Tag Archive | papillion-la vista

Dreaming Big

I still remember being a little girl with HUGE glasses, taking field trips to The Rose or to Papillion-La Vista High School to watch theater. I was IN AWE. I idolized the actors and singers and wanted, so badly, to be on that stage just like them.

When I got to high school, Drama classes were a must, and I tried out for PLHS’s production of Oklahoma! I was one of the youngest students cast – I couldn’t even drive home from rehearsals everyday! I was ‘adopted’ by one of the stars of the show, Alyssa Passey.

Alyssa was a senior (guys, A SENIOR!!) who, for whatever amazing reason, befriended me during those months I really didn’t know anyone else. She drove me home everyday in her amazing pink Dodge Neon (which was AWESOME), and just made me feel COOL. I wanted to be JUST. LIKE. HER.

A 13-year old Millard North Middle School student has a very similar story.. except her Alyssa’s literally sparkled before her eyes.

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Her name is Marissa Messick. When this photo was taken, she was just 6 years old and IN HEAVEN.

“Everything started when I was a Little Sister for the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant in 2010,” said Marissa. “My Big Sister, Mindy Schreiber, won Miss Douglas County that night and it was so great to be able to go through that experience with her.”

And Marissa met more Queens over the next several years, as a World Champion baton twirler with The Stepperette’s, a team that has included Miss Nebraska 2001 Tina Foehlinger, Miss Nebraska runners up Tami and Rachel Foehlinger, and Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters. Marissa learned more and more about the sash and crown she’d seen so many times as a little girl.

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“Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Nebraska are great programs,” said Marissa. “They teach you how to find yourself and they help you become more confident. It helps with paying for school. More importantly, it defies a common fear of public speaking. Being able to speak in public is an amazing life skill and this program helps majorly with being more comfortable doing that.”

 

 

So this year, Marissa decided to try this whole pageant thing for herself, and was crowned Miss Millard’s Outstanding Teen.

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“My favorite part of being a titleholder is being able to meet so many people and have younger kids look up to me,” said Marissa. “It’s amazing to be able to walk into a room and see their faces just light up with a huge smile and say ‘Mom, look, a princess’. Then you can tell them about your platform and they listen with everything they have because they’re talking to a princess. You can light up their day and impact their lives all in one.”

Marissa has used that attention to promote kindness and respect for others, a mission she calls ‘Believe In The Golden Rule.’

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“Treat others how you like to be treated,” said Marissa. “So many people judge and bully others on what they look like, what they do, how smart they are, and how much money their families make. I’ve talked to Alternate Curriculum Program students at my school about this; they shouldn’t be treated any differently then we get treated. Also, I wrote a book on the Golden Rule in English class and read it to 2nd graders at Cather Elementary.”

Those speaking opportunities are also benefitting Marissa. She’ll begin classes at Millard North High School next fall, and hopes to someday become a lawyer.

“This is definitely helping me because I have to be able to form opinions on topics. I will have to be ok and comfortable with public speaking,” said Marissa. “Also, I will have to know how to balance my time, and being an 8th grader while getting ready for high school, spending time with friends, doing appearances, twirling and preparing for State definitely teaches me how to healthily balance my time.”

‘State’ is the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition, the next step in Marissa’s journey. The same moments she watched as a little girl with a smile on her face and starts in her eyes are now in her path.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“My goal isn’t to win, which sounds strange, but my goal is to meet friends and have a good experience,” said Marissa. “It doesn’t matter if you win at state or if you had the best dress, but the changes you made. I think, not just with Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen but with everything you do in life, what you leave behind is most important.”

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To follow Miss Millard’s Outstanding Teen Marissa Messick, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

PREVIOUS.. Miss Elkhorn’s Outstading Teen Rachel Greufe

NEXT.. Special 3-Part Post! Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Sofia Drelicharz, Miss Heartland’s Outstanding Teen Aubrie Charter, and Miss North Platte’s Outstanding Teen Aspen Golter

Miss NE Loves PS

I am a proud Papillion-La Vista Schools graduate, attending Kindergarten through 12th grade in the district.

My children are Gretna Dragons, a place and school district we plan to raise our family.

My husband is in the middle of his 13th season coaching the Millard North Mustangs Varsity Baseball team; he’s a Millard South graduate.

Everyday, I am grateful and excited to work for Westside Community Schools.

My past, present and future are deeply intertwined with Nebraska’s incredible schools, just one of many success stories about how our powerful system of public education teaches, empowers and shapes countless young people every day.

