Tag Archive | ashley nodgaard

The Sisterhood Is Real

As long as I can remember, I’ve had very vivid dreams. I swear I dreamt of my husband before we met, and I fully admit that I am less than pleasant with him if I have a nightmare about him falling for another woman. I dream about flying quite a bit.. and dreams about falling, especially careening off the Missouri River bridge, FREAK ME OUT.

This week, I had a dream about my pal, Alex Bisson. So random – I haven’t seen Alex since last summer! But that’s how my whackadoodle brain works sometimes.

I dreamt I was supposed to be emceeing a big awards ceremony. Everyone was dressed up.. and I was in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Then, to make matters worse, I was petting dogs at the animal exhibit (because why wouldn’t there be an animal exhibit at a high-profile awards ceremony?) and a goat threw up all over me. WHAT TO DO? I suddenly remembered that across the high school (because that’s suddenly where the event was held) there might have been a spare set of clothes in the KETV wardrobe closet (which also happened to be at said high school). I sprinted there as fast as I could, made it to the closet, and nearly burst into tears when I realized there was NOTHING that would work. I opened the door…. and there stood Alex, saying “I can help!” She magically found me one of her anchoring outfits, helped me change, and I rushed back to the event where I joined Rob and elegantly shared with the audience how I was late because a goat threw up on me. Everyone had a nice laugh and we moved on – the event was a success and no one remembered me being late or looking like a dirty hamper.

WHAT. IN. ALL. THE. HECK.

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I seriously wonder sometimes what is going on in my hairspray infused skull. The next morning though, the overwhelming feeling I woke up with was peace and gratitude for Alex, that she was there for me to help.

Alex and I became friends when she began working at KETV as a reporter, then the First News Anchor. I was asked a question frequently in my time at KETV: do you get along with the other women? I think there was an assumption that we were competitors; we were all vying for air time, the same prime time spots, and therefore, we must have all had secret contempt for each other. SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH.

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This photo was taken in October at Adrian Whitsett’s wedding in Florida. My caption with this on Facebook and Twitter: my heart is happy. The women shown here all worked for KETV at some point (two still do!) We were not competitors; we were teammates. We turned to each other for advice and support. We cheered each other on when we found success. We shared clothes, makeup, hairspray (A LOT of hairspray), and insight. In a way, we were very much sisters, connections that we confirmed were still strong during this wonderful trip. Because we were all facing similar challenges and comparable journeys, we understood one another in ways others could not.

I see the same love and support in another sisterhood: the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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Yes, each of these women wants, or has worked for, the same thing: the title of Miss Nebraska. But the environment surrounding them is not Miss Congeniality brawling, gossip-mongering, or vindictive game-playing. They form friendships that span years. They learn how to support like-minded women, an attribute that will serve them throughout their lives. And when they feel alone, juggling service, school, family and work… they reach out to the sisters who can empathize because they are doing it, too.

#TheSisterhoodIsReal

That phrase has become a universal message in recent weeks, one of the toughest times the Miss America Organization has faced in decades. Our program has been in national headlines, not for the goodwill we inspire, the opportunities we offer or the relationships we nurture, but for an email scandal and ensuing criticism of our organization as a whole.

Every time I see a tweet or post from someone questioning why we have beauty pageants in 2018, or why we parade around young women in swimsuits like a meat market… I fight the urge to reply. I want to write about the scholarships we offer thousands of young women every year. I want to write about the networking opportunities this program provides, the lessons in confidence, public speaking and presence, personal composure and more. I want to share my own experiences that only happened because I was once a Miss Nebraska local titleholder. I want to tell those critics about our success stories: the doctors, award-winning journalists, philanthropists, business owners, teachers, and more who all gained incomparable life skills and attributes because of this program.

What is wrong with BEAUTY? What is wrong with a woman feeling beautiful, and promoting beauty on the INSIDE as well as out?

