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23rd Annual Tribute to Women

Women Making a Difference

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Honoree - Ellen Wright

As a professional volunteer, Ellen Wright’s contributions are extraordinary. Currently, as a grant writer, she works directly with individual agencies to match need with grants and  provides agencies with long-range planning in this area.

Wright has served in key-director positions: For the Terry K. Wantanabe Charitable Trust and 21 years with the Arthritis Foundation, Nebraska Chapter. As a leader of women, she encourages and empowers them to take charge. Demonstrating this, she is developing an informal mentoring and succession plan for young women to learn how to run large galas and events as successful fundraisers.

Her list of volunteer and fundraising activities since 1979, are numerous. She has received honors as the 2007 Fundraising Volunteer of the Year from the American Red Cross and she received The 2005 Rik Bonness Volunteer of the Year Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

Wright was raised in a family that always gave back to the community, volunteering was just part of their everyday lives. When she first moved to Nebraska from the east coast, feeling somewhat lost, her mother encouraged her to get involved with the community to find her way. Getting involved in the community proved to be exactly what she needed to find a sense of belonging and to find what she was missing in her life.

Although she does not like recognition for what she does, a simple thank you is sufficient. She believes that there has been nothing in life that she has done totally on her own, and instead, feels very blessed to be surrounded by a loving family and some of the most extraordinary women she has ever known. Their accomplishments never cease to amaze her. Her privilege is in having some of our community’s most talented female mentors to follow; she hopes that someday she will have left the same impression on the young women of today.

Wright says that when you have been blessed you need to be a blessing to others, but she truly feels that she has been given so much more in return from the community than she has been given herself.


Honoree - Monica Ibarra

 A Gates Millennium Scholar, Monica Ibarra is a Creighton University nursing student and hopes to be the first in her family to earn a college degree. Her life-long goal is to make a positive impact in the lives of others as she pushes through her own obstacles and challenges.

Born into a migrant, farm-worker family, Ibarra’s serious condition of Lupus brought her family to Omaha where she could be treated without medical insurance. Just last year, as a result of chemotherapy, she lost her hair. Although it was difficult to do so, she discarded her hats with the idea of educating people about Lupus when they ask about her hair.

Recognized by others as a “change agent,” Ibarra helps people grow in awareness of misconceptions or biases. In the process, she has had a positive impact in the lives of others. Ibarra, who did not learn English until she started elementary school, has worked to create awareness in groups that she is a member of such as Creighton’s highly selective, Freshman Leadership Program (FLP) and Campus Ministry. She also has a strong leadership role in planning and implementing the Annual Creighton University Latino Student Association (CULSA) Banquet. At South High School she increased Latino pride for all students as an officer for Latino Leaders.

Ibarra continues to show generosity of spirit, giving back to the community and encouraging others. She continues to mentor  at Gates Weekend Workshops to help other female students and volunteers get through the application process. With no limits to her passion for mentoring, she also serves as a Peer 2 Peer mentor for Student Support Services (SSS), a federally funded program for low income and first-generation students, helping freshman make the transition into Creighton.

Ibarra is action-oriented, and if she sees a problem, she is determined to find a solution. Recognizing the need to encourage Latino high school students from South Omaha to attend college, Ibarra and a few of her peers created a conference for students and parents called College is Possible.

Twenty year-old Ibarra has garnered the Heartland Leadership Conference Scholarship and the Student Support Services Ambassador Award and continues to excel in the community in spite of obstacles and challenges. Ibarra, a young leader, is positive, compassionate, ambitious and committed to helping others.


Honoree - Betty Davis

Omaha’s most branded woman,” as one colleague calls her, “You think history whenever she walks into a room.” The Harold W. Andersen Chair and Executive Director of the Douglas County Historical Society, Betty Davis began a life of community service during her elementary and high school years. Her leadership and story-telling style of presentation continue to inspire audiences of all ages throughout high school, college, and her professional life, including her cherished roll as a mother.

As a young leader, Davis was active in school and community organizations, inspiring women and receiving recognition or honors for a variety of services. For seven years, Davis worked for what is now the University of Nebraska Omaha beginning immediately after graduation and emerging as Assistant Dean of Women and Executive Director of the Alumni Society.

