Louis G. Pol – The Traveling Dean

I began this blog in March 2013 because I wanted to document some observations about my travel experiences in India. As I reflect back on other travel taken prior to March 2013, I wish I had begun posting about my adventures in 2003 as I made my way to St. Petersburg, Russia, or 1992 during a trip to France and Italy, or in 1991 while travelling in Romania and Moldova. Oh, well…

I am the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly Omaha University). I became the dean in August 2003, which means that at this point in time, March 2017, I have been the dean for nearly 14 years, a very long time in one place for a business school dean. The average stay for a business school dean is about 4.5 years. Prior to being named dean, I was a faculty member here, at Rollins College, and at Memphis State University, but not all at the same time. If you want to learn more about me, I am providing a link to my website http://cba.unomaha.edu/lpol. Also, you may wonder what I look like, so here is a picture.

dean-pol-full

As you can see, I am in my official dean uniform. The sculpture in the background is one created by Jun Kaneko. You should look him up.

My goal in regard to this blog is simple. I want to share my experiences with anyone who wishes to know more about the places I have visited. At the same time, if you continue to read, you will gain some insight into my opinions about the places I visit and the people I meet. From time-to-time, you will learn more as I offer comparisons of places, including those experienced before I began this blog. I will try to remain apolitical as I write about what I see, but I will fail at times. Keep in mind that it is March 2017, and remaining apolitical is most difficult.

Finally, I enjoy receiving your comments and corrections.

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Kansas City and the War to End All Wars

 

I was in Kansas City in early June, primarily to see the Royals play the White Sox, eat again at Q39, and spend time with Janet and our very good friends Mike and Debbie. The Royals have had a rough year, and are a long way from the team that won the World Series in 2015. Q39 has not had a rough season, and since our last visit has picked up a few deserved recognitions for its food.

The real treat to our visit was spending some time at the World War One Museum. Okay, maybe you’re not the museum type, especially one that focuses on an event that ended badly 100 years ago. But, please read me out. First, the physical layout of the museum is welcoming, with plenty of room to walk around the exhibits, listening to the audio guide. Second, the grounds around the museum contain an adjacent park and memorial walk. They offer some of the best views of Kansas City. Third, the sights and sounds from the top of the tower at the museum are very cool, providing a panorama of Kansas City and beyond from a 200 foot plus elevated vantage point.

While I learned a great deal at the museum and found the buildings and grounds most attractive, my real motivation for going there was much more personal. My great grandfather Felix (my father’s side of my family)  fought in World War One. He was gassed (mustard) and was held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. The effects of the gas had lasting effects on him throughout his life. Moreover, their town in France, Abscon, was only a short distance from Cambria where the first large scale use of tanks in battle took place on November 17, 1917. The battles raged, and the people of the region suffered. They lived in the wrong place at the wrong time. Less than three years after the historic battle, Felix, my grandfather Louis, and the rest of their immediate family sailed for Ellis Island and a new life in America.

Abscon lies close to the Belgium border, and not far from the English Channel. That location has witnessed many boundary changes over the centuries. When I used Ancestry.com to analyze my DNA to learn more about my background, the results were somewhat surprising. I am the product of a mixed marriage, mixed in a different way than is often meant today. My father was, I thought, 100 percent French (French father and French mother). My mother is 100 percent Italian (Italian mother and Italian father). So, I expected a nearly 50/50 split, with perhaps a one percent Neanderthal or some other small portion as part of my DNA. I was right about the Italian side, 46 percent with some odds and ends (most likely Albanian). To my surprise, I am only 36 percent French. I will be looking into what that’s all about in the future.

The museum visit helped me in one other regard. I have wanted to visit Abscon for some time, and the addition of new information (the tank battle) pushed me to finally decide to go. Janet and I already had planned a visit to Ireland (both the north and the south) for May 2020. Now, we will extend the trip and fly on to Brussels and drive to Abscon (location marked with the pin) so that I can continue my research about my family. You will be reading more about this in the future.

 

Back in the Lone Star – – Twice

There were two visits to Texas, one in late May the other in early July, and I am writing about both of them together. Each time we chose to drive because we seemed to “need” a longer road trip, along with a non-airport change in scenery. Our time in Texas was spent largely with my dad, in Sanger, and with one of my sisters, in Dallas, although we drive around parts of Denton more than once.

Because in the past I have documented a number of air trips to Dallas, I will refrain from my usual references to Whataburger and Chuy’s and focus on our observation regarding new (for us) stuff. texasOne of the the biggest changes was found in roadside signs; specifically, those related to the nationwide shift in laws regarding the legal status of marijuana consumption. The 1960s and 1970s references to reefer (and reefer madness), joints, doobies, pot, alligator cigarettes, weed, dirt weed, devil’s lettuce, grass, party parsley, mary, mary jane, hash, herb goofy boots, and bogarting take on a whole different meaning when rolling down the road at 80 mph or passing through a town and seeing signs such as:

  • Weed Maps Guide to Cannabis – Learn, Order, Smile
  • Lotus Gold Marijuana Dispensary
  • Hempyz Smoke Shop
  • Ivy League Cannabis
  • The Main Street Dispensary (in Stillwater, Oklahoma)
  • Stillwater Dispensary
  • Flippen Farma

It’s hard for me not to laugh loudly when I see these signs, given that in the early 1970s in Texas simple possession (less than an ounce) could yield serious jail time, and a life permanently ruined. Yet today, there is a raging debate about legalization. weedmapsThe September 2019 edition of AARP magazine has a picture of the evil weed on the cover with the title: Special Report, Marijuana and Your Health.

