Tag Archive | josh rishling

Meet The Fosters

When I was a green, giggly young reporter at KETV, I was blessed with an incredible opportunity to fill in anchor for our weekday morning show.  I was so nervous.. anchoring for 2 hours straight everyday?  Would people like me?  Would I screw up the energy and chemistry that was already in place?  Little did I know, I would get to work 3am – Noon everyday with some phenomenal people.

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I guess when you work completely whackadoodle hours your form a deeper bond than most.  And those concerns I had?  They all evaporated on an early morning reading a story about the Beatles, when I accidentally said ‘Sir Rob McCartney’ instead of Paul.. and my co-anchor John Oakey stepped INTO camera view to say ‘um, excuse me.. he makes you call him SIR Rob McCartney?!?! I usually just call him Rob..’

John is one of the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met.  He’s HILARIOUS, talented, and incredibly devoted to his family, church and community.  I will always remember seeing the interaction between John and his wife, Kristi, and how in love they still are after 25+ years of marriage.  That love expanded 4-fold a few years ago.

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John and Kristi were the proud parents of two teenagers, but had been told many years ago they were unable to have anymore children.  For years, they considered adoption but from where? How? They began the long process of background checks and referrals from family and friends, and one day, received a phone call: a 9-month old baby girl needed a home.  They welcomed Trinity with open arms.  A few months later.. another call.. Trinity’s biological mom was pregnant again.  Hoping to keep the sisters together, the Oakeys welcomed Alivia, and began caring for two children 16 months or younger.  This happened twice more.. and each time the Oakeys welcomed another child, first Kaleb and then Kinley.  Here’s what John wrote about getting that call (again!) that Baby Kinley needed a home, too.

“Here’s the thing. How do you say No? There were countless reasons not to take her. Life was already crazy and hectic. Adding a fourth? Wow. But I was struck with the image of this girl, 18 years later, finding me and asking why I took her three siblings and not her. I did not have an answer. Except the overwhelming confirmation that we have been blessed. We are able to provide for our family. The Lord has looked after us. Now it was our time to look after this baby girl.”

This process was agonizing for the Oakey family; the fight to formally adopt was long and hard, and at one point, they were forced to return their children to their biological mother’s custody.  All four are now officially OAKEYS, enrolled in school and THRIVING thanks to the incredible parents who opened their hearts and homes to them.  (I encourage you to read more of the Oakey’s story on John’s fantastic blog Young Dad, Old Dad. CLICK HERE!)

Right now in Nebraska, several hundred children are waiting to be adopted.  Countless more are in need of foster homes.  A young woman from Gering, Nebraska is already planning her future foster family.. and encouraging others in her community to learn more.

Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

“I have grown up around little kids; I LOVE kids,” Haylee told me recently.  “My aunts and uncles used to have foster kids in their homes.  I remember most of them very vividly.  They are part of the family.”

Hayley attended Community Christian School and enrolled at Gering High School last fall. As she mentally prepared for both high school and the public school setting, she wanted to find a way to become active in her community and meet the friends she would go to class with everyday.  She found those opportunities in a local pageant that also qualified her to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“I love getting out in my community,” said Haylee.  “I had never really volunteered in my community much until I got my title, and I am quite sad I didn’t start earlier, yet very glad I am realizing now what an influence I can have.  The girls and strong women involved in the pageant, whether they are competing, mentoring or organizing are and will always be a blessing.  Getting to know them has been amazing!”

“I’ve never been shy, but I’ve never really thought that I could do very much in our community at a young age,” said Haylee.  “The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant has shown me otherwise.  I have the power of making an impact on kids, which are the future of our community.  Being a good influence goes farther than I ever could have imagined.”

From schools to events to superhero fundraisers, Haylee has been all over Scotts Bluff County making the most of her title, hoping to show everyone she meets they are represented by a thoughtful, charismatic and fun-loving young woman who wants to build others up and help them succeed.

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“I love people,” said Haylee.  “I always strive to see the best in them and then bring it out so others can see it, too.  Pageants are a way for girl to build confidence in who they are and what they are capable of.  The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant is very focused on giving out as many scholarships as they can, which helps us girls have a better opportunity at a great college education and therefore a great future in which we can contribute to the world.”

Haylee is also channelling that impact into the family atmosphere that helped shape the young woman she is today.

“My platform is Fostering The Future,” said Haylee.  “It focuses on the need to support our local foster care families, foster care children, and the great people who work with these families and children at our Department of Health and Human Services.  I want kids in foster care to be part of a family, too.  I want my community to support our foster care families so the families can focus on loving the foster children in their homes.”

Families like the Oakeys, who are now raising three, little princesses who I hope grow up watching Miss America and maybe someday, walk across the Miss Nebraska stage with their proud parents in the crowd.

Oakey girls

John, if your little girls need a royal role model, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Haylee Umble is your gal.

