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Mark Zmarzly


Mark Zmarzly knows where his story starts to take shape.

“It’s when I met my wife,” he said.

That answer might sound a little strange for a guy who’s in the startup world. But Mark said meeting his wife changed him because he saw his potential. It wasn’t that his wife asked him to be different or changed him in anyway, it’s that Mark started to clearly see what mattered to him and how to lean into his unique skills.

As a 20-something-year-old Mark was a driven, energetic kid who lacked direction. He had graduated with a bachelor’s degree, moved to Atlanta for a job, then moved back to Nebraska to figure out his next step. He moved in with his parents and waited tables at Lazlo’s, Lone Star and the Garden Cafe – which is where Mark first met his wife, Angie.

A few months after Mark was Angie’s waiter, they ran into each other. The two remembered each other, exchanged numbers and made plans to go on a date. Four months later the two were engaged and six months later they were married.

Now, 14 years and three kids later, Mark said meeting his wife was the fire he needed to figure out his next step in life.

“We were madly in love within a few days. And she didn’t care that I was a waiter who smoked and who ‘maybe would go to grad school.’ She didn’t care about any of that, which is why I started to care,” Mark said.

Mark stopped smoking and went on to earn his Master’s degree in English and creative writing and then he applied for a copywriting job at a bank consulting company.

Being in the banking industry had never been on Mark’s radar, but the job would give his family stability and he was ready to try something new.

He asked tons of questions and became fascinated with the psychology of finance. Mark was quickly promoted to the manager of his department and then asked to join the sales team.

He remembered thinking to himself, ‘Well, if I don’t do this then I won’t be growing, so I might as well go for it…’

Mark’s first few weeks in sales were rough. He was told to figure things out on his own, with no marketing budget and he even had a bank president swear at him over the phone. Needless to say, Mark quickly realized that he’d need to find a more innovative sales method. He started networking and hosting webinars on LinkedIn  and focusing on other tech-related ways to connect with banks.

By the end of the year, Mark had brought in more sales to the company than his manager.

That’s the thing about Mark, he’s a curious guy who can’t stop learning. He said his wife jokes that he’s ‘always got something cooking’ and Mark takes that as a huge compliment.

Figuring things out is just the way his brain works. He loves solving problems and finding solutions in the most creative way possible. Which is what ultimately led him to quit his job and start his own company.

Mark calls April 15, 2014, his “liberation day.” It was the day he quit corporate America to start his company, Hip Pocket. Mark launched a software company that creates apps to help people make better financial decisions from their phone in just a few minutes. It was his take on the best way to help people and banks communicate better about valuable savings and finances.

For the past two years Mark has spent his time building his company, developing new ideas and speaking at conferences. He’s crazy about work and hates the thought of anyone outworking him. This attitude has paid off. Mark’s company has been successful in a short period of time and he recently raised over $21,500 in a Kickstarter campaign for their newest app, Hip Money

But fast growth has its own challenges.

Mark pointed to his arm and then pulled up the rest of his sleeve to show off a series of leaves, branches and colorful bird tattoos. He got the tattoos this year. Each bird represents a member of his family – his wife and kids. It serves as a visual reminder to take life “bird by bird.” To slow down, breathe, be patient and focus on what matters.

In startup culture those things are hard, Mark said. Life happens fast and you have to execute quickly, but Mark also doesn’t want to lose track of life.

And being patient doesn’t mean Mark subdues his passion or represses his driven personality. Instead it means working to find a balance.

It’s little things like disregarding his phone when he gets home in the evening, making dinner, doing yard work and playing with his kids. It’s about learning to celebrate the wins, to stop, listen and witness his family grow and change.

“These things fill up my bucket more than anything else,” Mark said. “Just being fully present.”

Getting married and having kids has given Mark some of the best motivation he’s ever had. Sure, he builds his company for his awesome clients, but he’s also doing it to secure a future for his family and to show kids kids what life can be.

Mark’s realized that his work life and home life aren’t separate. They feed off one another, and in the end it’s the combination of the two that make his story one that matters.

Levi Nelson


Levi Nelson has lived his entire life in Lancaster County – and he has no plans of moving anytime soon.

It’s the place he grew up, where he learned, met his wife, works and is raising his kids. It’s also the place where his story has taken shape. In small bits and pieces Levi has learned what he likes, what he’s good at and why all of that matters.

He’s learned to be content, and that’s no small thing for a 28-year-old to claim.

