Snoopy sat on his dog house.
Linus wrapped his blanket around a forlorn stick of a tree.
And Charlie Brown pondered the true meaning of Christmas.
It all took place during a Monday night rehearsal of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Fremont Opera House.
This year, local actors are staging a production of the beloved Christmas classic at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 and 2 p.m. Dec. 9 in the opera house. No tickets will be sold in advance; admission is $5 at the door.
The colorful production, which features characters from the Charles Schulz cartoon “Peanuts,” is part of a two-day event called, “Our Little Christmas Festival and Open House.”
Local middle and high school students will sing Dec. 9 during the fundraiser, which also features a silent auction of wreaths decorated by local businesses.
On Tuesday morning, schoolchildren sat attentively during a special performance. Three groups of children were scheduled to see the live show designed for kids of all ages.
“We’re going to have so many children come to this show and this may be their first experience with the theater,” said director Lee Meyer on Monday night.
Doyle Schwaninger stars in the title role of Charlie Brown, a kid who’s just trying to figure out what Christmas really is all about.
Schwaninger is embracing the part, while appreciating the show’s various themes.
“I think it shows the true meaning of family — that we all have very different personalities and ways of getting along, but the holidays have a way of bringing everyone together,” Schwaninger said.
The show begins with the well-known opening scene of the Peanuts gang ice skating and the lively beagle Snoopy pulling Linus around by that familiar light blue blanket. Lucy and Linus ponder the difference between December and January snowflakes and Charlie talks about how sad Christmas is for him.
Poor Charlie doesn’t even get a Christmas card.
And he’s not impressed by the holiday’s commercialism which even seems to be impacting his dog-house-decorating pet Snoopy, who’s entered a lucrative contest.
To help Charlie get in the spirit of the season, Lucy turns him into the director of a Christmas play with a cast more interested in dancing than acting.
Cindi Lamprecht plays Lucy, the bossy fussbudget, who sees herself as the Christmas queen. Don Cunningham is Linus, her thoughtful younger brother and Kaleb Jorgensen is the peppy pup Snoopy.
Audiences will see other timeless Peanuts characters including: Charlie’s baby sister Sally, played by Madeleine MacDonald; Jim Campbell as Pig Pen; Nan Cunningham as Peppermint Patty; Kim Mitchell as Frieda, who has naturally curly hair; and Bill Bishop as the piano-playing Schroeder.
Lu Ann Ehmcke serves as the real pianist for the performance, which includes the well-known jazz tunes recognizable by those who’ve watched the holiday show each year. Neil Chromy is the technical director.
Besides the play, opera house guests can take part in other festivities.
The Christmas festival begins at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 with music by John Huss and Friends, followed by the Charlie Brown play a half hour later.
That Saturday, festivities begin with the sixth grade honor choir performing at 11 a.m. under the direction of MaryBeth Hilbers.
The Yanike Singers perform at 11:45 a.m. with Bob Yanike as director.
Mark Harman will direct the Fremont High School Chorale starting at 12:30 p.m. Jennifer Grenier is directing the Fremont Public Schools Middle School Choir at 1:15 p.m.
The Charlie Brown show starts at 2 p.m. and the Happy Players perform at 3 p.m., at which time the silent auction for wreaths closes.
Guests may come and go as they please for the $5 donation, which allows visitors to see the show, hear the musical groups and have cider and cookies.
Event proceeds will go toward everyday expenses at the opera house.
In the meantime, cast and crew are working to bring Charlie and his friends to life on stage.
What’s one of the best parts?
“The fun we have every night at rehearsal,” Meyer said.
First State Bank and Trust is a sponsor of the event which is receiving generous support from the Nebraska Arts Council.
Christmas miracles really can happen.
And Peter Johnson has the dog to prove it.
On Monday night, the former Fremonter drove all night from his home in Denver for a reunion with his beloved dog Sammy — who disappeared more than two years ago.
