”We Get Laughs” V. Mertz Owner Jill Panzer’s Love of CribbageJan 25, 2023 12:34PM ● By Jeff Lacey
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
What does V. Mertz owner Jill Panzer do when she needs a break from running one of the premier fine dining restaurants in Omaha?
When life ‘calls muggins,’ Panzer plays cribbage.
Panzer started playing the card game as a freshman in college. She took a job working in the Chadron State College student union pizza parlor, and it was in this snack shack that she learned the art of cribbage from a friendly female janitor. Panzer said it was great to learn the game in such a relaxed environment. “It’s such a user-friendly game,” she added. “The skill set grows with you.”
Fast forward to present day and you’ll find her playing in the Millard Cribbage League, which meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Millard American Legion, located off 144th and Q streets. Currently, there are about 62 people playing regularly, and it’s the social aspect of play that Panzer finds most appealing. “It is just a fun mix of people,” she said. “There are judges, truck drivers, businessmen…just all kinds of interesting people.”
What is cribbage, exactly? Soldier, poet, and rapscallion Sir John Suckling is attributed with inventing the card game in the 1600s. Cribbage is played with a standard deck of cards and a counting board with pegs for scoring. Players accrue points by laying down certain card combinations. Earning points during play allows players to advance pegs until someone achieves the target score, which is typically 121 points. Failing to score properly or move one’s peg can result in the opponent “calling muggins,” allowing them to steal those points
Cribbage has withstood the test of time because it’s fast, fun, and easy to learn. Advancing pegs on the board adds a race-like energy to the game. The boards can be objets d’art as well. A google image search for ‘cribbage boards throughout history’ yields a vast array of materials, artwork, and styles.
The simple elegance of the game appeals to Panzer. “You don’t have to be math-friendly,” she said. “A lot of times I will look over at my partner, and he will help me with the math... ‘Seven or less, Jill,’ stuff like that.” Beyond bragging rights, when her team wins, “We get laughs.”
Finding a card-playing partner to share some lively fun has been one of the highlights of Panzer’s cribbage adventure. Her partner is Harlan Holmes, whom she met 12 years ago when they both discovered the Millard Cribbage League. “Lisa [Petersen], who runs the league, put an ad in the paper, and I showed up [...] without a partner. Harlan did too,” Panzer said.
Holmes said playing with Panzer is great fun. “People just really like her. “[They] look forward to playing with her.”
Holmes can attest to Panzer’s affinity for the social element of the game. “People know that when they play us, we’ll be among the last to leave.” He fondly remembers a match they played early on in their partnership. They were across the table from some serious, taciturn older players, one of whom had an oxygen tank in tow. Holmes recalled that, at one point when Panzer left the table, the man with the oxygen tank remarked grumpily, “If she keeps talking, I am going to run out of oxygen.”
League director Lisa Petersen said that Panzer’s joie de vivre is a great example of the spirit of the league. “I love her, she’s so fun. She just has the best outlook on life,” Petersen explained. “She just goes full speed ahead on living.”
For Panzer, the game is a joy.
“If I ever get a speeding ticket, it will be on a Thursday night,” she said with a chuckle. Thursdays are league nights.