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Live from the porch

This time of year, a college music professor’s schedule ought to be full to the brim with concerts, student recitals, preparations for finals and everything else that comes with the hectic end of a spring semester:

Festive celebrations of beautiful music and the people who make it together.

This year is different, of course — just as it is different for virtually everyone in every profession and line of work as we navigate our way through the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

My neighbor Louie Eckhardt, assistant professor of music, director of bands and chair of the Department of Music and Theatre at Hastings College, still has a day job to do in these waning days of the academic year, teaching his dispersed students online. But campus these days is quiet, and life is slow.

Performance engagements have ceased for now, social distancing is the order of the day, and Eckhardt is spending plenty of time at home with his wife and family, where they share the worries of every other family about the economy, public health, and the well-being of aging and elderly relatives.

Fortunately, though, while you can take music out of your performance halls and bandstands and even your churches, you can’t take it out of the hearts and souls of the people who raise it to the heavens.

And that is why around 25 of Eckhardt’s friends and neighbors in the Longfellow School area were able to spend a delightful, socially distanced half hour the evening of April 27 listening to a trumpet concert from his front porch.

As birds sang in the trees overhead and lawn mowers hummed gently in the distance, listeners sat in lawn chairs, on curbs and with their backs against trees as Eckhardt held forth on four pieces: “Profile No. 2 for Solo Trumpet” by Fisher Tull; “Concerto for Trumpet in E Flat Major” by Franz Josef Haydn; “The Way Through the Woods,” a trumpet composition by Greg Simon built around a reading of the famous Rudyard Kipling poem of the same title; and the jazz standard “’Round Midnight” by Thelonius Monk.

Eckhardt played either without accompaniment or with recorded orchestrations he pulled up on his computer and piped into the yard. The show was streamed on Facebook Live for those who couldn’t make it to his front yard in person.

Eckhardt has been known to practice his trumpet on the porch even when he thinks no one is listening, or just hopes they aren’t annoyed. He said he felt moved to start playing for the neighborhood recently as the distress of the COVID-19 situation began to settle into everyone’s life, thinking some beautiful music might lift a few spirits.

After an initial, pop-up mini-concert, which he had given some friends short notice about on social media, drew appreciative comments, he decided to put together a short but diverse program and gave himself about a week to prepare.

“I thought maybe I’d do a little bit more formal performance,” he said, while noting that a polo shirt and shorts took the place of his usual concert tuxedo. “I thought, ‘I want to do things people will enjoy listening to.’ ”

While some in attendance had advance notice of the concert time and location, others just stumbled upon it while out for a walk or simply followed the music, like rats after the Pied Piper, when they heard it from their own front yards.

“I should have made some fliers to take around to the neighbors,” he said.

For Eckhardt, whose entire professional life revolves around music, losing the ability to perform for others is painful on multiple levels.

“I’m a working professional musician,” he explained. “Since this whole thing started, I’ve had two church gigs — and they were both at our church.”

araun / Andy Raun/Tribune  

Friends and neighbors listen Monday, April 27, 2020, as trumpeter Louie Eckhardt performs from his front porch in north central Hastings.

While it’s no one’s fault that so many engagements have been canceled, he said, it’s hard not to share your music, whether it’s in a Hastings Symphony Orchestra performance or in some other group or venue.

“It’s kind of like being told to shut up, in a way,” he said.

In these stressful times, Eckhardt said, continuing to engage with his music is important to him personally. He said he’s fortunate his wife, Kristen, a “recovering musician” herself, understands how he feels about that.

“The world sometimes feels like it’s crashing down around us, but we can take refuge in just making something beautiful,” he said. “I could just kind of put (the music) away and stop, but I feel like that would be a horrible thing for me.”

He said he knows the stresses he and his family are feeling these days are shared by many, especially as everyone is being urged to keep a distance from others, and that some people are feeling like prisoners in their own homes.

“All those things, for me, kind of go away with music,” Eckhardt said.

While he’s played at Carnegie Hall in New York City and finds those kinds of performance opportunities inspiring, he said, the most important thing is sharing the gift of music with others — and he wants to do that even if it’s just from his own front porch.

He recalls the words of Denny Schneider, a longtime trumpet teacher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with whom he studied, who once shared these words of wisdom:

“There’s so much ugliness in the world, and it’s our job as musicians to create something beautiful in it.”

