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Becky Boesen


Becky Boesen was teased as a kid.

It wasn’t because she had braces or glasses – she was teased because of her vocabulary.

At the age of 7, Becky described jelly sandals as “superficial” and used all sorts of big words that her peers either didn’t understand or had never heard.

When Becky thinks back to this fact, it makes her laugh, even though at the time all she wanted to do was fit in. But that’s the beauty of her story, she said, and in many ways she’s still that goofy 7-year-old with a big vocabulary and even bigger dreams.

Becky grew up in a western Nebraska home where they watched the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet on family movie night and argued about politics for the fun of it. Her parents were big on letting Becky draw her own conclusions and defend her opinions. This kind of environment made Becky’s creatively-geared mind explode with possibilities, but it also set her apart from the other kids.

When she wasn’t in school, she was either writing or working at the restaurant that her mom managed. As a 9-year-old, Becky said she learned a lot about human nature while she dipped onion rings and cleared tables.

She’d listen to couples fight, friends catch up and families wrangle their kids.

“That part of the country isn’t necessarily diverse, but the stories are,” she said. “It was like I was watching a movie or a play, and soon I started to think about the people I encountered as characters.”

In junior high and high school, Becky’s family moved from Nebraska to the Ozarks and then back to Nebraska. As her parents dug into their respective jobs, Becky was left with a lot of alone time. She found that writing became the way she tried to understand her new home, school and life.

She would write anything from poems and lyrics to fictional stories to help express herself. It was a way she could get out her teenage angst without having to edit or explain herself to others.

It was during high school that Becky realized her love of language, writing and stories were pointing her toward theatre. She had a teacher who noticed her talents and encouraged her to pursue acting in college, but the thought of making a hobby into a career seemed silly and a little scary.

Becky always figured she’d be a lawyer or politician, so the thought of something so different was overwhelming. Plus, she wasn’t sure how her parents would take the news. While they had never discouraged her creativity, majoring in theatre didn’t fit their idea of a viable career path.

As graduation got closer, the conversations about college grew more intense and involved a lot of door slamming and tears on Becky’s part. The conversation finally ended with her parents giving their blessing for her to pursue theatre and she decided to attend UNL.

During her first semester, Becky quickly found her “tribe.” She loved the fact that there were other word nerds and theatre geeks out there, and she suddenly didn’t feel so alone. The next four years of her life were full of learning and exploration. She got hooked on play writing and always seemed to be working on a new project or trying to figure out how to get her latest work produced.

But no sooner had she jumped in to her degree that her time at UNL came to an end. Becky quickly realized that post-college life didn’t feel as safe as she expected, and she began questioning her work. The pressure of making the ‘right’ decisions led her back to a small town in Nebraska where she stopped writing and eventually settled down and started a family.

She had a good life and was thankful for her family, but things felt off. Becky struggled with depression and after a few years she realized she needed to move back to Lincoln and pursue her passions.

Since returning to Lincoln, Becky’s story has been a roller coaster of jobs, emotions, relationships and goals. She’s experienced loss up close, she’s come to understand the value of family and to appreciate her community.

At the age of 35, Becky said she finally understood how to connect her purpose and passion in a way that was meaningful. She began to write and produce plays with themes related to poverty, family and loss. She began to see her writing as more than just her way to breathe, but as a way to say something, give back and create dialogue in the community.

These days, Becky vacillates between writing, producing and working out the logistics for her business, being the executive director for the Flatwater Shakespeare Company and cultivating relationships with other creatives. She works a lot of long hours and usually doesn’t sleep more than 5 hours a night – mostly because her brain is buzzing with new ideas.

And yet, this chaotic schedule doesn’t seem to bother Becky. It’s what makes her feel alive, what gives life to the rest of her world and what really saved her life. Theatre was her cure for loneliness, and it’s become a way that she can reach back into her community and understand her own story.

The theatre is her safe place. Not because it’s where she feels comfortable, but because it’s where she feels most vulnerable. It’s where she can express her truest self, the part of her self she had a hard time tapping into, but the person she knows she is made to be and the story she is meant to live out.

Ben and John Siebert


Returning home to the family farm is a common Nebraska story. But returning home to start a farm from scratch, with a crop that covers four and a half acres, is an unusual tale.

“We had approached our dad with nearly 100 business ideas,” Ben laughed.

It wasn’t until they proposed starting a vineyard that he responded positively and wanted to hear more.

Ben and John Siebert were raised on an acreage in the Bohemian Alps between Lincoln and Seward. It was a perfect place to grow up, and the brothers took every opportunity to roam the rolling hills.

While they were provided many freedoms as kids, Ben, John and their brother Jason were instilled with the value for discipline, hard work and engagement in the world around them.

Their parents led by example – their dad waking up early every morning to head into the office, while their mom was busy volunteering, working various jobs and caring for foster kids who lived with them.

