Tag Archives: Hal Daub

Bringing the Community Together

August 19, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tom Pettigrew was working as a banker at Wells Fargo in the summer of 1989 when his boss approached with a proposition: Would he help coordinate a new public service project?

The plan was to paint houses for low-income elderly and permanently disabled residents. Pettigrew and his team set a goal of painting 10 houses in the Omaha area. But after gathering a group of volunteers, they ended up painting 50 homes that first year.

“It wasn’t being done by anyone,” Pettigrew says. “We said it was like a barn raising, and people came out to help.”

The Brush Up Nebraska Paint-A-Thon is entering its 27th year this summer. Pettigrew, now age 72, remains the program’s co-director alongside his wife, Sheila, 69. The community-wide activity will culminate on the third Saturday of August, with the help of more than 1,800 volunteers.

It’s a project the couple feel passionate about. They started a program in Omaha and have been asked to start programs in South Dakota, in Wisconsin, and across Iowa from Atlantic to Cedar Rapids.

In the U.S., there are 22 million low-income homeowners, many of whom live on social security or an income of less than $1,000 per month. Many of these people are concerned about paying for groceries, not repainting their homes.

“There’s no way they’re going to get this done if someone doesn’t help,” Tom says.

The work builds confidence and makes the homeowners happy, but it also helps them financially.

“In order to get insurance, a lot of times a home has to be painted and in good shape,” Tom says.

Pettigrews1The Pettigrews and their board work with the Department of Health and Human Services to collect the names and addresses of people who need help having their homes painted. They coordinate the volunteers and hand out housing assignments a month before the event.

“That way they have the time to evaluate what they need,” Tom says. “They go to the homeowners, who pick out their paint color.”

The Pettigrews coordinate the donation of supplies and hold a training session on how to scrape, prime, and paint a home. They instruct volunteers on how to properly remove lead paint if they encounter it.

Then, they stand back, and have faith that their volunteers know their jobs.

“On paint day we drive around and see as many houses as possible. The people will be busy, and happy,” Sheila says. “We are not a repair project, yet we find a lot of them will repair things like windowsills. They plant flowers, rake leaves. It’s wonderful.”

“Hal Daub came to paint one year,” Tom says with a smile. “A boy from the neighborhood came over to see what was going on, and Hal taught him to repair screens.”

The couple are astonished and humbled by the way their passion project has grown through the years.

Tom says, “to have teams come back year after year is impressive. We have people who do this year after year, and we’ve gotten to know many of them.”

It isn’t just the individuals that come back. Tom no longer works for Wells Fargo, but the company still puts together teams and paints six homes each year. Other corporations, such as Union Pacific, participate each year. The paint is always donated by Diamond Vogel.

All this work has added up to the brushing-up of 2,724 homes, while building a network of extended friends bonded to their community.

“We get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from this,” Tom says. “We enjoy putting people together to get this done.”

“We meet wonderful people,” Sheila says. “We have friends that we’ve known for 20-some years through this project.”

Ballet Nebraska

September 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in the Fall 2015 issue of B2B.

How is it that Midlands Choice has come to make an investment in, of all things, a ballerina?

Sure, the bottom line of any insurance entity is driven by risk management—the investing of premium revenues to hedge against claims.

But taking stock in Claire Goodwillie, a company dancer with Ballet Nebraska?

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Erika Overturff

The Midlands Choice example is repeated all across the metro as area businesses support a broad array of arts nonprofits, ones that dwell in everything from tutus to tempura.

And the table is set for a new era of collaboration between business and the arts  because philanthropic giving in America has finally returned to pre-recession levels.

Contributions, which totaled $358 billion in 2014, surpassed 2007’s pre-recession level of $355 billion. Additionally, giving was up from all major sources—individuals, corporations, foundations and bequests—according to Giving USA, an annual report compiled by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Giving USA Foundation of Chicago.

