Friday, February 25, 2011

High Above It All - Miss America at the Golden Spike Tower

When contemplating the site of the VIP reception for Miss America in North Platte, the first thought the Miss Nebraska committee had was "what better place than the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center?" They chose correctly! The Grand Hall proved to be an elegant location for North Platte's VIP's to gather while awaiting the arrival of Miss America Teresa Scanlan.There were several young people in attendance, including Teresa's "Little Sister" who accompanied her during her journey to become Miss Nebraska at the pageant in June of 2010. The young lady pictured below was very excited that she was going to have an opportunity to meet Miss America.
Such a joyful occasion as welcoming Nebraska's first Miss America engendered much good-natured camaraderie.
Upstairs, on the eighth-floor observation deck, the guests were greeted to the awesome view of Union Pacific's Bailey Yard in the glow of the beautiful Nebraska sunset. We all got the chance to get acquainted with the new Miss Nebraska, Nicky Haverland, and she graciously posed for pictures with everyone, especially all of the star-struck little girls.
The highlight of the evening was the arrival of the visiting queens: Miss Washington Jacquie Brown; Miss Vermont Caroline Bright; Miss Oklahoma Emoly West; Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier; Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady; and Miss Connecticut Brittany Decker. These young women added a lot of sparkle to the room, even without their crowns!
It is a further testament to Teresa's character that these young ladies hold her in such high regard as to make the grueling trip to Nebraska (and yes, I understand there are a few travel stories to come out of their trip) to be with her during her homecoming. Below, Miss Hawaii meets with a young fan.
A member of the staff of the caterer for the evening, JL Candlelight, looks on anxiously as the young women sample their fare, but he needn't have worried. I can speak from experience that it was wonderful. It was great to see all of the young ladies being able to relax for just a moment (even though there were constantly cameras flashing in the background, including mine) and catch up on events in each others' lives post-pageant.
All in all, it turned out to be a splendid, elegant evening, befitting the occasion. We all get to look forward to a few more wonderful events as Teresa's homecoming winds down.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Welcome Home, Miss America - Nebraska Style!

Nebraska is a big state, 455 miles from west to east, with the high plains and towering Scottsbluff National Monument on the west, the rolling Sandhills and the smooth Platte River Valley in the center and the wooded breaks of the Missouri River on the east. What better way to welcome home Nebraska’s own Miss America, Teresa Scanlan, than by a cross-state road trip beginning in her hometown of Gering, stopping off in North Platte, where she earned her Miss Nebraska crown last June, and ending up in metropolitan Omaha.

We first arrived at the Scottsbluff Country Club for a VIP reception, where the excitement (and perhaps even the stress) of the Miss Nebraska Committee, responsible for organizing all three of the galas, was evident.However, all of their hard work paid off, and it was a wonderful event. A small, intimate gathering where Teresa's supporters could relax with her for awhile before the gala later. Here, Miss America and Miss Rodeo Nebraska, both western Nebraska girls compare notes.
It was only a brief, peaceful interlude before it was time to backtrack to the beautiful Gering Civic Center for the evening event. It was literally a standing-room-only crowd. 760 people were seated for dinner, and even more came just to welcome home their favorite teenager. It is easy to see that they love Teresa. The qualities that have made her a fantastic representative of Miss America obviously were in evidence while she was just a small-town Nebraska girl vying for the local title. The local pageant committee had made 200 buttons, and I don't know how many T-Shirts, and both were sold out before dinner started.

