Life's pretty rosy for Mike Eckley.
He's president of the Omaha Rose Society and, in the last nine years, has helped plant more than 2,500 rose bushes in public gardens. These include 2,000 in Memorial Park (like the roses above), several hundred at Joslyn Art Museum and others at Gifford Park, the entrance to the Sarpy County Fairgrounds and outside the Sarpy YMCA in Papillion.
Eckley, 67, is retired from Bellevue Public Schools, where he taught fourth- and fifth-grades and coached swimming for Bellevue West.
Here are Eckley's five favorite things:
More than 400 rose bushes fill the backyard of the Eckley home in Bellevue. One of his favorites in a Marilyn Monroe bush, which produces showy, peachy-pink flowers that are darker in the center. The garden has between 170 and 200 rose varieties.
2. Nebraska shirt.
He and his wife of 41 years, Anita, have had Cornhusker football season tickets for at least 25 years and attend most home games.
3. “Star Wars” collection.
“I've collected since 'Star Wars' came out. I have about all the 'Star Wars' comic books.” The collection also includes novels, figures, Christmas ornaments and other items. The ornaments hang year-round from Christmas lights on the ceiling of his home's dining room. He calls it “my tribute to Mr. C's,” a now-closed restaurant that had Christmas decorations displayed all year.
4. RAGBRAI shirt.
Eckley hasn't ridden his bicycle yet this year, but he trained for and completed the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa for three years straight. It ceased to be fun, he said, when riding in high heat and humidity left him too exhausted to socialize in the evening.
5. Family history.
He has an old homemade cookbook that contains family Christmas photos from his childhood and copies of the recipes his mother used at Christmas. He spent three days this month at the Library of Congress doing research for a future trip: Eckley and his wife plan to follow the path his late father's Army unit took across Europe during World War II. The Eckleys have two adult children and four grandchildren.