As National Federation of Press Women and Nebraska Press Women leaders have gone through strategic planning in the past year, one truth has been obvious.

The diversity of the professional communications careers chosen by our members is both a huge benefit and a challenge. We are a rare, if not unique, organization to cover such a broad scope in our membership and our professional communications contest.

That means we have a large pool of potential members from which to draw and an existing set of mentors for NFPW members who change careers along the way.

However, the challenge is to make everyone feel welcome, especially if someone’s niche and/or skill set is a little different from the rest of us. We need to focus on making sure everyone feels a sense of belonging because it is vital to recruiting and keeping members.

I had an emotional sense of belonging moment last Sunday in North Platte where my twin sister and brother-in-law, Jim and Lisa Parish, live and raised their four boys. It also is where Mom has lived in an assisted living community since we moved her closer to Lisa last July.

After eating Sunday dinner with Mom, I went to the First United Methodist Church in North Platte which hosts the Boy Scout Troop through which all four of my nephews, Philip, 27; twins Andrew and Zachary, 19; and Mitchell, 18, have earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Jim is the troop leader.

That’s quite an accomplishment for any young man, let alone four in one family.



Some NFPW members have met some or all of those boys. Philip was 12 years old when he accompanied me to the 2000 NFPW Conference in Alaska. He’s a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and now lives in Colorado where he works for a private security firm contracted by the Denver metro transportation system.

Andrew had his Eagle Scout ceremony in 2014. He has three semesters nearly completed at the local community college and plans to head to U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in February.

Mitchell is a high school senior who just interviewed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for an ROTC scholarship and is interested in a career in health care.

NFPW members on the 2011 conference pre-tour in Nebraska will remember that Andrew and Mitchell played fiddles and mandolins as entertainment for our Labor Day picnic lunch in the gazebo at the Lincoln County Museum where members learned about the North Platte Canteen during WWII.

Jim, Lisa and Zachary were our servers.

Zachary, who has Down Syndrome, officially became an Eagle Scout Sunday during his Court of Honor at the Methodist Church. His three Eagle Scout brothers were his escorts.

The only time all afternoon that Zach stopped smiling was when he delivered the speech he wrote with help from his dad. Jim asked him what he wanted to say and helped with the writing, but the thoughts are Zachary’s and he signed off on the final version.



He has a message for all of us “normal” yet imperfect people about what it is like to feel different in many aspects of life. That may be more true for Zachary because he has a twin brother and a 16-months-younger brother who have had opportunities to do things – drive, go to college, go on high-adventure wilderness camping weeks – that are not possible for him.

Those same brothers, fellow Boy Scouts and leaders have been around to help him safely complete merit badge requirements and his Eagle Scout project to build table-high, wheelchair accessible flower boxes for veterans homes in Scottsbluff and Norfolk.

So, here is some wisdom from Zachary Dean Parish, Eagle Scout, on the value of providing everyone with a sense of belonging. Please substitute any organization, workplace or activity for the word Scouts.

“At Scouts, I am like everyone else. We are all different from each other, but in Scouts we are all the same. In Scouts, we all do the same thing to earn our ranks and merit badges. We all wear the same uniform.

“I am just like everyone else. When we are outdoors we all sleep in tents. We swim, canoe, hike, cook over a fire and learn about leadership.

“In Scouts, you don’t have to be perfect, just do your best.”

I spent the middle of this Saturday in my hometown of Wilcox and the school building I attended from kindergarten through high school graduation.

The memories that flood my mind each time I step into that building are almost overwhelming. I wish I had appreciated those wonderful years and the great teachers, administrators and entire community more at the time.

Today’s event was a groundbreaking program for a new free-standing agriculture education building that is long overdue. The space now holding a shop and small classroom on the east side of the school building first was used in the 1949-1950 school year.

There are three – count ’em three – outlets in the classroom and the shop is too small to allow more than one student-FFA member to work on a welding, wood or mechanics project at a time.

Today, Wilcox is part of the consolidated Wilcox-Hildreth Public School. The elementary and high school classes are in Wilcox and middle school is at Hildreth, about 10 miles to the southeast.

A small group of farmers, parents and agribusiness people first talked about the need for a new ag ed building around 2008. They started fund-raising in 2013 and still need $100,000 to $120,000 more than already has been contributed by area businesses, the school district and many individual donors.