Eckhardt said he plans to perform from the porch again sometime soon. He’ll post his plans online, and get some fliers put together this time.

His neighbors — now fans — will be staying tuned.

Andy Raun is editor and news director at the Hastings Tribune. Contact him at 402-303-1419 or araun@hastingstribune.com.

Teaching 'all about relationships' for Raun

Her mother knew before she did; Ruth Raun was meant to be a teacher.

“She didn’t tell me until years later,” Raun said, “but she said she saw my face light up like she had never seen it light up.”

Raun was recalling a visit to her cousin’s classroom as an eighth-grader on the family’s way back from dropping an older sister off at college in Michigan when, naturally, she hadn’t yet realized her true potential, or her ability to positively affect lives — which, undoubtedly, she has.

“I wanted to be an astronaut. I am fascinated by outer space,” she said. “Then it was medicine I was fascinated with. But I came to realize I was destined to go down this path.”

Raun comes from a family of educators. Her mother taught one-room school and in a parochial system. Two of her sisters teach, as well. And so have “several aunts, uncles, cousins.”

Growing up in poverty, Raun, along with many of her siblings, saw education as her way out of that. She pursued that passion in the University of Nebraska system, eventually graduating from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in December 1996.

Living in Hastings as a newlywed during her senior year, Raun found exactly where she wanted to teach. Walking through the neighborhood surrounding Longfellow Elementary one day with her husband, Andy, she was in awe at the school’s architecture. She loved the stone columns and the brick and windows and the historical presence.

“Something hit me. I was still in college, but I just got this overwhelming feeling that (Longfellow) was the school I was going to end up at,” Raun said. “And at that point I had never met any teachers, I didn’t know anything about the school, it just felt like home.”

Eventually, she partially realized why seeing Longfellow for the first time had that effect on her. Raun grew up in Minden. The elementary school in the Christmas City and Longfellow were designed by the same architect.

Her love for Longfellow, its staff and especially its students, only blossomed. After substituting for the school multiple times, she accepted her first job there.

Now, as she finishes up her 23rd year of teaching there, Raun has never wanted be anywhere else.

Her devotion to her craft, teaching 10 years of first grade and the last 13 in fourth grade, earned her the 2020 Hastings Public Schools Educator of the Year award.

HPS officials officially presented her with the honor April 17 at her home with a socially distanced celebration.

What has long stood out about Raun to parents of her students, fellow teachers and administration is the special bond she develops with those she teaches.

“Teaching is an art. It’s a creative act, it’s a personal act,” Raun said. “I feel like a lot of the focus in education has gotten away from that art and that passion and has moved more toward a numbers game. Is learning important in education? You bet. Is it the only thing, though? Absolutely not.

“It is all about relationships.”

The east stairwell at Longfellow houses a perfect example of that. A collaborative, eye-catching work of art by Mary Vaughan spans most of the white wall behind it, midway up the flight.

Titled “The Joy of Life: Peace, Play, Harmony, and Beauty,” and constructed with many individually painted blocks — some showcasing self-portraits of students and others featuring vivid designs, the spacious rectangle was completed in 2003 under the direction of Vaughan, a former Longfellow student turned California artist who returned to town for an artist-in-residency at the school.

In the very center, two white columns, representative of the beautifully-architected school it rests in, bookend a circle of students and a teacher holding hands and dancing around a cornfield with a portrait of the school’s namesake, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and two white doves.

That teacher, blonde with glasses and wearing a long blue dress with a white undershirt, is modeled after Raun.

In 2007, Vaughan returned to the school for another residency week after Raun was named Walmart Teacher of the Year and used her stipend to bring Vaughan back to develop another painting for the west stairwell.

This project, of the same collaborative style as the first, featured pillars to highlight Longfellow’s Character Education Program — which Raun helped implement “to help improve the overall climate of the school and behavior.” Members of the committee that developed the program adopted four qualities they wanted in all members of Longfellow: respect, responsibility, compassion and integrity.

“That was 23 years ago, and I am so proud to say that those four words are still the traits that we focus on,” said Raun, who is one of three teachers left at Longfellow who helped kickstart the program.

Longfellow since has won two national awards from the Character Education Partnership.

