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Omaha Magazine

Lucky 47: Arthritis Foundation’s Woman of the Year

Aug 27, 2021 04:08PM ● By Dawn Gonzales
woman on porch in blue blazer

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

She is number 47. 

It’s an easy number to remember since she was born in 1947, she said with a grin. She has been described as “a constant and comforting wellspring of connection, understanding, and inspiration.”

Those who know Annie Bird describe her as compassionate, generous, and genuine. As a former educator, that powerful combination has served her well through her career as a speech language pathologist for the Nebraska Department of Education and as a volunteer and board member for numerous organizations. Retirement heightens those qualities as she continues to make a difference in the lives of others in our community. 

“When I retired from working full time, I made a cognitive decision and set some priorities for myself. I made a promise to myself to invest time in three areas,” Bird said. 

The first priority is families—her own family, making sure she spends as much time with her grown children and grandchildren as she can—and families affected by disabilities, allowing her to continue her work in speech pathology. The second is working with organizations focused on cancer treatment or research; and third is looking at ways in this community that she can better the lives of individuals. Bird accomplishes these goals by participating in nonprofit boards that align with her stated passions. She serves on the Concord Mediation Center Board of Directors Executive Committee, Munroe-Meyer Institute Board of Directors, and Autism Center of Nebraska Board of Directors, and with Enrichment Foundation and Casting for Recovery. She and husband Ken serve on the Project Harmony Community Cabinet, and, of course, there is Avenue Scholars, the organization that Ken has led as president/CEO since 2008 after retiring as Westside Community Schools Superintendent. Avenue Scholars Foundation works to ensure students from low-income backgrounds graduate high school and identify and enter financially sustainable careers. Even in retirement, Bird finds ways to make an impact with Omaha youth. 

Linda Lovgren, program coordinator for Nebraska Casting for Recovery, an organization that supports breast cancer survivors, said Bird is one of those special individuals one can count on to follow through with whatever she agrees to do. “Her experience with nonprofits and boards brings leadership perspective and wonderful problem-solving skills. As a friend, she is a great listener and genuine to the core,” Lovgren said. 

Bird finds a way to contribute to the success of an organization and then works to build on that foundation. “When Casting for Recovery began in 2010, I reached out to Annie and asked her to work with us on fundraising. We were starting from ground zero.”

It was her connections that led to some large donors for this event.

“She has so much experience with foundations and grant writing and through her connections we met with the Carmen and John Gottschalk Foundation,” Lovgren said. John, retired chief executive officer and publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, is also an avid fly fisherman. “John and I talked about the physical aspect of fly fishing and the healing that could go with the activity for breast cancer survivors. John shared with us names of fly fishing enthusiasts that we should talk to who would see the value of this outdoor experience for breast cancer survivors,” Lovgren said. “Those conversations led to donations and support for Casting for Recovery. We received funding from the Carmen and John Gottschalk Foundation for six years, as well as many others, due to Annie’s knowledge and support.”

Casting for Recovery is an event Bird still supports.

“When it comes to the fly fishing retreats, she’s our master photographer, capturing all of the moments that make the retreat special for the participants and the staff,” Lovgren said. The two women have known each other for many years and Lovgren added that Bird’s most significant contribution is her relentless dedication to people in the community. “She is an exemplary educator, and she is committed to organizations that make a difference in the lives of women and children,” Lovgren said.

Bird has also been a longtime donor and supporter of the Arthritis Foundation’s signature event. “She’s been on the gala committee a couple of times, and she comes to the event every year,” said Sally Stalnaker, associate executive director of the Arthritis Foundation in Nebraska.

That connectivity, that willingness to serve at the highest level to bring Omahans together to help others, are reasons why only 46 other Omaha women have been honored with the title Woman of the Year. “We pay tribute to a woman who has made a significant, strong impact in the community. They are highly respected by their peers,” Stalnaker said. 

These are attributes that fit Annie Bird to a T, and one can tell by talking to her that they come naturally and without a lot of effort. It is an innate passion for service to others that helps give Bird an educator’s heart. 

Visit arthritis.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann