Those attending the Nov. 9 Children’s Hospital and Medical Center Gala may notice three longtime volunteers participating in their last gala as members of the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Friends Board.
Cathi Arnold, Susan Andrews, and Kathy Seidel are friends, and in some cases knew one other before they began their service to Children’s.
In the mid-1980s Andrews was new to Omaha, having moved here from St. Louis with her family. Arnold was her neighbor, and their own children became friends. Seidel joined Children’s, and this service-minded duo, in the late 1990s. Andrews, Seidel, and Arnold became good friends while serving for a good cause. Now it is time for them to step down. Their stories are unique, but special.
Arnold’s service to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center began in 1987, when she chaired the Midlands Market booth for the annual bazaar and associated benefit dinner.
“We did home-canned jams and jellies, and salsa, and fresh produce, and just had a little market of things for sale,” she says.
Choosing Children’s as a volunteer option was natural for Arnold, who always had an interest in helping kids. After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she worked in the Head Start program and performed other child-related work.
“I was an elementary teacher by profession and retired to raise my own children. I was totally always a ‘kid’ person and knew after my Junior League of Omaha training that I wanted to volunteer and give back in some way, for kids,” Arnold says.
A few years after she started volunteering, she was invited to join the Friends Board, a 40-plus member group that volunteers at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and works on fundraising events that benefit the hospital.
“I was honored and proud to become a member, and to help lead and add to the volunteer base for Children’s,” she says. “The added bonuses were the close friends recruited to join me, and the new friends made while doing what I loved.”
As part of the Friends Board, Arnold volunteered in the gift shop as a clerk, helped out at the information desk, ran the snack cart, and served variously as gift shop chair, a gift shop buyer, and gift shop books chair. She served in every Friends Board executive office except treasurer, was president in 1995, and was adviser the following year. While president, she served on the hospital’s board of trustees.
Along with other Friends Board members, she helped make the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Gala happen. The event replaced the bazaar in the early 1990s and includes a dinner, auctions, and upscale entertainment.
“We have been in charge of everything from setup to takedown and everything in-between,” she says. The gala often draws a sellout crowd and raised more than $1 million last year.
At the heart of things, service to youth is what Arnold values most.
“My very favorite part of it all—while we do need to raise the money and work in the hospital—remains the kids, especially our honored families chosen each year to represent all children at our gala. Those stories, those families are the reason we are all there. They are everything.”
In 2009, Children’s recognized Arnold’s years of service by giving her the Margre Henningson Durham Leadership Award.
Though Andrews’ service to the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Friends Board began in 1998, she had volunteered in various capacities with the group’s bazaar fundraiser and the surgery waiting desk at the hospital.
“I have always been a big fan of children, from my babysitting days to [being] day camp counselor, to swimming instructor, to Sunday school teacher, and to my eventually becoming a teacher in the Dallas public schools,” says Andrews, who grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas, a Dallas suburb.
“Children’s Hospital was a natural draw for me. It was an institution that reached many people in the Omaha community as well as surrounding areas, and it was all about helping the children and supporting their families.”
Andrews often co-chaired the bazaar’s Midlands Market Booth and Beanie Boo.
Work on the Midlands Market Booth required her to contact area businesses, including nurseries, orchards, and farmer stands, to request donations of produce and related items.
That was just part of the effort. The items also needed to be picked up, and Andrews helped gather the apples, hay bales, cornstalks, pumpkins, peaches, strawberries, and other booth staples.
She grew tomatoes and peppers in her backyard, and she used these to make dozens of jars of salsa sold at the event.
Andrews and other volunteers also made jams, jellies, soup mixes, hot chocolate mixes, and more.
“We used whatever we could get donated to make things to sell,” she says, adding that she also worked the event’s preview evening and the bazaar itself.
Through the years, Andrews also worked on Countdown Coffees, the book fair, and the Community Awareness Committee. She often served on the board’s nominating and executive committees.
“I did whatever I saw that needed doing and helped out behind the scenes on many committee activities,” she says.
For 16 years [2003 to 2019], Andrews was gift shop chair and a buyer for the shop.
As part of that effort, she took an annual trip to market and purchase merchandise for the shop.
Additional tasks included unpacking the merchandise, pricing the items, entering them into a computer system, displaying the items, and keeping the shop clean and organized.
She often looked through catalogs and met with sales representatives to find items that would keep the merchandise mix interesting.
“We strove to please patients, their families and visitors, and the staff of Children’s Hospital,” Andrews says. “The gift shop served as a respite for those families, patients, and the staff caring for them. For me, seeing the children’s eyes light up and a smile on their faces always made my day.
“Working with people from the Friends Board made every job easier and always more enjoyable. Not only were we serving the Children’s Hospital community, we were also improving ourselves, deepening relationships that have led to lifelong friendships and becoming better citizens for Omaha,” she says.
Those who know Seidel may not be surprised that she has spent more than 25 years volunteering at a hospital for children.
Seidel was working as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor when she met her husband, Tom—a neonatologist. In 1986, the family returned to Omaha when he took a job at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
Omaha was familiar to Kathy. She had attended Christ the King Elementary, Duchesne Academy, and Creighton University.
After her first child was born, Seidel stepped away from her nursing career and became involved as a volunteer with many organizations, including the PTA, Junior League of Omaha, The Rose Theater, Heartland Family Service, and Completely Kids. As her volunteer efforts continued, she gravitated toward Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
“I knew I wanted to give back to those who needed help, especially children,” she says. “I think my nursing background contributed to this.”
She also knew the Friends Board raised money to help families, and she wanted to become part of that effort.
She was nominated to the Friends Board in 1993 and served the group in a variety of roles, including recording secretary, president-elect, president, and adviser.
She chaired the gala, and was gift shop chair for 13 years.
Though the gift shop work required many hours a week, Seidel says it contributed to the development of friendships among the participants.
“Every group of women who would join us for two years as other buyers became good friends. It was so much fun, and we wouldn’t have been doing it if it wasn’t,” she says. “Buying trips were very fun—yet very tiring. We knew about each others’ lives and families, and it always seemed like an extended family.”
The work had other rewards.
“Watching families and patients come into the gift shop was very special,” she says. “Many did not know they were going to have a child admitted to the hospital, so they would come to the gift shop to buy essential items like socks and toothbrushes.”
Outpatients also would visit the shop, sometimes as a reward after having a treatment or visiting a physician.
“The gift shop has always been a nice respite for staff and families to get a break from the stress and tedium of a long hospital stay,” she says.
Through the past 20-plus years, these three have served in different ways, but they all served for the same reason.
“None of us were ever volunteers at Children’s for what we could get back,” Arnold says. “We were there for the kids—the most important piece of the pie.”
At the end of this year, it will be time to bid adieu to this trio who tirelessly gave, and welcome three new members.
Visit childrensomaha.org/event/childrens-gala for more information.
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.