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Celebrating Life: Remembering Larry Katich

One of a Kind

As the third-generation leader 

of the office furniture and equipment company All Makes, which has been an Omaha mainstay for over a century, Larry Kavich’s name was certainly familiar in the local business sector. 

Years after passing the company torch in 2004 to son Jeff (president and chief executive officer) and daughter Amee Zetzman (executive vice president and chief financial officer), Kavich was still considered to be among the best business leaders in Omaha history. And it became official last April, only four months before his death at age 74 from pancreatic cancer, when Kavich was inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame along with his son and daughter and father Lazier (posthumously).
 
Kavich’s comments at the ceremony were brief and humble: “It’s such a privilege for our family to be recognized by the Omaha business community. One of my proudest moments was handing All Makes off to the kids. It went as well as anyone could have hoped. My dad would be so proud to see what Jeff and Amee have done. We are truly blessed.”

“He thought it was pretty special when we were all inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame,” Zetzman said. “That, in his mind, was the ultimate stamp of Omaha’s approval and that was a big deal to him. We are just so fortunate that he was here and was able to do that.” 

Vision, ability and acumen​

Jim Landen, chairman and CEO of Security National Bank, another local multigenerational family-owned business, began a business relationship with Kavich several decades ago that soon developed into a friendship.
“Larry was a superior salesman. He could sell extraordinarily well but on top of it he had the capacity to manage the finances and the personnel issues and everything else. From a businessperson’s perspective he had it all,” Landen said. “You just don’t meet many people who have all of those skills: vision, sales ability and business acumen.” 

All Makes was Clark Creative Group’s very first account when the firm opened in 1992, President Fred Clark said, and people still remember Kavich as the spokesperson in a series of All Makes commercials produced by Clark Creative. 
 
“He was incredibly welcoming and giving,” Clark said. “He was a marketing person at heart and had a passion for marketing. We had a great time collaborating.” 

The client-vendor relationship evolved over time, Clark added. 

“In addition to being a client, Larry was a business mentor to me. He helped shape my company and the way I think about business,” he said. “I would watch him conducting business, and many of my mannerisms and approaches are a direct result of what I learned from Larry.” 

Clark said he remembers Kavich as a multitasker and a direct communicator. 

“He didn’t hesitate, he made decisions quickly; he was fair but tough,” he said. “He had this great ability to connect with people by getting to know them before doing business or while doing business with them. He was just one of those people that you enjoyed being around and clients enjoyed being around. All Makes is the quintessential family-owned business, four generations strong, and they always make you feel like you’re part of the family and part of their success. Larry was the epitome of that.”
Harley Schrager, who met Kavich while both were students at Central High School, said his longtime friend had good instincts rather than an academic methodology when it came to running All Makes. 

“He had a common-sense, straight- forward approach to business. He was a straight-shooter and dealt with vendors and customers alike in that way,” Schrager said. “He gained a lot of experience watching his father in business but it really came to him naturally. (All Makes) was all he ever wanted to do and I think he left college because he felt he could learn more by doing the work.”

Loads of laughs…very few tears​

Kavich attended the University of Oklahoma. In his sophomore year, he was introduced to a pretty freshman from Des Moines named Andi Bookey. Less than a year after meeting, the couple left college to marry and make their home in Omaha. (Kavich attended additional classes at the University of Nebraska Omaha but eventually left school behind for the business.) 

“My mom and dad both admit they had priorities other than academics when they went to college,” Jeff Kavich said. 

“We wanted to find our soulmates,” Andi Kavich said, clearly amused. “I went out with Larry twice and by the third date it was history.” 

Their marriage lasted for nearly 54 years. 
“I wrote something for our 45th anniversary celebration: ‘We’ve had a lot of laughs and very few tears,’ Andi said. “We got lucky. We really got lucky.”

At her husband’s memorial service and even in the months since, many people have remarked on the couple’s great love, she added. 

“He loved me as much as any husband could. People tell me all the time, ‘He loved you so much,’” she said. “And he did! I couldn’t have had a better husband.”

He was a wonderful father to Amee and Jeff and an amazing grandfather to his four granddaughters as well, Andi said. 
Jeff Kavich said his father guided him both in life and in business. 

“He was a good father and he was one of my best friends. He was a mentor, he was a teacher. He was always looking out for us,” he said, adding that he particularly admired his father’s ability to relate to him at every age. “People say to me that they used to love talking to my dad. I think that he was genuine and sincere and was truly interested in other people.” 

