by Kurt Johnson
Golden glow creates nasty Catch 22 PDF E-mail

If I play more golf, I could get more cancer spots on my face. Talk about a cruel Catch 22.
The reality of that dilemma hit me right between the eyes last week -- or more precisely, on the edge of my left eye. An odd-looking mole turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, one of many troublesome spots I’ve had removed over the years in a condition shared by several members of my family.
This one was different, however. It got my attention and rattled my nerves because of its close proximity to the eye. An exam that started with my local doctor advanced to a Grand Island dermatologist, then to a specialist in Omaha, and eventually a visit with a plastic surgeon, who would be available “just in case” the cancer was deep enough that major reconstructive surgery, or potential eye damage, would come into play.
Whoa! All this because of the sun?
I share these details not because I like my life to be an open book, but because my story is becoming more and more common in our sun-loving society. Even more troubling, in my opinion, is that an astounding number of today’s teenagers bypass the sun and lie down in tanning beds in search of a suntan’s “healthy glow.”
I understand the appeal, honestly. I’ve never been in a tanning booth, but I spent hours and hours under the sun in my early days, sometimes wearing sun lotion, sometimes not. It felt good, and healthy, to add a little color to my mug.
My perspective has changed dramatically.
When I was under the knife in Omaha, my surgeon, Dr. David Watts, told me that after spending years treating skin cancer patients he has seen enough. He is so concerned with the impact of an unregulated tanning bed industry in our state that he volunteered to be vice chair of the Nebraska Cancer Coalition, helping launch a campaign to protect youth from preventable skin cancers.
“It’s addictive,” Watts said of the tanning bed appeal. “Kids get started in high school and often times wind up with multiple skin cancers for the rest of their lives.”
Nearly 30 percent of teenagers in America (especially girls who often seek that special glow for prom, swimsuit season and life in general) use tanning machines. Fueling the fire is a tanning bed industry which targets young people with often misleading advertising. Watts believes that is why new cases of malignant melanoma have risen 8-fold since 1970.
“Tanning people push that there are some medical indications for using tanning beds, and we disagree,” Watts said of his medical colleagues, citing claims that tanning beds can help prevent cancer, treat depression, and even aid in weight loss. “All those arguments have a kernel of truth with a lot of misinformation.”
The bottom line, which Watts said is based on undisputable, scientific fact, is that the amounts of UVA and UVB rays in unregulated tanning beds vary widely, but average two to four times greater than direct sunlight at noon. Such heavy doses of exposure to a growing youth market convinced researchers that three out of every four melanomas in patients under the age of 30 were from tanning bed use.
Hoping to dim the tanning bed lights,Watts and the Nebraska Cancer Coalition endorsed LB 132, a bill initially aimed at banning the use of tanning beds by minors under the age of 18. Five other states have such a law, though Nebraska lawmakers chose to “water down” the bill, only requiring that parents accompany children under the age of 16 when they go to a tanning booth.
It’s a start, Watts said, though the battle has only just begun. His focus now is to restrict advertising aimed at high school students.
As for me, I didn’t need the plastic surgeon after all, thank God, and avoided major scarring on my face. I’ll take the doctor’s advice and buy some wraparound sunglasses to better shield my eyes and wear wide-brim hats when I golf. SPF 50 sun lotion goes on twice a day, every day, and will for the rest of my life.
What I can’t do is erase the damage caused by too much sun at an early age. Here’s hoping a new generation, armed with better information and real-world testimonials, will learn from my mistakes.
KURT JOHNSON can be reached at kjohnson@

A familar face back at the News-Register PDF E-mail

There’s a familiar face back in the office next door to mine.

Due to an unexpected transition at the News-Register, longtime managing editor Laurie Pfeifer has rejoined our team, this time in a transitional role.

Laurie needs no introduction in Aurora or Hamilton County, having written about and spent quality time with many of you over the past 38 years. She knows our community, as well as this newspaper operation, inside and out, which makes her an invaluable resource and a trusted friend.

