United Way throws two parties into one - Annual meeting, campaign kickoff held the same night

Kick off

Wood River and Dannebrog first responders and Don Smith, retired publisher of The Independent, were honored Wednesday at Heartland United Way’s annual meeting and 2020-21 campaign kickoff.

The first responders were honored with Be the One Awards for their good work in battling the 2019 floods. Accepting the awards were Jenie Maloney, president of Wood River Fire and Rescue, Dannebrog Fire and Rescue Chief Terry Webb and his son, Josh, who works as a training officer for the department.

The two departments receive $4,000 each as part of the award.

Smith was presented with the Live United Award for his years of service with the United Way and The Independent.

Smith’s award was announced in a video by Dr. Steve Anderson. Anderson and his wife took Smith into their circle of friends when the publisher moved to Grand Island. “He’s an incredible friend and his kind words mean the world to me,” Smith said in his speech.

Smith said that ever since he was on the United Way board, he feels like he’s been adopted by the United Way. “And I eventually married into the family,” he said. His wife, the former Bonnie Westfall, used to work at Heartland United Way.

Smith thanked United Way for “making this area such a fantastic place to live.”

The presenters during the evening were Jenny Pokorney, Stephanie Kissler and Karen Rathke. Pokorney is chair of the Heartland United Way Board of Directors for 2020. Kissler is development director and Rathke is president of Heartland United Way.

Because of COVID-19, Heartland found a united way to present both its campaign kickoff and 73rd annual annual meeting. The organization’s annual meeting is normally in March, but it was canceled this year because of the coronavirus.

“The past few months have tested all of us in ways we could have never have imagined,” Rathke said. “However, for our friends and neighbors who were already vulnerable — struggling to make ends meet or put food on the table — it has been an exceptionally difficult and, sometimes, heartbreaking time. There are many people who are new to ‘need’ — people who struggled to make ends meet and now need to rely on additional support.”

Rathke was presented with a bouquet of flowers in honor of her 20 years with United Way.

Kissler introduced the 2020-21 campaign chairs. They are Dennis and Jayne Smith of Hall County, Tia Jerabek of Howard County, Kurt Johnson of Hamilton County and Jordan Fischer and Chelsie Paup of Merrick County.

The 2020-21 Loaned Executive is Sara Wilson of Principal.

Awards were given to retiring board members Jill Fargo, Kelly Henry, Mike Schaefer and Wade Jarvi.

The new board members are Alec Ananai of Five Points Bank, Steve Stauffer Jr. of CNHi, Neil Wardyn of Lutz and Julie Wright of Tally Creative.

The 2020 officers are Pokorney; Matt Gotschall, first vice chair; Zach Butz, second vice chair, and Shane Wissman, treasurer and ethics officer.

The 2019-20 campaign chairs were recognized. They were Tom and Sue Pirnie of Hall County, Kurt Johnson of Hamilton County, Linda Kezeor and Nancy Harrington of Howard County and Jordan Fischer and Hannah Wegner of Merrick County.

The 2019 Traveling Trophy was presented to Bosselman Enterprises. Amy Kreutz, who works at Bosselman Enterprises, was given the Employee Campaign Coordinator Award.

This year, United Way donors will have a chance to win a 2020 Hyundai Veloster, donated by Tom Dinsdale. A donation of $260 is required to have a chance at the car, which has a stick shift. “Make sure you practice if you don’t know how to drive a stick shift,” Kissler said. The “25 Keys of Christmas” drawing will be Dec. 17.

No campaign goal was announced. The amount will be announced in the near future.

Last year’s campaign finished up with $1,435,511.