Tag Archives: passion

A Thriving Community

March 3, 2017 by

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Omaha’s connection to horses has a long local history that stretches back even before the city was founded in the mid-1800s; the city’s namesake Native American tribe was reportedly the first documented equestrian culture in the Northern Plains.

So it seems fitting that in and around Omaha today, a thriving equestrian culture provides plentiful resources for casual or serious horse enthusiasts and riders. A broad spectrum of lessons, trails, leasing, boarding, shows, and competitions are readily available. A handful of state parks within an hour’s driving distance provide extensive equestrian trails and some even offer camping facilities for horse owners or guided trail riding. The equestrian community is also supported by a host of goods and services providers, from tack and apparel shops, to farriers and large-animal veterinarians.

Lessons, Activities, and Services

The Omaha area offers a wide array of lessons for beginners and advanced students alike, in English and Western riding, jumping, dressage, and more. Many of these facilities also offer boarding, grooming, and other related services, offer open access trails, or provide corrals and practice rings where riders can independently develop their horsemanship skills. Some even offer party space for special events. A sampling of these local equestrian facilities, which present various services through membership or per visit, includes:    

  • American Legacy Complex (Omaha)
  • Elkhorn Equestrian Center (Elkhorn)
  • The Farm at Butterflat Creek (Bennington)
  • Hampton Ridge Equestrian Center (Elkhorn)
  • Infinity Farm (Springfield)
  • Ponca Hills Farm (Omaha)
  • Phoenix Equestrian Center (Bellevue)
  • Prairie Gem Stables (Omaha)
  • Quail Run Horse Centre (Elkhorn)
  • The Riding Center (Omaha)
  • Seefus Riding Stable (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
  • Winnail Stable (Waterloo)

Horse Shows

Dozens of horse shows in multiple classes are held in the area year-round, a tradition that goes back decades. For example, a resource for the Nebraska hunter/jumper schooling show circuit—NebraskaHorseShows.com—had already posted 10 unrated events for 2017 at the beginning of the year. By February, Urban Equine Events (UrbanEquineEvents.com), a local equestrian production company, had already listed four major events taking place in 2017 alone. National sources HorseShowCentral.com and USEF.org already list more than 20 shows scheduled for the area throughout 2017, with more to come.

“Every single weekend there’s a show if you want one,” Omaha Equestrian Foundation board member and volunteer Karen Ensminger says. Her two daughters have ridden competitively, and although she jokes about competing in the “rusty stirrup” circuit for middle-aged riders, Ensminger emphasizes that local riders have abundant options for A- and B-rated shows along with non-rated shows “for everyone.” In fact, local shows “attract riders from the entire region,” she says. 

Horse-themed Activities

Along with a significant presence at the FEI World CupTM Finals, local organizations are also embracing the festivities by offering external horse-themed community events such as:

  • Equus Film Festival (March 30 – April 1)

Two matinees each day will be featured at Marcus Midtown Cinema in conjunction with the FEI World CupTM Finals. The festival empowers storytellers to show the rich history and diverse tapestry of horses in human culture through a selection of feature films, documentaries, shorts, music videos, commercials, training educational materials, art and literature.   

  • Ak-Sar-Ben: A Good Place to Race (now through May 28)

This exhibit, hosted by the Durham Museum, presents a glimpse of one of the nation’s premiere racing tracks of yesteryear through both photographs and objects from the museum’s collection.

Equestrian Service Organizations

In addition to offering a multitude of activities for recreational and competitive riders, the equestrian community also includes groups with working horses that serve the community, like:

  • The Omaha Police Mounted Patrol Unit

The horse patrol started in 1989 as a part-time unit on a trial basis and was so successful in law enforcement, special events, and public relations that it was quickly elevated to a full-time unit. Today, a dedicated team of officers and horses comprise the unit, which is housed in a state-of-the-art equine facility in downtown Omaha.

  • Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA)

HETRA is a nonprofit organization offering therapeutic riding programs for adults and children with disabilities. The organization has 19 specially trained therapy horses and is currently the only PATH Premier Accredited Therapeutic Riding Center in the state.

