Lincoln Journal Star. July 5, 2014
Cheers for the volunteers
News media often are filled with stories that expose the cruel and violent side of human nature.
But it's a truism confirmed time and time again, that when a natural disaster strikes, people often find a streak of inner goodness.
So it was when tornadoes struck in Pilger, Beaver Crossing and other sites in Nebraska this summer.
So many people donated clothing, water and other needed items for Pilger residents that authorities announced after several days that no more were needed.
People poured into Pilger by the thousands to help sort through the rubble. People came across the border from Iowa. They came from Lincoln and Omaha. School districts like Hastings and Papillion sent contingents of students. Brett Michaels, the (former) frontman from Poison, and his bandmates showed up to help. They signed autographs, and they also helped clean up the debris from what was left of the home of Tim and Betty Maly.
Volunteers not only helped out in the towns, they fanned out into farm fields where tornadoes had shredded corn and soybeans. They picked up the bits and pieces of shattered buildings and tree branches left by the storm.
Volunteers came from Joplin, Missouri, where an (EF5) tornado in 2011 killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of homes. Joplin resident Doug Hunt was helping sift through the wreckage in Pilger, when he offered some encouraging words.
"Then I told her I was from Joplin," he said. "She just emotionally broke down and started bawling. She leaned in and hugged me, and she whispered, 'You know.'"
Hunt told The Associated Press, "What I've experienced is what we've all experienced. The sights, the smells, the radiating heartache, the tears. It was like time-traveling for me."
Hunt said volunteering in Pilger — and the "Joplin loves Pilger" Facebook page — was a way of saying thank you for everyone who helped in Joplin. "I have ached for a long time about finding somebody or something that I could say 'thank you' to."
Maybe at some point in the future the residents of Pilger will reach that stage.
Right now they're still hard at work, although city leaders suggested everyone take a break on the Fourth of July. The biggest need is for heavy equipment. Walk-in volunteers are also being accepted; call 402-468-8005 for details. Emergency organizations say that donations of money are most useful. An easy way to donate $10 is to text REDCROSS to 90999. To donate to the Salvation Army, text STORM to 80888.
The Grand Island Independent. July 2, 2014
Wolbach leaves a legacy of kindness and giving behind
Gloria Wolbach started a revolution in Grand Island. Call it the "kindness revolution."
Wolbach, who died Friday, helped created the Acts of Kindness (AOK) Ladies 17 years ago. She had one mission in mind: spread kindness by doing random acts of kindness.
And it worked. Soon stories poured in about someone paying for a meal for someone they didn't know; of a stranger stopping to help someone in need; people giving cookies to police and firefighters — you get the picture.
A wave of kindness swept the area that is still going on today as there are now 80 members of the AOK Ladies who do random acts of kindness in the community each month.
All of that kindness sprung from Wolbach's heart and spread to others.
Today that kindness is tinged with sadness at her passing, but her legacy will live on throughout the community. She was an outstanding model of kindness herself.
"She always got so much joy out of giving to others," Lynne Werner, a fellow AOK Lady, said of Wolbach.
Wolbach, along with her husband, Bud, were the embodiment of giving. There wasn't a community cause to which they didn't contribute. Bud, who died in 2006, was particularly fond of Stuhr Museum, and Gloria continued giving to the museum after his passing. In fact, the entrance boulevard and circle drive will be named in honor of Bud Wolbach.
The list of awards she received and organizations Wolbach was involved in is long. Gloria and Bud were the Independent's Man and Woman of the Year in 1998. She was named the YWCA's Woman of Distinction in 2005.
Among the many organizations she was involved with were the Heartland United Way, Grand Island Community Foundation, Goodwill, Red Cross and Crane Meadows. She recently established the S.N. "Bud" and Gloria Wolbach Charitable Foundation, which gave its first gift to the Go Big Give event held in Grand Island recently.
Along with her kindness, Wolbach had a quick wit. Whenever she was called to speak at an event, she almost always had a funny story to tell that illustrated a point she was making. She was fun to be around and lit up the room whenever she entered.
In honor of Wolbach, look around today. Look and see where you could do a random act of kindness that will brighten someone's day. In doing so, you will continue the revolution that she began years ago in Grand Island.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. July 3, 2013
Bison: Nebraska lands listed as possible future homes for animals from Yellowstone
Buffalo roaming in a Scotts Bluff County home?
Not going to happen, says Ken Mabery, superintendent of Scotts Bluff National Monument.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Scotts Bluff National Monument and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument were among 20 public land sites listed as possible new homes for bison to be re-located from Yellowstone National Park.