At one point in her life, Davis’ road began to look rough when the mother of two near-college age girls, one profoundly deaf, became a single parent. Despite these challenges, Davis maintained a magnificent career in which skill, intelligence and positivity propelled her.

Davis served in director positions at the Omaha Community Playhouse and the Western Heritage Museum before starting her own public relations firm in 1987. She has served the Douglas County Historical Society since 1997. Her positions have had a major focus on promoting the community. This was demonstrated most recently with the publication of her book, Above All Others on a Stream: Tidbits of Omaha History, a collaboration of unique stories that Davis has shared with thousands of visitors on bus tours of the city.

Davis has been honored numerous times for her wide-ranging contributions to the community including the 2009 Dorothy Rasgorshek Chi Omega Woman of the Year Award; the 2003 Award of Recognition for dedication to preserving the history of Douglas County from the Nebraska Museums Association; and special achievement awards from the UNO Alumni Association and the Nebraska Chapter, Public Relations Society of America. Davis has also served on the boards of many organizations including YWCA and Girl’s Inc. Her service as a role model to women continues to inspire others to push through with courage, ethics and determination.


Honoree - Sue Morris

As President of Heritage Services, Sue Morris has been involved with numerous capital campaigns, totaling nearly $400 million, including the $75 million capital and endowment campaign supporting Joslyn Art Museum and the Durham Museum, and the development of the $104 million Holland Performing Arts Center.

Although Morris is widely recognized for her ability to raise money,  her skill-set is a complete package including conducting feasibility studies, financing, project management, public relations, legal and accounting functions and constant research throughout the country and the world to create the best facilities for Omaha.

Morris has implemented new educational programs, unique to the fundraising community, providing training to over 75 fundraising professionals, as well as assisting Boards of Directors. She appreciates the challenges of not-for-profit leadership, validating the need for cooperation among them, and demonstrates her work philosophy through counseling and guiding many diverse organizations locally and nationally.

Morris fulfills leadership roles in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) locally, regionally and nationally. She has also served as a member of the Board of Trustees for Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a past Moderator for the First Christian Church, Omaha congregation.

Wearing multiple hats, she is not overwhelmed with
the ups and downs of fundraising or the frustrations of construction which, to someone else, could be major stumbling blocks. Instead, as one colleague said, “Sue is able to turn these into stepping stones.” Morris continues to serve as development advisor to organizations such as the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Durham Museum, Joslyn Foundation, Henry Doorly Zoo Foundation, The Nebraska Medical Center and many others.

Morris is simpatico with the YWCA Omaha and other non-profit organizations. Through her strength, warmth, sense of humor and hard work, she has succeeded on both a professional and personal level. She has taught her children to be independent and successful.

Her daughter Sarah, after completing her law degree in 2009, also recently graduated from UNL’s Space and Telecommunications Law program and her son Patrick, a UNL Senior, is a student research assistant with the University’s Center for Children, Families and the Law.

She gives back to the community through her numerous volunteer activities and serves as a role model for many. However, it is when she stops to consider the upcoming 30 year wedding anniversary to her best friend and husband, David, that she beams.


Honoree - Oledia Bell

Oledia Bell is the first woman to serve in the position of Deputy Wing Chaplain at Offutt AFB. She leads a staff of 23 Chaplain Corps Personnel, 27 contractors and 125 volunteers as she coordinates the needs of many different faith groups.

Chaplain Bell created, organized, developed and taught the first ever Chaplain Corps Cultural Diversity academic class at the United States Air Force Chaplain’s School. She is the first African American woman chaplain to serve at the prestigious HQ Chaplain’s Recruiting located at Randolph AFB San Antonio. As Deputy HQ Chaplain Recruiting she had the honor of recruiting the Air Force’s first woman Rabbi. Additionally, Chaplain Bell is the first woman to serve as President of the historical African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church’s, Henry McNeil Turner Chaplain’s Association.

Chaplain Bell continues to pave the way for future leaders. Her involvement as an ordained clergyman and her commitment to the community has helped her integrate faith-based initiatives through Sexual Assault Response (SAR) program and to recently introduce a proposal to form a partnership with YWCA Omaha which will integrate expanded training programs to further combat intimate partner violence targeting churches, the military and local communities. She is also leading the charge to develop a curriculum to assist chaplains and clergy in a more holistic response to domestic violence and other healthy-family issues facing the faith community.