“He had the reputation among our friends as the ‘fun dad’; people liked to hang out with him at our house,” Zetzman said. “But he also had high expectations for both of us.” 

“For a grandfather, he was very, very savvy with social media,” Jeff Kavich said, adding with a laugh: “To a fault. He kept everyone’s Facebook pages in line with a quick call to me or Amee.”
“Especially once they were all old enough to have phones, he really liked to stay in touch with them. He learned how to use Venmo (a mobile payment service) and would say things like, ‘The first one to respond to this text gets a Venmo!’ He had a ritual where he either texted or talked to all four of the grandkids every Friday. That was their thing,” Zetzman said. 

“He would call the four grandkids on Friday to wish them a good Shabbat, and I’ve taken that over,” Andi Kavich said. 

Small acts of kindness​

Kavich was generous outside his family as well, she said. He preferred helping people personally and directly. “He gave quietly and he liked to give in his own way. He was just an all-around good guy.” 

Two of Kavich’s favorite charities were the Nebraska Humane Society and Child Crisis Arizona. In Scottsdale, Arizona, where he and his wife spent winters, Kavich worked with a local organization to pay camp tuition for children and make technology available for their homes. “He grew up wanting for nothing, and Jeff and I were fortunate as well. He cared about the less fortunate and how he could help give them a hand up and not be excluded due to their circumstances,” Zetzman said. “He wanted others to be able to have those opportunities. 

“Larry would help people totally under the radar on a one-on-one basis rather than giving to big charitable causes,” Schrager said. “He liked to deal directly with people in need.” 

“What was meaningful to him was a thoughtful gift,” Jeff Kavich said. He recalled that his father would invite “Broom Man” Livingston Wells, a blind minister who sold brooms door to door, in for a cup of coffee or a snack when he made his rounds near the All Makes facility. He made occasional donations to Wells’s church or even provided him a ride home. 

Another time, Kavich stopped to assist a motorist whose car had broken down on the Interstate. Days later, the man was newly employed by All Makes. Other stories include Kavich sending ice-cream treats to a nursing home, or buying practical items struggling people needed like eyeglasses, snow tires and even a laptop. 

“He was about kind gestures. He didn’t want recognition; he just wanted to do something nice. It was small acts of kindness,” Zetzman said. 

She added, with a chuckle: “And Amazon.com made his small acts of kindness a lot easier. People have told me they’d be talking about a book with him and it would arrive the next day.” 

“He was a giving and open person as a friend,” Clark said. “If there was a product he enjoyed, he would share that with you. I remember he loved Ecco shoes. He was so enamored with these shoes that I came to work one morning and there was a pair of them on my desk for me.” 

“He bought Allbirds shoes for all the grandkids and for other people. I think he had eight or nine pair; he loved them,” Andi Kavich said. 
Landen said Kavich also was enthusiastic about great finds at local restaurants. 

“He loved good food and was always on the search for what he believed was the greatest hamburger joint or Italian food or Mediterranean bistro in Omaha,” he said. “He’d invite you to lunch and say, ‘I have a really cool place you haven’t been to.’ He was always on the search for something interesting and that would be fun to talk about or to expose other people to.”

Car guy, dog person 

“He loved the finer things in life,” Clark said. “He always drove a great car and he always had the best gadgets.” 

Kavich was “a cool innovator,” Landen agreed, and an early adopter of technology. Zetzman called him “a car guy.”

“He was low-profile for sure but he had a real fascination with nice cars and would give up his low profile for the right car,” Landen said. 

“He bought a Porsche in 1969, the year I was born, that he really loved over the years,” Jeff Kavich said “Because of its age, to a collector it’s a gem.”

Andi Kavich has possession of the Porsche now, but laughed as she recalled that she never really drove it in the 50 years her husband owned it. 

“Never! I have no interest, no,” she said. “He bought it in 1969 new. It’s all original, and it’s vintage—so no air conditioner. It’s loud. It’s too hard to get in and out of.”
A year ago, Kavich finally bought a Bentley, a vehicle he’d always fancied. But it never left Arizona, where they’re more common, Andi said. “He would never drive one in Omaha.” 
 
“He was crazy about it that Bentley,” Jeff Kavich said. 

