In their own words

Below is an excellent personal write-up by Ryan Pfannkuch who is letting me use his story as an example on my web pages to help others with ideas on what they could write about for their stories.

Ryan graciously agreed to sit down one weekend and capture some memories he has had since the "1983 Leaders of Tomorrow" series ran in the Manning Monitor in 1983. It featured many of the younger Manning generation children with their pictures and the parents' names.

Now in 2012 we would like to have a follow-up feature and get as many of the "1983 kids" to send us their updates along with a few pictures they would like to share, and use that information in a new Manning Monitor article - maybe later on this summer or next fall.

I have received several questions as to what we would like you to write about.

There is no right or wrong way. You can write on one special subject about yourself or give a general update such as Ryan did.

Even if you send a couple of paragraphs about yourself that is OK too, but we hope you will send us a little more detail.

To help speed up the process and make it a little easier for you to see examples of what we are looking for - the pictures will be posted at the bottom of Ryan's write-up, and not embedded in the story line.

When we publish your stories in the Manning Monitor some of the pictures will be placed appropriately throughout your story.

Also, if I can find some pictures of people in my database who you write about in your story or are closely related to you, I will include some of them too.

Before your story is published in the Monitor I will take the information and pictures you send me, add a few pictures I may have, and then send a proof copy back to you by e-mail to give you a chance to check for errors or any changes you may want. After you give the OK it will then be published with several other "1983 kids" at some point in a future issue of the Manning Monitor.

If you have any questions please e-mail me at

Note: Ryan's sister, Rachel, will be sending her story separately and we'll use it at the same time we run Ryan's story in the Monitor.

Dave Kusel


1983 Leaders of Tomorrow

Ryan Pfannkuch 4 1/2 years, Rachel Pfannkuch 1 year

Hi Dave,

Ryan Pfannkuch here... First off I want to say Thank You for all the work you to do to chronicle, preserve and follow up on Manning's rich history! I am happy to contribute to your follow-up on those of us featured in the 1983 "Leaders of Tomorrow" story. Parts of this will be more detailed than others, but I will generally follow an order of 4 chronological chapters and keep it very informal...


1978-1996 (Growing up in Manning): I was born June 22, 1978, at then-Manning General Hospital to Renee (Brazeal) Pfannkuch and Dale Pfannkuch. In the few nights that Mom stayed in the hospital after my birth, she recalls thunderstorms rolling through town each night (apparently that must have played a role in my eventual career choice...but more about that later). A little background about Mom and Dad: Dad is a 1969 graduate of Manning High School, and has lived here essentially his entire life. Mom is a 1969 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs. They were married in 1975. My grandparents on dad's side were long-time Manning residents Marvin and Viola Pfannkuch (grandpa passed away in 1993 and grandma in 2007).

I grew up on a farm 2 1/2 miles south of Manning, where Mom and Dad live to this day. Even though we officially got out of the farming business in the mid-90s, it will always be "the farm" to me. Like most little boys who grew up on a farm, I played with toy tractors and even "harvested" the living room and bedroom carpets with my International combine. You know, it's funny, the older I get the more nostalgic I become about those farming days that helped shape my life through high school. I often think back to the countless days I spent as a boy helping Dad, Grandpa Pfannkuch, Great Uncles Don, Kenny and Earl Pfannkuch, cousin Steve Pfannkuch (among others) as we baled hay, harvested corn and soybeans, shelled corn, etc. All of us Pfannkuchs helped each other complete much of this work, and I know at the time I really took for granted this "family-oriented" way of farming and all of the wonderful memories it provided. As time went by, and my dad and great uncles got out of day-to-day farming operations, I slowly came to appreciate how special it was to experience that kind of upbringing. So many great memories...such as riding combine with Great Uncle Don or helping Great Uncle Earl and Kenny stack hay bales in the barn. It's actually quite ironic that I now look back on farming with such fondness, because by the time I was a teenager I knew I wanted nothing to do with it as a career. Of course, this probably had a lot to do with how many Saturdays in junior high and high school I spent cleaning hog barns the old-fashioned pitchfork and shovel way!

