Generations of Omahans remember him as the iconic “Broom Man,” and soon he will take a permanent place in a prominent location.
The Rev. Livingston Wills, an ordained minister who was blind from birth and who traveled the metro area for six decades selling brooms, died in 2008 at age 91.
Sculptor John Lajba has begun work on a life-size bronze figure that will stand in front of the Douglas County Courthouse by next summer.
“I want to make him very lifelike and natural so people recognize him,” Lajba said Friday. “Well-dressed, as he always was. Not on a pedestal, but at street-level in a very urban environment.”
Inspiring Omaha with his perseverance and kindness, Pastor Wills at times walked 10 miles a day. “He walked 10 feet above the average man,” a fellow minister said at his funeral. “He was a great man, leaving a great legacy upon Omaha.”
A bishop compared him to the itinerant prophet Elisha, and a Catholic priest called Wills, longtime piano-playing pastor of Tabernacle Church of Christ Holiness, “the saint of Omaha.”
He whistled as he walked, and friends joked that whistling was his sonar, helping him avoid bumping into things. Mourners at his gravesite were urged to think of him whenever they heard the hymn, “Sweep the Devil Out.”
Marc Kraft, a Douglas County Board member, said the Broom Man needs to be remembered. “We would all benefit from the lessons he can teach us in humanity and civility.”
Kraft said about $35,000 has been pledged or donated toward the estimated $100,000 to $120,000 cost. People can contribute at gofundme.com/TheBroomMan or they can send checks to the Downtown Omaha Inc. Foundation, P.O. Box 8252, Omaha, NE 68108, with “Broom Man Project” on the memo line.
Lajba, known for the “Road to Omaha” sculpture at TD Ameritrade Park and other works of art, on Friday unveiled a statue of former Sen. Bob Dole at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
The sculptor said he hopes to capture the body language, personality and demeanor of Pastor Wills, a “seemingly ordinary” figure who in his own way was heroic.
» A recent WalletHub survey ranks Nebraska No. 8 among “best states for millennials,” folks now in their early 20s to late 30s.
The ranking is based on affordability, civic engagement, economic health, quality of life and health and education. Washington, D.C., counted as a state, ranked first, followed by North Dakota, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Iowa.
Other surveys reinforce Nebraska’s high ranking.
The Census Bureau in 2017 ranked Nebraska among the top six states in which a majority of millennials were living independently, meaning not with their parents.
And a 2016 Census report said Omaha had the sixth-largest population growth of millennials from 2005 to 2015. The other cities on the list put us in cool company — Charlotte, Houston, Austin, Seattle and Virginia Beach.
» Michael O’Connor, a World-Herald reporter for 24 years, was honored in our newsroom Thursday, his last day before taking a new job in Omaha.
The affable Mike O. has covered education, transportation, health and more, and for the past 16 months has produced stories quickly for Omaha.com.
He also is known for his “How We Met” series, telling how about 400 couples first got together with their beloved. A colleague asked, “How did you meet Martha?”
Mike was a junior, and she was a freshman at Quincy College in Quincy, Illinois, and a snowstorm raged. As he looked past her and out a classroom window, he said something like, “Even in a storm like this, there is beauty.”
Nice one. They have been married for 32 years and have two children. Mike, 57, has taken a position with the Steier Group, an Omaha-based fundraising firm.
» Sunday was the 75th anniversary of a B-25 bomber with live ammunition crashing through the roof of the Martin Bomber plant.
Myrt Hubbard remembers it well.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she said in a recent note to The World-Herald, adding that “all hell broke loose.”
Three people were killed, including the 21-year-old pilot from Oklahoma. Two Omaha employees died — Elmer Murphy, a civilian inspector, and James Leach, an armorer. Fatalities could have been worse, but most employees were out of the building for lunch.
Army spokesmen said the left engine caught fire on takeoff, and the pilot circled the field — home of today’s Offutt Air Force Base — but the plane went out of control before he could line up a runway.
The Martin Bomber plant, which employed a workforce of more than 14,000 — about 40 percent women — built more than 2,000 B-26 and B-29 bombers in three years. That included the Enola Gay and Bockscar, modified B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s surrender.
Myrt, 18 when she went to work at the plant, lives in Illinois and still drives without glasses. She said her husband, Miles Hubbard, who died in 2007, was the last of the pilots from the plant, and that there can’t be many former employees left.
“Worst thing about getting old,” she said, “is that there is no one around to share old memories with.”
» After church recently, I misunderstood parishioner Bob Erickson and thought he asked if I knew about his ’64 basketball game.
“1964?” I replied.
“No,” he said more slowly. “Six ... to four. I was the high scorer with three points.”
In 1946, his Benson High team was heavily favored to beat Norfolk in the first round of the state basketball tournament. Right after the opening tipoff at the Nebraska Coliseum in Lincoln, 6-foot-1 Bob scored to make it 2-0.
There was no shot clock on each possession as there is today, and Norfolk stalled. The Panthers just passed the ball around and the game clock kept ticking.
Bob, 90, enjoyed a long career in the telephone business, and he and Mary Lou had seven children. He said he is the only member of the Benson starting five still alive.
All these years later, though, he recalls that Norfolk’s strategy almost worked — down by two points in the final seconds, a Panther launched a shot to tie the score and send the game to overtime. “But it rimmed out.”
Benson lost to undefeated Lincoln High 36-30 in the final, but that 6-4 game was remarkable — no one broke into a sweat, Bob said, until the final minute.
» Edna Karloff kept her mind sharp playing cards, including poker, but who would have bet she would live to 107?
Edna, who died this week, celebrated her birthday in May on the land where she was born in 1911. The party took place at the Good Samaritan Nursing Home in Millard, site of a farm once owned by her father.
She was married to Ed Karloff for 48 years, and he died at 69. “Ed and Edna” were well-known in Millard and raised three children, who said they believed she was the third-oldest person in the Omaha area.
» The oldest is Thelma Sutcliffe, who will celebrate her 112th birthday at 3 p.m. Monday at Brighton Gardens, a senior living center at 9220 Western Ave.
Thelma, I turn 70 next month. As the song says, “You make me feel so young.” Happy Birthday!