Witnessing History

28 Jul

One of my favorite things about being a journalist is what we get to see, hear, WITNESS.  As a student of history, this is invaluable to me–you can read about things in books, you can watch things on TV, but only a few get to be there as history happens and share those stories.  Sometimes, though, as journalists we witness events so remarkable, tragic, overwhelming, the moments never really leave us. We close our eyes and can still see and feel what happened the day we covered the story.

For KETV’s Managing Editor Jim Reding, those moments happened on July 19, 1989, when Flight 232 crashed in Sioux City, Iowa.

jim photo

 25 years ago this month, Jim watched with his own eyes as United Flight 232 and the hundreds of people aboard cartwheeled down the runway.  His coworker captured the crash on camera, video that was later seen by millions and endlessly analyzed by aviation experts.  Jim shared the stories of the survivors, the heroes, and the 112 people who died that day.

Here is Jim’s account of Flight 232.


Summer of ’89, Jim Reding was the 10pm producer at KTIV in Sioux City and on July 19, had just started his shift.  The news broke around 2 or 2:30 of an Alert 3.

“We knew the plane had lost all hydraulics somewhere near Storm Lake, Iowa,” said Jim.  “Our assignment editor at the time sent Dave Boxum, a reporter/photographer, straight to the airport.  I got in a van with Cathy Egan, a reporter, and we were heading to Highway 20 east of Sioux City.  We were told the plane was going to try and land on Highway 20.”

Within minutes, Jim and Cathy got word that the pilot was going to try and land at the Sioux Gateway Airport.  The two took the first exit they could and headed that way.

“We spotted the plane coming over Southern Hills Mall,” said Jim.  “It was flying so low, and it was so strange to see this large plane barely above the buildings and tree tops.  I sped up, and got nervous that I wouldn’t get a shot of it landing.  Just as we were parallel with the airport, the plane was coming right over us.  I remember one of us saying, ‘God, please let the plane land safely’.  As it went over our heads it then cleared the Air National Guard building and the next thing we saw was the explosion and the plane rolling off the runway.  I know we both yelled or screamed.”

Jim, knowing his coworker, Dave, was already at the airport somewhere, drove as fast as he could from where he was on I-29.  He found Dave directly at the fence south of the runway where the plane had crashed.

“As I got out of the van I asked Dave if he got video of it,” said Jim.  “He said, ‘I think so’.”


A still photo from Dave Boxum’s video, taken as Flight 232 crashed in Sioux City.

Jim, Dave and Cathy immediately got to work, setting up equipment on top of the van to try and see what was going on.

“There was so much debris and parts of the plane strewn all over,” said Jim.  “The Airport Firefighters were already on the scene and more fire departments and first responders were arriving.  That’s when I saw a Red Cross van driving towards the entrance and recognized the driver.  I told Dave to relieve me on top of the van and I would take his camera gear and try to get access to the crash site.  I distinctly remember the feeling that we wanted to have a camera rolling at all times on the scene.”

sioux City Journal 2

Photo by the Sioux City Journal

 Jim began shooting as he got closer to the crash site, using the same camera and tape that held such an important piece of video.

“The record deck was not working properly.  It was stopping and starting on its own.  All sorts of lights were flashing,” said Jim.  “I started to smack the camera with my hand to see if that helped.  It didn’t.  I tried rewinding the tape and fast forwarding the tape to see if that would make a difference and it didn’t.”

In the chaos that followed, Jim radioed KTIV to tell them what he thought he had and that he was having problems with his gear.

“All this time, I didn’t realize how close I come to erasing or taping over Dave’s historical video,” said Jim.  “Dave would tell me later that he wasn’t sure he had gotten the video because his deck was acting up.  When the video got back to the station, they had to dub it over to a one-inch reel to play it.  By the end of the day, the whole world would see that video.  Robert Hager, reporter with NBC who covered all the big plane crashes, told me and others at the time, that it was one of the most important pieces of video in aviation history.  This was long before cell phone videos and Go Pros; it was so rare to capture a major crash on tape.  I’m sure United and other companies learned a lot by watching that video.”

Jim spent the rest of the day and night there at the airport, shooting interviews and field producing coverage of the crash for KTIV.

Sioux City Journal

Photo by the Sioux City Journal

“We weren’t used to covering a story of such magnitude, and it was a story that kept expanding,” said Jim.  “The survivors, the families, the investigation, the community reaction and endless personal stories of people impacted by the crash.”

Click here to watch KTIV’s look back at Flight 232.

We know now that United Flight 232, originally scheduled from Denver to Chicago, suffered catastrophic failure of its tail-mounted engine, which led to the loss of all flight controls.  296 people were on board; 111 died.  Despite such unimaginable loss, many considered it a miracle so many survived, 185 people, a credit given to the flight crew and captain Alfred Haynes, who essentially landed the plane without conventional control.