My grandmother Ersilia (we knew her as Elsie or Nan) would feel so much less embarrassed by her early consumption of the evil weed given society’s shift in opinions about smoking or otherwise ingesting the key element of this plant. Her toking took place before the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act became law, thus when she imbibed it was legal. I wonder what she called it. Too bad I never asked her.

The late May drive was marked by almost constant, and sometimes pounding, rain from about 50 miles north of Topeka to Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma, our stopping point for the night. Virtually every river we crossed was out of its banks, and on a few days prior to our drive Interstate 35 the 35 in west coast speak) was closed due to flooding. We saw the Arkansas River, Salt Fork, as well as the Chickaskie, Washita, and Ninnescah Rivers well above flood stage, water covering many acres of crop- and ranch-land. We had seen news reports about flooding around Wichita and Emporia, Kansas, but seeing it first hand provided a whole new layer to the images we had observed on TV. In addition, El Dorado Lake had gone well beyond its banks and had flooded the 35 just a few days before we drove that way. Even the Flint Hills, which has the most dense coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in the U.S. was flooded in spots. I have driven from Omaha to Dallas many times since 1984, often passing through the Flint Hills. I have never seen this area as green or as wet as we observed this time around.

floodWe took periodic notes (and pictures) regarding the weather and flooding. Here is a sample of our observations:

  • Rain began near Holton, KS (it would rain for the next 380 miles)
  • Kansas River at North Topeka is high, evidence of flooding
  • 5:13 pm – weather alert for our area, flash flooding
  • Mile marker (MM) 139—frog strangling rain, 10 miles north of Emporia, lots of lightening
  • Neosho River out of its banks; yikes, we are hydroplaning
  • Cottonwood River, well out of its banks, flooded fields in all directions
  • Local flood traffic (sign), right lane
  • High water when flashing (sign), it was flashing
  • Car in the ditch at MM 108, young people involved, no one is hurt
  • Car in the ditch at MM 106, no damage seen
  • Raging water everywhere
  • Worst rain yet at MM 83, cars pulling off, traffic at 30-40 mph (top speed)
  • Car crash at MM 77
  • White Water River out of its banks at MM 65, flooding everywhere
  • Arkansas River is flooding, again fields are covered with water
  • Just south of Wellington, Kansas, hard rain and lightening
  • Major flooding 30 miles north of Perry, Oklahoma
  • Arrive in Paul’s Valley, light rain

The Flint Hills stretches south from near the Kansas-Nebraska border to northern Oklahoma, over 200 miles. It is about 100 miles wide, covering cities such as Manhattan and Emporia, Kansas.

flint hillsThe drive through the hills provides a very pleasant break from the monotonous grey slab interstate ride, and is marked by gently rolling hills, endless horizons, tall grass that stretches forever, and rock outcrops that glisten (if there is enough light) because of the bands of chert that are contained in the limestone base. The land is no good for crops, the natives and others tried that, but excellent for grazing. bisonImagine, more than 160 years ago, millions of bison walking, trotting, or running across this immense area. The sight, and the sound of hoofbeats and grunting (bison are very loud and expressive animals) must have been amazing.

As noted above, we stopped in Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma, for the night (both trips), in part because we had a later departure from Omaha. Paul’s Valley is a very small town that has adjusted well to the completion of Interstate 35, 50 years ago. In the 1960s when I first drove with my parents south from Stillwater to Dallas, we traversed national highway 77, and moved right through Paul’s Valley. Back then, the traffic through this part of Oklahoma proceeded slowly, or very fast, and dangerously. The steep hills of the Arbuckle Mountains meant that the vehicle flow was either at 30 mph, the speed of an 18-wheel truck straining to get up a hill, or 75 plus mph as the trucks and passing cars careened down the hill, soon to be slowed again. I would close my eyes as this variable speed conga line of cars, buses, and trucks did this dangerous dance, again and again, especially when it was downhill and the road was curving. Today, the 35 skirts the town, yet business development along the interstate has kept the area economy relatively strong. And, the traffic goes 75 mph plus both up and down flattened out hills.

You can learn a lot about a place spending 30 or so minutes looking through the local newspaper. The Saturday-Sunday, July 6-7, edition of the Paul’s Valley Democrat was full of local stories that provided a good sense for the goings-on in the community. The lead story was about a new delivery service business started by a 23-year-old local. There were lessons on pest control (dried coffee grounds help control yard pests such as chiggers, ticks, and mold). pauls valleyThe world championship for watermelon seed spitting was held in Paul’s Valley on July 4—the story contained a less than complimentary photo of a middle-age woman with nice earrings and other jewelry letting one of those seeds fly from her mouth. There was an editorial arguing for an end to congressional gridlock. There was good coverage of education-related events: local students attended a STEAM academy and band camp, and a young man with local connections had received his Ph.D. from the University of California-San Diego—post doc at John Hopkins next. The sports page stayed local, with pictures of the best teams from a charity-related golf tournament. The help wanted section of the paper was full of health care related jobs. Finally, there was a full page color story with pictures and graphics celebrating the 50th anniversary (July 20) of our lunar landing.

turner fallsDuring the May Texas drive, we stopped at Turner Falls, one of my favorite places for camping, hiking, and wading when I was a college student. We were able to drive there on the 35 in about 90 minutes from Denton and relax and recover from the stresses of being students—are there really any stresses from being a student? Today, the park is modernized. The campsites have more amenities. There is a restaurant, and the basin for wading and swimming at the bottom of the falls has been enlarged. The trail system has been greatly expanded, making hiking, biking, and running even more fun. It’s a cool place.