I get the swimsuit argument; truly, I do. But I ask critics to look beyond their initial assessment: we live in a world of obesity, indulgence, heart disease, inactivity, high cholesterol… and let’s be frank, when you know you are going to be on stage in a swimsuit, you WORK HARD. You hit the gym, you eat clean, you BECOME HEALTHIER. We are hopefully building the foundation of health in these women that will last years beyond their time competing for a crown. More so, our program is evolving; we see women of varying shapes and sizes from the local to national level. Health is not defined as ‘skinny’; we see muscle, positive lifestyles, CONFIDENCE. In my years attending the Miss Nebraska Pageant, I have left not feeling ashamed for the women who walk that stage, but wanting to BE BETTER myself, and wanting to work to be the healthiest and most confident I can be.

I don’t post any of this when I see those negative remarks…. because HATERS GONNA HATE. There will ALWAYS be negative assumptions and unfounded opinions about our program. They don’t want to listen, and I would argue, many haven’t taken the time to learn more about what Miss Nebraska and the Miss America Organization stand for TODAY.

SERVICE. SUCCESS. SCHOLARSHIP. STYLE.

To those who WILL listen, we will show the world the value of this program through our titleholders’ stories. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to join me over the next few months as I introduce you to the women competing for the titles of Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. They are scholars, public servants, artists. They are ART, they are inspiring, they are ambassadors of goodwill. They are proof of what our organization truly stands for; not objectifying women, but empowering them.

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I’ve written before about all of the positives I gained from being a local titleholder in this program. Cash scholarships. Speaking skills and confidence. Lessons in networking and learning from criticism. Learning how to take care of myself. Getting to sing in front of thousands of people. Traveling across the country. And learning the importance of supporting other women; in pageants, career and life, we are only competing with ourselves, not each other.

Haters, go ahead and hate. #TheSisterhoodIsReal. Miss America is relevant and empowering. This organization, much like my time at KETV, helped instill in me that we as women are better when we support each other and surround ourselves with others who are pushing to be the best versions of themselves.

Alex, my fellow anchor at KETV, is also a Miss America alum. She’s an NCAA record-holder in swimming, a goosebumps-inspiring singer, one hell of a softball player, a majestic woman and a beautiful human being.

We believe in this sisterhood… and in helping a sister out when goats attack. Alex, thanks for the outfit.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter, CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook, CLICK HERE to follow on Instagram.

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COMING UP.. Tristen Wecker, Miss Fur Trade Days 2018

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014 through 2017 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Open Hearts

‘And just like that.. we’re done until documentary time.’

That’s the text I sent to KETV photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard Monday night after watching the final chapter in our 3-part series Operation: Open Hearts.  I gave you a little preview last month of our journey to La Paz, Mexico, where an Omaha medical team travels twice a year to save children’s lives, and to build a future for countless others.

Three beautiful girls, all born with congenital heart defects in a part of the world that offered them little hope.  Three children, now forever connected through the hearts of people giving of their time and talents, at no charge, to give them the chance at life.

Since we returned to Omaha 3 weeks ago, Ashley and I have been working nonstop on these stories, hoping to bring YOU to La Paz to see and hear what we did firsthand.

CLICK HERE to learn WHY Omaha’s Dr. Jim Hammel takes an entire team to La Paz twice a year.

CLICK HERE as the team begins their 7th mission, and meet the tiny patients they hope to save.

CLICK HERE to go inside the OR, and watch Omaha doctors TEACH as they SAVE children.

And CLICK HERE to watch as DOZENS of the children, saved over the years, return to tell their heroes THANK YOU.

We take so many things for granted in life.  In this particular case, that if our children are sick, they will be taken care of.  In larger terms, that you have a baby, take that baby home, and live happily ever after.

An estimated 1% of ALL babies are born with a congenital heart defect.

Alex O’Connor was one of them.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“When I was 5 months old I had a left Anomalous Coronary Artery repair,” Alex told me recently.  “Everyone has three arteries in their heart and one of mine was connected wrong.  Every time my heart would beat, I would have a mini heart attack.”

Alex also has a twin brother; Cam did not have heart problems.  Doctors told the O’Connors that their baby girl had a 50% chance of making it through surgery.