A $500,000-plus project is a lot for a small community when most of it will come from donations.

The big steel building can be up in about 60 days when all the money is in hand, which would allow this year’s seniors to have some time in it. Otherwise, they hope is to have it ready for the 2016-2017 school year.

Today’s program was in the old gym – the lunchroom, all-purpose room today. The FFA kids served a meal of roast beef sandwiches, hash brown casserole, and donated salads, pies and other desserts.



As is common today, half or more of the Wilcox-Hildreth FFA members are girls, including the president who spoke at the groundbreaking program. That’s progress from my early 1970s high school years when no girls were in ag classes or in FFA. There was no rule against it. It was just one of those “never done it” things.

Even more preposterous then was the idea of a female ag teacher. Wilcox-Hildreth has one now as do a half dozen other area schools. Most of these young women are in the first few years as teachers and several are the first teachers at schools with new ag ed programs.

That includes NPW member Barb Batie’s daughter Julianna who is the new teacher at Wood River after having taught a couple of years in North Dakota.

They represent progress in education and agriculture, and reflect modern women’s roles in both.

Women back to pioneer days have been full-fledged partners in family farm or ranch businesses, often doing as much outdoor work with crops an livestock as indoor work.

They were considered “just farm wives” in the olden days, but no one would use that label to describe Barb or any other female farm partner today.

That’s progress, as is the opening of many former “men only” roles in production agriculture and related professions.

One benefit of the new Wilcox-Hildreth ag ed building will to help students explore the many ag-related careers that don’t directly involve growing corn or raising cattle. The FFA president told me she wants to get a degree in agribusiness and maybe work in the field of animal nutrition.

The new ag education building will have the size and facilities to allow the teacher and community leaders to bring in hands-on examples and activities of the many career opportunities available to the students, such as agronomy, plant science, animal science, veterinary medicine, agribusiness, etc.

Building site2


At the two-day Gateway Farm Expo was in Kearney this week there were many new technologies on display. There were tractors and combines, of course, but also new no-till planting equipment, GPS systems, drones for field monitoring and things I didn’t understand at all.

It’s progress and a lot different than how my dad and brother farmed. But the Gateway technologies are the future of agriculture and those FFA kids handing out roast beef sandwiches today certainly need a learning environment better than a 65-year-old classroom.

Resilience is not one of my strengths. So I greatly admire the trait when I see it in others, even in situations when the only option is to accept the circumstances, adapt and keep moving forward.

I saw two examples of that in the past 10 days.

Nebraska and other heartland states had their first taste of winter on Wednesday when a quick-moving storm brought high winds and various combinations of rain, sleet and snow. It wasn’t that severe, but it was a good reminder to put ice scrapers and emergency supply bags back into our vehicles

As I shut my garage door Wednesday evening after getting several inches of slush off my driveway, I know I heard sandhill cranes flying over out of sight in the clouds.

Then when I started an after-work walk on an amazingly gorgeous Thursday afternoon, I heard that beautiful song again. I stood for several minutes and smiled as perhaps 100 cranes flew in their version of a goofy V-formation across a bright blue sky and in front of a few skiffs of white clouds.

I’m sure at least some of them were upset on Wednesday at having to hunker down somewhere north of Nebraska until the storm moved on and allowed them to more safely and comfortably continue south toward their south-Texas wintering grounds.

I wished them well and told them I can’t wait to see them in late February or early March when they arrive in the Central Platte Valley for their annual six-week rest-and-restoration stay during spring migration.

Few species are more resilient than migrating birds whose survival depends on making incredibly long journeys twice a year.

The other courageous example of resiliency came in a Nov. 5 interview with Cheryl Schepker, the mother of Marine Capt. Dusty Lukasiewicz. He was the pilot of a Huey helicopter that crashed May 12 while on a mission to aid people in remote areas of Nepal after two earthquakes. Everyone on board – six U.S. Marines, two Nepalese soldiers and five injured civilians – died.


The recently released report by Marine investigators says the most probably cause of the crash was the crew’s decision to use a more direct, but unfamiliar route back to Kathmandu with their injured passengers and weather conditions that engulfed the helicopter in clouds with no warning.