Spencer Bailey, a young survivor, being carried to safety by Lt. Colonel Dennis Nielsen after the crash.  Little Spencer and his brother survived, his mother did not.  A statue in honor of this iconic image now stands at a memorial for the crash.
The crash changed how we fly today; DC-10’s were modified with hydraulic fuses to prevent catastrophic loss of fluid.  Experts use the flight as evidence why all children should have their own seat and be properly restrained.  Researchers have also studied Flight 232 to see whether computers could control aircraft using the engines alone.
It also forever touched a young journalist who would eventually make his way to Omaha, Nebraska and the news desk at KETV.  In his 28 years in TV News, Jim has covered officer involved shootings, the tragedy at Westroads Mall, tornadoes and mass snowstorms, serial killers and lengthy criminal cases;  you name it, Jim has played a role in 20 years of coverage at KETV.  Still, he says no story has had an impact on him like Flight 232.
jim in background

“The fact that I witnessed the crash and was physically on site to talk with survivors and those involved in the rescue probably has something to do with how I feel,” said Jim.  “I was in the field and felt the real impact of the story.  You have to remember that 112 people died! That’s the greatest loss of life in this region that I know of.  You had Captain Al Haynes, who with the help of his crew, made a miraculous landing, saving 184 people.  An emergency response that would be a model for the world.  An NTSB investigation that would lead them to find a cause to the crash.  And for the first time, video of a DC-10 crashing, that would help educate pilots and engineers in the future.  And of course, you would have a movie made about it, with Hollywood legends.  It was, and still is the biggest story I’ve ever covered.

“There hasn’t been a summer I don’t think about that day and the crash of Flight 232,” said Jim.  We have family and friends that still live in that area and we drive by the Sioux City Airport on our way.  I know often times my first instinct is to look west at the airport and the location where the plane crashed, but I usually find myself looking east and into the sky at that spot where I saw that plane go over my head.  It was so big and still so clear to me.  It’s hard not to think about all those people on that plane and how just seconds after they went past me so many lives ended and so many other lives changed.  I won’t ever forget it.”

Back To School

16 Jul

And with a simple phrase, ‘back to school’, I can hear thousands of screams from children (and teachers) across the Omaha metro area…

But it’s almost time, folks!! In less than a month, your kiddos will be heading out the door, ready to start a new year of learning, friends and memories.

Wait… will they truly be ready?

For thousands of kids across the metro, the answer is no.  No backpack, no new school supplies, no motivation to head to a place where they feel like they aren’t good enough or as prepared as all of the other kids.

CUE: The Seven Can Help Kids Back to School Backpack Drive.


This is arguably the biggest fundraising/donation event we put together every year here at KETV.  We work with nonprofits, corporations and businesses, schools, etc.. to provide as many backpacks and supplies as possible for area kids who need them.  This year, our goal is 14,000 stuffed backpacks.


Before I became actively involved, it’s a question, I admit, I asked; why, when we could raise money and awareness to get kids food, or shelter, or countless other causes or plights, WHY BACKPACKS?

This may be a stretch.. but for me, here’s the reason why.

Last night, Rob and I listened to a story from KETV’s Tony Cornett about the expected trial in the murder case of Brandon Wallace.  The alleged shooter: 15 years old.  His alleged accessories? 13 to 17 years old.  Rob and I watched each boy’s mug shot appear on our screen, and I just shook my head.  They look so young.  THEY ARE so young.

What the hell happened?!?!? What happens in any case where young people, teenagers and young men and women, turn to crime and violence?

There are no easy answers, but how about DREAMING BIGGER.  HAVING GOALS.  MAKING PLANS.  Where does that start?  At home.  For some, in church.  AND IN SCHOOL.

Could it be that simple?  Get kids pointed in the right direction EARLY.  Make them EXCITED about going to school, learning, finding structure and vision for their futures.

Although it was many, MANY, MANY moons ago, I can still remember the excitement of my mom getting our school supply lists, heading to the store, and choosing all of our supplies.  I’d get home, lay all of my new gear on my bed, and organize it into my new backpack.  It made me so excited to go to school.

Let’s get kids excited.  Let’s HELP THEM find that right track and stay on it.

Yes, money is tight, for all of us it seems.  But I hope the next time you are at the store you check out the school supply bins; a quarter for a notebook.  50-cents for a brand new pack of crayons.  5-bucks goes a long way, and if a couple thousand people each chip in, IMAGINE the huge amount that adds up to.

This year, our community partners are doing even more.  The Salvation Army, who has been KETV’s Backpack Drive partner for years, is again offering a text donation option; if you don’t want to hassle with buying supplies and dropping them off, you can simply text “OMAHA” to 80888 to make a $10 donation, or go online.  Again, I know $10 isn’t an option for everyone, but perhaps it’s your sacrifice of your 2 weekly trips to the coffee shop, or that lunch out.  What you are giving up, could mean so very much to a little boy or girl in our city.

