Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmats in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmates in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis is doing something he hasn’t been able to do for a long, long time. He’s dropping jump shots from every place on some basketball court far removed from earth, far removed from physical boundaries and his battle against throat cancer. Bevo’s former Rio Grande teammate and friend Don Vyhnalek told me that Bevo died today at his eastern Ohio home with his family close by.He was 82-years-old.

Wayne Wiseman, another former teammate and friend of Bevo’s said he had talked by phone with Bevo a couple of days ago. “Bevo said he just wasn’t doing any good,” said Wiseman. “We’re at that age where these things happen. Can’t stop it. Can’t do anything about it. You just live with it, until you can’t,” Wiseman said.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Bevo years ago when I produced and directed a documentary about him, his fiery coach Newt Oliver, and his talented teammates. The documentary is called “They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded.”  It’s largely about Bevo, the legendary former college basketball player who still owns several all-time college scoring records.
Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande University team barnstormed across America in the early 1950’s, winning most of its games against far larger foes, capturing the attention of the national press, and saving their school from going broke through the tickets they sold. This unlikely team, from an impossibly small college in rural Appalachia, also helped revive America’s love affair with college basketball after a nasty national gambling scandal in the early 50’s that involved star players from major college basketball schools.
Bevo and his Rio Grande teammates also kept the doors open at their college which provided a path out of poverty for thousands of residents who came from the Appalachian country surrounding what is now called the University of Rio Grande.
In his brief two-year college career, Francis destroyed almost every major scoring record in college basketball. Imagine a player averaging 47 points a game in the days before the 3-point scoring line and one-and-one free throw. That was Bevo Francis. Imagine a player who broke the 100-point-per-game scoring mark twice in his college career. The last time he did it was in 1954 against Michigan’s Hillsdale College. Even though he was double and triple teamed by his opponents, Bevo scored 113 points in the 40 minute regulation basketball game. Whenever someone called Bevo a star, he was the first to say he owed his success to his teammates.

We don’t sell copies of the documentary, but click here or on the “Watch on Vimeo” link below and you, as well as people everywhere can watch it for free. Many viewers on public television have seen the documentary and liked it. It even won an award from the Canadian International Film Festival this year.

Chris Hedrick, WOSU, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, R. Bruce Mitchell, Diana Markley Guidas, Brad Richmond, Eric Smith and so many others contributed their talents to the documentary.

Tonight, Bevo is free of his battle against cancer. He deserves to be remembered for what he and his teammates accomplished; for the game of college basketball, and for his school. Bevo’s family could also use your your prayers. Spread the word and send it forward.

They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded from Blue Skies HD Video & Film on Vimeo.

After a five week journey, this two day priority package never made it to its intended recipient, but it did manage to find its way  (return to sender) back home.

After a five week journey, this two day priority package never made it to its intended recipient, but it did manage to find its way (return to sender) back home.

June 3, 2015–Guess what arrived in the mail? Yep! The long lost priority mail package my wife sent to our daughter at the University of Kansas on April 28th finally made it’s way back to us as returned mail. (Read more on the story here) If that package could only talk, I’m sure it would have an interesting story to tell. Quite a saga.

May 15, 2015- – My Lord! The USPS package was delivered this morning to the place where our daughter no longer resides in Lawrence, Kansas. (Click here for original saga) ( See the tracking ticket below.)

That’s after a helpful Lincoln USPS employee told me earlier in the day that the college finals care package has been circling for more than two weeks because a second address label was attached to the package. She said she was under the impression the package would be routed back to us here in Lincoln. NOT!

We’ll be very curious to see that that second address label looks like, but only if someone in Lawrence gives the package back to the postman to return to sender. Hmmm.

I guess we can make a claim for the fossilized cookies that were in the care package. However, the USPS gentleman I spoke with today in Lawrence says Two-Day Priority Mail is no guarantee the package will get to its destination in two or three days….or in this case 17 days.

uspsmay15

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill allowing people to carry  concealed weapons into public buildings, including college campuses in the state.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons into public buildings, including college campuses in the state.

I’m the father of two daughters. One is a Kansas University graduate. Our other daughter is currently enrolled at KU, where three generations of our family have taught or attended.

