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'He was a great detective': Oldest retired Omaha police officer dies at 92

The Omaha Police Department’s oldest retired officer died last week at the age of 92.

Harold Hug led a life of varied interests, pastimes and jobs, including cop, musician, Army enlistee, medical transport driver, handyman, facilities manager and grandfather.

Hug died on Dec. 18 at Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy of heart failure, said one of his sons, Ron Hug of Omaha. He had battled colon cancer and suffered a broken neck within the past couple of years.

“He knew it was time,” Ron Hug said. “He was at peace.”

Harold Hug enlisted in the Army as World War II approached its end and didn’t see combat. He joined the Omaha Police Department in July 1949 and retired as a sergeant in November 1982 after 33 years on the job.


Harold Hug as an Omaha police officer.

When other veterans died, he volunteered to play taps on his trumpet at the funerals. And if neighbors had plumbing or electrical problems, Hug was there.

Retired Police Sgt. Garry Gernandt said Hug was a “faucet of information” when it came to working as a detective. “He wasn’t a good detective,” said Gernandt, who retired in 2000. “He was a great detective.”

After retiring from the Police Department, Hug drove a medical transport vehicle and worked as a corporate facilities manager. He played drums, trumpet and accordion for bands and at performances in a long career as a musician. He drove grandkids to and from school.

“He was not one to stay retired,” said son Stephen Hug. “He was very active.”

Hug and his wife, Rita, were married 71 years, and they dated for four years before that, Stephen Hug said.

Besides his wife, he is survived by sons Sonny, Ron, Stephen and Doug, all of Omaha; son Allen and daughter Frances Engelstad, both of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and brothers Robert of Bellevue and Ralph of Phoenix. The family counted 29 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Visitation begins Friday at 4 p.m. with a vigil service at 7 p.m. at Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak & Cutler, 7805 West Center Road. The funeral will take place Saturday at noon at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 4837 Woolworth Ave., followed by a luncheon.

Notable Nebraska, Iowa deaths of 2019

College World Series, Swim Trials and the MLB draft? 2020 will be an 'unprecedented' year for Omaha

The calendar hasn’t yet flipped to 2020, but it’s already unmistakable that next summer will be one to remember for Omaha’s sports scene.

The College World Series, held here for the past 70 years, will be part of a blockbuster package in June: The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials are back for a fourth time. And earlier this month, Major League Baseball announced plans to bring its 2020 amateur draft to the Holland Center during the lead-up to the CWS.

So, for 19 straight days in June, Omaha will be part of the national sports conversation.

“2020 goes without saying, it’s an unprecedented year,” said Josh Todd, president and executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission. “It’s going to be an epic year for Omaha.”

Consider, too, that the CHI Health Center will serve as one of eight sites for the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March and then in December it’ll host the NCAA volleyball Final Four. Union Omaha, a minor league soccer team, also opens its inaugural season next spring at Werner Park.

But most assuredly, the local sports buzz will peak in June.

The MLB draft is what’s new to the party — and although it won’t match the estimated economic impact of the Trials (approximately $74 million) or the CWS (about $70 million), its association with one of the biggest professional sports entities undoubtedly will help increase the level of exposure for Omaha.

It should be noted that the draft drew just 304,000 viewers last summer on MLB Network, according to Sports Media Watch. To compare, the third game of the 2019 CWS finals attracted 2 million viewers.

But MLB is essentially starting from square one.

Amateur baseball prospects aren’t as widely known as their football and basketball counterparts — and their paths to MLB teams typically include several stops in the minor leagues. The three-day draft itself has previously been conducted inside a New Jersey TV studio.

What intrigues officials within the MLB Commissioner’s Office, though, is growth potential. To them, it made sense to host the draft in a sports-centric market that has developed long-standing ties with the sport, according to Chris Marinak, MLB’s executive vice president for strategy, technology and innovation.

“There’s nothing but positive signs so far that this is going to be a really great event, and the Omaha community has really stepped in and embraced it,” Marinak said.

“It’s certainly a model that we’d look to replicate going forward, presuming that we could work out the arrangement with the NCAA, the venue in Omaha, all those things. Let’s see how it goes.”

Given the draft’s timing (June 10 through 12), it shouldn’t add any significant logistical challenges for planners and organizers who’ve been preparing for the looming convergence of the CWS and the Swim Trials.

The CWS finals could extend through June 24. The eight days of Trials begin June 21.

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Sure, the hotel space will be stressed. But Todd said there are about 700 more hotel rooms available in 2020 than the last time the Trials came to Omaha four years ago. Plus, many of the people associated with the meet won’t arrive until a few days before the event begins on June 21, according to Todd.

And yes, if venues are booked for sports-related events, that could mean they’d have to pass on concerts or other performances. The pools start getting installed in May at the CHI Health Center.

“We don’t like to turn people away if we can help them,” said Roger Dixon, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.