When summer arrived and sports were on pause, the boys took on the many available jobs associated with farms: detasseling, roguing, working cattle, even catching and blindfolding a neighbor’s pheasants.

As John and Ben found themselves graduating and entering college, they continued to follow similar paths. Both went to UNL, graduated with business degrees, and landed jobs at Sandhills Publishing.

At Sandhills, the brothers’ work-ethic and desire to learn paid off. John was assigned to ad sales in an aviation magazine while Ben worked with a construction equipment publication.

It was a job you jumped into head-first, traveling, meeting with top-level executives and learning from your mistakes. They developed patience, business acumen and a value for listening to people’s stories.

It wasn’t surprising then, when they came upon a story that became the starting point to their business of making wine.

“We were at a washer tournament (which is a competition comparable to the game of horseshoes) near Sprague, Nebraska when we noticed this guy carrying a pony keg under his arm. He was going around, filling people’s glasses, but it looked more like wine than beer.”

A washer tournament is an unusual place to find business inspiration, but Ben and John did just that.

They came to find out that Chad, the tournament organizer and keg-holder, was indeed pouring wine, and it was good. A certified winemaker who had studied the craft in Europe, California and Washington, he had returned to the midwest and had been experimenting with Nebraska grapes for ten years.

Friends and family had occasionally suggested that the Sieberts attempt to grow grapes on their land. Meeting someone with the unusual expertise in winemaking and familiarity with Nebraska grapes and growing seasons made this seem like a real possibility. The pieces began to fall into place.

Soil samples and a successful test crop led to laying out the first acre of grapes in 2011. In 2013, they planted 3.5 additional acres.

“It took three years before we were able to produce wine. We use 100% Nebraska grapes – a combination of our own and varieties from other vineyards in the state.”

As Ben and John talk, it is evident they have thrown themselves into the labor and learning curve of owning a vineyard.

They discuss their method of production, which mirrors French winemaking. No sugar or preservatives are added in order to allow the flavor of the grapes to shine through.

They speak of the seasonal difficulties they have already encountered, acknowledging one of the most mild and optimal growing seasons and one of the most unpredictable, challenging years in Nebraska’s history.

“In sales, there is a predictability with four or five routines to each week. When you are growing grapes and making wine, your routines are responsive to the weather and your produce.”

They are beginning to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” quite literally.

“Opening a bottle of wine, you remember the year of that harvest and everything that was going on. Every bottle, every vintage, a memory.”

The brothers’ goals have been straightforward from the beginning: Make the highest quality wine and make the business successful.

In order to do so, they have maintained a philosophy of partnering with good people and facilitating a place where ideas and mistakes are part of the process.

Which is reflected in their name: Junto Wine.

“We had originally had a name that played off our location. One night, John called me and said he had a better idea,” said Ben.

John had been watching a documentary when he learned about a club Ben Franklin had begun to promote conversation about philosophy, community involvement and politics.

The name and intention struck a chord with Ben and John. The name reflected their own beginnings and pointed to their love of history.

Junto Wine is now in full swing, with a tasting room and an event space built right next to the vineyard. Friday nights are busy with local music and guests gathering after the week of work.

Ben and John speak of agritourism and the good relationships between Nebraska vineyards, but eventually come back to the simple pleasure of working so close to the land.

“There is a divinity in the process of making wine. It points to a higher quality of life. There is a delicacy in everything you do and in everything that is involved. Makes it easy to be proud of it.”

Ben and John are living out a new Nebraska story with Junto Wine. But it’s the weaving of history and tradition with the new industry of Nebraska grape-growing and winemaking that makes this place particularly special.

Ashley Carr


Ashley Carr is best known by over 2,000 refugees and immigrants in Lincoln as “Ashley Dina Har.”

In English, this translates to ‘very crazy Ashley.’

As a refugee resettlement case manager, Ashley’s days are a lot like her nickname – crazy. She drives her clients to doctor appointments and school, teaches them how to ride the bus, helps them apply for jobs or takes them shopping at a local thrift store.

Her job is to help shoulder the burden for people who are coming to the United States for the first time, she said, and it’s humbling work. 

So many of her clients refer to her as ‘very crazy Ashley’ because she loves to make people laugh. Whether she’s cranking up country music as she drives around town or stumbling over phrases in another language, Ashely does it all with a smile that welcomes and invites people to settle in to Lincoln.

Her job is what she dreamed of doing, even though it’s so different than what she expected.

Ashley said it was during a study abroad trip to Italy that she really started to understand her love of different cultures. She was immediately fascinated by the Italian culture and wanted to immerse herself in the everyday life of the people – but there was a problem, she didn’t know the language. It was frustrating to want to enter into another culture, but not be able to because there were so many barriers. This experience is what sparked her interest in refugees and immigrants.

