-58-1

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I suffered for a decade without answers,” Lianna told me recently.  “After finding I had Celiac Disease my sophomore year of high school, a strict, gluten-free lifestyle was needed.  I was a new woman within days.”

Lianna does a GREAT job explaining what Celiac Disease is (CLICK HERE to read my interview with her in 2014).  The skinny of it is that certain foods cause Lianna INTENSE pain including migraines and abdominal issues.  She says once she eliminated those foods from her diet, namely gluten, her health was restored.  Still, Lianna was not content improving just her own life; she set out on a personal crusade to help others.

Lianna-Prill

Photo courtesy Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph

Lianna, who also loves to sing and perform, was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and later competed at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  The following year, Lianna was chosen as a recipient of the prestigious DJ’s Hero Award for her work with Celiac Disease, including her time as an intern with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  Despite double majoring in broadcast journalism and advertising/public relations, Lianna competed for and won the title of Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2014, giving her another venue to spread her message.  She’s a titleholder again this year, crowned last summer as the first Miss Queen City of the Plains.

“Competing in the [Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Nebraska Organizations] revealed the beauty of Celiac,” said Lianna.  “It’s a blessing, a motivation to always carry out a healthy lifestyle.”

That is because not only will Lianna compete once again for the title of Miss Nebraska, she is a very public representation of her cause, ‘#EatWellBeWell’.

“I understand that not everyone has Celiac, but I want people to realize the crucial link between diet and wellness.  In other words, what you put into your body directly affects how you feel,” said Lianna.  “Some do not know what it is like to truly feel well, because it’s their ‘normal’.  I challenge everyone to evaluate his or her lifestyle.  if you are constantly sick, ill after eating a certain food, tired after you eat (you should not be, because food is your fuel!) or don’t feel as healthy as you think you could be, find the root of the problem and do not cover your symptoms up with some kind of bandage!”

Lianna not only makes appearances across the state spreading her message, she also fills her Facebook page with information and tips on how to be healthier.  With childhood obesity forever on the rise, many of the groups Lianna talks to include kids.

12798838_1575462379440414_6084181001256238231_n

For anyone doubting the power of Lianna’s story, there’s this… instead of lying on her bathroom floor in pain, this future journalist is also the Engagement Editor at UNL’s newspaper The Daily Nebraskan, she hosts a radio show on campus every week, she volunteers with her sorority, Children’s Hospital and the Miss Amazing Organization, and she works here at KETV two days a week as one of our news interns.

12373190_917874058328497_158886260101228127_n

Now working with Lianna, I see her drive and ENERGY.  I see the water blueberries on her desk instead of Mountain Dew and chips from the vending machine.  I see Associated Press and Daily Nebraskan articles on her computer instead of TMZ or Candy Crush.  Lianna credits much of this to her years of participitation with the Miss America system.

“The Miss Nebraska Organization also gave me the drive, poise and work ethic to fulfill my dream of becoming a news anchor,” said Lianna.

This girl is on the right track.. and she’s pulling my new wagon onto that path with her.  Gal Gadot may be my screen saver, but Lianna Prill is the Wonder Woman hoping to promote health and wellness across all of America.. as the new Miss Nebraska.

12772085_1573664192953566_2352166687433955208_o

“I am so grateful to have an opportunity to share this message,” said Lianna.  “Listen to your body, because your health and life is so worth it.  #EatWellBeWell.”

***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Queen City of the Plains 2016 Lianna Prill

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Fueling The Journey

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains Scholarship Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE or  FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Angie Trausch at (402) 984-2690 or angie.trausch@gmail.com, or contact Director Angela Keiser at (402) 578-8621 or angelakeiser@gmail.com.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Adella Smolsky!

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

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!

Running To Remember

As journalists, we are part of a strange phenomenon.  The nature of our job is to witness and report; we talk to people, we listen, we watch, we learn and we share everything we take in with our viewers and readers.  We are storytellers.. but sometimes, the stories we feature, the people we share with the world, are souls we never got the chance to meet.

todd----Kylie-jpg

This photo will be part of my memory for the rest of my career.  One moment, frozen in time, showing the touching relationship between a proud dad and his teenage daughter, his eldest child.  Her name was Kylie Jo Remmereid.

Kylie died in a terrible car crash in November of 2011.  Investigators believe the car was going too fast; it crashed and rolled.  One of Kylie’s best friends was driving; she suffered a traumatic brain injury, and another friend in the car badly injured her arm.  They were three beautiful girls, surrounded by love and the promise of an incredible future.. and everything changed in one moment.

I will never forget Kylie’s father’s sheer strength talking to us in the weeks that followed.  If you have a moment, please CLICK HERE to watch our story with him from January of 2012.   Despite their unimaginable grief, Todd Remmereid and his wife, Kimberly, worked to organize a fundraiser for their daughters’ two friends in that car.. including the girl who was driving that night.  In a way, Cassi Collier’s family also lost their daughter.. she survived, but with massive brain damage.  Cassi spent months at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, then moved to Omaha’s QLI to continue therapy.  To ANYONE driving a car, and to all parents of teens getting behind the wheel, I can’t encourage you enough to CLICK HERE and listen to Cassi’s message in our story.

10556315_10205084916476934_2234075130640680343_n

CLICK HERE for more information about the 5th Annual Run To Remember event, or CLICK HERE to sign up!

These families will NEVER stop sharing their girls’ story, hoping that everytime YOU get behind the wheel, you remember these three, smiling faces.  Unfortunately, the dangers that accompany driving are more present than ever.. we rush and forget to put on seatbelts, we keep our eyes on the phone instead of on the road.. we take out our frustrations on the strangers going too slow or not driving how we think they should.

Claire Holsinger never met Kylie or Cassi.  In fact, the Scottsbluff High School senior lives on the other side of the state.  Still, she too has joined the fight for safer driving, hoping to make a difference and maybe, save a life.

12743870_1682681878688018_2143970922162411016_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Over my four years in high school, there have been so many car related deaths in our small community.  Many of those teenagers could have been survivors if they had worn their seatbelt,” Claire told me recently.  “January 10, 2013, my next door neighbor, Alexis Wheeler passed away in a car crash.  Alexis was only 19.  When I heard the awful news of her death, it changed my life forever.  I made it my goal to make every single one of my friends and family members to buckle up.”

Claire was only 14. When that tragedy hit so close to home, Claire had already seen that she could make a difference for any cause she believed in.  Just a few years prior, she was selected to be a Little Sister for the Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair pageant.  Claire watched all of the ‘big girls’ in her hometown volunteer, dazzle on stage, and go on to compete at Miss Nebraska.. including future Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan.

“It was always a dream of mine, to participate in a pageant.  I grew up around pageants most of my life because my dad was the longtime photographer for our local pageant, Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair,” said Claire.  “This summer, I decided just to go for it.  I had developed a talent, I had participated in Speech and DECA, so I took a chance and competed.  I wasn’t expecting any kind of title, I just wanted to see what would happen.”