I was a graduate of the Manning High class of 1996, which might be best remembered for being one of the smallest graduating classes in many decades with only 24 students. By no means will I be remembered for my athletic prowess. Officially, my only high school sport was golf, and I was (and am to this day) just a so-so golfer, but it was a lot of fun. Of course, it had its frustration too, like the time it took me 12 strokes to conquer a par-4 hole on a windy afternoon in Audubon, including three straight tee shots out of bounds. Otherwise, I played junior high basketball one year, mostly from the bench. Still, I will never forget my basketball moment of glory when I sank my only "3-pointer" from behind the arc, although I seem to recall that in junior high basketball it only counted as two points. There was also the time while playing Ar-We-Va in Westside that I somehow managed to steal the ball from a guy and started running it up floor. I remember muttering a quick "thanks" to the guy I stole the ball from, who then promptly stole it back and replied "your welcome." Like I said, by no means was I known for athletic prowess! I did however enjoy competing in speech contests, especially the one-act plays under the guidance of Mrs. Lori Shannon.

By time I graduated in 1996, my heart had been long-set on attending Iowa State and I didn't even think about visiting other schools. By then I had become a "fanatic" of the ISU football and men's basketball programs, and I dreamed of covering those teams as a sportswriter. As it turned out, I would soon realize that dream...


1996-2005 (the Iowa State years): I was an undergraduate college student for NINE years, finally graduating in May 2005. Nope, that's not a typo: 9 years! Most people who go to college for that long at least have a master's or a PhD to show for it, but not me. I did, however, earn an undergraduate degree in both Meteorology and Sociology, with a minor in Journalism. To say that college was a long and winding academic journey is an understatement!

I started out with my heart set on becoming a sportswriter, and for the first 2-3 years of college I realized that dream. During my freshman year, the editor of Cyclone Illustrated magazine, Todd Stevens, gave me a shot as a part-time staff writer and I took full advantage of it. For the next few years, I spent several Saturday afternoons in the press box at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, and even made a few road trips as a reporter. By far the most unforgettable road trip was the 1998 Iowa State-Iowa football game at Iowa City, during which ISU snapped its 15-year losing streak in the series. I will never forget walking into the pink-painted visitor's locker room at Kinnick Stadium to interview the victorious Cyclones! On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also covered a forgettable 77-14 drubbing at the hands of Nebraska in Lincoln during the 1997 season.

Although it was a thrill to cover sports for those few years, somewhere along the line it started to "lose its luster" as a long-term career goal. I don't know, maybe it was just my inevitable realization as a "star-struck" 18 or 19-year old that the athletes I was interviewing and writing about were really just "regular people" with their own strengths and weaknesses and not the "superheroes" I perceived them to be when I was younger. At any rate, I wrote my last sports story in 1999, and started to make a dramatic shift in my academic focus from journalism toward meteorology.

The funny thing is, I had always enjoyed the weather, especially thunderstorms. I vaguely recall listening to severe weather coverage on the radio when I was around 10 years old, and pulling out statewide paper maps and "tracking the storms" on them. However, it wasn't until I had been in college for three years that I finally recognized meteorology as a realistic career goal. The worst part was getting through all the required math and physics classes, including calculus, which was not my strong suit (I think most people who start out in journalism or some other writing field don't consider math one of their passions). Somehow I got through the coursework, and even excelled in the meteorology classes that focused on weather forecasting. I finally graduated with a meteorology degree in 2005, and even picked up a sociology degree along the way. Sometime in 1998-1999, I started getting involved in the hobby (want to emphasize hobby, not paying job) of storm chasing, and have been avidly hitting the road looking for storms ever since. I instantly became hooked on the challenge of poring over weather data on the Internet and trying to forecast where and when severe hail storms and tornadoes might form. I saw my first tornado near Stillwater, Oklahoma, in April 1999, and have seen about 20 since then, including a large one that tore into Iowa City one evening in April 2006 under the cover of darkness.