While she laughs now about that fact that her temporary discomfort during her study abroad trip opened her eyes to the experience of refugees and immigrants, it stirred up a passion for people that is so evident in her work.

Ashley started out as an intern at the Lincoln Literacy Council, where she eventually received a full-time job, before becoming a case manager with Catholic Social Services.

During her work, Ashley said her eyes have been opened to the heartbreaking stories of people escaping difficult situations with the hope of finding safety and a renewed sense of home. Many of them come to Lincoln with few possessions and little knowledge about American culture, other than what they’ve seen on TV or heard from family and friends.

During the refugee resettlement process, refugees take culture orientation classes in their homeland before they come to the United States. But Ashley said the reality of what they experience is so different than what they’ve learned during their classes. Things like running water, ovens, vacuum cleaners and how to take a shower are anomalies to many refugees, depending on their country of origin. There’s a huge learning curve, Ashley said, but she’s been so impressed with the resilience of her clients.

After two years as a refugee resettlement case manager, Ashley said it’s hard not to become numb to the traumatic stories that she hears. She said the initial intake meeting is often highly emotional. They tell her stories of what or who they’ve lost during their resettlement process and Ashley sits and listens.

She said it’s difficult not to dwell on these stories when she’s away from work, however, she also wants to remember the special moments of each case. One of those moments is when she meets a family at the airport for the first time.

Ashley is at the airport all the time, but these trips are special.

For many refugees, driving in a car is a big adjustment, so being in an airplane can be extremely overwhelming. She said they often get off the plane tired from days of travel, confused and nervous about their new home. They’re greeted by other family members or friends who have been in their shoes before… and then there’s Ashley, smiling and ready to hug them or shake their hand, welcoming them to their new home.

She said that no matter how many airport runs she’s done, she always tries to treat each airport reception like it’s the first one. She never wants to do it because it’s just part of her job, she wants to welcome people to Lincoln because she’s excited they’re here.

During one of her first meetings with a new client, Ashley said she likes to explain that she’s there to help them find resources and adjust to their new surroundings, but most importantly, she reassures them that they’re safe.

She looks them in the eyes, understanding as much as she can about their story, and says: “Your suffering is done.”

She explains that life won’t be easy, but they don’t have to live in fear anymore, and this is a welcomed and surprising sentiment for most refugees to hear.

“Their countries have disregarded them, so this is a big turning point,” Ashley said. “I feel grateful to be able to tell them that.”

For Ashley, her work has become more than clocking in and out of the office everyday.

Her clients have become her friends. They invite her over for meals, holiday gatherings and birthdays. Ashley has become an extension of so many families and cultures in Lincoln over the past two years, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ashley has helped restore dignity and hope to people by making Lincoln a home, not just a destination.

It’s not an easy job. It’s heavy and oftentimes overwhelming. The hours can be long and every family has a unique set of challenging needs, but Ashley said she can’t give it up. Her work has become a place where her passion and greatest joy align. It’s where she’s learned the most about herself and her city, about cultures and people who she never could have imagined meeting.

Her clients have taught her to see what matters, to value what matters and to see and hear the stories of people who matter.

Cinnamon Dokken


Cinnamon Dokken has never written a resume – she’s never needed one.

At the age of 22, Cinnamon and a college friend opened A Novel Idea Bookstore. What started out as collecting books turned into a business, and 25 years later the shop – dozing cats and all – is still thriving in downtown Lincoln.

“Let’s go sit in the poetry section,” said Cinnamon as she grabbed a small stool to sit on.

It was easy to tell she was in her element in the bookstore. The conversation flowed quickly as she waved at the occasional customer and looked relaxed and at home.

But owning a bookstore for 25 years has given Cinnamon a lot of perspective. She said she’s learned what decisions are worth stressing about and which ones she can make on a whim. It hasn’t been easy to build and maintain her shop, but it’s been a challenge that’s defined her story.

The bookstore’s first location was in a basement space near 16th and O streets. It had no heat, no air conditioning and they often blew the fuse with their electric teapot, space heater and stereo.

In the winter they gave out cups of hot tea to customers to keep their hands warm and when the lights went out they used flashlights to shop. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.

“When you’re used to being poor and tired and cold, it’s not a sacrifice to work a little harder and have a business,” said Cinnamon. “You just duck down and go.”

Cinnamon graduated from college in December of 1991 and the following year she found a new, bigger space for the bookstore – her current location on 14th street between O and P. Truth be told, Cinnamon said, they didn’t even have the first month’s rent in the bank when they got the space, so they hustled.

They sold books while moving into their new space and quickly got to work building new bookshelves and personalizing the shop. After hours, the shop became somewhat of a gathering place for the neighborhood. Bands would often crash there after playing a show at Duffy’s or small groups of friends would host late-night book talks over a bottle of wine.