  • Take Flight Farms

Take Flight is a nonprofit organization which incorporates horses into therapeutic and learning programs. Take Flight is a member of Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), an association that is dedicated to improving the mental health of individuals, families, and groups by setting the standard of excellence in equine-assisted psychotherapy.

With the wealth of equine industries, groups, events and shows in the area, it may take some research along with a little trial-and-error for budding equestrians to find their particular fit, Ensminger says. She adds that her contemporaries are generally happy to answer questions and provide information, and that the diverse local “horse people” community is, above all, welcoming.

“There’s a wide gamut,” she says. “But they love to talk about their sport, their passion and their obsession.”

The Daily Grind

April 29, 2015 by

Do you like your job?

Do you enjoy your work?

These are similar questions that can deliver very different answers. And it matters because your mental health depends on it.

During my decades of experience in the workplace, there have definitely been some really bad days. The kind of days where I questioned whether I could possibly find the strength to go back and face it again. Days where I felt so helpless, hopeless, trapped, and defeated—I was just…done.

But during any time I was not enjoying my job, I never ever stopped loving my work. My career. My calling. The older I get, the more I realize just how special and rare that can be. I’ve always liked what I chose to do, and I’ve never regretted it.

With family support and working several part-time positions, I was able to earn my college degree. In college I discovered video and fell in love with broadcasting—then spent two glorious decades working in television newsrooms with wonderful, smart, and clever people. As life changed, I’ve moved on to do new things in new places, but always building on those skills and that passion for doing work that I really enjoy.

I’m sharing this because, by some measures, we spend fully one-third of our lives in the workplace. That’s a lot of time to spend doing something you really don’t enjoy. I have friends who chose badly when they were picking an employment path. They loved science but pursued business. They loved art but pursed engineering. They did not follow their own heart. Maybe they followed the money. Maybe it was the safe path on which the jobs were plentiful. All fine if the passion is there, too.

Everyone has some occasional job anxiety, but there are few things worse than chronic job stress based in truly hating what you do 40 hours a week or more.

Medicinenet.com defines job stress as, “The harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.”

Immediate physical symptoms include headache, chronic insomnia, difficulty concentrating, short temper and an upset stomach. Studies have linked long-term job stress and dissatisfaction to heart disease, musculoskeletal problems, workplace injury, and psychological disorders such as depression.

“Many of our clients are seeking coping skills,” says Pegg Siemek-Asche of Lutheran Family Services. “A bad fit or other difficulties in the workplace can make people feel trapped. Because they need their paychecks, they put up with a lot more than they usually would, and that sense that they lack control of their own lives can really
be overwhelming.”

So, step one is simply being aware of just how much impact your job situation is having on your well-being and personal relationships. While it’s always best if your career starts out as a good fit, simply realizing that you should be doing something different is a great first step in developing a plan to relieve some of the pressure you are feeling.

Maybe it’s not just doing the same job at a different company. Can you pursue a different position with your current employer? Can you transfer your skills to a different industry? Can you find the ideas and resources to start your own business? Can you enhance your current skills or education in a way that opens up new possibilities for you? The challenge is learning how to stop the flow of anxious or depressing thoughts long enough to take a deep breath and consider other possibilities. You deserve to have a joy-filled work life.

DailyGrind

Kathy Tyree Channeling Her Inner Diva

February 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “diva” has taken a bit of a hit in recent years, suggesting to some a haughty I-want-it-all-and-want-it-now scene chewer who treats other humans like varmints.

For most, though, the word remains untarnished. The diva is still the shining star, the bigger-than-life glory who commands a room while displaying elegance and charity beyond the bright lights.

Kathy Tyree is most certainly the latter type of diva.

So, too, was Ella Fitzgerald, the legendary jazz diva who Tyree will shape-shift into for Ella, which opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on February 28.

“Ella Fitzgerald was every bit the good diva, a marvelous performer,” Tyree says during an interview at a mid-town coffee shop. “My job is to channel my inner diva. But I think I’ve earned my diva stripes. It’s an immense challenge, but I feel I’m up to the challenge.”