In addition, Methodist Health Systems is offering free health screenings this year when these families pick up their backpacks.  Another HUGE impact, for children who may not see a doctor and get checked out otherwise.  Rob and I sat down with Methodist’s Katina Gordon recently to talk about this year’s efforts.  Check out her blog about it here!

KETV and the Salvation Army will be at Nebraska Crossing Outlets July 26 from 10am-4pm, and July 27 11am-4pm, collecting donations and backpacks.  For every backpack or $10 donation, Nebraska Crossing Outlets will match it with a backpack of their own!

Our team will also be out at the Methodist Women’s Hospital on Friday, August 1 collecting donations. If you need any other motivation, I hear Rob is signing autographs FOR FREE that day!!!


Thumbs up for Rob! He’s kind of a big deal!!

We hope to see you there BEFORE you head back to school!  THANK YOU for considering this, to make a difference in the lives of kiddos in our area!

You’ll find more information, including maps where you can drop off your donations, on our website!


Kill ‘Em With Kindness

16 Jul

“On Christmas night of 2009, Nebraska was in the middle of a severe snow storm.  My grandpa and hero suffered his sixth heart attack.”

Imagine the terror this young woman and her family faced that night.  Trapped in their homes, isolated from the help they desperately needed.

“The ambulance used chains to drive through the streets safely.  Though my family and I were very anxious and scared, relief came knowing the emergency workers were moving quickly to assess the situation and stabilize him.”

Morgan Holen will never forget that night, or the sacrifice made by those emergency crews, working on Christmas and ultimately, saving her grandfather because of it.

“The following year my family started a Christmas Eve tradition in honor of these wonderful people by buying dozens of donuts and delivering them to fire stations, emergency rooms and pharmacies, thanking them for working and serving others on Christmas.”

To Morgan, this is simply a random act of kindness.  Later this month, it’s a mission she will share with the country as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teenager.


(Thank you to photographer Jenn Cady for the photo!)

What the heck is Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen?!? Think of a younger Miss America.  Teenagers from across the country compete under the same guidelines as the “Miss” contestants do, only these titleholders are 13-17 years old. (Check out my previous blog post about this year’s Miss Nebraska ‘Teen’ contestants and what the program is all about.) Morgan, who was crowned Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen in October, won the state title the same day as Miss Nebraska Megan Swanson.

Morgan crowned

(Photo courtesy of the Miss NE’s Outstanding Teen organization)

 “Hearing my name was one of the best feelings ever,” Morgan told me recently.  “It showed me that all the hours of preparing talent, checking current events, and maintaining a balanced diet and exercise was completely worth it!”

high school

The Elkhorn South student says she’s happiest when she is busy, already active in honors classes, SADD, Pep club, show choir, dance team and student council (whew!) Morgan certainly added to her workload with this new honor; she’ll head to Orlando in just weeks to compete for the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen (the ‘little sister’ to Miss America.)

You could say Morgan has royal blood in her veins; her mom, Jodi Miller-Holen, was Miss Nebraska 1988.


Morgan is following in her mother’s footsteps in more ways than one; she is also an award-winning dancer, trained under the same woman who taught Jodi, ‘Miss Kitty’ Dahlberg.  Dahlberg passed away last July after teaching thousands of Omaha dancers in a career spanning 50 years.  Morgan dedicated her talent performance at Miss Nebraska’s OT, a lyrical dance to ‘You Raise Me Up’, to Miss Kitty.

Morgan dancing

Morgan competing in 2012. 

Want to see more? Check out this performance by Morgan and her fellow KLD team members at the Spotlight Dance Cup in May–AMAZING!

“I have been dancing for 13 years and I have performed on many stages,” said Morgan.  “I have to say I feel the most comfortable on a stage performing.  I am excited to show America a talent I have been working on for so long!”

Morgan may have a few celebrity fans rooting for her as well; she’s taken classes from multiple ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ contestants and choreographers, including Stephen ‘Twitch’ Boss.


(Complete disclosure: I FREAKED OUT when Morgan sent me this!! I die!!!)

Morgan hopes to make ALL of her fans proud and says she is focusing her energy on preparation to represent Nebraska on this national stage.  When Morgan wakes up August 3, she says she will continue to spread awareness of her personal platform, Random Acts of Kindness, whether it’s just in Nebraska or across the entire country as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.


“Throughout my year of service I want to go to schools and other places to promote kindness through my actions and words,” said Morgan.  “People do not always remember what you do or say, but they do remember the way you make them feel.  Anyone, no matter what age, can perform a random act of kindness.  It does not take a certain amount of money or time, it can easily be part of our daily life.  It will be my mission to try and spread this message and encourage people to participate.”

 If you’re asking WHY, Brandi, WHY are you profiling another pageant girl?!?!?  Because this young lady is LEGIT–she is the epitome of who I wish more young people, scratch that, MORE PEOPLE OF ANY AGE, were like.  She is smart, hard working, gifted, beautiful inside and out, and KIND.  These are the people who deserve the headlines.

