Tag Archives: Mutual of Omaha

Mutual of Omaha’s Giving Spirit

August 26, 2019 by
Photography by provided, The Durham Museum

Many companies in Omaha claim a great bond with the city, but one in particular, Mutual of Omaha, has dedicated time and money, in a variety of ways, to improve quality of life in the metro-area.

“Giving back has always been part of Mutual’s history, and Omaha is core to its brand,” says Gail Graeve, vice president-community affairs and corporate events, “We believe our company is only as strong as our community, and our community is only as strong as its most vulnerable friends and neighbors.”

The company’s foundation is less than 15 years old; it was formalized as a 501c3 in 2005, but Mutual of Omaha and its leaders have a century-long history of supporting Omaha.

The company was first incorporated as Mutual Benefit Health and Accident Association in 1909, and Dr. C.C. and Mabel Criss took over the charter of the fledgling insurance company a year later. She became Mutual of Omaha’s first woman officer and vice president in 1929, and Dr. Criss served with the company from 1933-1952, first as president and then as chairman.

Philanthropy started with heartache. The couple’s destiny was shaped by the loss of their only child, Harry, who died at age 4 in 1907 from a blood disorder. Inspired by his memory, the couple gave millions to charity. In one example, Mabel gave two major gifts of stock, totaling more than $4 million, to Creighton University for its health sciences schools. This was after Dr. Criss died in 1952, and at the time, it was the largest donation by an individual. Their generosity also led to formation of the privately held Dr. C.C. and Mabel Criss Memorial Foundation, which was founded in 1978 upon Mabel’s death.

The Criss Foundation and Mutual of Omaha continued to donate millions to Omaha’s medical, health, and civic institutions, including Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Methodist Hospital, Nebraska Medicine, One World Community Health, and numerous educational facilities.

Succeeding the Crisses were V.J. and Tom Skutt, the father-son duo whose consecutive periods of leadership extended from 1949-1986 (V.J.) and 1986-1998 (Tom). They and the company supported myriad Omaha-based organizations, including Creighton University, Clarkson Hospital, Joslyn Art Museum, YMCA, Boys Town, and V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School, which was established in 1993.

These civic endeavors defined Omaha’s landscape and became part of the Mutual of Omaha Foundation’s two-fold mission: break the cycle of poverty and invest in major capital projects that strengthen the community.

The Mutual of Omaha Foundation was created toward the end of third president Jack Weekly’s tenure as CEO and chairman. The idea was not to replace corporate giving, but to ensure a consistent, long-term source of financial investment to help people in their time of need, says Kim Armstrong, community programs manager. Dan Neary, who succeeded Weekly and continued Mutual’s evolution into banking and finance, supported the foundation’s growth.

“It speaks to their genuinely altruistic leadership that they created a foundation which didn’t replace corporate giving, but expanded it,” says Graeve, who also serves as the foundation’s executive director. “For more than 100 years we have given back to the community, a value that’s been embraced by every generation of our workforce and every CEO. It’s good business to engage in philanthropy and invest in the people and programs that make all of us stronger, wiser, healthier, and engaged.”

Since 2005, the Mutual of Omaha Foundation has invested more than $40 million in programs and organizations addressing poverty issues and capital projects throughout Douglas and Sarpy counties in Nebraska and Pottawattamie County in Iowa. It has supported collaboration in three focus areas:

Basic needs—affordable housing, community health, food, emergency shelter, and homeless prevention.

At-risk youth—abuse and neglect, college and career prep, mentoring, out-of-school programs, and teen parenting.

Adult self-sufficiency—domestic violence, financial education, literacy and language, parenting classes, and workforce development

In 2009, the foundation celebrated Mutual of Omaha’s centennial by paying for playgrounds in low-income areas and funding 100 Days of Caring, an initiative in which 1,500 employees volunteered 7,000 hours helping nonprofits with construction, landscaping, sorting, cleaning, painting, serving meals, and spending time with senior citizens.

United through Mutual of Omaha’s culture, the foundation’s board is comprised solely of employees having unique skill sets and their own community perspectives. Board director Alex Hayes, Mutual’s vice president of physical security and business continuity, is a former Omaha police chief. “It’s such an advantage to have his leadership,” says Graeve, who herself recently was named a 2019 Tribute to Women honoree by the Women’s Center for Advancement.

By 2012, the foundation began giving greater priority to groups having outcome measures in place to show the impact of their services. Consideration also is influenced by collaboration, because “no organization or foundation alone can solve the issue of poverty,” Graeve says.

Poverty-focused organizations receiving foundation grants through the years include Heartland Family Services, Legal Aid of Nebraska, Girls Inc. of Omaha, Stephen Center, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, Food Bank for the Heartland, Heart Ministry Center, Omaha Home for Boys, Completely KIDS, and TeamMates Mentoring Program.

The foundation also invests in major capital projects that strengthen the community. While many of these investments support those tackling poverty, its capital approach includes intentional investments driving key economic development for the metro area. They have included Baxter Arena, Holland Performing Arts Center, T.D. Ameritrade Park, Henry Doorly Zoo, Buffett Cancer Center, Do Space, Lauritzen Gardens, Children’s Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus, and Pottawattamie Arts Culture and Entertainment (PACE).

