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Officer returns after deployment to Guantanamo Bay

A simple “How are things going?” can go a long way.

Jason Sharp knows this as well as anybody.

The Beatrice Police officer and part-time Gage County Sheriff’s deputy was deployed to Guantanamo Bay in support of Operation Enduring Freedom last April and returned to Beatrice in February.

This was Sharp’s fourth mobilization after being deployed to Masadonia in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and again to Iraq in 2010 as a member of the National Guard.

While each was different and came with its own set of challenges, one thing was the same: It’s hard being away from family, and hard on family to have a loved one away while serving.

In this instance, Sharp said support from area law enforcement made his time away easier to endure.

“While I was gone it’s always tough on the family, not being around,” he said. “The sheriff’s office did an outstanding job of every time they saw my wife and family asking how they were doing. There’s a lot of people on the police department who supported me while I was gone and I definitely appreciate their support.”

The support ranged from contacting Sharp while he was in Cuba to simply asking his wife, Leslie, and kids how they were doing and if they needed anything when they saw his family around town.

To show his own thanks, Sharp presented Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson at a recent County Board meeting with a flag flown at Guantanamo Bay along with a certificate signed by the commander of the facility. He’s planning a similar presentation for the police department during the City Council’s April 16 meeting.

An Omaha native, Sharp enlisted after high school in 1997. He moved to California, but returned to Nebraska with a desire to get into law enforcement when he started as a part-time deputy with the sheriff’s office in 2009. He went full time in 1012, and transitioned to a full-time officer with the Beatrice Police Department in 2015.

Sharp said it was an interesting experience traveling to Guantanamo Bay, in part because he got to work with such a wide variety of people.

“One of the most interesting things from this mobilization, because every mobilization has its own challenges, was working with all the services,” Sharp said. “I’ve been in for just over 20 years now and I never had the opportunity to work in a joint environment such as that. It was a joint operational environment where we had all four services plus the Coast Guard interacting and seeing the cultures of each service.”

Another way this mobilization differed from others he’s been a part of was that many of his daily responsibilities included office work.

“This was my fourth mobilization and it was different from all my others ones because we didn’t deploy to a combat zone,” he explained. “We didn’t go to Iraq or Afghanistan or anything like that. Basically, we were on an established Navy base just doing our job. My specific job was a lot of office work in a different location, really.”

Sharp isn’t allowed to get into the specifics of his day-to-day work, but did say it was an interesting experience to be on an island and help plan for a hurricane, though thankfully Hurricane Irma missed his base by around 150 miles.

Sharp said his unit was the first to be deployed to Guantanamo Bay since the Spanish American War more than 100 years ago. And while the Americans serving there weren’t allowed to leave the base or have any interaction with the locals, that didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves during down time.

“For the most part on your down time there were a lot of things to do,” Sharp said. “The Navy did a great job of putting on various events. There’s different fun runs and they had nice facilities. The bay was there so we were able to go fishing. There was a scuba shop so I got certified. It was an experience that I never thought I would have had, so that was pretty neat.”

Sharp returns to the police department later this month and hopes to bring with him some of the skills he picked up during the mobilization, such as a better system for tracking vehicle maintenance.

He’s eager to get back to work in Gage County, and is stressing how thankful he is for the support shown by local law enforcement.

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Empty Bowls Luncheon returns for 10th year

Grabbing some soup on Wednesday could help to feed 100 Beatrice families for the next year.

The 10th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon will be held today (April 11) at Holiday Inn Express in Beatrice beginning at 11:30 a.m., where 16 companies and organizations will bring homemade soups to help raise money for the Beatrice Backpack Program.

Founded by a Leadership Beatrice class, the Beatrice Backpack Program fills 100 backpacks with nutritious foods and vouchers for milk, meat and other perishables for kids around Beatrice every week.

It costs about $40,000 per year to keep the program up and running said Kristy Thies, and this time of year is when the program gets the vast majority of its funding.

“I'd say the Empty Bowls luncheon is our only major fundraiser for the year,” Thies said. “We receive donations throughout the year, they might trickle in here or there, but this time of year, during the Empty Bowls luncheon, is where we get 90 percent of it.”