Growing up, Levi said he was always tinkering with something tech-related. In high school it was programs like Photoshop and After Effects. He and his friends would goof around with the programs, until he realized he was actually pretty good at coming up with creative solutions. He’d never actually considered himself creative, because he couldn’t draw or paint, but the computer gave him the tools to express himself creatively.

Fast forward 5+ years and Levi is graduating from UNL with a Marketing degree and starting a job at Anderson Auto Group.

He described his job as being the one-man, in-house ad agency. Levi was responsible for anything under the marketing umbrella, including media buying, filming commercials and managing the budget. He learned a lot and really put his degree to work.

After leaving Anderson, he had a short stint as the Creative Director at Reliant Studios before doing freelance work full time.

Doing freelance work gave Levi the freedom to pursue projects that he loved. He built websites, shot videos and worked his creativity into every project he touched. He was constantly reading up on the latest gear and digging into more technical aspects of coding than ever before. The challenge of creating something useful was addictive and he loved finding the best solutions for his clients.

But as he did more work, his client list grew and the amount of work became overwhelming. Levi had a decision to make – he either needed to hire someone to help him or cut back on the number of projects he took on. He also had a third option – quit freelancing – which was exactly what he did.

Levi said he wanted to move out of advertising work and start building products, so he joined the best digital product company in town – Hudl.

He was launched into the world of product design where he was surrounded by experts and submerged in the startup scene. Soon he was one of the growing number of young people around town sporting a bright colored Hudl shirt and sneakers, and it was a perfect spot for him to grow in his skills.

Less than two years later, Levi took another risk with a new startup and joined the team at Travefy, a company that makes group and corporate travel simple.

It’s been a good move for him, and it’s made him appreciate the unique atmosphere that working in a startup brings. He’s part of a team that’s full of humble experts who are passionate about solving problems and maximizing their combined skills.

But Levi’s story isn’t just about work. It’s about doing things well.

Working at two local startups has made Levi think about starting his own business. He’s a self-described pessimist who sees problem after problem and he started to wonder if it was wrong for him to be solving ‘first world problems’ when there were bigger problems in the world. He’s consistently asking himself how to fix so many of the problems he sees.

But here’s the thing, Levi said he won’t be starting a company anytime soon.

He’s not lazy or lacking in ideas, but it’s just not the right time.

Levi said he’s seen how much time and energy it takes to get a company up and running. And for him, this is just the wrong season in his life.

Right now he’s working on being a trusted employee, an available husband and a good dad. That might sound simple or humble, but over the past few years Levi said he’s learned how to be content in where he’s at in life. He’s learned how to prioritize and not get ahead of himself.

He’s a guy who works hard and digs into his community. He invites his neighbors over, plays with his kids and also loves reading up on the latest coding techniques out there.

Just because he isn’t starting the next Hudl doesn’t mean his story is any less important. Levi gets that, and it shows.

His story is about living in the now, focusing on the present and doing what matters most in the simple and everyday moments.

Ben Welstead


Ben Welstead has a good story, and he knows exactly when it starts – 2007.

Back then he was a church youth group director who was busy organizing events, meeting with kids and taking the occasional summer missions trip.

It was these trips that got him thinking about alternative ways to fundraise. He noticed his youth group kids lived in t-shirts and jeans and they were always looking for a cool new shirt to add to their collection, so Ben thought he’d try screen printing for himself.

Ben has always been somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, so screen printing seemed like just another hobby to add to the list.

He bought a screen printing starter pack and then watched YouTube videos to fill in the blanks. It was a very trial-and-error process with lots of frustration and mistakes, but when Ben finally pulled his squeegee over his very first screen he realized he’d finally figured it out.

That was the start of Basement Ink, Ben’s literally basement-run print shop.

At this point, Ben and his wife, Renee, were both running businesses out of their home. It was busy, stressful and new. They were keeping their heads down, working, making deadlines, figuring out how to run businesses and pushing forward.

And then the phone rang.

While Ben had been starting his business, he and Renee had also become foster parents, and that phone call was about a possible placement.

Two girls – sisters – and then came the question, ‘Would you be interested in possibly adopting them?’

Umm, maybe? The next few months were filled with weekend visits, meetups and a lot of hard questions and conversations with friends and family about what it meant to be parents.

Were they ready? Could they raise these sisters? How do you love a child who you barely know?