“She brought the house down in Hairspray. She’s going to bring the house down again.”
— Susie Collins

Tyree has more than earned those stripes in 30-some years of powerhouse singing throughout the region. She is arguably Omaha’s premier cabaret singer. Among numerous other roles, she played Aretha Franklin in Beehive, widely considered the longest-running show in the city’s history.

That show’s director, Gordon Cantiello, says he’s confident that Tyree is “by all means a big-time diva in the good way.

“The other girls in Beehive had to work hard to keep up with her,” Cantiello says. “She commands a room. She’s 110 percent all the time. She’s a director’s dream.”

Susie Collins, who will be directing Ella, agrees and adds that Tyree “has a very special, powerful way of expressing herself through her music.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her. There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”
—Kathy Tyree

And yes, she said, Tyree can command a room like a true diva. She did just that in a Playhouse production last summer. “She brought the house down in Hairspray,” Collins continues. “She’s going to bring the house down again.”

Ella is a new challenge for Tyree in that, for one, “there are an immense number of lines to learn.” The one-woman musical is “a very honest and open look at her life.” The musical goes far beyond the music.

Set in Nice, France, in 1966, Fitzgerald’s manager suggests she engage in more banter with her audience—a fashion for singers at the time. Her conversations on and off the stage through the musical increasingly delve into deeply personal topics, including the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands 
of her stepfather.

“In shows like this you can get a script that’s kind of glued in there—that’s very forced,” Collins explains. “You have a very skilled playwright here [Jeffrey Hatcher]. The script is just excellent.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her,” Tyree says. “There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”

20131028_bs_7813-2

At the show’s heart, though, is the music and the larger-than-life voice and presence of the diva.

“The diva develops her own style out of her own personality,” Tyree says. “Ella Fitzgerald was uniquely Ella. A diva is the only person who sounds the way they do. You know immediately who is singing when you hear the voice.”

Tyree has built her own personal style from many influences. In some cases, she’s standing on some unlikely shoulders.

You might guess she was first inspired by the towering voices and personalities of Diana Ross and Lena Horne. Aretha Franklin, sure. Cher, who Tyree loves for her versatility. Luther Vandross. So smooth.

But Mick Jagger? Really?

“He’s always going—so passionate,” she says. “I love what he does with a song.”

And Rod Stewart?

“I love performers who are sincere and real,” she says. “That passion is authentic.”

Ella Fitzgerald, she says, was one of those sincere, genuine, authentic, and passionate singers who brought her best each night to her performance and her audience.

That’s what Tyree wants for every second she spends on stage as Ella Fitzgerald.

“I’d like to think I have my own style, so it’s interesting to work to channel Ella Fitzgerald—try to take on her unique style,” Tyree says. “What’s not at all different is that burning desire to give the audience everything you have. Ultimately, a diva wants to give the audience something to remember. So we’re going to work to give the audience something to remember.”

Life Through a Lens

January 10, 2014 by
Photography by Rick Anderson

You have seen his work, although you may not know his name. He’s the man behind the iconic aerial stadium posters of the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the last 20 seasons. Whether it’s his peaceful imagery of rural farm scenes welcoming visitors to Alegent Creighton’s Bergan Mercy Medical Center or his engaging shots of Omaha decorating Mayor Jean Stothert’s office, the work of famed photographer Rick Anderson seems to be popping up everywhere lately.

Anderson travels the world in search of the next big “get.” Success in photography can’t be planned, and it can happen in the blink of an eye—the flash of a shutter. Like the moment lightning strikes. He goes island-hopping on cruise ships that he calls “taxicabs.” “It’s like I’m going on an Easter egg hunt looking for the next egg, whether it’s a flower or a palm tree or a chicken running in the street in the Virgin Islands.” He’s sloshed about in the foamy Costa Rican waters capturing waves next to a volcano. He’s camped out in the Yukon National Forest’s wintery white snowscape and has soaked in the dead silence of the scrubby Sandhills of Nebraska. From the sunny coasts of Hawaii to the glacial peaks of Alaska, there is no trek too far for a man who is truly enthralled by the beauty of the world that surrounds him.