Teresa was named the Miss Scottsbluff County Fair in 2009, and then went on to win Miss Nebraska at the pageant in North Platte in June of 2010 before being named Miss America in January of 2011. The emcees of the night, Ken Meyer and Ray Richards, who have made a name for themselves hosting the local pageant for many years, told numerous stories about Teresa's popularity when she worked at the Panhandle Co-op as a carry-out girl. Below, Jessica Littlejohn, the current Miss Scottsbluff County Fair, poses with a young fan. Jessica will be competing for the title of Miss Nebraska in June.During her speech, Teresa alluded to her time at the Co-op as well, reminding the crowd that they encounter many young people each day, who are looking for guidance, leadership and support. It may be as simple as a generous tip or words of encouragement, or being excited about their successes. Just as the communities of Gering and Scottsbluff made a difference in the success that Teresa has achieved, so we all can keep inspiring our young people to reach above and beyond, to achieve their own success. Below, a young fan captures her memories of the evening.She also spoke about the opportunities she has had to work with the USO and travel to military hospitals around the country. As a proud representative of her community, her state and her country, she is humbled when she meets wounded war veterans who have sacrificed to protect the country she is representing. As you can see below, Teresa is surrounded by well-wishers wherever she goes.Teresa also encouraged us to realize every day how blessed we are, and to never take our health for granted. The Miss America organization partners with the Childrens Miracle Network, and her activities have brought her face to face with many children experiencing health crises. It has made her more thankful than ever of the health she enjoys. As an aside, it's a good thing she is healthy and strong, as the incredible schedule she has to keep this year would challenge even the heartiest young woman. Below, Teresa performs "Whitewater Chopsticks", arranged by Calvin Jones.She ended by saying that though her sphere of influence has increased greatly this year, and she is going to meet more and more people across the country and around the world, no one is going to match up to her hometown communities of Gering and Scottsbluff. As you can see below, Gering is extremely proud of her. This billboard will be placed at the entrances to the community.The North Platte community is a proud sponsor of the Miss America homecoming events across the state, and the committee showed their appreciation by including the logo of the North Platte/Lincoln County Convention and Visitors Bureau front and center on the poster, along with the many others who made this event possible. It is a great feeling knowing we could help out in this way.
The Executive Director of the Miss Nebraska Pageant Jay Engel reminded everyone that the Miss Nebraska pageant is held annually in June in North Platte, as it has been for the past twenty-five years. Tickets will go on sale in May, and yes, Miss America Teresa Scanlan will be there!
I have gained such a greater appreciation for the path these young women take on their way to Miss America. From the local pageants, to winning the state crowns, to the ultimate achievement of Miss America, these young women hone their talents, gain poise and dignity, and we get to know their incredible characters, developed by a close circle of family, friends and community. Keep up the good work America. You are doing something very, very right when you can turn out young women like Teresa Scanlan.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Telling Nebraska's Story - Yelp!

This blog post has two purposes. To tell my readers about the excellent tools provided by Yelp and to goad my colleagues into recognizing the importance of this type of location-based social media tool. We in tourism need to use it ourselves and encourage our constituents to make full use of it.

Are you familiar with Yelp?
Our purpose: To connect people with great local businesses
10 Things You Should Know About Yelp
  • Yelp was founded in 2004 to help people find great local businesses like dentists, hair stylists and mechanics
  • As of January 2011, more than 45 million people visited Yelp in the past 30 days
  • Yelpers have written over 15 million local reviews, 83% of them rating a business 3 stars or higher
  • In addition to reviews, you can use Yelp to find events, special offers, lists and to talk with other Yelpers
  • Every business owner (or manager) can setup a free account to post offers, photos and message their customers
  • Yelp makes money by selling ads to local businesses - you'll see these yellow, clearly labeled "Sponsored Results" around the site
  • Paying advertisers can never change or re-order their reviews
  • Yelp has an automated filter that suppresses a small portion of reviews - it targets those suspicious ones you see on other sites
  • You can Yelp on your phone at http://m.yelp.com/, or use Yelp for iPhone, Yelp for BlackBerry, Yelp for Palm Pre, and Yelp for Android
  • The Weekly Yelp is available in 42 city editions to bring you the latest business openings & other happenings
On a recent road trip to Pennsylvania, our party found ourselves caught on the Ohio turnpike in the early afternoon, absolutely starving. Despite my smart phone and internet access, I was unable to to find out what services were available at any particular exit. We ended up driving for hours before finding signs that directed us to the great "Quaker Steak and Lube". I don't begrudge that find, but imagine if I had had the tools to simply point my smart phone at an upcoming town (monacle view), and voila, up on the screen would appear a list of restaurants available, and their ranking based upon customer reviews. That is the tool that Yelp provides.