 

Our Time with The Mouse

In late March, we travelled to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to spend a week with The Mouse – we went to Disney World. When I refer to we, I mean our family and extended family.  There were fourteen in our menagerie; four grandparents, two sets of parents and six children under the age of eight. It was a kid-fest extraordinaire.  It was not a quiet week.

We left behind the remnants of the flood. Major roads were still closed. Many areas along the Missouri River were still under water (and some still are in late August), and the clean-up had hardly started as our plane left the ground. We were lucky. A few more inches of rain just at the wrong time could have added to the inland waterway near our house in such a way that we would have taken water as well – and no Disney World for us.

Just a few more observations about the flood before I return to Disney World.  This morning (August 24, 2019), Janet and I took a short drive to survey the residual flood damage just about five months after the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers reached their high-water marks. Our baseline for observation was the moment when the two rivers became one large, fast-moving and dangerous non-stop flow of water. The point of reference also included washed out bridges and highways, flooded farms and grazing fields, partially submerged homes and vehicles, trapped livestock, and the looks of bewilderment on the faces of people who could not believe that this had happened. Note the normal and flood images (right).

Today, the roadways have been mostly rebuilt, although areas along the Missouri River are still not back to “normal.” Some will never be normal again. Cattle and horses graze in fields that for the most part show no long-lasting effects of the flood. Home repairs for some continue, but there are no longer large piles of carpet, drywall, destroyed furniture and appliances, and other stuff stacked up in the front yards of those homes.  Businesses are back up and running, long after replacing damaged equipment and furniture. Most fields are planted (except those where a lot of sand was deposited). The crops, soybeans and feed corn for the most part, look excellent. We have had a mild, very few scorching days, summer and a good deal of rain. The combination of sun and water have resulted in a very rich cover, one that shows no obvious signs of the fast water that covered so much not so long ago.

The recovery seen has been possible because of the combination of the resiliency in the land and the grit of the people most affected. Community response both during and after the flood was swift and heartfelt, and certainly most needed for recovery to occur. We were committed to restoring power, water and highways, the infrastructure that must be in place for the rest of the healing to take place. Nevertheless, for me it has been the resiliency of those who were driven from their homes, who had to find short and long term solutions for their animals, who quickly got back to planting crops once the water receded, and who doggedly brought their lives back to normal, or closer to it, that was most impressive.

Walt Disney was a genius. While today we know Disney World as the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or the Old Key West Resort, in the 1960s he saw 25,000 acres of swampland and other low-lying vacant space that made up the area south-west of Orlando and imagined what we see today. He knew a lot his customers at Disneyland; in particular, that in the late 1950s only five percent of them came from places east of the Mississippi River. Given the success of Disneyland and armed with a sense that there was considerable market potential in the eastern on-half of the U.S., he set out to find a location for a new park, one that was a combination of the best of Disneyland and the new ideas that he had for making the new park an even better experience.

Walt Disney never saw his idea become reality. Plans were made, land was purchased (in a very smart way), and work was initiated, but Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before Disney World opened for business.

Roy and Minnie converse in the park

However, Walt‘s brother, Roy, was dedicated to carrying forward Walt’s vision, and he moved forward quickly with planning and construction, successfully addressing a number of legal and other issues along the way.

Unfortunately, Roy passed away in 1971, only three months after the park opened. The vision of Walt Disney as operationalized by Roy Disney carries on currently as the park opens new attractions and closes others.  For example, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is scheduled to open at the end of this month. The Disney Skyliner, a gondola style lift transport system is scheduled to open in September.

We stayed at an original property (of course, refurbished over time), Disney Contemporary Resort. The structure looks out over The Seven Seas Lagoon, and because we were living on the eighth floor, our view was spectacular. We did not look out at the Magic Kingdom, sorry no fireworks from the comfort of our living space, but we could see out to the edge of the Disney properties and well beyond.

It’s always good, and cool, to stay in a place with a monorail that comes through the middle of the structure, an easy transition to some, but not all, of the places we wanted to visit.

The best part of a trip to Disney World, especially if you are an old dude like me, is the looks on the faces of children as they are riding a ride or meeting one of their favorite movie or cartoon characters. In this case the kids were mine, my grandchildren, and the characters were among my favorites as well. Some of the characters such as Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc. are physically large, so the initial kid reaction might be one of trepidation. But, the initial surprise quickly wears off, and the characters are for the most part played by people who are used to that first reaction, and everyone is suddenly happy – – especially if you have stood in line for a long while to see Mike and Sully in Monstropolis.