Chris Klein was in Millard West High School’s musical Westside Story before he was cast in American Pie by Academy Award winning director Alexander Payne, also from Omaha. Emmy Award winning actress Marg Helgenberger played in the band at North Bend Central High School. Merle Dandridge was the lead in countless plays at Papillion-La Vista High School, winning a State One Act Championship before scoring roles on shows like Sons of Anarchy, The Night Shift and Greenleaf.

They’re all Nebraska natives, and their talents were all nurtured in their time in Nebraska’s public schools. A terrific group of people with the organization Nebraska Loves Public Schools was created to share their stories and successes. And a Chadron, Nebraska teenager hopes to follow in their footsteps.

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Shelby Blundell is a junior at Chadron High School and a passionate supporter of all things Arts.

“I love helping people achieve their goals and feel happy,” Shelby told me recently. “Performing arts are a way for individuals to learn who they are.” The 16-year old would know, as she’s matured and grown while participating in theater at her school and within her community.

 She’s a girl who’s tried a little bit of everything – Shelby is also a hunter, a softball player, and the current Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

That last role is what spurred Shelby to take action for the world of theater she loves so dearly, to make sure that others will have the same opportunities in the arts as she has.

 

 

“My platform is The Art Of It All: Supporting Performing Arts in Schools,” said Shelby. “Arts programs are struggling because their funding is pulled and further lessened. I am combatting this by doing several fundraisers for our deteriorating situation in our auditorium. We are currently in need of new spotlights and sound systems. I have raffles in motion and a fundraiser event on the calendar!”

Shelby also wants to do more; she’ll compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in April, and if she wins, she already has a to-do list ready to go.

“My goals include three points. The first would be to increase the amount of funding to schools in Nebraska and hopefully beyond,” said Shelby. “Second is to raise funds for Community Health Charities of Nebraska. And lastly, fund new materials for the Post Playhouse at Fort Robinson.”

An ambitious plan, but one Shelby has confidence in, in part, thanks to the time she’s spent being a titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

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“This program has been amazingly influential in my life,” said Shelby. “It has opened me up into the happy and outgoing person that I now am. My future has become more and more clear and feasible with each pageant. The experience has given me the edge on my competition in the job world and the rest of my life.”

Shelby hopes to one day be a set designer for musicals, combining her passion for the arts with her love of math. She wants to join the ranks of other proud Nebraska schools graduates, hoping to put Chadron High on the mark as the place where her journey began, and possibly, the school that produced Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“As my mother says, ‘if you like your job, you won’t work a day in your life’,” said Shelby. “My favorite part of being a titleholder is the overwhelming feeling of having power to help your community. I’m glad to be able to represent western Nebraska!”

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To follow Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Shelby Blundell, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELBY?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Big Things Come In Little Packages

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival Alexandria Warneke

COMING SOON.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak

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!

The Fisherman

POST KETV.. a long awaited trip to the Lake of the Ozarks.  No partying, no late night booze cruises, just family time and the peace of the water.  My Dad says it’s the Dane in us that pulls us to it.. that makes us feel complete serenity when we can hear the calming slap of water on the dock.  Even in sweltering heat; a day at the lake is bearable.  Even when you don’t catch a thing, fishing is nature’s therapy.  There’s something about the water that puts everything in balance.

In a few short weeks, a Papillion family will once again answer a similar calling to the water.  Four, incredible women will stand side by side and breathe in a place that helps them feel whole.. and at peace.

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Sherry was a 15-year old cheerleader at Wayne High School.  In the late 70’s, it was an annual tradition for the girls to muster up their courage and ask a guy to the Sadie Hawkins dance.  Sherry, just a sophomore, had her eye on 17-year old Kevin Murray, a junior football player.

“We grew up together in Wayne, a small town, where everyone knew you,” said Sherry.  “Kevin played multiple sports in school.  He enjoyed hunting and fishing with his family and friends, a real guys’ guy.”

And from the beginning it seems, he was Sherry’s guy.

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Their lives from that point on were a John Cougar Mellencamp song brought to life.  They began dating after that Sadie Hawkins dance, and married less than a year after Sherry graduated from Wayne High.  April 12, 1980.. two American kids doing the best they can.