So, I have to raise my voice in opposition to the 2013 Kansas law that will allow people to carry concealed guns on college campuses in 2017, even without concealed-carry permits. How can that be? The law provides no guarantee that someone, anyone toting a gun on a Kansas college campus would be qualified to possess the firearm or use it safely.

“The right to bear arms has long been among those constitutional rights held most sacred by the citizens of Kansas,” Gov. Sam Brownback said after signing the bill into law in April of 2013.

Right-to-carry or concealed-carry laws have generated much debate in the past two decades. Do they make society safer or more dangerous? Last November, a Stanford University study found that right-to-carry gun laws were connected with an increase in violent crime. The study debunked claims that more guns lead to less crime. Distressingly, the Stanford study found that homicides increased in eight states that adopted right-to-carry laws during 1999-2010.

I suspect many parents and students may share my concern over Kansas’ concealed-carry law. Should the law take effect, parents may decide not to enroll their children in the state’s public colleges. Many Kansas college students, concerned for their own safety, may take similar action. For the same reason, faculty resignations could follow. If this happens, enrollment declines, teacher resignations and associated revenue losses could be significant.

“Our students would rather not have them,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little in a 2013 Lawrence Journal- World story. “There is not a group on campus as a whole that would prefer to have concealed-carry on campus.”

A year earlier, Richard Johnson, chief of University Police at KU Medical Center, said allowing concealed-carry on campuses would increase security risks and complicate the job of law enforcement.

“Police must treat any report of an armed individual on campus with extreme caution and rapid response,” said Johnson in testimony before the Kansas Legislature. “How does the responding officer know which person in the classroom of 300 students is legally in possession of a firearm or is armed with the intention of killing others?”

The concealed-carry law will make matters worse for families, students, teachers and higher education in Kansas. It’s a loss for us all if it happens, and a risk I believe we should avoid. What do you think?

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That’s supposed to be the creed of the United States Postal Service. Poppycock!

Unfortunately, in this age of sometimes impersonal service, my wife and I found the Postal Service is still failing miserably to deliver a priority mail package to our daughter. To phrase it another way; The postal service can’t deliver on its promise because it still can’t deliver a package.

usps_promiseNormally, I don’t get grumpy about stuff like this, but when your daughter’s involved it’s personal. Especially when the USPS states: “Our Priority Is, Was & Always Will Be You.”

Two weeks and two days ago, my wife Joanne Lohr McCoy sent a USPS Two-Day Priority mail care package of fresh baked cookies to our daughter Marian McCoy for her finals exams at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It was meant to be a loving token of parental support for our daughter as she wrapped up a busy school year and faced that last deluge of studies and tests for her final class grades of the year.

uspsMay13The priority mail package never arrived. You can see the latest tracking information for the package on the left. The package continues to circle in some U.S. Postal Service black hole to which there seems no escape.

The latest update from USPS on its tracking website is the following:

Processing Exception

OMAHA, NE 68108 
 

The package is delayed and will not be delivered by the expected delivery date. An updated delivery date will be provided when available. The Postal Service has identified a problem with the processing of this item at 4:03 am on May 13, 2015 in OMAHA, NE 68108. The local facility has been alerted and is taking steps to correct the problem.

usps marian cookies

Marian McCoy gratefully displays the package of fresh chocolate chip cookies Susan Hall of Lawrence, Kansas baked when she heard of our daughter’s USPS package delivery mix-up.

The USPS touts priority mail with this claim: “Get more for your money with fast domestic service in 1, 2, or 3 business days1based on where your package starts and where it’s being sent. ” A quick Google search of the term “USPS 2 day priority late” reveals many customer complaints about problems associated with the service.

We brought Marian home from college yesterday. Her finals are done and her KU address is now vacant.

What’s most frustrating about his ordeal is that, despite a half dozen phone calls to USPS employees, many of them kind and sincere, no one from the USPS has been able to tell us why this has happened. Nor has anyone from the U.S. Postal Service been able to intervene and redirect the package back to us here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The USPS tracking website is not very helpful either with up to five-day gaps in providing any information about our daughter’s package.

Not that it would make much difference at this point. The cookies in the priority mail package may now be fossilized.  Our well-intentioned thoughts in sending the cookies to our daughter is about all that’s left to smile about.

