Allan and Dianne Lozier and John and Wende Kotouc know they’ve all been friends for decades and that the two men had become friends well before the couples were married. But they had to do a little calculating to figure out what year it was when Allan Lozier and John Kotouc were first introduced when serving together on the board of directors for Bellevue College (now Bellevue University). Lozier finally guessed that 1976 or 1977 was probably that auspicious year.
"That goes back a long time," Lozier said.
"40 years ago?" said Wende Kotouc, John Kotouc’s wife.
The two couples converse in the manner one would expect from an easy and longstanding friendship. But the Loziers and Kotoucs are not only good friends, they’re respected leaders who have collectively and individually made an impressive mark on the community.
Allan and Dianne Lozier
Allan Lozier began working at age 14 for his family’s small business that started out as a garage-based refrigerator repair service and eventually became Lozier Corporation, the largest manufacturer of store fixture systems in the U.S. The company is still headquartered in Omaha, and Lozier has served as president or chairman of the board since 1959, starting when he was only 26 years old. Dianne Seeman Lozier, who married Allan in 1991, is corporate counsel for the Lozier Corporation today and was formerly associate general counsel and vice president of quality and risk management for Health One Corporation in her native Minneapolis.
The Loziers hail from different cities but with similar backgrounds, and their common interests are evident in their individual histories of community involvement and the shared work they do through the Lozier Foundation. Founded in 1986, the foundation they fund focuses on education, social services and issues involving women and children with an emphasis on the inner city and underrepresented populations. The Loziers have also supported a wide range of nonprofits and community organizations both together and separately.
John and Wende Kotouc
John and Wende Kotouc also are from different communities and career paths. Wende Kotouc’s work history includes management positions with McDonald’s Corporation and an executive officer role for a global nonprofit called Willow Creek Association; both companies are in Illinois. John Kotouc is a fourth-generation Nebraskan, originally from the Humboldt area, whose forefathers were among the founders of American National Bank. John and Wende Kotouc serve as the bank’s executive co-chairmen today, but the company’s origins date back to 1856 with family ties beginning in 1909. American National Bank now has 30 locations in Nebraska and Iowa along with seven locations operating under the Western Bank name in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, and services in Kansas and Texas. Allan Lozier and John Kotouc joined together in co-ownership of American National Bank in 1984.
The Kotoucs, like the Loziers, are committed to supporting the community. Both have served on numerous community boards and organizations as a couple and independently, and under their leadership, the bank maintains a long history of nonprofit service and community involvement.
A giving way of life
Residents of the Omaha metro area would be hard-pressed to find any nonprofit or community organization that hasn’t benefited at some point by either couple personally or through their businesses or foundation. A very small sampling would include ABIDE Omaha, Bellevue University, College of Saint Mary, Creighton Prep High School, Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, Heartland Family Service, Project Harmony, Empowerment Network, Family Housing Advisory Services, Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Hope Center for Kids, , Make-A-Wish, Nebraska Methodist Hospital, Omaha Conservatory of Music, Omaha Gives!, Salvation Army, Stephen Center, STEP-UP Omaha!, University of Nebraska Foundation, various churches and faith based organizations, the Women’s Center for Advancement, and the Women’s Fund.
Their giving activities range from overseeing or coordinating large corporate campaigns and supporting coalitions like United Way and Omaha Gives! to targeted efforts like contributing to causes close to an individual employee or customer. They’ve all given volunteer hours and served on boards and in advisory roles to various organizations.
John Kotouc said that, just like banking is in his DNA, giving is in his blood.
"It has been a way of life that has been part of my family; I’m following in the footsteps of some very generous people—my grandfather (Otto), my father and mother (Otto and Mildred)—and we always believed that it was important for others to benefit from any of our successes," Kotouc said. "And Allan and Dianne have also been extraordinary mentors and partners in this regard."
For Allan Lozier, his family’s giving tradition also followed business success, but he was around to witness the slim earliest years.
"It began with survival. Everybody that I knew in my dad’s family was a small-business owner. They were always struggling, my granddad and both of my dad’s two brothers. Once you get past the struggle, then you can look at other things. But at the beginning, you pay the loans, pay the bills and so on," he said.
"We fairly quickly got by that, and then we started looking at what we owed the community. To my way of thinking, there were two things we owed the community. One was to leave it better than we found it. And two was to provide jobs. That’s a very hard balancing act." The company had 25 workers when it began manufacturing store fixtures more than 60 years ago. Today, Lozier Corporation employs more than 2,200.
In contrast, Dianne Lozier did not come from a family that had the capacity to lead by example where giving was concerned.
"I grew up in a very poor family; there’s no history of philanthropy that I came from; the heart was there, but the financial resources were not," she said.