Cinnamon watched as A Novel Idea developed its own culture and feel. Over the years the bookstore became a place for regulars, the curious college student or out of town visitors who wanted to find a local shop to peruse.

So much life has happened in the shop, both for the community and for Cinnamon. Her daughter, Isabel, was born shortly after the 10th anniversary of the shop and grew up stacking books and taking naps between the rows of shelves.

Starting a business was a risk, especially as Cinnamon acquired a mortgage and had children, but she was never afraid of being a small business owner. It’s a fearlessness that she attributes to her parents.

Cinnamon grew up in Pawnee City, Nebraska, watching her parents own and run their own businesses. Her mom owned a flower shop and her dad managed his own dental practice. The two of them were hard workers who were a big part of their small hometown.

“My dad always used the phrase, ‘It’s important to pay your civic rent.’ ” Cinnamon said. “In a small town there was a lot of opportunity to be involved, and that was part of life.”

While Lincoln is a different town than Pawnee City and owning a bookstore is a different business than a flower shop and dental practice, Cinnamon applies her father’s wisdom to her own work.

After 25 years, Cinnamon’s downtown bookshop is doing well. She’s seen more customers and sold more books this year than in years past – a surprising fact in the age of online sales and digital books.

But for Cinnamon this trend has only reinforced her love and commitment to the Lincoln community.

She’s spent her life building a business that’s served generations of readers, which she said is one of the greatest honors of her life.

“I want to set an example for my children that this is how you live life,” she said. “You celebrate and you contribute and you try to encourage the people around you to be their best selves.”

The way Cinnamon started her business was not glamorous. It took work – lots of work – but it’s also a work that she deeply enjoyed and was committed to. It’s work that’s defined her story and will continue to shape her future.

Leigh Esau


Leigh Esau is a little shy when it comes to sharing her story. She’s not actually a shy person, but telling her own story just isn’t her thing.

Leigh is the founder of the Foster Care Closet in Lincoln. It’s a place where foster kids can get brand new clothes during and before they go to a foster home. She has served thousands of kids in the foster care system with clothing. The Foster Care Closet has been open in Lincoln for 10 years and now has a location in Omaha and is opening two more in Scottsbluff and Kearney.

Leigh’s goal is to take her model and make it a national standard for foster kids across the country, because these kids are often the ones left behind, she said.

Before she was 1, Leigh was placed in a foster home. Her home-life was chaotic and unstable and she went back and forth between her foster home and biological home for the first three years of her life. She was found abandoned at age 3 and was in foster care for another few years before being adopted by a family in a rural town in Colorado at the age of 7.

At the age of 14, Leigh said she boldly talked about growing up and being a foster parent in the way that most kids talk about wanting to be a teacher or firefighter. It was on her radar and heart.

When Leigh met her husband, Pat, at the age of 15 she said she knew they would get married. She called him up, asked him out and three years later they got married.

The young couple moved to California and then settled in Lincoln where they raised their children. Leigh said it’s when they became foster parents that they quickly noticed how few belongings children had when they showed up at their house.

When she and her husband took in a foster child, they’d rush out to the store to grab diapers, clothing, formula, shoes, car seats and whatever they needed. It was expensive and also sad that they couldn’t spend that time investing in the child who had just walked through their door.

Leigh began talking with friends about how to fix this problem. She started taking second-hand items from people to use herself or pass along to other foster parents who could use them. This was the start of the Foster Care Closet, and a year after Leigh started collecting clothes they moved operations to a storage facility and then an official space. By 2008, the Foster Care Closet was in its current 3,200-square-foot location.

But the Foster Care Closet has far extended Leigh’s original idea of gathering clothes, toys and diapers.

“This is my favorite part of the whole place,” said Leigh as she flicked on the lights.

It was like an apartment. There was a big living room, an office area, bean bag chairs, toys – it felt like a home, which is exactly the point.

In 2012, Leigh added an intake center to the Foster Care Closet. This space above the shop is where kids and caseworkers can hang out after the child is removed from their home and before they go to their foster home.

It’s a step toward making this traumatic process smoother and more comfortable for kids while they’re waiting to move to a foster home, Leigh said. The kids can eat, pick out five new outfits to take with them, watch TV, play or just sit down and take a breath.

These seemingly small details matter to Leigh, because they matter to kids. She’s witnessed tired and confused teens light up when they go to pick out new clothes, because they know they won’t have to go to school the next day wearing the same outfit. She’s seen other kids start to trust adults just because she brought them a snack.

“I can’t change the system, but I can change how kids are introduced to foster care,” Leigh said.

One of the reasons Leigh said she doesn’t like to share her story is because people often assume she works with foster kids because she is a former foster kid, but that’s not true. Leigh said it’s less about her own experience than it is about the kids she’s seen walk through foster care.