Actually, there is something else good and kind that’s come from this- One person who did intervene on Marian’s behalf was Susan Hall of Lawrence, Kansas. When Susan heard about Marian’s USPS package plight, she kindly baked into the night and delivered freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to Marian’s place at KU to get her through finals.

Thanks Susan! We can’t tell you how much your kind act meant to us all. If only the U.S. Postal Service were as kind as you.

Don Meier, creator of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," turned 100 on february 2, 2015.

Don Meier, creator of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” turned 100 on February 2, 2015.

Happy 100th birthday Don Meier. This Oshkosh, Nebraska native and College of Journalism and Mass Communications graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln strides across the century mark today. I talk with Don and Lorena by phone several times a year and count our conversations as memory highlights. Meier is as full of curiosity, optimism and enthusiasm today as when he entered this world on a chilly (-12), clear winter’s day in 1915.  Of course you don’t turn 100 without some perseverance. Millions of people don’t know Meier by name, but they do know him by the television program he created.

In 1963, Meier’s program “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted on the NBC television network. It was the first TV wildlife program to take viewers into the natural habitat of the creatures the world over who were highlighted in each “Wild Kingdom” episode. This was visceral television. Charging elephants covered in dust and sweat. Blood stained lions devouring prey. Venomous cobras and cold-blooded killer crocodiles. No program before captured it as well as “Wild Kingdom.”

Don Meier visited Africa to film several episodes of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" during the program's 25 year run on television.

Don Meier visited Africa to film several episodes of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” during the program’s 25 year run on television.

It was a dream fulfilled for creator and executive producer Don Meier. Within a few years, “Wild Kingdom” became appointment television for 34 million U.S. viewers each Sunday. “Wild Kingdom” remained the definition of a television wildlife program for the next quarter century with Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler and others hosting the program. In the process “Wild Kingdom” helped cultivate and inspire an environmental consciousness in generations of TV viewers.

Don and Lorena Meier received several Emmy Awards for "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" program and have also underwritten several scholarships for students at the University of Nebraska.

Don and Lorena Meier received several Emmy Awards for “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” program and have also underwritten several scholarships for students at the University of Nebraska.

Which takes me back to Don Meier’s perseverance. Looking back at “Wild Kingdom,” it seems the program’s strong audience appeal and ultimate ratings success would make it a surefire pick for potential sponsors. Not so. Don Meier invested all of his and wife Lorena’s savings to produce a TV pilot for the program in 1960. Meier took out a second mortgage on the couple’s home. He spent the next several years traveling across America, visiting with scores of prospective sponsors, trying to convince one of them that “Wild Kingdom” could be a commercial success. Meier never stopped believing that America would watch the right kind of wildlife program. He made 84 visits to advertising companies across America; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and a long list of other U.S. cities. Eighty-four times Meier was turned down.

Don Meier in the early days of Chicago television in the 1940s where being a TV pioneer meant you did everything from producing TV programs to sweeping the floors after their conclusion.

Don Meier in the early days of Chicago television in the 1940s where being a TV pioneer meant you did everything from producing TV programs to sweeping the floors after their conclusion.

Then, serendipity struck. Marlin Perkins, during a visit with the president of the Mutual of Omaha, learned the insurance company was looking to sponsor a new TV program it might build a national image around. A half hour later, Mutual of Omaha was on the phone with Meier, asking him to fly to Omaha to show the company’s executives his pilot for “Wild Kingdom.” The rest, as they say, is history. In late January, 1963 “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted on NBC and to this day still remains one of the highest rated TV programs in U.S. history. Mutual of Omaha still uses the “Wild Kingdom” name for a series of branded Web programs hosted by Stephanie Arne.

A young Don Meier entered the pioneering world of television in the late 1940's after serving as an officer in WWII.

A young Don Meier entered the pioneering world of television in the late 1940’s after serving as an officer in WWII.

Don himself could have been an actor. He had the dashing good looks of a young motion picture star. Fortunately, Don stayed behind the camera. There, his true genius as a producer and program creator was unmistakable. In “Wild Kingdom,” he left us with a TV wildlife program that entertained, informed, educated and inspired viewers the world over. That was Don Meier’s gift to us.

There have been many others too. Don and Lorena Meier have established more than a dozen scholarship funds here at the University of Nebraska. Those scholarships continue to allow many young men and women to achieve their dream of a college degree and the higher education experiences that go with it.

