This Week's Editorial
Bring on the rain PDF E-mail

If you don’t like the weather in Nebraska, just wait a day and it will change.

Natives know that saying all too well, but those words have become more of a daily reality check lately than a light-hearted perspective on Nebraska’s fickle climate.

Folks who make their living based in part on what the weather does, which let’s face it is a pretty big percentage of our friends and neighbors here in Hamilton County, have to be scratching their heads. What in the world will Mother Nature do next?

The dust is still settling from the brutal hail, wind and tornadoes that blew threw the county on June 3. Corn crops that were already off to an unusually late start due to a cool, damp spring took a major hit, in some cases virtually wiping fields clean. The gut-wrenching question of do you replant or take a knee with some fields this season leaves many wishing they had a better option from which to choose.

The good news wrapped in this year’s bizarre spring weather is that the drought’s grip seems to be loosening, at least for now. Two to six inches or more of rain have fallen on most of the state since June 1 (before this weekend), including portions of southwest and central Nebraska, which have been especially dry.

A monitor compiled by the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL reveals that many sectors of the state were upgraded from extreme to moderately dry, and others are now listed as abnormally dry or normal. That’s at least a step in the right direction.

Here in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, 2014 moisture levels are being watched oh so closely and producers know there is a lot riding on the outcome. This year’s crops need the rain, as always, but the impact of a particularly dry versus wet year has long-term implications as well.

The region narrowly avoided automatic water allocations based on groundwater readings taken in the spring. Those same readings will be taken again next spring and if the levels continue to drop as they have been area farmers will face three year, 30-inch water restrictions they have never had to deal with. The stakes are incredibly high.

The next month will be key to seeing whether the moisture level improvements hold. Our fingers are tightly crossed, hoping for that perfect mix of slow, steady rains, plenty of sunshine and no extremes.

Looking at today’s extended forecast, we’re optimistic, but also realistic, knowing all too well that Nebraska’s weather is subject to change!

Kurt Johnson

Nature’s fury PDF E-mail

It happened again! Horrific, life-changing winds of terror struck hard in Hamilton County.

Just over 50 years after the Hampton area was hit by a tornado, Mother Nature unleashed its full fury in the area again last week, destroying property and disrupting lives. Fortunately, there was no loss of life this time, as there was in 1964, but to those hit hardest by the storm it was a devastating blow.

Our heart goes out to the Klawonn and Bankson families who lost their homes, and to the many, many others who suffered damage of any degree. Until you’ve been in that unthinkable situation it’s hard to know just how gut-wrenching that sensation of instant, inexplicable loss must feel.

A former high school teacher of mine, Ron Leece, was one of the five victims of the June 3, 1980 Grand Island tornado, so the reality of the looming danger seemed very real to me last Tuesday. As we watched the radar and monitored news reports that afternoon and evening, it looked as though Hamilton County had dodged a bullet. All the severe warnings were for further north on a day that had the entire state on full alert, hoping and praying the storms would pass without any significant damage or loss of life.

Unfortunately, there was significant damage, mostly due to hail, gushing rain and straight-line winds of up to 70 mph. The National Weather Service confirmed, however, that three tornadoes did hit the ground, the strongest of which struck near Hampton at around with winds up to 110 mph. Early reports hint that the damage to area crops was widespread and severe.

Two thoughts stand out in the aftermath of the storm.

One is a tried and true lesson Nebraskans know all too well, and that is the life-and-death reality of what it means to be prepared when the skies turn dark and dangerous. Tornadoes are a fact of life around here, confirmed by reports of 50 years ago and as recently as 2008 and again in 2009. Weather forecasting and communications technologies have advanced to the point that we should NEVER be caught off guard.

The other is the heartwarming stories of instant volunteer help, love and support shown to storm victims at their time of need. You simply cannot put into words what it means to know that the good people of Hamilton County have your back when times are tough.

Clearing debris, replanting crops and picking up the pieces of your life is a painful process, but we’ve heard time and again how that web of support helps those in need trudge forward, one step at a time.

Kurt Johnson

A class act! PDF E-mail

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

Luke Grossnicklaus offered those prophetic words as part of a scholarship application earlier this year. He eventually received that $10,000 honor as a D.J.’s Hero Award recipient, not surprisingly, but more importantly he personifies those words to the letter. The Aurora senior lost part of his leg due to an auto-immune disease early in life, but he has since become a shining role model to all who know him, and even those who don’t, on how to approach life’s obstacles.

A likeable kid with a friendly, humble disposition, Luke brings a positive outlook and attitude to everything he does. That is especially obvious when it comes to one of his life’s passions -- golf. The game has given him a chance to shine at an early age despite some physical challenges, and he’s done so with humility and class.

Luke, the youngest son of Kelly and Karen Grossnicklaus, earned his third state golf medal last week. He capped off an impressive Husky career with a birdie on the final hole to card an even-par 72. A fierce competitor at heart, he would have liked to play better, especially on the first day, but once again that positive attitude came through, helping him stay focused and make the most of the opportunity.