“Eight out of nine types of charitable organizations we measure saw increased contributions, and that’s good news for the philanthropic sector as a whole,” W. Keith Curtis told Omaha Magazine in an email. Curtis is chair of Giving USA Foundation and president of the nonprofit consulting firm The Curtis Group. “The 60-year high for charitable giving in 2014 is a great story about resilience and perseverance.”

Themes of resilience and perseverance define the Ballet Nebraska story.

Erika Overturff was 27 years old when the ballet company of which she was a dancer and resident choreographer appeared doomed. She had no money. She had no business acumen.

That was 2009. Flash forward to 2015 and Overturff, now 33, founder and artistic director of Ballet Nebraska, is leading the region’s only professional dance company into its sixth season.

In a city known for its “can-do” spirit, this story could be about almost any local arts nonprofit, but the unlikely saga of Ballet Nebraska is told here because it is perhaps the most improbable of tales, one that best reveals what a business community and the arts can do when they share a common vision.

Like settling into your seat with a program before the lights dim at any performing arts venue, it’s probably best to start by reviewing the cast of characters:

The Connector

Hal Daub knows people. Especially in a city of six degrees of separation that is, in reality, much more like two or three degrees, the former Omaha mayor (1995-2001) and U.S. Congressman (1981-1989) who has served on countless nonprofit boards and is now a partner at Husch Blackwell…knows people.

“When I was first introduced to Hal and he offered to help,” Overturff says, “I assumed that meant he was going to maybe make a few calls and do a little name-dropping.” Daub, it turned out, would become a key player in the often delicate pas de deux that is the coupling of business and the arts. “He not only made those calls, but he set up the appointments…and then he came along to personally introduce me and stand by my side in front of those who would become some of the most generous funders of Ballet Nebraska.”

“The reason I am so fascinated by what Erika has done,” says Daub, “is that Omaha is a city that has clearly evolved to become a place that is not just metropolitan, but truly cosmopolitan.” And investing in the arts, Daub believes, makes good business sense. “The social environment of a city—its arts and entertainment—is critical in attracting and retaining the best workforce. Ballet Nebraska, Opera Omaha, the Omaha Symphony, Omaha Performing Arts…those and so many others are the organizations that help keep the best talent in Omaha.”

The Advocate

Michelle Clark is Union Pacific’s general director of information technologies, which means she probably knows more than a little about computer viruses. As a three-year board member of Ballet Nebraska, she’s also seen how supporting the arts can go viral.

“Employee generosity is furthered by the use of the company’s matching gifts program,” Clark explains. “This creates a sense of pride for employees, and Union Pacific is supportive of the communities in which we live and work. The employees of Union Pacific are very generous and have supported fundraising drives not only for Ballet Nebraska, but a number of organizations such as the Women’s Center for Advancement and JDRF.”

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Employees should never underestimate their power to play a key role in advocating for nonprofits within their organizations.

“I am passionate about the art of dance, especially ballet and Ballet Nebraska,” Clark says. “Dance inspires my creativity and provides insights to see beyond the obvious. My hope is that by providing individuals with the awareness of opportunities to experience and support the art of dance they will find their own inspiration to apply to their own life.”

And just as stubborn computer viruses are often cloyingly messy to eradicate once discovered, Union Pacific’s relationship with Ballet Nebraska has a “stickiness” of its own. Clark was preceded on the Ballet Nebraska board by Gayla Thal, the company’s senior vice president and general counsel.

The Bulldog

Don’t let the gentle demeanor of Midlands Choice vice president Greta Vaught fool you. Supporting the arts is often a visceral experience, and Vaught’s passion for dance exerted itself on multiple levels in the early stages of growth at Ballet Nebraska.

“Midlands Choice has always been supportive of my work in the community,” says the board chair of Ballet Nebraska.

“We like to listen to our people when making such decisions,” says Midlands Choice President and CEO Thomas E. Press. ”It is important for us to know that our giving has real meaning for them, their families, and their communities.”