“I’m absolutely happy. It’s the best early Christmas present ever,” Johnson told the Tribune via phone Tuesday morning.
Johnson, who lived in Fremont from 2013-2016, first got Sammy as a puppy four years ago. He already had a dog, Gunner, but another dog, Sasha, had died. That’s when buddy brought Johnson a puppy from Lincoln.
The female puppy, who was a mix of blue heeler, black Labrador retriever and Rottweiler, had a spunky attitude and big ears.
“It was obviously love at first sight,” Johnson said.
Johnson, Gunner and Sammy went everywhere together. Sammy went along on hunts for shed deer antlers, and she went boating.
Then one morning in October 2015, Sammy and Gunner went outside while another dog, Sadie, stayed in the house.
Gunner came back inside, but Sammy didn’t.
Johnson, then living on an acreage north of U.S. Highway 30, looked outside and called for Sammy. He put up fliers and made Facebook posts. He searched cornfields and ditches, worried she may have been hit by a car. He and friends looked for the missing dog.
“We searched about a 6-mile-square radius,” he said. “To me, it was like the dog just vanished. You would think somebody would have some sort of idea where she was.”
He started getting reports of possible sightings in the Norfolk area via Facebook. He or a friend would go to a shelter at Norfolk only to discover the dog in question wasn’t Sammy.
Time and again, Johnson would get his hopes up only to see them dashed.
After about six months, the posts trailed off. Every once in a while, someone would send him a picture, but none of the dogs were Sammy.
On Monday night, Johnson came home from work and fell asleep watching television. He woke up to several messages on his phone saying, “I think this is your dog.”
He opened a picture.
It looked like Sammy.
So he called Norfolk area resident Suzanne Davis — the woman believed to have found Sammy. Johnson told Davis about specific markings on Sammy’s chest, neck and toes. Davis photographed Sammy and sent a picture.
“It was an exact match,” Johnson said.
At about 9:30 p.m., Johnson called his boss and asked to take a personal day. His boss agreed.
An hour later, Johnson jumped in his truck with Gunner and Sadie and headed from Denver for Nebraska, driving all night.
Davis, who’s a grandmother, said she noticed Sammy last weekend.
“I was in my kitchen when I saw this dog running from one side of my house to the other, playing with my dogs who are in a fence,” she said.
Davis wondered about the dog and coaxed it to come to her. She noticed Sammy had a collar, but no dog tags.
“You could tell she was living rough. She was so skinny,” Davis said. “She was scared to death of me. I coaxed her into the garage and I almost had to carry her.”
Davis said she knew Sammy had to belong to someone.
“She wanted to come to me, but she was scared of me. Not like a wild dog,” Davis said.
Davis photographed Sammy and put the photo on her Facebook page. She eventually posted it on the Madison County Exchange, a Facebook group with more than 44,000 members.
A friend called Davis about Johnson’s dog. And after Johnson and Davis talked, he asked if he could come to Norfolk and said he’d leave right away.
“This man must love this dog,” Davis thought.
Johnson picked up a friend from Columbus to look at the dog and reached Davis’ house by about 8 a.m. Tuesday. They went to Davis’ backyard.
“At first, I didn’t even think it was my dog. She’d lost so much weight, but the markings were the same,” he said.
Johnson noticed the animal’s skittishness.
“He came in and was very gentle,” Davis said of Johnson. “She (the dog) came up and laid down next to him.”
Then Sammy rolled over for a belly rub.
“It did take her a little bit to warm up all the way to him. I think she was just not sure. When they (dogs) have been living rough and been in and out of people’s yards and been yelled at, it takes a little while,” Davis said.
Johnson whistled and the dog would come to him like she’d done before. He put Sammy in the truck with Gunner and Sadie.
When he saw the interaction between the three pups, who’d grown up together, Johnson said he knew the dog was Sammy.
“She cuddled up right in between them and before we got to the vet, she (Sammy) wouldn’t leave Sadie’s side,” he said.
Johnson said Sammy knows who he is and he’s glad to have her again.