It’s good to see the Mouse (and Baymax) in March, not July or August, and to have a really clever person, in my case my daughter-in-law, Alicia, negotiating the wait-in-line system.  A combination of Fast Passes and other exceptions kept us from standing in line too long for rides and exhibitions. The weather was excellent, not too hot or humid. We lived north of Orlando in Winter Park for two years and many times experienced the energy-sapping heat and humidity that affect central Florida times during the summer months.

I should note that I have only been at Disney World for the attractions one other time, in 1989. Yes, that was 30 years ago. My grandmother, Adele, and my father, Louis, had come for a visit, and we took them to Disney World. Walking any distance at all was a challenge for my grandmother, so we rented a wheelchair and off we went. Wheelchair-bound folk and their entourages did not have to stand in line for rides and such. Yep, step to the front and move ahead quickly. I was younger, age 40, so pushing a wheelchair through the park for the day was no big deal. Besides, it was January and neither hot nor humid.

My sense is that this Mouse visit thing will become a regular on our travel circuit. While I would not want to go more than once a year, the smiles, laughter and good stories from my grandchildren are still fresh in my mind. I just wish that some the characters would age, making people like me feel a bit less old. Remember, Micky and Minnie are a lot older than 70.

I’m Back

I’m Back

(The Transition and My Remarks)

I have not posted a story since March, and since then I have made eight trips. I will get busy in posting these, but first an explanation.  For more than one year, I have been thinking about my departure as dean. After 17 years in this position, it was time to travel on and get busy with other interests – more writing. As the early part of 2019 unfolded, I became busier with dean stuff along with planning for the transition in leadership for our college. Thus, I did not post any stories about my travel.

My last day as dean has come and gone, and I am now focusing on my new work as a writer. I have stories that I believe need to be shared, and I have already begun.

I will continue to post stories about my travels, first focusing on the backlog of trips noted above. I will continue to be The Traveling Dean, except that my real title will soon be The Traveling Dean Emeritus.

As part of my transition, I have written two additional pieces. The first was penned August 18 and 19, on my last day as dean/first day as non-dean. The second is a written version of the remarks that I made on August 22, at a reception celebrating my deanship. I am posting these documents here.

Please continue to follow me here at The Traveling Dean. In addition, over the next several weeks I will begin posting non-travel stories on other forms of social media.  Watch for links to those.

Thank you for reading my stuff.

The Transition

August 18, 2019

            It’s Sunday, August 18, at 6:45 pm. In less than six hours I will no longer be the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. At midnight tonight, I will become the former dean, although with regent approval at the end of the month I will assume the title dean emeritus. While I will continue to use the blog name the traveling dean, I will in fact be the traveling dean emeritus.

If you are still reading, you might be asking what in the world does dean emeritus mean. The word emeritus is Latin, you knew that, and once referred to a veteran soldier. My time as dean did not involve soldiering, but I can report that as dean I have been involved in a few dust-ups. Current use of the word emeritus has been shifted largely to professors and ministers who have retired and are regarded as having done good work. But, emeritus is also used in the context of those who have retired from other professions. So, dean emeritus is an honorary term, and means at the very least that when I was the dean I did not embarrass my college or university, too much.

Having one’s job end at midnight on a Sunday is weird. I left my office at around 5:15 pm Friday. When I departed I knew that I would not go into the office on Saturday or Sunday, unless there was some kind of emergency (there hasn’t been one thus far). But, technically, I am still the “boss” for another five plus hours. I think that I will stay up until midnight, imagining some silver ball sliding down a pole, at midnight reaching the bottom, with a crash, lights flashing, and the The Rolling Stones playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Many faculty, staff and students will cheer, drink, dance, party and stay up all night in celebration of my departure—and welcome the era of our new dean, even though her title includes the word interim.

I have stayed rather busy this weekend. We hosted friends on Friday night, had dinner for my leadership team Saturday night, and hung out with our grandchildren at the Omaha Zoo today. While petting sting rays (yes, you read that right) and looking at the back-side of a rhinoceros, I found my mind wandering backwards to events, situations and people I have encountered over the last 17 years, the length of time I have served as dean. I have seen a great deal in those 17 years, and even had a “first” for me on my last day in the office. I intend to write about some of what I have seen, but not yet. There are other stories I want to write about first.

Some of you are familiar with the term “when the switch flips.” No, this is not about turning on the lights, but the metaphor of the light switch is useful. The only exception to the metaphor real life connection is that in the context I am writing the light is on, then off, never to go back on. In situations like mine when a person is leaving a position, one that involved an all-in mindset, it is important to match as closely as possible switch flipping with job departure. If the switch is flipped too early, then the person’s ability to perform well is compromised because they just don’t care much anymore; think Phil Collins’ song I Don’t Care Anymore. If the switch is flipped too late, then the person leaving the job will have second thoughts about their departure.

I tried hard to time my switch flip well. But, I’ve also had the experience where the switch was flipped mostly outside the control of the switch flipper. Think about the times when you woke up one morning and said to yourself, “I am not doing that anymore,” and you didn’t do it anymore. You probably had some sense that you were heading toward that decision prior to the switch flip, but you did not know that you would make the decision that quickly. And, sometimes the switch flipping gets all over you so fast, and you did not see it coming. Maybe a high school girlfriend or boyfriend was on the other end of that switch flipping. You woke up one morning and thought “I’m done.” No more drama. And, I didn’t like her hair anyway. Or, you were on the other end. She woke up one morning and thought, “Yuck, what did I see in that guy.” She didn’t like the way you dressed anyway.