“Our Character Ed Program has been going strong since then. It’s really the culture of our school, and it makes our school unique,” Raun said. “I think everyone who comes into the building recognizes how important it is.”

What makes Raun unique are her personal classroom initiatives like her “Word Gifts” and the “Genius Hour.”

Raun adapted the word gift idea from a couple of presentations she witnessed while at conferences. One speaker noted that one of the best gifts a teacher can provide is a rich vocabulary.

Another maintained that just because these are young kids who are being taught, it shouldn’t mean teachers should have to “dumb down” their own vocabulary.

“We should go ahead and use the words we use as adults and then just explain to them what they mean,” Raun explained.

“I was kind of fascinated by both of those things, so I decided the following year that every single day I’m going to give the students a word adults would use but kids wouldn’t normally use. I’d give the definition, come up with some examples, use it in a sentence. Just a really quick, few-minute activity every day. I really felt like I was giving them a gift because this is something you can carry with you the rest of your life. It will make you a better reader, a better writer, a better speaker.”

Initially, Raun would compile a list of words she thought might be “accessible” to fourth-graders.

Now, her students regularly recommend words they think would be good “word gifts,” each of which is placed up on the wall after they are used. This year, based on a student’s idea, the students snapped their fingers anytime a word gift was read in a book or said aloud.

“I was like, ‘That is great because it’s helping them remember the words and listen for them,’ “ Raun said.

The Genius Hour, which Raun brought to Longfellow as a pilot initiative along with second-grade teacher Charla Brant, is a weeks-long project near the end of the academic year where students are allotted an hour on Friday afternoons to study a topic of their choosing. It was adapted from Google allowing employees to spend 20% of their time a week to work on work-related projects that might bloom new ideas and products.

Genius Hour now has been adopted in many classrooms at Longfellow. Brant was HPS Educator of the Year in 2016 and now is principal at Alcott Elementary.

In Raun’s classroom, students pick something “focused, but not so specific” to research and present what they’ve learned to the class. Unfortunately, due to the novel coronavirus disease pandemic dismissing school for the semester in March, it didn’t happen this spring.

Raun’s educational innovation has attracted much attention from her colleagues and superiors. But while she appreciates the recognition she has received, it’s not why she teaches. That, she does because of the interpersonal connection.

“At its foundation, teaching is really just about people and about humans who all have unique characteristics, needs and strengths,” Raun said. “That’s what we need to focus on in education, I think.”

Restrictions eased for religion, elective procedures

Elective medical procedures and religious services, including weddings and funerals, will be allowed under revised directed health measures for the South Heartland District Health Department, officials said Friday during the city’s weekly video press conference.

Other restrictions previously in place for the four-county South Heartland district of Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties are set to remain in place until May 31 to continue fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

Michele Bever, South Heartland executive director, said the revised directed health measures will go into effect on Monday morning.

She said Gov. Pete Ricketts may change the directed health measures, depending on certain metrics such as the health care system capacity and the rates of positive cases.

“Trending down could mean that the directed health measures are relaxed sooner than May 31 for us,” she said. “On the other hand, some of those other health districts that may have relaxed measures starting May 4, they’re going to be following the same criteria and if their numbers do not trend down, they could have restrictions put in place again.”

The revised measures won’t be the same for every district, she said. For the South Central district, most of the restrictions will remain the same with two exceptions: Elective medical procedures and religious services.

Starting Monday, elective medical surgeries and procedures will be allowed as long as the facilities maintain and dedicate 30% of general bed capacity, 30% of ICU bed capacity and 30% of ventilator capacity for non-elective surgery/procedure patients. In addition, these facilities must maintain a two-week supply of necessary personal protective equipment to sustain hospital operations at 100% capacity.

Eric Barber, Mary Lanning Healthcare president and CEO, said the hospital plans to resume elective procedures on Monday with the change in restrictions. He said anyone who has been delaying medical treatment for fear of catching the coronavirus disease shouldn’t worry.

“There’s no reason to try to avoid getting the necessary medical treatment that you need,” he said. “When you come to the hospital, we will absolutely keep you safe. When you go to a physician’s clinic, they will keep you safe. It is in fact safe to go back to seeking the medical treatment you may have been delaying.”

Barber reported that the hospital has dropped from 10 COVID-19 patients last week to seven as of Friday morning. He said the hospital has been working to increase testing as needed, but it’s clear that there are cases in the community.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure we get as many people tested as need to be tested,” he said.