For those of us in Nebraska along I-80, taking full advantage of a tool such as this is invaluable. The lifeline of traffic that speeds past us is vital to our economies. At the lowest point in winter, there is just under 10,000 vehicles each day, and in summer, can be nearly 20,000 cars. The ease of merely pointing a device at our communities to immediately discover the visitor services and amenities is a dream come true for tourism marketing. It may be just as important in our communities off the beaten path. It was invaluable to us on our recent trip to Norfolk. In other views, Yelp brings up a map with all of the business locations (which you can filter) within a specified distance from you.

I'm not too familiar with how Yelp operates from a business standpoint. My House Concerts are operated out of our home, so I'm not going to ask to create a page for it. However, my limited research shows that business owners can become involved in their page, posting specials and interacting with the customer reviews. Yelp purchases lists of businesses, but I've found that it doesn't contain all the businesses in an area. In fact, one of Sutherland's most important businesses from a traveler standpoint is Ozzie's I80, which is a convenience store, gas station and Godfather's Pizza franchise at our Interstate 80 exit, and isn't even listed in Yelp.

If you are a business that specializes in visitor services, you better check it out and make sure that your business is included, then become active in the social aspect of the site and increase your visibility. It is an easy tool for you to use, (and appears to be FREE!) and more importantly, is easy for the travelers to use. Don't let them pass you by because they didn't know you were there.

Thanks for stopping by on this icy, windy day in western Nebraska. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Community Treasure

It didn't happen overnight. It took a lot of determination, effort and hard work. It all began back in about 2005 when North Platte hosted a Literary Festival. The organizers needed some place where local writers and poets could share their work. Sharon Owen at A to Z Books thought it was a good fit and graciously rearranged her business so it could be hosted there.

It was fun. It was successful. It accomplished what everyone wanted in the perfect atmosphere. Why not do it again? Several more "Open Mic" events were held sporadically for awhile. They were opened up to musicians. It got to be so much fun that about four years ago Sharon and the Gang (Yes, that's what the email invitations say) decided to schedule them regularly.

Every second Friday and fourth Saturday at 7:30pm, local performers of all kinds gather at A to Z Books at 507 N. Jeffers in North Platte to share their talent. And believe me, it is amazing talent!
I have to confess right here that I had not attended a performance for a couple of years, but Sunday afternoon they hosted a Valentine Eve Variety Show. It was perfect timing for me, so I spent a VERY enjoyable afternoon being entertained by the best of the regular Open Mic performers.

George, one of the Gang told me that during the evening performances as many as 60 people may gather. Now granted, A to Z Books is the largest used book store between Omaha and Denver, with more than 50,000 titles and a large selection of local interest new books, but 60 people is a lot. It takes effort to rearrange your store to accommodate entertainers and audience twice a month, and they tell me they are interested in branching out to another show. That is dedication and community spirit in action.
I had the opportunity to interview three of the performers for my Blog Talk Radio show that I did live on location for the first time. One had only lived here in North Platte for about four years, one was a traveling musician recently returned to town, and one was a high school student. All three are great performers. All three independently mentioned how the Open Mic performances had solidified their relationship with the community and become a second home for them - complete with family!

In Destination Development, we talk about "third places". Our home is first, our work is second, and where we go to hang out is third. A to Z Books is definitely a third place, but obviously a first place in the hearts and minds of the loyal performers and audience.
But truly, A to Z is just a building. The heart behind the store is Sharon Owen, and her hospitality and generosity. Everyone is greeted like old friends - which they either are or will become - and made to feel welcome. That spirit is shared by George who acts as the emcee. Not only does he keep the performances entertaining and moving along, he's like a big protecting brother up there at the microphone. You can just feel the spirit of protection and encouragement he extends to the performers. And he is rewarded for his efforts. A woman who was so shy she asked him to read her writing aloud when she first started attending Open Mic performed an amazing solo acapella, a duo with George, and she regularly performs as the lead singer in a favorite local band. Now that is a testament to how much the Open Mic means to the community.

