Friday, August 28, 2009

A Life Well Lived

Alice Page, the oldest of six children, was born on a farm three miles north of O'Neill, Nebraska on August 17, 1915. At the age of nine, she and her family moved to the Southwest Missouri town of West Plains where again, her father was engaged in farming. When Alice was twelve years of age, the family returned to O'Neill where she continued her schooling. She graduated  in 1931 at the age of fifteen, the Valedictorian of her class of twenty-two students.

The career options of most women in those days would be a teacher or a secretary. Alice hadn't taken typing, so she "expected to be a teacher." At that time, a high school education was sufficient to teach school---she had completed two years of normal training and had received a third grade teaching certificate. The fall of 1931 found Alice teaching in a rural school in Atkinson, Nebraska. Things did not progress as Alice had hoped---she became ill and after recovering returned to the classroom, but there were 'discipline problems'. She knew she "was not doing a good job of teaching" and "didn't know how to manage a classroom". She wrote a letter of resignation to the school board and on March 1, 1932, she "returned home very discouraged and feeling like a failure."

She resided in the family home until the age of twenty when she was hired as a cook and went to live on a ranch north of O'Neill. "I knew how to cook, and was successful." Twenty years later, she returned to the teaching profession, and taught in various country schools around O'Neill for eighteen years. (She taught my own husband when he was in Kindergarten.)

Alice then began working for what is now North Star Services, assisting handicapped adults. She retired from this profession at the age of sixty-four in 1979. By this time, she and her mother--now a widow--had moved into O'Neill. For the next ten to eleven years, Alice was involved with Women's Aglow, a world wide Christian Women's Organization. In November of 1983, she had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. during an Aglow conference. She was "so excited to go to Washington, D.C." In fact, six months earlier, she had dreamt that she was in the White House, and on this trip, that dream was fulfilled.

Her interests and hobbies are reading, "an avid reader...I read anything worthwhile that I can get my hands on," and the accordion. She acquired her first accordion in 1954, and learned how to play using the instruction booklet that accompanied it. She plays the instrument at her church, the Full Gospel Church of Ewing, Nebraska.

Alice could also be considered a 'globe trotter', as she has visited Russia fourteen times. Alice relates the following with a smile and the comment, "This is an interesting story..." In 1995 while riding to church in Ewing with the Dick Wallace family, Dick asked her, "How would you like to go to Russia?" (Wallace had been traveling to Russia with a group for a couple of years on mission trips to distribute Russian language Bibles.) Alice said, she "kind of took that (question) as an invitation, but afterwards Dick admitted that he was just trying to make conversation." Her answer? "Well, I'm almost 80 years old." She didn't think anymore about it until the next morning when she was reading her Bible. She had just started reading in Exodus about Moses and the Burning Bush. "And as I closed my Bible, I felt distinctly that the Lord said to me, "Moses was 80 years old." "And I began to pray about it, and the more I prayed, the more I knew I was supposed to go to Russia."

Her first trip was that October with the United by the Cross Ministries, headed by Dick Wallace. The first several years the group (consisting of about 5-6 individuals from the O'Neill area) would pick up Bibles in Moscow and take them to the town of Ludinovo, which is 300 miles southwest of Moscow. Their usual route has been to fly to Moscow, take the train to Bryansk, and then Russian friends would pick them up for the final forty mile trek to Ludinovo. The group has always worked in the villages surrounding this town of approximately 41,400 (2005 estimates) citizens. Other than distributing Bibles, they have also handed out medical supplies to hospitals, and gifts to children in orphanages and schools. On Sundays, they would go out in villages with Russian musicians and give their testimonies. On one occasion, when the mission group was holding an outdoor meeting in a park, a group of Russian Orthodox leaders argued with them. The Russian Orthodox community "had co-operated with the government through the Communist years and they felt like they were the only church that had the right to be in Russia."

Currently, there are three villages around Ludinovo that have active church groups. The mission team visits with pastors and churches to encourage them. "In one instance, a pastor was trying to get work started in a village and he arranged for us to have a service in the village. Some man from the village went around to all the houses and warned the people not to attend our service. The result was we had a good crowd." They have been helping a man build a church who had been a pastor in the underground church all through the Communist years. "According to Russian law, they don't recognize a group as a church unless they have a physical address." Through the generosity of givers, a log cabin has been purchased and carpenters were hired to remodel the building. On this recent trip, the progress had been revealed: wide boards were in place for flooring, plastered walls had been painted a glossy white, and there were boards for benches.

