Tag Archive | AMERICA

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.

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“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.”

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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!

Breaking The Silence

“I had nightmares every night.”

“I didn’t understand why it was happening.”

“I didn’t want people to judge me.”

This year, 16 incredible young women will take the stage in North Platte to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.  We only see the sparkle and the smiles.. we don’t always see the story behind each contestant, the life experiences that contributed to who each person is.

One of these women is tired of hiding.  Her name is Tristen, and she is determined to share her story with every, single person willing to listen.

Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

“As one of the 1 in 6 women who have been/will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, I know how important it is to educate America on this problem,” Tristen told me recently.  “Sexual assault is often put on the back burner and not addressed due to its sensitive and uncomfortable status.  Well guess what, I’m not here to make people feel comfortable; I am here to save lives.”

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Tristen Wecker is part of a unique Miss Nebraska class; she is one of 13 contestants this year who have never competed at Miss Nebraska before.

“I have always admired the Miss Nebraska Organization,” said Tristen.  “It really is an organization that represents such poise, elegance, and empowerment.  Last year I decided I was ready to be one of those girls who makes a difference in her community and stands for something she believes in.  I competed in my first ever pageant last year and was amazed at how much it had to offer me.  Aside from the countless friendships I made, I also took away with me interview skills, a better view of myself as a woman, and scholarship money for college.  Even though I didn’t walk away with a crown that night, I knew competing in the Miss Nebraska Organization was something that God had put on my heart.  I have so much to teach others and so much to share about my platform.”

Tristen returned to compete in the first preliminary pageants possible to qualify for Miss Nebraska 2017.. and she won, crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest last summer.

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“I knew this was a sign from God that I was ready to make an impact,” said Tristen.  “With a crown on my head and the Lord at my side, I knew that this was my calling.”

Young women join our program for any number of reasons; they love to perform, they enjoy networking and meeting people, and they benefit from the thousands in cash scholarships we offer.  Tristen, a Minatare High School graduate now studying at Black Hills State University, was drawn to all of it.

“Being driven is a huge part of where I am now,” said Tristen.  “When I want something for myself or another person, I do everything I can to help make it happen.  Between juggling 18 credit hours in college, volunteering for local organizations, working part-time, being family oriented and preparing for Miss Nebraska, I have no choice but to be motivated.  Being driven has helped me achieve everything that I have done so far.”

Tristen was also eager to share a message.  To many of our titleholders, this is known as a platform of service.  To Tristen, it’s an opportunity to expose part of her soul in the hopes of helping others.

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“When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember a series of strange events happening to me,” described Tristen.  Her story is graphic and disturbing, detailing years of assaults she kept quiet from everyone.

“I finally decided to say something when I was in 7th grade,” said Tristen.  “I was at a Wednesday night Youth Group and my youth pastor had a lesson that had really told me that it was time. All of a sudden I see myself pouring my heart out to my pastor. I had no intentions of this happening that night. I felt a sigh of relief when she listened and I learned that the same thing had happened to her when she was young. I felt comfort in sharing my secret to someone who understood. I thought that she could help me in this silent battle. A couple days later, I am at school and get called to the office. My school counselor informs me that we are headed to CAPWN, a local organization that takes on cases like mine. I knew what was happening. I was so angry, words couldn’t even explain. I thought to myself, how could she say something? My entire high school life is going to be ruined, I’ll never be liked. I hated myself and everyone.”

Tristen began counseling, and in time, opened herself to support, encouragement and confidence.

“I realized what an amazing woman I am,” said Tristen. “At this time I was an 11th grader, I had more volunteer hours than I could count, I had straight A’s, I was a starter in volleyball and basketball, and was the captain of the cheerleading squad. I really evaluated myself and thought, ‘Why are you hiding your secret?  You are a bad-ass woman and its time to stand up for those who can’t’. (Excuse my language, I NEVER cuss, but that was literally my thought that day.)”

Tristen is now using her notoriety as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to share that lesson and to address taboos about sexual assault, assumptions even victims may feel about their situations and about themselves.

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“Through the Miss Nebraska Organization, I am able to educate citizens on how to identify if someone has been assaulted, how to be an effective bystander, and the legalities and right you are entitled to as a survivor,” said Tristen.  “Being encouraging is something that is so important to me.  When I look back at past events in my life, I remember those who supported and encouraged me through my journeys.  I remember how good it felt for someone to believe in me.  I strive to make others feel that way.”

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tristen-and-allison

“Creating lifelong friendships is better than any gown I could try on.”

“I am thankful that my struggles have made me realize my true self and my purpose in life.”

“I’m not quite where I want to be, but I know I will get there.”

In preparing to write this article, I told Tristen how sorry I was all of this had happened to her.  She told me, “Don’t feel sorry, God had it happen for a reason and now I know why!”  This incredible young woman chose to speak out.  Beyond just breaking her silence, she turned the volume up to 10, hoping to make a difference for someone else.  She exemplifies what I hope people in our audience in North Platte and far beyond remember about all of our contestants.. that they are so much more than sparkle and smiles.  They are style, success, scholarship and service.  And in the case of Tristen Wecker, Miss Old West Balloon Fest.. STRENGTH.

“Obviously, my goal is to win Miss Nebraska,” said Tristen.  “It has been my dream to represent this great state with grace and elegance.  I am confident that I would serve the title well.  If my dreams come true and I win, I hope to share my platform on the Miss America stage and reach millions of people who desperately need to hear my message.  To me, sharing my platform is more important than winning the Miss America crown, but doing both would be nice.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest Tristen Wecker on Facebook.

For more information about Miss Old West Balloon Fest or for details about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE.  You can also learn more about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant by visiting their Facebook page (CLICK HERE), or by contacting Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by email atcengelhaupt@fnbnp.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 Elkhorn’s Oustanding Teen 2017 Emily Lenser

NEXT.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Kiera Rhodes

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!

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!