“The capital projects we’ve funded not only improve quality of life in Omaha, they also have an economic impact in terms of jobs,” said Graeve. “They are what makes Omaha strong, with continued success and stability.”

Visit mutualofomahafoundation.org for more information.

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

Roundtable: Omaha—The No. 1 City for College Graduates

March 14, 2019 by
Photography by contributed

College graduates are visible in Omaha daily—in the workplace, in coffee shops, at bars and nightclubs, and more. A 2018 study done by job search site/app Ziprecruiter noted Omaha as the No. 1 city for college graduates to start their careers in. B2B recently spoke with three professionals regarding this designation: Kellee Grimes, manager of Health Services at Mutual of Omaha and a member of the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Council; Jeremy Maskel, director of External Relations & Engagement at Ralston Public Schools and the 2019 president of the Omaha Press Club; and Geoffrey Talmon, M.D., assistant dean of medical education at UNMC.

B2B: Jeremy, you technically did not start out of college in Omaha, but you were in the area (Maskel started in Sioux City, Iowa). What drew you to Omaha?

Maskel: I knew I wanted to grow in a community I loved, if at all possible. So, I started by only applying to cities where I wanted to spend a larger chapter of my life. I had visited Omaha before and loved seeing so many people out for dinner, for Jazz on the Green, or for special events. Everyone I met was so friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Construction was bustling as Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village opened.  Growing up in the Minneapolis suburbs, I loved the opportunity to move into a neighborhood like Dundee and experience a completely new routine. As big as it is, it still felt comfortable and accessible for me as a growing professional.

B2B: Kellee and Geoff, you both graduated from UNL, then UNMC. As medical professionals, I would imagine you have some choice in where you want to live. What kept you in Omaha?

Grimes: I was born here, and grew up in Atlanta, then I came back here during high school. I chose to start my career here because I saw a lot of opportunity. The UNMC had a lot of great programs. I saw the best access to technology and direct access to patients. I hear people tell others, “Oh, you’re new to Omaha? You’re going to love it.”

Talmon: I grew up in Gretna, and I went to Lincoln. UNMC was attractive because it was the right fit—it was flexible, and I didn’t have to go through a lot of red tape. I did a fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester [Minnesota]. In fact, I looked at a job there, but Omaha was the best of both worlds. It has a lot to do, but it is small enough that people know each other.

B2B: What makes Omaha a great place for college graduates from a standard of living point of view?

Maskel: Since so many of my Mizzou classmates were scattered across the country, it was interesting to compare our quality of life those first few years after college. I feel—and continue to believe—that Omaha has a phenomenal balance between rich amenities and an affordable cost of living.  I was lucky enough to take in baseball games, visit museums, watch big concert tours, listen to the Omaha Symphony, and try out Omaha’s incredible restaurants with what I earned as a new graduate. Friends living in major cities across the country spent so much on rent or lived so far from the city center, they either didn’t have the resources or time to get out and enjoy what their city had to offer.

Talmon: There are certain things you don’t have to talk about in Omaha. The public schools are good, the cost of living is good. All of our residents buy houses. There’a a lot of amenities in Omaha, but just as much, it’s the things you don’t have to worry about that makes it a great place.  We have a resident from Boston at UNMC right now. He and his wife came here in November, and he tells me there are two things he is impressed with: 1) He actually has money in his checking account, and 2) never underestimate the power of a gridded city. The ease of driving is a great benefit.

Grimes: To me, the attractive part is that everything is accessible. There’s not a portion of town that is too far away. And you can really tie your passions to philanthropic ventures. You don’t find that in many places.

B2B: How about from a lifestyle point of view? What makes Omaha great?

Maskel: I believe Omaha offers a great lifestyle to new graduates. I looked at other, similarly-sized communities in 2010 as I prepared to move, and none gave me the same feeling as Omaha. Talking to friends and other people in those communities, asking what they did for fun, I just didn’t feel the enthusiasm I did when talking with people here. I think the balance between options and cost of living would be very difficult to beat.

Talmon: There are certain college-town vibes here. You can find that community if you want. If you don’t want it, you can cross the street and find something different. There’s not a lot of places in Omaha where you would feel out of place.

Grimes: Not every city is someplace that can accommodate you for every stage in your life. Omaha is one of those places. You can go from the bar scene to a family-friendly scene in the same city. The colleges are also connected to the businesses. If you are in Omaha for college, you will be able to make a career because the colleges do such a great job of connecting students and graduates with the business community.

B2B: What would you like to see Omaha do better in order to retain graduates from the local colleges, or to attract graduates of other colleges to the area?

Maskel: I think there’s a lot of people who still do not realize how awesome Omaha really is.  Thanks to the efforts of a lot of different groups, word is definitely out more than in 2010, but there is always room to grow.  I also think belonging to community groups is key to strengthening and deepening roots of local graduates or people who may only plan to live here for a few years. I am so grateful that I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help strengthen Omaha and prepare future professionals through the groups I’ve been part of.