“I have beat all the odds,” said Alex, now a 20-year old college student at the University of Wyoming.  “I have no restrictions, I’m on no medications, I’m just as normal as can be.  My message is to not only raise awareness about congenital heart defects, which is the number one birth defect in America, but to also teach people how to love their scars and to never be ashamed of them.”

Alex, a Keystone, Nebraska native, found a way to amplify her message.

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She was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days 2016, allowing her the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.  This will be Alex’s second trip to North Platte, first competing as Miss Northwest in 2014.

“This program has made me grow in a lot of different ways,” said Alex.  “It has allowed me to be the best version of myself that I can be.”

Alex O’Connor is a young woman who loves dancing and dogs, she’s obsessed with flamingos and coffee, and she’s a proud sister who enjoys going to rodeos to watch Cam compete.  She has also taken part in events across western Nebraska, from fairs to fundraisers to classroom visits.

No matter where she’s at, children are the people who always seem to gravitate to Alex, and vice versa.

These are the hearts Alex hopes to connect with, and to inspire with her message.

“My platform is Rock Your Scar: Congenital Heart Defect Awareness,” said Alex.  “Everyone has a scar whether it is physical or emotional and we should never be ashamed of them.  We should actually use them in a way to tell a story.”

Alex hopes to do that in every facet of her Miss Nebraska experience, even dedicating her talent performance to children facing the same battles she did.

courtesy Linda Teahon

Photo courtesy Linda Teahon

“My talent is a lyrical [dance] piece to ‘One Day You Will’ by Lady Antebellum,” said Alex.  “The reason why I chose this song was because being a Congenital Heart Defect survivor I have gone through a lot, and this dance is a tribute to the kids that have gone or are going through what I went through.  My message to them is one day you will make it through and you will realize that you are 1 in 100, and you should be proud to join the zipper club.”

PROOF…

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This is Regina, the second patient Omaha’s team operated on in their latest trip to La Paz.  At 22-months, she had open heart surgery.  Within 24 hours, she was walking, standing, smiling and coloring.

These kids are TOUGH.  They are strong, and so are their families.. along with the passionate doctors, nurses and others who care for them.  Ironically, in a club all about fixing hearts, these people are ALL heart.

Alex O’Connor is ready to share HER heart with our entire state and beyond.

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“Being Miss Nebraska is a privilege.  It’s a job and the right person has to be ready for what the job entails,” said Alex.  “I’m ready to use my talents, my knowledge and my courage to fulfill the job of Miss Nebraska.”

Stay tuned to KETV in June for our special report, Operation: Open Hearts

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Fur Trade Days 2016 Alex O’Connor on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEX?

2014 * Survivor

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.

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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.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Cherokee Purviance!

NEXT..  Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Carsyn Long!

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!

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.’

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“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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.. 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!

Unanswered Prayers

The thing about being a reporter is you never know what’s going to happen that day at work, what you’re going to cover.  On some of the biggest days in my career, I bounced from one story to another, from humorous to devastating, from trivial to unforgettable.  We also get to witness things firsthand that others only see through their TV’s or read about.

Last Thursday, I got to do this..

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Thanks to Mary Nelson from The Morning Blend for snapping the photo!

One on one, KETV photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I interviewed the most successful musician in history, Garth Brooks.  He has sold more albums than any other artist, more than 69-MILLION.  Songs alone, he’s sold more than 150-MILLION.  You’d think all of that success would go to a guy’s head.. not this guy.  He was gracious, genuine, down-to-earth and FUNNY.  He shook not only my hand, but went out of his way to shake every photographer’s hand as well, making sure to thank them for their work.  He truly seems to be completely fulfilled by his life in music, traveling the world with his wife Trisha Yearwood at his side.

Click here to watch my One-On-One interview with Garth Brooks!

Click here to see Garth Brooks’ news conference with Omaha media!

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When I asked Brooks about his advice to aspiring artists, he said PAY YOUR DUES.  The gigs you play for little (or no) pay, the criticism you take that’s just flat out MEAN, the grueling hours you spend devoted to your craft without an end in sight… he said it’s all for good reason, it helps you become BETTER.  Ironically, a few minutes later Brooks teared up a bit when he told me about hearing tens of thousands of fans singing his song, Unanswered Prayers.