Tickets for the Empty Bowls luncheon are available at the door for $25 and—in addition to a wide variety of soups—admission gets you a handmade bowl by a local artist. This year attendees will receive a bowl by Beatrice High School pottery class, the Southeast Community College pottery class, Ervin Dixon of Cedar Creek Pottery, Patrick McKinney of Flowing Stone Pottery or Kathleen Grossman of Down Under Pottery from Lincoln.

While you might not want to eat your soup from the ceramic bowl, ticket holders can try soups provided by Valentino’s, The Black Crow, Risky’s, Classic’s, Shanghai Inn, Colleen’s Catering, Beatrice Community Hospital, Farm Credit Services, Knights of Columbus, 4one8 Bar and Grill, First State Bank, Tri County Board of Realtors, Pinnacle Bank, the Beatrice High School culinary class and Mosaic.

The Beatrice Backpack Program uses funds from ticket sales and sponsorships—which are also available at the luncheon—to purchase food from the Lincoln Food Bank, who will also be on hand at the event. The Lincoln Food Bank’s purchasing power is what allows the Beatrice Backpack Program to continue, Thies said. They buy in huge quantities since they serve so many schools around southeast Nebraska and can buy food a lot cheaper than the program would be able to, she said.

“They deliver right to the high school,” Thies said. “We do our packing right there at the high school. It's a pretty good, efficient system because the food truck then delivers the backpacks to the elementary schools when they deliver the food on the food truck, which they do on a daily basis.”

The Empty Bowls luncheon has been held at Classic’s at the Beatrice Country Club for the past few years, something Thies said the organization extends their appreciation for, but this year it will be held at the Holiday Inn Express.

Thies said that anyone who can’t make the luncheon but is still interested in making a donation can do so by dropping it off at any Beatrice public school. The schools handle the money for the Beatrice Backpack Program and will accept donations in the organization’s name.

Tickets have been selling fast, she said. She ran out of the ones she had for sale at Pinnacle bank where she works, but there willl be plenty for anyone who wants to join them for lunch.

“We don't turn anybody away,” she said. “They can still buy tickets at the door if they'd like.”

Longtime community supporter passes away

An active member of the Beatrice community who loved volunteering and being around people passed away on Monday.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Hovendick died at her home this week. She was 86.

Her son, Rich Hovendick, said the family is remembering Jackie as a loving woman who made her presence known, especially at sporting events.

“From what people tell us and we remember, she had a great sense of humor,” Rich said. “She always was smiling and was a huge supporter of her kids and grandkids activities, especially the sporting events. She was known to have a very unique cheer that you could always hear in the stands whenever her grandkids were playing. A lot of people remember her for that and just being there.”

Jackie’s sense of caring extended far beyond her immediate family. She was an active woman who volunteered with several organizations.

“She loved helping people and working with groups, like her church, the Bargain Box here locally and delivering Meals on Wheels,” Rich recalled. “In general, she loved people and being around people. She was always volunteering for things.”

Jackie’s volunteer efforts didn’t go unnoticed. In 1994 she was named the volunteer of the year by the Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce Women’s Division, an honor that Rich said took his mom by surprise, and filled her with pride.

The active reader and bridge player also was a member and past president of Fortnightly Book Club, Beatrice Community Hospital Guild, and P.E.O. Chapter Z.

Jackie was a teacher for children with learning disabilities in Beatrice for 15 years. She was an active member of Christ Church Episcopal and had served on the altar guild, taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, was treasurer of women's guild, and had been on the vestry.

Along with her husband, Dick, she co-owned Griffiths-Hovendick Chapel. Rich said the business was started by his grandparents before Jackie took over. He and a grandchild of Jackie’s are now involved in the business, marking four generations of involvement from a family that meant the world to Jackie.

Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 14, 2018 at the Christ Church Episcopal in Beatrice. See page A2 of Wedneday's Daily Sun for the full obituary. 

File photo 

Hand-made bowls donated by local artists await hungry patrons at the annual Empty Bowls Luncheon in 2017. The annual event supports the Beatrice Backpack Program.