Talmon: I’m still amazed by some of the perceptions. I still have people, when I travel, who ask if I ride a tractor to work. From our standpoint, we don’t do enough tooting our own horn. I love our modesty, but it’s why we are not on people’s radar.

Grimes: We recognize we are not perfect, but we are intentionally enacting strategic plans to achieve that. We are creating visibility to help with that goal. We need to make sure the level of access to all people is equitable. There are different people in my peer group who have a different experience from me because of having a different background. What is great is that we are starting to acknowledge that race is a factor, we are bringing these conversations front and center.

B2B: As part of a professional organization/college, what are you trying to do to attract or retain college graduates and young professionals? Has it been successful?

Maskel: I’m lucky to serve on the PRSA Nebraska Board of Directors and focused last year on engaging with university student PR groups at local colleges. Many soon-to-be graduates planned on moving to larger cities because of the perception that’s where jobs are—or the restaurants and nightlife are best there. I am also president of the Omaha Press Club, and it’s important to research what types of opportunities young professionals are seeking, then see how we can best match. Ensuring young professionals can see themselves in the organization and find that first connection to be accessible are priorities.

Grimes: I know a lot of people who moved back to Omaha will tell you making friends after college is hard. I see more intentional, and larger, networking groups happening. These kind of organic meetups are great. There’s a lot going on to try and bring people together, whether that’s through a school or through a social group.

Talmon: It’s not just new groups, but established groups as well. I’m a Mason. The existing social groups are becoming more intentional about recruiting. With residents, it used to be that you were only friends with the families of the people you work with. That is not always the case these days. We are seeing residents pursuing other passions, which is good for their work-life balance.

This article was printed in the April/May 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Connecting Families with their Loved Ones From Omaha to Canada

November 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The idea for an app-based start-up came to Amy Johnson during a stressful transition for her family.

In the early 2010s, her husband’s grandmother was in declining health and placed in memory care. The family was unable to keep track of what was happening to Grandma.

“We experienced…gaps in communication with her but [also] with the staff, just understanding her daily life…What activities is she going to? What meals is she going to? And more importantly, what is she not going to?’” Johnson says.

“Life’s busy for everybody, and being able to have something in place to fill the gaps of her day as well as continue to build kind of a productive relationship with her was the problem we saw.”

Amy’s father-in-law provided the inspiration when he asked, “shouldn’t there be an easier way?”

That was why, in 2015, Johnson, her husband Kent, and friend Phil Lee founded LifeLoop, an app and a service designed to connect families, engage residents, and streamline senior living operations with a user-friendly platform. Johnson is the CEO.

This was her first entrepreneurship. Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and family science from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. After graduating in 2004, she found a job at Mutual of Omaha, working there until 2011 in a variety of roles. She then worked for Mid-American Benefits, her father-in-law’s firm until 2014.

Johnson volunteered in skilled nursing and senior living communities to learn about the business. It became apparent that the staff needed tools to make their jobs easier and feed information to families in real time.

They built an app that can be used by both senior living communities and the families of their residents that features:

Calendar management

Resident engagement

Family engagement

Photo/video sharing

Transportation management

TV displays of calendars and photos

It took about six months to develop the app, which is constantly evolving.

Behavior tracking is a key component. It can help residents and families see behavioral changes early. If a resident is not taking part in once-pleasurable pursuits like playing cards or watching The Price is Right, that means something.

“Charting all of those things allows you to chart where somebody might be slipping,” says Courtney Schmitz, Life Enrichment Coordinator for Vetter Health Services, one of LifeLoop’s first customers.

If the families and the care center are tracking behaviors, it can lead to important conversations earlier.

“It’s very much just bridging that gap of what’s going on,” Johnson says.

The service is helpful to family members who live a long way from their loved one.

“It has allowed them the ability to have a little bit of peace of mind,” Johnson says. “There is a huge sense of guilt when you move your loved one into a community.”

The service is free for families. The company charges the communities, $2 to $6 per resident per month, depending on the size of the community/company.

At Vetter, LifeLoop allows staff to chart attendance and rate the engagement of the residents. It beats the chicken-scratch notes of the past. And it is a real time-saver.

“It got us out of the office and into the residence more,” Schmitz says.

In October 2016, LifeLoop participated in the Rise of the Rest pitch competition and won a $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case.

“They have been a great support group for us,” Johnson says. “Raising money is definitely a challenging thing to do while you are also growing the company. So that was a wonderful thing.”

There are now 11 people involved with LifeLoop, which is in 28 states and Canada.

“The possibilities are really endless for the senior industry,” Johnson says. “The baby boomers
are coming.”

Visit ourlifeloop.com for more information.

This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Right Stuff

October 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raymond Page can trace his family’s military history to the Civil War and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Family members fought in World War I. His namesake grandfather survived a bullet wound after being shot on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Such a deep legacy of service may explain why, shortly after entering a university close to his rural northern Pennsylvania home, Page decided he wasn’t cut out for college. 

In 1988, at age 18, Page opted to follow his father and two older brothers into the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of education kicked in immediately at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. 

“My first career was a radio operator, because I’ve always been into electronics,” says Page, 49. “Eventually I transitioned into meteorology and went to forecasting school. Offutt has the [Air Force Weather Agency] here, so it’s a job-rich environment.”

