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Noa Pola-Gates (left) of Williams Field in Gilbert, Ariz., is part of a four-man defensive back recruiting class for Nebraska in 2019.

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Wade's Barber Shop and the black man behind the red chair creating a community

That summer day when the newspaper photographer showed up, Lela Shanks was getting a haircut, the barber trimming close behind the civil rights leader’s ears.

A boy named Michael Brown smiled into the mirror from the red barber chair, his curly hair shorn short by Mr. Wade.

All that long-ago Saturday, regulars wandered in and out of the small brick building at 2230 R St., where six chairs lined the window and a payphone hung on the wall.

It was 1993 and Wade’s Barber Shop had been in business nearly 30 years, the man with the shears soon to retire and move west to Las Vegas.

Otha Wade is 87. He and his wife, Beverly, are still living in the desert, where they’d come to escape the cold and be closer to some of his 16 brothers and sisters, all of them gone now.

The retired barber came back to Lincoln a few years ago to accept an award for his part in building the black community here.

You can find the video if you search hard enough, a ballroom lined with tables for the Malone Days banquet; Joe Casmer, master of ceremonies, honoring Wade for opening one of the first black-owned businesses in the Malone neighborhood.

It became a meeting place for young and old, from grade school to adults, from all walks of life for haircuts and sometimes your quiet advice after sharing problems from work or at home. It meant a lot to those young men for many years … we thank you, Mr. Wade, for moving here to this community...

Casmer once lived next to Wade’s, the barber shop surrounded by homes and a church, a laundromat, a mechanic’s shop.

He remembers the pinball machine in the back room, the two barber shops Wade opened before R Street. The man who ran more than a business, quietly creating lifelong connections.

“A fine human being,” said Ed Wimes. “A fine gentleman and a father figure to a lot of those young kids.”

Barber shops are traditional hubs in the African-American community, Wimes said. And Wade’s fit that bill, a combination community center and church, a place to read the paper, network, meet a neighbor you didn’t know you had.

A place to be surrounded by people who look like you.

Wade’s son, Tommy, remembers it that way, too.

“I would spend a lot of time just listening to the elders talk about social problems and politics and sports, and just debating and laughing.”

He remembers leaders like Lt. Col. Paul Adams, the famous Tuskegee airman, and Wright Robinson, who fought for equal opportunity, and Gerald Henderson, the first director of the Human Rights Commission.

Role models from Lincoln’s black community who, like Shanks, came to his dad for haircuts and more.

Lincoln Star archives  

Barber Otha Wade trims Lela Shanks’ hair at his barber shop in 1993.

And Mr. Wade was a role model right back.

Casmer remembers a story: a young kid, a teenager, drinking beer on the street outside the barber shop.

“Wade came out and quietly said, ‘That isn’t what a good young man does,’ and then he turned around and walked back into his barbershop.”

The barber grew up just outside Huntsville, Alabama. His parents farmed -- cotton and corn and wheat.

He joined the Air Force in 1951, a few months before he got his draft notice from the Marines. He met his wife, Beverly, when he was stationed at the Lincoln Air Base and they had two sons.

Wade was stationed in Puerto Rico when he was granted a hardship discharge to return home to care for his young family.

And he needed to find a new job. He lasted 13 days at the VA hospital, Wade says, delivering trays of food to patients for $1.13 an hour.

He would spend the next year in shipping and receiving at Wells & Frost, the hometown shoe store on O Street.

But he didn’t want to spend his life schlepping boxes of Buster Browns, and Wade got to thinking.

He knew from his years in Lincoln how hard it was for a black man to find a black barber.

“There were no African-American barber shops at the time and just one guy cutting hair out of his house.”

So he signed up for barbering classes and when he graduated nine months later -- school during the day, a cleaning job at night -- the college helped him get situated in business.

“I was pretty busy. I had the air base guys before they moved out, and I had all the black community.”