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“Kevin excelled in industrial tech classes and landed a job with a couple small town contractors building farm buildings,” said Sherry. “Work was slow in the winter months and after adding a child, Jennifer, 1982, to the mix we started to have bigger aspirations.   I had an uncle in Omaha that said he thought Kevin could get a job with Peter Kiewit and Sons Construction Company if he wanted to move to Omaha.”

They did; Kiewit hired Kevin in August of 1984.  He didn’t have a college degree, but he did have talent, determination, and an incomparable work ethic.

“He continued to work his way up the ladder with each job he was on,” said Sherry.  “He impressed his foremen and the company bosses and was promoted many times.”

Kevin Murray climbed to the top; the VERY top, named General Superintendent overseeing all of Kiewit’s work in Omaha, including the First National Bank Tower.  Kevin was superintendent for the project, the tallest building in downtown Omaha.

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“He would say that was his mark left on the city, they couldn’t take that away from him,” said Sherry.  “He had a very high standard that he held himself to. He was very proud of the man he had become, coming from a small town with no college education to holding one of the highest positions in the company’s construction world. He was lucky enough to become a stock holder with Kiewit and earned a fine salary for someone without a college degree, providing his family with a wonderful life.”

By then, Kevin and Sherry’s family had grown to five, the couple raising three beautiful, spirited daughters.  The ‘guys’ guy’ was the ONLY guy in the Murray household, and taught his girls about the same simple pleasures he had known growing up; hunting, camping and family.

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From Sherry: “Kevin had been fishing at a farm pond in Iowa and caught these nice bluegill that the girls helped him clean! Yummy supper that night!”

The Murray girls grew up with barbies, ribbons.. and fishing poles.

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From Sherry: “Kevin and I and the girls fishing at a Buckskin lake up in NE Nebraska 1990!”

The Murray sisters grew up beautiful, well rounded and strong.  Jennifer excelled in the arts, winning leading roles in musical groups and plays throughout junior high and high school.  Ashley showed athleticism early on, a key varsity softball player on 2 state championship teams.  Marissa, a born leader, set trends and standards from school hallways to the football sidelines as a competitive cheerleader.  No matter what their activity, their parents were their rocks.. and their friends.

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Fall of 2004.. Jennifer had moved to Lincoln to pursue a degree in dental hygiene. Ashley had just started classes at UNO, and Marissa was just starting her freshman year at Papillion-La Vista High.  Kevin planned to attend the funeral of his favorite great aunt in Dixon, Nebraska, then stop in Crofton for an afternoon of walleye fishing with his cousin.

“The morning he left he was in a hurry and franticly looking for his sunglasses, and we were having a slight disagreement about a parenting issue. I guess you can say we left each other with mad feelings between us,” said Sherry.  “I called him on the phone about 2:30 that day to let him know I had found his sunglasses in a basket of laundry I had put away. He said Gary already had two fish, he was eager to get out there ,too. He was just getting ready to go out on Lewis and Clark Lake, a place he and I had fished many times together, but this day he would be alone. I told him good luck and I love you.”

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Four hours later, Sherry received a phone call.  Kevin’s boat had been found adrift on the lake, but there was no sign of Kevin.  His cousin, Gary, immediately joined a group of searchers that grew by the day to find any clues.. to find Kevin.

It took five days.  On October 12, 2004.. Sherry’s 43rd birthday.. crews found her husband.

“His death was ruled a drowning,” said Sherry.  “We will never know what caused him to be tossed from the boat.  There was damage to the passenger seat and rod holder that looked as an impact of some sort caused him to be thrown overboard. I have kept those sunglasses and the lesson they taught me: to never forget to say I love you to someone you love. You never know if you will get that chance again.”

Jenni Murray-Rohacik is one of my dearest friends.  In the days crews searched for her dad, I had dreams they found him alive; that everything was OK.  I went to the Murray home during that terrible stretch of days and stood next to Jenni as she knelt down next to Sherry, who stared in her eldest daughter’s eyes, shaking her head, unable to form sentences.  When Jenni and I drove to St. Columbkille to talk to a priest about services, Jenni broke down in grief.  I broke down in tears days later, as Jenni bravely stood in that church and read the Fisherman’s Prayer in tribute to her beloved father.

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I thank the Lord I have never known grief like what this family went through.  At some point in the weeks and months that followed, Sherry and her girls decided to channel their pain into something.. a fishing tournament to honor Kevin.

“That first year planning the fishing tournament gave me something to look forward to and to plan and focus on something positive,” said Sherry.  “I used those sleepless nights to brain storm and ideas just kept popping into my head. With my daughters help, we had our first Kevin J Murray Memorial Fishing tournament September 24, 2005.”

