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New extension educator can help in many ways

What does auto body repair have to do with horticulture?

Ask Kathleen Cue, the new extension educator-horticulture in Dodge County.

On March 1, Cue began her job at the extension office in Fremont. Her duties include a range of responsibilities from helping area residents find ways to manage tree insects and diseases to protecting private water sources.

She’ll work with folks in the Master Gardener program and teach people how they can have a pollinator garden.

One of eight children, Cue’s gardening experience began years ago. Back then, Cue’s parents had her pull weeds in the family’s garden.

“Vegetable gardening was a matter of necessity — coming from a family of 10 people,” she said. “Producing vegetables was important.”

Pulling weeds wasn’t her favorite task and not something she wanted to do as a teenager.

But Cue grew to appreciate gardening.

“It wasn’t until I got married and had a family of my own that I figured out I actually enjoyed being in the garden,” she said.

She became an avid gardener.

So what does that have to do with auto body repair?

Her parents had an auto body repair shop, where all their children worked.

“I was an auto body repair person,” said Cue, who is from Iowa.

Cue did auto body repair for about 10 years, while working on a degree in agriculture with an emphasis on horticulture.

“One thing I really liked about gardening is that when you were talking to fellow gardeners, they always had a smile on their face. There was always a sense of fellowship in talking to a like-minded person. It seemed like a natural transition for me to focus on horticulture,” she said.

While auto body repair and horticulture might seem like polar opposites, Cue sees a connection.

Both involve getting to the root of a problem.

“There’s a similarity in that it’s about problem-solving,” she said. “Whether you have a wrinkle in your fender or you have a plant with a disease issue, it’s about taking those steps and asking those questions to figure out what needs to be done to correct the problem.”

Cue earned her bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s of agriculture degree with a focus on horticulture and adult learning from Iowa State University in Ames.

She and her husband, Ken, have two adult children, Katie and Kaleb.

For the past 21 years, she’s worked as a horticulture assistant at Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy County.

Now, she’s an extension educator. She likes the job.

“The best thing about horticulture is that every day is different,” she said. “You don’t know if the client is going to come in and ask about their vegetable garden or their tree or a wild flower they found in their garden. You get to see something different of what’s going on out there that people are growing.”

Her job as an extension educator is multi-faceted.

She can guide gardeners in taking steps to manage insects, disease and weeds in a way that doesn’t cause problems for the environment or people.

For instance, a gardener may want to pick two bugs off of a plant instead of treating it.

“Sometimes, you have 1,000 insects and you may need to go to the next step, which is insecticidal soap,” she said. “It’s finding out what can be effective at the low end of the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) spectrum and then working your way up to something more aggressive if the lower ones don’t work — ultimately contributing to plant success.

“If you have a plant that fails, that plant ends up in the landfill or the compost pile so it’s really about contributing to plant success.”

Cue can help residents find local answers to insect and weed identification, tree and shrub insects and diseases; turf grass management and questions about growing vegetables and small fruit.

She works to protect private water sources.

“For instance, if you have somebody who over-applies a pesticide of some kind and that washes off the plant and goes into the ground water and contaminates the well, then that’s something you’re drinking from and that’s a problem.”

She stresses the importance of being aware of how much and when to apply a chemical.

Prevention is key — following the label on the chemical to avoid over-applying it.

“One thing that’s clear from pesticides, in general, is that the label’s the law and so you need to follow the label,” she said. “Occasionally, you run across somebody that if the label says to use a tablespoon of something per gallon, they think two tablespoons will be better and that’s not the case. The dosage recommendations are based on trials that the manufacturer has conducted and that’s why the label is the law.”

If someone does over-apply a chemical, she’ll troubleshoot with a person to see what can be done.

She also can talk about the benefits of having a garden, which can help growers save money and have access to food they didn’t have before.

Cue will work with the Master Gardener program. Master Gardeners are volunteers, educated by Nebraska Extension, and then give back their time in the form of community service.

She’ll work with the Nebraska Pollinator Habitat Certification Program.

Bees and butterflies are examples of pollinators.

Pollinators are important.

“One-third of our food supply exists, because an insect has pollenated a plant,” she said. “If pollinators are threatened and they are — the pollinator numbers are dropping — what can we do to ensure their success?”

Cue can teach people how to have a garden that encourages pollinator activity that supports a food supply and habitat for them.

“Thirty percent of all the pollinators overwinter in the hollow stems of plants,” she said. “If you’re a neatness guru and clean up your entire garden in the fall of the year, then you’ve just killed a lot of overwintering native pollinators.

“If you leave it instead, and clean it up in the spring, those pollinators have a chance to emerge as adults, and you’re helping them survive.”

Cue also talks about the importance of providing areas of soil, not covered by mulch, where native bees can winter and putting a stone or two in a bird bath that pollinators can land on to get a drink of water.

She suggests planting a few more carrots along with extra dill and parsley and leaving them for butterflies to eat.

Cue looks forward to getting to know the Master Gardeners and working with them to create a go-to place for people with gardening questions.

As far as her own gardening is concerned, Cue now likes to pull weeds and even considers it therapeutic.

“You can work out your frustrations,” she said, smiling. “You take it out on the weeds.”

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Project brings youth, elderly together

Local fifth-grader Nathan Kudrna got the idea while visiting his grandma at Nye Legacy.

“Last year when I was visiting my grandma there were a lot of people just sitting alone and they weren’t really doing anything,” he said. “So I thought it would be a good idea to have them do different activities.”