Though she officially retired in October, Laurie graciously agreed to step back under center and help lead the news team while we begin our search for a new editor. Paula and I would like to publicly thank Laurie for her support, knowing even before we begin that she will help make this transition go as smoothly as possible.

One of the reasons her veteran hand will be so helpful in the coming weeks is that there is a whole lot going on these days in Hamilton County. This community never seems to hit the pause button, which is a good thing if you’re in the news business, working hard to fill 32-plus pages week in and week out.

I have noticed a trend over the years come January, or so I thought. After the holiday season winds down, and with snow typically covering the ground, it seemed to me that there was a lot less activity as families and business owners caught their collective breath and hunkered in for the heart of winter.

That just isn’t the case this year, and in fact our staff tells me I can’t make that claim any longer. We have as many projects on the front burner as in the heat of summer, and just as many on the drawing board.

Why? The Aurora Cooperative’s new headquarters is one example, a visionary partnership with The Leadership Center which prompted a special edition in mid-January. Not too many, if any, rural communities are opening the door these days on an $8 million facility, and we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t tell that story in detail.

Hamilton Telecommunications is making major headlines this week, yet another Aurora-based company investing resources in the future. We’re keeping an eye on the Aventine ethanol plants as well, hoping they fire up soon in what would be a front-runner for top story of the year as soon as it rolled off the press.

Add to that talk of a new Aurora subdivision, and possible annexation; a busy time of transition and expansion on the local business front; new NRD water regulations that have the farm community buzzing; plus a full winter sports calendar, and you can see why we need all hands on deck.

Welcome back, Laurie, if only for a while.

After all the hype, Sunday’s Super Bowl landed with a thud. In reality, it never really got off the ground.

Having grown up three hours from Denver, I’ve always been a Bronco fan and was hoping to see Peyton Manning ink his legacy with a signature Super Bowl win. Instead, Seattle’s swarming defense, and the warm fuzzy Budweiser commercial, stole the show.

KURT JOHNSON can be reached at kjohnson@

JFK: The end of innocence PDF E-mail

It was, in many ways, the symbolic end of America’s innocence.

On that tragic day 50 years ago in Dallas, our nation not only lost a young, vibrant president who embodied the hope of a new generation, but for many a sense of post-war optimism was pierced with a wound that has not healed.

I was eight months old on Nov. 22, 1963, so I can’t answer the question so many are being asked this week. Where were you when you heard the news, and how did it affect you? The News-Register asked several local citizens that question (see related article), which made for an interesting read.

Fifty years later, I, like many, remain captivated by the Camelot era and have watched and read many of the special reports on the subject. I learned that I am in the minority, however, according to a Gallup poll, in that I do not believe the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a conspiracy plot.

An estimated 40,000 books have been written about JFK. Many of them, naturally, focused on the shooting in Dallas. Not nearly enough attention, in my opinion, has been given to journalist and author Max Holland’s 2003 report, touted as “one of the most exhaustive examinations ever conducted into the Warren Commission’s investigation.”

Holland concludes, after some plausible and very fascinating research, that Lee Harvey Oswald did in fact act alone. My how much internal angst and agony our nation could have avoided if that would have been the shared consensus five decades ago.

Using state-of-the-art technology not available back in 1963, Holland disproved the “magic bullet” theory, for example. Compiling data from numerous home videos captured that day, including the infamous Zapruder film, Holland shined a laser light from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository down to the exact spot where the second shot struck. It proves, convincingly in my opinion, that due to Kennedy’s raised seat the bullet could have passed through the president and then struck Gov. Connelly in a very direct path.

Holland’s high-tech study also concluded that the first shot, the “missing bullet,” may have incredibly struck an overhead traffic light signal more than 11 seconds before the final, fatal blow. Video taken just five days after the shooting offers evidence in the form of a white mark on the black light signal casing, though tragically it was never inspected up close and has long since been removed.

There are many other aspects of Holland’s report which offer logical explanations to questions that were not properly asked or answered by the Warren Report. Unfortunately, many Americans prefer to believe the Oliver Stone version of what happened before and after the shooting in Texas.