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“My main goal at the pageant is not necessarily to win, but to do my very best,” said Haylee.  “I want to build lasting friendships with all the girls as well.  In the future, I wish to impact children as a teacher.  I want to make the lasting statement on them that they matter, are special and are loved.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble on Facebook!

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant or how you can become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook!  You can also email Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by emailing cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

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!

This Just Into The Newsplex..

Someday, I want to write a book.  Maybe I’d be the only person to ever read it.. but I love to write, and I’d love to record my memories of working in TV news before all of the hairspray finally permeates my skull. (Let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time.). This May marks my 15th anniversary working in journalism, all of it at KETV.  In May of 2001 I began my first news internship at 2665 Douglas, hired by legendary assignment editor Joe Kasmir.  In so many of my memories, there are a few consistent names and faces.  My mentor Joe, who passed away suddenly years ago.  My ‘TV husband’ Rob, a journalist I revered growing up in Papillion, who became a friend I respect even more today. And a guy behind the camera, who has spent decades of his life devoted to our craft and to our story here at KETV.  His name is Scott Buer.

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Photo courtesy Kent Sievers, renowned photographer with the Omaha World Herald

You may not recognize Scott, but if you’ve watched KETV AT ALL since the 1980’s, you’ve seen his work.  He is also our chief photojournalist, hiring and working with our team of photographers to shoot and edit the stories you see every night.  Scott turned 60 this week.. and when I tried to pinpoint one memory of this guy to share a birthday wish on Facebook.. I just couldn’t narrow it down.  Here’s just a sample of why.

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May, 2004.  Scott and I were assigned to follow up on a terribly tragic story; two teenagers had died in a car accident in Elkhorn, Kayla Wilkins and Nick Alfrey.  When we walked into that house, I was overwhelmed at the grief this family was facing; Kayla was only 15 years old, she was the youngest child.  Her big brother bravely accepted the ‘speaking role’ for his family and sat down with us to share his memories of his baby sister.  12 years later, I can still picture him describing sitting at his sister’s side in the hospital, knowing her time was short.  He started singing to her ‘You Are My Sunshine’, a song she had copied from him when he was learning to play piano as a kid.  He told us that as he sang the words to his sister in the hospital, her heart rate suddenly started increasing on the monitors.. and then it stopped.  Kayla was gone.

Kayla Wilkins

Kayla Lynne Wilkins * August 31, 1988 – May 5, 2004

As a journalist, you’re supposed to be a brick wall, right?  You’re supposed to be immune to emotion.  I couldn’t hold back the tears.. but in that moment, Scott, my seasoned partner for the day, spoke out.  He said, ‘let’s just take a second.’  We turned the camera off.  We just sat in silence, and we cried.

When we finished our interview, Scott and I hadn’t made it more than a few blocks down the street.  He pulled over, turned off the car and said again, ‘let’s just take a break for a minute.’

To this day, that was one of the hardest stories I’ve ever covered at KETV, magnified years later when one of our own, photojournalist Jeff Frolio, died at that very intersection covering a story.  His cross went up alongside Kayla and Nick’s crosses; the Wilkins family attended Jeff’s services.  We met yet again years after that, when their eldest daughter, Amber, suffered a traumatic brain injury in another terrible car accident.  Amber later told KETV’s Hannah Pickett that she remembers her sister, Kayla, with her in the medical helicopter after the crash.. kissing her nose and telling her to fight.

CLICK HERE to watch Amber Wilkins’ miraculous story on KETV.

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Another crash.. this time around, I don’t have a date for you, but I do remember the day.  It was bright outside.. and Scott and I were again working together, this time at the scene of the accident.  Law enforcement had shut down the road.. a mangled car with the side completely crushed in was a few yards in front of us.  I heard it before I saw it.. the whir of helicopter blades as the medical chopper drew closer.  I looked up and watched it approach… but before it landed, even before it hovered over our heads, the pilot turned around.  I didn’t understand what was going on.. where were they going??

I looked at the car, and the paramedics on scene pulled a sheet up over what was left of the vehicle.  Scott explained to me it was too late.  As I stood there, speechless, Scott handed me a rosary.  He told me that he kept it with him all the time.

I’m not as devout a Christian as I sometimes wish I was.. but I remember asking my mom for a rosary for Christmas soon after that.  I carry it in my purse now.. and on really tough days, like anchoring our coverage of Officer Kerrie Orozco’s funeral.. that little piece of jewelry gives me a little comfort.

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This date, I will never forget.  December 5, 2007.

I was in VERY early that day to cover President George W. Bush’s visit to Omaha.  It was a long and COLD morning, and I was pretty pumped to be back in the Newsplex by 1pm with two stories shot.  I had a full four hours to piece together our story in house (which is an ETERNITY in local news.)  I was sitting at my desk when the scanners went off.. and the first thing I remember hearing is ‘man down at the bottom of the escalator.’