Following Morgan on Twitter and Facebook since she was crowned in October, I’ve never seen a mean ‘tweet’ or status update about other kids, or a questionable, immature post about herself.  The pictures she shares show a young woman unafraid to try new things or to work hard to achieve what she wants.  And as I wrote in this post after Miss Nebraska, Morgan truly has a gift when it comes to dance; just as she hopes to spread kindness as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, she transmits sheer joy every time she steps onto a stage to dance.  She is the whole package.

“I want people to know how much I love the state of Nebraska and that I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to represent our state,” said Morgan.


I venture to guess the guy who inspired it all, Morgan’s grandpa, couldn’t be more proud of the young woman his granddaughter has become.


Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place in Orlando, Florida July 27-August 2.

NEW THIS YEAR:  The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization is pleased to announce that the 2014 Competition Finals will be broadcast LIVE for first time! For a $10 donation, you can watch as the field of 53 is narrowed to only one, MAOTeen 2015!

miss teen

To follow Morgan’s journey and to learn more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program, follow on Facebook and on Twitter, or check out the program’s website. You can also follow Morgan on Instagram.

To request Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Holen for appearances and events, contact Director Rachel Daly at racheldaly.rx@gmail.com.


Good Enough

7 Jul

Anyone else watch Goonies this weekend?  What a classic..


And afterwards, I had Cyndi Lauper’s Good Enough stuck in my head for hours.  AWESOME song :)

Quick question… are you good enough?  It’s something I ask myself ALL. THE. TIME.  Then guilt.. thinking I could be doing more as a mom, as a coworker, as a friend.

One thing I am trying to do that I truly think makes a difference, even a small one, is to highlight the positive things happening around me.  One of my favorite educators, Papillion-La Vista Schools legend Chuck Johnston, gave me the idea for an A-Z compliment mission… go through your address book and tell 26 friends, A to Z, something great about them.  Remind them of how important they are to you and how awesome they are.

I’d like to take it one step further on this blog and highlight great people doing great things in our community.  Do you know someone?  Maybe it’s a woman like Lucy O’Hanlon, a newly retired NICU nurse who cared for THOUSANDS of babies at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center over the course of 40+ years.  When we shared Lucy’s story, we were inundated with posts and messages about experiences with Lucy.  Parents shared how Lucy sat with them and just let them cry.  Nurses who watched Lucy spend every moment of her shift rocking or cooing sick, tiny babies.  I imagine the NICU can be a lonely, scary place if you are a parent or a sweet newborn.. Lucy helped make it warm, welcoming, and safe.  Imagine what the world would be like if we had more ‘Lucy’s?

I am asking all of you who read this blog (and again, THANK YOU for reading!) to tell me who is the ‘Lucy’ in your life?  Who always goes out of their way to make your day brighter?  Who gives of themselves selflessly to make life better for someone else?  Who deserves to be recognized for making the world a better place?

In honor of Major League Baseball’s announcement of this year’s All Star Team yesterday, I’ll kick things off with two local All Stars…


Millard North’s Jack Wilson


and Millard West’s Joe Charvat 

Jack and Joe are recent graduates of their respective schools and varsity baseball players.  They are also outstanding kids who extend kindness to anyone they encounter, including my little boy, Easton.  I can see in his eyes how cool it is to be friends with the ‘big boys’, and both Jack and Joe always go out of their way to yell ‘hi, Easton!!’ when they see him.

Thanks, guys, for making my kiddo feel so special.  And best of luck to you in college this fall!! (Jack, we’ll be cheering for you at UNO!!)



Blown Away

12 Jun

Yeah.  Blown away.  ME.

I attended the preliminary rounds of competition of the Miss Nebraska pageant last weekend.  After talking to all of the contestants over the last few months to write features for this blog, I felt like I knew some of them!  And those that I do know personally are incredible, OUTSTANDING young women.  I wanted to see all of their hard work in person!


These women are just phenomenal.  Talented. Gorgeous. Intelligent. Hard working. DRIVEN.  To see all of that wrapped together in one production was kind of mind-boggling.  AND ABSOLUTELY INSPIRING.

For those of you who have been following my series on this year’s contestants, THANK YOU, and here is a recap of what happened at Miss Nebraska 2014.. both the real awards, and the Brandi Petersen Unofficial Superfan Awards.

Megan wins 2

Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

Megan Swanson, representing Miss Douglas County, won the crown of Miss Nebraska 2014.  (Thanks to Corbey R. Dorsey/Pixel Creation Workshop for the photo!)  I LOVE this moment, because it shows jubilation, celebration and unity, and also gives a glimpse into Megan’s personality.  Megan worked so hard over the last few months, on her talent, her physical and mental self, and on her platform, Total Body Wellness.  One of my favorite things about her is that in the videos she has posted from visits to schools and kids, Megan gets on their level–they are goofy, they have fun, they LAUGH.  She’s not an untouchable figure talking to children, she’s AMONG them, talking WITH them.  Other photos and videos show abandon, a free spirit, LIFE.  You see all of that in this image.. and her connection to family, celebrating this amazing moment if only through their eyes. I can only imagine how very proud her mom, sister and rest of her family must be right now–they were her biggest supporters in the crowd and no doubt in real life.

