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Ten Outstanding Young Omahans

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

On Feb. 8, the Omaha Jaycees honored the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans of 2017 during a banquet at The Paxton Ballroom. This award recognized individuals for their commitment to the community and their extraordinary leadership qualities.

“It’s pretty amazing that this award started right here in Omaha, and it truly is an award and recognition of the highest honor,” says Jennifer Anderson, president of the Omaha Jaycees. “The Omaha Jaycees continue to be impressed with the caliber of applicants we see each year, and we are happy that we can continue the tradition of honoring Omaha’s best and brightest.”

The judges for this year’s event were:

Mikaela Borecky
United Way of the Midlands

Jessica Feilmeier
Truhlsen Eye Institute, UNMC

Nicole Jilek
Abrahams, Kaslow, & Cassman LLP

Nick Langel
Union Pacific Railroad

Marjorie Maas
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska

Maggie McGlade
CQuence Health Group

P.J. Morgan
P.J. Morgan Real Estate

Katie Triplett
Nebraska Methodist Health System

Michael Young
RSM US LLP

This year’s TOYO! recipients are…

Chinh Doan

KETV Newswatch 7
Doan studied journalism, Spanish, and international studies at the University of Oklahoma and graduated as the “Outstanding Senior.” She is Omaha Tri Delta alumnae president, Young Catholic Professionals’ Parish Ambassadors coordinator, and is the inventory manager for the Junior League of Omaha’s “Project Hope Pack” Committee. She is also a member of Vietnamese Friendship Association of Omaha, and Asian American Journalists Association. She participates in the Omaha Press Club Show and Omaha Fashion Week.

Megan Hunt

Hello Holiday
Hunt began her career as a bridal designer.
She is the co-founder of Hello Holiday and is also the founder of Safe Space Nebraska. In 2010 Hunt received Shout Magazine’s 30 Under 30 honor, and in 2011 she was recognized as one of Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Her 2014 book, Fabric Blooms, sold out of its first printing in under 24 hours. Hunt has served on the boards of Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, Friends of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, CHEER Nebraska, and Friends of the Nebraska AIDS Project.

Ryan Ellis 

P.J. Morgan Real Estate
Ellis began his career at P.J. Morgan Real Estate as an intern while attending Creighton University. He graduated from Creighton with a bachelor’s degree in finance. In 2007, Ellis was promoted to vice president and chief operating officer, and in 2009, Ellis was named
company president.

Ellis serves on the boards of Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha Conservatory of Music, and Fashion Institute Guild. He is a 2014 Leadership Omaha graduate and was awarded the Midland’s Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award in the same year.

Emiliano Lerda, J.D., LL.M.

Justice For Our Neighbors of Omaha
Lerda earned a B.A. in communication studies from the University of Northern Iowa and a J.D. from Drake University Law School. He holds certificates in Public Service Law, Food & Agriculture Law, and International Comparative and Human Rights Law from Drake. He is the executive director at Justice for Our Neighbors of Omaha and has taught “Immigration, Law & Latinos” as an adjunct professor at UNO. He participated in the Nonprofit Executive Institute and Leadership Omaha Class 36 and is currently enrolled in the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program.

Leslie Fischer

Together A Greater Good
Fischer graduated from Millard North High School in 1995, and with a degree in business administration, minor in marketing, from UNO in 1999.

She is the co-founder of TAGG, a social good app that received the “Excellence in Business Award—Community” from the Greater Omaha Chamber in 2016. Fischer also received UNO’s Young Achievement Award in 2015.
She co-founded Ladies Who Launch Omaha and serves on the board of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and B4B Society.

Cliff McEvoy, MPA, MSL

Buford Foundation
McEvoy graduated from Saint Louis University and served as an Air Force officer for 6 1/2 years. He left with the rank of Captain and was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal.

McEvoy also earned an MPA from the University of Akron and an M.S. from Creighton University. McEvoy serves on Nebraskans for Civic Reform, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Young Professionals Council, the Greater Omaha Chamber Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and is president of Omaha Professionals United in Service. He is the executive director of the Buford Foundation.

Sheena Kennedy Helgenberger

Live Well Omaha Kids
Helgenberger earned a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010. She wrote a thesis under the direction of Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner about African American women’s experiences transitioning to college. The research resulted in an article in the NASPA Journal.