Unfortunately, the era of "reality TV" has cast many storm chasers as "adrenaline junkies" and thrill-seekers who only desire to shoot video of tornadoes at close range while showing little regard for the destruction they cause. I am proud to say that I chase storms for the "right" reasons, which includes reporting severe weather directly to the National Weather Service, and also learning from what I observe in the field to help make me a better forecaster.

During my last 6 years of college, I worked part-time for what most would probably say is the most-hated department on campus: The Department of Public Safety, Parking Enforcement Division. Yep, that's right, I wrote parking tickets and towed vehicles, and accepted more verbal abuse than most college students could ever imagine. However, as strange as it may sound, it was a job I truly enjoyed. My co-workers and I saw it as a source of pride that we performed a job that needed to be done, but that most people would not be able to tolerate. I think most of us grew "thicker skin" because of it, which would serve us well down the road. There were plenty of times that things got a bit tense between us and parking violators, but those of us who worked there always watched each other's back to keep things from getting out of hand. Furthermore, the job wasn't just about the negative aspects of parking enforcement, as we also assisted dozens of people each month with minor car troubles such as dead batteries and flat tires. Another perk of the job was gaining free admission to home football games in exchange for helping park hundreds of cars before the games. I will always remember how odd it was directing traffic in the parking lots near Jack Trice Stadium while wearing a bright orange vest in the blazing heat or freezing cold, and then looking in the distance at the stadium press box and thinking how just a few years before that I was a sportswriter sitting behind those large glass windows. What a difference a few years makes!


2005-2006 (millions of plastic bottles): When I graduated from Iowa State in May 2005, my goal was to work for the National Weather Service (NWS) as a federal government forecaster. I had spent time volunteering at the NWS Office in Johnston/Des Moines in college, and was excited to turn my passion for weather forecasting into a meaningful career. Unfortunately, getting into the NWS was a very competitive and drawn-out process, and I spend my first 18 months in the "real world" at a huge plastic bottle manufacturing plant in Ames, then known as Ball Corporation. This was the only factory job I ever worked in my life, and included long 12-hour shifts and at times exhaustive labor, which I was well suited for given my upbringing on the farm. Although it is hard to explain in writing what it was like working amongst an array of automated bottle-making equipment, it was fascinating being part of a team that generated nearly FIVE MILLION plastic pop and water bottles each day! After working there, I will never again pick up a bottle of Pepsi or Mountain Dew without thinking of my 18 months in that factory.