I’ve referenced a few of my memories before.. News Director Rose Ann Shannon shouting ‘we’ve got to put everything we’ve got on this!’  Somehow, she just knew something unprecedented was happening.

I don’t remember if we were told, or if we just moved, but Scott and I ran, together, out the back door to his news unit.  I remember him ‘shushing’ me as he pushed buttons on his car scanner, trying to find the radio dispatch channel for the first responders.  We were locked in traffic on West Dodge, going up the hill near 90th.. and a police cruiser passed us at full speed ON the median to our left. Driving ON the median.

Scott parked at the hotel southeast of Westroads Mall.. it overlooked the south entrance to Von Maur without us getting too close and interfering with first responders.  The police helicopter.. it was so damn low.. so close to the roof, just circling.  Police officers and deputies were moving close to the building, protective shields up, inching closer and closer to the doors.. I had an eerie flashback to a story I had done just months before with the La Vista Police Department, watching as their officers practiced active shooter training.  This was no practice.. and as one of our reporters interviewed a shopper who’d run out of the mall, I remember shuddering as I realized, ‘this is happening TO US.  This is really happening.’

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CLICK HERE to watch Kristyna Engdahl’s story on the 8-year anniversary of the Von Maur Shootings.. including an interview with the first inside that day.. Lt. Rob Jones

I had breaks, moments to sit in the truck and listen to what was happening.  Scott never did.  He stood behind his camera and captured every moment all afternoon and into the night.  We didn’t know who would come out, if they’d come out.  We weren’t sure how many had died inside.

The Omaha Police Chief was out of town, so the lead public information officer, Sgt. Teresa Negron, was our source for details.  I’d worked with the Sergeant every morning for a few years, going to headquarters to check police reports.  She is a TOUGH WOMAN; she later went on to the Omaha Police homicide unit and the cold case unit.  That day, her voice shook as she gave the first official statements on what happened inside Von Maur.  Nine people were dead, including the shooter.  Several more were hurt and taken to area hospitals, two of them near death.

Still up in that hotel parking lot, Scott, engineer Josh Rishling and I were all huddled around the monitor in our live truck listening.  I put my hand on Josh’s arm, stunned at what we were hearing.  We then looked at each other as police announced the hotel we were just feet from would become the gathering place for any family members who were looking for information.

As the sun set on that cold, gloomy December day, numerous police units began driving up into that parking lot.. soon followed by vehicle after vehicle, filled with people hoping for answers.  I remember one woman with glasses behind the wheel of mini-van, clutching her steering wheel in one hand, the fingers of her other hand gripping a cell phone pressed to her ear.  As we went live, reporting what we were seeing, Scott said to me, ‘Brandi, the Christmas lights just turned on.’

The white string of bulbs around the Von Maur building glowed that night just as they did every other evening during the holiday season.  It was such a stark contrast to the parking lot.. empty and silent.  They were supposed to symbolize joy and peace.. yet inside was pure horror.  I think it reminded both Scott and I that that mall, that building was jam-packed with people, shopping for their loved ones.. and that some of those families would never see their mothers, fathers, children, and friends again.

So many heavy images, feelings and sounds from that day and the days that followed.. but I also think of a moment that still makes me smile.  Other than hot dogs and water from the Red Cross, Scott and I hadn’t had much to eat or drink that day.  KETV sports anchor Matt Schick (now with ESPN) called me around 10:30-11 asking if he could bring us anything.  I asked for chicken nuggets.. and when I leaned over to Scott and asked him, he grabbed my cell phone and VERY urgently said, ‘I NEED CIGARETTES!’  I laughed.. certainly for the first time that day, and one of the last times for the next several days.

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I’m breaking what I consider a huge journalistic rule by writing this post..and that is that WE are not the story.  WE are not the stars of the show. We are simply the narrators, the story tellers, the recorders of our city and state’s history.  Still, as a student of history, I wonder if maybe one of you reading this will connect with these same memories and think back to where you were when you heard about each of these moments. Selfishly, I hope my sons someday pick up ‘Mom’s book’ just to see what their momma did for her job.

I hope this post does one more thing… to tell Scott Buer THANKS.  For teaching me it’s OK to cry as a journalist; it doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means you’re human.  For showing me it helps to seek out what gives you strength, and that as different as we all are from one another, there are bigger things that connect all of us to each other. And finally, for being a damn good partner in the field on some of the toughest days we’ve ever faced as journalists.  YOUR stories of covering nearly 40 years of news always refuel my fire to constantly strive to be a better journalist.

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Happy Birthday, my friend.  Here’s to many more days of storytelling together.

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For Kayla Wilkins, Nick Alfrey, Jeff Frolio, Joe Kasmir, Gary Scharf, Beverly Flynn, Angie Schuster, Dianne Trent, John McDonald, Gary Joy, Janet Jorgensen, and Maggie Webb.. may they rest in peace.  And for the Wilkins family, Fred Wilson, and Micky Oldham, your strength continues to inspire me.