Dusty grew up in my hometown of Wilcox, Neb., population 350, and lived out in the country southwest of town not too far from our farm. He was in the Wilcox-Hildreth class of 2003, which made him a K-12 classmate and best friend of my nephew, Scott.

I called Dusty’s mother, Cheryl, to see if she was up to an interview for Veterans Day week to talk about Dusty as a boy and young man – his second child, Dustin Mark, was born a month after his death – and also about her journey the past six months.

One thing she showed me was a gift from the Nepal government that has a photo of Dusty in his pilot helmet and his “Vengeance” squadron logo. I didn’t notice until I got back to the office with the photo that there was a photo of Dusty in the background in his dress uniform on the day he received his wings as a Marine pilot. Also in the background was an angel statue holding a folded U.S. flag.

Gift from Nepal

Certainly, no parent ever gets over such a loss and may never fully accept it, but I was surprised at Cheryl’s resilience at this point in the healing process. I was humbled that she trusted me to tell her story.

I also was left ashamed at how I sometimes let change or a relatively small problem make me curl up into a little ball of self-pity. And that I waste too much time worrying about a potential problem that may or may not turn out to be much, if anything, at all.

Cheryl said she wasn’t looking forward to attending the Nebraska-Michigan State football game last Saturday at which Dusty, a 2007 graduate of UNL with a bachelor’s degree in political science, would be honored with other veterans.

She wrote me on Monday to say it was a special event because the military flyover in the sky above Memorial Stadium was by helicopters from Dusty’s Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based squadron. The pilots and crews flew 10 hours from California to Nebraska and passed over a small country cemetery near Farwell, Neb., where Dusty is buried, to pay their respects before going to Lincoln.

My stories ran in the Kearney Hub on Tuesday – the Dusty-centered piece – and Veterans Day, with some additional photos posted with the website postings.

One was a snapshot my nephew sent me of classmate Eric Johnson, Dusty and himself on an old red Mazda pickup the boys bought together. They enjoyed many rural Nebraska adventures with that truck, including, I’m told, some on the Potter farm.

High School Super mazda pickup Dusty,Eric and Scott

I look at that photo of the 17- or 18-year-old kids and think they never could have imagined their life adventures, good and bad, over the next 12 years.

Or how much resilience would be required along the way.

This is the last workday of the last week in October, which is a week I take off each year to stay home and get “stuff” done.

You know, stuff like having service people come during the day without having to leave work early, taking my kitties to the vet for their annual exam and shots, and, dare I say, cleaning.

I cleaned a little more thoroughly than usual last weekend and sorted through and mostly tossed what seemed like a mountain of papers. There are several more paper hills to conquer on future vacation days.

Longtime Nebraska Press Women friend Judy Nelson of Lincoln, who has been a leader of NPW’s strategic planning work, came to Kearney Monday afternoon. Then on Tuesday, we met with Glennis Nagel of Kearney and Jill Claflin of Cozad as a committee to start moving forward on action items identified in the strategic plan.

Glennis, Jill and I chair the three action areas: membership, visibility and programming/member services. Judy came to answer our questions.

So, we are moving forward on some things, but it seems like baby steps. I tend to be impatient and want results “right now,” even when I know going into an activity that good results come from a thoughtful, step-by-step process.

On Monday afternoon, Glennis, Judy and I visited some out-in-the-country places for likely use as fall 2016 NPW convention sites.

Our big 70th anniversary convention will be April 22-23 in Lincoln, more specifically at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It will be a more traditional setting and format. I can’t wait to learn more about the wonderful speakers who have been invited.

So, we’re going more rural and casual for the fall 2016 convention.

One option we have mentioned to our NPW board members and still need to run by them in more detail is to use a retreat setting for our fall Friday night board meeting and hospitality-networking time.

The National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary southeast of Kearney acquired a property about a year ago that has a small farm house. Rowe volunteers and staff renovated the house and built an addition to provide a place for up to 17 spring migration season volunteers to stay.

The Rowe staff is developing a plan to rent it at other times of the year for family reunions and other groups.

All but one bedroom have two or three single beds and there are three bathrooms. There also is a full kitchen, small dining area, and a living room with plenty of couch and floor space.

If enough board members to make the rent economically feasible say they would like to have our meeting and overnight there, all we would need to do is bring in supper, drinks and snacks.

