Sometimes the simplest things make the most impact in people’s lives and bring out the best part of what makes up a community. And some people can make all the difference if you take the time to listen to their story and connect the dots.
Someone who is making those storytelling connections in the Lincoln community is a 70-something retired guy named Randy Bretz, and he told his storied experiences to Executive Club members Monday at their weekly luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Lincoln.
Bretz, who retired from Nelnet about 10 years ago, is in the process of writing a book that compiles the many stories he’s been able to uncover in and around the Star City. Not only does he enjoy the compilation, he’s finding purpose and reason in the process as he shares these stories across social media.
“There are a lot of stories out there, and when people tell stories, they connect. And when people connect, they begin to care more about each other. And when they care, they get along better with each other,” explained Bretz, whose career involved broadcasting, telecommunications, higher education, church leadership and public corporation leadership. “I like to call this ‘getting to know people through their stories.’”
People are also reading…
The first story Bretz shared with the audience was about a parking garage clerk he’d encountered numerous times downtown, but had never taken the time to ask of her story. Jodi Wilbur revealed to him that while between waiting on cars and their drivers for nearly 20 years, she was knitting mittens, hats and scarves for the homeless.
Bretz was fascinated by her story, and the more he heard, the more engrossed he became. So he shared her story on Facebook, and soon she was being inundated with yarn from the caring public. Her story was picked up by a local television station and the publicity exponentially exploded, all due to Bretz taking the time to ask a few questions and hear her story.
“Why do I share? Even a short interaction, just passing some time in a parking garage, can make a difference in a life,” Bretz gushed. “She touched my life and I touched her life. Her story became ‘Knitting for Love.’”
He told of Jim King’s talent for music and sharing it with elementary school students after his wife Mary, who worked for Lincoln Public Schools, asked him to take up the task in his retirement. With a few curious questions, Bretz discovered that Rico Zavala was an immigrant from Mexico who had moved to Lincoln after initially settling in Wood River, Nebraska.
“As a father of three and with a degree in criminal justice and sociology, he finds the time to volunteer at Cedars Home for Children, The Bridge, Nebraska Juvenile Justice and Norris baseball,” said Bretz, a longtime member of Downtown Rotary 14 and former president and Rotarian of the Year. “Think of the impact he’s making here in Lincoln.”
Bretz met Maggie Stuckey, head of the Lincoln Parks Foundation, over at Epworth Park, “a park you can’t find on Google Maps,” and where she became engaged to her present husband David Ross. He learned about Quentin and Karla Brown, who moved here from Virginia and fell in love with the people of Lincoln.
Through the curious intrepid nature of Bretz, he came across an unusual relationship that spanned across years, cultures, languages and experiences. He encountered Teddy Sundberg, who goes to Bryan Child Development Center at Bryan Health Center, and Khoi Le, who works at Bryan Health in environmental services. Despite their difference in age and all other elements, they developed a relationship of love and respect that allowed incredible growth and knowledge on both sides. This was an overwhelming experience for Sundberg’s mom.
“It’s taught me that while familiar friendships can bring comfort and contentment, those that look different are often where we learn and grow the most,” said Jenny Sundberg, according to an article written by Bretz that appeared in the Journal Star.
One can only imagine what the “Curious George of the neighborhood” did when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. Bretz showed a few pictures from high overhead to illustrate how he and his neighbors got more familiar with each other.
“That’s my neighborhood in 2020 on Graduation Day. When we couldn’t have any in-person ceremonies or parties, we congratulated them by meeting in our circle,” Bretz said. “I live in a cul-de-sac, and we would stand in that circle and got to know each other. We got connected. We learned about each other.”
Borrowing from an Aldous Huxley novel, the community of Lincoln has become a Bretz Brave New World. You can call that a “neighborhood extra.”
The author, Tim Brusnahan, is program chair at Lincoln Executive Club and employed by Marco.
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