Speaker Bios

Denise Bailey

Denise Bailey, MSW, LMSW, Assistant Professor of Social Work, NSU of Louisiana

Denise Bailey hails from Natchitoches, Louisiana. Bailey, an assistant professor of social work at Northwestern State University (NSU) of Louisiana, is a graduate of NSU and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. Bailey has presented at the annual Louisiana Studies Conference for the past five consecutive years.

Kate Benzel

Kate Benzel, PhD, Professor Emerita of English, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Kate Benzel loves the Modernist culture on both sides of the pond. Her research is interdisciplinary, using the visual arts with Virginia Woolf and folk music with Carl Sandburg and Woody Guthrie. Her award-winning theatrical productions of Prayers for the People: Carl Sandburg’s Poetry and Songs are also interdisciplinary, combining folk tunes from Sandburg’s The American Songbag (1927) with poetry of the city and the prairie and the American West.

Patricia Birch

Patricia Birch, Director of The Orphan Train Musical

Patricia Birch has earned two Emmy Awards, five Tony nominations, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Barrymore, Billboard and MTV awards, as well as a Directors Guild nomination and the prestigious Fred Astaire Award for her choreography and direction of music-driven projects ranging from Sondheim to the Rolling Stones, as well as induction to the Theater Hall of Fame. Ms. Birch was trained at School of American Ballet and the Martha Graham School; she became a soloist in the Graham Company and played Anybody’s in the original Broadway production of West Side Story.

Ms. Birch has created the musical staging for original Broadway and off-Broadway shows including Grease, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Me Nobody Knows, A Little Night Music, Candide, Over Here, Diamond Studs, The Happy End, Pacific Overtures, They're Playing Our Song, Gilda Radner, Live from New York, Zoot Suit, Rosa, Parade, Like Jazz and LoveMusik directed by Harold Prince; Ms. Birch directed the Melissa Manchester musical I Sent a Letter to My Love; the original of Maurice Sendak and Carole King’s Really Rosie and Band in Berlin, a docu-musical about the Comedian Harmonists; 2 Cy Coleman musicals and, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, The Thomashefskys.

Film credits include choreography for Grease and direction/choreography for Grease 2, musical sequences for Big, Working Girl, Stella, Awakenings, Billy Bathgate, Roseland, The Wild Party, First Wives Club and The Human Stain. For television: Natalie Cole: Unforgettable with Love and Celebrating Gershwin (Emmy Awards in direction); choreographer for The Electric Company and Saturday Night Live, staging numbers for Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John and Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, and music videos for Cyndi Lauper, the Rolling Stones and others. Currently Ms. Birch is choreographer for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire produced by Martin Scorsese.

Megan Birk

Megan Birk, PhD, Associate Professor of History, University of Texas Rio Grande

Megan Birk’s academic areas of expertise include rural and agricultural history, Progressive Era, children's history, and social welfare history. Her 2015 book, Fostering on the Farm: Placing Out Dependent Children in the Rural Midwest, 1865-1920 was awarded the 2017 Vincent P. DeSantis Prize from the Society for the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Dr. Birk holds the PhD in American History from Purdue University.

Derrick Burbul

Derrick Burbul, MFA, Professor of Art and Art History, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Derrick Burbul is currently a Professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Nebraska at Kearney which he joined in the Fall of 2005. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Idaho in May of 2000 and a Bachelor of Science in English with a Minor in Photography from the University of Wisconsin—Superior in 1996. His creative work explores the environment and our relationship to it and exploits a wide range of photographic processes from pinhole photography, to tintypes, and digital manipulation to communicate ideas.

Lloyd Castner, Son of Orphan Train Rider, Clarence Castner

Lloyd Castner was born September 26, 1935 in Auburn, Nebraska and is a 1957 graduate of the College of Business Administration of the University of Nebraska. Most of his career he spent in managing activities in city government first in Eugene, Oregon, then Ontario, Oregon, Bellevue Nebraska and Columbus, Nebraska as Assistant City Manager, City Manager, and City Administrator. He also was employed by Nebraska Public Power and Kirkham Michael Consulting Engineers.

Lloyd’s father, Clarence Castner was orphaned in 1905 with the death of his mother after the birth of his sister. He and his brothers were placed in an orphanage in 1905; and in 1908, at the age of 8, Clarence came to Madison, Nebraska on an orphan train, accompanied by his two brothers Clark (9) and Albert (5).