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66 fishing teams signed up.  Countless friends, loved ones and colleagues came to take part, volunteer, or just show support.  Dozens of items were auctioned and raffled off, all raising money for a scholarship or two at Wayne High School for students pursuing building trades just like Kevin did. The tournament was held at the same place Sherry lost Kevin, at Lewis and Clark Lake near Crofton, Nebraska.

“It was a gathering place for friends and family and coworkers who had come to help in the search at the time of his accident. It was the place where we had our summer home. It only seemed fitting that we have a reunion of sorts,” said Sherry.  “I never dreamed we would have the response we did. But I also knew Kevin had so many friends and family that loved him and all wanted to do something to pay tribute to him as well.”

That first year, the tournament raised $8,000.  Every year since, the Murrays have returned with another bigger and better event.  Kevin’s daughter, Ashley, spends months in advance contacting sponsors, bringing in raffle prizes, and organizing the tournament.

“We have all types of fishermen; some who are local to the area and have never met our family, others who are friends and family from the Wayne or Omaha area. Some are experienced fishermen; others who fish once a year for our event,” said Sherry.  “Regardless of fishing knowledge or expertise, our fishermen come away with memories, maybe a prize, and probably many exaggerated fishing stories.”

Later this month, the Murray family will hold their 12th fishing tournament honoring Kevin.  Their hope: to top $100,000 in money raised for Wayne High.  That plan for ‘one or two scholarships’ has grown to 25 scholarships and awards, as well as playground equipment, weight room rubber mat flooring, treadmills for rehabbing athletes, to welders for the tech department, softball and baseball field repairs, and more.

“I think Kevin would be very proud of the event,” said Sherry.  “He would love to be sitting around telling fish stories with all the guys after a day of fishing. He would be happy that we have honored him in such a way.  Together we leave a mark in history, to the place where it all started for us, Wayne High School, In Wayne, America as it is known there!  I think he would be surprised that people still think of him and continue to come after all these years.”

His family thinks of him every, single day.

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Of all of the incredible things Kevin Murray accomplished during his time on earth and inspired by how he lived his life, I’d argue THIS is what he’d be proudest of.  The three confident, striking, INCREDIBLE daughters he raised who are all successful and happy.  Joe and Deven, the two men who are raising his grandchildren and offering love and friendship to his girls.  Nathan, Kyler and Maggie.. the kiddos who never got to meet their grandpa, but no doubt know him and learn his fishing secrets every year at the annual tournament named in his honor.  And his high school sweetheart, wife and best friend who dug deep to find a new path, never forgetting what always mattered most to them; finding happiness through love, family, and to simply live like you were dying.

“After a tragedy you have choices to make.. shrivel up and die or move forward,” said Sherry.  “I chose to move forward, with the emotional support and love from my family and friends. I guess when life throws you lemons make lemonade, is a message I always heard. A guy who was a small town boy made it in a big town. People like to see others succeed in life. He was a success. Although he didn’t get the chance to live a much longer life, being taken in his prime at the age of 45, I know he lived what he had to the fullest. He loved big and worked hard and always found time to enjoy the outdoors with his friends and family.”

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I pray that I may live to fish, Until my dying day.
And when it comes to my last cast, I then most humbly pray:
When in the Lord’s great landing net, And peacefully asleep
That in His mercy I be judged, Big enough to keep.

On August 27, hundreds of people will once again drawn to the water to share their love and respect for a great friend.  It’s another opportunity to raise money for students who want to follow in the footsteps of a man who climbed to the very top. One more day for Kevin’s family to remember their father, grandpa and husband, and to remind each other to make the most of every day we have.

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“I have a different perspective on the fishing tournament than my daughters do.. I guess I think of it as a tribute to a man I loved. A love story of sorts, I guess you could say,” said Sherry.  “Through the help of my friends and family all with a common goal to raise money with our event, it has helped to heal the hole left in my heart with Kevin’s absence. It is my way of paying him back for the wonderful life he gave me and our children.”

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The 12th Annual Kevin J Murray Memorial Fishing Tournament will take place August 27, 2016 at Lewis & Clark Lake near Crofton, Nebraska at Weigand Marina.  Teams of 2 are welcome to sign up in advance online or in person the day of the event; cost is $120/team, which includes shirts and a buffet meal at a banquet following the tournament at CJ’s in Crofton.  Prizes include $500 for 1st place, $250 for 2nd and $150 for 3rd largest weight totals.  Prizes are also awarded for largest walleye and largest non-walleye.  Raffle prizes are available all day at the tournament.