On this day, my gift to Don is this small recognition of his 100th birthday. So, happy birthday Don Meier. You have been a mentor to me and many others through your actions and deeds. You are a reminder to us all to persevere so we can keep paying it forward.

Click here to listen to a radio report featuring Don Meier two years ago on the 50th anniversary of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

Just returned home from the Yucatan Peninsula and flew Delta Airlines both ways.

Comments:

  • I do like the Delta staff- Friendly, professional and helpful.
  • I dislike the Bombardier CRJ900 commuter planes that Delta uses a subcontracted “Delta Connection” branded regional airline to fly out of Lincoln and other smaller Delta hubs. The planes are uncomfortably too cold or too hot. American, Canadair, US Air and other airlines also fly the CRJ900 under agreements with other subcontractors.

Here’s the problem: The CRJ900 ventilation system is very poor to the point of being almost nonexistent.

The Bombardier CRJ900 commuter airliner has a ventilation system that can make flying downright uncomfortable for passengers sometimes.

Have you ever experienced this issue?

On our outbound flight a week ago between Lincoln and Atlanta our plane was so cold most of the passengers were asking for blankets to bundle up in even though we already had our winter coats on. It felt like a meat locker inside the plane during our flight.

The flight attendants kindly apologized and told us there was nothing they could do about the cold cabin temperature.

It was the opposite situation on our return flight last night from Atlanta to Lincoln. In the rear of the CRJ900 where our family sat the temperature was so hot (I’m guessing in the 85-90 degree Fahrenheit range) passengers were peeling their clothes off and the air flow was negligible. Very stuffy and hot. Too bad we couldn’t just roll down the windows.

Some passengers complained that the conditions made them feel nauseous. The flight attendant was as kind as she would be. She agreed to ask plane’s pilot if there was anything that could be done about the situation but said “probably not.” She explained that passengers in the front of the aircraft were complaining that it was too cold where they sat. The temperature was consequently reduced a few degrees but the air flow was still poor and we continued to be hot, hot hot for the better part of two-and-a-half hours.

The flight attendant agreed it was stuffy and hot in the rear of the plane. She conceded that it can be a very real problem with the CRJ900 planes. She told us that’s why she preferred to spend more time up front in the plane. Unfortunately, it was little consolation for us passengers stuck in the back (row 19) of the plane without an option to relocate to a cooler place in the aircraft.

I had a similar experience with these ventilation problems last summer when flying the CRJ900. A quick web search  reveals similar complaints about issues involving the plane’s air venting and circulation system. Is this just poor engineering or something else?

Another regional airline pilot blogged about some of the inherent CRJ issues:Okay, WHY is it always so darn cold in the cabin of a CRJ? I had on thick socks and leather boots and my toes were icicles! It’s all about air circulation. Basically, you have the gaspers (air vents) up top, and larger vents for heating/cooling on the sides near the floor. Those floor vents are a bit bigger, so the temp closer to the floor (and your little piggies) is going to be less (If it’s set to a cooler setting. Plus, cool air tends to sink. So the air near the floor of the cabin is going to be cool than at the top. Also, since at cruise, the cabin is at 8,000′, your circulation might not be as good. Nothing dramatic, but just enough for you to feel like your toes will snap off and rattle around in your boots. Also, the F/A’s (flight attendants) are up and moving. They’re going to feel the temperature in the cabin differently than you in your chair due to their physical activity. They’re also the ones who tell the pilots (i.e., the F/O) to turn the temp up or down.” 

Hope you’re listening Delta Airlines, Delta flight subcontractors and Bombardier.

unpaid-internshipsA court victory for unpaid interns today and possibly a wake-up call for corporate America. Yesterday, New York federal judge William Pauley ruled in favor of  two interns suing Fox Searchlight over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group. The Hollywood Reporter says the court’s summary judgment was also certified as a class action  The lawsuit was filed two years ago by interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt who worked on Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan and claimed the company’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

Fox issued this statement to The Hollywood Reporter on the ruling: “We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings.  We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, an opinion article from the Guardian newspaper on unpaid internships prompted an interesting discussion among colleagues in our college this past month.

In the article author David Dennis notes that media companies that rely on unpaid interns marginalize the voices of low-income communities and minorities. A graduate from Northwestern University, David writes: “And therein lies the issue with unpaid internships. The practice of asking recent graduates to spend their days working for free while paying rent and living in a city like New York is a barrier for entry to students from mid- to lower-class backgrounds.”   