Thank you Sharon, George and the Gang for all that you do. Here's to many, many more events.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Through The Seasons Part Ten

It was quite a shock to wake up this morning and realize that it was almost Valentine's Day and I had yet to post my "Through the Seasons" photograph. The good news is that it's going to be nearly sixty degrees today, so I picked a good day to get out and take some pictures. This picture was taken at about 10:30am on Sunday February 13. You can see the cows grazing on the cornstalks in the left of the picture. They're getting the last goodie out of the crop before spring planting begins.
Thank goodness most of the snow is gone from this photo at about 1pm on January 3.
December 4, 9:00am.
November 2, 8:30am.
October 3, 9:00am.
September 6, 7:00pm.
August 7, 8:30am.
July 5, 8:30am.
June 5, 8:30am.
May 5, 6:10pm.
So far, I have to say that July is my favorite picture.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Friday, February 11, 2011

When You're Dead, You'll Wish You Had Danced

Our communities do a disservice to our citizens by not supporting community dances. What a wonderful way for all generations to get together and cement those bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime.

Growing up in the Nebraska Sandhills, Square Dances were held at our local one-room country schools. Driving by those schools today, its hard to see how all of the neighbors fit in them to form multiple squares for the dance, with all of us kids running around. Maybe the tight spaces added to the sense of community. I don't remember how often they happened, but a lot of scenes from these good times really stick in my mind.
Besides the square dances, most little towns in the Sandhills had a Legion Hall, Community Building, Fairgrounds or local tavern that regularly hosted dances. There were many local amateur dance bands who played the circuits. There are still bars that host live music, but they really are few and far between. The patrons are the 20- and 30- somethings because the parents and grandparents don't go, and the kids can't go, so there is a separation.

Obviously our ancestors who settled Nebraska brought their traditions with them from their old countries, and this community dance must have been one of them. I say this because last week we had the opportunity to experience a tradition from Ireland - the Ceili.


Susan Ritta and Cassandra Evans of The Thunder On The Plains Project came to North Platte and called a Ceili at the Espresso Shoppe in downtown. It was a wonderful time. There were about 75 people there, which was crowded but not uncomfortable. The ages range of the dancers was about seven to seventy, with the spectators about the same.
The evening started with North Platte's up-and-coming Irish Band the Flatrock Irregulars getting everyone in the mood, and the Espresso Shoppe's traditional Irish Potato Soup completing the authenticity of the atmosphere.
It was a night of fun we'll all remember for a long time, and one that we hope to do again soon.
It was a wonderful experience moving through the steps, then finally getting the music started and finding out that you really had become familiar enough with the dance to do a creditable job of it. There was much laughing and joking, good-natured critiques of everyone's varying abilities. Susan and Cassandra did an excellent job of teaching, and even showed off some of their highly superior skills, with Susan demonstrating a traditional broom dance, playing the tin whistle and singing for us.
They host regular Ceilis in Lincoln, and are committed to making regular tours through the state to bring their fun and sense of community to the masses. If you can possibly attend one, by all means do. Even if you're not up to dancing sit and laugh, introduce yourself to someone you haven't met yet, share stories with old friends, clap and stomp along to the music. To quote the words of a song by the Blarney Rebel Band, when you're dead, you'll wish you had danced!
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why I Do What I Do

A couple of recent emails really made my day. It's easy to get discouraged when it sometimes feels like you're talking to yourself when blogging, so getting feedback from readers makes it all worthwhile (I've removed identifying references):

Hi there Muriel,
I found your blogTalk radio, from doing a 'tanking' search.....
We are a family of 6 adults, 15 children (our grandchildren) ages 1 to 16...who are wanting to have a tanking experience when we come to North Platte/Stapleton area this summer in June.

Because I played your blogRadio last night and heard you make reference to tanking on the Platte, I wanted to enquire of 'opportunites' if you know of some. My family is aware of the Glidden rentals on the Dismal from Mullen, ..are there others that you know of?

By the way,...I am becoming a fan of your sites, (just found you early Jan)...and I commend you on those recent posts of the Eagle Watching...(another great NE opportunity).

