The darn things shoot up everywhere. Suck the moisture out of the soil. Overwhelm the grass so that cattle have nothing to eat. Leave it to nature and they’ll take over your whole pasture.
The cedars had to go.
So every week, Marleen Muenster — pushing 70 years old — drove up the hill to one of Omaha’s most beautiful properties and clipped saplings for five or six hours, tossing them in her Gator, then dumping them in a ravine. She didn’t stop until she’d eliminated 500-plus. The next week, she’d do it all again.
Want an image of the woman who made Lost Rail Golf Club possible? That’s a pretty good one.
Marleen was feisty but gentle, independent but admired. Above all, resilient. She was the kind of person who sent a birthday card to a 7-year-old girl she’d just met. The kind of person who took county officials to task for neglecting her roads. The kind of person who kept a daily ledger of activities, one notebook for each year.
11-15-2019: “Peanut to Groomer. Margaret brought eggs. Some shopping.”
11-16-2019: “Kit took pictures of me & Peanut. Gave her applesauce & apple pie.”
No feelings, just the facts.
After six years of grueling health problems, Marleen died last week. She was 75.
She was a lot more than a property owner. She loved Jesus, dogs, birds, owl figurines, fishing, bowling, ice cream, Cracker Barrel, Mama’s Pizza, bear claws from Panera Bread and all sorts of other things. But Lost Rail will be a huge piece of her legacy. The project doesn’t exist without her.
On Nov. 18, 2019, after three months pursuing the idea of a West Omaha golf club (on a different property that never would’ve worked), we cold-called her about 155 acres overlooking the river. It wasn’t for sale, but we asked if we could walk around. Immediately she treated us like old friends.
We fell in love with the land. The 20-mile views. The 40-foot ravines. The 100-year-old railbed. It felt like four or five environments in one farm. The next day, she invited us to her kitchen table, where we pitched our vision for a world-class golf club.
No housing. No swimming pools or tennis courts. No big crowds. Just golf.
After saying no to prospective developers for 20 years, Marleen listened because she didn’t want to see her land “go to concrete,” as she put it. From that day, she never wavered.
On our end, it was still a long shot, though. Especially when the pandemic arrived. Marleen agreed to extend our 6-month option on the property. She propelled us to keep going. Every phone call, every time driving by her house, boosted our motivation.
We spoke to her weekly, usually about things unrelated to golf. We learned about her unique background.
Marleen had no children. No siblings. Adopted as a baby, she started school a few blocks from Omaha North High before her parents — a salesman and a seamstress — built a house at 112th and Shirley. Interstate 680 eventually rolled through her neighborhood —directly across the street — perhaps one reason she hated the thought of more concrete.
She graduated from Westside and earned two degrees from UNO. She taught math at Monroe Middle School and Bryan High, where she coached volleyball and golf. She joined a teachers league, playing the par-3 courses at Maple Village and Meadowbrook.
“It usually took me six strokes per hole,” Marleen told us once. “So I got my money’s worth.”
One Christmas in the 1970s, her mom surprised her with a new set of Patty Berg clubs. One problem: Marleen played left-handed. She took them back.
Marleen lived with her mom after her dad died. Took care of her for 15 years in the house her parents built. Lydia passed away in '80, two weeks after her 76th birthday, and Marleen finally started thinking about herself.
Her pastor introduced her to a 44-year-old bachelor named John. He was quiet and crafty. He could fix anything. They married in ’83 and began looking for land in the country.
In ’87, they purchased 60 acres off 225th Street for about $1,000 an acre. Heckuva deal. They built a brick ranch on the site of an old schoolhouse. Behind glass on the basement wall, John displayed his "Lionel Lines" 1950s model train set.
The sign on the backyard fence said “Muensterville: Population 6.” Counting the four dogs, of course.
Marleen made fast friends. When neighbors stopped by, she’d ask them to sign her guest book. But the Muensters always preferred the outdoors. John built a nature trail through the woods, complete with a 32-foot bridge.
In ’90, their walks got longer when they bought the 155 acres to the west, the future site of Lost Rail. John and Marleen repaired waterways and farm terraces. They added miles of barbed wire fence so they could rent out the pasture.
They hiked the old railbed and canyon, observing deer and hunting mushrooms. Atop the west ridge, they counted water towers and enjoyed Fourth of July fireworks.