12742635_1681910828765123_496017477072226986_n

Claire won the title of Miss Old West Balloon Fest.. and in THIS moment, secured an avenue to make her voice heard on an issue she cared so deeply about.

“My platform is ‘Seriously, Seatbelts’,” said Claire.  “I knew something needed to change, and making this my platform was a step towards the right direction.  I take seatbelt safety incredibly seriously, and I get very angry and upset when others don’t buckle up.  Not doing so is so selfish, [because] by not buckling up, one is affecting their friends and family.  It takes 3-5 seconds, buckle up.  It could save your life.”

Claire now takes part in events across Western Nebraska to promote her platform, and to connect with children.

“I really want to be a first grade teacher, so I love kids,” said Claire.  “I try my best to be very personable and relatable.  I’ve also learned through pageants to be more sure and confident of my beliefs and thoughts, because they are mine and I need to own them.”

Claire is taking part in all this (and learning from it!) in addition to activities at Scottsbluff High including Drill Team, show choir, musical, varsity cross country, varsity soccer, National Honor Society and Tri-M (Music Honor Society).

Even with state champion trophies and fancy crowns, Miss Old West Balloon Fest stays grounded thanks to her family, especially her mom.

“My role model is my mother, Stephanie,” said Claire.  “She tries so hard to help me succeed in everything I participate in. She is super funny, even though she thinks she’s even funnier.  She always gives me cute, quirky gifts, like a coconut hair mask, because it made her think of me.  She always puts the family’s needs before hers, but she is slowly learning how to make her things a priority, too.”

12688210_942019069220853_2537349437316552055_n

Funny how things come full circle.  Here’s another photo capturing a beautiful relationship between a parent and child.  I’m sure Stephanie Holsinger will be one of the proudest in the Miss Nebraska crowd in North Platte, watching her daughter compete for the coveted state title.  Perhaps she’ll have a few tears in her eyes.. maybe she does now reading her daughter’s words (I would!)  There is simply no limit to the depth of a parent’s love.  Hundreds of miles east, the Remmereid family still shares photos of Kylie on Facebook.  More than four years since her death, they are still proud of their beautiful girl.  They’ll honor her yet again April 16th, bringing together hundreds of people to remember Kylie and to spread the word about safer driving.

Claire Holsinger wants to share that message as Miss Nebraska.. for her own family, for future drivers, and for the people she’ll only know about through their families’ stories.

11828594_853208748101886_5285362572472043963_n

***

In loving memory of Kylie Jo Remmereid,  1995-2011

***

To follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2016 Claire Holsinger, CLICK HERE to follow her on Facebook.  You can also contact Claire about events and appearances at claire.holsinger@gmail.com.

For more information about the Miss Old West Balloon Fest Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  You can also find more information via the Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant HERE on Facebook, and HERE on their website. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by phone at 308-783-2940 or at 308-635-8615.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2016 Brooklyn Stack!

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Adella Smolsky!

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!

The “It” Factor

Ever meet a person who you just KNOW is going be something big?  They have that IT factor.. how they present themselves, what they give to others, how they make you feel.

I found out about the Miss Nebraska Pageant through a letter I got in the mail.  I went to one of the first Miss Omaha rehearsals just to see what it was all about, and Brook Matthews was one of the first people I saw.  She was so dang fantastic I just about turned around and walked out–I was NOT going to even try to compete against her!  Brook was A STUNNING blonde, perfect body, well spoken, she had the confidence of a CEO and just radiated grace and sophistication.  In a crazy turn of events, I become her pageant sister a few weeks later; Brook became Miss Omaha and I became Miss Douglas County.

1525456_1014075101964305_4725968780515813043_n

Brook was later crowned Miss Nebraska 2004, then went on to  earn her Masters degree in Business from Creighton while founding and developing Omaha Fashion Week.  The event has become the 5th largest fashion event in the country, and last week, Brook Matthews-Hudson and her husband, Nick, opened the Omaha Design Center, welcoming sold-out crowds of thousands.

12885793_10153590517616553_2938874077138392749_o

Photo courtesy Kathy Rae Photography

Brook is a REALLY. BIG. DEAL.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the new home for Omaha Fashion Week, from KETV’s Chinh Doan!

A few years ago, I met a young woman who stood out to me in a group of OUTSTANDING young women.  I invited all of the 2014 Miss Nebraska contestants to the KETV studios to record a special edition of Chronicle to spread awareness about the program and the incredible things these titleholders were doing in their communities.   (Click here to watch the 2014 Miss Nebraska Chronicle special!)  Tosha Skinner made the long drive to Omaha to take part when several of the other western titleholders understandably did not; she was articulate, confident, and I went back to my desk that evening thinking, ‘Dang!! Who is that girl?!?’

12744175_895436883897577_7801060705963800961_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Tosha Skinner is a 3-time local titleholder with the Miss Nebraska Organization and the current Miss Heartland.  She’s a UNL graduate and proud Delta Delta Delta alumnae.  She’s a Logistics expert, a volunteer, a Christian, and a woman proudly comfortable in her own skin.

“The most important part of my life is that I live out my platform every day,” Tosha told me recently.  “Because my platform focuses on self-love and living a healthy lifestyle, I think that it is essential I live my life with the values I teach.”

Tosha calls that personal mission ‘Perfectly, Imperfect: Learning to love the true you.’

12509795_10156438253765442_1785872006591319376_n

“After years of struggling with low self-confidence, which turned into an eating disorder and depression, I decided to start making changes to my life, which started with the way I viewed myself,” said Tosha.  “I became healthier in the way I thought, spoke, ate and lived.  I watched how each of these things helped me learn to love myself.  I soon realized that if I shared my own story, I could help others come to the same realization I did.  I want to live in a world where my little sister doesn’t have to struggle through the same things I did!”

Tosha has embarked on something of a social media crusade to pump positivity into the world, and to remind women everywhere of their beauty.  She posts inspirational memes, shares terrific photos to make you smile and think, and frequently updates her blog with op-ed like posts focused on image and self-improvement (CLICK HERE to read more!)

12705784_10156532460255442_1023706406228955714_n

Tosha on Facebook: ‘Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you helped create that smile #missheartland

Tosha says being a Miss America titleholder has not only given her an opportunity to share this message, but it’s part of the reason she found that message in the first place.

“I learned about eating right, working out, and how to better understand my own body, and I learned all of that because of preparing for Swimsuit (competition)!” said Tosha.  “The Miss Nebraska system has been an active part of my life.  I learned life skills like public speaking, stage presence, professionalism and living a healthy lifestyle.  It helped me find my passion for volunteering and taught me to step out of my comfort zone every day.  I am a better person because of the Miss Nebraska system.”