My place of birth 1944, was 10 mi. west of Stapleton on Hwy 92...where my father & grandfather farmed, (grfather homesteaded);

My sisters live in Stapleton & ranch north off Hwy 83..., used to write (news & local interest stories) for the Telegraph, perhaps you recall seeing her byline.

I will be following your House Concert venues also......a piano/organ teacher, church musician myself....I am intrigued with this idea.

Thanks for keeping NE on the forefront......I just played the entire link of MissAmerica, her appearance before the press, thanks for that link also.

Yes, that's why I write. To help people relive their memories of Nebraska, keep up with happenings in the state, share in our joys, and to tell our story to the world so everyone knows how great we are too!

You wrote in your blog about the number of visitors and how people find it. So, I thought I'd share how I arrived there tonight.

I have a Google Alert for "Union Pacific." So, when you write about the UP, your blog shows up in the alert. I recognized your blog when I logged onto it tonight as you have written before about the railroad.

I like your blog because your journalism style makes for easy reading; there is a genuine feeling to it. The photos are great as well. Your blog makes a difference in people's lives.

Hailing initially from southeast South Dakota, Nebraska is of interest to me.
Don't ever hesitate to let me know you've enjoyed something I've written. Not only does it make me feel good, but when you share your Nebraska stories with me, I'll pass them on and others can enjoy them too.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Trip Through Nebraska... From a Postmasters Point of View

A friend of mine forwarded this email to me and, since I'm all about telling Nebraska's story, I just have to share it. Unfortunately, it didn't include any information about the source, so if you know who authored it, please be sure to share and I'll gladly give them the credit.

This past summer, I traveled throughout the colorful State of Nebraska , in search of a Blue Hill, a Red Cloud, or a Silver Creek, but what I stumbled across was Clay Center, Brownville, Greenwood, and Roseland.

I began my trip by traveling Inland, and then headed south to North Loup, then north to South Sioux City. I got turned around in Loup City, headed the wrong direction out of South Bend, and back on track at North Bend. It was then I discovered that West Point is in the east, Central City was off Center, Malcom isn’t in the middle, and the Brady bunch lived east of North Platte.

There were towns along the way that really rocked. Guide Rock, Rockville, Table Rock, and Keystone: but, to my Surprise, there was no rock at Plymouth.

The weather cooperated for the most part, but after a heavy rain, the flood Gates opened and flooded the Valley with Clearwater. I was then stuck in White Clay for a day. McCool Junction was like . . . Burr.

The trip wasn’t without Hazard though. I had to Dodge a Beaver Crossing the Wood River (probably on his way to Beaver City). Had the Dickens scared out of me by an Archer with a Broken Bow, chased up an old Oak tree by a Bassett hound, suffered an allergic reaction to Angora wool, kicked by a Holstein, fell from a Butte, stung by a Bee, had to wade through Broadwater, pooped on by an Eagle, pricked by a Rose, stepped on by an Angus, attacked by a Gibbon, experienced the Pierce of an Elkhorn. Took a bad tumble in Falls City, but was back on my feet at Rising City. Had to fight my way out of Battle Creek, nearly met my Waterloo when I was mobbed at Lynch, and almost drowned in Weeping Water.

Although I didn’t have the time to visit every Nebraska City, I was still able to Foster an Alliance with many a new Friend. The people in Laurel and Hardy really made me laugh, but those in Crab Orchard were a bit grumpy. Folks in Homer were a big hit. At times I was treated like a Champion and shown the Royal treatment. Received a nice greeting in Valentine, but the town I was most attracted to had to be Magnet.

I always had plenty of food and drink along the way. Everything from Concord grapes to Bartlett pears, black Angus steaks to Hershey bars. Never had to Cook and never had to open a can of Worms.

The Nebraska nights were awesome. Auburn sunsets and Sterling moons. From the Flats in the east, where the Aurora borealis unfolds into Plainview, to the Western hills where you can see the Sparks coming out of Chimney Rock.

The entire Nebraska adventure was like a Page out of history. After passing through Colon, I realized my trip had just come to . . . the end!

Yes, the words in bold are all Nebraska town names! Strange as it may seem.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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