Occasionally a concert tour may want to stop in Omaha during the time they have blocked off. Arena officials would then typically work with promoters to bring the tour back to Omaha on a second leg. That’s usually successful, but they did lose a concert to Pinnacle Bank Arena in 2016.

“It’s all about trying to be as flexible as you can,” Dixon said. “That’s part of our mission. We’re supposed to do events.”

Which is why the summer of 2020 is shaping up to be so memorable.

The fact that MLB wants to again link itself with Omaha should be a “point of pride,” Dixon said. The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers played the first-ever MLB game in the state of Nebraska at a sold-out TD Ameritrade Park last summer. And now the MLB is back again — with a three-day draft, instead of a nine-inning ballgame.

Then, the CWS. And the Swim Trials.

“It’s going to be a busy and exciting summer in Omaha, but our city continues to show that we have what it takes to make these widely renowned events possible,” Dixon said.

World-Herald staff writer Kevin Coffey contributed to this report.

MLB No. 1 overall draft picks since 2000

Photos: MLB No. 1 overall draft picks since 2000

Offutt-based jets still on alert for North Korean 'Christmas gift'

North Korea’s “Christmas gift” must have gotten lost in the mail.

A North Korean missile test that had been widely anticipated over the holiday didn’t occur, at least not yet.

But U.S. military surveillance aircraft — including RC-135 Rivet Joint and Cobra Ball jets based at Offutt Air Force Base — have been patrolling the skies near North Korea in recent days, according to aircraft spotters. So has a Georgia-based E-8C JSTARS airplane and an RQ-4 Global Hawk pilotless aircraft.

It’s not clear whether they are related to North Korea’s threat in early December to send the U.S. a “Christmas gift” if the Trump administration failed to restart stalled arms reduction talks. The military does not comment on reconnaissance flights.

The “Christmas gift” has widely been interpreted as referring to a rocket test — perhaps at the Sohae test stand, one of several sites where analysts have noted lots of recent activity.

That includes recent engine tests, the movement of trucks to and from the test site, and the clearing of snow from a launch pad and roads leading to it, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

“Sohae’s active. But what does ‘active’ mean?” Lewis said Thursday during a telephone interview with The World-Herald. “We’re all a little unsure. The natural thing to do is up your readiness.”

Aircraft spotters and monitors of public air traffic control have made note of multiple reconnaissance flights in recent days.

Aircraft Spots, a Twitter account with 58,700 followers that tracks military flights, noted Cobra Ball flights over the Sea of Japan — which separates Japan from the Korean Peninsula — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The job of the Offutt-based Cobra Balls is to watch and listen to missile launches in order to glean useful intelligence, a mission they have performed since the 1960s. They operate out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Two of the 55th Wing’s three Cobra Balls have been at Kadena since Dec. 20, Aircraft Spots reported.

The account also noted Offutt-based Rivet Joints flying over the Sea of Japan and the Korean Peninsula on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Rivet Joint crews fly with foreign-language specialists who monitor radio communications on the ground. At least two have been flying out of Kadena.

E-8C JSTARS and RQ-4 Global Hawks also have been flying over South Korea almost daily, Aircraft Spots said.

Meari, a North Korean propaganda site, has denounced the “constant surveillance,” according to a report Thursday by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

“We are closely watching hostile forces’ provocative schemes,” Meari said, as quoted in the Yonhap article. “They should know that our patience also has a limit.”

All four types of planes routinely monitor electronic signals from North Korea, said Robert Hopkins III, a historian of Air Force surveillance flights and former 55th Wing pilot. He recalls flying Christmas Day missions off Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula during the Cold War, in anticipation of missile tests by the former Soviet Union.

“The increase in flights is not unreasonable given the (North Korean) ‘threat’ of a Christmas present,” he said in an email. He compared it to increased police presence if a synagogue were threatened.

“The cops aren’t the provocation,” he said. “They’re the response.”

Lewis said it’s not entirely clear whether the U.S. has actually stepped up surveillance of North Korea.

Offutt likely had eyes on North Korean missile launch

“It certainly seems different. But is that just because we’re looking?” he said. “It really is hard to know.”

Lewis attaches little significance to the lack of any missile tests on Christmas Day. He is certain that Kim’s pause in such tests is almost over.

“The North Koreans have made it clear: The moratorium is up,” he said. “Something is going to fly. It’s a matter of what, and when.”

Photos: Offutt Air Force Base through the years

Want your own space or a quick drink? There's a pod for that

In early October, the Glenlivet, a Scottish whisky distillery, introduced its latest booze-delivery vessel: a transparent, saclike pouch that dissolves in your mouth. Customers would now be able to drink Scotch like they were eating a Gusher candy. Glenlivet called them "capsules," but everyone knew what they really were: pods.

They are pods because they looked exactly like Tide pods, the transparent, saclike pouches of laundry detergent that you're very much not supposed to eat. Tide pods, in turn, had been part of a fleet of pod products (poducts?) to enter our atmosphere.