 And despite having a full-time job at Talent Plus in Lincoln, Tosha is an active proponent for that same organization, taking part in philanthropic events across the state on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Tosha’s raised awareness for Alzheimers, for Team Jack and pediatric cancer research (CLICK HERE to learn more!), for Junior Achievement, for Children’s Miracle Network, and for the American Heart Association. She says her dream is to turn her platform into a non-profit to reach even more people.  This is the work of a determined, selfless young woman.. a far cry from the self-described shy, unsure little girl she once was.

“Because of the Miss America Organization, that little girl grew into a woman that learned how to pick herself up every time she fell and how she learned how important hard work was,” said Tosha.  “Without the Miss Nebraska system, that little girl may never have finished college or landed her dream job.  But because she was involved in an organization that taught her how to be the best version of herself, that little girl can be anything.”

12661982_10156525040665442_8877876497231972311_n

Tosha Skinner is a Husker, a working woman, a friend, a mentor.  She’s a volunteer at People’s City Mission and a superhero at the Lincoln Children’s Museum.  She’s Miss Sugar Valley 2014, Miss Chadron 2015, Miss Heartland 2016.. and she’s ready to be Miss Nebraska.

“Being Miss Nebraska is more than just a pretty crown and sash,” said Tosha.  “It is about being a role model to both children and adults, presenting the best version of yourself every day, and most importantly, being the best possible representative for Nebraska.  It’s waking up every day with a smile, being prepared for anything the day may bring.  And it’s about utilizing the moments that you can touch someone’s life, with a smile or conversation.  This is the year I am prepared for.”

CHRISTIANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo courtesy Christiansen Photography

***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram and via her blog: Perfectly, Imperfect.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TOSHA?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Cap And (Evening) Gown

CLICK HERE * 2014 * A Spoonful Of Sugar

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali!

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2016 Brooklyn Stack!

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!

All The World’s A Stage

I am currently experiencing a CRAZY sense of deja vu..

This week, I’m back on stage at Papillion-La Vista High School for the first time in 17 years, as a special guest in Monarch Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical.

Cdr6zevUIAAfLwm

The choir room in this picture.. the theater filled with maroon seats.. the green room where the cast gets ready each night.. it’s all SACRED GROUND to me.  It was my home away from home while I was in high school, where I took part in plays and performances, formed my dearest friendships, and created art that I was so very proud to showcase to our community.  There was something intoxicating about theater to me.. the thrill of seeing your name on a casting sheet, the adrenaline rush when the curtain goes up, the sheer GLEE of hearing the audience applaud at the end.

Many of my fellow ‘drama nerds’ channeled that love into our current careers: my friend Joe Rohacik now teaches at PLHS, where he is also the PA announcer for the entire district.  My friend David Wenzel is now a motivational speaker booked around the country for events (CLICK HERE to read his incredible story!)  My ‘green room’ is now the KETV newsroom, and my stage is 7 Burlington Station.

For others.. performing is simply what they were destined to do.  My fellow classmates Audrey Billings and Leanne Hill-Carlson are now professional actresses in Chicago and here in Omaha.  Monarch alumni Merle Dandridge and Abbie Cobb are now on national TV, starring in shows ranging from HBO to ABC.

Tyler Rambali is somewhere in between.. constantly learning new skills to teach future performers, while fine-tuning her own talents and seeking out opportunities to perform.

12832359_478418515692561_6744862319749783981_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I love to sing and act!” Tyler told me recently, and backed that up with an impressive resume of work, including awards with her trio, Major minor 3.

10511188_10202740610372783_6197113504755640072_n

“[We] competed in the Galaxy of Stars competition this last summer and the summer before,” said Tyler (CLICK HERE to link up to Major minor 3’s Facebook page to watch and listen to them sing!).  The group won a slew of honors their first year and the Megastar Award last summer, earning a recording session as their prize.  Tyler walked away with an additional bonus.

“That is where I met Chelsea Arnold (Miss Kool-Aid Days) and her mother, Paige, who first talked to me about competing in the Miss America system,” said Tyler.

12088555_433536043514142_6547427479322324694_n

Tyler was crowned Miss Chadron last fall, opening up the doors for more performance opportunities across the state… not that she needs them.  She’s starred in Annie Get Your Gun, Nunsense, Lettice and Lovageas, Defying Gravity, and currently, she’s the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

Tyler takes on these roles in addition to classes at McCook Community College where she is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Phi Beta Lambda, the National Association for Music Educators and Not Your Average Theatre Group.  Now as Miss Chadron, she’s also making appearances and often, trying to promote change with her personal platform ‘Reach Out and Read’.

  “Reading has become one of the least important things to my generation,” said Tyler.  “Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization of medical providers who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by integrating children’s books and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud [during] well-child visits.  I am trying to expand on this by connecting it to Children’s Miracle Network: reading to the children there, giving them books and teaching them the importance as well.  I also want to start a Reach Out and Read site in my hometown of McCook!”

It’s the part of pageants that doesn’t end up on reality TV, the service and networking opportunities that open up for these titleholders.  THAT is part of what Tyler, a pageant newcomer, hopes to show with her new title.

12507613_458372867697126_7538336578204517203_n

Tyler painted this to symbolize her new adventure competing for Miss Nebraska.

“I wanted to try something new, and on top of that, I had a chance to make my voice heard, make a difference, and be apart of something really special,” said Tyler.  “Miss America celebrates women and empowers them and their abilities and accomplishments.  It’s purpose is to serve others, show your personal style and what you can bring to the table, provide scholarships, and help you to be successful, and that is what it has done for me!”

12310587_10205308430286676_5603783307536721988_n

Tyler also stresses the friendships she’s already made, adding to circle of loved ones she describes as the most important in her life.

“I have a huge family (over 20 first cousins on one side!),” said Tyler.  “Both of my parents served in the US Army (Dad for 20 and Mom for 7) and my brother leaves for basic training in the Navy in May, but I am so proud of him and his endeavors to be a Navy Air Rescue swimmer.  My faith in God is the BIGGEST thing in my life, and it is the only way I will be able to let my brother go off to the military.”

12079446_10205065023681663_546934502975760452_n

Tyler adds that her mother is also one of her role models, teaching her at home from Kindergarten through her senior year.. a tie Tyler compares to ANOTHER of her role models, Miss Nebraska and then Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan.

“She has so much in common with me,” said Tyler.  “She loves to sing and act and she was home schooled.  It gives me encouragement and I know that I can do anything I can set my mind to.”

For anyone at a Nebraska high school right now, dreaming of someday being on a big time stage or on that screen in front of millions.. just LOOK at the incredible talent coming out of our state.  Omaha native Gabrielle Union.  North Bend native Marg Helgenberger.  Norfolk native Johnny Carson.