The mission group has also seen the fruits of their endeavors... a woman from one of the villages took it upon herself to begin an outreach to the homeless people who lived around a train station in Bryansk. She, along with a few helpers would provide a once weekly meal of soup and bread, do minor medical procedures such as bandaging wounds, and pass out Bibles. They suspect the open sores that many of the people suffer from are the result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident which happened nearby.

I asked Alice if she had any goals or anything she would still like to do: "There's not much left to attempt at this stage in my life...I had my 94th birthday in Russia this year...celebrated with a cake covered with cherries on top and one candle in the middle...appreciated it." Any unfulfilled dreams? "Well, I never got married." "I would have liked to have been married but it didn't work out." Overall, what would you say about your life, are you happy, content? "I gave my heart to the Lord when I was 5 and 1/2 years old. I've always loved the Lord and we've always gone to church...folks never missed church unless somebody was sick or the car wouldn't start. Been a lifetime habit with me."

Alice recently completed a written history of her family, which I have had the privilege to read...I think the final paragraph that Alice penned, beautifully sums up her perspective on life: "Our parents were always faithful in Sunday School and church attendance. Whenever the church doors were open, we were all there. And our parents set an example of Christian living---they paid tithes in the hardest of times; they were scrupulously honest, hospitable, and trusted God in all circumstances. As far as I know, all six of us children have followed their example. May we all, like them, be an example and an influence for God and for the right in this world until the trumpet of God shall sound the resurrection call."

And that is a life of service, a life well-lived.


Monday, August 24, 2009

A Glorious Passion

"God gives us a passion for something...mine's quilting."

Vickie May realized this passion at the age of eight when, along with the help of an Aunt, she taught herself how to sew. And now, this (her quilting business) is "her world".

Keith and Vickie May, high school sweethearts originally from Pierce, Nebraska, have been married since 1975. They have three children; Tracy, Jeff, and Lindsey, and three grandsons. Keith and Vickie moved to O'Neill in 1979 when Keith was transferred to Carhart Lumber Company. Currently, Keith and Vickie are employed at O'Neill Lumber LTD. Vickie, who has a background in bookkeeping and accounting, works alongside her husband at the lumber yard, keeping the books and filling in wherever and whenever needed. She states that Keith is her best friend and best supporter of her interests. They reside on a beautiful acreage north of O'Neill, where they keep their horses and enjoy the freedom and solitude of country living.

Vickie took Home Economics class in high school, and after marriage, sewed for her children, but when she took a quilting class from local resident Alice Torpin, she knew quilting was 'it'. She has been hand quilting for herself since 1983, yet she had a dream to one day have her own machine quilting business. In 2002, she and Keith began attending quilt shows, researching and looking at computerized quilting machines, and inquiring as to what particular features people did and did not like.

In preparation for starting her own business, and to assist in obtaining a business loan, Vickie completed the 'EDGE' (Enhancing, Developing, and Growing Entrepreneurs) course through the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. EDGE is a 'community-based entrepreneurial training program designed to encourage the expansion of small businesses including agricultural operations'. She found the course to be difficult, but realized that the instruction had provided her with the proper educational tools with which to open her own home-based business.

Vickie believes in 'stepping out in faith' as evidenced by many examples in her life, one of which was when she ordered her computerized quilting machine in May of 2006, before her business loan was even approved. But, "God worked it out"... the loan went through, and the machine was delivered and set up on June 15, 2006. She named her business 'Old Glory Quilting Company'----"my way of being reminded everyday of the sacrifices of our men and women in the military that have made it possible for me to pursue my dream." She adds that this business "wouldn't have been possible without the support of my family".

Vickie has named her machine 'J.R.' after Keith's mom, Joan Ruth. Vickie shared that she and Joan enjoyed fabric shopping together and Joan was one of her 'biggest supporters'. Today, a framed photo of Joan rests on a bookshelf, watching over the piecing, sewing, and quilting that transposes in Vickie's tranquil, light-filled studio.

Most of Vickie's customers are in Nebraska, but she has also filled orders from New York, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maine. People find out about her business through word of mouth and from relatives living in this area. Vickie quipped, "Thank heavens they took a chance on me". Sometimes she gets a bit anxious when her quilting orders are getting low, but (God) "has never failed to send them (quilts) when I need them".