Then one day in 2001, John walked in the house with a stomach ache and all activity stopped. He spent 18 months cooped up with pancreatic cancer. Marleen took care of him to the end. The rest of her life, she noted “Sept. 23” in her yearly notebooks. That’s the day John died.
Marleen found solace in routine. Keeping her grass and flowerbeds pristine. Cutting the cedars from her pasture.
She always acted a decade younger than she was. One summer during a College World Series game, a torrential rain swept through downtown. Marleen and neighbor Kit — almost half her age — took off running for the car half a mile away, splashing through puddles like little kids.
Marleen faced her obstacles. Sarcoidosis. Breast cancer. Nothing slowed her down until Black Friday 2014, when she started coughing and couldn’t stop. Kit drove her to the ER and doctors discovered a tumor near her spine.
Marleen spent the next eight months enduring chemo. In July 2015, a stem cell transplant put her in the ICU. If we keep her on the ventilator, doctors said, she’s probably never coming off. But if we take her off, she may not survive.
With no children, close friend Steve Reeder made the impossible decision. Doctors extubated her, with an order not to resuscitate. Marleen started breathing.
She spent two more miserable months in the hospital. Two more months with sores all over her body and fluid in her legs and no hair on her head. But she made it home.
Her initial goal was simply to take care of dogs. Then to walk again. Then to drive. Then to weed flower beds. Small steps.
But she looked 10 years older than her age. The chronic neuropathy in her legs robbed so many of her favorite activities, like nature walks. And the chemo that saved her eventually produced more cancer. Yet she fought.
Once she beat flu, pneumonia and sepsis — all at the same time. Once she suffered a heart attack and paramedics rushed her to the hospital at 3 a.m.
“I’m not sure why God wants me here,” Marleen told us a year ago. “He saved my life three times.”
She had no interest in accumulating wealth or material items. She drove a 14-year-old Buick minivan. Her house furnishings, wallpaper, carpet, cupboards and counters hadn’t changed in 30 years. The money received for the Lost Rail property? It was all going to charities and the church.
“I don’t need anything,” she told us. “I don’t want anything.”
What Marleen wanted was peace of mind. Certainty that her land would maintain its beauty.
In October, she was back in the ICU, fighting another infection. Bladder cancer treatment did more harm than good, and doctors decided to stop. The golf course wasn’t a done deal yet and Marleen worried.
Please get it done, she told us from the hospital bed. She wouldn’t see it finished, she said, but she wanted assurance. For her and John.
A few weeks later — exactly one month before she died — Lost Rail got final approval.
On one hand, the past year feels like a terrible missed opportunity. We didn’t get to sit in her little kitchen once COVID hit. And she won’t get to sit in our clubhouse dining room.
On the other hand, we’re so blessed she took our first phone call. In her daily log book for 2019, if you flip to Nov. 19, you’ll see her handwriting.
“Met Dirk & Scott”
Exactly one year later — one of her last good days — she shuffled out to the garage behind her walker and soaked up the sunshine. Her Sheltie snarled and barked at everything that drove by on the washboard road.
“Peanut!” Marleen scolded her. She always scolded Peanut.
We asked if she wanted to go up and see the first dirt work on 16 green. She couldn’t; she had to get to another doctor’s appointment.
A week later, Kit sent a text message. Marleen was back in the hospital. Marleen knew this time would be the last. God needs to “get on with it,” she said.
Two days later, God took her home. She died 40 years and one day after her mom. Two weeks before her 76th birthday.
Marleen left behind cherished friends and neighbors — almost 100 showed up for her burial service. She left behind the simple brick house on the corner of 225th and Cary. Next time you drive by, remember the special woman who made Lost Rail possible.
Up the hill, we’ve been working ahead of schedule. Shaping greens. Building tees. Stripping topsoil. Much of the work has focused on clearing trees.
What Marleen took out with hedge clippers, we’re eliminating with bulldozers. She’d laugh at that.
For months, we wondered how our finishing holes would look once we finally cleaned out the cedars. We expected new sight lines north and south through the valley. But we got a beautiful surprise.
Now if you stand on the future 18th tee and look west, you can see for miles: the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers, the water towers beyond, the open sky all the way to the horizon.
Marleen, we hope you enjoy the view.