The second exception is for religious services, including weddings or funerals. Services are allowed but will be limited to the ceremony or service only. During religious ceremonies and services, individuals or families must maintain a minimum of 6 feet of separation and items should not be shared or distributed between different parties.

State officials issued guidelines for the conduct of faith-based services, emphasizing that the reopening of houses of worship during the continuing threat of the coronavirus should not be interpreted as a diminution of the threat of the virus. Faith leaders are responsible for the safety of those who attend services in houses of worship and must limit physical participation on the premises depending on the size and structure of the house of worship.

The guidelines are as follows:

Encourage those who are sick or at risk to stay home. This includes:

The elderly

People with underlying medical conditions

Family members who live with elderly people or those who are at risk

People who have access to those at risk in nursing institutions

People who have upper respiratory or flu-like symptoms

People who live with someone with upper respiratory or flu-like symptoms

People with COVID-19 or live with someone with COVID-19

People who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19

Seating in houses of worship should be arranged in such a way as to maintain appropriate social distancing between parties. A “party” should be understood to include members of a household who live together and therefore may be seated together in the house of worship, but should maintain 6 feet of social distance from other parties.

Seating, doors, restrooms, common areas, etc., should be sanitized between services.

Faith communities are encouraged to continue the use of video and other streaming technologies to allow members of their communities to remain connected to the larger community without being physically present.

Faith communities are encouraged to add additional service times to allow for appropriate social distancing. Where appropriate, the use of overflow rooms and the continuation of drive-in services can be effective in maintaining proper social distancing.

The passing of a common collection basket or any other item between parties is contrary to good health practices at this time as it would contribute to the spread of the virus and is therefore not permitted. The use of a central collection basket or multiple baskets depending on the size of the house of worship and size of group present is allowed.

The use of sacred books, hymnals, missals, etc. that remain in the house of worship for the general use by those present isn’t permitted as such materials can facilitate the spread of the virus. Those attending may bring their own sacred books to the service and take them home after the service. Alternatively, the house of worship could provide clean copies of such books for the exclusive use of individuals or parties which would be taken home by the parties after each service.

Fellowship, social gatherings or other functions before or after the services on the premises of the house of worship aren’t permitted.

Children should remain with their parents or guardians and refrain from congregating or interacting with children of other parties on the premises. For example, nursery services aren’t permitted.

It is essential for the safety of those attending services that their arrival and departure be managed in such a way as to prevent interaction between parties. Appropriate steps should be taken to dismiss and pace the departure of those present at the conclusion of the service so as to prevent the interaction between parties as distances less than 6 feet.

The use of staff or volunteers to hold open doors to the house of worship so that those attending aren’t touching common door handles is highly encouraged.

Religious services that include a distribution of communion are highly encouraged to adhere to additional precautions including:

Faith traditions that allow for the use of pre-packaged communion elements are encouraged to do so.

The use of a common communion cup shared between parties isn’t permitted as it would obviously contribute to the spread of the virus.

Sound medical judgment would require that any person involved in the distribution of communion first thoroughly wash and sanitize his/her hands.

Prudent implementation of social distancing would highly suggest that persons receiving communion from a faith leader should do so in single file lines (not side by side) with 6 feet of distancing between persons. Releasing one row at a time for communion will prevent long lines from forming that would compromise social distancing.

Funeral services held in funeral homes are permissible so long as such services comply with the above guidelines. Receiving lines aren’t permitted. Receptions, meal functions, or other gatherings before or after the service are subject to the 10-person rule.

Wedding services held in venues other than in houses of worship are permissible so long as such services comply with the above guidelines. Receiving lines aren’t permitted. Receptions, meal functions, or other gatherings before or after the service are subject to the 10-person rule.

As of Friday night, the total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed to date in the South Heartland district was 207, with 192 cases in Adams County, 10 in Clay, five in Webster and none in Nuckolls County. Bever said Friday morning that about 107 people who had tested positive for the disease have since recovered, including making it through the symptoms and isolation period.

There were two more COVID-19-related deaths Thursday, which brought the total in Adams County to four.

“This just underscores the seriousness of the disease,” she said. “We encourage everyone to continue practicing social distancing and prevention.”