Specifically, Dennis wrote that unpaid internships become barriers for low-income and minority candidates access to their professional fields because they can’t afford to work for free without incurring debt. This, argues Dennis means we have less diversity in the media.

Dennis writes: “Recently, I wrote about how stories of crime in New Orleans or Chicago’s Southside are under-reported on the national level, and one of the reasons is the fact that voices from these areas aren’t making it to the national conversation to influence the direction of national discourse. Media workplaces are becoming populated by those who can afford the jobs. Those who can’t are being shut out.  How many journalists can say they have firsthand knowledge of the mentality of someone from the inner-city? Many of these voices have been muted just because they simply can’t navigate the landscape of privilege that most modern journalism encourages.”  

I agree with Dennis’ opinion on unpaid interns. The International Business Times recently mentioned a well-known 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute whose authors argued  persuasively, that “the choice to take an internship is not only contingent on a student’s qualifications, but also his or her economic means, thus institutionalizing socioeconomic disparities beyond college.”

unpaid-intern-2I also believe some for-profit companies use unpaid interns to save labor costs. There are recent legal cases to back this observation and to disprove it.  I believe this is, in part,  due to poor Fair Labor Standards Act enforcement by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding unpaid internships. I also believe this hurts those businesses who try to compete while providing paid internship opportunities.

Something else is hidden in the unpaid intern debate. My belief is that unpaid internships are a double whammy for some college graduates. They struggle to get jobs because the services they’re qualified to provide employers are already being provided by unpaid interns.

I said I agreed with Dennis’ views against the inequity of unpaid internships. Not everyone sees it that way.  Click here to see  how Denver Fox affiliate KDVR “Everyday Show” co-hosts Chris Parente and Melody Mendez put their spin on the topic of unpaid interns.

My response to KDVR:

 “I watched your treatment of this issue from your morning show. If you think a part of an unpaid intern’s job is to fetch coffee and dry cleaning for employees at Fox31 I would advise my students from interning at your TV station. That’s an exploitative mindset. An internship should provide students the opportunity to gain real world observations, experience and contacts in a professional workplace that ties directly to their future professional interests. They’re not unpaid personal assistants. So, please keep the focus on providing interns opportunities that will make them better potential future employees and managers for Fox31 and get your own coffee and dry cleaning.”

KDVR host Parente appeared to struggle in his understanding of the Dennis article. Parente incorrectly referred to Dennis as a woman and a “journalism ethics expert. Dennis is actually creative director at The Smoking Section website and a freelance writer.

Mendez commented that she once had an unpaid internship in college AND worked a part-time job. “It is possible to do both,” said Mendez.

To opinions such as Mendez’, Dennis wrote: “All of my classmates were qualified to work in any newsroom or publication in the city, but those who could afford the lifestyle got their feet in the door with internships. Sure, it’s possible for someone to work 40 hours a week without pay while also waiting tables at night, but it sure is easier when you don’t have to worry about earning a living – or paying student loans.”      

I’ll go one step more on unpaid internships- 

According to the Department of Labor internships in the “for-profit” private sector are most often viewed as employment. This means interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the  minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a work week.

Here’s the U.S. Department of Labor’s six criteria for-profit companies must meet in order to legally use unpaid interns:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to
training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;
and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the
internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist says the U.S. Department of Labor and the for-profit company may use unpaid interns. Otherwise, minimum wage and overtime provisions do apply to the intern. Or as Judge Pauley wrote in his opionion which sides with the unpaid interns in the “Black Swan” case:

After going through the experiences of Footman and Glatt on Black Swan, here’s what Judge Pauley concludes:

“Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ’employees’ covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. The benefits they may have received — such as the knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs — are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school. This is a far cry from [the Supreme Court’s decision in]Walling, where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow ‘trainee’ exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.”

The latest court ruling means a victory for those who argue against unpaid internships, particularly when they may involve doing work that other employees are paid for performing in other work settings. It may also signal the court’s willingness to limit, even end unpaid internships used as a guise by some employers to limit their labor costs as well as employment opportunities for students and other qualified workers.There will be more legal battles on this case and victory for the plaintiffs is far from certain at this point.