It’s a song I’m guessing this young lady has played a time or two at home..

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MISS SCOTTS BLUFF COUNTY 2015 BRITTANY ECKERBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I competed 12 times before I won anything.  The 13th time is when I won Miss Scotts Bluff County,” Brittany told me recently.  “There are so many times when I would get discouraged and want to quit because I didn’t understand why I was never winning, but thankfully I kept going.”

Lucky #13 for a woman who has certainly proven herself worth of her crown.  Brittany, a freshman at York College majoring in Business Management and minoring in Accounting, thought she would only participate in choir when she started college.

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“Once I got on campus I became involved in speech, cheerleading, Theta Psi social club and Songfest.  Next year, I’m going to be a Resident Assistant, Treasurer-in-training and Fashionista of Theta Psi, and I am the Vice President of York’s new chapter of Phi Beta Lambda.”

Advocating for things she believes in is nothing new to Brittany; when York College announced plans last month to cut the school speech team, Brittany joined a vocal group of students pushing for a chance to appeal the decision.   Click here to learn more about #YCFreeSpeech.

Now as Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittany is also volunteering throughout her community.

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From Brittany:  “Spent my #MissAmericaServes day by helping with clean up at the East Hill Clothing Drive! I helped sort through all of the clothes that are going to be donated to different charities in Nebraska! And I also helped load clothes into multiple trailers! Today was a great day to serve! @missneorg #MissScottsBluffCounty2015 #MissNebraska #MissAmerica #clothingdrive “

Brittany says some days, she can barely find time to eat. (Please note I took another bite of my Jimmy Johns as I read this.. Momma ALWAYS finds time to eat!)  And there’s more!  When she does get a break from classes, Brittany spends that time each summer, a full month, at church camp.

“My faith is very important to me,” said Brittany.  “I chose to attend a private Christian school because I wanted to have a Christ-centered education while still being equipped for my future career.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without my faith.”

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Brittany wants you, and the Miss Nebraska judges to know all of this, and it’s why Interview is a favorite moment for this pageant veteran.

“It’s nerve-racking yet fulfilling at the same time,” said Brittany.  “It really makes you be who you really are.  I love the fact that I have no idea what they are going to ask me, whether it be what my favorite move is or what my platform means to me.”

That platform is ‘No One Is Invincible: Underage Drinking Prevention’ a mission inspired by her father’s work as a Scottsbluff police officer.

“Growing up I was taught to never do drugs and alcohol,” said Brittany.  “I knew every, single police officer that my dad worked with and I knew that if I ever got caught, I would immediately have consequences.  I was scared to drink.  I have personally seen how your life can change in an instant because of drinking alcohol as a minor.”

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From Brittany:  “Enjoyed spending a little time today at the YMCA preschool. I got the chance to explain what the Miss America program is and I talked a little bit about citizenship and my platform! Preschoolers are such a joy to be around, and I’m so blessed that I got the opportunity to hang out with all of these kids today. Brings back good memories from when I went to this preschool! #MissNebraska #MissScottsBluffCounty2015 #myjobrocks”

Family continues to inspire and support Brittany as she pursues this new goal of competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.

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“I have an older sister, two younger sisters and a younger brother. I know for a fact that I would never trade my siblings for anything,” said Brittany.  “We are all different from each other which is the best thing to me.  We cover the pageant scene, the sports scene, the computer guru area, and the country music loving scene.”

And speaking of country music, Garth Brooks once wrote:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Perhaps, each of those 12 times Brittany prayed for a crown, to be recognized for her gifts, leadership and service, it wasn’t that no one listened, but that there was a different plan in place.  Maybe #13 was always meant to be her lucky number.  Maybe THIS gift is also a guide, keeping Brittany Eckerberg on the very path she’s now taking in 2015.. the road to Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2015 Brittany Eckerberg

on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

To contact Brittany for appearances and events email bneckerberg@york.edu.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt at 308-783-2940 or by email at cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.