More certain, I think, is to have our Saturday (likely Oct. 8) convention at a farmstead north of Minden that has a big house with four bed-and-breakfast rooms and converted barn that is a restaurant with a large room for wedding dances, receptions and other events for up to 100 people.


The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday nights, or by arrangement, and features smoked meats and family style service. I took Judy there during sandhill crane season last March and we both saw potential for an interesting NPW convention.

The grounds include a pond, with a few geese; several pieces of old farm equipment; an older dog and some cats, including one who serves as a parking lot attendant; and just that farm ambiance.

We see the potential for some member-led workshops in creative writing, photography or things we haven’t even thought of yet.

So our tour Monday afternoon – the owners couldn’t be there so they just left the restaurant door open for us – was another first step toward something we hope will be a great thing for NPW.

As we left, a farm cat dozing by a display of pumpkins and squash reminded me not to be too disappointed that I won’t get everything on my vacation week to-do list done. Or that progress on our NPW action plan may take more time, twists and turns than we like.


Sometimes it’s more important to just take a little rest and enjoy the moment.

I went to my hometown, a south-central Nebraska farming community of 350 people, Friday evening for a pre-funeral visitation for the mother of one of my Wilcox High School classmates. Carol Jean, my twin sister Lisa and I were the three girls (out of five) in the class of 1974 who had been together since kindergarten.

The funeral home in the next bigger town has a storefront auxiliary location on the Wilcox main street. People with other things to do during the Saturday morning funeral at St. John’s Lutheran Church, including harvesing corn and soybeans, could pay their respects Friday evening.

When you come from a tiny town and even a smaller farming community 11 miles from town, there’s a comfort level in going home that is impossible to explain to people who have not had that experience.

I’ve lived in Kearney for 29 years, compared to 18 years on our farm and then three college years spent between campus and the new home my parents built in town a block west of the Wilcox bank as Lisa and I headed to college.

Still, I tell other people from Nebraska that I’m from Wilcox.

Such a environment can make people clannish, even if we weren’t all truly related to each other, so extra care is needed to welcome new folks.

We have those same discussions at NFPW and Nebraska Press Women conferences. No matter how excited we are to see our longtime friends from across the state or around the country, we won’t reach our goals to attract and keep new members unless we treat them with the same welcoming attitudes.

We’ve had some incredibly perfect fall days recently, so I enjoyed the drive to Wilcox and made stops on my way in the late afternoon and also when heading back to Kearney at sunset to take harvest photos. If there is an iconic fall image of Nebraska, it is of combines, tractors, grain carts and trucks harvesting corn and soybean crops that will be a year’s income for the small family businesses that make up 90-plus percent of our farms.

Combine sunset3-crop

Break-even may be the best many can hope for in a year when the inputs and growing season costs remain high and the commodity market prices are low.

I don’t know who lives in every home in Wilcox anymore, although I once did, along with everyone in K-12 and all their families.

The now consolidated Wilcox-Hildreth school looks the same on the outside. I’m excited along with a lot of other Wilcox people that a much needed new ag-education building will go up soon across from the main building at the site where a nasty June 2014 windstrom blew down the bus barn.

There were a lot of cars in the parking lot because the six-man football team had an away game Friday night in far southwest Nebraska. That left the streets pretty empty too, as community residents not picking corn were on the road to the football game.

Had it been a home game, I probably would have stayed at least through the first half.

I also had comfortable familiar feelings Saturday morning at Fort Kearny State Historical Park that were tied to past and recent NFPW events.

Nebraskans continuing to grow several varieties of Pawnee corn and other crops to help the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma rebuild their seed bank are gathering their 2015 harvest.

NFPW members on the 2011 Nebraska pre-tour met the project leader Ronnie O’Brien who then worked at The Archway museum over I-80 just east of Kearney. She let NFPW members remove the husks from some of her Pawnee corn that year.

The most sacred and depleted variety, eagle corn, was down to a handful of old kernels used mostly for ceremonial purposes. So the final hope was to try to grow it again in central Nebraska, the ancestral home of the Pawnee.

On Friday, Ronnie and three other growers will take the Nebraska-grown corn, watermelons, two kinds of beans and squash to Pawnee, Okla. There will again be a few dozen ears of the unique corn with white kernels and purple splotches resembling an eagle’s wings.