I’ll sum it up with the ending of the International Business Times article on unpaid internships because it captures the “anecdotal reality” many recent college grads may be living. It uses HBO’s hit drama “Girls,” character Hannah who works as an unpaid publishing intern, despite having graduated college two years earlier. After she’s told by her parents that they will no longer fund her post-collegiate escapades, Hannah explains to her boss that she can no longer afford to work for free. His reply? “I’m really going to miss your energy.”

 

I woke-up to this sad news today:
Tornado chaser Tim Samaras shows the probes he uses when trying to collect data from a tornado. This photo was taken May 26, 2006, in Ames, Iowa. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Tornado chaser Tim Samaras shows the probes he uses when trying to collect data from a tornado. This photo was taken May 26, 2006, in Ames, Iowa. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

***BREAKING NEWS*** Storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young all died in El Reno during Friday night’s tornadoes. Tim Samaras was a well-respected chaser who was familiar to many viewers because of his appearances on The Discovery Channel. In a Facebook Post Tim’s brother Jim thanked mourners for their condolences.
Click here to see a video about Samaras.
My sincere condolences to the families of Samaras and Young.  Tim Samaras was as educated, informed and prepared to chase storms as anyone who has done so. That a tragedy like this could happen speaks to the violent unpredictability of severe weather.

The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettis, photographer Brad Reynolds and a storm chasing crew was also hit by one of Friday’s tornadoes and suffered mild injuries. Their large SUV was lifted and tossed 200 yards off the highway. “That was the scariest moment of my life,” Bettes told the Associated Press. “I had never been through anything like it before, and my life passed before my eyes.”

Before this tragedy struck, and just after the Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes hit last month, I discussed storm chasers with CoJMC colleague Rick Alloway. We both marveled at the video and photos storm chasers captured of tornadoes. We also wondered how long it would be before a storm chaser died getting too close, or getting hit by a destructive storm.
The day before Friday’s  Oklahoma tornadoes that killed storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young, the National Weather Service warned there would be more tornadoes and severe storms — and there were.
Large clouds are seen as a tornado passes south of El Reno, Oklahoma May 31, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Bill Waugh

Large clouds are seen as a tornado passes south of El Reno, Oklahoma May 31, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Bill Waugh

This is my experience as a reporter who has chased and reported on many tornadoes and other powerful storms across Kansas and Missouri, Michigan and Ohio. I’ve seen first hand what they can do. No amount of experience can predict a powerful storm that is inherently unpredictable. There is the distinct thrill of the chase. It’s an incredible adrenaline rush to witness the destructive force of nature play itself out in unpredictable ways. It’s impossible to ignore one’s own mortality in the face of such raw, natural power. There is no assurance though that when a storm chaser says they know what they’re doing, that they won’t be maimed or killed when they chase a powerful, unpredictable storm. They can be killed or injured by the storm’s high winds, flying debris, lightning, hail and flash flooding. 

When this happens, when a storm chaser is injured or killed, what do the storm chasers say? Will they take responsibility for their own faulty judgement, even if it’s in the name of saving other lives? What safety guidelines do news and weather organizations have for their own employees or subcontractors who chase potentially deadly storms?
"That was the scariest moment of my life," the Weather Channel's Mike Bettes said after he and his crew were hit and suffered minor injuries as they tried to outrun a tornado they spotted in El Reno, Okla.

“That was the scariest moment of my life,” the Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes said after he and his crew were hit and suffered minor injuries as they tried to outrun a tornado they spotted in El Reno, Okla.

This is the fourth year the Weather Channel has sent out crews to actively hunt tornadoes. Originally, the Weather Channel storm chasers were embedded with a government research team. In the past two years though, says the Associated Press, the Weather Channel has sent its own crews out alone to hunt storms. Bettes’ white vehicle is emblazoned with the phrase “tornado hunt” and the network’s logo.

It’s fair to ask- Is the Weather Channel chasing tornadoes or television ratings?

Weather Channel spokeswoman Shirley Powell said it was too too early to tell how the close call involving Mike Bettis and his storm chasing crew will affect the network’s tornado coverage, but it will be under review. “Tornadoes are violent and unpredictable, but covering them keeps the public at large informed and, as a result, safer,” she told the Associated Press.