For more information, CLICK HERE to visit the event’s website or

CLICK HERE to visit the event’s Facebook page

#MonarchsForLife

A few posts ago.. I mentioned my letter jacket.  I know that you, my wonderful, loyal readers.. have been dying for another look ever since.

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BAM!! And this time, you get the added bonus of seeing KETV’s Rob McCartney in HIS letter jacket, too!  (Here’s a secret.. the embroidered name on his is ‘Robby’.  It’s pretty fabulous.)

WE ARE PROUD MONARCHS, FOLKS!  Rob and I both went to Papillion-La Vista High School, along with KETV alums Adrian Whitsett, John Campbell and Brittany Jones-Cooper.  For awhile, our News Director Rose Ann Shannon joked that if you weren’t from Papillion, you weren’t going to get hired at KETV!

My family moved to Papio when I was five years old.  I was a proud Carriage Hill Cougar all seven years of elementary school, went to Papillion Junior High during construction of the second story, and graduated from PLHS before there was a second high school.

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I love this town.  I love working in an area that includes the place I grew up.  I love that Rob and I can still take part in events, like the Papillion-La Vista Schools Foundation Gala above, and reconnect with the same friends, teachers, and colleagues we’ve known for years.  (Want a big laugh?  CLICK HERE to watch our tribute to Rob on his 20th Anniversary at KETV, with the help from the people of Papillion!)

There’s no Miss Papillion or Miss Sarpy County (yet!), so one of our most impressive butterflies, Jenni Wahonick, recently flew west to represent our city and a powerful message at the 2016 Miss Nebraska pageant.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Someone told me to surround myself with people who I aspire to be,” Jenni told me recently.  “The women I have gotten to know because of Miss Nebraska are so kind-hearted, intelligent, and passionate, and I am a better person for knowing each of them.”

Jenni says she inititally got involved with the pageant as a teenager because it sounded like fun.  The relationships she made, and scholarship money she brought home, kept her coming back for more.

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Jenni, presenting at the University of Central Missouri’s undergraduate scholars symposium

“It’s helped me pay for my college education,” said Jenni, a senior at the University of Central Missouri.  She’s majoring in Special Education for Severe Developmental Disabilities to help and empower people she’s been helping for nearly a decade.

“I have worked closely with the special needs population for the past nine years,” said Jenni.  ‘During my time at UCM I have worked at a group home for three years and spent a winter at a camp for people with disabilities.  I have also developed and taught dance class geared towards the special needs community at the community center.  I’ve been a regional recruit team member for Missouri Miss Amazing, and help organize and spread the word for End The Word campaigns on campus.”

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Crowned Miss Twin Rivers 2016 in February, Jenni took her advocacy one step further, calling her personal platform of service ‘Celebrating Abilities in the Differently Abled.’

“Whether it was in a group home, as a classroom aide, or at a camp, I have found that there is an emphasis on what a person with a disability cannot do,” said Jenni.  “However, I’ve found it to be more productive to instead focus on their strengths.  Everyone has abilities and everyone has disabilities, but isn’t it just easier to appreciate a person for who they are?”

For Jenni, these efforts are all part of a natural desire to serve others.  Over the last four years, she’s volunteered for more than 40 different organizations.  Jenni is also the Philanthropy Chair in her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha, and was recently nominated for the Greek Leader of the Year award.

“I love to volunteer because of the poeple and opportunities it exposes me to,” said Jenni.  “Every time I volunteer for an organization, I learn something new and grow as a person.   I love going to visit my friend at the veteran’s home and delivering meals on wheels.”

Jenni does all of this in addition to her other activities; she holds numerous leadership positions in the Greek system at UCM, she’s a member of Rho Lambda and Order of Omega (Greek Honor’s fraternities), she’s in the Honor’s College, she’s modelled for Kansas City Fashion Week, and she works as a princess character at the Omaha Children’s Museum.

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“I especially love my princess job because I am able to make connections so quickly with the children who visit me at the museum,” said Jenni.  “It’s a great teaching tool because children generally want to listen to what you have to say when you’re wearing a poofy dress.”

Ironically, the same often holds true with a crown and sash.