I think I timed it pretty well. Even in the last days, I was still excited by the prospects for our college. I was engaged in every one of the meetings I attended even though I now have a true loathing of virtually any kind of meeting that involves more than five or six people.

When I left the office on Friday, I was not certain that my switch had flipped. I knew I was feeling good the last two months about my decision to leave, and I had been accused by a few friends and colleagues of smiling too much. I was also limiting my Saturday and Sunday time in my university office. Nevertheless, I did not know for sure, until Saturday night. There was a situation that unfolded near the end of our dinner party. One of my colleagues told our soon-to-be interim dean that he had something of import to tell her. In the “old” days, he would have addressed me in that way. As they found their way to another room to discuss the issue, I realized that while I care for my college greatly, I was happy that I was not going to be part of that conversation. I did not want to know what he was going to tell her.

A few friends have asked me about what I will miss most about being our college’s dean. I have tried not to be an ass in my responses. So, no retorts such as “the people” or I won’t miss anything at all. If someone tells you they will miss the people, they are either lying or need to explain in some detail what they mean by the people. In positions like mine, you are around a lot of people. Most are nice, some are truly outstanding, and a few (a number greater than zero) are disgusting. I won’t miss any in the latter group, and I won’t be saddened if I don’t see the folks in the former group every day.

I will miss working for our students, although I will be able to do some of that for a while longer. There’s nothing like the buzz one gets in having a student succeed, especially if they have had challenges along the way. I have lived vicariously through the lives of our students (and alums) over many years, and I will miss having a direct pipeline to stories of their successes. I feel the same way about most of our faculty. As dean, I am the last stop in the college for annual review documents and tenure and promotion decisions. I read all of their reports at least once a year. Overall, our faculty are terrific, and I have enjoyed monitoring their progress. I’ve rejoiced in their publications and their success in the classroom. I love the reports of a “big hit,” a publication acceptance in a first-rate academic journal.

I will also miss the planning, conceptualization and realization of major ideas and initiatives. Particularly rewarding are the big accomplishments of our college when significant people had told me, “You’ll never be able to do that.” For me, that statement is a challenge, another reason to work smart and drive the car full throttle.

It’s now Monday, 7:30 am. I woke up and am now the former dean. The sun came up as well, and it looks to be a fine day. I now have the time to write short riffs like this one, but also plan for the bigger projects that I have already started. I also have some blog posts to write. There have been eight trips since I last posted—about the flood and my non-trip to Florida.

I have other big decisions to make today. When will I go bike riding? What will I eat for lunch? Should we go out on our boat today? Should I shave? What do I need to do before we leave for New York next week? I think it really will be a fine day.

 

My Remarks – August 22, 2019

Embracing the Impostor in All of Us

Thanks to all of you for being here on a warm August afternoon, and just a few days before the start of a new semester. You could be somewhere else, sipping a toddy. And yes, that is my playlist.

I’d like to start with an explanation, the reasons why I refer to all of this as a repurposing, not retirement. If you check out the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary (I am sure that this is regular reading for all of you) and locate the definition of retirement you will find, “the point at which someone stops working because of having reached a particular age or ill health”. Well, I did hit a particular age, 70, but so what? And, my health is very good (and, my people live a long time). So, let me give you another quote, this time from C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream”. I have another goal and several new dreams. Finally, one more quote, this time from Stephen King in his book Shawshank Redemption. Remember when Red, played by Morgan Freeman in the movie, first says “Get busy living or get busy dying?”

When I first came here 35 years ago, I quickly developed the chronic condition that perhaps a few of you have experienced, impostor syndrome. Prior to my arrival, I had been a demographer tenured in a sociology department at Memphis State University. My new job called for me to be a demographer and a marketer, with no additional formal education. I had a great department chair (David Ambrose), dean (Larry Trussell) and colleagues (John Hafer and Bun Song Lee) who at least thought they understood what I could and could not do on day one (marketing research, consumer behavior, and a new course I was developing, business demography plus publish). I told them to just give me a bit of time and I would be full tilt, ready to teach other courses. They believed me. I had already begun to shift my research and had some success. I still felt like an impostor.

Then there was my adventure in Florida. Many of you know that I left UNO in 1988, with no intention to return to Omaha. Once again, some business school hired some demographer who dressed up like a marketer. Like UNO CBA, they’d lost their minds. The dean of the Crummer Graduate School of Business, Marty Shatz, hired an impostor.

Then it was back here to UNO. The impostor had returned. Ambrose and Trussell had not learned their lesson. But, this time around I felt less the part, and for the next decade the demographer and the marketer found their rhythm.

But, I must have missed that impostor feeling, because in 2000, somehow, I fell into the administrative abyss, and I was now the associate dean. Stan Hille had hired an impostor.

Then I became interim dean in 2003 and the dean without interim a few months later—that’s like impostor squared.