I disagree. I believe weather forecasting has gotten to the point where people can be sufficiently warned about an approaching storm without  storm chasers personally verifying the potential destructiveness of the storm. That was most certainly the case with the National Weather Service warnings that preceded last Friday’s Oklahoma tornadoes. In this era of drone aircraft, is there any reason a human storm chaser should put themselves in harm’s way to chronicle a destructive storm, unless, that is, they have a hidden death wish? I know this may sound harsh to some, but that’s my belief based on my experience chasing storms.
Another sad part of this is the proliferation of so-called for-profit storm chasing enterprises over the past decade. It’s become a potentially profitable tourist industryhere too. It only guarantees that more people will/have unnecessarily put themselves in harm’s way as they compete to get closer to storms that kill.
Harold1

Former Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department spokesman Harold Knabe.

When a good man goes, not everyone knows. So let me tell you about Harold Knabe. He was a good man.

Knabe died last Saturday in a North Kansas City hospital. He was 75-years-old and unknown to the latest generation of Kansas Citians.

For many of us though who worked in Kansas City’s news media, or were members of the audiences we served, Harold Knabe (pronounced Ka-knob-be) was known by just about everyone. He will be remembered for many things.

Knabe loved firefighting. He devoted 32 years of his life to a profession that was more a calling than a career to him. As spokesman for the Kansas City Missouri Fire Department, Knabe was one of the most trusted public servants the city ever knew. Just ask any reporter, videographer, photographer, or assignment editor who worked for KCTV, KMBC, WDAF, KSHB, the city’s radio stations, the Kansas City Star or Kansas City Times in the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s. If Knabe said it, it was accurate.

Harold Knabe worked for the KCMO Fire Department for 32 years before retiring in 1992.

Harold Knabe worked for the KCMO Fire Department for 32 years before retiring in 1992.

Whenever a major fire erupted in Kansas City, Knabe was on the scene, night or day, in searing heat and bone-chilling cold, to brief the news media. He told us what had unfolded, who was involved, how many were injured, who had died, survived and been saved.

Harold was known for his honesty, compassion, and a deep sense of humor. He had patience with young reporters, like me, when we were rookies and had much to learn in our early reporting careers.

That’s not to say Knabe wouldn’t let a reporter know if he felt they had been careless or callous, especially when it involved the fire department he served.

Case in point: Two years ago I interviewed Knabe when I was given the opportunity to return to Kansas City and work on a special report for KCTV and the Kansas City Star.

The report was on the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Hyatt Regency Hotel skywalk collapse. It was the worst structural collapse in U.S. history. It claimed the lives of 114 people and badly injuring 200 others who where at a Friday night tea dance when the hotel’s skywalks suddenly fell into the crowded lobby below.

I covered the Hyatt skywalk tragedy for KCTV that warm July night and saw Harold Knabe work non-stop for 10 hours at the scene. He consoled survivors, gave news conferences every half hour, and updated the growing media pack from across the region and country with the latest information as the disaster’s death and injury toll rose higher.

Harold Knabe and wife Kari.

Harold Knabe and wife Kari.

Thirty years later, I asked Harold about that terrible night. Amidst the dying and dead, and heroic rescue efforts by firefighters, medics and other emergency personnel, Knabe confided in me that he only lost his temper once. He said it happened when one of the “national” reporters asked which firefighter was the biggest hero. You’ll have to click here to see Harold Knabe’s description of his response.

After the news special aired on KCTV in 2011, I received an e-mail from Harold’s wife Kari. She wrote:

“It really has meant so much to have you contact him (Harold) & stay in touch.  I have to also thank you for having him meet you at the station (KCTV) – I cannot begin to explain how much his spirits have been lifted by seeing his old friends & meeting new ones!  I know this experience has been tough on you, as well as on Harold, but I appreciate you recognizing his invaluable contribution during this tragedy & including him in this memorial special!”

Harold Knabe established several public fire safety programs in his role as public information officer for the KCMO Fire Department.

Harold Knabe established several public fire safety programs in his role as public information officer for the KCMO Fire Department.

Harold Knabe had an abiding love for his fellow firefighters. It’s the kind of love that comes from working in a profession where you know your colleagues would risk their life to save yours. Firefighting is a profession in which you would risk your life to save a colleague, or the life of someone else. It’s a brother and sisterhood defined by knowing, and being haunted by memories of fellow firefighting colleagues who died protecting the communities where they live and work.