Megan won a Preliminary Talent Award for her incredible rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up,’ and she tied for 2nd place for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award, given in honor of an awesome guy, Bobby Foehlinger.  Add it all up–Megan Swanson takes home approximately $11,000 in scholarship moneyLearn more about Megan by checking out my post about her a few weeks before the pageant took place.  You can also read the KETV article about Megan and my interview with her in her first days as Miss Nebraska.


The 2014 Miss Nebraska Top 5

I look at each of these women, and remember thinking while watching prelims ANY of them could win (and a few others!!!)  THAT is how strong the competition was this year. (Thanks to Field Director Darrell Drullinger and the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Organization for the picture!)

Starting from the left, Alyssa Howell finished 4th Runner Up.  Alyssa’s piano performance was one of my favorite talents–INCREDIBLY strong and commanded attention from start to finish.  I don’t think this young woman stopped smiling the entire time she was in North Platte; a lesson to all of us, no matter if you are on stage, in an interview, or talking to someone on the street, a smile and positive attitude will make you memorable.  Alyssa certainly is!

Rachel Foehlinger finished 2nd Runner Up.  WHAT A WEEKEND for this incredibly talented young woman.  Rachel’s talent, twirling a baton(s) at ridiculous speeds to Proud Mary, made me forget to breathe, and apparently everyone else, too; she won both Preliminary and Overall Talent awards.  Acrobatics, dance, 3 batons at once, all while smiling and energizing the crowd–IT WAS AMAZING.  Rachel also won the Overall Interview Award, and was a finalist for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award.

Megan Swanson, Miss Nebraska 2014.  I like to sing.  I’m not the best.. or even great.. but I think I have a good ear for what IS good (and I’m pretty nit-picky about it!).  MEGAN IS GOOD.  Scratch that–SHE’S GREAT.  From her first notes, Megan captured the audiene.  Her talent isn’t just well practiced (which as a Christian recording artist and music major, I’m SURE she is), it’s a gift that’s been fine tuned into an art.  Megan told me after Miss Nebraska she wants to win awards for talent at Miss America; I truly think she can do it.

Aleah Peters finished 1st Runner Up.  My overall thoughts about Aleah: DAAAAAANG. I don’t know if Aleah left the studio or gym in the months leading up to Miss Nebraska.  She is a model of health and fitness and her stage presence was literally, jaw dropping, winning her the Overall Swimsuit Award.  Another young woman who never stopped smiling, or shining brightly, on that stage.  Just AMAZING.

Allison Tietjen finished 3rd Runner Up.  She’s only 18.  SHE IS 18 YEARS OLD.  And she knocked the socks off of everyone in the crowd at Miss Nebraska.  Allison also had an exceptional talent, playing what seemed to be a very difficult piano piece, along with musical accompaniment, which I can only imagine adds substantial difficulty–you lose your place or tempo once, you’re in trouble for the remaining performance.  I literally said, ‘WOW’, out loud when she finished during the preliminary competition.

Other Miss Nebraska Award Winners..

3 service awards

(Thanks again to Darrell Drullinger & the Miss Nebraska Organization for the photo!)

Again, starting on the left, Megan Dimmitt received several awards in North Platte, including 2nd place for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award, the Miss America Community Service Award, the non-finalist Interview Award and the Miracle Maker Award.  Over the course of her year as Miss High Plains, Megan has raised more than $10,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network of hospitals.  10-GRAND that will go straight to hospitals and the kids they care for, like Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. Absolutely AMAZING.

Next to Megan is Mindy Schreiber, who also received several awards at Miss Nebraska.  Mindy won the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award for her work with mentoring and the Teammates Organization over the last several years, as well as the Miss America Scholar Award and Miss Congeniality.  Smart, caring and dedicated to service.  INCREDIBLE.


(Thanks to Joe Bohac & Colour Artistry for the photo!)

Lianna Prill received the non-finalist Talent Award, and it was truly special.  Lianna played piano to music.. then SANG to music.. all in the same performance.  Again–I can’t imagine how difficult it is to play piano along with background accompaniment.. adding singing to the mix makes my head spin thinking, let alone performing!  And Lianna NAILED it, wowing the crowd with her rendition of ‘All By Myself’.  Great job from a terrific young lady!


NOW, the awards that don’t come with scholarship money or plaques… but the history making honor of being noted on my blog!!!

