Tag Archive | 9/11

Memorial Day

Early 2003. I was a student at UNL, and planned to meet my good friend Adrian for lunch. Many of you know him as KETV’s award winning anchor & reporter Adrian Whitsett; I’ve called him ‘friend’ since our high school days at Papillion-La Vista.

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Then, Adrian was enlisted in the Marines and had spent time across the US and in Japan. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing that day back in Papillion, but I remember at one point, him telling me that he would probably be leaving soon. He couldn’t tell me where he was going or when, but just wanted to let me know.

March 20, I was lying on the couch in my parents basement swollen like a chipmunk after having my wisdom teeth removed, when network news broke in; the United States was invading Iraq. I pointed to the TV and said ‘hey!!’ and realized that was what Adrian was talking about.. he was there.

While I attended candlelight vigils for our troops and wrote Adrian letters from the comfort of my Omaha apartment, my friend was on the front lines of a war-torn, unstable country thousands of miles away. He eventually lost hearing in one of his ears from firing high-power weapons; he cleaned himself in the 120-degree+ Iraqi heat with Wet Wipes; he saw and experienced terrible things most of us will never even think of. Adrian came home that August. Thousands of brave Americans did not.

Army Pvt. Kenny Nalley of Hamburg, Iowa. He was 19 and wanted to be police officer.

Marine Lance Cpl Shane E. Kielion of Omaha. He died the same day his son, Shane Jr., was born.

Army National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Ford of Pender, just 20. The same explosion that killed him claimed the leg of one of his fellow soldiers, a man who bravely stood to salute his fallen brother at their return ceremony.

A Nebraska woman has spent countless hours volunteering and uniting people across the state, ensuring we remember these brave men and women on Memorial Day and ever other day.

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

“My grandfather was a Marine during the Korean War, and was very proud of the years he served his country,” Allison told me recently. “When he passed away, I knew I wanted to do something to honor him and everything he stood for. That is when I first got involved with the Nebraska Honor Flights.”

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

The Honor Flights are massive cooperative efforts to fly veterans to Washington DC, at no charge to them, to see the monuments and tributes built for them and the friends they have lost in war or since conflict. They are organized by Patriotic Productions; founders Bill and Evonne Williams are literally angels on earth, devoting their lives to this cause and to their traveling Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, a tribute to every single man and woman who has died serving our country since 9/11.

In 2014, Allison spearheaded efforts in her tiny hometown of Chester, Nebraska to raise $500, the cost to send one Korean veteran to DC on an Honor Flight. They raised $4,000.. and Patriotic Productions asked Allison to join them as a guardian, a trip she also talked about when I interviewed her in 2015.

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

“It was an amazing and humbling experience that truly set me on a lifelong path to honor and respect these men and women,” said Allison. “Since this first Honor Flight, I [have helped] with the Gold Star Kids Honor Flight. This was a weekend dedicated to families who have lost a loved one in combat. To hear these little kids talk about their heroes with such optimism, hope and love was something very special.”

This mission, which she dubs ‘United We Stand: Honoring Our Military’, was Allison’s personal platform of service when she held two local Miss Nebraska titles in 2014 and 2015. She didn’t compete in 2016, but never stopped focusing on this important cause.

“The year I took off I was able to raise over $14,000 for the Vietnam Honor Flight and serve as a guardian for the second time,” said Allison. “I made over 300 ‘Bracelets for the Brave’, used as a fundraiser for a Kindergarten class to raise money for our veterans.”

So why compete again for Miss Nebraska, when she was accomplishing so very much as Miss Allison Tietjen?

Miss Heartland

“This fall, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a message that was never opened,” said Allison. “It was sent May 2015. The message was from a mother who just sent her son off to the Marines. She had received one of my ‘Bracelets for the Brave’ and told me how much that meant to her. She thanked me for thinking of her and wished me well as I competed for Miss Nebraska. At that moment I realized that all of this isn’t about me. It is about those mothers who know that Miss Heartland cares about them and their sons/daughters who are going off to serve our country. It is about the veterans who smile when Miss Heartland shakes their hand and tells them they are appreciated by myself and students across Nebraska. What clicked for me is I finally understood what the ‘power of the crown’ really means, and it’s why I competed for Miss Heartland and I’m working towards Miss Nebraska.”

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, has reached out to schools across the state to spread her message of patriotism and appreciation.

“I have students write Thank You notes to our active military and veterans,” said Allison. “I sent them to a non-profit called A Million Thanks that will send them to US service members all over the world. I have collected 300 so far and my goal is 700 by June, and 20,000 as Miss Nebraska.”