But, I am pleased to report that after 17 years as the dean of our college I no longer think of myself of having been an impostor. So, I leave you while I am looking for the next place where I will be uncomfortable and out of my element, a place that is new, unpredictable, and full of adventure. A place where I can be an impostor again.

Let me change gears…I have been very lucky. We have a great collection of smart-working students, who in many instances, post-graduation, have become the business, non-profit, and government leaders in Omaha and beyond. We have a dedicated and smart-working faculty and staff. You don’t just have good ideas. You have the confidence and grit to see those ideas to the end and beyond. Look at our programs, our centers, our departments, and you will find people who really care and are on the edge in finding better ways to prepare our students and our business clients. And, you are engaged in first rate research, the kind of work that makes a difference. Then there is our business community. You love our students, and the rest of us, well most of us, as well. You make it possible for us to extend our classrooms and make learning a 16-hour-a-day phenomenon, something that happens all over our city, Omaha. And, of course there’s Carl and Joyce Mammel. Along with Bill and Ruth Scott they made this place possible. We are so much different and so much better because of this facility. Watch out, our addition will be complete in 15 months, and we will again make another leap ahead.

I cannot thank all of you by name for your support and guidance because that would simply take too long. Over the next several months, I will reach out to many of you with a more personal thank you. But, without our dean’s office and affiliated staff, including our great partners at the NU Foundation, I would have been lost if you had not been there. Our leadership team is first-rate. You have made good decisions and have advised me well. Our information technology staff is brilliant. We have in place systems that no one else in the NU system has, and only a limited number of business schools nationwide have been able to replicate. Students, we are here for you. I have lived through your lives, sharing in both your achievements and disappointments. Faculty and staff, you’re the best. Administrators come and go, students come and go, and now another dean has bitten the dust. But you are still here. You are the backbone of our college, the source of great ideas (did I mention that some of you can be a pain in the ass?). But seriously, you have made us an excellent business school. My advisory board, you were patient with a new dean, and did not run for the door when you learned about some of my ideas (well, one of you did run for the door). Your advice and counsel helped me get better. Alumni, without your successes we would not have an excellent business college. We are only as good as our graduates. And, thank you also for letting me live vicariously through your successes. To my fellow deans and other administrators, thanks for your friendship, support, and partnerships. We’ve seen a lot and done a lot, together. And to my family, Janet and Peter. So, you’ve had to live with the demographer/marketer/statistician the entire time and put up with the moves as well as the dude’s wacky behavior. You’ve always been there even when a decision or a move did not make sense.

Unfortunately, at least for some of you, I will still be around here for a few more years. After a year leave, I will return to the Marketing and Entrepreneurship department on a half-time basis.

I’ve taken a bit too long, but I wanted to say these things in front of all of you. Let’s continue with the reception. I think I hear Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb.

Thank you.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) Office

Normally, I do not write about short trips. I have never posted about travel that covered only 5 miles (a 15 minute drive). This is my exception. I promise not to do this again.

I was 70 years old on March 5, 2019, and I can no longer delay receiving social security income benefits in a way that is advantageous to me. Many of you know that for each year one delays applying for social security income beyond age 65, an additional eight percent is added to the monthly check. So, by delaying five years, age 65 to 70, a substantial increase is gained. That’s what I have done. However, the top age for delay is 70. So it’s time for me to collect. My decision to wait is based on my belief that I have hit the genetic Powerball and can expect to live into my 90s. My people live a long time.

Most of those filing to receive checks from the SSA can do so on-line. I cannot. For the last 18 months, three different persons have tried to file for my benefits. How rude. Perhaps they thought I was dead. I try hard not to look dead. At the end of the last attempt to collect my benefits, the SSA and I agreed that I would only be able to apply for benefits in-person, given that the three fraudulent attempts were made on-line. So, the only way for me to begin receiving checks was to show up in the Omaha SSA Office, with identification in hand.

Omaha SSA Building

I arrived at the SSA office early, signed in, and got my waiting list number, even though I had a scheduled appointment, and sat down. My appointment at 2:30 pm was with a guy named Brian. I sat down in a black plastic chair. I knew that the chair was uncomfortable because I had been to the Omaha SSA office before. Settling into the chair confirmed that my memory was not faulty. I imagined sitting in the black plastic chair in the summer, my butt sweating, and wishing that my number would be called soon. In the winter, you don’t sweat as much, but the chair still brings no joy. There were very few others waiting in the reception area. I thought the place would be jammed up with people given the date, January 28.  Perhaps it was the very cold weather that kept others home. Perhaps it is the chairs.

I had been in my seat for less than five minutes when I was called early to station 14. Detaching my hiney from that black plastic chair could not have come soon enough. I stood up, collected my file folder, and strolled back to station 14. I sat down in a different kind of uncomfortable chair. I don’t remember the color.

Brian greeted me with a smile and asked me why I was there. He was seated behind protective glass. There was a small opening at the bottom of the glass for the purpose of exchanging documents. I guess he needed to be protected from those of us who might want our money right now, and insisted on it, or were not happy with the answers he gave to our questions. I told Brian that it was time for me to begin collecting my income checks. The period of delay was coming to a close because of my impending 70th birthday. Moreover, I could not go on-line to file for benefits given my record of having other people try to get my money. Brian had my file in hand. He already knew most of what I told him.