“I knew I had the ability to go low today and that’s exactly what I did with a 72,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the way I finished my senior golf season.”

And he should be, not just for posting a solid score, but for being who he is, both on and off the course. Luke is an ambassador of goodwill to himself, his family, school and community.

Luke puts everyone at ease, even wearing a bright t-shirt on occasion which says, “Dude. Where’s my leg?” A little humor and humility goes a long way toward developing the kind of positive attitude he wears on his sleeve for all to see.

Watching this lefty play golf, you can’t help but notice his prosthetic leg. That drew some attention during his Husky career from statewide media, as well as golf fans curious to see how he hit the ball. If you watch him play for very long at all, however, you stop looking at his leg and are impressed solely by his swing. He’s got game!

That’s the whole point for young Luke. He doesn’t play or act like he has a disability, because in his mind he doesn’t. He just does the best he can within his own abilities, no excuses, and by the way his best is pretty darn good! Anyone with any kind of physical, mental or emotional challenges can learn from that example.

Luke Grossnicklaus may not be trying to inspire others, but he truly is, one stroke, one step, one person at a time.

Kurt Johnson

Slip-sliding away PDF E-mail

Hang on to your hats, Hamilton County. The summer of 2014 is now officially slip-sliding away.
The Fourth of July weekend is always a festive time of year in my book, offering a relaxing combination of rest, barbecue, golf, more barbecue, family, friends and fireworks. We had a beautiful wedding on our agenda this year as well, making it a truly memorable mid-summer hiatus.
The nation’s patriotic birthday weekend is also a symbolic milestone in my mind, marking the beginning to the end of summer. In approximately five weeks school bells will start ringing, turning the page and the calendar of events for all of us, regardless of how many, if any, kids we have in school.
It’s been an interesting summer thus far, though some area farmers could probably plug in a few different adjectives. The weather has kept the region on its toes, scanning the skies and sending us to the basement more often than we would like.
The good news is that the crops are recovering well, overshadowed somewhat by the dropping price of corn. I always chuckle this time of year as I drive around looking at area fields, remembering days in my youth when “Knee high by the Fourth of July” was a fairly accurate crop gauge. It’s more like neck high, or taller, here in Hamilton County, and I swear you could have captured the corn growing by the inch using a real-time video recorder this hot and humid weekend.
As for the sports calendar, another season of youth baseball is in the books and Legion teams will soon hit the stretch run into post-season play. Late May and June are chock full of games for young families, creating priceless memories for all. Those are fun times, especially for young players, though it makes sense to wrap things up now so that families have some time to slip in those projects, down time and vacations if possible before the busy fall season arrives.
The Hamilton County Fair is only two weeks away now, yet another tell-tale sign that the countdown to fall has begun. It’s time to hurry up and start slowing down, milking all the R&R you can out of summer before it slips away for good.
Kurt Johnson

Hard lesson PDF E-mail

Does Aurora have a drug problem?

It is troubling to even think about that concept, much less write about it, but recent events suggest that as a community we need to be aware of the potential for drug use and abuse, and especially its horrific consequences.

A teen-ager nearly died last month from taking over-the-counter pills and mixing it with alcohol. The family chose to tell their story publicly, hoping to help more people be aware of what’s happening behind the scenes. That was a bold step, one that was no doubt criticized by some who either don’t want to hear about it or prefer to think that it can’t happen to someone they know or love.

The nearly fatal incident was a wake-up call, no matter how you feel about the issue, prompting some brutally honest conversations that need to be had.

Law enforcement and medical personnel, the folks who are on the front lines of this issue, say there is reason for concern. Alcohol and marijuana are readily available, as they have been for decades, but there are also concerns with growing use and abuse of over-the-counter medications. “The pill epidemic is growing,” according to local police, which came as a harsh reality check for me, frankly, realizing how easy it is for today’s youth to push the envelope for a cheap thrill ride in ways that weren’t a factor when I was their age.

Parents today can’t pretend to know everything about Triple C and whatever else is out there lurking, but we can and should be aware of the dangers. One thing that hasn’t changed in 40 years, and won’t over the next 40, is the need for parents to be parents, being involved in their kids’ lives and watching for signs of trouble.

Small signals like slower reaction times, constant fatigue, dilated pupils and in more obvious cases slurred speech should be cause for alarm and the hard conversations that are easier to avoid.

Ask questions. Know where your kids are and who they are with. Be involved. Show that you care.

D.A.R.E. is a fantastic program, giving young minds something to think about before they are faced with making those hard decisions at the moment of choice. It is, however, just one small weapon in the arsenal needed to fight this epic battle. Far more important, in the end, is the support structure at home and the decisions made by the immediate circle of friends, who have a tremendous impact on a young, impressionable mind.

Bottom line: Aurora remains a wonderful place to live, go to school, work and raise a family. It is not, unfortunately, immune to the dangers of drug and/or alcohol abuse which far too often lead to years of heartache.

That harsh lesson bears repeating, again and again.

Kurt Johnson

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