<<no applause… not even crickets.. tumbleweed rolls past me as I type this…>>

Whatevs.  Thanks for reading :)


Remember Kerri Strug, and this historic Olympic moment?

kerri strug

Strug needs a 9.5 on vault to secure the United States Women’s Gymnastics Team a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.  She falls on her first vault, badly injuring her ankle.  She performs her second vault as literally, millions of Americans hold their breath watching, and lands it on ONE FOOT, scoring a 9.7 before crumbling to the ground in pain.  GOLD.  THAT, folks, is BOSS. (No, seriously, real word… Merriam Webster defines it as ‘great or excellent’.)


Cue Kimberly Brennan, Miss Metro.  After a wonderful night of preliminary competition Thursday, Kimberly had arguably one of the worst days of her life Friday.  During rehearsal, a baton hit her in the eye.  As if that wasn’t bruising enough (literally), Kimberly was then overcome by symptoms of gallstones; she spent much of the day in the hospital, sick and in pain.  Still, Friday night at 7pm sharp, Kimberly was on the Miss Nebraska stage, smiling and competing, as if she felt PERFECT.  If you didn’t have ‘insider information’ as to what happened, you wouldn’t have had any idea.  And with that, she became a Top 10 finalist. AMAZING.  I gave her a hug after Friday’s night of competition–she had to be exhausted.  But she was still smiling.




One of my favorite parts about Miss Nebraska (and pageants in general…) the gowns.  OH, THE GOWNS!  So this award is named for the earth’s most gorgeous human being, Charlize Theron.  Yup.  This year, I have 3 favorites (photos copyright of Brown Harano Photography). 


Megan Dimmit, Miss High Plains.. STUNNING.  Her gown was just so different than what anyone else had, and reflected incredible poise and maturity.  Knowing Megan and the work she’s done–this is WAS SO fitting for her, and absolutely perfect :)


Chrissy Townsend, Miss Lake McConaughy.. at Miss Nebraska, as is usually the case at Miss America and Miss USA, there are so many gorgeous white and black gowns.  Chrissy, with her amazing green gown, totally stood out in a great way.  LOVED IT–loved it even more up close.  Chrissy was also named a Top 10 finalist–loved her!


Rachel Foehlinger, Miss River City.  I DIE.  Rachel just FLOATED in this dress.. it just sparkled, and so did she.  LOVED!!



Jillian Michaels is arguably the most in-shape woman on the planet.


At least, that’s what I thought.. until I saw Aleah Peters, Miss State Fair, at this year’s Miss Nebraska pageant.


(Thanks to Joe Bohac and Colour Artistry for the photo!)

I don’t have words.  Just stop what you are doing and stare at this photo for a few minutes.


I am still IN COMPLETE AWE.  I absolutely LOVE THIS.  Aleah literally made people in the audience gasp (in a good way!!) She showed everyone there and everyone watching from afar that this part of the competition isn’t about being the skinniest, starving yourself, etc… it’s about dedication to becoming the best physical form of yourself you can possibly be through nutrition and fitness.


Aleah, there is a special prize for winning this award on my blog.. you have to follow me around for the next few months and motivate ME to get into this kind of condition.  Or come to the newsplex with me, and everytime I head for the Reeses in the vending machine, just say ‘Brandi…’ and pose like this.



Pay no attention to the fact I am 15 years older than this young woman.  Whatevs.

Miss Omaha Payton Merritt, also a Top 10 finalist, made me smile every time she walked out on stage.  She’s STUNNING, she sings with soul, she’s the whole package.  Arguably, her shining moment (and a shining moment for the entire program) came during the onstage question portion of competition during Friday night’s preliminaries.  You’ve probably heard the horror stories, the ‘world peace’ and ‘the Iraq’ moments, that make all of us who volunteer in these programs CRINGE because it is such a poor representation of a group of truly brilliant young women.  So this moment, answering questions from Miss Nebraska 2013 JaCee Pilkington, was FRIGGIN AWESOME.

payton 2

(Thanks to the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County/Miss River City pageant for the photo!)

Payton didn’t get any ‘softball’ questions; she was asked how she promotes awareness of eating disorders when part of the Miss Nebraska competition is to walk around in a bikini.. she answered, very articulately and without pause, that just as in life, we all need to find a balance between healthy living and self image.  Her second question was whether the NBA was right to fire Donald Sterling over racist comments made in private.  Again, without hesitation, Payton competently and confidently answered that Sterling had a history of similar statements, and that his behavior was not the representation the NBA wanted or needed, so yes, they were within their rights to dismiss him.

Whether you agree with Payton or not in her responses, she answered each question with confidence, poise, reasoning behind her responses, and a display that she was not only aware of current issues, but goes beyond to learn about things to form a basis for her opinions.  IT WAS AWESOME.  I wish video of THIS would go viral–because THIS WOMAN is a true representation of the intelligence and confidence within these young women.  WAY TO GO, PAYTON!!!


This is officially the longest blog post ever.. I leave you with one final award.


I. LOVE. So You Think You Can Dance.  I even blogged about my favorite moments.

Judge me.  Whatevs.

Another young woman was also crowned in North Platte last weekend..