Tyler Rambali not only wants to follow their lead, she wants to be CAST as the lead in this incredible production called ‘life’.. and she’s ready to call Act I: ‘Becoming Miss Nebraska.’

“I feel that I am an extremely diverse person who can relate to so many people because I have so many different backgrounds: I am biracial, military, city girl, country girl, stage-fright-girl-turned-performer, and so much more!” said Tyler.  “I have been placed where I am, in the position I am for a reason, and I will do my very best to not squander the opportunities that God has given me to be a light for HIM.”

11223689_10204274986051216_8003804126834410799_n

Photo courtesy Chris Swasta

***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali on FACEBOOK

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant, visit their FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Directors Caitlin Rodiek and Sara Smith by email at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com.  You can also contact Caitlin Rodiek by phone at 308-207-0336.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Courtney Pelland!

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner!

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!

Cover Girl

Maybe you’ve seen her on TV.  Maybe you’ve seen her face while checking out at the grocery store.  Maybe you saw her story here on KETV.

ashley-graham-600x800

Photo courtesy People Magazine

Lincoln native Ashley Graham made history earlier this month, named as Sports Illustrated’s first size 16 model on the cover of the annual swimsuit edition.

CLICK HERE to see the cover, and read KETV’s story about Graham!

I LOVE this story.  Ashley is simply jaw dropping STUNNING, and this cover is absolutely beautiful.  I believe God made us in all shapes and sizes, and as long as you are healthy and happy, rock on!!  In addition, Ashley is NEBRASKA; she grew up here, went to high school here, still has family here.  She was ‘discovered’ by an Omaha photographer while shopping at Omaha’s Oakview Mall.  She’s also appeared in Vogue, Elle, on The Ellen Show, and has modeled for Jennifer Lopez.  It always excites me to see OUR people make it REALLY big in their chosen fields.. it proves to anyone else dreaming big that YES, it can happen to you, too!

I’m not sure if runways in New York or photo shoots in Belize are on THIS young woman’s radar..

12733408_1548973515431023_2420124239632333821_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

..but if they are, Savannah Rave is on the right path.  The 19-year old is the current Miss Douglas County 2016, and she’s been modeling for years, appearing everywhere from the cover of Omaha magazine to national TV.

Untitled-11-960x640

Photo courtesy Bill Sitzmann for Omaha Magazine; CLICK HERE to read the article!

You may notice Savannah’s props in this cover shoot.. the Miss Nebraska Teen USA sash and crown she won in 2014.

“I fell in love with everything the pageant world has to offer during my reign,” Savannah told me recently.  “I got involved with Miss Nebraska because I value that it is  a scholarship pageant that shines a light on education of women and their ability to do so much good with their title.  I am excited to be involved with Miss Nebraska because I enjoy the opportunity of being able to have my voice heard at not only a state level, but also a national level.”

It’s not uncommon for young women to compete in both the Miss America and Miss USA organizations (CLICK HERE to read more about the differences between both, from the current Miss Nebraska USA Sarah Hollins)..especially for young women like Savannah who also love to perform.

“I sing,” said Savannah, who held starring roles while attending Elkhorn South High School.  “For the Miss Nebraska Pageant I will be performing a musical theatre vocal.”

Want a preview?  Click here to watch and listen to Savannah singing, a link she provided on the Miss Douglas County 2016 Facebook page!

Still, Savannah’s favorite part of the competition is the phase that spans both systems, Interview.

“I enjoy getting the chance to be face to face with the judges and informing them on my beliefs and ambitions,” said Savannah.  One of those priorities is her personal platform as Miss Douglas County, ‘Spread The Word To End The Word.’

6880_1522333544761687_6731391599313723333_n

“My platform focuses on stopping the derogatory use of the R-word and creating a more respectful environment for people of all abilities,” said Savannah.  “I chose my platform because of a connection I made with a young boy with down syndrome during my high school years.  I believe it is important for people to be politically correct in the terms that they use each day.  I believe in inclusion and in all abilities and want to spread the word in order to create a chain reaction in which people all over begin to monitor what they say, pledge to end the word, and become allies for those with intellectual and physical disabilities.”

12717211_1546197805708594_922947894005985334_n

Savannah on Facebook: ‘I spent my evening at Night to Shine which is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and was hosted at Harvest Church in Norfolk, Nebraska! I had a blast with my prom buddy, Debbi, and we danced the night away. I admire the goal of this foundation and event and its ability to bring people together in such an uplifting way.’

  Savannah is also a passionate advocate for kids, volunteering with the Children’s Miracle Network (partner of the Miss America Organization), Nebraska Students for Young Children, the UNL Children’s Center and the Friendship Home.  She’s majoring in Inclusive Early-Childhood Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she’s VP Recruitment Chair of Alpha Chi Omega.

Savannah on Facebook: ‘I am feeling so blessed to be a part of two amazing organizations. This morning I visited the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha which is a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, and delivered handmade valentines that I put together with some of my compassionate Alpha Chi Omega Xi Chapter sisters! ‘

But above all of these connections and friends is Savannah’s commitment to her family and faith.  She’s the youngest of seven children and says her mom, Brenda Rave, is her role model.

12662428_1539920779669630_5700889274187962544_n

“I admire my mother’s selflessness and willingness to do anything and everything for her children,” said Savannah.  “My mother is a breast cancer survivor and a true definition of a fighter and a woman of faith.  I look up to my mother for so many reasons: her strength, her independence, loving heart, wild side, and her incredible cooking.”

THIS is what keeps Savannah grounded through magazine covers and photo shoots and crowning moments, and the message she wants to relay to you as to why she’d be a great Miss Nebraska.

“I know I don’t need this title to make a difference or to be content with my life, because I already do, and I already am,” said Savannah.  “To me, the title of Miss Nebraska is more than a crown and sash, it is a job.  I should be Miss Nebraska because I am ready for the responsibility, ready to make a difference, and I am prepared for a busy year filled with appearances, community service and lots of amazing memories.”

ellie

Design courtesy Ellie Illustrations

Countless local girls may now be looking at model Ashley Graham, hoping and dreaming because if a Nebraska native can hit it big, maybe they can, too! HECK YES, THEY CAN!  And Miss Douglas County Savannah Rave hopes she and the other models, ROLE models she competes with, will inspire just as many future cover girls.

“The women in the Miss America system are educated, goal-oriented and ambitious,” said Savannah.  “Each woman stands for something she believes in and is not afraid to have her voice heard, which is something that should be respected.  The women in these pageants are role models I would want my daughter to look up to someday.”

savannah

Photo courtesy Katie Meeks

***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Douglas County 2016 Savannah Rave

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SAVANNAH?

CLICK HERE * Miss Nebraska Teen USA 2014

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net or by phone at 402-330-8033.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Grace Heggem!

NEXT.. Miss Alliance 2016 Kate Lynne Duncan!