IPods, Airpods and podcasts for our ears. Juul pods for our lungs. Tide Pods for our clothes. Pod is the name of several restaurants, and a new social network. The Pod Hotels, a chain of alternative "microhotels," offer hip, cozy, compact spaces in cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

"Edible Water Pods Could Replace Billions of Plastic Bottles Per Year," declared the headline of a 2018 article in E: The Environmental Magazine. Engineers hope self-driving "pods" - basically, slower shuttle vans piloted by machines - will reshape city roads. "Pod" housing - basically, dorms for adults - has been proposed as a solution to housing crises in expensive cities where a growing number of people can't afford to live in normal homes.

Are pods the future? Is the WalkingPod, which is kind of like a wearable tent, the future? Your feet are on the ground. There are zip-uppable windows for your face, arms and torso. Otherwise you are encased in plastic, like leftover food.

"When I think of a pod, I think of personal space," said Rick Pescovitz, the CEO of Under the Weather, the sporting-goods company responsible for this particular pod. "With outdoor and even indoor living, younger people want to have a smaller footprint and help the environment."

Pescovitz admits that the WalkingPod is "almost a joke-type item." But he also says it's great for sanitation workers, street vendors, ticket-takers, sports spectators, security guards, people who work on oil tankers. … And his company sells other pods, too - like the StadiumPod, which is designed for bleacher-sitters.

Maybe calling something a "pod" is just a marketing gimmick. Because what do person-sized tents have to do with thumb-sized capsules full of laundry detergent or whisky? What is the quality that makes all these things "pods"?

"It comes from the shape that the material takes," said Rodrigo García González, the co-founder and co-CEO of Notpla, which makes those edible membranes (made of seaweed) for Glenlivet's whisky pods.

"It's like a cocoon, a sleeping cocoon," said Topi Piispanen, the vice president of the Finnish company GoSleep, which sells (you guessed it!) sleeping pods. Also, privacy pods, which can function as a workspace or a phone booth. "It does resemble an egg shape," said Piispanen. "The shape represents new life. With our pods, you can revitalize yourself."

The Conker isn't exactly an egg shape, but it is also a pod- a living pod. It's a big, soccer ball-looking enclosure with heated floors and power sockets.

"The strongest three-dimensional shape in the universe is a ball," said Jag Virdie, director of Conker Living and the mind behind the Conker. "There's a beautiful constant to it. It's a modular, future structure."

A future structure. That might be the best way to understand why we are surrounded by things called pods: We live in the future now.

Or, maybe not yet. Chances are you haven't come across one of these pods. They're niche products (though that hasn't stopped Under the Weather from selling 200,000 pods of various kinds). All the bells and whistles can make pods quite expensive, too. Some go for tens of thousands of dollars. Conker's living pods haven't even touched down in the United States yet.

The core ideas of pods - efficiency, mobility, replicability - have been central to decades-old futurist movements in architecture and design. Postwar Japan had the Metabolists, best known for the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. The towers hold 140 capsules that work as living or office spaces and can be detached or combined with others. They embodied a utopian idea of being able to plug in and out, making buildings more organic, said Chandler Ahrens, an associate professor of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.

Historical parallels pop up the further you dig. Pescovitz's tent like Walking Pod resembles the transparent Suitaloon bubble that Michael Webb designed in 1967. The Conker living pod is a spiritual successor to the flying-saucer-shaped Futuro houses designed by Matti Suuronen.

"You wonder what's inside of them," said Stephen Wallenfels, a Washington-based sci-fi writer and author of the 2009 novel "POD." "Are they helpful or dangerous? For me, pods represent the unknown."

"Open the pod bay doors, HAL," said Dr. David Bowman to his spaceship's intelligent computer system in "2001: A Space Odyssey," and pods are often part of spaceship architecture. Escape pods. Hibernation pods. Medical pods. And it's not always humans who were using the pods. Remember the "pod people" from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

It was the pod bay doors in "2001: A Space Oddyssey" that inspired Vinnie Chieco, now a freelance writer and brand strategist, to come up with the iPod name for Apple's MP3 player when he worked on the small team brainstorming names for the device in 2001.

It was a handheld, portable gadget that contained smaller things. It was an all-white device, similar to the interior of Dr. Bowman's ship. It had to connect to a computer to charge and download songs. You could take it with you, but it had to return to the mother ship.

"Like a lot of spaceships in sci-fi, you could get into pods that would detach and reattach," Chieco said. "And I thought, 'Wow. That works so well.' "

Not everybody thought so, at first. "Are you really aiming to become a glorified consumer gimmicks firm?" one Macrumors forum user said of the iPod when it was announced.

Glenlivet has faced similar skepticism about its new whisky pods - sorry, capsules. But company officials are optimistic. "We celebrate breaking conventions," said Miriam Eceolaza, director of Glenlivet. During London Cocktail Week, she said, "People were queuing for two hours to try the capsules."