Federal Woman of the Year in 2003, Chaplain Bell has received numerous awards and honors for her military service and service to the community. She understands the importance of giving back and of building strong leaders who will shape the future health of our community. Chaplain Bell devotes much of her personal time to mentoring and developing those interested in pursuing ministry utilizing her experience as an Air Force and AME chaplain. She spends much of her professional energy on programs that enrich the quality of life for Airmen and their families.

Most recently, she developed a mentoring program for women, Mother 2 Mother, which provides mature women trained as role models. This provides an opportunity for mothers to share their experiences and connect with others going through similar situations.

Over the past twenty-five years, Chaplain Bell has become known for her passionate preaching and for empowering and educating those around her. In her role as a community leader, she touches the lives of thousands of women. She has been called “a pastor’s pastor” and a trusted agent for those needing confidential counseling. She is often a voice for those without a voice. Chaplain Bell continually demonstrates a commitment to “Warrior Care,” providing spiritual strength, professional growth and a healthy balance to those who serve our nation during a time of war.


Honoree - Melissa Marvin

Melissa Marvin has been a successful leader and trailblazer for women in the business world for 25 years, exceeding goals and targets set annually with every company. Currently, she is the Performance Results Network Director for a global consulting firm, Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc. Throughout her career she has achieved success as an executive in the traditionally male-dominated world of banking. She has also made it part of her life-long mission to mentor other women, helping them learn the necessary skills to advance in their business careers.

Marvin learned about community service in her early years as she accompanied her parents on cold winter nights to meet the needs of the Salvation Army rounds and to adopt families in need. This is a caring, family tradition that continues today. Family and extended family has always been a focal point of her life, guided by love, faith and compassion. Marvin is married to Geoffrey Hartig and is step-mom to Michael John.

Marvin’s passion as a community leader is evident in chairing three of the Joslyn Art Museum Association’s (JAMA) fundraising events setting records each time for dollars raised and increase in attendance. She is also a member of the Joslyn Art Museum Board of Governors. She sits on the boards of the Joslyn Castle Trust, Nebraska Foundation for the Humanities and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment supporting both arts and humanities throughout the state. Marvin has also chaired the Board of Trustees for Nebraska Shakespeare and as a part of this leadership team, helped double the net worth of the organization.

Among her numerous awards, she was honored in 1995 by the Omaha Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the Top Ten Outstanding Young Omahans and was also recognized with the Distinguished Service Award.

Throughout her business career, Marvin has made, and continues to make, special efforts to mentor women she works with and those she encounters through her business associates and her extensive community volunteer work. She has mentored large numbers of women who became empowered to forge ahead towards success in the business world and have gone on to mentor others. These activities are a part of who she is.

In working in the past with Girls Inc., Adopt-A-School, and Campfire Boys and Girls, she conveys the importance of family, school, work and community. Marvin is a role model for leadership and business skills; she teaches the importance of balance in one’s life and how to find the right combination of career, family and community. These values help those she mentors with their personal strength, stability, growth and productivity.


Honoree - Cindy Bay

Cindy Bay has been volunteering in the Omaha community for more than twenty years. She has served on nearly every major board of directors in Omaha and chaired nearly every major fundraiser. Bay has made an incalculable impact on Omaha’s social service and arts communities. Although many of her more recent volunteer positions have been as Honorary Chair, ask anyone who knows her and they will tell you she is not your typical Honorary Chair – if her name is on your event, you will see results beyond your wildest dreams.

For the last few years, Bay has served as Co-Honorary Chair for the Lauritzen Garden Antique and Garden Show, continuing the work of Kimball Lauritzen and supporting what she calls, “One of Omaha’s major assets.” Her impact on this event has been remarkable with the event becoming a tremendous success under her leadership and guidance.

Chairing the Education Committee for Sacred Heart School’s Christian Urban Education Service (CUES) has been a mission served close to her own heart, working with the faculty of the school to create a good learning environment for teachers and students.