Now that idea has grown into the “Youth and Elderly Enrichment Program,” which was funded through the Fremont Area Community Foundation’s (FACF) Youth Philanthropy Contest.

The annual contest encourages young people throughout the community — in kindergarten through 12th grade — to ask themselves how they can make a difference in their communities.

Winners are then awarded up to a $1,000 grant from the FACF to go out and actually make that positive change. Kudrna received $250 to complete his “Youth and Elderly Enrichment Program.”

Every Wednesday, Kudrna and a few of his friends take time out of their afternoon to spend time with residents at Nye Legacy where they participate in activities like putt-putt golf, ring toss and checkers while also taking time to sit, visit and just spend some quality time together.

“I got some of my friends together and we bought T-shirts and then we bought some of these activities,” Kudrna said. “We have golf, ring toss, tic-tac-toe, and we sit together and have cookies afterward.”

According to Jill Stober, Nye Legacy’s director of life enrichment, although the program just started a few weeks ago, it is already having an impact on residents.

“This is only the third week, but they are already building the relationships with the residents,” she said. “They are a great group of kids, they are very respectful, and they have as much fun as our residents do.”

This past Wednesday Kudrna and two of his friends, Jase Laday and Jackson Jones, spent their afternoon playing putt-putt golf and ring toss with several Nye Legacy residents.

One of those residents was Betty Lou Hadley, who laughed and smiled after sinking a putt while the three students and onlookers cheered her on.

According to Stober, the putt-putt portion of the program is particularly enjoyable to Hadley, because she was an avid golfer in her younger days.

“People that knew her always say she was a good golfer, and we told her that she could do the putt-putt from her chair, but she wants to get up because that is what she did when she was younger,” she said.

Hadley downplayed her skills on the golf course, but did say she spent a lot of time golfing in her younger days in Valparaiso.

“The other people thought I was good, but I didn’t think so,” she said. “It was fun for me, it wasn’t something I did for a living so I just had a lot of fun out there.”

After spending around 45 minutes sinking putts and tossing rings, the group moved into a dining area at Nye Legacy and enjoyed cookies, Capri Sun, and answered trivia questions together.

According to FACF Executive Director Melissa Diers, Kudrna’s “Youth and Elderly Enrichment Program” is an ideal example of what the annual Youth Philanthropy Contest is all about.

“It was something he (Kudrna) saw and recognized as an opportunity, and it is a need that he himself could do something about. He just needed a little bit of help and that is where we stepped in,” she said.

Another unique aspect of Kudrna’s “Youth and Elderly Enrichment Program” is the scalability of the project.

“One of his goals that he has already talked about is getting more people involved and actually being able to do this at additional facilities,” Brian Kudrna, Nathan’s father, said.

For Diers, the “Youth and Elderly Enrichment Program,” like all of the Youth Philanthropy Contest projects are a way to show children that philanthropy is not only important but also fun.

“It is inspiring every year we watch our contest recipients go out and do amazing things,” she said. “It always brings a smile to my face.”

Retired school personnel chip in to help teachers

Two Fremont High School teachers have hit some difficult times. Now, retired members of the Fremont Public School system are trying to help pick them up.

The Fremont Area Association of Retired School Personnel presented two Spanish teachers, Araceli Copete and Vicki Rueda-Palomar, with a $500 check on Wednesday to help them chip away at unexpected costs incurred by burst pipes in their apartments.

The donation comes as another Fremont High School faculty member, Brenda Schiermeyer, launched a fundraising campaign to help the teachers.

According to the campaign’s GoFundMe page, the teachers, who both came from Spain to teach Spanish at Fremont High School, returned to their native country for Christmas break. When they returned they found that their pipes had frozen, causing substantial damage to their apartments and the recently purchased furniture.

“Having never lived in an environment or culture such as Fremont, Nebraska, they were unfamiliar with extreme temperature and were unaware of the effects of the temperature on pipes,” the page reads. “The ladies say that is customary for people in their country to turn down heating systems when leaving for vacations as a cost-saving measure and, more importantly, to be environmentally conscious. So it seemed very logical to them to lower the thermostat when they left their respective apartments at Conestoga Crossing in Fremont to spend some of their holiday break in Spain.”

The page says that the women have to pay $17,500 to pay for the damages. There’s currently $1,425 raised on the website, and a fund has been established at First State Bank and Trust where donations can be made at all branches to the “Copete Rueda Emergency Assistance Fund.”

The Association of Retired School Personnel’s decision to donate was an easy one, according to the group’s treasurer, Wanda Samson.

“It seemed definitely appropriate because we’re teachers and school personnel and we’re helping two teachers who have a need,” Samson said.

According to Samson, the members of the organization decided to put together a donation during a January meeting, after hearing about Copete and Rueda-Palomar’s plight from one of its members who’s still involved in the school.

At that same meeting, the 30 to 40 members in attendance decided to “passed the hat” and gave donations that totaled more than $300, Samson said, and the group’s treasury covered the rest to even the gift out at $500.

“It was amazing,“ Samson said. “They immediately made a motion to contribute x amount of money and that kind of got underway and the hat went around and the money was collected and counted, and somebody said ‘well can’t we just make it $500?’ So we did.”

The presentation of the check occurred at Fremont High School on Wednesday afternoon.

The GoFundMe page can be found at

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Wanda Samson's title as secretary of the Fremont Area Association of Retired School Personnel. She is the treasurer.

Araceli Copete Gonzalez

Maria Victoria Rueda Palomar