Kelly: Omaha's huge mural invites envy, especially in Philly

Passers-by view the mural near the downtown stadium, home of the College World Series.


With more outdoor wall murals than any other American city, Philadelphia lacks Omaha's distinction — mural size.

After someone proposed a mural on the side of a 33-story office building in downtown Philly, the Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic didn't embrace the idea. But she allowed that it would overtake ours.

“An audacious mural,” Inga Saffron wrote, “would enable the city to beat Podunk Omaha, Neb., which currently boasts the nation's largest mural.”

Being a podunk town out here in Flyover Country, we don't boast, let alone capitalize “Podunk.” (The critic backtracked and wrote that she wasn't commenting on “Omaha's merits as a city.”)

Michael Kelly

In any case, we do enjoy one of the largest murals in the country, if not the largest. It's “Fertile Ground,” on the east side of the Energy Systems Inc. building near 13th and Cass Streets.

Visitors from across the country admire it when they arrive each June for the College World Series, and the rest of us get to see it regularly as part of the north downtown landscape.

Funded by the Peter Kiewit Foundation to instill a sense of civic pride, the Omaha mural is 70 feet high and 328 feet long. It incorporates notable people, places and landscapes from Omaha's past and present.

» The U.S. Census Bureau offers no theories as to why people in certain areas live longer, but states with the highest proportion of people living to 100 are in the Midwest.

North Dakota ranks first in centenarians per 10,000 people, at 3.29. South Dakota follows, at 2.95, and Iowa at 2.78. Nebraska is fourth at 2.74.

» Roger Holthaus of Omaha retired as an attorney on Dec. 31, a day or so before his fellow Hastings High graduate, Tom Osborne, retired as University of Nebraska athletic director.

Roger enjoys telling the story of Tom seeing him in the audience at the City-County Building in Omaha a couple of years ago and quipping, “Roger, looking at you reminds me how we're all getting older.”

Roger's dad owned a drugstore in Hastings, and a customer was Tom's father, car salesman Charles Osborne. Roger remembers “Charlie” as being inspirational in urging students to ask their parents to sign a petition to put a bond issue on the ballot to pay for a new high school.

Tom graduated in 1955 and Roger in 1957, both having served as student body presidents. In 1961, they had lunch a few times in Washington, D.C., when Tom played for the Redskins and Roger worked at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

More than a half-century later, each has completed a career. Roger now begins a four-year term as an elected member of the Douglas-Sarpy Learning Community Coordinating Council. He takes the seat formerly held by Ernie Chambers, who has returned to the Legislature.

» One of the best ideas to come out of Omaha's hosting of the Outland Trophy banquet has been honoring old-timers from the years before a trophy went with the award to the best college football lineman.

“They're treating me just like I was the 2012 winner,” Loyd Phillips told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. “What they're doing is really kind of unique.”

Phillips, 67, won the Outland award for Arkansas in 1966. On Thursday, he got his trophy.

» A Batmobile will be auctioned next Saturday in Scottsdale, Ariz., which reminded Jay Harrington of Omaha of our town's connection to the 1960s “Batman” TV series.

The executive producer was William Dozier, a graduate of Creighton Prep and Creighton University. He grew up near 41st and California Streets and became a star orator in high school. He later enjoyed a successful career in Hollywood and on TV, and he died at 83 in 1991.

But he was most noted for the three-year run of the kitschy show about the Caped Crusader. “I hit a financial jackpot with 'Batman,'” he said after the show was canceled.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1132, michael.kelly@owh.com

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