Mickey Creager, Daughter of Orphan Train Rider, Agnes Widhalm

Mickey (Micheline) Creager was born in 1952 in Humphrey, Nebraska. She was one of 11 children of Agnes and Albert Widhalm. Mickey graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in psychology and was a retail buyer for Hovland Swanson, Miller and Paine, and Richmond Gordman. Mickey and her husband, Bob, live in Lincoln where they raised a son and a daughter, and have one granddaughter, Helena, who is 2 ½. Mickey likes to stay active in her community by volunteering in various organizations.

Mickey’s mother, Agnes Widhalm, was born in New York City in January of 1910, and was orphaned at 6 weeks of age. In December of 1911, she road an orphan train to Columbus, Nebraska, where she found a home in Humphrey.

Sandy Cook-Fong

Sandra Cook-Fong, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Dr. Sandy Cook-Fong, Assistant Professor and Distance Coordinator in the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Previously, she taught at the University of Nebraska Kearney for 18 years.  She continues to be involved in foster care through membership on the local Foster Care Review Board and as a national trainer for Royal Family Kids’, Inc., an organization that provides camps, clubs, and mentoring for children in foster care.  

Janice Fronczak

Janice Fronczak, MFA, Professor of Theatre, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Janice Fronczak is on the theatre faculty of UNK, where she teaches performance and playwriting courses as well as directs for the mainstage season. Janice has been invited as a guest director for summer stock theatres across the country. She has been awarded several meritorious awards from the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for her directing and playwriting as well as won a national Kennedy Center Fellowship for Directing. Her collection of original monologues and original formless scenes, Blue Food was published by Heuer Publishing. Janice is a Nationally Registered Drama Therapist and is a licensed Clinical Mental Health Practitioner in the state of Nebraska.

Shaley George

Shaley George, Curator, National Orphan Train Complex, Concordia, KS

Shaley George received her Bachelor Degree in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming in 2010, and completed an Associate of Arts Degree in Museum and Gallery Studies at Casper College in 2014. She has served as the curator for the National Orphan Train Complex since July 2014. For more information about the museum, go to: http://orphantraindepot.org/


Karyn L. Hixson, MA, Adjunct English Faculty, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Karyn L. Hixson holds Master Degrees from Texas Women’s University and the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She recently published a paper, “The Breastplate of Righteousness: The Preparation, the Position, and the Protection of God in Judith, Juliana, and Elene” in a semiannual publication of the Center for the Study of Christian Values in Literature, Brigham Young University (2017).

Doug Katsaros

Doug Katsaros, Composer of The Orphan Train Musical

Doug Katsaros is an Emmy winning composer who’s work on and off Broadway includes Footloose (conductor), The Life (Arranger), Rocky Horror (Orchestrator), Altar Boyz (Orchestrator), The Toxic Avenger (Conductor/Orchestrator), A. . . My Name is Alice (Composer/Orchestrator), and the current Getting The Band Back Together (Orchestrator). He has written several TV and film scores and has dozens of gold and platinum CDs for his work as an arranger keyboardist with artists such as Kiss, Sinéad O'Connor, Gloria Estefan, Frank Sinatra, Todd Rundgren, Rod Stewart, Judy Collins, B. B. King, Marlo Thomas, Donny Osmond, Richie Havens, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Cher, Michael Bolton, and Peter Paul & Mary. He wrote the Emmy nominated score to the animated series The Tick and themes for The Jim Henson Hour, Mancuso FBI and the ABC Sunday Night Movie. He writes special material for Ringling Brothers and Macy's 4th of July Fireworks and Thanksgiving Day Parades. He lives in New York with his wife, composer/keyboardist Elise Morris, and yes, he is the guy who wrote By Mennen.

Tom Kiffmeyer

Thomas Kiffmeyer, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Morehead State University, KY

Tom Kiffmeyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1998 and has taught US history at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky for 21 years. His areas of interest are US social policy, reform movements, and rural and urban history. He is the author of Reformer to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty (University Press of Kentucky, 2008). He has published in journals including The Journal of Southern History and Reviews in American History. More important, he is an accomplished whitewater and flatwater kayaker, mountain biker, and climber.