Parkway-OP

The sign of a true artist, he admits that he is not even in control of his destinations. He’s just along for the ride, much like a tornado. “Then the wind catches me, and I’m caught up in my own tornado, and it’s turning me and turning me,” he says. “It’s like the wind is taking me on this endless journey. In the back of my mind I’m thinking this has got to surface someday where I see the other side of the rainbow, and it all makes sense.”

Anderson speaks in snapshots. He describes his humanitarian mission to Cuba. “I went on a sailboat. We pulled into Havana at sunrise. I pulled into the harbor, and the sun was coming up, and all the lights were glistening in the water,” he says. “It was one of the neatest experiences I’ve ever had.”

Even as a little boy he was hypnotized by the lens and the eye-catching objects they bring into focus. He remembers being about 8 years old in the mid-’70s and chasing the hot air balloons that would launch near the Miracle Hills area where he grew up, which was the edge of town at the time. “I would run up to my bedroom and get my little 110 camera, run down, hop on my bike, and I would chase those balloons just to take pictures of them,” he says.

Winter-Tree_OP

It was later in his life that he would realize photography as his true passion. As an adult, he instinctively picked up the camera after the birth of his son. “I photographed him every day. I had a knack for taking photos.” He next tackled windmills, then sunsets, then sunsets and windmills together. He decided to set up a camera and shoot the lights with the sunset at Gene Leahy Mall. Then he was on to something. His friends were impressed. “They were like, ‘Wow, Rick, this is really good.’ I got goosebumps. I got kind of a high off of that.” It was his “aha” moment. “I had a purpose. I could do something,” he says.

Alaska is his favorite locale to capture the moment. “I have no words for it. You don’t know where to point your camera. There is just so much, whether it was just a simple pinecone or a little trickling stream. I saw 29 bears in three-and-a-half days.” But he is just as happy driving a few hours down the road to the Nebraska Sandhills, where one can hear crickets, prairie dogs, and the occasional cow. “You can hear a meadowlark and a train maybe off in the distance. It’s just a beauty all of its own. People have no idea what they are missing by just going out there and smelling the wildflowers.”

Artists—all artists—have a knack for capturing and expressing magic, but Anderson demurs that luck has at least a little to do with it. “It’s like going fishing. Sometimes you come back with the big one, sometimes you don’t.”

Puttin’ on the Ritz

December 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The rat-a-tat-tat of tap shoes resonates throughout the studio. A big out-of-town gig looms less than 24 hours away, and the troupe is working to perfect the pitter-patter steps of the “Lullaby of Broadway” number from the film Gold Diggers of 1935. Never mind that the company’s oldest hoofer was already in junior high when the film premiered. And never mind that arthritis and bum knees have perhaps taken a bit of a toll on the gams of even the leggiest members of this troupe—the Dancing Grannies won’t rest until the curtain call of 
tomorrow’s performance.

“I love dancing, and it’s just a fabulous feeling to be out there in front of all those smiling faces,” says 73-year-old Linda Hall. “But the Dancing Grannies is more than just dancing. We practice together, we travel together, and we perform together. The camaraderie among us is important, and we’re a very close-knit bunch of girls.”

“And we love the crowds and all the energy we get from them,” adds Katie DiBaise. Spending any amount of time with DiBaise leads one to guess that she was probably the class clown back when the Palmer Method was being taught for writing lessons on Big Chief tablets. Her sense of humor serves her well as the cracking-wise emcee at Dancing Grannies events. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a serious bone or two in her 78-year-old body.

“When I’m out there dancing,” DiBaise muses in one of her more reflective moments, “all I can think of is just…just…‘Wow!’”

Now in their fifth decade of grannie glitz and glam, the troupe originally formed in the late ’70s as the Camelot Steppers before later adopting the Dancing Grannies name. Assisted living centers occupy a number of dates on their schedule, but you may have seen them everywhere from high-stepping through halftime at CenturyLink Center sporting events to country line-dancing through countless area festivals and just about anyplace else where 
crowds gather.