He asked me for identification. I was ready. I had my entire file of SSA letters (the ones that told me of the fraud attempts), along with my birth certificate, social security card, and passport. Just a short distance away in my wallet was my driver’s license, credit cards, AAA card, Medicare card… I slid him my passport, and he gave it a look. I told him that I had other identification, but he responded that the passport was good enough. I was disappointed. I expected to be asked for more. I wanted him to ask for more. I really wanted to show him my birth certificate proving that I was born in the Bronx.

He began his questioning with a warning about the penalties associated with untruthful answers. I told him that I would be truthful, wondering how many politicians filed in person. Then we began with the substantive queries. For the next six to seven minutes, he asked me if I was still working, if I was married, what was my wife’s full name, when was she born, did I have children living in my home, and did I have a dog (not that one).This was pretty boring stuff. Nothing about fraud, criminal records, or conspiracies was broached. I was disappointed again. I wanted to earn my money. I wanted him to ask me questions that would make me think. Then it was over. I expected to be there a long time, but we were done in about 15 minutes. It seemed like 15 seconds. I was told that I would receive my first direct deposit payment the second Wednesday in April. Thank you Brian. You didn’t need a glass shield to protect yourself from me.

The ride back to my office took 15 minutes. However, my mind was in a different place. Filing for SSA benefits is a surreal experience. It means something bad has happened or that you have arrived at an age threshold. The experience makes you think deep thoughts. I started thinking about age, old age. How old is old? Is it 60, 65, or 70? Is it when for the first time you find yourself in the grocery store searching for a bottle of Mad Dog 20 20 and a case of Boost at the same time? Or, is it when you remember the Boost and forget the Mad Dog 20 20? Is it when you don’t work anymore because you can’t work anymore? Is it when the list of things you can’t eat is longer than the list of stuff you will eat? Does it start the day you stop eating Twinkies? Is it when you can no longer ride a bike safely? Or, is it when you sign up for social security income benefits?

The Trip I Did not Take and the Flood of the Century (Really) –The Non-Traveling Dean

My office phone rang at about 10:30am Friday morning, March 15. My wife, Janet, was calling me to let me know that if I wanted to be sure that I would get home I should leave the office now. I thought about her plea for a few minutes, packed my briefcase, jumped into my Highlander, and headed down the road. I live on the west side of the Elkhorn River and work on the east side. Normally, I leave our house at 6:30 am, and in about 25 minutes, I am in my office. It’s not a short drive, 16.3 miles, just a fast one. On Friday it took me 60 minutes to get home.

flood-before Elkhorn River

Flood Map

By the time I left the office, two of the possible four routes home were closed. The rapidly rising waters of the Elkhorn River made it hazardous to pass either way, thus the shutdown. I chose my next option, one that put me out just south of my neighborhood. There was a lot of traffic lined up to cross the bridge. I arrived home not sure what to make of all the hubbub. I had an eerie sense as I pulled into our garage.

The flood was upon us quickly. All of you with any connections to the outside world have seen the stories of rescue, property damage, and the loss of life as they played out on the national news. As I write this post a lot of water is running south on the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers to the Missouri and eventually to the Mississippi. In the days to come, these sad stories will repeat themselves again and again, but will originate from St. Joseph, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. Lester Holt, Katie Couric, and Anderson Cooper will tell us again about the acts of bravery, and sacrifice, and also, unfortunately, the loss of everything, including lives.

Flooding

We overuse the term “perfect storm”, but in our case an alignment of three factors brought about this mayhem. First, we have had a very, very cold late winter. Bomb cyclones brought subzero temperatures that lasted for days, and more than one blow was delivered. Second, just a week prior to the flood we had a blizzard, leaving even more snow everywhere. Third, it rained a lot. In Waterloo, Nebraska where I live we had 3 inches of rain in 7 days on top of the snow. The rain and melting snow could not be absorbed by the frozen ground, and water ran downhill to the river. Underlying all of this is the significant change in climate our planet is experiencing.

Earth Moon

Flood stage on the Elkhorn River at Waterloo is 14 feet. On Saturday, March 16, the river crested at Waterloo at 24.63 feet. The extra 10 plus feet of water went everywhere. Homes, ranches, commercial buildings, humans, animals, highways, bridges, and cropland were not spared. I live on high ground and our home did not take any water. It was too close though, and when the river crested (I was not certain it had crested) I began to wonder what it would be like if the raging river water began to fill our lake and our home. Earlier on Saturday, we had seen a lake just one mile west of us begin to fill with Platte River water, the result of several levee failures. As the water levels rose and our neighborhood began to look like an island, I also wondered how we could be rescued in a short period of time if the water rose even more quickly. There are a lot of people who live in our immediate vicinity. It would take an armada of boats to get all of us out. There were not enough helicopters to do the job.

Rescue Boat

During situations such as this one, damage and loss of life happens involuntarily. That is, people, animals, homes and businesses do not sign up to be in the path of a flood. However, there are always exceptions to this generalization. As the flood waters were rising and even after the rivers had crested, many around us (we did too) became flood tourists. All of us watched and read the stories regarding this disaster, and many simply had to go and see what was happening. Cars, SUVs, Jeeps, and other vehicles could be seen all around the surrounding area. Most folks were careful and avoided roads that had “too much” water, or the flow was too fast. Some roads had warning signs designed to stop traffic. But, there are always exceptions, you know those idiots who want to live on the edge, see it all, and again try to prove that Darwin was right. Those folks don’t think at all about who else they might put in danger when they drive around the signs into higher water.