It could be said that our lives are like a patchwork quilt...a design of events pieced and stitched together over time, and upon completion a testament of who and what we are.

Vickie May can be reached at: All quilts handmade by Vickie except the 'Old Glory' wall hanging, which was made by her friend.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cowboy Trail

The 'Cowboy Trail' has been mentioned a couple of times here in my posts so, I thought I'd invite you to join me on a little early morning 'trail walk'. Keep your house slippers on, and your coffee close at hand, as you'll just be an 'arm chair traveler' this time around...

The trail abounds with wild Sunflowers... some droop down from the weight of bees...

Older buildings from a by-gone era still stand...

Wild Rose hips... the birds love to eat them, and maybe the bunnies too? I witnessed several bunnies darting in and out of the rain soaked grasses along the trail.

O'Neill's former train depot now houses 'Circle G Western Wear', a Western clothing, boot and accessories store.

Old fashioned hay stacks... winter feed for livestock. Barn Swallows were swooping and darting in amongst the hills of hay.

An old grain elevator...
Taking a drink before she heads out to pasture...

The breeze gently tosses the clouds around, the crickets chirp in the grass, and Meadowlarks sing their prairie song...

I hope you enjoyed your scenic 'walk'... and all that 'Fresh Air'!
For more detailed information about the Cowboy Trail, click here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Marathon Man

Dr. Jerry Brockman has been running "his whole life". As a youngster attending a country school, he would call the time and temperature operator and use her as a 'stop watch'. He would then take off running, and upon reaching school, would again dial the number, and record the exact timing of his run.

Brockman graduated from O'Neill High School, and after schooling on the west coast, he continued his education at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, earning a degree in Dentistry. He has been practicing his profession for 33 years, the last 25 at his present office location.

A two-mile relay race in high school was Jerry's first 'official' race. As a Freshman, he breezed past his competitors --3 Seniors -- and won a medal. After high school Jerry, along with Tim French and Tim Edwards, organized the Shamrock Fun Run, a race held every year during the St. Patrick's Day celebration in O'Neill. Jerry's wife Therese Sullivan, a Registered Dental Hygienist and accomplished runner is also an award winner herself. The Shamrock Fun Run is currently sponsored by the O'Neill Rotary Club, and is now in it's 30th year. It has been recognized as the one of oldest organized runs in the state.

Inevitably, at some point in a runner's career, one may in a sense, 'bite the dust'. This low point for Jerry occurred during a triathlon in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1990. During the swimming portion of the event, he panicked and nearly drowned; "The good swimmers have their own life guards, the bad swimmers are on their own..." Fortunately, he was able to compose himself and swim to shore. However, his next 'bump in the road', was the result of "too big of a loop in his shoestring"... he finished close to last, skinned and bloody.

In the year 2000, he ran the 1/2 Marathon in the Lincoln Marathon. Most of his runs are 5 or 6.2 miles. For the last five years, he and his friends have teamed up to run one race a year out of state: Virginia Beach, Virginia was the location for the 2005 run, 2006; Big Sur, 2007; Chicago, Illinois, 2008; Boulder, Colorado, and this year's race was on Peak's Island by Portland, Maine. The lucky participants in the 2009 race were treated to a lobster fest at the end of the event!

Brockman runs all year long, actually prefering the colder months to the summer's heat. His favorite experience is covering the Cowboy Trail in the early morning hours with his two dogs, Rory and Liesl. In addition to having seen badgers, skunk, deer, wild turkey, osprey, and even Bald Eagles, his most special day along the trail was when he spied a mother otter and her five babies. Upon returning home, he was anxious to share about what he had encountered, however, that day happened to be September 11, 2001, and no one was interested in his experience.
Why O'Neill? Jerry stated, "Living in Los Angeles for four years made Holt County look like paradise." "It's (O'Neill) home. I was able to return with a profession and live in this area." He commented that we have "excellent people here". His dental practice has grown and in addition to having "great patients", he stressed that he has an "excellent dental team that works well together".
Jerry enjoys running because "It makes me feel good, and it is something I can do with my wife and dogs". He also appreciates the friendship, fellowship, and camaraderie with others who engage in this sport. As for goals... the 13 mile Deadwood Mickelson Trail in Deadwood, South Dakota is on the horizon for 2010.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Part of the Community

A community consists of various age groups, and all have something worthwhile to contribute. Our young people are the future, and it was so encouraging to visit with Nick and Jackie Humrich, the son and daughter of John and Beth Humrich of O'Neill.

