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Bruce “BJ” Fictum

B.J. Fictum was one of those everywhere people.

A mainstay in Saline County's emergency management offices for a quarter century, Fictum led responses to natural disasters — tornadoes, floods and sometimes combinations of both — as well as man-made crises.

His was the baritone voice that talked a million miles a minute about the latest supercell or snowstorm, while his words and pictures were those filling the pages of small-town newspapers across Southeast Nebraska.

No matter the place, no matter the time, Fictum — who died Saturday at the age of 54 — was there.

"So many people say that he had a love for life," said his mother, Carol, in a phone interview Tuesday. "He loved helping people, he loved being an emergency manager and covering the smaller schools' sports."

When Wilber-Clatonia qualified for the Class C-2 football playoffs in November 2016, Fictum was laid up in the hospital battling a blood infection and other complications stemming from diabetes.

But when the Wolverines took the field against Crofton at Memorial Stadium for the championship game, Fictum was there on the sideline, wheeling back and forth, snapping photos of the players and greeting well-wishers.

It was surprising, but not unexpected, Wilber-Clatonia coach Lynn Jurgens said.

"It certainly raised our spirits," Jurgens said. "He really cared about the kids in our program, and was happy when we had success."

Fictum's passion for sharing the triumphs of young athletes went beyond Wilber-Clatonia, encompassing neighboring districts like Tri County, Meridian, Exeter-Milligan and others.

Chris Placek said Fictum was always there to take photos at Tri County athletic events when he was a student in the early 1990s.

And Fictum was the one taking team photos for the wrestlers at Meridian High School in Daykin, where Placek now coaches, on Nov. 16.

"He loved to be around the kids and show off their accomplishments," Placek said. "He was friendly as can be and always in it for the kids' best interests."

The last time Placek said he heard from Fictum was on Dec. 1, as the wrestling team navigated a snowstorm to get to a tournament.

Fictum regularly gave area coaches and parents updates on the weather as they criss-crossed the state for their activities.

"He was worried about us," Placek said.

The intersection of his two passions kept Fictum going around the clock, said John McKee, the emergency management coordinator for Jefferson County.

"I don't think (he) ever slept," said McKee, who took over for Fictum after the Saline County board decided not to reappoint the long-time county employee in 2016.

"B.J. would be the one who contacted us in the middle of the night if something was going on; he was always up and watching," McKee said. "Or, we'd wake up the next morning and there would be an email B.J. sent at 2 or 3 a.m."

McKee said Fictum was a willing teacher and eager to collaborate on projects, particularly across county lines, becoming an invaluable resource in the process.

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One of Fictum's ideas was to organize a severe weather seminar every spring, where he brought in meteorologists and climatologists, storm chasers and others who shared in his passion.

Bonding over a love of photography, Jeremy Bower said he and Fictum struck up a quick friendship when he first attended the severe weather conference in 2008.

"He was a weather nerd, and I'm a weather nerd," Bower said.

Fictum was always quick to ask how he could help Bower promote and grow his storm photography business, giving him room to display his work for hundreds of people to admire every year.

Ahead of Fictum's final conference in 2017, Bower said Fictum asked him to be the final keynote speaker of the day.

"I asked him why he wanted me in that spot when there were all these other noteworthy speakers from the weather community coming in, and B.J. looked up at me and smirked," Bower recalled. "He said, 'Because you earned it.'"

Carol Fictum, who adopted B.J. at 3 months old — the "B" stands for Bruce — with her husband Ramon, said her son was accomplished in so many other ways, too.

Fictum was an accomplished pianist, touring Europe to accompany a choir when he was in high school, and later picking up the organ so he could play at church, and was active in keeping Wilber's Czech heritage alive through organizing youth and community events.

Despite his health problems over recent years, Carol said her son maintained a positive outlook: "Such is life," he would say.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Wilber Sokol Hall. Kuncl Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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