After ending his Air Force career as a major in 2014 after 26 years in the service, Page contemplated life as a civilian.

As he fielded several opportunities before accepting a position at Mutual of Omaha, Page discovered the reason transitions to the private sector run smoothly here: Omaha businesses need, actively recruit, and above all value veterans. 


“A better question is, why wouldn’t they want to hire a veteran?” observes Jeffrey Owens, vice president of Security Operations at First Data in Omaha and a Marine Corps veteran who enlisted during the Gulf War. “These young people trained, at a very young age, how to be leader[s], how to make decisions under high stress situations.”

The unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans keeps trending down.  According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department, it stands at 3.3 percent nationwide. Still, many companies wonder why the number of employees with military experience isn’t higher, considering all the recruitment programs in place. 

The glitch may lie at the other end of the equation. 

“One of the scariest things for military people transitioning is there’s not a direct correlation of jobs [in the private sector],” says Page, echoing the thoughts of many veterans who may wonder, “Where do my skills fit in?” 

Page put his skills to the test in two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraqi invasion in 2003, his weather detachment forecasted a monster three-day sandstorm, putting Army leaders in a position to keep their troops safe and hunkered down. 

“Even though I was a weather officer, I had a lot of experience in computer programming,” says Page, who lives in Bellevue with his wife and two children. “Military people, especially Air Force people, are wired to adapt quickly as we move from job to job. We show initiative.”

Owens, who also spent 14 years as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, can’t speak highly enough of the qualities he observes every day in his employees. ”All the veterans I’ve had the opportunity to manage have exhibited loyalty, hard work, and they have a history and tradition built into them. Why wouldn’t you want those assets?”

Along with a lack of a business network, self-marketing may be a problem with many veterans. Military service focuses on the collective, making it difficult for a veteran to distinguish him-or-herself from the group, which is often an essential part of interviewing.

But that emphasis on the collective means many former service members will appreciate company values, missions, and visions.

First Data, founded in Omaha 47 years ago and now the world’s largest payment processor, reaches out to veterans through its First Data Salutes program. The company offers career opportunities and education resources for military personnel and their spouses; provides point-of-sale and business application technology free of charge to veteran-owned small businesses; and, like many local businesses, grants flex time to members of the National Guard or Reserves.

“What the company says to them is, ‘Hey, your job will be here when you get back.’ That gives them comfort and security while they’re [deployed],” says Owens.

First Data’s efforts on behalf of veterans, who made up 14.4 percent of the company’s Omaha hires last year, have won accolades. Military Times magazine has ranked the company No. 1 on its annual “Best for Vets: Employers” list the past two years, an honor “that cannot be bought, only earned,” according to the magazine’s editor. The rigorous survey, sent to 2,300 companies nationwide, contains 90 questions that companies must fill out and return. 

Page’s computer and leadership abilities caught the interest of Mutual of Omaha when the company hosted meet-up groups of software developers. Since joining the insurance company four years ago, he has thrived as an information systems manager. 

He has also positioned himself as a trusted adviser for Mutual’s military initiative, the Veterans Employee Resource Board. The group, in conjunction with the HR department, provides mentoring and assistance to people coming out of the service. Quarterly meetings focus on developing business knowledge and honing leadership skills. Members join their fellow Mutual employees in volunteering for community projects several times a year.

Page and other VERB members offer a bridge of understanding when it comes to the language of a veteran recruit’s skill set. 

“We also work with managers to help them decipher resumes,” Page points out. “What military people put on a resume is different from a civilian’s resume. I help interpret.”

Page realizes a lack of connections forms the biggest roadblock to people exiting the military. “I tell people to start networking, start visiting companies before they leave the service. Companies love talking to military men and women.”

Here in the Midlands, that’s sound advice.

Visit firstdata.com or mutualofomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Owens

Evelyn Zaloudek

December 22, 2017 by
Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits.

Evelyn Zaloudek, 86

My family moved to Omaha in 1945 from a farm in Woodbine, Iowa, where I was in the 4-H Club. My project was raising two Hereford steers, one of which won the grand champion of his class at the Harrison County Fair. I showed him at Aksarben, and he won a blue ribbon. It was a sad day when he was sold with a group of other blue-ribbon calves to a hotel in New York City. Of course, in those days, they sent the calves right over to the packing house and then shipped them back East. That was the end of my farming days.

I graduated from South High where I met my handsome, hardworking, successful husband, Eugene Zaloudek. We have been married 66 years and counting. We have a son, Steven, two daughters, Wendy and Kris, and six adult granddaughters. I am blessed with nine great-grandchildren, four boys and five girls.

Because of the Korean War draft, Gene enlisted in the Navy in 1951 and was stationed at the Olathe Kansas Naval Air Station. We lived in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Gene received orders to go to Guam, where I joined him with our 11-month-old son. Guam was quite an experience. There were Japanese guns still on the beaches and Japanese soldiers hiding in the hills. Our daughter, Wendy, was born in the new military hospital just three days after it opened.

We left the island by ship in January 1955. After 18 days at sea, we docked at Oakland, California, where Gene received his discharge. We returned to Omaha by train.