It was a hard season with desperate moments and little sleep. The girls moved into their house, they figured out routines, likes, dislikes and on National Adoption day in 2011 they made Cora and Ruby their daughters.

Being parents is revealing, said Ben, and as they adjusted to the joy and pain of being a family a few things surfaced.

Ben realized he couldn’t work at home anymore. There was too much stress, too much anxiety and too much loneliness. Sure, he was in his own house and around his family, but he was constantly thinking about work because it was in his house. It became unhealthy, and as Ben reached a breaking point, Renee handed him a listing for a rental space.

On the day he signed the lease on his new work space, another call came – twins, biological siblings of their daughters.

“We just knew they should be with us,” Ben said.

And six months later, Louis and June became Welsteads too.

For a while things worked out OK. Ben’s family had tripled in a matter of years, it was crazy, in a good way but also a bad way. Ben was still putting in an obscene amount of hours, he was constantly apologizing to clients for missed deadlines and more importantly he felt disconnected from his family when he was home.

Something had to give, but he was at a loss for what needed to happen.

Then, he got a text.

Another screen printer in town, Jason Davis of Screen Ink, had a job opening and wondered if Ben would be interested in merging operations. It was the answer Ben needed, and a few months later he sold his printing equipment, left his rental space and joined Screen Ink.

These days, Ben doesn’t spend weekdays mindlessly printing shirts alone in his basement, he’s collaborating with a team for the first time, finding creative ways to stretch Screen Ink and then biking home with a freed mind to his family.

On the weekends he cheers at soccer games, takes the kids on family bike rides and carts them to birthday parties. The days are busy and full, but so much better than before, he said.

To say a lot has changed over the past nine years of Ben’s life would be an understatement. Everything changed, but Ben wouldn’t have it any other way.

The way he told his story was honest and sincere. It wasn’t some nice spin on things, it was unfiltered, rich and raw.

It’s a story with so much struggle, but also so much beauty. It’s about becoming a family, being a family and embracing change.

But it’s also a story that’s not finished, there’s more to come from Ben and the rest of the Welstead clan, and that’s a story we’re excited to watch unfold.

Ann Ringlein


She’s had the same routine for more than 30 years – wake up and run.

Sometimes she even sleeps in her running clothes so all she has to do is get up and walk out the door. Now that’s dedication.

But even though she’s an avid runner, Ann Ringlein isn’t showy.

Sure, ask any Lincoln runner about Ann and they’re sure to know her. She’s won lots of races, qualified for prestigious runs and was a track and cross country coach for 20 years, but that’s not why Ann runs.


Ann hustled over to unlock the front door of the Lincoln Running Company and peeked her head out, “Good morning ma’am, do you need something? Shoes? Ok, yeah come on in!”

She doesn’t turn people away even though it’s at least 45 minutes before the shop opens, because that’s just Ann.

“Take a seat and let’s see what you need here,” she said with a big smile.

Ann watched carefully as the woman walked back and forth in the quiet store, quickly assessing her feet as they moved in the tennis shoes.

“You have a good arch, let’s try these,” she said.

The Lincoln Running Company is known for quality shoes and a good fit. Doctors and physical therapists often refer patients to the store because they trust their expertise, but a lot of them also tell their patients to ask specifically for Ann.

She knows shoes because she knows running.

Ann said she couldn’t really remember the exact details that surrounded why she started running, but she remembers being bored. She had a lot of energy as a young girl, so many nights after she got off work she’d head over to the track across from her house in Red Cloud, Neb., and run laps.

She competed in a few races as she got older and did well enough that she won prizes and qualified for bigger races, and Ann was hooked. She’s been running ever since, and her days without running seem few and far between.

After moving to Lincoln 31 years ago with her husband and two young girls, Ann quickly became a major part of Lincoln’s running community. She’s coached track and cross country teams, worked in shoe stores, given motivational talks about running and she even puts on a beginners running class during the summer that typically brings in about 300-400 newbie runners.

Ann said so many of the new runners are intimidated by the sport, they don’t even know where to start. She said they take one look at her petite frame and they want to give up, but she works hard to get them to set their own personal goals and not compare themselves to others, because the most important part is that they’re moving.

That’s the thing about Ann, she doesn’t care how people run, if they do it wearing tutus and glitter in crazy-themed races or on the trails in Lincoln, if they start out just walking or if they never run a race, exercise is exercise.