She is convinced the process can be better, that kids can have dignity and a voice despite their circumstances.

That’s why she does her work. Why she’s checking prices, folding clothes and looking for sales at Old Navy and Sketchers. It’s why she’s buying a new round of jeans in the off season and stocking up on bulk bundles of socks and undies. It’s for the kids whose stories have rubbed off on her, who have made her own story richer and somehow stronger because of their courage and resilience.

Because for Leigh, her story matters most when it’s about making their stories heard.

Kevin Heim


When people meet Kevin Heim they quickly notice that he’s all about tennis.

From his Wilson-branded clothing to his light but permanent tan lines, Kevin knows tennis because he’s been playing or coaching for the better part of 30 years. He’s the current executive director at Woods Park Tennis Center, but he laughed about the fact that he never thought he’d be living in Lincoln.

When Kevin was in high school, he remembers hearing a professional tennis player say, “Tennis is like an education, it can write a ticket to just about anywhere…” and that thought stuck with Kevin as he navigated his life on and off the court.

As a kid, Kevin played any and every sport he could. He grew up in a cul-de-sac in Ralston, Nebraska, where he and his friends would spend hours playing games with whatever balls and bats they could find in their garages. Kevin said at one point he pulled out his dad’s old, wooden tennis racquet and used it in a game, but the racquet broke after just a few swings.

The summer after 5th grade is when Kevin really started to zero-in on tennis. He saw a flier at school for summer tennis lessons and he and his friends signed up. The classes were very casual, Kevin said, and while they learned a few key skills, the ‘lessons’ quickly diverged into a competition of who could hit the ball the furthest. However, he quickly saw that tennis was fun.

Over the next few years, Kevin and his friends rode their bikes to the local tennis courts to play for 3 hours at a time. Then, they’d ride home, order a pizza, watch the professionals play on TV and then go back out to try and hit some of the shots they’d seen on TV.

During his freshman year of high school, Kevin made the varsity tennis team. He didn’t have many expectations, but was excited to learn more and be on a team with experienced players.

When it came time for college, Kevin received a tennis scholarship to play at Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. He loved his time on the court and went to Nationals where he realized that tennis was so much bigger than just Nebraska or the U.S.

Kevin earned his education degree and then moved to Milwaukee where he taught at a high school and coached the tennis team. During the summers he worked at a tennis club where he grew the program from 60 kids to 600 adults and junior players over an 11-year period.

His summer work started out as a way to fill his time, but then it became about sharing his love of tennis with students. Kevin said tennis often gets labeled as a sport that’s reserved for country club members, but that was never the case for him. He loved that tennis helped him be a well-rounded kid and it was a fun way to spend his time.

Kevin was extremely successful as a high school coach and with his summer work, but he still felt like he wanted to do more. He heard about a job opening for the head tennis pro at Wood Tennis and he decided he’d try his hand at moving back to Nebraska.

But it wasn’t an ideal move. When Kevin came to Lincoln in 2009 he was in his early 30s and there wasn’t much to do in town. The situation he walked into at Woods Tennis wasn’t ideal either.

The facility was falling apart, they had staffing issues and their numbers were steadily decreasing. The place needed help, but that’s what attracted Kevin to the job.

Before he’d even landed the job, Kevin was dreaming up new facilities, programs and initiatives to help Woods Tennis grow. The center had a long and strong history and he knew he could help rebuild that – which is exactly what he’s done.

Kevin walked out the front doors of Woods Tennis and hung a right, walking toward a chain-length fence that zoned off a construction area.

“That’s it,” he said, pointing to a large plot of dirt.

Next spring, that dirt will be replaced by a new, indoor tennis facility, equipped with 6 courts. And those big white bubbles that currently house the indoor courts, they’ll be gone, a fact Kevin is more than happy about.

Since his move to Lincoln, Kevin has worked to rebuild the reputation of Woods Tennis. He’s restructured the classes, hired a new tennis pro, spearheaded a Capital Campaign and taken over as the executive director. Woods Tennis has become a place for everyone in the community – young, old and people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Kevin said he’s also loved coaching a group of wheel chair athletes for the past eight years. Several of the adult chair players have participated in tournaments all over the country, with a handful of them winning their division at the US Open. 

He’s seen the community at the Center grow and thrive despite its dated facilities. And while Kevin said he can’t wait for the new facility to be open in the spring, seeing adults and kids come early and stay late in less than ideal conditions has shown him that the culutre at Woods Tennis trumps the physical setting.

Kevin has also earned a reputation of his own. Sure, people around town know him as the guy who runs Wood Tennis, but he’s also the guy who found his own story through tennis.

He said the sport taught him a lot about himself. About discipline and determination, hard work and perseverance. It was through tennis that Kevin met his wife, developed a passion for the community and worked to make the sport fun and accessible to as many people as possible.