Morgan Holen is the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen! (Thanks to the organization for the photo!)

I didn’t get to see the teen pageant this year, but I am BEYOND THRILLED for this incredible young lady.  From the first time I saw her dance and every time since, she is absolutely CAPTIVATING while she performs.  She lets the music flow through her, and the emotions and stories she shares and tells through her dancing are truly phenomenal.  Morgan is also a hard working, beautiful, kind young woman (and has an INCREDIBLE family behind her every step of the way!!)

Morgan, I am so very proud of you and excited to follow your big year!  And yes, I am counting down the days until you try out for So You Think You Can Dance.


To all of you who have been following this series on Miss Nebraska, THANK YOU.  I have thoroughly enjoyed learning and writing about each of these young women, and I flatter myself to hope more people learned about this program and the incredible young ladies who participate.

Crown or no crown, these are all exceptional people who are making our world a better place.  TO YOU, LADIES, THANK YOU. You make me want to be a better woman; the best version of myself I can possibly be.

Best of luck to you no matter what path you take; you all make our state more beautiful.

All Hail The Queen

19 May


For the last month and a half, I’ve introduced you to all 19 young women competing for the title of Miss Nebraska in LESS THAN 3 WEEKS.

HUNDREDS of hours of service.  THOUSANDS of dollars raised for charity.

Most, if not all of these women, told me how much they’ve grown as people for the better by participating in the Miss America Organization.  You can see it in their pictures; the smiles on their faces as little girls proudly wearing their crowns.  Kids smiling, made to feel special.  These young women, performing on stage in front of hundreds, cheered on by the people who love them most.  THOSE are the moments that make all of this incomparable.

But behind the scenes, THIS. IS. WORK.  These women, especially in these final weeks leading up to Miss Nebraska, ARE WORKING THEIR TAILS OFF to be the absolute BEST they can be for this competition.  In the studio.  In the gym.  They are making sure they are as aware as possible of the world around them and fine tuning their public speaking skills.  IT’S GO TIME.

At the end of the day, is it all worth it?  The countless hours without a paycheck.  The scratchy throats, sore muscles and tired fingers with the risk of no reward at the end.  The stress of juggling school.. and jobs.. and duties as a local titleholder. Is it all worth it?

This young woman says ABSOLUTELY.

head shot

Miss Nebraska 2013 JaCee Pilkington

One year ago, I compiled a slideshow for KETV.com showcasing the Miss Nebraska contestants.  I asked each woman to send me her favorite photos and things about herself she wanted our viewers and readers to know.  JaCee was among the first to respond to me.  Her answers were articulate, her goals clear.  She was DETERMINED to become Miss Nebraska.


“Being Miss Nebraska is by far the most challenging yet rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my life,” JaCee told me recently.  “Although many have a skewed view of what being Miss Nebraska is really like, it is first and foremost a job. I managed to put 50,000 miles on my car and traveled everywhere from Valentine to McCook, and Scottsbluff to Omaha.  I’ve made it my goal to touch as many individuals across this state as I possibly can.”

Did she accomplish that? See for yourself.

st patricks in McCook singing national anthem for Jr. Lancers in USA Hockey Championships Veterans Day in North Platte North Platte Rotary May Day basket for Madeline at Childrens in Omaha anti bullying 10153193_10151950426346680_104334276_n 1964873_10151905700661680_46741347_n Veteran Lancaster Nursing Home Courtneys Living History Day

JaCee invited me to check out her Facebook page and choose whichever photos I liked best.  WHAT YOU SEE DOES NOT EVEN SCRATCH THE SURFACE.  There are literally hundreds of pictures, snapshots of countless moments in schools, at events, with one child or 500, smiling, offering hugs, the list goes on and on and on.

“Whether it was through my platform [Operation Remember Me], the Children’s Miracle Network, or the Miss Nebraska Organization as a whole, I wanted to make this year about seeing Miss Nebraska as a real, tangible, down-to-Earth girl,” said JaCee.

JaCee says travel has been the best part of her job, learning what makes the state so special.  (“Wilber is Czech, Stromsburg is Swede, and O’Neil is Irish.  Just a little Nebraska trivia for you,” said JaCee.)  One of her most exciting trips came in September, when JaCee traveled to Atlantic City to represent Nebraska at the Miss America pageant.

Click here to watch JaCee’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ Miss America video!

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“Miss America was such a surreal experience,” said JaCee.  “I gained 51 other sisters away from the experience and friendships that will last. My favorite moment in particular was singing my talent on the Miss America stage.  You hit that last note and look out and think, ‘Dang, this is so freaking cool.’  It was almost 2 weeks filled with excitement, anxiety, stress, and happiness all at the same time.  I’m also elated to know the Miss America Organization is evolving as we’ve now crowned our first Indian American, Miss America.”

SO LET’S SUM UP… months preparing for Miss Nebraska, then winning Miss Nebraska.  Three short months preparing for Miss America, then competing at Miss America.  What next?!?!