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!

This Just Into The Newsplex..

Someday, I want to write a book.  Maybe I’d be the only person to ever read it.. but I love to write, and I’d love to record my memories of working in TV news before all of the hairspray finally permeates my skull. (Let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time.). This May marks my 15th anniversary working in journalism, all of it at KETV.  In May of 2001 I began my first news internship at 2665 Douglas, hired by legendary assignment editor Joe Kasmir.  In so many of my memories, there are a few consistent names and faces.  My mentor Joe, who passed away suddenly years ago.  My ‘TV husband’ Rob, a journalist I revered growing up in Papillion, who became a friend I respect even more today. And a guy behind the camera, who has spent decades of his life devoted to our craft and to our story here at KETV.  His name is Scott Buer.

859488_4525946755901_459715344_o

Photo courtesy Kent Sievers, renowned photographer with the Omaha World Herald

You may not recognize Scott, but if you’ve watched KETV AT ALL since the 1980’s, you’ve seen his work.  He is also our chief photojournalist, hiring and working with our team of photographers to shoot and edit the stories you see every night.  Scott turned 60 this week.. and when I tried to pinpoint one memory of this guy to share a birthday wish on Facebook.. I just couldn’t narrow it down.  Here’s just a sample of why.

***

May, 2004.  Scott and I were assigned to follow up on a terribly tragic story; two teenagers had died in a car accident in Elkhorn, Kayla Wilkins and Nick Alfrey.  When we walked into that house, I was overwhelmed at the grief this family was facing; Kayla was only 15 years old, she was the youngest child.  Her big brother bravely accepted the ‘speaking role’ for his family and sat down with us to share his memories of his baby sister.  12 years later, I can still picture him describing sitting at his sister’s side in the hospital, knowing her time was short.  He started singing to her ‘You Are My Sunshine’, a song she had copied from him when he was learning to play piano as a kid.  He told us that as he sang the words to his sister in the hospital, her heart rate suddenly started increasing on the monitors.. and then it stopped.  Kayla was gone.

Kayla Wilkins

Kayla Lynne Wilkins * August 31, 1988 – May 5, 2004

As a journalist, you’re supposed to be a brick wall, right?  You’re supposed to be immune to emotion.  I couldn’t hold back the tears.. but in that moment, Scott, my seasoned partner for the day, spoke out.  He said, ‘let’s just take a second.’  We turned the camera off.  We just sat in silence, and we cried.

When we finished our interview, Scott and I hadn’t made it more than a few blocks down the street.  He pulled over, turned off the car and said again, ‘let’s just take a break for a minute.’

To this day, that was one of the hardest stories I’ve ever covered at KETV, magnified years later when one of our own, photojournalist Jeff Frolio, died at that very intersection covering a story.  His cross went up alongside Kayla and Nick’s crosses; the Wilkins family attended Jeff’s services.  We met yet again years after that, when their eldest daughter, Amber, suffered a traumatic brain injury in another terrible car accident.  Amber later told KETV’s Hannah Pickett that she remembers her sister, Kayla, with her in the medical helicopter after the crash.. kissing her nose and telling her to fight.

CLICK HERE to watch Amber Wilkins’ miraculous story on KETV.

***

Another crash.. this time around, I don’t have a date for you, but I do remember the day.  It was bright outside.. and Scott and I were again working together, this time at the scene of the accident.  Law enforcement had shut down the road.. a mangled car with the side completely crushed in was a few yards in front of us.  I heard it before I saw it.. the whir of helicopter blades as the medical chopper drew closer.  I looked up and watched it approach… but before it landed, even before it hovered over our heads, the pilot turned around.  I didn’t understand what was going on.. where were they going??

I looked at the car, and the paramedics on scene pulled a sheet up over what was left of the vehicle.  Scott explained to me it was too late.  As I stood there, speechless, Scott handed me a rosary.  He told me that he kept it with him all the time.

I’m not as devout a Christian as I sometimes wish I was.. but I remember asking my mom for a rosary for Christmas soon after that.  I carry it in my purse now.. and on really tough days, like anchoring our coverage of Officer Kerrie Orozco’s funeral.. that little piece of jewelry gives me a little comfort.

***

This date, I will never forget.  December 5, 2007.

I was in VERY early that day to cover President George W. Bush’s visit to Omaha.  It was a long and COLD morning, and I was pretty pumped to be back in the Newsplex by 1pm with two stories shot.  I had a full four hours to piece together our story in house (which is an ETERNITY in local news.)  I was sitting at my desk when the scanners went off.. and the first thing I remember hearing is ‘man down at the bottom of the escalator.’

I’ve referenced a few of my memories before.. News Director Rose Ann Shannon shouting ‘we’ve got to put everything we’ve got on this!’  Somehow, she just knew something unprecedented was happening.

I don’t remember if we were told, or if we just moved, but Scott and I ran, together, out the back door to his news unit.  I remember him ‘shushing’ me as he pushed buttons on his car scanner, trying to find the radio dispatch channel for the first responders.  We were locked in traffic on West Dodge, going up the hill near 90th.. and a police cruiser passed us at full speed ON the median to our left. Driving ON the median.

Scott parked at the hotel southeast of Westroads Mall.. it overlooked the south entrance to Von Maur without us getting too close and interfering with first responders.  The police helicopter.. it was so damn low.. so close to the roof, just circling.  Police officers and deputies were moving close to the building, protective shields up, inching closer and closer to the doors.. I had an eerie flashback to a story I had done just months before with the La Vista Police Department, watching as their officers practiced active shooter training.  This was no practice.. and as one of our reporters interviewed a shopper who’d run out of the mall, I remember shuddering as I realized, ‘this is happening TO US.  This is really happening.’

220px-VonMaurOmaha

CLICK HERE to watch Kristyna Engdahl’s story on the 8-year anniversary of the Von Maur Shootings.. including an interview with the first inside that day.. Lt. Rob Jones

I had breaks, moments to sit in the truck and listen to what was happening.  Scott never did.  He stood behind his camera and captured every moment all afternoon and into the night.  We didn’t know who would come out, if they’d come out.  We weren’t sure how many had died inside.

The Omaha Police Chief was out of town, so the lead public information officer, Sgt. Teresa Negron, was our source for details.  I’d worked with the Sergeant every morning for a few years, going to headquarters to check police reports.  She is a TOUGH WOMAN; she later went on to the Omaha Police homicide unit and the cold case unit.  That day, her voice shook as she gave the first official statements on what happened inside Von Maur.  Nine people were dead, including the shooter.  Several more were hurt and taken to area hospitals, two of them near death.

Still up in that hotel parking lot, Scott, engineer Josh Rishling and I were all huddled around the monitor in our live truck listening.  I put my hand on Josh’s arm, stunned at what we were hearing.  We then looked at each other as police announced the hotel we were just feet from would become the gathering place for any family members who were looking for information.