 Jenni has networked across the UCM campus to draw support and raise money for her mission, for Children’s Miracle Network, and for the Miss Nebraska pageant.  She’s also drawing upon her own strengths, using her training as a Dance minor to choreograph UCM’s main stage dance concert and to earn her certification as an Autism Movement Therapy Instructor in Los Angeles.

“I truly value the relationships I make and the opportunities I am given,” said Jenni.  “I’m so blessed to have so many experiences, and I like to step out of my comfort zone so I can really grow as a person.  After two of my sorority sisters passed away in a car accident my sophomore year, I haven’t taken for granted the people in my life.  I think people are put in your life for a reason and everyone has something valuable they can teach you.”

In one month, Jenni Wahonick hopes to do just that, even using the talent competition not to showcase dance (which she’s trained in), but to educate the audience about teachers, the profession she plans to pursue.

“My talent is reading slam poetry,” said Jenni.  “The poem I read is ‘What Teachers Make’ by Taylor Mali.  I feel powerful performing it, and I love to see how the audience will react to it.  Most people are close to someone who is a teacher, so it is easy to relate to.”

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 Before you jump to any conclusions about Jenni’s talent, or the Miss American Organization in general, this young woman notes how her confidence for interviews and speaking in front of a crowd has grown because of her involvement in this system.

“Competing in a pageant like Miss Nebraska is not easy to do.  There is a lot of preparation that goes into each phase of competition,” said Jenni.  “Because of my interview preparation, not only am I more comfortable speaking under pressure, but I am also more educated and concerned about what is going on in the world.  Because of the swimsuit competition, I have learned to love my body and treat it like a temple.  I am constantly striving to be the best version of myself.  Each phase of competition makes me a better person, and my experience holding a title has made me view myself as a leader and role model in my community.”

OUR community, says this blog author and Jenni’s fellow Papio native.  I hope to see our hometown raise up and support ANY young person working hard and finding success, and especially so in this case. The symbol of our city is the Monarch, and we may soon have real royalty in Papillion.. Miss Nebraska 2016.

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Photo courtesy JKG Photography Omaha

“Miss Nebraska is my dream job becasue making connections with people is my very favorite thing to do,” said Jenni.  “Whether I win Miss Nebraska or not, I will continue to make philanthropy and service a huge part of my life and view myself as a role model in the community.  My platform is more than just a platform to me, it is what I have shaped my entire life around.  However, with the title of Miss Nebraska I will be given more credibility to really take these things to a new level.  As Miss Nebraska, I would continue to work every single day to share my message with anyone who would hear it.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Twin Rivers 2016 Jenni Wahonick on Facebook, where you can also message her about appearances and events.

For more information about the Miss Twin Rivers/Miss Sandhills Pageant, contact Directors Barb Smith or Becky Smith-Wagner by phone at 308-532-4720 or by email at wearhousedance@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 Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shaniah Freeseman!

NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson!

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!

Talking To The Walls

I had four words listed on the back of my high school letter jacket.

DRAMA CHOIR SPEECH ACADEMICS

I had friends who shook their heads and cried NERD.  They were probably right.. I mean, who does that!?!  But you know what? I was PROUD.. and I’m still proud today.

<Pardon me while I climb onto my high horse.>

I’m a 3-time high school state champion in Nebraska with two individual titles in Persuasive Speaking and a team title for Mock Trial.

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My weekends from October to May were spent like this.. waiting for food with my team at any local Valentino’s or Village Inn we could find after a long day of competition.  We worked for weeks prior fine tuning our speeches, our interpretations of plays and poetry, and our research and knowledge of current events.  I think those days served us pretty well.. the two people in this picture are still my friends almost 20 years later.  Cassie is a respected pharmacist, wife and mom on the east coast, John was my fellow KETV reporter and meteorologist before joining the private sector and raising three boys (one a foster kiddo) with his wife in Texas.  We ALL use public speaking in our jobs, and we are all better in our careers and beyond because of those long days and quick years at speech tournaments. To those who didn’t compete with us,  we were likely just the weirdos they saw talking to walls.  To everyone in our circle, the more you practiced to that audience of brick, the more often you’d see your name on those ‘finals’ lists, and the more trophies you brought home at the end of each weekend.

Times may have changed since my high school years (if you need proof, look at my hair again..) but that unspoken thread connecting speech kids is still strong.  Now though, as I’ve learned from Scottsbluff High School’s Ashlynn Haun, we’re called ‘speechletes’.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I am a Varsity memeber of the SHS Speech team and love every minute of it!’ Ashlynn told me recently.  “It has helped develop my speaking skills and meeting other speechletes is a blast!’