We bought a home in Papillion, where our daughter Kristen was born. All three of the children graduated from Papillion high schools. We built a home in Bellevue in 1974 and still reside there. I love the area, with all the wildlife, trees, and good neighbors.

I worked at Mutual of Omaha for 10 years, the Sarpy County Court judge’s office for 10 years, and in the Sarpy County office of Dakota Title & Escrow Co. for 26 years. I sat on the board of directors of Midlands Community Hospital for five years in the 1980s and saw the hospital come out of receivership. I have volunteered in the gift shop for over 35 years.

I have wonderful happy memories of skiing in Colorado, sailing on Gavin’s Point Lake on weekends, wintering in Florida after retirement, and the great trips we have made. Many of these memories include family and good friends who are no longer with us.

We adopted a nine-year-old rescue westie, Stella, who is now 13 years old. I cannot help laughing when I call her to come into the house; it reminds me of Marlon Brando in the movie On the Waterfront. I hope I outlive her.

My advice for others? If you have a talent, share it, even if it is a green thumb. I have given away many varieties of hostas that I have collected over the years.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Punk You

August 15, 2017 by
Photography by Keith Binder

You can call Brothers Lounge a “punk bar” and not get too much grief from so-called “punk purists.” However, calling Brothers a “punk bar” is like calling The Clash a “punk band.” Technically, it may be true, but both are so much more than that definition.

But to truly understand Brothers (located at 3821 Farnam St.), you must go back to its beginnings.

More than a decade before 1977 (or “The Year That Punk Broke”), three brothers—Joseph Jr., Ernest, and Robert “Bobby” Firmature—opened The Brothers Firmature. The Firmature brothers had already established themselves in the Omaha dining and bar community with establishments like the Gas Lamp and the Ticker Tape Lounge. For the first 20 years, The Brothers Firmature—located next to the Colonial Hotel at 38th and Farnam streets—was a cozy bar, complete with drapes on the windows and a tiny dance floor (where two dartboards reside today).

The Brothers Firmature’s patrons included insurance reps from nearby Mutual of Omaha, reporters for the Omaha World-Herald, and the occasional long-stay occupant of the Colonial. It also became a respite for a young Omaha couple—Trey and Lallaya Lalley.

Not yet married, the Lalleys operated the Capitol Bar, which was located downtown near 10th and Capitol streets. In its heyday under the Lalleys, the Capitol helped jumpstart Omaha’s burgeoning indie-rock scene by booking lots of local and national acts. The Lalleys would frequent The Brothers Firmature on Sundays, their only day off. The bar offered an escape from the demands of club management and music promotion.

“It was our secret spot for us and a few friends,” Lallaya recalls.

“It felt like your weird uncle’s cool basement,” Trey adds.

In the mid-’90s, after the Capitol Bar closed, Trey worked at the now-shuttered Theodore’s Bar located at Saddle Creek and Leavenworth streets. Lallaya ran the front of house at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe, which was located across the street from The Brothers Firmature on Farnam. The beloved organic restaurant shut down last year. Around 1997, Trey and Lallaya were approached by Robert Firmature about working at The Brothers Firmature in hopes that the two would eventually take over ownership. In the meantime, Bobby offered to mentor both Trey and Lallaya on the ins and outs of operating such an establishment.

“I knew how to smile and sell a beer, but I didn’t know how to do the books,” Trey says.

Trey and Lallaya took over Brothers in 1998. Some of the original decor remains (the original The Brothers Firmature sign, old movie posters like The Plainsman, starring Gary Cooper, and Riders in the Sky, starring Gene Autry), but the attitude of the place took on a new edge. In 2003, they were operating as owners. In 2012, they owned the building outright.

Edward Huddell has been coming to Brothers for almost 40 years. Sitting at the bar on a Friday night, sipping a lemonade, Huddell said he knew Robert Firmature, but connected more with Trey and Lallaya. During Huddell’s heyday, he would go to Brothers three or four times a week. His drink of choice: Rolling Rock or tequila shots.

“When I first came here, there was mostly Mutual of Omaha people. Then, after a while, it became more working-class people,” Huddell says. “When Trey and Lallaya took over, the average age of the patrons went down quite considerably.”

Trey and Lallaya’s personal touches are all over the bar. Brothers has become home to one of the most revered music jukeboxes in the Heartland, hosted a secret show by The Faint, and now serves as a sort of bridge between old neighborhood regulars and new patrons who are drawn to the renovated Blackstone District.

Visually, there are subtle indicators of Brothers’ punk aesthetic: the obligatory bathroom graffiti, black-and-white portraits of Joey Ramone, Nick Cave, and The Clash. But the obvious indicator is in its fabled jukebox. It’s one of the few in the city that contains actual physical CDs, chosen by the bar owners. Along with established icons including Bad Brains, X, and Dead Kennedys, it also plays beloved hardcore and punk staples like the Pornhuskers, Agent Orange, and the Circle Jerks.

Trey and Lallaya have a simple system regarding what goes into the jukebox: Both must agree on the CD. Having a bar where you can determine what is played has its advantages, but also some obvious drawbacks. The primary one being the risk of burning out on some of your favorite bands.