As the sun set on that cold, gloomy December day, numerous police units began driving up into that parking lot.. soon followed by vehicle after vehicle, filled with people hoping for answers.  I remember one woman with glasses behind the wheel of mini-van, clutching her steering wheel in one hand, the fingers of her other hand gripping a cell phone pressed to her ear.  As we went live, reporting what we were seeing, Scott said to me, ‘Brandi, the Christmas lights just turned on.’

The white string of bulbs around the Von Maur building glowed that night just as they did every other evening during the holiday season.  It was such a stark contrast to the parking lot.. empty and silent.  They were supposed to symbolize joy and peace.. yet inside was pure horror.  I think it reminded both Scott and I that that mall, that building was jam-packed with people, shopping for their loved ones.. and that some of those families would never see their mothers, fathers, children, and friends again.

So many heavy images, feelings and sounds from that day and the days that followed.. but I also think of a moment that still makes me smile.  Other than hot dogs and water from the Red Cross, Scott and I hadn’t had much to eat or drink that day.  KETV sports anchor Matt Schick (now with ESPN) called me around 10:30-11 asking if he could bring us anything.  I asked for chicken nuggets.. and when I leaned over to Scott and asked him, he grabbed my cell phone and VERY urgently said, ‘I NEED CIGARETTES!’  I laughed.. certainly for the first time that day, and one of the last times for the next several days.

***

I’m breaking what I consider a huge journalistic rule by writing this post..and that is that WE are not the story.  WE are not the stars of the show. We are simply the narrators, the story tellers, the recorders of our city and state’s history.  Still, as a student of history, I wonder if maybe one of you reading this will connect with these same memories and think back to where you were when you heard about each of these moments. Selfishly, I hope my sons someday pick up ‘Mom’s book’ just to see what their momma did for her job.

I hope this post does one more thing… to tell Scott Buer THANKS.  For teaching me it’s OK to cry as a journalist; it doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means you’re human.  For showing me it helps to seek out what gives you strength, and that as different as we all are from one another, there are bigger things that connect all of us to each other. And finally, for being a damn good partner in the field on some of the toughest days we’ve ever faced as journalists.  YOUR stories of covering nearly 40 years of news always refuel my fire to constantly strive to be a better journalist.

10451163_850821451623005_4501804677599280034_n

Happy Birthday, my friend.  Here’s to many more days of storytelling together.

***

For Kayla Wilkins, Nick Alfrey, Jeff Frolio, Joe Kasmir, Gary Scharf, Beverly Flynn, Angie Schuster, Dianne Trent, John McDonald, Gary Joy, Janet Jorgensen, and Maggie Webb.. may they rest in peace.  And for the Wilkins family, Fred Wilson, and Micky Oldham, your strength continues to inspire me.

Building A Legacy

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”

I LOVE this quote.  I first heard it from the movie The Sandlot (which is a MUST SEE if you haven’t..) and I’ve always held onto it, even naming my fledgling college video production company ‘Legend Productions’.  To me, it always meant to push harder, to do a little more, to build a legacy that will be extend long past your physical life.

This weekend on KETV Chronicle, our Rob McCartney interviewed coach, Congressman, athletic director and mentor Dr. Tom Osborne.  He is a Hall of Fame college football coach, one of the most respected in the history of the game.  He won his congressional district with an astounding 83-percent of the vote.  He stepped in to the Nebraska Athletics’ office at a time of fan unrest and turmoil and ‘righted the ship’ according to many sports experts.

Tom_Osborne_US_Congress_portrait

But when Rob asked  ‘T.O.’ how he would define a successful life, Osborne said he hoped to be defined by the relationships created through the Teammates mentoring program he founded, not just by what was accomplished on the football field.

” That ripple effect on down through history is your legacy,” Osborne told Rob. “Trophies tarnish, rings get thrown in the trash can and records, if you think about it, who was a great coach 90-years ago?  You hear a few names but you don’t remember those guys anymore, and that’ll be the same thing with me and other people.  But that ripple effect, the influence you had on people, that will continue on down through many generations.”

CLICK HERE to watch Rob McCartney’s exclusive interview with Dr. Tom Osborne on KETV Chronicle.

Rob has interviewed Osborne numerous times throughout the years, developing mutual respect and friendship through that relationship, and this answer stood out for Rob and many of us who watched Chronicle.  Of everything Dr. Tom Osborne has accomplished, MENTORING is one of the things he’s proudest of.

She may separated by distance, time and experience from Osborne.. but that desire to make an impact on people is mutual for 16-year old Grace Heggem.

12745491_1700466160171798_702244740928820399_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Spending time with a child even just once a week and getting to know them can really inspire them to set and achieve goals of their own,” Grace told me recently.  She’s promoting mentoring across Scottsbluff as Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, after an experience with a classmate two years ago.

“One of the girls in my class had confessed to us that she had been depressed lately and the previous weekend had suicidal thoughts,” said Grace.  “She said that that week I had come up and talked to her and that simple act had made her feel like someone cared and was one of the reasons she was still here.  I immediately broke down and later realized the impact simple acts can have.  Sometimes all people need is to know that someone cares.”

And it was a mentor who led Grace to the path she is currently on to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Her childhood babysitter was Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, who encouraged her to try a pageant when Grace was 13.

12714120_1700061706878910_1206783710_n

“I loved it!” said Grace.  “The entire process is a great confidence booster and the interview/people skills can really be beneficial in the future.  These pageants bring about personal development.  I have seen for myself the positive changes they bring about for young women.  I’ts not always about the end result, it’s about who you become in the process.”

 Grace is quick to note she’s not just a ‘pageant queen’.  She is president of the sophomore class at Scottsbluff High School, vice president of Key Club (focusing on community service), a member of National Honor Society, she plays varsity volleyball, she’s involved in her school’s upcoming musical, she’s a dancer and she plays piano.

Grace credits her work ethic, the ‘5am-6pm way of life’ as she calls it, to her parents, a quality she says would make her a great state representative.

“I am diverse and involved in a wide variety of activities which makes me personable and able to reach a greater amount of people in my state,” said Grace.  “My grandpa is a rancher so I understand and can definitely appreciate that major element of what makes Nebraska.  As my dad is the owner of a construction business, I understand the value of hard work.”

That family unit is also Grace’s top priority.

“My mom is my number one supporter no matter what, my best friend, and the person I laugh with the most,” said Grace.  “My dad has always supported me in everything I did and always encourages me.  My brothers are my best buds whether we’re watching football, laughing, or even arguing.  Growing up with three brothers, I never played with barbies or dolls because we were too busy playing with Nerf guns or wrestling. (I totally won by the way.)”

Neither pageants nor any other outside influence is likely to change those core values for Grace, who notes her biggest role model is Duck Dynasty star and devout Christian Sadie Robertson.