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Ashlynn was a contender and winner at several high school meets this season, making district finals in two separate events.  That alone is impressive, let alone considering Ashlynn was also busy with golf, 4-H, dance and her school’s musical (click here to listen to Ashlynn sing!)

“My family, friends and the members of my community all play important roles in my life,” said Ashlynn.  “My family has always supported me through all of my endeavors.  My friends and community members help each other in so many unknown ways, it truly amazes me.  These people are important to me because they are uplifting and kind, and I hope they view me in the same light.”

That devotion to her community and those in it led Ashlynn to several service projects, often with 4-H Junior Leaders.  She wanted to become more involved and meet more people.. and found the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Ashlynn was crowned Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen last fall.

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“By being involved in the program I have been able to improve my leadership and interview skills,” said Ashlynn.  “The Miss America Organization is a wonderful scholarship program for young women everywhere.  This experience isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about meeting interesting new people and giving back to our communities.”

Ashlynn does that both through philanthropy and emotion.  She often gives back through dance, sharing her gift with audiences as both Miss Gering’s OT and as a teaching assistant at Tabor Dance Academy.

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“I LOVE being on stage!” said Ashlynn.  “Performing gives me such a thrill and has always been fairly easy for me.  I love being able to entertain others while doing something I’m passionate about.”

Ashlynn is also focused on her personal platform, ‘We Are All Survivors’, advocating for cancer survivors and their families.

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Ashlynn on Facebook: ‘Had a blast talking about my platform and participating in the Boxer Rebellion 5K today!😊This great event brings awareness to colon cancer and raises money for Festival of Hope.’

“Almost everyone knows someone affected by cancer in some way, whether it be a family member, a friend, or a friend’s family member,” said Ashlynn.  “My platform is centered around supporting not only the patient, but also those who care for them.  I know personally that seeing someone you love hurt and struggle is terrible.  Often people don’t know how they can help, so I want to spread creative ways that will be most beneficial to these families.”

Here’s a young lady who not only has big ideas, she’s using her words and abilities to bring those visions to life.  She also admires those same traits; when I asked her who her role model is, she didn’t name a celebrity or high-profile stranger.

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“Someone who is a role model for me is my fellow dancer, speechlete and schoolmate Emily Ostdiek,” said Ashlynn.  “She inspires me because she is extremely kind, talented and is always smiling.”

THAT inspires me.

Speech kids RULE.  Speech kids who are also pageant girls are AWESOME.  These women aren’t just talking to walls or waving manicured hands, they are promoting causes and showing everyone around them the power of grace, intelligence and positivity.  Ashlynn Haun wants to represent all of that.. along with her school, her hometown, and speech kids everywhere.

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“I should be Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I have pride in my community, county and state,” said Ashlynn.  “I would use my leadership, desire to serve others, and poise to represent them in a very positive light.  I would also take the opportunity to support cancer patients and their families in a more public format to bring awareness to my platform.  I love being part of and promoting the Miss America Organization and would enjoy becoming a bigger part of it.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun on Facebook.  You can also contact Ashlynn for appearances and events by emailing ashlynnhaun@gmail.com.

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kyla Ansley at 308-631-0938 or by email at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.  You can also email thirtyone.hayes@yahoo.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.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 Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt!

NEXT.. Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean!

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!

All The World’s A Stage

I am currently experiencing a CRAZY sense of deja vu..

This week, I’m back on stage at Papillion-La Vista High School for the first time in 17 years, as a special guest in Monarch Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical.

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The choir room in this picture.. the theater filled with maroon seats.. the green room where the cast gets ready each night.. it’s all SACRED GROUND to me.  It was my home away from home while I was in high school, where I took part in plays and performances, formed my dearest friendships, and created art that I was so very proud to showcase to our community.  There was something intoxicating about theater to me.. the thrill of seeing your name on a casting sheet, the adrenaline rush when the curtain goes up, the sheer GLEE of hearing the audience applaud at the end.

Many of my fellow ‘drama nerds’ channeled that love into our current careers: my friend Joe Rohacik now teaches at PLHS, where he is also the PA announcer for the entire district.  My friend David Wenzel is now a motivational speaker booked around the country for events (CLICK HERE to read his incredible story!)  My ‘green room’ is now the KETV newsroom, and my stage is 7 Burlington Station.