She is the coalition director for Live Well Omaha Kids, and she is particularly passionate about empowering and protecting youth. The greatest reward of Sheena’s volunteer experiences has been her relationship with her Little Sister, Allanah.

Emily Poeschl

University of Nebraska at Omaha
Poeschl is also a 2016 TOYO! recipient. She has a BSBA from UNL and an MBA from UNO, where she is the director of marketing. Poeschl is a member of the Susan G Komen Nebraska Board of Directors, and serves in two national volunteer roles: the Komen Advocacy Advisory Taskforce and Komen Advocates in Science. She is a member of Women’s Fund of Omaha Circles Group, and United Way Community Investment Review Team. She is also a Girls Inc. Pathfinders mentor, a Delta Gamma Omaha Alumnae Chapter past president, and an SID 502 past trustee.

Kasey Hesse

Gallup
Hesse leads Gallup’s dot-com team as a technology manager at Gallup. She majored in international studies and Portuguese at UNL, and earned an M.A. in mental health counseling from UNO. Hesse is a board member at Bluebarn Theatre, Omaha Friends of Planned Parenthood, and is on the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program’s education committee. She is a 2016 New Leaders Council Fellow and a member of Leadership Omaha class 34.

Tony Vargas 

Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and Omaha Public Schools Board
Vargas is a State Senator for District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature, representing the communities of Downtown and South Omaha. He previously served on the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education. Vargas earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester and an M.Ed. from Pace University and is currently the director of marketing and communications for Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance. He is also serves on the advisory board for New Leaders Council-Omaha.

Pioneers in Media

October 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Eileen Wirth entered the Omaha World-Herald newsroom in 1969 and wondered, “Where are the women?” Unknowingly, she had become one of the newspaper’s first female city reporters.

Dr. Wirth broke through gender barriers again as the first female chair of the journalism department at Creighton University, where she has been a professor since 1991. Her story as a pioneer is mirrored in media throughout Omaha.

Rose Ann Shannon walked into the KMTV newsroom 40 years ago as an intern, looked around for other female reporters, and found none. Today more than half of the journalists at KETV—where she is the station’s first female TV news director—are women. Shannon was a KMTV reporter, photographer, anchor, and assignment editor before joining KETV in 1986.

In 1974, Ann Pedersen became the first full-time female reporter at WOW-TV (now WOWT). One year later, she was named the station’s first female anchor for a daily newscast. She became WOWT assignment editor and later assistant news director before leaving in 1988 for a 13-year career at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis as director of news operations.

20130926_bs_4550

Ann Pedersen

Carol Schrader proved herself as an intern at KMTV before moving on to a full-time job as a reporter at KLNG Radio and, in 1979, at KETV. She became one of the first women to anchor a KETV evening newscast, the first female news director at KFAB Radio, and the first host of the NET program Consider This.

The time was ripe 40 years ago for women to enter what had been a mostly male environment, says Wirth. She wrote about pioneer women journalists across Nebraska in her book From Society Page to Front Page.

“Young men were being drafted into the Vietnam War, so there was a shortage of journalism graduates,” says Wirth, who had three job offers upon graduation. “It was a combination of a good economy and a massive group of young women coming of age in the civil rights environment.”

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Eileen Wirth

The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated that employers hire without regard to gender or race. “Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan added the clause banning sex discrimination,” says Wirth. “It was seen as a joke.” Opponents in Congress allowed the clause to go through because they mistakenly thought it would kill the entire civil rights bill. Instead, for the first time in American history, working women had a legal tool.

“The public wanted to see more individuals on air who represented them,” adds Pedersen. “Blacks and women brought new ideas. That’s the great advantage of having a well-integrated newsroom. You get different points of view.”

“I knew I got my job because I was a woman, but I didn’t want to do my job as a woman,” she says. “I wanted to be a journalist.”

“We didn’t mind rattling a few cages,” says Wirth.

Rose Ann Shannon

Rose Ann Shannon

Schrader rattled her first cage as a KMTV intern one night in 1973 by insisting on covering the shooting of a police officer. “I asked them to send me, but they just laughed. I told them, ‘I’m off in 20 minutes, and I’m going to drive there anyway.’” They sent her to the hospital with a camera. “I got a check for $10. I’ve never cashed it.”