Patricia Chase, Katie DiBaise, Jean Granlund, and Linda Hall

Patricia Chase, Katie DiBaise, Jean Granlund, and Linda Hall

Road trips can be full of surprises for the still-adventurous women who refer to each other simply as “the girls.” When the company made a refreshment stop at the retro soda fountain of Springfield Drug in the community of the same name south of Omaha, the scene seemed to practically beg for an equally retro, impromptu performance.

“The soda jerks asked us about our costumes, and one thing led to another,” explains 76-year-old Patricia Chase. “Let’s just say that there were free root beer floats involved.”

Assisted living performances remain a favorite for many of the women. “They see our costumes, and the music starts, and their faces just light up,” says Chase.

“And those hands start swaying, and those toes start tapping,” adds 81-year-old Jean Granlund, who has been with the group for more than 25 years. “They always tell us afterward that they’d be right up there dancing with us if only they could.” Granlund and Chase are the de facto leaders of the otherwise loosely organized group.

The minimum age for membership is 50 and the oldest member is now a still-spry 89. Bringing in new recruits can be something of a challenge for a group that, by definition, is limited to women of a certain age. Prospective members generally lead much more active lives than did women in the earlier days of the company, but all, Granlund explains, are welcome to check them out by visiting a rehearsal.

Like all “the girls,” she shares a lifelong love of dance.

“My mother was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland,” Granlund says. “She was a traditional Highland dancer, so dance has always been a part of my life. Later in my mother’s life when she was in assisted living, they didn’t do the sorts of entertainment programs that are common now. I always picture it as if my mother is out there in the audience every time I dance and especially when we perform in assisted living facilities. I know she would be very proud of me.”

To learn more about membership and bookings with the Dancing Grannies, contact Jean Granlund at 402-392-0497.

Seth McMillan

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Seth McMillan, is a self-proclaimed “accounting nerd” by day at Infogroup and by night he’s owner and renaissance man of the quirky downtown men’s boutique McLovin on 10th and Mason streets.

McMillan considers himself an intense and multifaceted person, which definitely lends itself to his careers in two vastly different fields. “I am an economics nerd, and I like to read biographies, but I also like to watch stupid teen comedies, and I enjoy people. I think you just need a bit of different things in your life.”

Having his hand in a multitude of pots is something McMillan says is not a new lifestyle for him. “Work is great, and the store is off to a good start, and I’m happy, but it’s a struggle to balance. It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s really fun.”

Originally from East Tennessee, the University of Memphis graduate studied both accounting and music. He earned his stripes in accounting at PricewaterhouseCoopers firm in Atlanta before being recruited to act as Director of Revenue Accounting at Infogroup here in Omaha.

His path to Omaha wasn’t intentional, McMillan says. “I knew that I wanted to have a segue job into being an entrepreneur. I saw that I could do all these things in my current job that would help me get the skills I need while I’m figuring out my segue.”

McMillan gives big compliments to his boss at Infogroup for allowing him these opportunities to pursue his passions. “I think he’s very progressive and sensitive to unique situations…and he has a really high tolerance.”

“I didn’t know retail, but what I do know is fun, and I do know how to engage people.”

Since moving to Omaha in June of 2011, McMillan has settled in nicely. “In January [of last year] was when things really started cooking. I bought a truck, a piano, and my partner came into my life. All of these things I’ve always wanted started happening.”

McMillan says he also fulfilled a life-long passion of being an entrepreneur with McLovin. “I had never had an interest in retail prior. It was principal, supply, and demand. I didn’t know retail, but what I do know is fun, and I do know how to engage people.”

Brian Williams, a friend of McMillan’s and one of his best customers, says it’s his personality and passion that have made his transition into his jobs as well as into the community so smooth and rewarding. “It’s his drive more than anything. He puts in a lot of hours, and I don’t know how he does it,” Williams says.