“She’s opening up minute by minute. Nothing some food, fluid and love can’t take care of,” said Johnson, who called the reunion a miracle in a Facebook post.
Davis is happy Johnson and Sammy have been reunited.
“It was just precious,” Davis said. “I’m glad she’s found her person again and her other dogs — and as he (Johnson) said, ‘We’re a family of four again.’”
During Monday evening’s Fremont Health Board of Trustees meeting, steps were taken to allocate funding for a state-of-the-art simulation lab that will provide learning opportunities for Fremont Health staff, area healthcare professionals and Midland University nursing students.
The Board unanimously approved the request of Bill Vobejda, vice president of administration, for $800,000 which will go toward building, design and operational costs of the simulation lab, which is expected to be fully operational by fall 2018.
“Even though this is paid for entirely by philanthropy, it flows through Fremont Health’s capital budget,” Vobejda said. “And so while we will be able to get all of this money simultaneously to it being spent, we need the Board to add this because it was not under capital projects for the year.”
Located at Fremont Health, the simulation lab will provide a practice environment that features technologically advanced computerized manikins that simulate real-life scenarios within a clinical setting. Four simulation stations will be present within the lab, Vobejda said.
The collaborative initiative between Fremont Health and Midland University will provide nursing students the opportunity to practice skills, techniques, communication, problem solving and critical thinking in a safe environment.
It also offers unique learning experiences for current nurses, physicians, technicians and other individuals that support patient care. The simulation lab will be the first of its kind in the community.
Several grants have paved the way for the project to get moving. In August when Fremont Health announced that the approximately $1 million project was happening, the Rupert Dunklau Foundation provided the Fremont Health Foundation and Midland University with a $500,000 matching grant which allowed for the project to get underway while other funds were being raised.
To date, $945,500 of the $1 million has been raised, Vobejda said.
Since August, several grant applications have been accepted and several donations have been made. One family who opened a scholarship fund with the Fremont Health Foundation re-allocated those dollars.
“That family came back to us and asked us for some other options,” Vobejda said. “We provided them with three options and they chose to convert their dollars to this project.”
COPIC, Fremont Health’s insurance provider for malpractice, has a foundation that provided the hospital with a $60,000 grant going toward the simulation lab project. Additional funds are coming through an estate gift that will provide the hospital with approximately $600,000.
“They have been looking for an opportunity and a place for us to utilize that with impact,” he said. “We gave them some options and they were very excited about the simulation lab, and so the Fremont Health Foundation Board, in cooperation with the Estate, is pledging $250,000 to the project.”
In addition, Midland University was awarded a $75,000 grant which is going toward funding, and if the $1 million mark is reached, the Rupert Dunklau Foundation pledged to give an additional $100,000 – this was not included in the $945,500 amount.
Some gifts will come in over a multiple-year period.
“The Fremont Health Foundation will front money if gifts have three or four year payment terms,” Vobejda said. “They will be repaid back to the Foundation, but we will be gifting the money to the hospital, so there will be no gap in time that the hospital would incur the additional dollars to make this project happen over this next year.”
Several grants being utilized by Fremont Health were provided with the stipulation that data from the simulation lab be provided.
“Most of our grant requests have also required that we provide them feedback and data over a three-year period about the utilization,” Vobejda said. “ … This will ensure that it doesn’t just become very expensive technology sitting in a space that’s not actively used. So our collaboration with Midland has actually helped us secure a number of these grants.”
Jody Horner, president of Midland University, said that the simulation lab will be beneficial to numerous people.
“To be able to bring something to our community that benefits the community at large, the doctors, nurses and Midland, is just a wonderful collaboration — We are absolutely thrilled,” she said.
Partnering with Fremont Health has opened the door for new learning experiences, she added.
“On behalf of Midland and our professors, faculty and students, we are really grateful for the partnership that we have with Fremont Health,” Horner said. “We believe that this will be an absolute differentiator for the education that we will be able to provide.”