Kelly: Omaha's live-music scene is one of the nation's best

Columnist Michael Kelly

Few in the crowd at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships next week will have followed the sport more closely than Barb Lieberknecht of Omaha — who skated with the Ice Capades.

She grew up in Omaha as Barb Carleman, a member of the Figure Skating Club of Omaha, and graduated from Central High and Omaha University.

“My father had taken me to an ice show when I was young,” she said, “and I just fell in love with it.”

As a young woman, Barb was one of 12 finalists nationally for a “Queen of Ice” contest in Los Angeles, and one of three offered a contract with Ice Capades. For two years she traveled the United States and Canada, part of a company of more than 30 women and probably as many men.

They dazzled big crowds and drew ovations.

“The costumes were gorgeous,” she said. “It was great. Every city we played in, I took a tour. I loved it. I hated to quit.”

A young romance led her to do so, though it didn't work out. She taught skating in California and in Omaha, and has followed skating through the years, especially the competitive kind that Omahans and the nation will see in the next week.

“It has completely changed,” said Barb, whose husband is Don Lieberknecht. “Now it's more like gymnastics jumps and how many revolutions you can do.”

She will enjoy all the athletes, she said, including those in ice dancing and pairs competition.

» While the best skaters in the nation jump and spin at the CenturyLink Center, others will take part in a 24-hour overnight skate — outdoors.

It's the annual University of Nebraska Medical Center Skate-a-thon to raise money for Parkinson's research. This is the third one at UNMC, but the outdoor skating dates back a quarter-century to Ted and Colleen Wuebben's backyard, which they would flood and turn into a rink for their six children and their friends.

Colleen was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2006 and now is in hospice care. Ted told me she will try to appear at this year's event, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday and ends at 5 p.m. the next day.

The public is invited to the rink, east of 42nd Street between Emile Street and Dewey Avenue. The cost is $10, or $40 per family. More than 2,000 attended last year, an event that raised about $50,000.

A heated tent will allow skaters and spectators to stay warm.

» The Nebraska Furniture Mart's huge development in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is “triggering land grabs all along the Sam Rayburn Tollway,” the Dallas Business Journal reported Friday.

The planned retail store in The Colony, scheduled to open in 2015, will span 40 football fields and sit on 90 acres. Other retailers, entertainment complexes and developers want to cozy up.

“If ever there was a destination retailer, they are the top one in the nation,” said Lucy Billingsley of Dallas-based Billingsley Co.

» Here's how I've always pictured heaven: Angels playing harps while Karen Carpenter sings.

As for a send-off from earth, though, it's hard to imagine a more pleasant atmosphere than the mortuary visitation this week for drummer Arthur G. Koterba. Art, the subject of last Sunday's column, had been the longest active member of the Omaha Musicians' Association — nearly 72 years.

Mourners were serenaded by a jazz quartet: Joe Voda on drums, Larry Frederickson on bass, Dan Cerveny on keys and Steve Harper on sax.

Ed Koterba, one of Art's sons, drew smiles when he concluded his touching eulogy by motioning toward the casket and saying, “Our father, who Art (pause) in heaven.”

» Many of the obituaries across the country for “Dear Abby” mentioned the memorable 2001 visit in Omaha with her twin, fellow advice columnist Ann Landers.

Abby and Ann grew up as the lively Friedman twins in Sioux City, Iowa, known by their nicknames, Popo and Eppie. They came to Omaha 12 years ago for the 90th birthday of their sister, Helen Brodkey.

“Helen tried to make ladies out of Eppie and me,” Abby told me. “She failed miserably. But she tried, she really did.”

“My twin and I were always getting into mischief,” Ann added. “Helen was always sort of bailing us out.”

Ann (Eppie) died in 2002. What were the odds that the twins both would become nationally syndicated advice columnists, read by millions?

» The Broadway touring show “Memphis” includes a husky performer who resembles Ndamukong Suh, former Husker All-American now of the Detroit Lions.

Will Mann plays Bobby, a radio station janitor. Not quite as big a man as Suh, Mann nevertheless sings an appropriate song for a big guy: “Big Love.”

The show drew a big ovation Tuesday night and, I'm told, has continued to wow audiences at the Orpheum downtown with its staging, singing and acting. A story of race and music in the 1950s, it is loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, whose nightly radio show was called “Red, Hot and Blue.”

Remaining performances are today at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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