“I looked at what Erika was trying to do,” Vaught continues, “and I thought it was brave, but impossible. But all along the way I just kept going back to the thought that if one of my daughters [Mia, now 15, and Hannah, now 19] wanted to try something so bold one day that”…insert long pause…“I’m sorry, this is making me cry. I would just hope that people with experience and connections and dollars would shepherd my daughters along like so many people have done with Erika and Ballet Nebraska.”

Okay, so maybe “The Bulldog” wasn’t such a great character name for this role after all.

The Artist

“I had to do a lot of on-the-job learning when I decided to try to launch a dance company,” Overturff says. “We were lucky in that we got our nonprofit status right away, but I didn’t know anything about the business side of things, and really nothing about raising funds. I was moved by every $5 check that came in, but it took a lot of mentoring, advice, and counsel to get us to where we are today as a fully funded, professional performance company.”

Ballet Nebraska now has a paid staff of 22, including nine salaries paid to company dancers. Today, Overturff’s once-nonexistent business connections run deep. Personal contributions from the likes of philanthropists Richard Holland, and Fred and Eve Simon, further fuel the growth of ballet in Omaha. Foundations also play a major role in funding. A recent gift of $124,000 from the Iowa West Foundation is the largest in Ballet Nebraska history.

“Talented professionals from all over the world that have trained their whole lives to pursue a career in dance now come to Omaha in the hopes of performing with Ballet Nebraska as we serve the state and western Iowa in performances, education, outreach, and more” she says. “A ballet company—any performing arts company, any arts organization—is about its people…the artists, the staff, and hardworking, selfless volunteers. But it is the people of Omaha, from the smallest donations to the relationships we have with such great businesses, that makes it all happen.”

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Back to the River

August 27, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 The Encounter.

The Asarco lead refinery along the Missouri riverfront was Omaha’s largest company in the mid-1880s. In fact, in the early 1900s, the Omaha plant was the largest lead refinery in the world.

The company then known as American Smelting and Refining Co. was looked upon as a good
corporate citizen.

But a century went by and people began learning how lead could pollute the Missouri River and the air, as well as possibly affect their health. Asarco began facing scrutiny, especially from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Not only was there a question of pollution, but the riverfront area that sustained other heavy industrial companies, including four battery companies, was unattractive and unappealing.

“The riverfront was drab and dismal and it was embarrassing to come to Omaha out of Eppley with all the industrial and junk yards and Asarco, which had the largest land piece on the riverfront,” Former mayor Hal Daub says.

Cleaning up the area was a first step toward a renovated riverfront. For Daub, focus on the riverfront began in 1995 with debate on renovating the old Civic Auditorium that sat in downtown Omaha. Daub proposed that, instead of spending city funds fixing up the auditorium, the city should clean up the riverfront and build a new auditorium there.

At the same time, he also saw developing the riverfront as key to downtown renewal. Prominent business leaders were telling him they might move their companies from the dying downtown.

Daub wanted a cleaned-up riverfront to anchor the renovation of downtown. So he picked up the phone and called Asarco’s corporate office in New York.

A former U.S. congressman, Daub knew his way around the Superfund and federal rules on cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health.

“I knew Asarco qualified as a Superfund and that Nebraska could shut down the plant,” Daub says.  “We got the title to the land and $50 million for cleanup from Asarco.”

He is quick to point out that Asarco was cooperative.  “They understood the dilemma they faced in a changing environment and they agreed.”

The facility closed in 1997 after 110 years.  Demolition ended in late 1999, completing the largest cleanup of lead-contaminated yards in history.

The closing of Asarco paved the way toward Omaha’s riverfront development. Today Lewis & Clark Landing and Storz Brewing Company sit where Asarco was located.

In 2000, the city added a second project in the revitalization effort, buying 107 acres from Union Pacific where the railroad’s shops sat near the river, after cleanup efforts directed by the EPA.