So much of Kevin’s story revolves around tennis. But there’s also so much of Lincoln’s tennis culture that’s connected to Woods Tennis and directly connected to Kevin Heim – and that’s a reputation he’s proud to have earned.

Rebecca Ankenbrand


Like lots of American kids, Rebecca Ankenbrand grew up eating and making her fair share of chocolate chip cookies.

There was just something so warm and comforting about the melted chocolate chips, and Rebecca figured out early on that she was a young chocolate-addict.

These days, Rebecca’s love of chocolate has only intensified. But this time when she reaches for a bag of chocolate, it’s not the store-bought variety – it’s her own concoction.

Over the past few years Rebecca has trained herself in the art of bean-to-bar chocolate making. She buys her own cacao beans, roasts them, grinds the cacao and mixes up her own form of chocolate magic.

As the chocolate maker at Sweet Minou, located inside of Cultiva Labs on 25th and Randolph streets, Rebecca’s days are filled with the noise of grinding beans, spinning bowls of tempered chocolate and the rich aroma of chocolate. 

But Rebecca doesn’t just love the taste of chocolate, she’s fascinated by the wide variety of cacao beans from around the world.

During high school, Rebecca said she transitioned from her beloved milk chocolate to dark chocolate. She started reading articles about the health benefits of dark chocolate, researching how it’s grown and processed and how beans from different countries vary in flavor.

Some cacao beans have an almost fruity taste, and others are more fermented and earthy. While it didn’t take much, if any, training for Rebecca to love chocolate, she has since trained her palette to know where the cacao beans are grown when she tastes chocolate.

Her research opened up a whole new world of chocolate. Soon, she was buying the most unique chocolate wherever she could – online, on family trips or at speciality stores. When her mom asked her what she wanted for Christmas one year, Rebecca sent her to an online chocolate retailer.

Over time chocolate became Rebecca’s hobby instead of just her favorite treat.

In college, Rebecca studied English and French before studying abroad in France. She was shocked to see that every small town she visited in France had its own chocolate shop and chocolate culture. Rebecca took specific side trips to various regions where she could learn more about chocolate making and taste confections from around the world.

When she got back from her trip she worked toward her Master’s degree in French, but also started experimenting with chocolate on the side. She’d bring in treats to her classmates and family members and they all said the same thing – “Learning French is great, but maybe you should make a career out of chocolate…”

She tucked that thought away while she finished her Master’s degree and tried to figure out what she wanted to do next. Rebecca knew she wasn’t interested in teaching and she wasn’t ready to get a PhD, so she decided some kitchen experience might help her with chocolate making.

She started working at Cultiva, chopping and prepping food for its high volume of customers and she really enjoyed the experience. Eventually the owners of Cultiva found out that Rebecca was making chocolate in her spare time and asked her if there was some way they could incorporate her chocolate into the shop. So, in December 2015, Rebecca  and the Cultiva owners officially launched Sweet Minou.

It’s been a great collaboration, Rebecca said, because Cultiva is obsessed with great coffee in the same way that she’s obsessed with chocolate. She said it feels pretty great to call herself a full-time chocolate maker, and her hope is that this is just the beginning.

Rebecca laughed a little when she thought about her high school self being obsessed with buying and tasting chocolate. It seems a little silly, she said, and yet also completely normal.

Rebecca makes chocolate because in some way she feels like that’s what she’s supposed to be doing. It’s her way of supporting ethically sourced materials, creating a unique product and establishing her own chocolate culture in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When she tells people she’s a bean-to-bar chocolate maker they often give her a funny look because it’s not a ‘typical’ job, but that’s yet another thing Rebecca loves about her work.

Her story is about moving toward her passion, learning and taking risks. She has carved out a place for herself in the world of chocolate and she’s determined stay in her sweet spot.

Luann Finke


Luann Finke wanders among the shrubs, flowers, trees and ornamental grasses at her nursery. She stops to take note of a few particularly lush leaves, point out an intricate flower and notice an area of new growth on a young tree.

She and her husband, Rich, have owned and run Finke Gardens and Nursery for almost 30 years. But Finke Gardens is not just a place to buy plants, Luann’s biggest goal is to educate customers and the community.

The best way she teaches others is by example. Luann’s life is focused on sustainability and conscious decision-making. It’s a way of life she came by naturally as a native of Geneva, Nebraska, who grew up in her family’s garden.

“For my family, gardening was a way of life,” she said. “You produced the food that you ate throughout the year.”

She remembers her father and grandfather planting and maintaining their massive garden while her mother worked in the kitchen to cook and can the harvest each year. Between the two jobs, Luann found herself in the garden more than the kitchen as a child and grew to love the subtle, yet intricate details of plant-life.