Bay’s other notable accomplishments include chairing the United Way of the Midlands campaign in 1999 and its Tocqueville Society in subsequent years. Becoming familiar with our local network of health and human care service organizations that together solve tough challenges within our community has been an important focus in her life. Bay continues to work with United Way’s Tocqueville Women’s Initiative to provide education and engagement of community issues to its members. As a role model for other volunteers, she encourages and guides people forward.

Among her other most recent notable accomplishments include Honorary Chair, Child saving Institute Cabaret; Honorary Chair, Ambassador of Hope Gala, Eppley Cancer Center, UNMC; and this year’s Honorary Chair, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Diamond and Champions. Her awards and honors include the 2008 Omaha Symphony Dick and Mary Holland Leadership Award, the 2008 Tocqueville Society Humanitarian Award and the 2006 United Way of the Midlands Citizen of the Year, just to name a few.

Bay encourages others with her passion, competence, and dedication to detail and task. Where others see obstacles, she sees challenge and opportunity. When she asks others to provide assistance, on behalf of nonprofit organizations in Omaha, people respond. With tireless pursuit of her goal and tenacity in loyalty to her cause, Bay is advocate, friend, volunteer and partner. Bay gives from the heart her time, treasure and talent.


Honoree - Joan Lappe

Joan Lappe, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, is Professor at Creighton University School of Nursing and Creighton University School of Medicine. She is the first holder of The Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss and Drs. Gilbert and Clinton Beirne Endowed Chair of Nursing. Lappe, an investigator with Creighton’s Osteoporosis Research Center, has devoted her career to understanding the effects of nutrition and physical activity with the promotion of health and prevention of disease across the lifespan. She was among the first to study bone health in children.

Lappe’s scholarship in health promotion and disease prevention is exemplary of patient advocacy. She makes an impact on the health of populations through research and provides leadership of inter-professional teams.

Lappe’s research study of 1,179 postmenopausal rural Nebraska women and a subsequent published paper, Vitamin D and Calcium Supplementation Reduces Cancer Risk: Results of a Randomized Trial, looks at the effects that calcium and vitamin D supplementation may have on reducing the risk of cancer. Dr. Lappe was recently funded by the National Cancer Institute to conduct a follow up study in rural Nebraska Women. The author of numerous articles and a reviewer for many scientific journals, Lappe is a frequent consultant and speaker on topics related to bone health and osteoporosis. For her work, she earned the 2000 Creighton Alumni Merit Award. In 2009, she was the recipient of Creighton University’s first Outstanding Researcher Award.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, Lappe also serves on the Education Committee of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the Osteoporosis Technical Advisory Panel of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

The mother of four children, Lappe has provided community service to church and schools while raising her children. Lappe and her team worked with the Great Plains Girl Scouts USA for many years to improve the bone health of girls. The “Healthy Bones Patch,” was approved as an official council patch. Lappe and her team also created a health fair for the Girl Scouts and their mothers entitled, “Mom and Me and Healthy Bones.”

Lappe’s role in the medical profession is impressive and productive. Lappe’s work has led to advances in understanding and promoting health and to prevention of disease in women. At the same time, she serves as an excellent role model for nursing.


Honoree - Mary Maxwell

A descendent of Omaha’s Creighton family, Mary Maxwell completed her professional career with financial transaction firm, Eide & Eide, from which she retired as Vice President in 2000. However, it is her less serious side, quick wit and dry humor that have made her a popular public speaker for over 45 years and has taken her throughout Nebraska and to 13 other states.

Usually, her role is to provide lighthearted and humorous material. She has spoken at events ranging from the national Christ Child Society convention to the international Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) and a regional meeting of the public health department of the state of Alabama. Maxwell says she has been lucky enough to have family, friends and co-workers “who are a lot funnier and brighter than I am and don’t mind me using their wonderful stories when I am speaking. At least, I don’t think they mind. I’m still here.”

Maxwell has served on the boards of the Junior League of Omaha, Cathedral Project, Friends of Joslyn Castle, Duchesne Alumni Association, Creighton Prep Parents, The Symphony Debutante Ball and the Douglas County Historical Society. She completed two terms on the Douglas County Juvenile Court Commission. She is a member of the Junior League of Omaha of Fame, the Aksarben Court of Honor and she was the 109th Omaha Press Club Face on the The Barroom Floor.