I did not see eagles as I walked the Fort Kearny Hike-Bike Trail later Saturday morning, but I was serenaded by several dozen sandhill cranes taking a rest and getting a bite to eat in an adjacent harvested cornfield.

In the fall, the cranes mostly spend a night and keep flying on south to the Gulf Coast of Texas. In the spring, more than 500,000 of them will spend six weeks in the Platte Valley, which is about half-way from Texas to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska. They need to eat and build up their weight to be in condition to continue their journey and have babies.

We were disappointed last month during the NFPW conference pre-tour in Alaska to arrive at Creamer’s Field near Fairbanks, one of those nesting grounds, only to learn that those sandhill cranes had started flying south a few days earlier.

So it really was a treat to see some flying and hear them talking to each other on Saturday. I can’t confirm that they were some of the Alaska cranes, but I like to think they were.

sandhill cranes3-crop

I’m about ready to call it a weekend as far as chores and Nebraska Press Women events-treasurer duties are concerned, but I wanted to post a few comments about our wonderful fall convention.

That’s a pretty corporate-sounding name for the spring and fall meetings I’ve attended for more than 36 years as an NPW-NFPW member. It really does feel like a family reunion every time, even to the point of celebrating birthdays with President Sherry Thompson and Scholarship Director Jill Claflin Friday night in the hospitality room following our board meeting at a Columbus steakhouse.

We’re really trying to rebuild the hospitality room tradition that for many of us longtime members was such a great networking time at every conference. We would sit on the floor listening to our older members who were great mentors tell us stories about their careers as professional communicators.

Hospitality room, Kerry Hoffschneider, Barb Micek, Barb Batie

At the board meeting and Saturday’s convention at the U.S. Indian School and Interpretive Center Museum in Genoa, about 20 miles west of Columbus, a huge part of the discussion was development of committees and their leaders to go forward with action items from the strategic planning our affiliate has been working on the past year.

Business meeting, action plan, U.S. Indian School and Interpretive Center, Genoa

It has been interesting to sit in on the process at the Nebraska and national levels. NFPW leaders also have focused on strategic planning and already have started the action phase. I hope – expect – that there will be things we can learn from each other.

As one of our NPW workshop speakers on infographics said, there is no shame in “stealing” or at least learning from good ideas developed by others.

One interesting idea Jill had for generating enthusiasm from NPW members to volunteer to serve on an action team was to provide cake. Judy Nelson, another member of the action team planning group, along with Kerry Hoffschneider and Sherry, encouraged us with generous amounts of chocolate candy and distributed party favors that allowed us to “honk” approval when instructed.

The cake featured our logo and three panels representing our three main action areas: membership, visibility and programming/member services. It was decorated like a sheet cake, but below were help-yourself cupcakes. Jill said it’s an incentive she often used when leading communications at Habitat for Humanity headquarters in Georgia.

Action plan cake - cupcakes1

Now the work begins. Action area leaders – Jill, me and Glennis Nagel – will meet in a few weeks to identify the first critical steps to move forward with the plan.

NPW will celebrate our 70th anniversary as an NFPW affiliate in 2016 with special events at our spring convention in Lincoln and fall convention in the Kearney area. And we’re already talking about a caravan style road trip to Wichita next September for the 2016 NFPW Convention.

I hope both Nebraska and NFPW leaders will have great things to report about our accomplishments.

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago tonight (Saturday) I was attending the 2015 National Federation of Press Women Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. We were at the Captain Cook Hotel celebrating members’ accomplishments at the contest awards banquet, installing officers elected for 2015-2017 and having a lot of fun.

Each of the 27 NFPW conferences I have attended since 1987 has been an amazing learning-networking experience, a time to see a different part of the country through the eyes of members who live there and, in almost every way, just plain great.

Our Alaska affiliate members, led by Diane Walters, Sherrie Simmonds, Connie Huff and Pat Richardson, continued that legacy of greatness and added their own special Alaska topping to it.

A big thanks to them and the entire Alaska team for a showing those of us on the pre- and post-tours a few of their state’s thousands of natural wonders.

Forgive me if my mind wanders in church Sunday morning as I think about my week-ago adventures while riding a train from Anchorage to Whittier and then taking a boat ride to see glaciers, sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and massive snow-covered mountains. I certainly saw the hand of God there and certainly in Denali National Park.