While she loved gardening, Luann didn’t intend to make it her career. In college, she worked her way through five different majors before discovering horticulture. She didn’t know what type of job it would provide for her, but the subject matter fascinated Luann and soon she was hooked.

As an undergraduate student, Luann was the first employee at the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and traveled around the state collecting cuttings and seeds from native plants. She was quickly immersed in a culture of shared knowledge and a mission to diversify the availability of native plants throughout the state.

She went on to earn her graduate degree from the University, which is where she met Rich. The two were students in the same department and shared a passion for learning and educating others about plants. They worked on community projects, spoke at the State Fair about plant diversity and helped people understand plants in a way that wasn’t being taught anywhere else. After graduating, Rich and Luann got married and continued their work together.

They were a good team. So, when people started asking Rich and Luann for help with their personal gardens, the plant duo decided it was time to start their own company.

At that point, neither of them had business experience. Luann had worked in the Nebraska Extension office and served as the Education Director for the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, but she’d never run her own business. Despite their lack of experience, Rich and Luann knew their business needed to do two things – offer a great diversity of plants and earn a reputation as an honest business that did things right.

Those are two tenets that have served the Finkes well over the years.

When they started out, Rich and Luann grew all of their own plants at their acreage, just outside of Lincoln. Now, they’ve moved their production to a 7-acre stretch of greenhouses and fields between 66th and 70th streets, just north of ‘O’ Street.

In the “old days” they sent out a paper newsletter to customers and neighbors touting their sales and informing readers about planting and growing tips. Now, this newsletter only comes in digital form.

When they started out, Luann was uncertain about how to promote their new business. Now, she handles all the marketing, speaking and community events that she can to connect with the community.

But what hasn’t changed over the past 30 years is Luann’s passion for sustainability. Even small things like recycling and efficient water usage are key elements of her work that reinforce her values. When a customer asks her for plant suggestions, she’s quick to inquire about their location and soil content, so that she can determine what kind of plant would thrive in their environment. 

But it goes a little deeper than that. Luann’s work isn’t just during business hours, it’s a lifestyle. At home, she and Rich plant a garden and have all sorts of plant experiments growing around their house, and Luann has taken up cooking and canning as a way to keep fresh, local produce in her home during the year.

By all definitions, Luann is an expert at what she does. She’s studied, researched and worked in the field to hone her craft, but unlike some other experts, she’s not afraid to share what she’s learned.

Her story is about using her knowledge to better serve others.

The sharing is what keeps her going. Whether she’s handing out her personal pesto recipe to a customer or teaching a class at the greenhouse, sharing is what Luann does best.

When Luann retires, she dreams of inviting small groups of people out to her acreage to host garden-to-table cooking classes. They’ll learn, taste and experience the joy of being connected to where their food comes from.

But Luann isn’t thinking of retiring anytime soon. She has plenty of work to do, and that’s just the way she likes it.

Amy Barrett


Amy Barrett has lived in the same house in Lincoln for 23 years.

She’s watched the neighborhood kids grow up, go to college and start families. She’s seen the trees in her backyard transform from small saplings into massive leaf monsters. And she’s seen herself change too.

When she moved into her house, Amy was far from home. Now, no place feels more like home than Lincoln, Nebraska.

Amy was born nearly 8,000 miles away from Lincoln in Manila, Philippines. She was one of eight children and grew up in a very traditional Filipino family.

When Amy was 17 she met and married her husband, Wayne, a native of Houston, Texas. It was a big deal that Amy dated and married a foreigner. Her parents were strict, and while Amy respected their wishes, she also liked to push the boundaries. She had a secret job, dated without her parents knowing and dreamed of someday leaving the Philippines.

After Amy and Wayne got married, they moved to Singapore for Wayne’s job in the oil industry. It was just the kind of excitement Amy had dreamed of experiencing.

Singapore was a city with lots of energy and diversity. Amy quickly made new friends with people from all over the world. She learned how to cook all types of ethnic food and was a sponge for information about her friends’ various cultures and traditions. It felt like Singapore was Amy’s new home.

But after having two children and being frequently on the move with Wayne’s job, they decided to move their family to Lincoln, Nebraska.

They landed in Lincoln during December of 1993 with no winter clothing, but they were anxious for a quieter and more stable place to raise their children. Amy plugged the boys into school and went to work making their new house into their permanent home.

It was a major adjustment. The boys missed their friends and it was a huge culture shift to move from a busy city like Singapore to the east side of Lincoln. But in a way only Amy could, she quickly went to work making new friends and carving out a place for her family in the community.

She found the people of Lincoln to be friendly and open, willing to share advice and connect with her family. It was refreshing despite all of the transitions her family had faced. Lincoln started to feel more like home.

Shortly before Amy’s 40th birthday, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer. He battled the disease for three months and then passed away suddenly.