Remember that last goal Allison set and crushed? She is on pace to raise 60-times that initial $500 she had hoped for.

“I sent an email out to as many elementary, middle and high school principals as I could, detailing what an Honor Flight is and how they can get involved,” said Allison. “I described what my school and community did, and with just emailing, I was able to help start eight school fundraisers that raised a total of over $14,000. This year, I sent out another mass email and have around six schools that I know of raising money. In total, schools across Nebraska have raised $30,000 for Honor Flights in the last two years!”

Allison credits the Miss Nebraska Organization for showing her another way to serve her country, as well as helping her find a purpose and passion. She also volunteers through her sorority, Alpha Phi, Girl Scouts, and her church, University Lutheran Chapel, where she plays piano.

Ihop

“I always tell students I’m speaking to, ‘find what you love, discover your talents and strengths, and ind how you can use those strengths and passions to serve others.’ Being Miss Nebraska is not alway a glamorous job. I want people to know that behind the makeup and beautiful gowns are just a bunch of strong-willed, determined women who are working to make this world a better place.”

Africa

For this woman, that won’t stop if she doesn’t win the Miss Nebraska crown. She’s proven that twice now. When the lights turned off and the crowds went home, Allison proved her power. She studied abroad in Africa. She went skydiving. She took care of her body and mind (“piano is my therapy”). She was motivated to make every day better than the last for herself and everyone around her.

Every time a man or woman signs that paper, puts on that uniform, and leaves all of our comforts to PROTECT everything we know, they are ensuring we have another beautiful day. Another opportunity to wake up in America and do anything we set our mind to.

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Adrian, an American hero, was home to sing at my wedding eight years ago. I cannot wait to watch him marry his best friend and love, Emily, this October.

We take so much for granted. We take every day for granted, we take our freedom for granted. We never say thank you enough to the men and women, and their families, who sacrifice so much to make that possible.. so we can say what we please, do as we please, and work to become whatever we want to be..

..even Miss Nebraska. And if she wins, Allison hopes to say thank you to as many service members and their families as she can.

“I am the small town farmer’s daughter, but I am able to walk into a room full of strangers, clearly speak, share my story and take control of the room,” said Allison. “I understand what it means to give back and serve others without hesitation. I know how to put your heart and soul into something and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I truly believe that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth and that is because of the men and women who have served for us.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Patriotic Productions, the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit and the Nebraska Honor Flights.

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Click here to follow Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

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

Evolution

They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.

I, like many (I hope I’m not alone!), have periods of my life that I look back at and just SHUDDER. Times where my immaturity and weaknesses shined brighter than the good I hope I project, times I hope others have forgotten even though I simply cannot.  And maybe that’s a good thing; how can you climb out of valleys if you DON’T have those low points in the first place?  How can you grow if you don’t recognize those mistakes and learn from them?

Life is a journey.  There are lots of bumps along the way.  It’s not how often you trip, it’s how many times you catch yourself, and even learn how to avoid those trouble spots.  Let’s call it personal evolution.

Marie Allison is a Creighton University graduate who has never been afraid to try something, and more importantly, never been afraid to keep going or move on.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

From communication, to patriotism.  From classic to country.  From rodeo pageants.. to Miss Nebraska.  This young lady is no stranger to experiences or to changes, and her life is a colorful piece of artwork reflecting that.

“I am a music and art aficionada, an accomplished equestrienne, adventuries foodie/student of healthful lifestyle, fitness and outdoors enthusiast, passionate academic, and aspiring salsera (I love all latine dance!),” Marie told me recently.  She is also Miss Western Nebraska 2016.

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“I became involved with the Miss America system three years ago after deciding that rodeo pageants involved horses, sure, but they just were not for me,” said Marie, who went on to compete for Miss Colorado in 2014.  “I love how the Miss America Pageant system is a platform for feminine empowerment and service.  I became aware of the idea that holding a title is the ultimate responsibility and a job, not just decorative wording.  I liked that idea and related to it on paper, but was unsure how to be passionate and employ it in my own life.”

So Marie competed again in a new state while attending Creighton, qualifying to compete for Miss Nebraska 2015.  Marie chose a song highlighting her classical training (she now has a Music degree from Creighton), and as she told me last year, she focused on Communciation: Proactive Prevention as her personal message and platform (click here to read more!)  This year.. everything is different.

“If asked before why I want this job, I would have had an answer, but I do not think I believed in my own ability to hold the title of Miss Nebraska before this year,” said Marie.  “I have discovered more about who I am every time I compete because I am put in a unique position to think about how I relate to the world and why I do what I do (not just in pageants); my ideals, my goals, my aspirations, my values, my morals, and so on.”