For Ann, running is about caring for herself, staying well and taking time to regroup. Ann said when she had young kids she had to be a little bit selfish about taking time out of the day to run, but if she didn’t do it her day was completely thrown off.

Ann runs because she loves it. She runs to breathe deeper, to enjoy the outdoors and to start her day right. She also runs to be a better boss, employee, wife and mother.

Sure, running is a major theme in Ann’s story, but it’s not all that she does. She’s an avid gardener, nature lover and recycler, a compassionate mother and doting grandma. She loves to donate new and pre-loved shoes to local organizations and is on numerous boards in town including the Humane Society, Great Plains Trail Network and the Lincoln Track Club.

Ann runs for more than just her own enjoyment, she runs so she can learn, teach and care for her community, and to Ann, that’s what matters.

Kay Orr


When Kay Orr was elected as Nebraska’s governor in 1986, it was big news.

She was Nebraska’s first female governor and the first-ever Republican female to be elected to the position in the history of the United States.

Her four years as governor were historic, but also years marked with landmark decisions and ample criticism, ending in a closely contested election in which Governor Orr narrowly lost to her democratic opponent.

But we’re not going to make this story a history lesson, because Kay’s story is about more than her years as Governor Orr.

Long before Kay was governor, she was a daughter, sister, wife and mother.

Kay grew up in Burlington, Iowa, as the youngest of four children. Many of her family members were farmers and her father served on the local city council.

She remembers being taught to know and understand the principles of the founding fathers, to respect adults and guard her tongue. It was a time in America’s history in which these values were part of every family, not just hers, and patriotism ran deep.

“We played kick the can and hide and seek,” she said. “I don’t want it to sound idyllic, but life was just simpler.”

It wasn’t perfect, Kay said, but the time and way in which she was raised shaped her worldview.

“We talked more about the virtues of life as opposed to the values – values change, but virtues don’t,” she said.

For Kay, being a woman of virtue started in her home. She and her husband, Bill, prioritized raising their two children in a way that honored their beliefs and garnered the character that was bolstered by their faith in God.

As her children grew older, Kay saw political involvement as a way to contribute to her family, neighborhood and city. She addressed envelopes and knocked on doors, making sure citizens were well-informed before going to the polls.

Kay laughed at the fact that her son and daughter were proudly pounding campaign signs into yards not long after they learned to walk. It became a family affair.

Today, Kay’s son, John Orr, is the Washington County GOP Chair and her daughter, Suzanne Gage, is the Director of Communications for Nebraska’s attorney general.

But while Kay was knee-deep in the political sphere, she said it was never her lifelong dream to become governor. She set out to be a volunteer and a voice, but as the years passed her experience and knowledge in the field grew.

Kay served as Chief of Staff to Governor Charlie Thone and was appointed as the State Treasurer. She had a wealth of experience that guided her to run for governor, but Kay also had a firm grasp on her personal and political virtues.

She didn’t want to be a politician – to her, that word had too many negative connotations linked to wishy-washy views – she wanted to couple her experience and abilities and apply them to public policy.

Yes, Kay’s governorship was historic. She has an endless number of fascinating stories about her years in office, and pictures to go with nearly every memory.

Her basement walls are lined with photos and newspaper clippings, dedicated to her time in office – strolling through the White House Rose Garden with George H. W. Bush, laughing with Ronald Reagan, sitting at a table with Margaret Thatcher.

But looking at the collection of pictures you start to notice a pattern – her family. Kay’s husband, children, and grandchildren were an intentional part of her photos and memories.

“Being a wife, mother and grandma is the greatest role in this life – it’s the best,” Kay said.

If she had to pick between her family and a political career she said she’d pick her family, no contest. Kay was a wife, mother and grandmother first and a governor second.

Kay took her job as governor very seriously. She fought to defend her decisions and beliefs and wasn’t one to keep her opinions to herself, but she also knew her career was temporary and it had boundaries. She wasn’t willing to compromise her family life, and she set that precedent early on.

When her first grandson was born, Kay wanted to be an on-call babysitter and even put a cradle next to her and Bill’s bed at the governor’s mansion. When her children pursued their own political interests, she was willing and ready with support and advice.

At 77 years old, Kay is still as sharp and feisty as ever – she sticks to her guns and loves her family, she wants what’s best for America and calls it like she sees it.

People often ask her to reflect on her governorship and talk about any regrets, but that’s not Kay’s style. She’s proud of her administration and stands behind her decisions. She doesn’t live in the past or base her worth on the comments of others.