I must admit that I was shaken by Stone’s “JFK” movie in 1991, and left the theater with the notion that perhaps my own country was hiding the truth for some unknown reason. I knew it was just a movie, but it portrayed a distrust in government that many had, and apparently still have.

In that sense, the Kennedy assassination was a watershed moment in American history. No matter what we believe actually happened that day, there can be no argument that it forever changed our nation and our world.

KURT JOHNSON can be reached at kjohnson@

Man of honor PDF E-mail

Hamilton County lost a true friend and public servant this week with the passing of former state senator Bob Kremer.

Bob was one of the good guys, a man with few adversaries and a gentle soul whom many considered a trusted friend. He was a man of faith, first and foremost, which gave him a grace and sense of quiet confidence that helped him be an effective listener and leader. He was always willing to lend an ear, whether working in the halls of the state capitol or visiting one-on-one with a constituent, fellow farmer or resident of his beloved hometown Aurora.

The son of a respected state senator, Maurice Kremer, Bob seemed destined for public service. He spoke openly about the valued role of trusted leadership and looked for opportunity to offer his own voice of reason to the causes and organizations that meant the most to him.

Agriculture was at the top of that list, obviously, and Bob devoted much of his life to working the land and supporting the industry in a variety of ways. He reached his pinnacle of influence as chairman of the legislature’s Agriculture Committee, a position he took very seriously in his final years as a senator.

Even during that time, however, Bob Kremer remained humble and grounded in faith. You never heard him raise his voice or speak ill of someone with a differing view, traits our state and nation could use more of these days. No matter how hot the topic or how high the political stakes, people who dealt with Bob knew they would get a good listen and a fair shake.

On a personal note, the thing I’ll remember most about Bob is his genuine sincerity. When Bob shook your hand and asked how things were going, most often with wife Bev right there by his side, you got the overwhelming feeling that he meant it. Every single person mattered, in his eyes, and he would listen closely to what you had to say. His caring personality made you want to engage and work or volunteer make a difference, which helped him have a profound and positive influence during his lifetime.

We join the community in offering our warmest condolences to his family, who can be comforted in knowing that Bob touched so many lives in a positive and influential way. He lived an honorable life and left a legacy any man would be proud to call his own.

Kurt Johnson

Ready for harvest PDF E-mail

Talk about pressure.

The combination of a pending harvest, Highway 34 improvements and a massive $63 million expansion project have been cause for stress these days at the Syngenta plant near Phillips. A project that’s been in the planning stages for years is now ready to roll into production mode, and just in the nick of time.

With so many pieces of this giant puzzle coming together, it’s been a hectic spring and summer at the local plant. You wouldn’t necessarily know it by talking to plant manager Bill Hunter III, who seems as cool as a cucumber (at least on the outside).

Sometime this week, the pressure will shift from the construction crews to an expanded Syngenta staff charged with operating this new state-of-the-art facility. It’s an impressive complex, both in sheer size and functionality.

Local residents, as well as Highway 34 commuters, have been watching this project unfold day to day for more than a year now. The addition of 42 acres allowed the company to triple the physical footprint of the plant, which now covers a sprawling 60 acres. As massive as this addition is, Syngenta is already gearing up for the next expansion with room to grow built in by design.

Syngenta’s decision to expand its operations with such a sizable investment is a strong testament to its confidence in the consistency and quality of crops grown here in Hamilton County. Their customers expect and demand a consistent seed corn product and the Swiss-based company knows it will get exactly that here in Central Nebraska. That’s due in large part to prime soil conditions, precious aquifer, a solid base of seed corn acreage and the availability of hard-working detassling crews.

Local farmers deserve credit for this success story as well. A strong partnership between producers and this well-known company, based largely on trust and valued relationships, is one of the core reasons Syngenta has expanded the Phillips plant six times in recent years.

Congratulations to all involved in Syngenta’s massive endeavor, one of the largest single investments in Hamilton County history.

Kurt Johnson

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