“I really respect her because she’s in a business where her values aren’t necessarily prevalent but she still stays true to them,” said Grace.  “She is different but she embraces it and by doing this inspires others to not be afraid to be themselves either.  That is something I definitely admire and try to do myself.”

12735819_1700061853545562_938849099_n

And whether Grace Heggem is signing autographs or volunteering for the Children’s Miracle Network, she hopes to inspire her fellow pageant contestants (the girls she now calls her friends), to join her in the mission SHE embraces.

12736395_1700061556878925_314208444_n

“If I were to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen I would like to create a mentoring program using our Nebraska titleholders!” said Grace.  “Pageant queens absolutely have the potential to be mentors in their communities.  It’s crazy to me how a little girl’s eyes light up when they see and talk to a ‘princess’ with a crown on her head.’

And while Grace Heggem has a lot to be proud of.. being featured in her local paper, playing piano for crowds of hundreds, being elected a leader by her fellow students and peers.. that impact through mentoring is the legacy she wants to leave behind.

12713967_1700061870212227_1401310349_n

Tom Osborne’s players have gone on to do amazing things (CLICK HERE to read a few in my Throwback Thursday Husker series!).  Those young men, and the people Osborne mentored have passed on those life lessons to their children, and kids THEY’VE mentored.  If the little girl smiling above with Grace goes on to mentor someone, and SHE goes on to mentor someone, that cycle of positive influence will continue long beyond what two people remember; it becomes a legacy.  That is Grace Heggem’s goal on her way to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.. the sparkly crown is just a bonus.

***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Grace Heggem

on FACEBOOK, and on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GRACE?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Amazing Grace

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kyla Ansley at 308-631-0938 or by email at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.  You can also email thirtyone.hayes@yahoo.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.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2016 Chelsea Arnold!

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2016 Savannah Rave!

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!

Special Feature: Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins

THIS.

images

First, can I get a ‘heck ya!’ for my fellow Shania Twain fans out there?!?!

A few weeks ago, I heard ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’ on the radio, and I proceeded to have a full-out car concert on my drive in to work.  It’s probably been years since I heard it, and I still remember ever word, I still sing it with sass and attitude, I still LOVE it.

Maybe it’s one of the reasons I love Miss Nebraska week so much.. for a few blissful days in June, I’m surrounded by smart, funny, talented, powerful, BEAUTIFUL women.  We get glammed up, we laugh, we hug and take pictures, we enjoy the show and that history-making final moment.  Man, we feel like women!

THIS moment got me even more jazzed up for Miss Nebraska week..

12492043_10206787217936783_7926228851482681977_o

.. the crowning of Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins just a few weeks ago.

“Since winning Miss Nebraska Teen USA 2009, becoming Miss Nebraska has been the real dream.  I have thought about it at least once a day since taking off my crown,” Sarah told me recently.  “I stood on that stage as a Top 5 finalist but walked away without the crown twice.  It was rough.  I worked to the bone this year to become the person I knew I needed to be to win in what is now a very competitive state!  I was the lucky girl that walked away with the title.”

For pageant newbies reading this.. yes, there is a difference between Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska USA.  All of the local titleholders I’ve been profiling throughout this series go on to compete for Miss Nebraska to qualify for the Miss America Pageant; Sarah will compete for the title of Miss USA .

Laurel Austin

Photo courtesy Laurel Austin Photography

“Both are the best of the best when it comes to pageantry,” explained Sarah.  “I would say both America and USA systems are working for the same bottom line, creating leaders.  The Miss America Organization puts more of an emphasis on academics and a talent portion.  This is not to say that the Miss USA contestants aren’t some of the most talented and brilliant women I’ve met.  The USA system concentrates on modelling and being a brand ambassador.  We are like-minded organizations creating and cultivating strong women who are future doctors, political leaders, teachers and so much more.”

Sarah is an Omaha native and Burke High School graduate.  She also attended Creighton University and the New York Film Academy before earning her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism (though she is quick to note: ” I never switched to the dark side.. GO BIG RED.”)

In addition to preparing for the Miss USA Pageant, Sarah will spend her year advocating for fitness and self-worth, a cause she is passionate about, drawing from her own personal experiences.

12418004_10206798586620993_3596021857513135702_n

Sarah posted this photo to Facebook the day after she was crowned Miss Nebraska USA.  “Lights out, back in the gym! I didn’t bring home a title belt.. but I did bring home a shiny crown and banner!!”

“I am working with organizations like FitGirls Inc to spread a message of self love to our young generations,” said Sarah.  “7 out of 10 girls are not satisfied with their bodies and would change something about themselves.  I used to be one of these girls.”

UMMM, WHAT?!?! I see these pictures of Sarah, on stage and in the gym, and have a hard time believing this woman could EVER find a flaw in her body!  So what’s her secret!?! How did she reach this point, and more importantly, how did she find confidence in herself?  Sarah’s answers are also the same response she would give to anyone who criticizes the swimsuit portion of both the Miss USA and Miss America competition.

“To be as candid as possible, I have gone through periods of hating my body.  Because of pageantry, I grew a love for fitness and pushing myself to my physical limits.  It’s changed my life,” said Sarah (describing these photos as ‘strong is the new skinny’).  “There is something about a woman confident enough to put on a swimsuit and say ‘look at the work I’ve done,’ that is incredibly powerful.  To feel strong is to feel beautiful and to feel beautiful comes with great power.  The motivation and drive I cultivated in the gym transcends all areas of my life.  Life really is mind over matter and anything is possible.”

1534296_10206751202356416_5221065855938533653_n

No matter what she wears, Sarah is preparing to step into the national spotlight.. again.  Many in the pageant world may recognize Sarah’s name and face from the reality television series Obsessed With The Dress, centered on Omaha’s Winning Crown Boutique.

“So many people take what they see on television and think they know exactly who you are,” said Sarah.  “You can’t control how editing works and let’s face it, none of us would watch reality television without a little spice.  Were there moments I watched myself and cringed? OH YES.  But I was so proud to be a part of something so big for our city, a reality show based in Omaha and about pageants, two things I love.  I thought it would give me and the cast an opportunity to show people how progressive and wonderful Nebraska is and shatter the many stereotypes about pageantry.  I hope those who may not have liked a comment I made or something I did will let go of whatever they saw and get a chance to really know me.”

12508954_10206765845922496_4330913913152627683_n

Who is Sarah Hollins?  She is a fierce competitor who spent much of her first social media post as Miss Nebraska USA thanking her fellow contestants, including 2nd Runner Up Sarah Summers, also a former Miss Nebraska Teen USA. “She is the definition of graceful.  She is godly, beautiful, and I have no doubt in my mind she will be Miss USA someday.”