Here’s a sample of what Marie’s discovered about herself in the last year alone..

She loves to model, featured here in photos by Anthony Gaines Photography, and walking the runway for designer Sabrina Jones at Omaha Fashion Week.

She loves to create art, through something as simple as a selfie, or as complex as a sketch.

She loves to serve, and gets to do it through both volunteering and through her full time jobs.

“I currently work full-time for Omaha Housing Authority as an Executive Assistant and also with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network as a Marketing Specialist,” said Marie.  “I am humbled to have secure employment that keeps me engaged in a constant learning experience, but luckily I find time to fit in working on developing the OHA Foundation’s donor base, fundraising events and childhood literacy programs, as well as fundraising for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and other organizations dedicated to pediatric cancer research.  I strongly advocate both philanthropy and service in daily life an am always looking for new volunteer opportunities.”

And as she started planning to compete for the Miss Nebraska title, Marie did a 180.. changing her talent genre and her personal platform.

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Marie attending President Obama’s speech in Omaha in January.

“My platform is called ‘Justice For All’.  We have the power to love each other and stand together; it is time we use that power, ” said Marie.  “The greatest challenge I see facing my generation is the rifts being formed by racial and socioeconomic disparity.  It is my goal to start an educated dialogue surrounding these issues to invite people to begin making changes in their individual daily lives and their communities, which will translate to our country and our world.  Acknowledging bias and prejudice and how each of us is acculturated is a first step twoards lasting change.  I aspire to this challenge because of the very real challenges my family faced when I was growing up.”

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“After much deliberation, I decided to sing ‘Where Were You’ written by Alan Jackson in honor of 9/11,” said Marie.  “This song wasn’t exactly in my wheel house, to say the least.  It is not traditionally flashy and showy like most pageant pieces, but I knew it was the right song because it was the one that gave me shivers I still have every time I hear it, and a song I am honored to sing.  In Talent, it is my goal to connect with my audience in the short 90 seconds allotted.  The message that there is nothing greater than love that keeps us interconnected is profound and is at the heart of my platform.”

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To those who follow the Miss Nebraska pageant.. Marie Allison is coming back this year as a different contestant, with a changed outlook.  To those who think negatively of pageants in general, Marie wants you to know Miss America has also evolved over the years.

“People who dismiss pageantry as an antiquated tradition where women degrade themselves by focusing only on appearance are often doing just that: focusing on what pageantry appears to be, rather than what it means to the individuals involved and seeing them as upstanding women who are future leaders,” said Marie.  “Miss America has changed since 1921 to promote women’s interests.  The women in the Miss Ameirica program are some of the most intelligent and wonderful people who are ready to take action to make a difference.  The actual pageant, what you see on stage, is the tip of the iceberg of what we do and who we are: we have the beauty, the brains, the talent, and the wherewithal to make great things happen.  There is a reason this has remained a great sisterhood and tradition for almost 100 years.  Miss America showcases the great power of the feminine.  I can say for myself, and for each contestant involved, that we mature as people because of the pageant experience, professionally and personally.”

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Personal evolution.  With the family and friends Marie calls ‘a core component’ of who she is, this young woman is ready to showcase her authentic self on one of our state’s biggest stages.

“This year, I know I have the goals and the wherewithal to make lasting connections that matter and implement a plan of action to promote the Miss Nebraska Organization,” said Marie.  “I have a platform I am excited to promote, a plan, and conviction to see it through regardless of the outcome of the pageant in June.  I know how I want to shape my year of service and what it will take to treat this title both as a humbling, awesome experience as a representative of this wonderful state and as a job to be done.”

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Photo courtesy Anthony Gaines Photography

“I would be honored to have the opportunity of shaping this role with a perspective that comes from hard work, dedication to learning and morals, and a desire to lift others up and include them in the conversations about pageants, scholarship and uniting together to greet the future,” said Marie.  “I endeavor to be congruent in what I think and what I pursue in life and simply allow myself to be me when I compete in spite of the pressure to appear and act in a certain way.  Knowing I can be myself and rely on who I am what I think in any given situation and that I am loved by people who are important to me is one of the most humbling, gratifying experiences.  Winning is always nice, but the most uplifiting experiences for me come from accepting all the good and the bad that come with being who I am.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Western Nebraska 2016 Marie Allison on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MARIE?

2015 * Home Of The Brave

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes by phone at 307-340-0601, or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.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 Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Young!

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Brianna Little!

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!