Instead, Kay referenced a framed quotation in her kitchen that sums up how she lives each day, it reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6″

Kay is a woman who has known and owned her story for much of her life. She’s confident in her beliefs and unwavering in her virtues, and to her, that’s what matters.

Jason and Cindy Nabb


There’s something about the Nabb’s house that just feels like home.

Maybe it’s the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the toddler teetering around with an orange in her hand, the two kiddos sitting at the dining room table working on their school work or the morning sunlight filtering into the living room where we sat and chatted.

By the end of our time together, I knew what made their home feel so welcoming – love. Now, before you jump to any conclusions or start asking about what philosophical kind of love I’m talking about, just read this story.

Jason and Cindy Nabb have been married for nearly 17 years. They have eight children ranging in age from 18 to almost 2 years old. But Jason and Cindy don’t have a typical love story, and certainly not a love story that they thought would lead them to where they are now.

“She was dating one of my friends when I met her,” said Jason, he and Cindy looked at each other and laughed.

That’s basically how their story went. They were two dysfunctional youngsters who had an extremely broken and dysfunctional relationship.

Their early love history had a weird pattern. Date, get engaged, break up, drink, date, break up, drink some more, don’t talk, get pregnant with somebody else, just friends, don’t talk.

Cindy said on the day they were supposed to get married (the first time) they met up and got coffee in Lincoln before she traveled to Minneapolis and Jason moved to Tulsa. They literally couldn’t have been going in more opposite directions.

But then Cindy gave birth to her baby, Olivia, and called Jason to tell him she had become a mommy. He got the message after he’d been at a Super Bowl party and thought to himself, ‘What am I doing?!’

The next year, on their would-have-been one-year anniversary, Jason asked Cindy to marry him in front of their entire church in Lincoln.

A year later, Jason started the paperwork to adopt Olivia.  

As Jason and Cindy told their story, I watched as their daughter Ashley sat quietly and listened. It didn’t look like the first time she’d heard this story, because she kept smiling, looking as if she was glad she knew the way the roller coaster of a tale would end.

But getting married wasn’t the end of Jason and Cindy’s love story. If anything it was the beginning. They went on to have five more biological children – Simon, Isaac, Meredith, Ashley and Sam – and a few weeks ago they adopted two more children from foster care.

The Nabbs have a full house, and you don’t even want to know their monthly grocery budget. Cindy said a lot of people who don’t know them look at her like she’s crazy to have this many children, but the people who know them understand that it just makes sense because they know Jason and Cindy.

When they bought their current house, they knew they wanted it to be a place they shared with others. Sure, they had a big family, but they also had extra room.

They opened up their basement to a single mom and her daughter who stayed with them for a season. It was a sad, difficult and messy situation, but it didn’t scare them out of serving.

“We want our kids to know that there’s a sacrifice that comes with serving,” Jason said. “There are people who need help and they’re worth sacrificing for.”

This is when the Nabbs seriously started considering foster care.  

“Especially coming from the backgrounds that we have…we feel so redeemed,” Cindy said. “Why wouldn’t we want to give that to someone else in return?”

After going through the process of getting licensed, the Nabbs received lots of calls for kids to be placed in their home. The call that led to a placement was for two sisters who were 3-months and 3-years-old.

And so it began. Therapy appointments, learning assessments, meeting with and encouraging the girls’ biological parents, talking through the situation with their children, praying.

It was a hard situation to enter into. It was hard on their marriage and their family. It was sad to see the stories of two, young girls and their parents struggling and oftentimes failing, but it also showed and taught them how to love more deeply.

“I think of commitment as a synonym for love more than anything else,” Cindy said. “You don’t change your commitment to your kids or your spouse because circumstances change.”

It’s about choosing to love, despite your weaknesses.

Their love and decision to love led them to the courthouse on January 19, 2016 to make Crystal Elizabeth and Luna Isabel part of their family.

Jason and Cindy said they didn’t set out to adopt – they also didn’t set out to have six biological children – but that’s the beauty of it all, right?

They would be the first to tell you that they haven’t loved well at all times, they’re not perfect, but love is a big part of their story.

The Nabb’s story is one that’s about more than the mushy, gushy love that quickly feels artificial.

Their story is about an imperfect love for each other, the overwhelming love of their community and the unfailing love of a God who multiplies their love for one another.

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