A Perfect 20
Fall 2016, News
Today’s Omaha Woman Hits the Two-Decade Mark, Maintains Commitment to Mission
BY SARAH WENGERT
A lot was happening in the fall of 1996. As the nation did the Macarena ad nauseum, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as an advisor, “ER” and “Seinfeld” were tops on the tube, the Spice Girls emerged with a new brand of girl power, a little outfit called Pokémon launched its trading card game, children coast to-coast pined for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, and Today’s Omaha Woman editor Melanie Morrissey Clark found out she was pregnant with triplets. That same fall, Morrissey Clark would gestate another new beginning, when she was approached to help launch Today’s Omaha Woman, a magazine intended to function as the voice of the Women’s Fund of Omaha.
Flipping through a hardcover-bound collection of the previous 20 years’ worth of issues of Today’s Omaha Woman, Morrissey Clark mimics someone perusing her old high school yearbooks. Paging through, pointing and smiling, riding the wave of memories from the last two decades.
Wow, remember that person?
Oh, there was the time we did that concept.
That was such an important story!
Friends, colleagues, business leaders, a goddaughter, a godson—everyone from a certain First Lady who would become the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, to the legions of inspiring Omaha women Morrissey Clark met along the way can be found mentioned in those pages.
“It really is a trip down memory lane for me,” says Morrissey Clark, paging through Today’s Omaha Woman’s complete set of back issues. “So much of my own life is woven in the fabric of this magazine that it’s like my history, too. “And yet it’s much more than that. The past issues of this magazine reflect the past20 years of women in Omaha—the stories of their struggles, successes, hopes, needs, the issues that impact them, and their demands for the future of their community.
“Today’s Omaha Woman has always served as the voice of the Women’s Fund, “says Michelle Zych, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Omaha. “It provides the opportunity for us to educate our community about the issues facing women and girls by providing both the data and the lived experiences. I heard someone say once, ‘Nobody marches because of a pie graph.’ And that is absolutely true. The numbers and the data are critical, but they represent people. What Today’s Omaha Woman has done for 20 years is provide a spotlight on issues like domestic violence, economic security, leadership and sexual literacy. It gives a voice to our mothers, sisters and daughters so that we can better understand how these issues impact our community.”
And that’s exactly how the founders of Today’s Omaha Woman intended it. In the early to mid-1990s Mary Heng-Braun, then Executive Director of the Women’s Fund, which was nested under the Omaha Community Foundation at that time, and board member Dianne Seeman Lozier, were seeking a way for the organization to reach more women and the community at large.
“We wanted to reach more women about important issues and to celebrate local women’s personal and professional achievements,” says Seeman Lozier. “It was critically important to both learn from and educate more people about the very important issues impacting the lives of women and girls. Forums wouldn’t do it. Newsletters wouldn’t do it. So, in a brainstorming session—probably involving a whole lot of wine—someone said, ‘What we really need is a magazine.’”
Heng-Braun says it was crucial to Today’s Omaha Woman’s founders that the publication be informative, credible and research-based. They hoped the stories and issues detailed in its pages would inspire readers to become involved in the community—particularly in ways that supported the Women’s Fund mission.
“One of the fundamental elements of the Women’s Fund is research, so we needed a vehicle to communicate that research in a complete, unfiltered way, “says Heng-Braun, adding that Today’s Omaha Woman originally intended to address issues such as domestic violence, leadership and pay equity—areas that remain major focuses today.
With the mission cemented, Heng-Braun and Seeman Lozier were ready to execute. For that, they enlisted Morrissey Clark and Lisa Gotsdiner, who’d been working together at Kidz Magazine, where Morrissey Clark was Editor-in-Chief and Gotsdiner was Co-founder/Advertising Director. Both agreed to donate their time to launch the publication. Heng-Braun and Seeman Lozier agreed the duo was the perfect “dream team” to bring Today’s Omaha Woman to life.
“Lisa and Mel were an ideal team,” says Heng-Braun. “They’re both incredibly creative, wonderful at connecting with people, and good at listening and figuring out how to make things work.”
“Melanie developed the editorial and I secured sponsors and advertising sales,” says Gotsdiner. “We worked extremely well together and had a wealth of knowledge in starting up a magazine, editorial, operations, sales and finance.”
Morrissey Clark says Heng-Braun and Seeman Lozier felt there was a voice missing in Omaha for women—that there were women’s magazines focused on hair, clothes and makeup, but no publication covering the real, serious issues affecting the lives of women and girls, such as domestic violence, leadership opportunities and economic security.
“I was really excited about it, because those are all issues that I care deeply about,” says Morrissey Clark. “It was kind of a dream come true, and to do it from the ground up was even more exciting because I had the opportunity to lay that foundation. They basically gave me free reign on establishing editorial direction.”
Work began in Fall 1996 and the first issue came out in March 1997. Pregnant with triplets, Morrissey Clark left Kidz Magazine to focus on her pregnancy and launch Today’s Omaha Woman, which originally ran bi-monthly. She was on bed rest for 10 weeks, so she made a de facto office out of her hospital room.
Eric Stoakes, Today’s Omaha Woman designer of nearly 15 years and Morrissey Clark’s longtime friend and collaborator, reflected on her impressive dedication in a 2007 article. “I brought the layouts up to her in the hospital. From the start this was a labor of love, like a whole new family, and it makes it even more special and precious to her,” he said. Morrissey Clark had stories assigned to writers by the time she went on bed rest, and she edited them from her hospital room.