Black athletes got wind of Wade’s Barber Shop and wandered over. Johnny Rodgers trusted Wade with his hair and so did Mike Rozier and a host of black basketball players. (A black assistant coach left tickets with his name on them at the box office. Anytime Mr. Wade wanted to watch a game, he had a seat.)

Former hoops star Albert Maxey came in for a haircut when he became a police officer on foot patrol in the neighborhood.

And Bill Bryant came to Wade’s to get his afro shaped when he arrived in Lincoln for college and to play football for the Huskers in 1974.

“One of the first things you want to find out is where the community center is and where the black churches are and where the black barbershops were,” said Bryant, a student advocate for Lincoln Public Schools.

“Standard procedure was to sit and chew the fat with the other people in the shop waiting and in the chair and with Otha.”

The football player and the barber formed a bond as his hair went from an afro to a fade.

They traveled south to visit their families more than once after discovering they’d grown up within 15 miles from one another, Bryant across the river from Huntsville in Decatur.

“He was never boisterous, just a soft-spoken, get-it-done kind of guy. That was his southern upbringing.”

In the early years of his barbering career, tragedy came to the Wade house when their oldest son, Gregory, 13, died.

“He had the flu and he didn’t recover.”

Eventually, Wade would return to the Nebraska Air National Guard, first in the reserves and then full time, where he would receive a Meritorious Service Medal in 1987, the second enlisted man in its history to receive the honor.

A senior master sergeant who would rush from his day job to open the barber shop at 4 and cut hair until dark, back again all day on Saturdays.

He would open a barbecue joint on one side of the brick building and, for a spell, customers could have lunch and a haircut.

And he warmly welcomed white customers to his shop, too.

“Everything went along smooth,” Wade says. “I didn’t have any problems with race; I could cut anybody’s hair, no problem.”

Wade keeps a copy of that newspaper story from 1993 on his wall at home in Las Vegas, he and Beverly great-grandparents now, slowing down.

Lincoln Star archives  

In 1993, the Lincoln Star shot photos of Otha Wade and his barber shop.

Bryant pays them a visit anytime he’s anywhere near the city, a bond that began long ago in a red barber’s chair.

Not the only one.

The Malone Days master of ceremonies learned a lot about the man who cut his hair -- and his son’s hair -- all those years ago when he put together Mr. Wade’s bio for that award in 2016.

But there was one thing Joe Casmer already knew.

“He’s much more than a barber. He’s a good man.”

AAA: Cold weather can cut electric car range over 40 percent

DETROIT — Cold temperatures can sap electric car batteries, temporarily reducing their range by more than 40 percent when interior heaters are used, a new study found.

The study of five electric vehicles by AAA also found that high temperatures can cut into battery range, but not nearly as much as the cold. The range returns to normal in more comfortable temperatures.

Many owners discovered the range limitations last week when much of the country was in the grips of a polar vortex. Owners of vehicles made by manufacturers including Tesla, the top-selling electric vehicle company in the U.S., complained on social media about reduced range and frozen door handles during the cold snap.

"As long as drivers understand that there are limitations when operating electric vehicles in more extreme climates, they are less likely to be caught off guard by an unexpected drop in driving range," Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering, said in a statement.

AAA tested the BMW i3s, Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf from the 2018 model year, and the 2017 Tesla Model S 75D and Volkswagen e-Golf. All have a range of at least 100 miles per charge. They were tested on a dynamometer, which is like a treadmill, in a climate-controlled cell.

The automobile club tested the cars at 20 degrees and 95 degrees, comparing the range to when they were tested at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a report on the study.

At 20 degrees, the average driving range fell by 12 percent when the car's cabin heater was not used. When the heater was turned on, the range dropped by 41 percent, AAA said.

At 95 degrees, range dropped 4 percent without use of air conditioning, and fell by 17 percent when the cabin was cooled, the study found.

For example, AAA's testers determined that the Tesla's range when fully charged at 75 degrees was 239 miles, but it fell 91 miles, or 38 percent, at 20 degrees.