I’ll try to reflect at least 10 percent of the joy in my work as I saw in the wonderful born-to-run sled dogs. They obviously have found their calling, just as many of us have in our various fields of professional communications.

Pre-tour, Iditarod HDQ, ride1-crop

In the workshops presented during the conference, I was reminded about the difference between rule-based and virtue-based ethics, and heard from Alaska communicators from remote areas about how they have learned to shape their working rules to respect Native Alaskan cultures.

We honored our past by saluting milestone members, remembering the ones who have left us in the past year and thanking our longtime APW management team.

We saw the future in priorities coming out of our strategic planning process, newly elected officers and appointed directors, a video of our high school contest Award of Excellence winner, the selection of a new management team, and in a challenge to support high school journalism programs and the First Amendment rights of the next generation of journalists.

We passed our antique gavel to President Marsha Hoffman of Iowa, while thanking now Past President Teri Ehresman of Idaho for leading us through what I know we’ll look back on as two of the most important years of change for NFPW.

I’ll remember many things about the 2015 conference in Alaska, including all the sights and sounds of a beautiful state, laughter between good, longtime friends, and the invitation to do it all again somewhere else – Wichita, Kan. – next year.

However, if I had to pinpoint one lasting image, it would be the great Mount Denali’s white peaks spotlighted in the sun rising high above the other massive mountains around it.


It was one of thousands of great things packed into 10 days before, during and after the NFPW conference.

If members of states hosting future conferences are looking for a theme, you are welcome to use that one.

Packing up can mean many things. Moving to a new home, changing jobs, retiring, or even a professional or spiritual makeover that requires storing away old ways of doing things to make room for a new you.

Of course for most of us, packing refers to gathering the necessary things – clothes, business items, camera, spending money, etc. – to go on a trip.

I’m still at the making (and changing) lists on paper and in my mind point in my preparations for the 2015 NFPW Conference. Today’s main Sunday afternoon project is to do what I hope is a final sort of papers for the business meetings to get down to the essentials.

I tend to be a “take along everything I might need” packer, at least in the making lists stage. However, I’ve gotten better at trimming the list, partly because I’ve become a more efficient traveler over time and mostly because “everything” won’t fit in a suitcase and carry-on bag.

The other thing I’m packing up now is this blog, with entry 200 since I started it four years ago as the newly elected NFPW president. After serving two years in that role, I am completing two years as the Education Fund director.

So, while I may keep this blog active and contribute occasionally if I have something to share, I won’t be a week-to-week writer. Also, I plan to ask our next website administrator to remove (or at least move) the link to my blog from the website home page.

That space should be for NFPW leaders who are regular contributors with a more focused mission or who currently are in office. A blog is a good way for our president and other executive board members to keep in touch between the regular monthly eletters and quarterly AGENDA newsletters.

There is not much new I could add at this point and it’s time to step aside.

I’m glad Cynthia Price of Virginia, who served as president ahead of me and continues her informational blog about social media, branding, conducting conferences, etc., encouraged me to start a blog as a new experience.

She and current President Teri Ehresman of Idaho talked me into continuing these past two years, mostly because my more traditional personal column was so different from Cynthia’s and from the “Talking With Teri” blog that has been great in helping us get to know each other better.

I know the leaders we elect in Alaska will have their own unique styles for the blogs they will write.
I can’t wait to start reading them.

For now, I’m packing up. Similar to packing for a great travel adventure, it doesn’t mean I’m going away forever, only that I’ll be visiting with you via this blog only from time to time.

I spent much of Saturday morning on a farm southeast of Shelton – about 25 miles east of Kearney – doing an interview, taking photos and shooting videos for a Kearney Hub section D cover feature updating the work by Nebraska gardeners to restore eight ancient varieties of corn grown by the Pawnee Nation’s ancestors before they were forced to move to Oklahoma.

NFPW members who were on the 2011 conference pre-tour learned about this effort on the first stop we made at Kearney, The Archway. Cultural Education Director Ronnie O’Brien gave us a tour that included a Pawnee-Arikara made earth lodge and a garden where she picked some of the Pawnee corn she was growing that summer.

O’Brien got involved in the effort 12 years ago when she wanted to plant a garden of Pawnee crops at The Archway. She made a connection with Deb Echo-Hawk in Pawnee, Okla., who is the keeper of the seeds, and learned that most corn varieties were down to just handfuls of seeds handed down through generations of Pawnee families and kept mostly as sacred relics.

