November 4, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some people enjoy taking examinations.

A short quiz, or a longer test, can provide stimulation from boredom and a quick boost of confidence, or motivation to do something better.

For those who enjoy such challenges, Mensa provides the gold standard for puzzles, games, and other tests of intelligence. The international society brings together the world’s most intelligent people, and membership is offered based on test scores. There is no set number to qualify one for Mensa due to the differences in tests, but members must prove an IQ score at or above the 98th percentile.

It’s an elite group with a not-so-elitist attitude, but the group overall provides a sanctuary for those looking for somewhere they don’t have to hide their intelligence.

“My greatest disappointment in law school was, even there, it wasn’t OK to be really smart,” Diana Vogt, age 66, says. “The reason people join Mensa is because it’s a place where it’s finally OK to be smart.”

The Nebraska-Western Iowa Mensa has just over 200 members, says local secretary Wes Shaw. The local secretary serves as a group president. While members are spread across the region, most of the active members live in the Omaha area and tend to be over 60. That is partly because, Vogt says, it’s hard for people who are raising children to find a lot of free time until they’re older, but the commonality of high IQs and generations often is appreciated.

“It’s nice to be able to be around people who get your jokes,” says Shaw, age 68. “It’s nice being around people who tell new jokes.”

Local members participate in a variety of gatherings through subgroups referred to as “special interest groups,” or SIGs for short. Local SIGs include a monthly trivia night at Buffalo Wild Wings organized by a former Jeopardy contestant, and a monthly trip to a new restaurant for a dining out SIG. A monthly poker night is held in Lincoln.

While monthly poker nights and dinners out provide regular entertainment, special events are also a part of the group. There’s an annual summer picnic that draws a large crowd from around the region, and a winter holiday party. Vogt says Mensa recently provided an opportunity for members to take a tour of the Joslyn Art Museum with a member who was a former curator.

“I learned a lot of things,” Vogt says. “It’s really interesting to have someone who can just go with you and tell you stuff that you might not otherwise know.”

Shaw says local group members participate in national Mensa-organized events such as the CultureQuest trivia competition, where the Nebraska-Western Iowa group finished 20th in the nation in April 2019.

Vogt organizes the dining out SIG and serves as an officer for the heartland region, which spans from the Dakotas to Kansas and from Wyoming to central Missouri.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Vogt says. “It’s always really nice to have someone new come and to learn about them.”

Vogt says the dining out SIG alternates between American and other cuisines, and it moves around the metro area–in September, the group ate at Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen in Papillion.

Along with the dining comes conversation. Vogt says the members can discuss any subject.

“Sometimes, we talk about interesting things,” Vogt says. “Sometimes, we talk about things of completely no consequence.”

That is OK. The word “mensa” means “table” in Latin, and, according to Mensa International, “Mensa is a roundtable society where race, color, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational or social background are irrelevant.”

Mensans are typically open-minded and willing to consider new perspectives and cultures. Vogt says that doesn’t mean they aren’t opinionated, though, or that members skew to certain political or social viewpoints.

Mensans are almost always willing to engage in intellectual discussions–whether about mathematical concepts, UFOs, or an interesting article someone recently read.

“Sometimes it is just nice to have other people understand what you’re talking about, let alone be interested,” Vogt says.

That commonality–intelligence, understanding, acceptance, interest–is what draws members of the organization together. It also is what advances the society’s overall purpose.

“Mensans permeate all walks of life,” Shaw says of this group that has active chapters in nearly 50 counties and counts more than 140,000 people among its members.

Shaw adds the appeal of Mensa is rooted in the fact that the organization doesn’t discriminate against its members based on their background or who they are.

“The biggest draw is the networking with other people who can think,” Shaw says.

The group even takes a broad view of intelligence, and Shaw says members usually think differently from one another, which is why there’s no single test that’s used to qualify. Shaw says some people, including his father, join for bragging rights.

Vogt has been in Mensa since 1991, and she’s seen the local group ebb and flow in terms of how active its members are in the organization.

“Some of the people who have dropped out are because of health issues,” Vogt says.

Shaw says Mensa is always looking for new members, and he welcomes anyone interested in seeing if they qualify to reach out.

Inactive or lapsed members should also give the group another look, Vogt says, because it has a lot more to offer than they might realize.

“They’re missing out on an opportunity,” Vogt says.

Most local members are active because they’re having fun, not to maintain their cognitive abilities, Shaw says. However, Mensa International says that SIGs are intended to provide “intriguing ways to flex your mental muscles,” and a variety of publications—from local newsletters to a national magazine—and regional, national, and international conventions provide other opportunities for social interaction and boosting mental acuity.

“It is a way to get to know people who might have a completely different background,” Vogt says. “A lot of the people have special interests that bring new things to the group.”

Shaw says Mensans tend to be introverted, but they’re friendly and they’re not the cliché nerd stereotype. For the most part, members want to share their hobbies and enjoy like-minded company. However, Vogt admitted that some members might be a little strange.

“It just means that [Mensa] has a lot of interesting personalities,” Vogt says.

Even if conflicts occasionally arise, the group overall provides a sanctuary for those looking for somewhere they don’t have to hide their intelligence.


Visit nwim.us.mensa.org for more information about this local group.

This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

local Mensa secretary Wes Shaw

Local Mensa secretary Wes Shaw at home.