The sites identified in an Interior Department report also included Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Other potential sites are in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Utah. Officials said any relocation of the animals would not take place for several years.
Mabery said the report was based on a "broad public pronouncement" about efforts to restore a magnificent species of land mammal that once ranged across most of the continent. Several dozen Yellowstone bison have been moved to American Indian reservations after the animals were held in quarantine for years to make sure they were disease-free. If the Park Service were to revive the quarantine program and make it permanent, federal officials said, it could take five years to a decade before more animals were relocated.
Mabery said monument property here wouldn't be suitable for such relocation because of rough terrain, nearby urban development and the possibility that the animals could escape across the North Platte River.
"We are not a good candidate for buffalo," he said.
Agate Fossil Beds, which is more remote, would be a more appropriate site, but it would require extensive fencing to prevent roaming and to protect the riparian habitat of the Niobrara River. Also, relocation to any of the sites would require extensive study to ensure compliance with environmental laws, and the National Parks Service hasn't received funding for such a study, he said.
Potential sites were identified for their prairie habitat, which is ideal for bison. Tens of millions of bison roamed the nation's plains and prairies, sustaining Native American tribes for millennia. They were hunted to near extinction during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when hunters slaughtered an estimated 50 million bison, generally for their meat or pelts. Yellowstone was one of the last havens for wild bison. It had roughly 4,600 at last count.
Although they're native to North America, bison are often considered unwelcome, even in the wild. During their winter migrations, the animals periodically spill into neighboring Montana, triggering large-scale, government-sponsored slaughter to prevent the spread of the livestock disease brucellosis. As a result, overcrowding has been a longstanding problem in Yellowstone Park. Wildlife advocates have lobbied for decades to allow more bison to migrate from the park during winter, while wildlife officials have attempted to haze them back into the park in spring and looked for other ways to reduce their numbers.
In Montana and parts of Wyoming, the livestock industry has opposed lifting restrictions on free-roaming bison because of worries about disease and competition between bison and cattle for grazing forage. Capturing the animals and shipping them to other public lands would ease those population pressures, but any effort to relocate the animals elsewhere could run into local opposition.
At the same time, they've been successfully introduced at Fort Robinson State Park and similar locations. Any relocation would be expensive. Mature bison are agile, unpredictable and dangerous and would render areas of the sites unsuitable for hikers. They'd have to be fenced in. Federal and state game officials would have to work with nearby landowners to mitigate concerns.
For any of the sites, the largest native land animal in North America would be a major attraction for visitors. But there are too many obstacles for it to happen at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
Omaha World-Herald. July 6, 2014
Prison answers still needed
This is more than a clerical error.
The recapture of a wrongly released prison inmate by Omaha police shows how large — and dangerous — the problems are that the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services set loose.
In miscalculating the release dates for hundreds of inmates, these state officials let 200 or so out too soon. A World-Herald investigation brought these errors to light before hundreds more could be released too early.
Gov. Dave Heineman's office says it has identified 43 people who meet Heineman's criteria to be rounded up to finish their sentences behind bars.
One was David Jura, a gang member sentenced to prison for wounding a man by shooting him in the head in 2009. Omaha police found Jura last weekend after reports of a man urinating in a yard.
Jura ran. The officers gave chase. Jura reached into his waistband for what police say was a defaced 9-mm handgun.
Under the original sentence handed down by Judge Marlon Polk, Jura was supposed to be in prison until June 2015.
He'd been out, wrongly, since last December.
Then there was the case of Jermaine Lucas, who was shot by police in 2012 as he lunged to pick up the gun he had dropped.
Lucas was out of prison on his 11th weekend furlough. It turns out now that Lucas shouldn't even have been eligible for that weekend pass. He, too, was on the streets because of a mistake made by prison officials.
Fixing these errors — bringing back the wrongly released and holding hundreds of others for the correct amount of time — is going to cost millions.
Nebraska's prisons are already overcrowded. The Legislature and the next governor are facing hard choices about finding adequate space for all the inmates and fixing the "good time" law that automatically halves some sentences and appears to have contributed to the confusion of the early releases.
A court ruling has upheld the state's right to put wrongly released criminals back in prison. Heineman is right to say the state's first priority is to do just that.
But as the apprehension of a gun-toting David Jura showed, Nebraska law enforcement officers and the public have been put in danger.
As we've said before, Nebraska citizens deserve answers: Who was responsible for these errors? How did they happen? Can we be assured they won't happen again? And, most importantly, how will the officials responsible be held accountable?
A clerical error can be fixed with an eraser and a pencil. This mistake was much worse.