12736254_10207556413402039_1322702503_n

Photo courtesy Deyo’s Photography

 She is a businesswoman, landing a gig hosting a soon-to-be-released game show, while securing numerous corporate sponsors during her reign as Miss Nebraska USA.. including her now former ‘boss’ at the Winning Crown, Michele Strom.

“They are an absolute stand up business and I wouldn’t be here without their coaching, impeccable taste in design and selfless persistence,” said Sarah.  “My mentor and friend Michele always tells me ‘you ARE Miss USA until someone tells you otherwise.'”

She is a volunteer, just as eager to cook tacos at the Ronald McDonald House as she is to model thousand dollar gowns.  And she is a confident woman, proudly posting selfies without makeup to show her 4:30am wakeup calls, the non-stop travel without stops or sleep, and sweaty gym sessions she’s putting on her calendar to represent our state.

12715780_1121990287834700_250660225127811899_n

From an airport bathroom in Chicago.. “You have to always remember to be thankful and grateful for what you have while working for what you want.”

Sarah Hollins wants to be YOUR Miss Nebraska USA, because man, she feels like a woman and is darn proud to show EVERYTHING that represents.

“I can’t take this wonderful gift lightly.  I am so proud of our state and the people,” said Sarah.  “I want to connect with them, tell my story, and encourage people to never give up on themselves.  If you have something going on, an event, a cause you care so much about, a dream, or just need an ear, I want to hear it!  I am here to serve the state and that’s what I hope to do.  But most importantly, if you learn anything from me it should be NEVER give up on yourself.  You could be so close to your dreams.”

12717423_10206963415621615_5195119092293765220_n

Photo courtesy Deyo’s Photography

***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Nebraska USA Sarah Hollins

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich!

NEXT.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2016 Chelsea Arnold!

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!

That’s What Friends Are For

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to take a different approach with what I share on Facebook.  I still try to tell our viewers what they should tune in for that night at 10.. and share links to the developing story online that could impact them.. but more and more, I’m trying to share things that just MAKE ME SMILE.  Memes that make me laugh, links that have me giggling at my desk, and photos that warm my heart.  Hopefully they make someone else’s day a little brighter, too.

A few weeks ago, I shared this beauty.

12594041_10153480646648937_40123130404795406_o

Photo courtesy Sherri Harnisch – Picture Taker

This is Macy.  I used to work with her momma, who is also the incredible photographer who styled and shot this photo.  Macy is sassy, smart, talented and SWEET.. she is also one of the national representatives for down syndrome awareness and support, featured on billboards in Times Square, and a frequent visitor to Washington DC for new legislation.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to watch Alex Hoffman’s story on KETV with Sherri Harnisch, about her family’s work to pass the ABLE Act.

Macy is showing the world that people with special needs bring love, joy, laughter and so many other things into the world and into our lives.  They deserve our respect, our time and OUR love.

It’s a message Ashly Helfrich has known and advocated for since she was younger than Macy.

12729290_1007570629310470_740763438161541639_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Ashly, a junior at Millard West High School in Omaha, is also Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016.  She’ll compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this June.  The program is a preliminary competition to the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, described by many as the ‘little sister’ pageant to the Miss America Organization.  Just like their ‘miss’ sisters, these teenagers spend a year promoting a cause they are passionate about; Ashly calls hers ‘The Positive Power of Inclusion.’

“Two of my cousins have down syndrome, so I have witnessed how inclusion has affected them while growing up,” Ashly told me recently.  “[My platform] is focusing on creating inclusive environments in both schools and the community for people of all ability levels.”

Ashly is a student leader for Millard West’s West Friends club, an organization that twice a month brings together students with and without disabilities.

“I love spending my time with these kids, as they are some of the most genuinely kind people I know,” said Ashly.  “They almost always have a smile on their face, and they always greet me like they are so happy to see me.  For me, inclusion goes so far beyond just putting students of all ability levels in the same room.  The objective of West Friends is to create long-lasting friendships between these students by making a safe, fun environment for all.”

581918_1675489016026715_4251481701167264466_n

Ashly and West Friends organizers are also creating a model for other programs across the state, as one of the first schools to participate in NSAA-sanctioned unified sports.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH Andrew Ozaki’s story on KETV, featuring Ashly, about this new opportunity for special needs students to compete in sports.

Ashly also knows a little something about competition; she trained in tumbling and competitive gymnastics for 11 years and is currently a Millard West varsity cheerleader.

She’s also copy editor for her school’s yearbook, a member of the National Honor Society, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and Student Ambassador for Millard West.  Ashly has lettered in Academics, Cheerleading and Pole Vault.

WHAT?!? How could this girl squeeze one more activity into her schedule.. and why?!?!

IMG_3244

Ashly answers by noting her role model is former Miss Nebraska local titleholder Chrissy Townsend. (Click here to learn more about Chrissy!)

“My grandparents were Chrissy’s host family during her pageant week in North Platte and for several summers I stayed there with her during that week,” said Ashly.  “She really showed me how cool it was to be on stage, I always enjoyed getting to watch her do her favorite thing.  She truly paved the way for my own pageants because she gave me a great example of how to be happy with whatever the outcome may be.  I always admired the girls in that spotlight; I admired their grace, pose and confidence in front of all of those people, and I knew that someday I wanted to do that myself.”

Despite multiple surgeries on her Achilles tendon, Ashly decided this, her last eligible year to compete, she would try to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She revisited the piano, an instrument she played for years as a little girl, and won a local title last fall.

IMG_2324

“I would tell someone who criticizes pageants that the girls who compete in them are not just focused on their appearance,” said Ashly.  “Pageant girls are driven and compassionate, and they are more than ready to help anyone else out before themselves.  They all have goals set for themselves and they are ready to do all the work that goes into reaching that goal.”

And THEN some, like in Ashly’s case.  Since earning that crown in late October, Ashly has volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army, helped blind and visually impaired shoppers over the holidays, and just this weekend, took a VERY chilly plunge into Cunningham Lake for the Special Olympics.

At work (Omaha’s Vintage Financial Group), Ashly has earned the nickname ‘Miss America’ from firm President and Millard School Board member Pat Ricketts.  Easy to see why with the sheer amount of self-lessness, talent and ambition this young lady has.

HOCKEY

What’s even cooler to me is WHY Ashly wants all of this.. for her cousins, her West friends, and kids she’s never met, like Macy.

“I want to be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I want to spread my message of my platform all around the state.  I am so excited to be part of a team with some of my favorite people,” said Ashly.  “I want to be someone that is a good role model for all teens, and someone who can be trusted with anything.  I am very dedicated to the things that I commit to, and competing in this pageant is another step for me to get closer to reaching my goal of being confident in any situation.”

581900_1674614012780882_5439488243228983855_n

 ***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE,FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Megan Goeke at hello@beautifulbridal.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.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters!

NEXT.. Special Feature, Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins!

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!