Goodbye to the old Kearney High

Via the Kearney Hub. Kearney High School opened in 1960.

As a student, I heard plenty of rumors about Kearney High School. Years after my school days, some have stuck with me.

“It’s built on an old landfill. That’s why it smells.”

“The building is an exact replica of a school in Texas. That’s why it is so cold all the time…there are too many windows.”

“The parking lot is almost too steep for a human to walk up. We calculated it in physics class.”

“Do you know what’s under the sledding hill? Garbage.”

The landfill rumor wasn’t true, of course, but that didn’t stop the Bearcats from blaming everything unsatisfactory about the building on the garbage that was surely decomposing beneath our feet.

I don’t have strong feelings about my high school experience. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t amazing. I wasn’t sad about graduating; I was ready to move on from the small-town garbage building with walls of windows and wood paneling.

The building seemed to echo my sentiment. It felt tired, used up and dirty. (After all, it was built on a landfill.) The school opened in 1960; by the time I was shuffling textbooks through the hallways, it was almost 50 years old.

No, I wasn’t sad to be done with high school. So why am I torn up that the building is approaching its expiration date?

That’s right; after five decades, the tan brick garbage building is going into retirement. In August, the new KHS will open its doors to nearly 1,400 students.

With an $84 million (and growing) price tag, the new facilities should be fantastic. (Plus, there will be a swimming pool.) It’s going to be great. But it’s not going to be mine.

Over the past year there have been a lot of “lasts” at the current KHS. I’ve seen them, both as a Kearney resident and as someone states away: the last first day of school, the last basketball game in the Old Barn, etc. But in last week’s Kearney Hub there was an article about the last play to be held in the auditorium. This struck me.

I spent much of my high school years in (or wishing I could be in) the dimly lit and always drafty theater/auditorium. I loved that place, the venue for choir concerts, one-act plays, musicals and goofing off with my friends. It was the central feature of my time at KHS, and now (pardon the cliché) the stage has seen its last curtain call.

The new KHS will have a kick-ass theater with a state-of-the-art sound system. But won’t have my name etched on the dressing room wall. The house won’t be full of a sporadic buzzing sound that is attributed to a friendly ghost called “The Who?. There won’t be a backstage spot where I stepped on a rusty nail and had to get a tetanus shot.

The fate of the old KHS isn’t yet determined, but it’s looking like demolition is the most likely outcome. It’s on prime real estate, after all.

What makes me sad, I think, is how it will be gone before I have the chance to get super nostalgic about that garbage building and those so-called golden years. I haven’t even gone to a class reunion yet. Now I’ll only get to share these experiences by pulling into a random parking lot and gesturing over the sloping land: “This is how it once was.”

There is one thing that gives me hope, though —  the rumors.

When I was covering the city beat at the Kearney Hub the new high school came up plenty at city council and planning commission meetings. A recurring and baffling issue to city and school officials was the rumor that the new building is in a flood zone.

Like the landfill idea before it, the flood zone rumor isn’t true. But I’m not going to dispel that. I liked the idea of a garbage building.

For me, the rumors about the building made the school feel like a character in my life, not some run-down place I had to sit in for seven hours a day. And since it was the only public high school in town, everyone had a story about KHS. It was an easy topic of conversation, much like the weather or the Huskers.

To the class of 2066: I hope you enjoy your flood building. Believe the rumors, or make up your own. Just be sure to tell me about them.

P.S. My favorite fact about the old KHS? I had a math teacher tell me once that the visible arches that make up the auditorium and gym are not semi-circles; rather, they are a half of an ellipse. (Who said I didn’t learn anything in geometry?)



Diner Dispute: Omaha, part 1- Hollywood Cafe

Like it or not, diners are a part of popular culture. It seems like every good television show has had a diner as a major hangout, from Seinfield‘s Monk’s Diner to Arnold’s, seen in Happy Days. Heck, even the kids of Saved By the Bell hung out at The Max. The movie Grease had a corner diner, and songs from the 50s are filled with references to milkshakes and soda fountains. What is astounding is that the diner hasn’t died out and been relegated to nostalgic venues of yesteryear. Instead, they are quite alive today, drawing in customers with their old-fashioned feel and homemade food. I decided to find the best diner in the greater Omaha area, a quest that will not be easy or simple to finish. I will begin with reviewing three restaurants I visited recently. So sit back, put on your Elvis record and tuck in your napkin. It’s time for a blast from the past. 

The Hollywood Cafe is not technically in Omaha. Located near Carter Lake, by the airport, this chrome building is quite distinctive, with its neon signs and fake palm trees out front.

This diner is full of traditional kitschy memorabilia from the 50s and early 60s— movie posters and records cover the walls. Guests will be greeted by two of the era’s most famous celebrities, in statue form: Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

The look of the diner is classic. The brown quilted booths and long counter seem to be out of a movie. Each table has a miniature jukebox on it, complete with the cards that turn to list the available selections.

The interior of the Hollywood Cafe. Photo courtesy of

Larry Richling, an Omaha native, came up with the concept for this diner in a most unusual way. In 2003, Richling was on a family vacation when he saw an original 1950s diner for sale. This stainless steel building was transformed into the Hollywood Cafe.

The food is, as James Dean might have said, ‘The real cat’s meow, daddy-o.’ The menu has a wide variety of food, from traditional diner fare such as milkshakes, hamburgers and fried chicken to more creative foods, like Liver and Onions or the ‘Elvis Baby’ (a peanut butter and banana sandwich). The prices are also rather reasonable. Expect to pay around $12 for a lunchtime meal with a milkshake.

When I went to the diner, I had onion rings and a caramel milkshake. The onion rings were divine. They were the perfect thickness and had an adequate amount of breading on them. The milkshake came out in traditional 1950s presentation— a glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, with the extra shake in a silver canister. It was good. Really good. I-ate-the-entire-thing good.

You don’t have to just take my word for it. One of the world’s richest men is a regular customer. That’s right, I’m speaking of Warren Buffett. He likes it so much, he takes his company there, company such as rapper Jay-Z. 

Alas, I did not see Buffet and Jay-Z when I went. Rather, the cafe was full of elderly travelers who had just came from their tour bus.

The cons of the Hollywood Cafe are few. The location is inconvenient. It is a five minute drive from downtown, but can give a much-needed break from the bustle of the city. Some patrons will find the decor cheesy and over-the-top, but others will find it to be appealing and exciting.

Me and my roommate posing with full bellies next to Marilyn and Elvis at the Hollywood Cafe.

This diner is super kitschy and fun, but has the quality food to back it up. I recommend this restaurant to families with children. Kids will love taking their picture with Elvis and Marilyn and pressing the buttons on the jukeboxes. It is also a good locale for a change of pace. Sitting at the stainless steel counter is sure to be unlike anything you normally do. After all, who doesn’t want to feel like a movie star?

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars. Highly recommend.

The Hollywood Cafe is located at 2212 Abbot Dr., Carter Lake, Iowa. Their website (which is currently experiencing technical difficulties) can be found here. Phone number: 402-280-1000. Open seven days a week, with both indoor and patio seating.

Part one of a three part series. Stay tuned to see the other two featured diners.