Bentley is also the name of Andi’s new mini-goldendoodle puppy, a breed favored by her son, who said, “They have the friendliness and affection of a retriever and the smarts of a poodle. They’re the best.” Kavich, however, always poked fun at the mixed breed, so the puppy’s name was chosen in good fun. 

“I think we were married three months when we got our first dog, Maggie,” Andi said. Kavich was devoted to each of the long line of family pets. The last two were standard poodles, 14-year-old Belle and 6-year-old Stoli. “Stoli is our fifth standard poodle. They’re very smart. Larry loved his dogs.”

“His schedule revolved around whatever animals were in the house,” Zetzman said. “I remember him picking up hamburgers for the dogs, teaching the fast-food people to make them burgers without seasoning and cheese. Belle and Stoli were so devoted to him. They slept under his hospital bed at his home.” 

A unique personality

Kavich’s family and friends described him in various ways as one of a kind. 

“He was this generous, giving, interesting, quirky guy we all loved. He had a way of making you feel comfortable and welcome. He was always complimenting his friends,” Clark said. “He was a unique personality that you don’t find very often in business…and I don’t think I ever saw him in a tie.” 

“He always looked good but he dressed casually to a great degree; even in a professional setting he was not a suit-and-tie guy,” Landen said. “Larry was a distinctive-looking person and he stood out in a room and had a wonderful way about him. It was not pretentious and there was certainly a degree of confidence in him where he was comfortable in any setting.” 

“He had some quirkiness,” Zetzman said. 

“He had some neuroses for sure. We joked when our dad was alive that he was Larry David from ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’” Jeff Kavich said. “There’s a Yiddish expression called ‘mishegas’ where you freak out and stress about things that mean absolutely nothing but will throw you into a tailspin. He had a lot of mishegas.” 

“He was a unique character and I say that in a very endearing sense,” Schrager said, adding that “Larry provided me with a great deal of material” for the lovingly funny parts of the eulogy he delivered at his friend’s memorial service. “He was funny and witty, insightful and a good judge of character by and large, all those traits that stood him in good stead in his career and in his social life. And he was highly opinionated. If you wanted to know where he stood you’d just talk to him for a minute or two and you would know exactly.”
Kavich was inclined to picking up new interests and embracing them wholeheartedly. 

“In his 50s, he started riding horses. He really got into that. He found photography and went nuts over it,” Landen said. “He would dive in with both feet and really work on becoming accomplished at it. Once something caught his interest, he stayed with it.” 

“He had a photography show at a gallery,” Andi Kavich said. And when Kavich discovered creative writing, he went all-out. “I have volumes of pieces he’d written.” 

“He always made videos and I’ll bet we have 500 movies,” Zetzman said. “He’d always make a point of reference on what a gallon of gas cost and what a gallon of milk cost.” 

Kavich battled several debilitating illnesses throughout his life including Crohn’s disease; Wegener’s granulomatosis, which led to kidney disease and a transplant in 2012 (with Zetzman as his donor) that extended his life; and the pancreatic cancer which took his life. “Through all of it, he was a trooper,” Andi Kavich said. 

“He taught us that when there is a problem that has a way around it, you find your way through it and put it into perspective,” Zetzman said. “And that if you don’t have your family, you have nothing.”

The good memories live on, said those close to Kavich.

“Everybody who was part of that inner circle really appreciated Larry and he made a mark on every one of them in a very positive way,” Landen said. “If you were Larry’s friend, you knew it. Even in his dying days he never forgot to tell you how important you were in his life and how he appreciated the things you did for him and the experiences that you had together. It was a complete privilege to be considered his friend. I’ll never forget him.” 

In his eulogy, Schrager said: “While he relished being viewed as ‘different,’ his friendship and affection for those he held close was anything but unorthodox. If Larry liked you, he made no bones about it…Kav, you touched many, many lives in very positive ways. Lots of people you made smile or loved, many that you helped, and even some who pissed you off or vice versa, will long remember you—and smile all over again at your memory.” 

“He was just a wonderful addition to my life and to my business,” Clark said. “He loved his family, loved his business and was a really interesting man who made the world a better place.”
 
“We miss him dearly. I think about him all the time, and that won’t change and doesn’t have to change,” Jeff Kavich said. “We were lucky to have him as a dad and a business mentor and a grandfather to our kids. He was the greatest guy out there.”

Perhaps his wife summed it up best: “They broke the mold with Larry.” 

​​

“We were lucky to have him as a dad and a business mentor and a grandfather to our kids. He was the greatest guy out there.”

 

 

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