“It’s ruined some of my favorite records of all time for me,” Trey says. “What can’t I listen to anymore? Minor Threat. Black Flag, Slayer, and any Ramones song. Bands I cherished and love, I just wore into the dirt.”

Many of the institutions near Brothers have either went away (McFoster’s), or have dramatically revamped themselves (Sullivan’s). The rest of the businesses are part of the newer bars and eateries in the Blackstone District. The new businesses have given Brothers some new patrons, who mainly stop by more out of curiosity while bar-hopping than to hang out, Lallaya says.

“I call them ‘weekend tourists.’ They stop by once or twice, and they never come back,” she says.

Trey expressed some annoyance with the development around the bar. For months, it looked like Brothers was under construction as the high-end bar and kitchen eatery Stirnella, located next door, was being built. Parking has also become a problem, Trey says.

“I’m all for progress. I just really liked it the way it was before. People came here for a reason. It wasn’t just like ‘Oh, what’s this place. Let’s walk in and check it out.’ It was ‘Let’s go to Brothers.’”

One notable blogger of historic Omaha falls into the “Let’s go to Brothers”-style of patrons. She was so taken by the bar’s history that she penned an exhaustively researched piece about its history for her blog, My Omaha Obsession. Because of the sensitive nature of her job, she chose to remain anonymous, opting to use her pen name, “Miss Cassette.”

Miss Cassette spent months researching the history of the Brothers building. In a post titled “Brothers Lounge and the Case of the Vanishing Mom and Pop,” Miss Cassette used old articles from the Omaha World-Herald and The Omaha Daily Bee, as well as the Omaha city directory to trace the building’s history. Some key facts she discovered was that the spot where Brothers now resides used to be home to two separate businesses. Before the Firmature brothers bought the building, it was a grocery store and a self-service laundromat.

Miss Cassette began her research the same way she does most of her stories: by tracking down the city directory. “It starts with the address, then I see what shakes out,” she says. “It gets really rabbit hole-ish.”

In 2016, Brothers celebrated its 50th anniversary. Trey and Lallaya plan to keep Brothers operating long enough to justify another research piece by Miss Cassette. Don’t expect many changes to the bar, with the exception of more live shows. Lallaya says the number of live shows has grown from six to about 25 each year.

Trey says he can imagine running the bar for another 20 years, minus a week or two off a year for vacations.

“We don’t have an exit plan. This is it…We were in business to have a good time with our friends, not to make millions of dollars and sell out. Obviously, we did that,” Trey says with a laugh.

Visit facebook.com/brothersloungeomaha for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

From left: Trey and Lallaya Lalley


Larry Ferguson

August 6, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Berkshire Hathaway’s National Indemnity Company was searching for someone to memorialize its home office of more than 65 years before they relocated, they called upon Omaha artist and photographer Larry Ferguson.

“It’s what I do all the time. This is the kind of thing that I’m always involved in,” he says. For the past 35 years, Ferguson has documented the evolution of the cultural and industrial landscape of Omaha as it rapidly blooms.

“That’s just one of those things that I’m really known for—being able to make incredible documents that have an aesthetic sense about them, so that people want to have them. Not just for the information that’s there, but also for the aesthetics that are involved,” Ferguson says.

Ferguson learned that hard work is its own reward from his dad, during his childhood on the family farm near Alliance. His vast body of work is evidence of that. Whether documenting the weddings of Omaha’s elite or being commissioned by the Joslyn to visually capture priceless works of art, his photographic expertise is unrivaled.

He is chairman of the Omaha Public Art Commission, founded the group Public Art Omaha, and spent 10 years working with the Nebraska Arts Council’s artists-in-residence program. He also served as project director on a commission that performed preservation work on the Bostwick-Frohardt photography collection at The Durham Museum.

Ferguson specializes in fine art, commercial art, and social documentation. He describes his take-charge approach to those worlds as “intricately intertwined.” He is also trained in drawing, painting, ceramics, and sculpture. “I love art,” he says.

For two months Ferguson methodically shot every square inch of National Indemnity’s property, located on Harney Street near Mutual of Omaha, working from the outside before the leaves fell and then capturing the interior. He photographed the cafeteria where Berkshire Hathaway held their annual shareholder’s meetings in the 1970s and the tennis courts where former President Jack Ringwalt played.

Where others might see mundane ceiling tiles, Ferguson’s eye finds inspiration for captivating works of photographic art. His rare Cambo Wide camera offers an elongated panoramic format with a two-to-one ratio creating an extremely wide angle not often seen in photography. “For example, this is a little small 10×10 room but I’m able to stand in a corner and photograph almost the entire
room,” he says.

Ferguson’s images convey the values of strength, stability, and integrity on which the insurance company’s founders, Arthur and Jack Ringwalt, built the company. They believed every risk has a proper rate and that risky classes—such as long-haul trucks, taxis, rental cars, and public buses—should not be rejected. In plain language, Ferguson’s black-and-white photos tell the rich story of decades of promise.

“Real art in a work environment changes the workers,” Ferguson says. His photography will decorate the walls of the company’s new office, located in the Omaha World-Herald Building, serving as daily inspiration for the employees and a reminder of the company’s successful history.