Harold Knabe died on April 20, 2013 eight days after his 75th birthday.

Harold Knabe died on April 20, 2013, eight days after his 75th birthday.

As a reporter I rarely use the terms “hero” or “heroic” to describe the feats of others. Firefighters though do fall into the “hero” category for me.

What else do you call someone willing to rush into a burning building, to risk their life, to save the life of another, usually a complete stranger? I’m sure there were times when Harold Knabe would rather have been the one fighting a fire to save a life rather than telling the news media about it.

I saw the tears well up in Knabe’s eyes in late November of 1988.  Early that cold morning, Knabe was the first to tell the news media six KCMO firefighters, two captains, four firefighters, had been killed fighting an arson fire at a southeast side construction site.

When the firefighters arrived to extinguish the blaze they didn’t know 22,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate used for road demolition was stored in sheds next to the fire scene. The firefighters died instantly when the first of the two sheds exploded. The explosion vaporized two fire department pumper trucks, emitting a shock wave so powerful it shattered thousands of nearby windows and knocked me out of bed at my home five miles away.

Harold knew many of the firefighters who died that chilly, grey autumn morning. Yet he pushed past his emotions, working all day long to update the news media and their audiences with the latest information about one of the worst firefighting tragedies in American history.

These events may explain why Harold Knabe helped establish several fire safety educational programs in Kansas City and had a significant role in establishing the Firefighters Memorial Fountain.

Harold Knabe, a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

Harold Knabe, a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

I remember shaking Harold’s hand as we parted ways following our KCTV interview two years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in 22 years.

I watched Harold walk slowly to his car that hot July afternoon, across the sun baked asphalt. I thought it might be the last time we’d see each other.

When people get older, thoughts like that cross minds more frequently. We have done the personal math and realize more years are behind us now, fewer years are ahead. Harold was 73.  He had been fighting health issues. I was 55.

Another thought crossed my mind that day; How blessed was I and so many others to have known Harold Knabe the firefighter. Mostly though, Harold Knabe was a dear friend.

A good man has gone, but won’t be forgotten.

John Rinkenbaugh also writes about Knabe’s death. 

The snow-covered view out my Andersen Hall window at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Barney McCoy

The snow-covered view out my Andersen Hall window at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Barney McCoy

In Lincoln, Neb., the snow that pummeled this stretch of the Midwest yesterday has given way to sunshine.

UNL classes have resumed. Despite the usual weather related accidents, traffic has returned to near normal. Businesses are open. Life is good again for most of us.

Snowmageddon” was the term some used to describe the weather event dubbed “Q” by the Weather Channel.

To be sure, it was a significant snowfall, but not as bad as some meteorologists claimed it would be. We received about 6 inches of snow. Other parts of the region received up to 20 inches of snow.

Nor was the storm, as nasty locally as some gleamy-eyed TV news anchors and reporters made it sound on Wednesday and Thursday.

Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear much about the benefits of this storm; The badly needed moisture it brings farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and municipalities that have been locked in a serious drought for almost a year. The latest reports say more than 75 percent of Nebraska is in an “exceptional drought” which is worse than an “extreme drought.”

The insulated coating of snow that protects the seeds planted for the coming year from direct exposure to freezing conditions. A chance for corn farmers to have moist soils this spring to get their crops planted and off to a healthy start. That’s a good thing too.

We need these benefits of a big snow more right now than the temporary transportation inconveniences and ever present dangers associated with navigating snow-covered streets and roads.

Last season, Nebraska’s corn crop took a quarter billion dollar loss due to the drought.  Ranchers were forced to sell cattle because the drought dried up the grass they feed on. Cities like Lincoln are talking stricter water conservation measures and higher costs for water users. Other places worry there may not be enough water available at any price if the drought persists.

This moisture, from this snow, may help keep the drought-driven crop and livestock losses we had last year from happening this year.

The region still needs four to eight inches of new moisture to free us from the drought. Keep in mind that experts say it takes roughly a 10 inches of snow to equal an inch of moisture; More if the snow is powdery and dry, less if the snow is wet and heavy.

Let’s hope more moisture, in any form, arrives soon. Meanwhile, let us tolerate, even enjoy, what nature has delivered to our doorstep.