January 19, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Girls Inc. of Omaha Executive Director Roberta Wilhelm is known for growing the nonprofit and inspiring girls to be “strong, smart, and bold” with excellent programs and luminous Lunch for the Girls speakers, like President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Warren Buffett, all three Clintons—Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea—and, most recently, the Bush twins.

“The speakers have had great messages,” says Wilhelm, “but [attendees] always say, ‘Your girls are as impressive as the speakers.’ They’re a very important part of the luncheon,” says Wilhelm.

While the amazing roster is ubiquitous, what you might not know about Wilhelm is she’s a lifelong theater lover, former military kid, and owner of a very eclectic iPod.

“I’m a creative person; in my background, the way I operate, approach life, and think about human beings,” she says. “I’m sure that influences my work.”

Wilhelm’s background and degrees are in theater. Before her 11 years at Girls Inc., she spent 20 at The Emmy Gifford Children’s Theatre (later The Rose).

“I did a little bit of everything there,” says Wilhelm. She got her foot in the door as assistant to the receptionist, later being promoted to receptionist. “I was a very bad receptionist,” says Wilhelm, smiling though clearly not joking. She continued there, in bookkeeping, performing, artistic staff, directing, and eventually Executive Director.

Wilhelm’s love of theater began at age 6, when her mother took her to The Miracle Worker, continuing with excursions to Broadway and her own performances. Wilhelm recalls auditioning for a 4th-grade production of The Emperor and the Nightingale. “I raised my hand and said, ‘Is there any reason it couldn’t be The Empress?’” The teacher couldn’t see why not and, with that, Wilhelm had herself a starring role.

Her parents are from New Jersey, but with a military father Wilhelm grew up “all over,” meaning: Jersey, New York, Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Tehran, Iran.

Wilhelm has five grown children and stepchildren. She and husband, Vic Gutman, are guardian to three boys, ages 14, 12, and 7.

“I’m almost never off the clock,” she adds, “but I like to spend time with my [Girls Inc.] mentee and my kids. I like Film Streams…watching documentaries. I’m an avid reader, and I love to have coffee with friends.”

She and Gutman enjoy taking their three dogs to the park and share a passion for travel. While she does go see theater occasionally, she prefers being involved in productions
to spectating.

Whether on or off the clock, Wilhelm always makes time for tunes. “I love music,” she says, “I have it on in the car, at work, everywhere.” Her iPod features everything from her 20-year-old musician son’s music to Motown, disco, rock, pop, and hip-hop.

“I like the Neville Brothers, The Blind Boys of Alabama, U2,” says Wilhelm, getting out her iPod for reference. “Adele, Aerosmith, Al Green—I love Al Green—Beach Boys, Beatles, Ben Harper…and that truncated lists didn’t even go beyond the second letter of the alphabet. “I also have some punk stuff on here from my college days.”

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