Visit fergusonstudio.com for more information. Encounter


Morally Mute

March 3, 2016 by

“While at work a few months ago,” a local businessperson once related to me, “I was with a couple of employees talking not about anything in particular, just chatting about random things.

One of the people brought up another co-worker’s sexuality (they were not present). This person was very vocal about their beliefs and disgust of homosexuality. I was uncomfortable with the comments being made. I picked up my coffee mug and said, ‘I have to get to work’ and left. But afterwards I felt guilty. Should I have done something differently?”

The uncomfortable situation concerned sexuality, but it could just as easily have been about a coworker’s race, religion, or economic status. Someone talks negatively about a co-worker and the words cut deep. We don’t agree, but remain silent. Then we chastise ourselves for our weakness. We hit ourselves. We are bad, bad, bad for not being stronger.

But then again, are we weak and bad? Or are we just smart? The workplace is about getting the job done. When is it our role to engage a person in what could easily become a shouting match about ethics?

When we believe in our gut that something is wrong but don’t speak out about it, we are “morally mute.” Notice that muteness itself can sometimes be a good thing. Biologists tell us that it is a survival mechanism. It is a technique mankind learned in order to protect ourselves from the prowling lions and tigers. The species that knows how to remain silent in the face of danger is the species that outlives others.

On the other hand, muteness can also be a downfall. If we don’t scream when we see a car is about to run into us, a distracted driver may miss a potentially lifesaving alert. Making our presence known and not being mute can also be a very good thing.

So when is moral muteness right or wrong? When should we remain silent, and when
should we speak up at work?

An answer to these questions comes from reflecting on our motivations. Moral muteness is wrong when it is a result of rationalization. If we are silent about our moral beliefs just because we want don’t want to rock the boat, we want to fit in, or we don’t want to mess up the team, then we are rationalizing. These rationalizations tend to arise because of fear, but it is always our role to protect each other from the oncoming car, so to speak. And we might be scared because we don’t have the tools to express our beliefs in a way that doesn’t end in a shouting match, or analogously, that doesn’t run both the driver and the pedestrian off the road.

Like most things in life, moral muteness is overcome with practice.

Some of the best firms in Omaha have initiatives for employees to practice their communication skills in role-playing ethical scenarios with colleagues they trust. I know of at least 16 organizations that do this, both for-profit and non-profit: Access Bank, Arbor Bank, Avenue Scholars, Centris Federal Credit Union, the Douglas County Treasurer’s office, General Service Bureau/Early Out, Heartland Family Service, Hayes & Associates, Kiewit, Mutual of Omaha, NECA, NEI Global Relocation, OPPD, Seldin Company, and SilverStone Group.

These firms deserve a shout-out because they recognize that employees who know how to overcome moral muteness become stronger as individuals. Their teams are made hardier, more resilient. And those are assets that go straight to the bottom line.


In the Middle of it All

December 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Leo A Daly

Chris Johnson graduated from college and looked left.

Then he looked right.

With sheepskin in hand—a degree in architecture from Iowa State—he went chasing his first job in the field.

But not at home.

“I thought the best design only occurred on the West Coast or East Coast,” Johnson says.
Turns out what he was looking for was right in front of him all along—Leo A Daly, one of the largest planning, architecture, engineering, interior design, and program management firms in the world.


But Johnson, a native Omahan, didn’t know that Leo A Daly.

“It was almost embedded in me that they’re an Omaha firm just doing Omaha work,” Johnson says. “I wasn’t sure of their national or international design presence.”

He dug deeper.“Holy cow,” he recalls discovering, “there’s a great design firm right here doing things all over the world.”

Johnson joined Leo A Daly in 1990 and today is a vice president and managing principal in Omaha. His years with the firm are but one chapter in its extensive history. It was begun in 1915 by Leo A. Daly Sr. and remains in family hands with his grandson, Chairman and CEO Leo A. Daly III.

Early on, the firm indeed was Omaha-centric, its work featuring more than a handful of projects in and around the city for the Catholic church.

“Look at some of the turn-of-the-century Catholic churches and, more often than not, you’ll see Leo Daly on the cornerstone,” Johnson says.

But it was a much larger Catholic project that helped Leo A Daly become much larger—Boys Town.

The firm’s first major planning assignment came in 1922, creating the Boys Town master plan for Father Flanagan’s 160-acre campus that then was 10 miles west of Omaha. The relationship continues today as Leo A Daly has designed 90% of Boys Town buildings.

Leo a Daly's original rendering for Boys Town (1922).

Leo a Daly’s original rendering for Boys Town (1922).

Others in Omaha and beyond began to take notice.

“Boys Town really began to grow Leo Daly into a regional and national architecture and engineering firm,” Johnson says. That led to work for the healthcare market. Then came work for the federal government related to national defense.

Eventually, Leo A Daly went global. Today the privately held company’s portfolio includes projects in nearly 90 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Clients include public, private, and institutional organizations in sectors including aviation, commercial development, higher education, transit, and transportation. And while other firms in the industry increasingly become specialized, Leo A Daly has intentionally stayed multidisciplinary.