“One of my mottos is whatever you do, add value,” McMillan says. That seems to be his plan not only for his career but as a larger plan for Omaha.

McMillan says that down the road, he hopes to help brand the area south of the Old Market, where his shop lies, as well as brand Omaha as a whole. “We need to recruit more young professionals here, so they don’t move to Chicago, Denver, New York, or Los Angeles. The way to do that is to do cool things here. We need to have fun, and we need to invite more people to the party.”

“He’s not afraid of new challenges like bringing a new business to Omaha,” Williams says. “He’s very driven and outspoken.”

McMillan says what he wants to do is simple. “If I can help take care of people’s needs along with helping elevate Omaha’s cool-factor, it’s enough for me. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun.”

Joslyn Art Museum Docents

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you don’t know the names, you recognize the faces. Visitors to Joslyn Art Museum on 24th and Dodge streets enjoy the tours offered by well-trained docents, and aficionados have their favorite guides. Surely, the face at the top of that list belongs to Norma Fuller. Last year she led well over 100 tours, and she’s been at it since 1970.

“I love it here,” she says simply. In addition to the Education Department, museum areas that have felt the “Norma touch” include the Board of Governors, Acquisition Committee, and Joslyn Art Museum Association (JAMA). Norma and husband Jim will be moving to Wyoming this spring; to say she’ll be missed is a monumental understatement.

When Fuller answered a newspaper ad for Joslyn docents 42 years ago, there was no Department of Education. Art enthusiasts planned tours among themselves over lunch, sharing tips, information, and friendship. She’d arrived three days prior, in tears over leaving Washington, D.C., a Masters in Art History program at Georgetown University, and studio classes at the Corcoran. What she found at Joslyn was “an oasis.”

“The Docent Program has so much to offer,” she says. Ask any of the docents, and their responses will be similar: The program inspires a love of art and learning, and a desire to share that passion with others; camaraderie; special opportunities and activities, plus discounts in the museum shop and cafe.20130116_bs_1058 copy

Susie Severson, Director of Adult Programs (including docent training), says, “In many respects, docents are the ‘face’ of the Museum—often the first warm welcome, the first smile, the first impression visitors have to the Museum and its collections. Last year—a record-setting year in terms of attendance—Joslyn docents conducted over 1400 individual tours. Within the past six months alone, they served over 7200 visitors. This quick reflection on the numbers confirms the docents’ role as amazing public servants. They are respected beyond measure.” But she cautions that it is a serious commitment. Candidates must complete a two-year series of classes in art history, touring techniques, and the Joslyn collection. Information and a downloadable application form (deadline August 23) are available at the website.

Sharon Jackson learned firsthand the challenge and the rewards during her second year of training. She’d chosen to study an 18th-century painting by Peyron but was disheartened to find what little information she could was in French. Remembering that Fuller offered a tour in French, she asked for help. Though the two had never met, Fuller translated the primary document, reviewed Jackson’s paper, and offered tips for its presentation. “She went way beyond expectations,” says Jackson. “She became a mentor.” Fuller responded, “That’s what docents do; we help each other.”

Docents bring varied backgrounds to the program, so you’re sure to find someone who can pronounce Danish names, explain lithography, or connect an art style to its political environment. Most docents relish study. Jane Precella, Joslyn’s retail manager, says, “I’ve seen Norma in the cafe studying for a tour like a grad student cramming for an exam.” Yet there’s variety in preparation, too. One docent always watched Saturday morning TV so that she was up on the latest superheroes.

“She went way beyond expectations. She became a mentor.” – Sharon Jackson, Joslyn Art Museum docent

Creative expression is another perk of the program. Docents delight in tailoring a tour, step by step, as they listen to their particular group, and some docents develop customized tours. Fuller has found special satisfaction in two adult programs, Art Encounters and Visualizing Literature Book Club. “Making just the right connection is as euphoric to me as making just the right brush stroke,” she says.