Regardless, she was ready to give once she had the means.
"I moved to Omaha in 1990 and Allan’s family had been very philanthropic for generations. So that was a very different experience for me and if I think about what’s important to me philanthropically, it’s trying to figure out how to really make a difference," she said. "That causes me to try to get into any new venture with that thought ‘What is it that we’re trying to accomplish?’ It’s not a whole bunch of meetings and fun (activity), but ‘What is the difference we’re trying to make?’"
While Wende Kotouc came from a family who taught her the importance of community involvement and charitable giving, she said she considers giving opportunities from a similar practical perspective as Dianne Lozier.
"Our bank officers and employees volunteer in the community. We seek to make our customers successful, and ask for the community’s business; it’s important to give back" she said. "For me, it’s impact. Where can we have the greatest impact to bring benefit to the community? It’s not always the popular things."
Engaging in the community
Every community is different, too. Because American National Bank has so many locations, John Kotouc said that the specific needs of a particular neighborhood, town or city, or even region can vary widely and it’s been a factor in the company’s diverse giving activity.
"Sometimes either we learn about a need or an officer brings a need to our attention," he explained. "As we are engaged in the community we learn about special needs, and sometimes we become very passionate about them."
Most branch employees live in or near their banks’ neighborhoods or service areas, so they provide insight into local needs.
"Branches have authority to choose what they want to support in the community, so often you can see the very specific needs the branches identify with," Wende Kotouc said. "Each branch is uniquely plugged into the community and we give them a lot of choices so they can become thriving members in the community."
Workplace-sponsored giving opportunities are able to involve all employees, John Kotouc said, and serve as a catalyst for giving in general.
"One of the collaborations in the community is Omaha Gives! It’s fascinating to see where those gifts are given," he said. American National Bank has been involved with the event since its first year and serves as a presenting sponsor, he added. "We challenge every employee to be a part of it, but the objective is that everybody gets to have an opportunity to be a giver. We also do this with United Way. We believe that once people give, it gets in their system and it’s an important change for then."
"It shows commitment and is obviously good for employees to know that they’re giving through their workplace which is giving back to the community, trying to make it a better place," Wende Kotouc said.
"I think for a lot of people, when their employer does something visible in the community, they’re a part of that," Dianne Lozier said. "It contributes to greater involvement: "I can make a difference personally when I work for an organization that tries to make a difference in the community."
Lozier Corporation’s headquarters and largest facility are located in North Omaha, and the Loziers have "become more and more pointed at North Omaha as time’s gone by," Allan Lozier said.
"The Lozier store fixtures business has always been a part of North Omaha. North Omaha has a special place in our hearts. Focusing there is very important," Dianne Lozier said. "We were very supportive of Habitat for Humanity’s work in the Kountze community area, strengthening the community and making the property more appealing to homebuilding and that kind of thing; it was very meaningful to do this in partnership with many others."
Education is key
As vice chair of The Lozier Foundation, Dianne Lozier has also led the development of Nelson Mandela Elementary, an independent, nonprofit elementary school serving high-poverty students in the North Omaha area. The school, located on North 30th street in the heart of the neighborhood it serves, is now in its third school year.
"There’s a lot of challenge there," she said. The area has one of the highest crime rates in the state and is among the most impoverished in the city. "Intergenerational poverty makes it incredibly hard for kids to have hope, to see that their life could be different."
Lozier knows from experience that education is a primary factor in creating career opportunities that can result in a more secure existence than previous generations.
"For whatever reason—neither of my parents graduated from high school—education has always seemed like the key to have the kind of life I wanted to have," she said. "What I really want for (young people) to do is think of what life you want to have, think about what kind of education you need to have."
Children who grow up in prosperous families "have every reason to believe they could have a good life," she said. Her husband, for instance, was confident from an early age that he could be successful through a lot of hard work and a bit of ingenuity.
"I, like John, had a family full of entrepreneurs. And I owe a lot to my dad and mom, who both worked in the business. They helped me get a good start, and based on their behavior I knew no bounds. Anything I wanted to do, I did," Allan Lozier explained. "And that’s how I got into banking and real estate and store fixtures."
"I don’t mean to say that it was served to you on a silver platter, but you had people around you who were hardworking and very committed and very involved in the community," Dianne Lozier said. "If you think instead that you’re in a setting where maybe nobody in your family graduated from high school and there is a whole lot of crime that happens in your community and people have made different kinds of life choices, you can have the sense that ‘this is what my life is going to be like.’…To have the hope and aspirations that your life might be different is a huge need and a huge value. One of the things I think we are really trying to do with Nelson Mandela Elementary School is help instill or grow that hope."