Martha Kruse

Martha Kruse, PhD, Associate Professor of English, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Dr. Martha Kruse, a member of UNK’s Department of English, teaches graduate courses in Children’s and Adolescent literature and works with prospective teachers of the English Language Arts. Her research centers on children’s historical fiction of the American frontier and westward migration. She has delivered presentations over fictional portrayals of prairie madness, cross-dressing girls in the Gold Rush era, and pioneer daughters’ acclimation to the frontier.

L.E. McCullough

L.E. McCullough, PhD, Author, Teacher, Clinician, Librettist for The Orphan Train Musical

L.E. McCullough, PhD has written 52 books of fiction, non-fiction and plays, including 177 published stage and script works. His commissions include plays on Galileo, World War II journalist Ernie Pyle, 1920s jazz artist Charlie Davis, corporate patriarch Eli Lilly, Catholic activist Dorothy Day, singer-heiress Libby Holman and, for the National Constitution Center, a play on the U.S. Constitution. The New York premiere of his Blues for Miss Buttercup, based on the life of blues piano legend Leroy Carr, won an Emerging Playwright Award and 2 New York Bistro Awards. More info at www.educationalclassroomplays.com.

Cheryl Pooler

Cheryl Pooler, MSW, Lecturer, Baylor University

Cheryl Pooler is completing a Doctorate in Social Work at the University of St. Thomas/St. Catherine. She is a lecturer at Baylor University in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and her research is focused on homeless youth. Cheryl is the co-founder of The Cove, a non-profit in Waco, TX that provides services and resources to homeless youth. Her dissertation is a historical analysis of the role of social work with homeless youth during the Progressive Era.

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, PhD, Professor of History, Iowa State University, IA

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg is Professor of History at Iowa State University. She is the author of Rooted in Dust: Surviving Drought and Depression in Southwestern Kansas, Childhood on the Farm: Work, Play and Coming of Age in the Midwest, Always Plenty to Do: Growing Up on a Farm in the Long Ago and The Nature of Childhood: An Environmental History of Growing Up in America Since 1865. She is also the editor of Waiting on the Bounty: The Dust Bowl Diary of Mary Knackstedt Dyck and the Routledge History of Rural America. Currently, she is writing a history of the Farm Crisis.

John Shontz

John Shontz, JD, Project Coordinator, Orphan Train Project:
Making a Difference
, Helena MT

John Shontz is a retired attorney and former member of the Montana House of Representatives. As an author, Mr. Shontz has written about the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad. He started the orphan train project in 2014 through the Upper Musselshell Historic Society to put the "train" back in orphan train. The project he directs prepares trip itineraries for individual orphan train riders, promotes the story of the orphan train saga across American, and assists professionals as they develop stories about the orphan train saga.

Terry Sinnard and Mick Johnson

Terry Sinnard and Mick Johnson, Musicians

Sinnard and Johnson are seasoned musicians performing American roots music—folk, country, blues, jazz, classic rock. Their unique harmonies and expert instrumentation bring a distinct sound to their music and inform our understanding of this folk music.

Chris Steinke

Chris Steinke, PhD, Assistant Professor of History, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Chris Steinke is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His work focuses on Plains Indian history in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His current book manuscript, “Rights of Passage: Indigenous Travelers on the Missouri River,” reconstructs the history of indigenous mobility on the Missouri River, a vast transcontinental corridor of Native movement and travel. His research has appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly, Great Plains Quarterly, and Ethnohistory.

Will Stoutamire

William Stoutamire, PhD, Director of G. W. Frank Museum of History and Culture

A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Dr. Stoutamire received his PhD in History (Public History) from Arizona State University and his BA in History from Florida State University. He currently serves as the director of the on-campus history museum at UNK, the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture, which he has reinvented as a teaching laboratory for undergraduate and graduate level public history students, as well as students from related disciplines. Dr. Stoutamire has previously worked for the Museum of Florida History, the ASU Museum of Anthropology, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the National Park Service.

Jinny Turman

Jinny Turman, PhD, Associate Professor of History, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Jinny Turman is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She received her PhD. in History from West Virginia University in 2013 and specializes in modern U.S., environmental, and public history. Her public history specializations include historic interpretation, community and local history, oral history, and historic preservation.