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"Fly Kali, Fly!": Remembering Kali Baker

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A Life Well-Lived

"She was an incredible person to be around and to get to know personally and professionally. "

~ Donna Kush, CEO and President, Omaha Community Foundation

 

"She was a champion for the unsung, the diamonds in the rough and also the large nonprofits."

~ Marjorie Maas, Executive Director, SHARE Omaha

 

Kali Baker was only 44 years old when she died of cancer on October 2. But she left an impressive legacy in the community through her 13-year career with the Omaha Community Foundation (OCF), where she most recently served as Vice President of Community Investment.

Among other accomplishments, Baker was the creator of a major community assessment and research project called TheLandscapeOmaha.org and the architect behind OCF’s signature annual event, Omaha Gives, a 24-hour online fundraising campaign that raised over $58 million for over 1,000 nonprofits in eight years. She was still working on the transition between Omaha Gives and a new platform with SHARE Omaha (see article on page 28) days before she died.

Baker was a shining star in the local nonprofit community, former colleagues said.

“Over the course of many years we shared a lot of life lived together,” said former OCF executive Sara Boyd, who hired Baker in 2007. “Kali was much more than an ‘employee.’ Kali was, more meaningfully and truly, a friend, colleague, and thought partner. We shared moments of deep vulnerability, big successes, personal struggles, and tremendous joy. While we did not always see eye-to-eye on every matter, I appreciated that Kali and I had the kind of relationship where we could push each other with generous intent to make the other better. Engaging through difference, which Kali did successfully in so many areas of her life, only further strengthened our relationship over time.”

“She was a colleague in this space who I respected more than probably anybody. I think the closest and most intense work we would do together would have been yet to come,” SHARE Omaha Executive Director Marjorie Maas said. “She left a legacy to us of continuing that great work on behalf of nonprofits and on behalf of causes that matter to the health of our community. She was a champion for the unsung, the diamonds in the rough and also the large nonprofits. I think that is something that I want to emulate and continue her passion that she had for individuals.”

“I just loved working with Kali at the Omaha Community Foundation,” metroMAGAZINE Publisher Andee Hoig said. “We would get together about once a year for an initial meeting and we’d brainstorm and come up with ideas. We’d talk about ‘What is possible?’”

“She was an incredible person to be around and to get to know personally and professionally,” OCF President and CEO Donna Kush said. “There is a wide breadth of work that had her touch on it but Omaha Gives was her baby. She had a vision after researching other communities and she implemented this initiative that will have a long-lasting impact.”

Amazing relationship builder

Baker’s brother Jared Baker said his sister’s work in the community is her legacy, but it was also a reflection of her as a person.

“I feel like, more than anything, Kali was distinguished for her compassion and ability to make everyone around her feel better. She was an amazing relationship builder, and even if you just met her, she made you feel like you were friends and also that you were important. She never stopped working on herself, personally and professionally, and she had such a wide array of interests and connections,” he said. “I think Kali's work ethic and the fact that she turned her passion into a career are what distinguished her professionally, and ultimately defined her legacy.”

Baker also served the community through board and committee service with the Union for Contemporary Art, Nebraska Friends of Foster Children, the Spark Community Development Intermediary, Film Streams and VOICE. In 2013 she was named as one of Jaycees’ Ten Outstanding Young Omahans.

Climbing high

Friends, family and colleagues recalled Baker’s smile, her spirit of fun, her charisma, her caring, and her love for the mountains.

“We shared a happy place in the mountains as our sanctuary. Kali was fiercely independent, and the mountains called to her free spirit in a way she and I would often relate,” Boyd said. “I still have a picture of the mountains she shared with me last year when I left the Foundation to remind me of the importance of tending to our spiritual selves with a handwritten note attached that reads, ‘The view from Gray's Peak, 14k. Because the mountains are always calling.’ That has always rung true for us, but speaks in even higher volume to me knowing life can be fleeting.”

“Her love of Colorado and my love of Colorado were so in sync. It was always so fun to hear about her adventures in Colorado and I’d see her pictures on Facebook and vice versa,” Hoig said. “Our love of the mountains and our love of hiking really connected us in a different way that was above and beyond our professional relationship.”

Baker’s light shines on, her brother said.

“Kali was not only my sister, but she was my best friend. She was always there for me, and anyone that needed her. My most cherished moments with her are probably the time that she got to spend with my wife and daughter, Whitney and Mara. She loved spending time with children of friends and family, and always made time for kids when they were around, and Mara was her favorite and most loved,” he said. “The loss of Kali goes beyond just our family. Losing Kali was truly a loss for the entire community. The tremendous outpouring of support we have received from the community has been incredibly helpful in dealing with the grief from a life lost too soon.”

“I feel like the gift Kali gave our team at SHARE Omaha is that we feel even more emboldened to do this work with excellence and to keep that passion and that underlying reason why we’re doing it at the forefront of our mind,” Maas said. “Because that’s the kind of work she inspired.”

“Kali lived intensely, wore her heart on her sleeve, and had a fire within her visible to those that had the opportunity to know her. I am heartbroken, yet grateful to have had the time that I did to see her light shine,” Boyd said.

“I’m going to miss her terribly,” Hoig said. “She was an amazing woman and we’re all so blessed to have known her and to have had her in the community.”

“Truly, we miss her terribly. And we always will,” Kush said. “The best way to honor her vision and her legacy is to continue to carry out her vision with that same enthusiasm and passion.”

The Kali Baker Memorial Fund has been established at the Omaha Community Foundation. To contribute or for more information, please visit omahafoundation.org.

A Life Well-Lived  •  Remembering Kali Baker