“Miss Nebraska is by far the hardest yet most rewarding job I’ve ever held,” said JaCee.  “You are driving a majority of the time, by yourself, to an appearance that you just learned the name of last night.  You are constantly adapting to the environment around you.  Heck, one week I had to reform one speech, six different ways in one week to fit each appearance.  Although the job can be difficult at times, it is what you make it.  You can be doing an appearance literally every day of the week if you want to be.  However, it is your responsibility to put yourself out there, network your butt off, and make it happen.  Nobody will do that for you.”

security at Kimball schools with Warren Kearney's Park Elementary

It will truly be the end of an era on June 7, when JaCee crowns the next Miss Nebraska.  She’s not only served our state for the last year, she also served as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2009.

“I’m feeling very content at this point,” said JaCee.  “It is sad, don’t get me wrong.  Who wouldn’t want to say they’re Miss Nebraska?  I am excited to be moving on to the next chapter in my life though.  Right after I give up my crown I will be heading to Mexico to serve on a mission trip.  Later I will continue to finish my degree at Doane College with hopes to continue in public policy and the business consulting world.”

Could we see Senator Pilkington down the road?  (Prior to becoming Miss Nebraska, JaCee worked for Senator Mike Johanns, and continues to stay active in local politics.)

“I view Nebraska in a completely different light now,” said JaCee.  “To be honest, when I graduated the first place I was headed was DC.  Now, I realize the opportunity Nebraska has to offer.  You can make an incredible impact within this state and I cannot see myself anywhere else at this point.”

little sister JaLee puppy

JaCee’s got good reason to stay close to home; her little sister, JaLee, just graduated high school, she’s got a sweet puppy at home to look after, and yes, gentlemen, she’s got a boyfriend.

She’s got one more big trip on her schedule, to hand off her crown to the next Miss Nebraska.

“I mainly want people to know how relevant and impactful the job of Miss Nebraska really is,” said JaCee.  “I understand that many already have preconceived notions about ‘beauty pageants’ but I can assure you that she’s more than a pretty face.  The women who compete in this organization are extremely driven, hard-working, intelligent, and compassionate individuals who are looking to make a difference in this world.  I pray that whoever is blessed with this opportunity this coming month will take full advantage of all it has to offer: the connections, opportunities, and lives that can be changed.”


Connect with Miss Nebraska 2013, JaCee Pilkington

on Twitter, and on Instagram

JaCee hopes you’ll also check out the Miss Nebraska pageant on Facebook and online

The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska.



PREVIOUS POST.. Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittli Sell

Great Scott!

14 May

What did you do this year?

‘Not much.. qualified for DECA nationals, aced the district music competition, sang in a musical, won state dancing, graduated high school and was crowned a beauty queen.  Whatever.’

GREAT SCOTT!!! The quote you just read is made-up, but the information is all accurate, describing the young lady you’re about to meet.


Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittli Sell

She’s a little busy.

Brittli is wrapping up a jam-packed high school career at Scottsbluff Senior High School, all while preparing for the Miss Nebraska pageant in North Platte, taking place in just weeks.


Just this school year, Brittli competed in her school’s DECA program, competing in Districts, State, and qualifying for National competition.  She also competed in music, earning a ‘1’, the highest ranking possible, for her solo at the District Music competition.  She participated in choir and show choir at Scottsbluff High, and took part in Shrek the Musical.


“I am privileged to announce that I have been accepted into the WNCC (Western Nebraska Community College) Show Choir!!! I am SO ecstatic for what next year will bring!” — Brittli via Facebook, March 9, 2014

Brittli is also a proud member of the State Champion Scottsbluff High Drill Team, which traveled to Florida in recent months.


In the performance world, there are a few multi-talented artists dubbed Triple Threats; they can sing, dance and act.  Using that logic, Brittli could be called a Quad Threat; she also plays piano, and she’ll do it for her talent at Miss Nebraska.


“The moment that changed everything–becoming Miss Scotts Bluff County!” — Brittli via Facebook, August 6, 2013

Brittli has been to North Platte before, competing as Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen last year.  Now as Miss Scotts Bluff County, she’s promoting her personal platform she calls ‘The Growl Stops Here, Fighting Hunger In Our Community.’

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‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.’ — Mark Twain

I don’t know that there are many things Brittli HASN’T done yet; she is CERTAINLY living life.  (And saving lives.. did I mention she’s certified in CPR, First Aid, and Lifeguarding?!?)

In less than a month, she’ll be able to add one more thing to her ‘DONE’ list; competing for Miss Nebraska.


Connect with Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittli Sell

on Facebook and Twitter


The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska.  For more information, visit the Miss Nebraska website.


PREVIOUS POST.. Miss Lake McConaughy, Chrissy Townsend

NEXT POST.. **SPECIAL FEATURE** Miss Nebraska 2013 JaCee Pilkington


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