In a statement, Tesla disputed the AAA results. The company said that based on data collected from its cars on the road, "the average Model S customer doesn't experience anywhere near that decrease in range." The company said the range dropped by roughly 1 percent at 95 degrees, but it would not release a percentage for cold weather.

AAA said it followed test procedures drawn up by SAE, an auto engineering trade group.


A 2018 Model X is plugged into a charging station at a Tesla dealership on May 27 in Littleton, Colo.

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Supporters of bill to ban workplace discrimination of LGBTQ workers exceed opponents

For 90 minutes on Thursday afternoon, the Legislature's Judiciary Committee heard people testify — most for three minutes each — on their support for passing a law that would prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

They were people from the LGBTQ community of Nebraska, their parents and siblings and friends.

Opponents to the issued were at the podium for a combined 35 minutes. They mostly talked about religious freedoms, business freedoms and the right of women to not have to share safe or private spaces, such as bathrooms, with members of the opposite sex.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who herself has a son who is gay, introduced the bill (LB627) that would make it unlawful for an employer, employment agency or a labor organization to discriminate against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It would apply to employers having 15 or more workers and those with contracts, regardless of the number of employees, with the state of Nebraska, governmental agencies and political subdivisions.

The law already prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin. 

"The bill protects Nebraskans against being fired simply for who they are and whom they love," Pansing Brooks said. "How twisted and cruel to think we can judge love. Yet this is still happening in Nebraska today." 

This is a sampling of people who testified in support of the bill: 

Eli Rigatuso, a transgender man who came out in May 2015 and said that two years later he was being discriminated against at work and harassed by co-workers. 

"I suffered a lot in that short period of time. It weighed a lot on my mental health. I considered leaving Nebraska a number of times," he said. "It's because of these types of bills coming forward that I stayed, because it gives me hope.

"How I wish to be treated is to be seen, valued and affirmed as a citizen of Nebraska, as a human being, as a life." 

Erin Porterfield, executive director of Heartland Workplace Solutions in Omaha, said Nebraska doesn't have the number of people needed to fill current and projected work openings. 

"In this low-unemployment environment, we need to retain this local talent and attract talent from outside states," she said. 

States with nondiscrimination laws show improvement in economic growth, she said. Nebraska's lack of such a law works against companies looking for talent. 

"Young talent and people, in general, are interested in personal freedoms, not limitations," she said. "People who are LGBTQ want to work where they can bring their whole self, and decisions and the environment that we are creating right now will set that course for our welcoming of future talent."

Kayla Meyer of Lincoln Young Professionals, a group of more than 1,700 young business leaders, said the bill would create a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

"Fairness and equal treatment are fundamental values of our state, are essential for a welcoming economy and perhaps most importantly they are the basis of our anti-discrimination law," she said. 

Danielle Conrad, executive director ACLU of Nebraska: "Let me just start by saying this to all of my LGBTQ neighbors in Nebraska: We see you. We love you. We hear you. And we will never stop fighting until equality means equality for everyone, until freedom means freedom for everyone." 

Nine people testified as opponents. They included: 

Matt Sharp with Alliance Defending Freedom, said laws like LB627 are not fair to everyone, impacting people of faith, women, girls and kids in the foster system. They force people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. 

He gave the example of the baker in Colorado, Jack Phillips, who faced a lawsuit because he denied a gay couple a wedding cake for religious reasons. The Supreme Court partially upheld his denial, but now he faces another lawsuit for bias. 

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said everyone should be treated with respect and dignity, but the bill goes beyond protecting against unjust discrimination. It uses government coercion and punishment to force individuals and employers to promote conduct and messages that conflict with sincerely held moral and religious beliefs on marriage and human sexuality.  

John Dockery of Omaha, a retired small business owner, said sexual orientation and gender identity is a movement and a belief, and should not be considered as a protected class.

"We already have creed in our list of classes, to protect our beliefs from discrimination," he said. "Adding sexuality orientation and gender identity as an individual class prioritizes it over others' beliefs."