Nick, age 16, remarked that home schooling (since 3rd grade) has given him the flexibility and opportunity to develop and nurture his many passions and interests. His hobbies include: juggling, rock collecting, chess, constructing huge LEGO structures, and stargazing. Through years of hard work and dedication, he was awarded the status of Eagle Scout, the highest level achievable in Scouting.

Humrich has been taking piano and acoustic guitar lessons for six years, (he is currently giving piano lessons to his first student) and occasionally joins in with the youth group band at Faith Community Church.

Nick is no 'slacker'... he's helped out with Vacation Bible School for several summers, cuts lawns, and works evenings at a local discount store. This fall, he will be taking a class at the public high school in addition to his home studies. Future plans include earning an Atmospheric Science Degree in Meteorology, hopefully at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

A few years ago, when Nick's achievement of Eagle Scout was acknowledged at Faith Community Church, the Assistant Pastor commented, "This young man will go far."

Jackie, age 12, and now an 8th grader, is also home schooled and enjoys it because she can work at her own pace. She is a quiet and interesting young lady who enjoys archery, gardening with her father, camping and fishing with her father and Nick, and playing the piano.

Her unique talent is the unicycle, an interest first sparked by other home schooling friends. She mastered the cycle in about 2-3 weeks, and remarked that the more she fell and got back on, the more her confidence increased. She, along with other unicyclists, ride in the local St.Patrick's Day parade every March.

Jackie is also a great dog lover and desires to be a veterinarian, possibly attending UNL for her degree.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

On Assignment

Just a little clarification here.... I want to encourage everyone to check back frequently as my plan is to post two interviews a week---hopefully during the first part of the week and the latter. It takes a bit of time for the interview, taking the photos, writing the story, and transferring, cropping and choosing photos. I have a list of possible contacts and stories, and my contacts, in turn, give me names, so I'm thinking the sky's the limit on what I can cover here... I have some interesting people and subjects to cover in the future, so stop back by for some Fresh Air Life!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Natural Care

There is such a sense of peace and calmness surrounding Melodie Tompkins' home, that I believe it overflows into her hand made natural skin care and body products. The day I visited, pet hens 'Baby' and 'Penny' strolled around the grassy yard searching for bugs, the air was rain-fresh clean, and the sky was filled with sunshine and cottony white clouds. I felt as if I had escaped to a place of solitude and rest.

Melodie and her husband Eric, along with their five children, are fairly recent transplants from Tucson, Arizona, having moved to rural Page, Nebraska about six years ago. Eric works with his father in their insurance business. Melodie, who besides having a degree in literature and loves to read, is a work at home mother who in addition to home schooling her children, has an interest in using plant materials and ingredients from her pantry to create body scrubs, dry shampoos, soaps, lip balms, face scrubs, healing salves, and 'bug bars'.

About six years ago, while still living in Tucson, Tompkins began experimenting with recipes found on line and in books to use in creating her skin care products. In addition to ordering many of her natural bases and additives such as bees wax and essential oils from on-line, she also grows her own sage and mallow. If a particular recipe happens to call for oats, she will simply reach for a container from her own kitchen food pantry.

Tompkins enjoys learning about plants that the Native Americans and the Pioneers used for their natural healing properties, such as aloe, and Plantain, a small herb that is often considered a lawn weed. One of her most favorite books on the subject is, 'Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains', published by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, which she has nearly 'devoured'. She praises the healing properties of the Plantain plant which is used in making her salve with dried calendula, vitamin E, and a natural beeswax base. She spoke of using this salve on a horse's open wound, with the results being the closing and quick healing of the injury. She also used it on their dog when he was hit by a car. His skin on one leg had been peeled back, and this salve dramatically enhanced the healing process. She says, "This is an all-purpose skin healer."

While I interviewed Melodie, she pulled a small grinder from her kitchen cabinet and proceeded to mix a recipe for for her face scrub: oats, dried chamomile, and ground sage, to which she added a few drops of oil to hold the mixture together. This would be placed in the palm of one's hand, and then rubbed on the face with a washcloth and then rinsed off.