The cleanup also made way for the new convention center-arena in 2000, the project that had first turned Daub’s attention to the riverfront. Voters approved bonds to build near the riverfront what is now the CenturyLink Center Omaha.

The Union Pacific land also now hosts TD Ameritrade Park, the Hilton Hotel, and parking lots, according to Greg Peterson, who was then the city’s assistant planning director.

Union Pacific and Asarco were both important to an integrated plan for development along the riverfront, says Daub.

“Sometimes you have to tear down old stuff because you can’t see past the ugliness of what’s there in order to envision what could be there,” says Daub.

ASARCO

DOI Gala

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Downtown Omaha Inc.

Since the founding of Downtown Omaha Inc. in 1967 as a nonprofit, privately funded corporation, the DOI has followed its mission statement “to inform, promote, and unite the downtown community.” Its ultimate goal: creating a world-class place for living, working, leisure, and the arts.

Its board is composed primarily of presidents and CEOs from downtown businesses, though everyone in the downtown area—from merchants to workers to residents—is encouraged to become involved in activities that make Downtown Omaha a better place. The Holiday Lights Festival, the Heartland Walk for Warmth, and the new Wayfinding project are just a few of the efforts supported by DOI that have created economic opportunities for area businesses, supported local charities, and spawned new traditions for countless Omahans.

Beginning in 1997, Downtown Omaha Inc. has recognized individuals, associations, and corporations in different categories for contributing to the growth of Downtown Omaha at its biannual Gala event. A list of past DOI Outstanding Achievement Winners reads like a “Who’s Who” of Omaha: Holland Performing Arts Center, Midtown Crossing, Hal Daub, River City Rodeo, and Joslyn Sculpture Garden, to name a few.

The DOI will recognize 2013 honorees at its Gala event held at the Downtown DoubleTree Hotel on January 26th. Winners include:

  • Architectural Planning – Don Prochaska of Old Market Place
  • Economic Development – America First Real Estate Group, DICON General Contractors, and Holland Basham Architects for the L14 Flats
  • Cultural Arts & Entertainment – Omaha Children’s Museum
  • Spirit of Community – Paula Steenson of Paula Presents!
  • Visionary Pioneer – Frank McGree of Goodwill
  • Special Events/Festivals – Bobby Mancuso for Taste of Omaha
  • Adaptive Reuse/Restoration – Scottish Rite

Award recipient Paula Steenson, owner of Paula Presents!, an event planning and graphic/web design firm based in Omaha, is an active member of the DOI, serving as vice president of the group and coordinator of this year’s Gala. She’s also reaped big rewards from being involved with the organization. “DOI has been a huge part of my professional life the last 15 years,” she says. “It’s given me the opportunity to meet and work with many of the people and businesses downtown and to grow my business.”

Aggie DeRozza serves as secretary on DOI’s Board and also has great things to say about her involvement: “I’ve been with Bass & Associates for the last 18 years and our company has been a member of DOI during the entire time. DOI is instrumental in bringing quality programs and networking to its members monthly. It is a wonderful networking opportunity for companies and you find that you are conducting business with many of the people you meet there.”

The theme for this year’s Gala is “Back to the ’50s,” and will feature ’50s music, a silent auction, a menu reminiscent of the ’50s, and Omaha Publications’ own Gil Cohen as emcee. A ’50s era costume contest will also be held with mystery judges. Proceeds from the event will support
Downtown Omaha Inc.’s future endeavors to help downtown businesses and organizations grow.

Speaking of the DOI Gala, DeRozza said, “It promises to be a fun event!”

The DOI Gala 2013 will take place at the DoubleTree Hotel, 1616 Dodge St., at 5:30 p.m. For more information about becoming an event sponsor, activities, or the organization, visit downtownomahainc.org or call 402-341-3700. Tickets are $75 each. RSVP no later than Jan. 22.