She challenged the status quo again when she got into a verbal battle with Mayor Bob Cunningham in 1977 at a news conference she covered for KLNG Radio. She held her own. Two days later, KETV called to ask if she wanted to be the station’s “weather girl” and a reporter.

“I think we rattled cages just by being there,” says Pedersen, who remembers insisting on receiving the same camera the male reporters got. “You did have to stand up 
for yourself.”

When Pedersen arrived at WCCO-TV, she learned that the general manager would not pay her more than he paid his executive assistant. “But in the end, I was paid on par with other news managers,” she says.

Discrimination came more from the audience than from her supportive male co-workers, says Shannon. “Viewers didn’t like our voices. They said, ‘You’re taking a man’s job.’ There were times when I felt I had to work harder, longer, smarter because I had something to prove.”

Women brought story ideas into the newsroom that the male reporters had ignored, Schrader notes. “[We] were raising issues that were newsworthy but were not on the radar for men.”

Pedersen is now a public relations director in Omaha. Schrader is a real estate agent. Wirth is creating a new generation of journalists at Creighton University. Still at KETV, Shannon has seen big changes during her career. “I tell people I’m as excited about doing news today as when I walked in the door 40 years ago.”

Author Judy Horan began her career at WOWT at about the same time as the women profiled here, becoming the first woman in management in Omaha television.

Brandi Petersen

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up in Papillion, Brandi Petersen didn’t dream of becoming a television news anchor; she was interested in theatre and speech, and entered college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln intending to study drama. But she quickly realized that a future in musical theatre was “not meant to be.” A class on the history of broadcasting inspired her passion for broadcast journalism, and after she switched majors, Petersen sought an internship at KETV in 2001 simply because her family had always watched that station’s newscasts.

“Our joke is that I kind of hung around long enough until I got a job; I just wouldn’t leave,” she says. “I had three internships and got very lucky that they took a chance on an intern…and it worked out very well for me.”

Petersen became a full-fledged reporter in 2003 and an anchor three years later. She says she has found many role models and even friends at KETV through the years, from the reporters who let her tag along on assignment during her earliest days as an intern to her current colleagues on both sides of the camera.

“People ask if we really get along that well,” Petersen says. “We’re very much like a family, and that sounds so cheesy, but all of our reporters and anchors and team members, we really bond very, very well.”

“We live here with you; we’re your neighbors. And we’re kind of the microphone for what you want to say.”

Her career highlights include interviewing President Obama (“It was really an experience having security sweep through twice and snipers on the roof of the building behind us,” she recalls) and Warren Buffett, and she was on-air during notable events such as the 2007 Westroads shooting and the 2008 tornado at Little Sioux Scout Ranch in western Iowa. Petersen says she credits not only experience, but also her high school drama training with helping her maintain composure on camera, and although she spends most of her time behind the news desk, she still enjoys reporting from the field.

“The great thing about this job is that you get to see and interview so many people,” she says. “Reporting is our first love. We’re storytellers.”

Petersen says she’s become accustomed to being recognized wherever she goes—“Are you the news girl?” is a common greeting often followed by, “You’re a lot taller than I thought you’d be!”—but she says people are nearly invariably nice to her when they meet her in public, and she strives to be polite and friendly in return.

“As an on-air journalist, you do need to remember that you’re in the public eye,” she says. “I don’t want to let people down.”

Petersen, whose son Easton was born in 2011, says the unusual work schedule associated with live evening broadcasts has meshed nicely with motherhood, especially since her husband, Brian Paul, a high school coach, works traditional hours. Easton smiles and claps when he sees her on TV, she reports, but adds with a laugh, “He does the same thing for Bill Randby and Jeremy Maskel.”

Petersen has watched broadcast journalism evolve to be more immediate and interactive with coverage available around the clock and through multiple means. But she says one thing hasn’t changed: she still loves her job.

“It’s great to work in the market where I grew up,” she says. “I think we’ve really built a reputation with our station…that we’re good, kind people. I hope that people pick up on that. We live here with you; we’re your neighbors. And we’re kind of the microphone for what you want to say.”