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Neighbor helps North Omaha Viking Ship win grant for improvements

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 7:40 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A historic building in North Omaha is getting a much-needed facelift after years of being in disrepair.

The Viking Ship in the historic Minne Lusa neighborhood has been a staple in the north Omaha community for over a century. Thanks to an app and a neighbor, it’s getting some repairs.

“I basically was just browsing the nextdoor app. That is how I saw it. It’s a collaboration between H&R Block and the nextdoor app called ‘Make Every Block Better’ and, on a whim, I just decided to submit the Viking Ship,” Nichole Schumacher said. She was referring to a grant program that awards local communities money to make positive changes in their areas.

In its long history, the building has served several purposes, such as a high-class social club and a recreation center. Long ago, the building was known for hosting many high-status politicians at dinners, dances and other events.

Now, the Viking Ship serves as a quasi-community center. It is still used for gymnastics and wrestling in the original gyms, but the building needs funding and repairs to continue operations.

“It’s definitely a rock in the neighborhood, absolutely. Pretty much everyone in the neighborhood has either had a birthday, baby shower, wedding reception — something’s happened where they’ve been at the Viking Ship,” said Steven Kirchner, wrestling coach and program director at the Viking Ship.

Kirchner grew up in the neighborhood and has been coming to the community center for years. Now he’s been helping with building repairs and continuing to host events and programs for the Minne Lusa community.

As for Schumacher, she has lived in the area for only two years. But that’s enough time to know how important the building is to longtime residents such as Ben Gray, the former city councilman who represented North Omaha.

“I’ve been here long enough that I remember when this was a really going place,” Gray told 6 News. “So when it fell into disrepair, it concerned a lot of us.”

“I knew that the outside definitely needs love, could use some love,” Schumacher said. “I spoke with other community members, and they kind of agreed.”

Only 10 projects out of 1,500 applications were chosen by nextdoor and H&R Block to receive grants. The application was short and sweet — so short that Schumacher forgot she had applied until she got a phone call saying her submission was nominated.

Now, she’s collecting bids from local companies for exterior repairs and improvements, and sending them back to the hosts of the grant for approval.

“The ivy has gotta go, the canopy ... some of these trees need limbing up, and just all-new, brand-new landscaping coming in, and potentially the retaining wall,” she said.

How much money the Viking Ship will receive is unclear, but the company told Schumacher it is in the thousands of dollars.

Improvements on the inside of the building have occurred over time, too, thanks to the owner, June Blair, who has owned the building since 1978. Her daughter, Robin, has also played a major role in bringing back to life the inside of the building.

“I think it has the potential to be what it was before, not with all the wealthy people, but with people in the community using this as a place for weddings, other programming, family programming for the community,” Gray said. “This is what this place was designed for, this is what it should be, this is what I hope to see it be again.”

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