Her soaps are made of all natural bases and additives. Her lip balms have a bees wax base and one can choose from various scents; lemon, peppermint, rose, pineapple, etc. The dry shampoo ingredients are oats, baking soda, and chamomile or lavender flowers. Body scrubs are made of coconut oil, scents, and granulated sugar or Dead Sea Salt (which has more nutrients than table salt) as an exfoliant. Tompkins says, "Our skin needs the nutrients just as much as our insides do." 'Bug bars' contain lemon eucalyptus and citronella and resemble soap bars. One would just rub the bar on their skin to ward off mosquitoes and biting bugs. She says, "I like to process the ingredients as little as possible because it retains more of the nutrient value. What you put on your skin is just as important as the foods we eat." She adds, "The less it's been tampered with, the better."

Her children assist with the home-based business by making the container labels on the computer and helping with the soap molds. Melodie enjoys selling her products to family and friends and giving them as gifts. She also has a few items on display in her husband's insurance office in O'Neill.

Melodie spoke of the difference between the culture in Tucson and here... "Most people who live here, have parents and grandparents here, so there are roots in the area." "There is a sense of community and being a neighbor... people go out of their way to help the people around them." She appreciates having her children "grow up in a place that's safe and very real, and the children in turn, feel neighborly." She says she "loves this area." "I like the slow life and the agricultural community."

Community. That's what we're all about.


Monday, August 3, 2009

A Doggone Good Destination!

'They' had their doubts... A town with a population of 333 people, off the not so beaten path (Highway 281), wouldn't seem like the most lucrative location to open an antique store, but Jarrel and Nancy Winings had the 'build it and they will come' mentality, and the result is, "now it's bringing people here."

Chambers, Nebraska's own resident fireball, her husband Jarrel who works alongside her, and son Chris, have turned a once small, in-home business into a destination for people who "are opting to seek out smaller towns." 'Doggone Good Antiques & More' is the draw.

In the year 2000, Nancy opened the store in the basement of her home on the ranch where she, Jarrel, and Chris live. The store began as a much needed office for the 'Winings Guest House' which resides on their property. Guests were now able to stop in and settle up their account, and Nancy, a very sharp businesswoman who was already a seasoned Watkins dealer, decided to start picking up a few antiques and collectibles here and there for her store. This venture gave her guests a little something extra to look at and do. Nancy chose the name, 'Doggone Good Antique Store' because she thought it was a good rural name and her guests where greeted by four happy dogs.

The store was becoming so successful that more room was needed for display, so in 2007, the Winings bought the old American Legion Building in Chambers and moved their antique business into town. Nancy says she wanted "to take a regular antique store and make it unique". Her individuality is reflected in the first thing a potential customer sees...her building is painted a dramatic purple color. Her talents really play out in the choice of upholstery material she uses on otherwise traditional styles of furniture, and her creative displays inside the shop. Nancy enjoys the variety of projects she does; upholstery (a sewing skill transferred from her college days when she ran a business out of her dorm room designing, sewing, and selling Western style shirts), framing, display, and buying and selling. She says she is doing everything she likes to do, plus she is meeting very interesting people.

Nancy stresses that she and Jarrel "do this business together." In addition to his ranching activities and driving a school bus, both of them attend auctions together where Jarrel purchases those items that have potential ("furniture is a big thing"). He cleans up the items by sandblasting or power washing, and then brings them in for Nancy to add the finishing touches. He also runs the store while Nancy is riding the speaker circuit for Stonecroft Ministries, a non-denominational, world-wide ministry that seeks to reach the un-churched.

A real treat for store customers is 'Ace' the resident greeter. Winings says "Ace runs the store." "He breaks the ice and entertains kids with his funny antics. He can sing, whisper, talk normal, sit up and squat down. He seems to know that this is his job and he loves to come to work." In fact, it "hurts his feelings when he doesn't get to." Winings recounted the story that one day she told Ace he had to stay home, and when she got in the car to leave for work, there he was in the seat next to her. She has no idea how he slipped in unseen by her.

In February of this year, Jarrel and Nancy started their own 'Doggone Good Road Show', bringing in three appraisers from Omaha, who did over 350 appraisals in two days. They are planning another event in February of 2010.

Knowledge of the store is discovered from their brochures that go nationwide and their website, She said customers come in her store and find out about the guest house, or they stay at the guest house and hear about the store.

What's in the future for these entrepreneurs? Nancy says she "has all kinds of ideas---if God allows."
Ace is keeping an eye out for customers...