Road Closed

On Saturday at nearly 11 pm, I was catching up with the late news, responding to some messages that had come in, and otherwise dozing—it had been a long day. Black Hawk helicopters had been engaged in rescues throughout the day, but had shut down due to darkness, or so I thought. Then, I heard those very distinct rotors, and knew that they were back. As I looked out our back window, I could see a helicopter hovering. It turns out that some genius and a passenger had decided to do a bit of exploring, in the dark. They thought the signs that the road was closed did not apply to them. They drove in water at least three feet deep, and their circumstances became worse when they turned onto another road that had been washed out. That was it. They were stuck in fast water. A rescue boat was called out first, but it sank. So, two Black Hawk helicopters were finally needed to rescue all. The driver of the pickup truck was in rough shape when rescued. He was suffering from hypothermia. Did I mention that river water in March in our part of the country (it had ice in it) is cold?

This story is part of my travel blog because it includes a trip that I did not take. I was scheduled to leave for Fort Myers on Sunday, March 17. My only option to get back to the east side of the river was private helicopter. I chose not to spend $1,600 to take that ride.

When the Cranes Become Bison

We traveled to the Crane Trust in central Nebraska in the first week of March. We had made reservations well in advance, knowing that this was the start of the major viewing season of the Sandhill Cranes, Whooping cranes, and other birds that have been flying through what is now known as Nebraska for an astounding ten million years. Yes, we were going to have a close view of some of the estimated 500,000 plus birds that travel as much as 5,000 miles to migrate between as far south as Mexico and as far north as Bering Sea and Siberia.

Sandhill Crane

The Crane Trust is located about 150 miles west of Omaha, not far from Grand Island, Nebraska. The trust was created in 1978 as part of a court approved settlement over the construction of the Grayrocks Dam in Wyoming. The state of Nebraska and the Natural Wildlife Federation sued those constructing the dam, using the newly enacted Endangered Species Act as the bases for the suit. Construction of the dam altered water flow on the Platte River, thus putting in danger the migrating birds that stopped to refuel as part of their long journey. The trust was created, including all three parties, and a protected habitat was created. Today, visitors come from all over the world to watch this amazing gathering of bird species.

The Crane Trust

These are big birds. The Sandhill Crane stands 3 to 5 feet tall, with a wingspan of 5 to 6 feet. However, it is a light bird, weighing only 6.5 to 14 pounds. The Whooping Crane is larger, standing 5 feet tall, with a wingspan of 7-8 feet. They weigh between 14 to 17 pounds. There are two other major differences in the birds. First, Whooping Cranes essentially eat-and-run in Nebraska, staying on the Platte River normally for 2 to 3 days. The Sandhill Cranes stay longer, as much as a month or more, using the time to increase their weight 15-20 percent—it’s a long trip.

The Whooping and Sandhill Crane

Our drive to the Crane Trust almost did not happen. It was snowing lightly when we departed from Omaha. The forecast for central Nebraska was far heavier and blowing snow. We talked about the pros and cons of the trip, and decided to go, leaving quite early as we anticipated slower driving. The speed limit is 75 mph, which means much of the traffic is normally at least 80 mph. We did encounter some heavier blowing snow, but our early departure meant we avoided the blizzard conditions that occurred along the route not long after we arrived at the trust. Note: In blizzard conditions, it’s always good not to go 80 mph. On the way home we came across a number of abandoned vehicles in ditches and in the median.

March Blizzard

We checked in at the trust and were driven to our cabin. The temperature hovered around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but the worst of the snow was east of us, thus the visibility was fairly good.  However, larger patches of the Platte River was frozen and few cranes were visible. They were hunkered down to avoid the worst of the weather. Our small group of visitors (several others had cancelled their reservation) was escorted out to one of the viewing blinds, where we were reasonably warm but observed few birds, none very close.

We returned to a central office and restaurant building for dinner. We were given two options for the next morning: go back out to the observation blinds before dawn, and perhaps, observe some cranes, or sleep later and be driven out to check out their relatively new herd of buffalo. And, the temperature in the morning was forecasted to be five below zero. Yes, we chose the latter, knowing that we would go out again (first week in April) to see the cranes. Some folks chose the cranes. I’m not sure that they saw much.

Bison

The Crane Trust began assembling their herd of Bison in 2015. Keep in mind that there were once an estimated 30 to 60 million of these noble animals roaming North America from Mexico to Alaska. Also, note that they were systematically slaughtered (it is known as The Great Slaughter), and for the last 150 years there have been very few bison in the wild. In 1889, 130 years ago, there were only an estimated 1,000 animals left alive, 85 of whom roamed free. Today, there are about 30,000 bison who roam freely. They are truly amazing. Imagine a 6.5 foot, 2,000 pound buffalo (that’s as large as they get) charging at 35 mph (top speed). Scary, but elegant.

I suggest that you plan to visit the Crane Trust. Stay long enough to see the birds and bison.