A Mosaic in Beatrice resident was recently one of six Nebraska musicians of Czech and Polish descent to be recognized for their significant contributions in preserving Czech musical traditions in Nebraska and the Midwest by being inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame.
Doug Blecha, 57, grew up singing with his father’s band, Bob Blecha and the Bouncing Czechs, and attended roughly 70% of the dances played by the group with Bob playing button accordion and vocals and mother Donna as the group’s drummer. Blecha later sang in his brother’s band, the Greg Blecha Trio, and the Mosaic Choir.
Blecha’s parents said he was taught to sing in German, Czech and English, and that he can tell whenever someone sings off-key or makes another musical mistake.
Over the years, Blecha has sung at the Table Rock Fair, Pawnee County Fair, Elk Creek barbecue, nursing homes, the Easterseals Telethon in Lincoln, a live radio broadcast for station KOTD in Plattsmouth and in 12 states.
Blecha said he favorite song to sing is “Roll out the Barrel.”
He is also an employee for Neapco, an honorary member of the Pawnee City Fire Department and the Table Rock Fire Department, and has bowled in the Special Olympics in Beatrice and Lincoln.
The other musicians honored were Galen Kuska from Exeter, Jim Mastny from Dwight and Don Hamsa, Milt Jaworski and Jan Lhotak from Omaha.
Debra Polacek, a committee member for the Musicians Hall of Fame, said it was created in 1999 to recognize the talents of local Czech-American musicians for their efforts in promoting and preserving the Czech heritage, especially those individuals who may not achieve regional or national recognition for their contributions.
The ceremony and following accordion jamboree was held at Ron’s Tavern in Milligan on Jan. 18, and the inductees’ names are engraved into a plaque displayed there.
Musicians for the 2021 Musicians Hall of Fame inductions can be made by contacting committee members Randy Korbelik at 402-416-1300, Debra Polacek at 402-469-6986 or Sue Placek at 402-641-0669. Selections are made in the fall.
Beatrice High School students have found a creative and sometimes humorous way to practice public speaking by being members of the school’s speech team.
This year’s speeches include a play within a play and geocaching with an elderly hippie, which 12 students will get to perform in roughly 10 contests with area schools.
Ed Ankrom, a speech coach at BHS, said a lot of freshman have joined the team this year.
“So it’s just getting them introduced to speech, going to the meets, seeing what the expectations are at practice and creating scripts, writing and editing,” Ankrom said. “Just a whole process until you have your speech or your program to the point where you want it to be.”
Ankrom said the experience teaches kids public speaking, organizational and editing skills, and to consider constructive criticisms.
According to the Nebraska School Activities Association website, each type of speech has different factors to be judged on, with most speeches being judged on presentation, delivery and overall effectiveness.
Ankrom said judgments can be subjective due to the judge’s stance on the subject, which can affect how the student presents their speech.
Students can also take speech as a fall class to meet their oral communications graduation requirement.
Senior Zander Wells said he joined the speech team as a freshman after it was suggested by Mr. Jacob Smiley during his oral communications class.
“It’s definitely opened me up a lot more,” Wells said. “I used to have a really bad stutter, and now I still kind of do, but this has really helped.”
Freshmen Jaden Guernsey and Emmy Hoefer both said they joined after seeing their siblings compete.
BHS hosted a speech contest on Feb. 1. Ankrom said every student that competed received a medal due to the smaller meet size. He said the contests at schools in Lincoln have roughly 40 schools and 650 students competing.
Ankrom explained students are allowed but not required to compete at every contest, as many participate in other activities or have jobs.
The team’s next meet is Saturday, Feb. 15 at Auburn High School.
A Beatrice woman accused of stealing from an insurance company last year was ordered to pay a fine Thursday in Gage County Court.
Nicole L. Nelson, 45, was ordered to pay a $400 fine for a charge of theft valued at $500-$1,500. The class 1 misdemeanor was previously reduced from a class 2A felony charge of theft valued at more than $5,000.
Defense attorney Benjamin Murray said during a hearing Thursday that initial reports of how much money Nelson had stolen from Penner Insurance were severely exaggerated.
According to court documents Nelson, who had been working there since 2012, handled customer payments, bank account relations and the company's books.
Last May records were turned over to INSUR insurance group, which found that Nelson had been receiving payroll advance checks and not paying them back.
Murray said multiple other employees at the company were also taking advances.
“Some of it got paid back, some of it didn’t,” Murray said. “We never came up with an actual amount.”
Nelson was interviewed on Aug. 7 by the investigator admitted she made false entries in the books to cover payroll advances. She was terminated and wrote a letter of apology to the company.
Following her termination, INSUR discovered that Penner Insurance's sweep account had a discrepancy of more than $112,000 from January 2012 through 2019.
Nelson was believed to have contributed to the discrepancy, though, according to Murray, it’s now believed the money was never actually taken from the account.
“When this first came up there were these huge numbers we were dealing with that were based on essentially a guess,” he said. “…When we actually looked at that, we don’t think there was any money missing. It was a sweep account that nobody in the office had actual access to. Payments went into the account and could be automatically withdrawn by insurance companies.”
After deliberating for nearly nine hours, the jury returned Thursday afternoon finding Joshua Keadle guilty of second-degree murder here for the killing of a 19-year-old Peru State student who disappeared early Dec. 3, 2010.
Word spread at 2:30 p.m. that jurors had reached a decision in the 2 1/2-week-long case, sending attorneys and spectators back to the third-floor courtroom at the Gage County Courthouse.
Tyler Thomas's family, some wiping away tears, walked out of the room as the district court clerk polled each of the jurors on the decision.
Second-degree murder is an intentional killing without premeditation.
A day earlier, prosecutors argued that Keadle was guilty of first-degree murder -- a planned, intentional killing -- for taking Thomas, of Omaha, out to a boat ramp along the river early the morning she disappeared.
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Doug Warner said Keadle had intended to isolate and kill her, then dumped her in the river. He said the defense was all "cover-up, lies and deceit.”
On the other side, defense attorney Matt McDonald told jurors that the state wanted them to wildly speculate about what happened despite a timeline that didn't fit. He said Keadle had left Thomas there -- alive -- when she refused to get back in his Ford Explorer.
McDonald said it was more likely that Thomas fell in the river or jumped, given how drunk and out-of-control she was that night.
Keadle, who was nearing the end of a 15-20 year sentence on a sexual assault case out of Dodge County, now will face 20 years to life in prison when Gage County District Judge Rick Schreiner sentences him April 29.
If the jury had found him guilty of first-degree murder, Keadle would have gotten an automatic life sentence.