For others.. performing is simply what they were destined to do.  My fellow classmates Audrey Billings and Leanne Hill-Carlson are now professional actresses in Chicago and here in Omaha.  Monarch alumni Merle Dandridge and Abbie Cobb are now on national TV, starring in shows ranging from HBO to ABC.

Tyler Rambali is somewhere in between.. constantly learning new skills to teach future performers, while fine-tuning her own talents and seeking out opportunities to perform.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I love to sing and act!” Tyler told me recently, and backed that up with an impressive resume of work, including awards with her trio, Major minor 3.

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“[We] competed in the Galaxy of Stars competition this last summer and the summer before,” said Tyler (CLICK HERE to link up to Major minor 3’s Facebook page to watch and listen to them sing!).  The group won a slew of honors their first year and the Megastar Award last summer, earning a recording session as their prize.  Tyler walked away with an additional bonus.

“That is where I met Chelsea Arnold (Miss Kool-Aid Days) and her mother, Paige, who first talked to me about competing in the Miss America system,” said Tyler.

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Tyler was crowned Miss Chadron last fall, opening up the doors for more performance opportunities across the state… not that she needs them.  She’s starred in Annie Get Your Gun, Nunsense, Lettice and Lovageas, Defying Gravity, and currently, she’s the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

Tyler takes on these roles in addition to classes at McCook Community College where she is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Phi Beta Lambda, the National Association for Music Educators and Not Your Average Theatre Group.  Now as Miss Chadron, she’s also making appearances and often, trying to promote change with her personal platform ‘Reach Out and Read’.

  “Reading has become one of the least important things to my generation,” said Tyler.  “Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization of medical providers who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by integrating children’s books and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud [during] well-child visits.  I am trying to expand on this by connecting it to Children’s Miracle Network: reading to the children there, giving them books and teaching them the importance as well.  I also want to start a Reach Out and Read site in my hometown of McCook!”

It’s the part of pageants that doesn’t end up on reality TV, the service and networking opportunities that open up for these titleholders.  THAT is part of what Tyler, a pageant newcomer, hopes to show with her new title.

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Tyler painted this to symbolize her new adventure competing for Miss Nebraska.

“I wanted to try something new, and on top of that, I had a chance to make my voice heard, make a difference, and be apart of something really special,” said Tyler.  “Miss America celebrates women and empowers them and their abilities and accomplishments.  It’s purpose is to serve others, show your personal style and what you can bring to the table, provide scholarships, and help you to be successful, and that is what it has done for me!”

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Tyler also stresses the friendships she’s already made, adding to circle of loved ones she describes as the most important in her life.

“I have a huge family (over 20 first cousins on one side!),” said Tyler.  “Both of my parents served in the US Army (Dad for 20 and Mom for 7) and my brother leaves for basic training in the Navy in May, but I am so proud of him and his endeavors to be a Navy Air Rescue swimmer.  My faith in God is the BIGGEST thing in my life, and it is the only way I will be able to let my brother go off to the military.”

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Tyler adds that her mother is also one of her role models, teaching her at home from Kindergarten through her senior year.. a tie Tyler compares to ANOTHER of her role models, Miss Nebraska and then Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan.

“She has so much in common with me,” said Tyler.  “She loves to sing and act and she was home schooled.  It gives me encouragement and I know that I can do anything I can set my mind to.”

For anyone at a Nebraska high school right now, dreaming of someday being on a big time stage or on that screen in front of millions.. just LOOK at the incredible talent coming out of our state.  Omaha native Gabrielle Union.  North Bend native Marg Helgenberger.  Norfolk native Johnny Carson.

Tyler Rambali not only wants to follow their lead, she wants to be CAST as the lead in this incredible production called ‘life’.. and she’s ready to call Act I: ‘Becoming Miss Nebraska.’

“I feel that I am an extremely diverse person who can relate to so many people because I have so many different backgrounds: I am biracial, military, city girl, country girl, stage-fright-girl-turned-performer, and so much more!” said Tyler.  “I have been placed where I am, in the position I am for a reason, and I will do my very best to not squander the opportunities that God has given me to be a light for HIM.”

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Photo courtesy Chris Swasta

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali on FACEBOOK

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant, visit their FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Directors Caitlin Rodiek and Sara Smith by email at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com.  You can also contact Caitlin Rodiek by phone at 308-207-0336.

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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 Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Courtney Pelland!

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner!

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!