2006-Present: (finally in the NWS): In December 2006, I finally realized my goal of becoming a meteorologist for the National Weather Service (known by old-timers as the Weather Bureau), earning a spot in the Hastings, Nebraska, office where I still am today. I find it ironic that I am now living in the state that proudly supports one of my LEAST FAVORITE college football teams... yes, those darn Cornhuskers! One thing I have learned in the past 6 years is that what we do in the NWS is often a mystery to folks. We are NOT the weather people on local TV stations, although we do provide much of the forecast information they provide. We are also NOT The Weather Channel, which is a private national television network based in Atlanta, Georgia. We ARE, however, one of the six scientific agencies that comprise the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There are 122 local field offices of the NWS scattered across the nation, or roughly 2-3 in each state. Each office employees about 13-15 meteorologists and covers a specific area, generally about 30-60 counties in size (for example, Carroll County and Manning is covered by the Johnston/Des Moines office). The office I work for covers 30 counties in south central Nebraska and north central Kansas, including places such as Grand Island, Kearney and York. The primary mission of the NWS is to "provide weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property." Following along the lines of this mission statement, our most critical function is to issue official weather warnings, watches and advisories for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, blizzards, etc. Yes, we ARE the ones who set off your weather alert radio and cause it to start screeching in the middle of the night. The other key day-to-day mission of offices such as mine is to issue official 7-day weather forecasts. Other branches within the NWS take a stab at making longer-range forecasts, but local offices such as the ones in Hastings and Des Moines only look out 7 days, which is about as far out in time as modern weather technology allows us to have any kind of reasonable accuracy. Our website, which I encourage everybody to check out regularly is (often confused with, which is The Weather Channel). Much like my days as a parking enforcement officer in college, I catch my share of generally good-natured grief from a lot of folks about my current job too! If only had a dollar for every time I heard someone say "Wow, you have the only job in the world where you can be wrong time and again and still keep your job." My only reply to that is that weather forecasting is a very complex science. There are so many variables that go into it, that even the largest supercomputers in the world start to stray from perfect accuracy beyond the first few hours of a forecast. Fortunately, I have also heard a lot of folks say that weather forecasts today are a lot better than they were 20-40 years ago, and I take a lot of pride in helping keep that trend going in the right direction. When the weather is in a "quiet phase" and we don't have to spend as much time figuring out the forecast or issuing warnings, each of us focuses on side projects. These side projects run a wide range, but include things such as giving weather presentations to local schools or working on weather-related research studies. I think most of us who work in local NWS field offices would agree that the most satisfying part of the job is issuing timely weather warnings that make a difference in people's lives. During the past six years I have issued a handful of tornado warnings for actual tornadoes that were on the ground doing damage, and I often wonder what kind of role my warnings might have played in potentially saving lives. On the other hand, I think most of us in the NWS would agree that the most challenging aspect of the job is the irregular hours. Not only are we open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (the weather never sleeps!), but unlike a lot of shift work organizations, we rotate between day, night and evening shifts on a weekly basis, constantly switching back and forth. Even in the middle of the night, there are always at least two of us on duty.


Future: As of May 2012, I have been a meteorologist/forecaster at the NWS Hastings Nebraska office for 5 1/2 years, and I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. For those who might not be familiar with Hastings, it's a small city of around 25,000 people, which is plenty large for me. When I first moved out there, I thought I would try moving a little closer to home within a few years by trying to get into the offices in Des Moines or Omaha. However, it didn't take me long to grow quite fond of the farm-centered lifestyle of central Nebraska and Kansas, and the ever-changing and sometimes violent weather that occurs there. Playing an even larger role in keeping me in Hastings for the foreseeable future is a truly personal connection, as my wonderful girlfriend Angela is not only from the Hastings area, but is also a fellow forecaster at the office. Considering that Angela graduated from the University of Nebraska and I graduated from Iowa State and we are both huge sports fans, it's probably in the best interest of our relationship that our alma maters are no longer in the same athletic conference!


If I would give any advice to today's up-and-coming generation, it would be this: keep an open mind regarding career goals, as the goals/dreams you have when you leave high school could unexpectedly and drastically change direction a few years later. I don't advocate spending nine years as a college undergrad as I did. But you know what: the last time I checked, things seem to have turned out just fine.

Ryan with his dad, Dale

Ryan with his mother, Renee

Earl Pfannkuch & Ryan Pfannkuch shared birth dates June 22

"Once Upon a Beginning" one-act play

Back: Melissa Muhlbauer, Clinton Stammer, Lyndi Behrens, Ryan Pfannkuch
Front: Robin Hinners, Natasha Vonnahme, Matt Detlefsen

3 pix from Dave Kusel's database

Kenneth Pfannkuch

Donald Pfannkuch

8th grade track team on the south side of the old high school along Highway 141

Back: James Anthony, Mark Rowedder, Jeff Siepker, Lynn Mork, Bruce Jensen
Middle: Steven Sebring, Steven Pfannkuch, Peter Heinicke, Tom Handlos, Kent Wiese, Larry Sporrer
Front: Todd Nelson, James Weitl, Jon Hass, James Mohr, Kerry Joens

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