The eagle corn, which is white kernels with dark purple splotches resembling eagle wings, has recovered well thanks to the efforts of Nebraska gardeners like O’Brien who were entrusted with some of the remaining 50 kernels.

Other varieties have been more difficult to grow because of weather conditions, the age of seeds and the need to have the plants a safe distance from all the field (feed) corn grown in Nebraska to avoid cross-pollination.

In fall 2013, I did an update with Ronnie at her Archway garden where she was thrilled to discover that some of her red flour corn crop had produced speckled red and blue kernels. Speckled corn was thought to be lost forever.

All seeds produced in Nebraska and Oklahoma go into the Pawnee seed bank and elders decide what happens to them next. In the case of speckled corn, some kernels were planted in Oklahoma, where they learned that the desired traits tended to show up in the most stressed corn and smallest ears.

O’Brien, who left the Archway in 2014 and now teaches hospitality management courses at Central Community College in Hastings, still is a “corn sister” to the Pawnee. She organizes Nebraska growers for corn and also Pawnee Spotted-Like-a-Horse and black beans, Arikara watermelons, sunflowers, and squash.

After working with yellow flour corn, another highly endangered type of Pawnee corn in 2014, she again planted the red flour corn that had produced some speckled kernels in 2013 and some of the speckled kernels themselves.

Ronnie O'Brien3

She may be picking the first ears from her home garden about the time we’re having our NFPW conference in Anchorage. For now, she can only hope she will be unwrapping a wonderful new gift of more speckled seeds.

O’Brien saw hope Saturday in one ear with its nose peaking above the shuck that showed it was turning from all white to multiple colors.

Speckled corn1

I use this story to reflect the continuing coverage done by all journalists who have beat assignments. Often, the work involves monthly meetings, budgets and drawn-out legal issues that aren’t nearly as interesting as Pawnee corn.

I’ve been covering some of my ag and natural resources beats at the Hub for nearly 29 years now, although I rarely enter the continuing coverage category of the contest because much of the progress is slow. So many of the stories sound alike because they must include the “nut graphs” of history and other information for readers who did not see the previous stories.

Our Alaska conference also has a continuing coverage theme. We will elect a new set of officers for 2015-2017, with some candidates who have already have served us well in other offices and some new folks who are stepping in to serve NFPW.

We also will be selecting a new management team.

The goal whenever there are leadership changes is to continue to provide members with outstanding services and programs. As a past president, I can tell you there are many, many, many things handled by the management team, elected officers and appointed program directors (contests, COA, membership, etc.) throughout the year that go unnoticed because they do their jobs and volunteer assignments so well.

I know that our history of outstanding continuing coverage for NFPW will continue.

As I was driving down Interstate 80 today going to North Platte to visit my mom, now in her own room at an assisted living facility near my twin sister, I began wondering about where all the people in the cars and trucks had been.

Plus where they were going and who they were.

Each story would be unique, of course, as are all of our individual lives. No two people have ever shared exactly the same experiences, and common experiences don’t have the same affect on different people.

It is wonderful to be unique. Every editor I know just about comes unglued when a “nearly unique” or “sort of unique” or the always popular “very unique” comes across his or her desk.

We each are unique. One of a kind, with no kinda, sorta, very or limited about it.

An Associated Press regional director who spoke to our Nebraska Press Women group several times over the years and was a member himself for a time often reminded the reporters in the room that we probably walk past a dozen good stories every day.

That’s because each person has a unique story and there probably is something interesting in there somewhere if a skilled reporter decided to take the time to dig for it. And, of course, if the unique person was willing to share enough of that story.

I suspect that even the most well-researched biographies have big holes in them because the subjects never revealed enough of the inner thoughts and feelings most people keep private throughout their lives.

I like being unique. It means that for good or bad, beautiful or ugly, there is no one else now or ever who was exactly like me.

Or like you.

One of the best things about an affiliate or NFPW conference is the opportunity to learn a little about some new people and a little more about longtime friends.

For those of us going to Alaska, we’ll soon be awash in stories, observations and opinions that will be part of the chatter on the tour bus rides and during every break between conference meetings, speakers and award presentations.