Amy was shocked. The man who’d given her so much and loved her family well for more than half of her life was gone.

But Amy also isn’t one to give up. She was heartbroken by the loss of her husband, but she also had an amazing support group of friends that she’d built while they’d lived in Lincoln.

“It was hard, but it makes you stronger,” she said. “You survive.”

And that’s what Amy has done. A few years before Wayne died, Amy took classes to become a nail technician. Growing up with six sisters had taught Amy a thing or two about doing nails and the rest came naturally. She worked at a salon in town to make some extra money and loved the way it allowed her to socialize and do something she enjoyed.

After Wayne died, Amy continued working to support herself and her sons. She quickly built up a steady flow of clients who appreciated her meticulous work and friendly personality. Amy said she’s had a few of the same clients for nearly 15 years.

That’s the thing, Amy is just one of those people who others can’t help but enjoy being around. She’s an outgoing and warm lady who likes hosting big dinner parties with lots of home-cooked food for all of her guests. These big meals remind her of her mother who would make enough food for the whole neighborhood, because, as her mother would say, ‘You never know who’ll stop by for dinner.’

Amy operates a lot like her mom in that way. She’s hospitable and easy-going, but she’s also not afraid of hard work. Her story has been about adventure and exploration, but also heartache and resilience.

The difficult parts of her story just make her more thankful for the good things she’s experienced. Things like meeting and marrying her second husband, Don, being a grandmother and even simple pleasures like gardening or catching up over drinks with a nail client.

Amy’s story starts with an adventurous girl who dreamed of leaving home. Now, her idea of home isn’t some exotic city, but a house in east Lincoln with her husband, her dogs and a whole lot of friends – and that’s just fine by Amy.

Pat Leach


Some days, Pat Leach wishes she could just call in ‘sick.’ Not because she doesn’t like her job, but because she wants to finish the latest book that’s grabbed her attention.

It’s funny, she said, the thing that keeps her from reading most often is her job to help others read. Pat is the Director of Lincoln City Libraries. 

She’s worked at the Bennett Martin Public Library for most of the past 40 years, and it’s hard for her to imagine having a different job.

Her job at the library is to engage the community, encouraging reading, literacy and education and inviting everyone into the libraries across the city. It’s a job that fits Pat, because of her deep love of reading and her passion for sharing that love with others. 

But it’s also a job that nearly 10 years ago, she wasn’t sure she wanted anymore.

Here’s why.

After almost 30 years of working in the library, Pat had a thought one day, ‘Maybe I should be doing something different…’

It wasn’t that she didn’t like her job, or it didn’t fit her skills, actually, it did both. Pat just wanted to be sure she was in the right career, so, she called a career counselor.

Up to that point, the Bennett Martin Public Library had been Pat’s place. It was where she worked during college, the place she met her late husband and how she interacted with people from the community. She’d worked in various areas of the library system and had seen the library grow and change over the years.

But a question still lingered in her head, “Was there something else out there I should do?”

When Pat met with the career counselor, they talked about her strengths and weaknesses, her likes and dislikes, and worked to determine what career field might fit her best. At the end of the evaluation it came time to look at the list of potential career options.

Pat held her breath and looked at the list – at the top was ‘librarian.’

Go figure.

If she hadn’t been sure before, she was then, working in the library was the right place for Pat. She remembers the career counselor making a comment like, ‘Well, it looks like you landed in the right place from the start…’

It was true. Pat’s life wasn’t consumed with the library, but so much of her personal and careers passions worked perfectly together.

After meeting with the career counselor she felt confident that her job at the library wasn’t just an easy fit, it was the right fit. Since then, Pat has leaned in more and more to her role at the library.

In 2008, she became the Library Director, a job that oversees the workings of all the public libraries in Lincoln. She also hosts a weekly radio show on NET called ‘All About Books’ and frequently speaks at events and to students about the importance of reading and literature.

She lived a pretty “charmed” life, up until three years ago when her beloved husband, Jerry Johnston, was diagnosed with cancer. He died just seven weeks after the diagnosis.

Pat remembers people telling her how strong she was, saying they could never go through losing a spouse, but Pat didn’t think of herself as extraordinarily strong – she just did what she had to do. Something many people do every day in difficult circumstances.

She made it through the deep sadness and loss, and she values life more because of losing her husband. Pat doesn’t immediately talk about the loss of her husband because she doesn’t want that one moment to define her story.

To be honest, Pat said she isn’t sure what moment does define her story. Things like her childhood, her job at the library or even her husband are all part of it, but none of them seem to sum it all up. Maybe that’s just it.

Sometimes the best stories aren’t flashy or overly dramatic, they’re consistent and real.

Pat is kind and focused, determined and open-minded. Her story is about doing the next thing, being herself and enjoying each moment, no matter how big or small they may seem.

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