Because of that hope, the students are flourishing, Lozier said. She’s also already seeing a ripple effect touching their families and even the area neighborhoods. "It’s great to have so much community involvement, so much parental involvement," she said.
Nelson Mandela Elementary may be the largest educational project either couple is connected to, but it’s far from the first.
"Education was the reason Allan and I met," John Kotouc said, reiterating that both men were involved with Bellevue College and Bellevue University boards.
"We’ve both been lifelong learners and we both place a really high importance upon education for young people and for this community and for the area and country. It is a real divider for a community that will succeed or not," he said.
With a wry smile, John Kotouc added: "And Allan is probably the best walking librarian of articles that I know."
Lozier was amused but unabashed. "There’s nothing that doesn’t touch my curiosity. So sometimes I get enmeshed in too much reading material. I copy it all off and save it and sometimes I distribute it," he said.
Building the fabric of the community
Both men agree that strictly speaking, corporate giving is voluntary. But they have always approached it as a duty they’re glad to carry out.
"I heard someone say that ‘giving really builds the fabric of the community that is ours.’ I have found this to be true. If we don’t address community concerns we won’t be a healthy community," Kotouc said. "I remember Allan Lozier saying that a number of years ago, and I’ve always thought that was a wise understanding."
Giving isn’t always easy or immediately gratifying, Allan Lozier said. Funding isn’t infinite and community needs are boundless. Challenges may seem almost insurmountable. People who need assistance aren’t always appreciative of efforts to help them. And some causes are less compelling than others.
"There are some things you have to do that are not very popular but they still need to be done," he said. "You also have to stand for some things."
Sometimes, the best way to help meet a need or support a project is to rally others to the cause, Wende Kotouc said. That takes a lot more time and focus than simply writing a check.
"There’s financial giving and giving of your time, but there’s also discernment of your influence and really taking time to research the causes in the community which simply require connecting people. Sometimes we’re positioned as such that we can pick up the phone and get different people together," she said. "I learned a lot of that when I married John…That was a great lesson for me. How you spend your time can have a significant impact.
"Wende is an extraordinary leader/doer in all her circles of influences. Tireless, I would say," John Kotouc said.
Although it’s a worthy endeavor, serving as a catalyst or facilitator can be challenging, Dianne Lozier added.
"I would say all four of us are introverts from one level to another," she explained. "We don’t want to have lots of meetings; it sucks the energy out of us. That aspect of it is a tough one. Finding the appropriate amount of energy to put toward each (effort)—that’s been an interesting thing to figure out. It’s evolving."
Having to say no is also trying.
"There is need everywhere," Wende Kotouc said.
"We are trying to focus more on what we do as a foundation. And that’s really hard because you have to say ‘no,’ you have to prioritize, you have to narrow or channel your curiosity," Dianne Lozier added.
As time marches on, everyone’s level of personal activity is forced to change in some ways, Allan Lozier pointed out. Now in his 80s, he’s thinking about his legacy more than what he’s done in his past, he said. But he still has a "deep sense of responsibility for people’s jobs and helping the community."
"I personally started dropping out of community affairs between ages 72 and 75. I focused instead for what happens after I’m gone. I’m almost 84," he said. "It’s not that easy. But it’s rewarding in a way because it gives me more time to think about where we’re going strategically."
Getting others involved is another way to ensure giving not only grows in the present, but continues in the long run, Wende Kotouc said.
"From a leadership perspective, it’s been a joy to watch. We’ve really been focusing on empowering our bank leaders: watching them learn how to lead, helping others lead, growing that process and then encouraging them to go out into the community, partner on boards, do this that and the other thing with their teams," she said. "You see them replicate this in the community. It’s well worth the effort to do that as an organization because if you enable people, it has a multiplier effect."
Sometimes what charitable campaign organizers want most is a personal endorsement from a successful business or community leader.
"We don’t feel a need to have our names out there (but) you learn that at times it makes a difference for an organization. I think people need to give in the way that works best for them with an eye toward the impact that putting their name there—or someone else’s name—has or doesn’t have," Dianne Lozier said. "There are all sorts of events for which people want chairs and people to recognize and you figure out very quickly that it means you want someone to lend their name in support of an organization typically to raise money but also to help raise awareness of the cause. That’s something to me that’s important to think about."
The most important measure of success is how much support is cultivated, whether in terms of dollars or volunteer activity. Recognition, Allan Lozier said, should be irrelevant.
"If that’s why you’re giving, to put your name on something—we don’t want to do that," he said.
"We don’t think of ourselves as something special," John Kotouc agreed. "We are common people who are interested in certain causes and think certain causes make a difference in the community."
"What I really want for (young people) to do is think of what life they want to have; think about what kind of education they need to have that life."
~ Dianne Lozier
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