As Fuller’s time of making her mark on the Joslyn nears an end, Director Jack Becker comments, “Norma is a remarkable and talented person who for over 40 years has shared her love, passion, and knowledge of the visual arts to literally thousands and thousands of lucky individuals. Omaha owes her a huge thanks, and Joslyn Art Museum will miss her talent and inspiration.”

The next time you take a tour at Joslyn, put a name with the face and enjoy the unique perspective your docent brings to the tour. You’ll never get another just like it.

Ervin & Smith

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Executives at Omaha advertising-public relations firm Ervin & Smith say the company’s recent growth and recognition as a top place to work and prosper are by-products of its considered emphasis on staff development.

2012 has seen the firm named one of Omaha’s Best Places to Work by Baird Holm LLP and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and as the Best Place for the Advancement of Women by Baird Holm and the Institute for Career Advancement Needs. Additionally, Ervin & Smith made this year’s Inc. magazine list of the nation’s fastest growing private companies after a 54 percent rise in revenue and significant staff increases from 2008 through 2011.

The agency, which employs more than 50 staffers, was founded in 1983 serving primarily financial services clients. While the financial services segment remains strong with clients like TD Ameritrade and Weitz Funds, the firm’s also made splashes with campaigns for such clients as Catholic Charities of Omaha, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Immanuel Senior Living. Ervin & Smith does business out of its own building at 16934 Frances Street.

“We encourage employees to get involved in community organizations and to serve on boards.” – Heidi Mausbach, vice president for Client Relations

Vice President for Client Relations Heidi Mausbach says one reason the company thrives is it hires people congruent with its mission.

“When we’re hiring, we’re very insistent on people meeting the core values of creativity, resourcefulness, accountability, passion, collaboration, inspiration, and loyalty. It’s resulted in a culture of very like-minded, smart professionals. Everyone here works really well together.”

She says core agency practices support professional advancement.

“We do a lot of leadership luncheons. Managers do one-on-one coaching to provide employees growth opportunities and immediate feedback. We encourage employees to get involved in community organizations and to serve on boards—We really believe that helps fuel not only your passion for work but for things you’re passionate about outside work.”

Heidi Musbach, Vice President, Client Relations, has been with the company for 12 years.

Heidi Mausbach, Vice President for Client Relations

Mausbach says the economic downturn led Ervin & Smith to hone in on itself.

“Rather than focusing on what our clients were doing and worrying about what was going on in the economy, we said, ‘Let’s focus on what we can control—ourselves.’”

Through this introspective process, she says, Ervin & Smith identified its greatest assets as “smart professionals always pushing to the next level and never settling,” adding, “As a result, we’re creating an environment where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do. By focusing on our people, we’re retaining and attracting top talent, and when you have the best talent, you attract like-minded clients.”

Co-founder and Executive Chairman Doug Smith has made the agency a haven for women moving into senior management. Sharon Carleton began as a copywriter there and today is President and CEO. Mausbach’s followed a similar career trajectory.

“I started as Doug and Sharon’s assistant,” Mausbach says, “and they gave me a lot of opportunities, they allowed me take some risks, and as a result, I was able to work my way up. Doug has always looked for people who are experts in what they do and can get results. That’s always been our philosophy. And that’s been my experience growing up in the agency. If you can prove and show performance, it doesn’t really matter your gender, your age, or any of that.”

“We’re creating an environment where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do.” – Mausbach

Carleton says, “We’ve never had a women’s initiative. Instead, we’ve always put in place programs we think will help all our employees. Employees have ideas for the company or a client, and we’re allowed to implement them. Over time, those individual ideas and opportunities have added up to a very supportive environment that both women and men appreciate.”

The firm’s Ms. Smith division has gained cachet as marketing-to-women specialists who consult with clients nationwide.

Carleton says Doug Smith nurtures this women-rising-to-the-top culture.

“Our culture has grown naturally from the foundation built by Doug Smith 30 years ago. I’ve been lucky to have him as my employer, mentor, and friend throughout my career. His generosity and encouragement keeps us positive and focused, pushing all of us to manage thoughtfully and strive for continuous improvement.”

For more information about the company, visit ervinandsmith.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.