Eight past and present outstanding Omaha area business leaders will be inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame at a gala Tuesday, April 24, at the Holland Performing Arts Center. The inductees represent the creativity, energy and passion that is critical to the growth of Omaha. View news release.
Each week, honoree highlights will be featured in the Chamber's e-newsletter. To learn more about the inductees and their contributions to Greater Omaha, join us at the gala. Patron tickets are available for $250 and sustaining tickets are available for $200. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with an hors d'oeuvres dinner with the honorees or their representatives, followed by the program at 7:30 p.m. Make reservations by Tuesday, April 17.
This week we focus on Linda Lovgren and D.J. Witherspoon (1912-2000).
Linda Hoeppner Lovgren, president, Lovgren Marketing Group
Linda Lovgren's life story has a number of notable "firsts."
- She was the first girl to join a boys' 4-H club in Iowa, where she grew up on a farm.
- We're almost certain she is the first woman to found an advertising agency while five months pregnant.
- She is the first, and still only, woman to serve as chairman of the board of the Greater Omaha Chamber.
Lovgren's forte is strategic planning, event marketing, public relations and government affairs. She has been a key player in economic development, working with the Chamber on a number of projects.
She was instrumental in developing the Buy the Big "O" campaign, while chairman of the Chamber's communications committee. In 2000, Lovgren was actively involved in the $216 million bond issue campaign for Omaha's new convention center and arena, helping it pass by one of the largest margins in city history.
While chair of the Chamber's military target advisory group, she helped develop the first Strategic Space Conference in Omaha. More recently, she was at the birth of the O! campaign, a coordinated effort to promote the city.
Lovgren is a dedicated volunteer in the city, serving on boards and as an officer for such nonprofits as Casting for Recovery, the Omaha Hearing School and Nebraska Methodist College.
D.J. Witherspoon (1912-2000), Pamida, Inc.
D.J. "Tex" Witherspoon (also called Jim) founded the discount chain Pamida, Inc. with business partner Lee Wegener. He worked 18-hour days, adding stores in small towns where rent was cheap and competition was minor. As a country boy growing up in a family of migrant workers, he realized how much small-town folk wanted a discount store down the street.
The Texas native's first job, at age 6, was picking cotton for 5 cents a day. He graduated from Southwestern State Teachers College and taught until the schools ran out of money during the Great Depression. The college athlete married the homecoming queen -- twice. D.J. and Hillois married secretly and then openly after both turned 18.
He moved to Omaha in 1938, but four years later World War II took him to the South Pacific in charge of a U.S. Army Air Force weather reconnaissance squadron.
The couple returned to Omaha, and Witherspoon went into the job-racking business, supplying grocery stores. With partner Lee Wegener, he opened a chain of discount stores under the Gibson Discount Center name. The stores were the precursor to Pamida, Inc., which became one of the most successful regional discount store chains in the country.
In 1981, he sold the company to employees through an employee stock ownership plan and retired.
What do the initials D.J. stand for? That mystery will be cleared up at the Omaha Business Hall of Fame Gala on April 24.
The 2012 Omaha Business Hall of Fame Gala sponsors are Fraser Stryker, KPMG LLP and U.S. Bank.
Supporting sponsors are Alegent Health, Creighton University and Creighton University Medical Center and Lincoln Financial Group.