“We want to think holistically about these facilities, both during design and when they are operational,” Johnson says. “We really learn a lot from each other as far as innovation.”

That’s helped give the firm staying power. So, too, has a quality staff, Johnson says, and a marketplace that rewards “quality and innovation,” a statement backed by more than 500 design awards.


The company has more than 800 design and engineering professionals in 32 offices worldwide—Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Atlanta, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, an engineering, infrastructure consulting, and program management division of Leo A Daly, is in 18 cities.

But corporate headquarters remain in Omaha at almost its geographic center on Indian Hills Drive. The office boasts one of Omaha’s finest art collections, which has been amassed by the Daly family over the years.

“You’re really working in an atmosphere that elevates your game,” Johnson says of his surroundings.

Thank goodness for that Omaha presence. The city would be unrecognizable without such icons as First National Tower, Mutual of Omaha, Memorial Park, and other landmarks.

And Leo A Daly is building today the icons of tomorrow. Recent projects include the mixed-use development in downtown’s Capitol District, Nebraska Medical Center’s Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, and the relocation of Creighton University Medical Center to CHI’s Bergan Mercy Campus.

Also notable is the company’s transformation of the 1898 Burlington Passenger Station into a state-of-the-art television station for KETV. Among the project’s chief designers was Leo A Daly architect Sheila Ireland. Objectives included an initiative to keep the past visible where possible, allowing the building to tell its own story. Throughout the building are signs of the original 1898 Greek Revival design, its dramatic 1930s renovation, and updates from the 1950s. In one space, plaster from a bygone era has been cleverly framed as wall art. Even signs of the station’s 40-year vacancy remain visible.

Perhaps only a firm that’s been around nearly as long the station is wise enough, bold enough, to take such an approach.

“It’s exciting to work at a firm that has as much history with the city of Omaha as Leo Daly has,” Ireland says.

She hopes her work on the Burlington Station will help it last “hopefully for another 50 to 100 years.”

Chances are Leo A Daly will still be here—in the middle of it all.

Visit leoadaly.com to learn more.


Mutual Interest

August 18, 2015 by
Photography by Malone & Co.

This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.

He didn’t curse like anyone on The Osbournes or have the sex drive of a 16 & Pregnant regular, but before any of those cast members staked their claim to fame there was Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

“Jim Fowler says it was the original reality TV show,” says Patty Malone. “It was really a new, forward-thinking kind of show different than anything else out there.”


Adds her husband, Mike: “They weren’t staging things for the most part. They set their cameras in the right place.”

Now the Malones are putting cameras in place with a Wild Kingdom reboot. The couple, principals in the commercial video and photography production company Malone & Co., are filming and producing webisodes of the iconic show, which ran Sunday nights from 1963 to 1988.

It’s been more than a quarter-century since the original show’s curtain call, but the name Wild Kingdom still resonates. “We run into people all over and they have very fond memories of that show, that time in their lives,” Patty says.

Mike has taken photos for Wild Kingdom sponsor Mutual of Omaha for more than 20 years, producing images for annual reports, other publications, and the web. When the insurance company celebrated 50 years of the show in 2013, it called again on his eight-person company to produce a 21st-century version of it.

The process began with a national search for a “wild guide” host. That was claimed by South Dakota native Stephanie Arne, a one-time intern at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

Malone’s team first produced a webisode on “Reef Madness,” exploring efforts to save coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Then came webisodes on buffalo in Custer State Park, the invasive Tegu lizard wreaking havoc in the Everglades, and on the California condor. The second season featured elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, and penguins. The third season, airing this spring, features leopards, sea otters, kangaroos, and manatees.

Episodes of the show, which has generated nearly 3.5 million views in three years, can be viewed at wildkingdom.com (as can clips from the orMalone&Co4iginal show).

The episodes usually are filmed within two to three days. Mike says he often has competing reactions to assignments: “The first one, of course, is, ‘This is great. We’re really excited to be doing this.’ Then it’s, ‘How the heck are we going to make this happen?’”

The longtime photographer had done some work with dogs and cats, and even cattle for an agricultural client. “Nothing this level,” though, he says.

His most memorable session so far, he says, was filming condors with assistance from the Ventana Wildlife Society. “Half a dozen flew over the top of us and the sound of the wind through their wings is really unforgettable. They made me a little intimidated, but they have no interest in you because you’re not a carcass.”


Thanks to his crew’s efforts, Wild Kingdom is alive and well, too.

There are differences from the original series with Marlin. Most notable, perhaps, is that episodes aren’t filmed in the wild. Rather, today’s Wild Kingdom partners with entities such as Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas, the Los Angeles and Dallas zoos, and California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Those entities provide access to, and expert information about, animals and habitat.

Also, the webisodes are shorter than what aired on television. Malone and Co. produce a handful of segments on each topic, those running from two to three minutes each. The company also creates rich, ready-made content for various social media channels, provides a photo gallery, and quick “Fast Facts” videos with the bubbly, energetic Arne.

What’s similar? The same great animals and the same great storytelling.

“You can provide people both young and old an understanding of the animal kingdom,” Mike says. “That’s still the same. Especially young people watching these. We get a lot of feedback from teachers using these in the classroom.”