“I had a computer and fax machine. The writers brought me stories on their floppy disk drives—that was the technology in the late ‘90s—and I edited them and gave them back to Eric, who filled in for me and did the layout that first issue,” says Morrissey Clark. The first issue, featuring Gail Yanney on the cover, came out three weeks before Clark gave birth to her children, Cooper, Simon and Sophie.
“My nurses made a poster with a copy of the cover on it that said, ‘One baby down, three to go!’ They were really supportive,” says Morrissey Clark.
For the first five years of the magazine and her kids’ lives, Morrissey Clark worked on the magazine from home, allowing her valuable time with her young children. Seeman Lozier funded Today’s Omaha Woman in those early years, before Omaha Magazine and publisher Todd Lemke briefly took over publishing and ad sales. Around that same time, Morrissey Clark’s triplets headed off to kindergarten, and she transitioned to working full-time at her family-run marketing firm, Clark Creative Group, while Stoakes took over design duties. In 2004, Today’s Omaha Woman went quarterly and moved to Pioneer Publications, which publishes The Reader and is helmed by John Heaston. Stoakes, who had also moved to The Reader around that same time, maintained design duties until early 2016, when Today’s Omaha Woman went in-house at the Women’s Fund.
“We decided we had the staff and capability now to take it in-house,” says Morrissey Clark, adding that she credits former Executive Director Ellie Archer for laying a solid foundation for the Women’s Fund and Zych for building upon that and manifesting the organization’s explosive growth over the past several years.
“Michelle is a brilliant, strong leader, and she’s also bold,” says Morrissey Clark. “She’s doesn’t back down when she knows something is right. She was ready and the organization was ready to take it to the next level. She has a solid understanding of and passion for the issues we are addressing, and has hired a driven, talented team. The funding is there and people believe in what we’re doing. It’s a really exciting time for the Women’s Fund and for the magazine.” Throughout the magazine’s many eras, influences, looks and page counts, Morrissey Clark has maintained editorship and creative control, and Today’s Omaha Woman has remained committed to informing the community about important issues.
Heng-Braun says Today’s Omaha Woman has succeeded beyond what she could have imagined 20 years ago when she helped cultivate the idea. “I think it has improved and evolved continuously, “she says. “Elements were added and refined and, fortunately, with Melanie’s leadership, passion and high integrity, the publication also maintains that level of integrity, which is absolutely essential to its success and impact.
“In addition to tackling the tough issues of the day, Today’s Omaha Woman has also made room for some much-needed humor, with Jill Bruckner’s “Last Laugh “column, which has graced its last page since the second issue and is the longest running humor column by a woman in Omaha.
“I appreciate the commitment to tackling serious issues but also allowing fora little levity. I’m extremely grateful it’s part of the publication,” says Bruckner. “I think it’s an accomplishment for the magazine to be in print as long as it has, and that shows a lot of moxie on the part of the Women’s Fund, to say, ‘We’re going to keep this publication rolling because it’s a voice that needs to be heard.’ “While scanning the archives that reflect 20 years of her hard work and passion, Morrissey Clark says she’s elated to see Today’s Omaha Woman reach the 20-yearmark, particularly during a period of time that saw many publications fold.
“It’s been such a blessing,” says Morrissey Clark of her work on Today’s Omaha Woman. “I’ve met so many incredible women writing and assigning these stories over the years and I really feel like we’ve made a difference. We’ve had some really great writers and photographers, and it’s been a labor of love for everyone. The Women’s Fund has such a great reputation and is such a strong agency that I think people want to be affiliated with it.”
So, with 20 candles on its birthday cake, what’s next for Today’s Omaha Woman?
“I believe Today’s Omaha Woman will continue to educate readers and serve as a credible resource regarding issues facing women and girls in the Omaha community,” says Gotsdiner. “The Women’s Fund has close to 20 self-published research studies on topics such as leadership, economic conditions of women, adolescent health care, and what women want at work. Through its national and local research, the Women’s Fund has been able to uncover important issues and fund solutions for area women— and Today’s Omaha Woman has definitely aided in that.”
Zych agrees. “We see Today’s Omaha Woman continuing to shine the light on critical issues and also providing easy ways for readers to take action to address these issues, specifically through advocacy and public policy,” she says. “Many of the issues that the Women’s Fund examines can be addressed through a combination of private and public dollars, as well as policy solutions. We have to be able to not only educate our community, but engage them in the political process. By encouraging our readers to speak up on issues that are important to them, we are better able to inform policymakers of how their decisions impact women and girls.”
Morrissey Clark hopes the magazine will continue spreading awareness about its cornerstone issues as well as emerging ones.
“I hope we can continue to provide some guidance and discourse in these areas, especially on STDs and sexual literacy,” says Morrissey Clark. “Back when we first covered STDs it was a pretty daring move, because no one was really talking about it. We’ve always covered cutting edge topics and I hope we’ll continue to operate like that. I think we will, because the leadership on the governing board of the Women’s Fund is very bold and unafraid to tackle those issues. So, the magazine is working right alongside the Women’s Fund to address issues, spread awareness and fund solutions. How cool is that?
“I feel so fortunate to have been connected to not only the magazine but also to the Women’s Fund for 20 years, because although I volunteer for other great local organizations, this is my favorite—and certainly longest running—volunteer job of all,” Morrissey Clark says.
Seeman Lozier looks forward to the magazine’s future. “Over its first 20 years, Today’s Omaha Woman has grown into itself and at the same time stayed trueto its mission,” she says. “It is truly a vehicle—a voice of women and a voice for women—that has reached amazing heights. May it continue to do so for the next25 years!” W