Maxwell leads by example. Wherever possible, she supports entities like Child Saving Institute, the Junior League of Omaha and the TeamMates mentoring program by pro bono appearances at their events and fundraisers. She says nobody gets through this life unscathed, and if she can lighten the load for the people she meets for just a few minutes, that is a great satisfaction for her.

The wife of Chuck Maxwell, Mary is the mother of five and grandmother of 12. Maxwell has addressed audiences of all sizes and cultures. She has realized over and over again that human beings, particularly women, have many more things in common than differences. And, she said, “We have the same hopes and dreams and sorrows… and, overwhelmingly,
the same love of chocolate.”


Honoree - Joan Squires

Joan Squires is President of Omaha Performing Arts and responsible for the Holland Performing Arts Center and the Orpheum Theater. Under her leadership, Omaha Performing Arts has won several awards including the Non-Profit of the Year Award from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce in 2008.

Squires’ impact brings to Omaha a wide variety of performing arts events, as well as outreach and educational efforts to support, enhance and expand appreciation of the arts. During the construction of the Holland Performing Arts Center, she was instrumental in its opening and its successful launch. She has successfully helped grow Omaha Performing Arts to a presenter of nearly five hundred events each year, reaching more than 330,000 people annually, supported by over eighty employees and more than 700 volunteers.

Squires has put together a strong team of co-workers with many key positions being held by women. She is a consummate professional, knowledgeable about the smallest details ranging from the financial statement to the number of seats that need to be sold for any given concert. But when you come to a performance at either of the venues, it is as if she is welcoming you to her home; warm, gracious and enthusiastic.

A foundation in music and business administration has led her to a career from teaching in the classroom to the National Endowment for the Arts, the League of American Orchestras, and positions with various symphony orchestras, including President and CEO of The Phoenix Symphony. In all positions, she has demonstrated her commitment to diversity and to the advancement of women.

Squires has garnered several awards for excellence in her career including Woman of Distinction from the Midlands Business Journal in 2009. She was named “One of the Most Powerful Women in Nebraska” by the Lincoln-Journal Star in 2007. Squires also serves the community through human services and other non-profits in Nebraska including the Salvation Army Kroc Center Performing Arts Sub-Committee, the Nebraska Educational Television fundraising campaign, and the Nebraska Chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association.

Those who know her say that she is a visionary. To some, this great positive energy is almost contagious, making everyone around her feel better.


Honoree - Kathy Fitzgerald Grandsaert

For 13 years, Kathy Fitzgerald Grandsaert has worked for Catholic Charities. As the first Senior Director of Development, she has raised millions of dollars and created an extensive and active donor list when none existed before. She has made our community aware of the need to assist those who are marginalized by society.

Her parents, Mary and Wynn (William) Fitzgerald, raised her with the social responsibility to serve all members of her community, especially those who are downtrodden and miscast because of circumstances beyond their control. After raising two children of her own, she has taken that task to heart with the belief that spiritual devotion is the key to doing goodwill and helping others.

Over the years Grandsaert applied what she learned by using her talents and skills to make a difference in the lives of others through serving in governing roles on boards for many organizations including schools, church, hospitals and arts organizations.

Other community leaders use words such as dedicated, clever, devoted and committed to describe what she does so well in the community. She has chaired over 23 fundraisers for Omaha non-profit organizations. As one person put it, “I know that there are those who run the events and those who serve-but rarely do any float so gracefully between the two roles like Kathy.”

Having the connections in the community from all of her previous endeavors, Grandsaert has connected and attracted volunteers and funders to help the programs and the clients they serve. One example of her many accomplishments is converting Irish Fest, an old, small fundraiser for Catholic Charities, into one of the largest fundraisers in the state. To date, 900 to 1,400 people have attended raising as much as $750,000.

Grandsaert has received the Ancilla Domini Award from Creighton Prep for her thirty years of service and the Junior League of Omaha Sustainer of the Year Award. This Tribute to Women award represents her work with people from all walks of life in her human services role. She works to give respect and dignity to those less fortunate and has learned so much from them.

SpiritofOmaha.com, Omaha's Finest Event Resource

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