Kelly: Strike up the band to honor UNO donor Richard Holland -
Published Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:37 pm
Kelly: Strike up the band to honor UNO donor Richard Holland

» Omaha philanthropist Richard Holland got a noisy and very public surprise in front of his house this week: the University of Nebraska at Omaha marching band playing in the street as part of an elaborate “thank you.”

“It knocked me dead,” Dick told me. “I couldn't believe it!”

The event, which took place about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Loveland neighborhood south of 80th and Pacific Streets, was in appreciation for Holland's donation toward UNO's planned athletic arena near 67th and Center Streets.

Dick was asked to step out into his driveway, and he immediately saw “a whole bunch of people I know, mostly UNO professors or alums. Pretty soon, here comes the band up the street. And then all my neighbors, some of whom I hadn't met.”

A few convertibles took part in the parade, with “princesses” waving to the honoree. One of the wavers was Susie Buffett, daughter of Omaha investor Warren Buffett. (Holland was one of the original local investors with Buffett in 1961.)

The UNO hockey team presented him with a Mavericks jersey with “Holland” on the back. Academic deans and Chancellor John Christensen cheered.

A microphone was set up, and Dick told of entering the university in 1939, when, he said, he was mostly interested in girls and beer. Four and a half years of World War II matured him, and he returned to school in 1946 a different guy.

“When I told my mother I made the dean's list,” he told the 150 or so people assembled Wednesday, “she almost fainted.”

A successful career in public relations followed, as well as his investment that garnered hundreds of millions of dollars.

He has made numerous donations in the Omaha area, not just for buildings, such as the Holland Performing Arts Center, but also to help impoverished students and others through the Building Bright Futures organization.

When I reached him Friday, Dick quipped that he agreed to the UNO donation “in a weak moment.” The amount hasn't been disclosed, but the total cost of the project is $76 million.

“I guess I gave a fairly large sum,” he said. “I like the idea of the university having its own arena.”

Heritage Services, the organization that coordinates much of Omaha's philanthropic clout, paid $50 for a parade permit. The event didn't require the closing of any streets.

“What can you give Dick Holland but a parade?” said Sue Morris, Heritage Services president. “It was a great opportunity for athletes and administrators to say thank you.”

As for his money, Dick said: “I'm trying to get rid of it. I always tell people I gave up on the idea of buying a chateau in the south of France long ago. That sort of thing doesn't appeal to me.”

» Musical tributes to donors might become a trend. A segment of the Cornhusker Marching Band serenaded dying alum Glenn Korff after his $8 million donation to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Music.

“He was in a wheelchair,” said longtime friend A.J. Pokorny of Chadds Fords, Pa. “It made him the happiest man on Earth.”

John Richmond, director of the UNL School of Music, said 15 band members rode a bus 8˝ hours to Korff's home in Boulder, Colo. In full uniform in his backyard, they played Husker songs for him, his family and neighbors on Aug. 23.

“It had been all hush-hush until hours before they left for Colorado,” Richmond said. “Great kids that they are, they were ready to go.”

Korff, a 1965 UNL graduate, died four days after the band members' visit. Pending approval by the Board of Regents, the School of Music will be named in his honor.

» For the final weekend of the “T. Rex Named Sue” exhibit, the Durham Museum in Omaha is offering free admission today to anyone named Sue, Susan, Suzanne, Susie or any other variation of Sue.

Sue is the world's largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever discovered. The exhibit was created by the Field Museum in Chicago.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

The Durham, in the beautiful art-deco former Union Station, has dubbed today, “I Am SUE Day!”

So anyone with an ID verifying the name “Sue” or any variation can get in free. Well, what about Ndamukong Suh, the former Husker All-American who starts the pro season Sunday at home for the Detroit Lions? What if Suh flew in for the day?

“If you can get him here,” quipped the museum's Patty O'Bryan, “we won't even ask for his ID. It would be fun to see Suh standing next to Sue — two massive competitors, side by side!”

» Elliot Brown of Omaha walked 5.3 miles to work on Wednesday — his 85th birthday.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 18, Elliot has spent most of a lifetime checking his blood sugar several times a day and injecting insulin to stay alive.

He has stayed physically and mentally active and celebrates his birthday every year by walking to the Diabetes Education Center, 2910 S. 84th St., where he volunteers.

» Four years ago, Danae Mercer graduated from Creighton University and headed off to study in England on a scholarship for students who are among the first in their families to graduate from college.

The Millard North graduate had overcome a lot. Her mother had died at 39, and Danae rarely had contact with her father. But she fashioned a 3.92 grade-point average and was president of Creighton's international relations club.

Danae was back on campus this week to speak with faculty and students about “dream opportunities” like hers. She has earned a master's degree at Cambridge University in Great Britain and has traveled widely in Europe and Asia.

Eileen Wirth, who chairs CU's department of journalism, media and computing, said her former student is enjoying “an amazing career in public relations in London.”

» Joe and Lena Pattavina this week celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary — in the presence of 65 relatives.

More than 100 people in all arrived to celebrate Sunday at their ranch-style home at 77th and Izard Streets, where they have lived for 57 years. The visitors included their six children, 24 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren; when spouses of the children and grandchildren were counted, the total came out to exactly 65, the big number on a big cake.

Joe, a World War II veteran who served in Europe, was part owner of Midwest Motor Parts. He and Lena each had triple-­bypass surgery during the past four years as well as orthopedic surgeries, but say they feel fortunate that they and their family members are healthy.

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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