Kelly: One career spans 46 years, four owners - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 11:31 pm
Kelly: One career spans 46 years, four owners

In 1967, at the thriving Omaha Works of Western Electric, teenager Chuck Leyendecker got a job as a forklift operator.

“It was THE place to work, with a great benefit package,” he said. “To work at a place like that was Utopia.”

The plant near 120th and L Streets, which opened in 1958 and employed 7,700 at its peak in 1970, went through various spinoffs and name changes before closing two years ago.

Chuck, now 65, continued working in an office there for Commscope as an IT analyst before retiring last week — 46 years after his start.

The plant had spurred southwest suburban growth, which led to Omaha's annexing the town of Millard and to great expansion of the Millard Public Schools.

Long making equipment for land-line telephones, the plant was owned by AT&T, Lucent Technologies, Avaya and then Commscope. The manicured “front lawn” became the site of big stores and parking lots.

Chuck, who stepped away from work in the early years and served on the USS Kitty Hawk off Vietnam, held various positions in his career, including factory supervisor.

As a trainer in the late 1980s, he taught a team-building class that included a “trust fall,” in which a staffer would fall backward off a deck into the arms of others; and the team-climbing of a 13-foot wall.

In retirement, Chuck will restore cars and work on stained glass. He and wife Pat, who shows dogs, are moving to an acreage in Adel, Iowa. It's near their grandchildren, which makes it pretty close to Utopia.

* * *

The town of Ballymoe, Ireland, birthplace of Boys Town founder Father Edward Flanagan, recently held a Town of 1,000 Beards Festival.

The County Galway village did so as a fundraiser for the Ballymoe Boystown Development Co. A process is underway in the Catholic Church to have Flanagan canonized, and town leaders expect many visitors if he is named a saint.

From the festival, the Irish Daily Mail reported: “Mossie O'Leary from Kerry won the much sought after title of Most Kissable Beard.”

* * *

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom will announce its “Wild Guide” on July 15, and you can see videos of the three finalists at wildkingdom.com/nextwildguide.

Out of nearly 200 applicants, the three are Stephanie Arne of Honolulu, who grew up in Pierre, S.D., and once worked at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium; Reggie Busse of Omaha, working this summer in Interlaken, Switzerland; and Thiago Silva of El Paso, an amateur outdoor filmmaker.

All auditioned at the zoo in Omaha last month for the online Wild Kingdom “webisodes.”

Reggie, a graduate of Omaha Roncalli High and Kansas State, welcomes questions and comments in her live Facebook chat at 6 p.m. Monday on the Wild Kingdom website.

* * *

Dr. Bernard Kratochvil of Omaha, a physician on the College World Series medical staff since 1982, got a huge thrill during the CWS — but not at TD Ameritrade Park.

He and wife Kathy watched as grandson Chase Rowe, 12, hit a walkoff home run to give his West LA Scorpions a 14-13 win in the championship game of the Omaha Champions national youth tournament in Bellevue.

Chase, who has attended CWS games since he was 2 years old with his grandpa, is the son of Bret and Margaret Kratochvil Rowe; she grew up in Omaha and is a jewelry designer in Santa Monica, Calif.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

* * *

Brian Schulte of Omaha was text-messaging with a Mississippi State fan for two club seats at the CWS, and they agreed on a price of $180.

When they met in person, the fan pulled out $360, thinking Brian had meant $180 each.

“Sir, I think we have a misunderstanding,” the Omahan said. “I meant $180 for the pair.”

Surprised, the man added $40 to the $180 and said, “Y'all are some honest people up here.”

* * *

The centennial celebration of the old Lincoln Highway reminded some of the late Bob Adwers and his role 25 years ago in the Diamond Jubilee celebration that attracted about 5,000 people.

Bob had fought for preservation of the stretch of the brick highway in the Elkhorn area. Its acceptance into the National Register of Historic Places was celebrated in 1988 with a rededication and a parade.

The Lincoln Highway, America's first transcontinental road, has largely been altered or obliterated. But a historian from Wisconsin last week said the three-mile stretch from about 174th Street to 204th Street is probably the best-preserved stretch anywhere.

* * *

Happy 100th birthday tomorrow to Robert Burt, a former radio singer who worked with Johnny Carson and got to know visiting celebrities such as Doris Day.

Bob grew up in the Benson neighborhood, not far from his current home at the Skyline Retirement Community, where family and friends will honor him Sunday.

He married fellow Benson High grad Lavern Randall in 1936, and he went on a singing tour that paid him $50 a week. Back home, he performed at such venues as the Danceland Deluxe and the Chermont Ballroom.

During World War II, he and Lavern worked for the Army Signal Corps, living for a time in Washington, D.C. In the 1970s, he retired from Mutual of Omaha.

Before that, though, Bob sang and played guitar on Omaha radio stations and was a member of a group called the Mimic Macs in the early days of television. At WOW radio, he had met the future TV superstar who in Omaha hosted “the John Carson Show.”

“Johnny was a great kid, real fine,” Bob said. “We had a lot of fun together. But it seems like everybody I used to know is gone.”

That includes his nine siblings and Lavern, to whom he was married nearly 75 years at the time of her death in 2011.

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly

mike.kelly@owh.com    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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