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Tonya Wilkinson Bellevue Patricia Harrold Papillion



Amber Mero Gretna

Naviere Walkewicz Offutt AFB

Jean Hurst La Vista

JoAnn Ostransky Springfield

Dr. Niki Pearson Ralston



October 30, 2019


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October 30, 2019


Photo by Brody Hilgenkamp

Papillion: Patricia Harrold By Brody Hilgenkamp Staff Writer She heard the noise and, disoriented, flared her elbow to wake up her husband. But then she realized she was alone. It was 2012 and Patricia Harrold, who was recently widowed, had two children in her home. Thinking there was an intruder, she “decided to defend the family,” she said, and went through the house flipping on lights and making noise. “I realized that there was nothing between my children, and what I felt was an intruder, but me, and I felt completely ill-prepared,” she said. It turned out to be an animal that had sneaked in an open kitchen window and knocked over a pot. She couldn’t sleep that night and reached out to a friend about ways to secure the home, but alarms and longer screws in door frames weren’t enough to ease her mind.

The incident spurred Harrold’s journey to become a “self protection advocate,” in which she trains and educates women about self defense techniques, gun safety and situational awareness through her involvement in Omaha’s Well Armed Woman chapter. Harrold, who works at Offutt Air Force Base as a defense contractor, moved to Papillion in 2002 and founded the Omaha chapter of WAW in 2016. She said the training and awareness she’s gained over the years has made her more confident she can keep herself and her family safe. “I know that I can’t be prepared for every single possible thing that could happen,” she said. “However, I’m a million times more capable now.” Harrold said she spends between 20 and 40 hours a month volunteering for WAW and other organizations that help women. Whether it be gun safety, awareness of cues for human trafficking or ways to stay safe in transitional areas like parking lots, there are a variety of ways

women can prepare themselves. “If we were to be heart health advocates, we could list off all the horrible things that could happen to you from a heart health perspective and stop there and never tell you how to have a healthy heart,” she said. “The more tools you have in your toolkit the likelier you are to have success.” Harrold’s three goals are to empower, equip and educate women in a welcoming, nonjudgmental group. WAW serves all types of women, she said, and they come from all walks of life and with different experiences, some of which are traumatic. It’s tremendously rewarding to see women’s confidence grow, she said. She described the feeling as she was a pebble dropped in a pond and she can see the ripples in the women around her. “We don’t know everything but whatever we learn we’re going to share, and we’re all about lifelong learning in this arena,” she said.




October 30, 2019

Photo by Austin Plourde

By Austin Plourde Staff Writer

La Vista: Jean Hurst

Jean Hurst, computer and reference librarian at La Vista Public library, has dedicated 40 years of her life to the library and La Vista community. For her years of service to La Vista, Hurst is recognized as a 2019 Women of Distinction honoree. Over the past 40 years, Hurst has seen significant change in the community around her. “I have seen people who use to bring their kids to the library that are now bringing in their grandkids,” Hurst said, “I’m watching some of these people who are lifetime La Vista residents. I have seen their families grow.” In addition to her work at the library, Hurst has helped with La Vista Days, now known as Salute to Summer, many times over the years. She said she started volunteering when the La Vista Chamber of Commerce reached out to her years

ago. “I got talked into helping with the beer garden and then I got talked into chairing the kids parade, then at one point I was heading the community cookout,” Hurst said. Hurst eventually took a break from La Vista Days — until the mayor called and asked her to help out again “Whatever you need me to help with,” Hurst said. After the city took over the celebration, the list of things Hurst helped out with grew. “Whatever I’m needed for, if somebody calls me and says ‘Hey can you help out with this task?’ I’d probably do it,” Hurst said. Hurst does not know what drives her to help others. “I like to do my small part to make the city look good, this is my home,” Hurst said. “I want other people to come in and say La Vista does a good thing.”

These days, Hurst is the liaison between Salute to Summer and its vendors as she directs vendors to other volunteers that will then tell them where to set up. “I get to talk to all the vendors and welcome them to the Salute to Summer. It’s just fun to touch base with them,” Hurst said. Hurst likes to meet new people and her work with the library and Salute to Summer give her an avenue to do so. “I always think of myself as an introvert, but I have other people tell me I’m not really,” Hurst said. Hurst said she was surprised by her Women of Distinction nomination. “I was shocked and not really understanding why I am getting it,” Hurst said. Hurst said she has no plans of retiring soon from the library and still enjoys what she does. “If somebody needs help, I’d like to think I would help them,” Hurst said.

October 30, 2019



Gretna: Amber Mero

By Rachel George Staff Writer Dance by Design owner Amber Mero has transformed her passion into a business, and that business into an opportunity to pay it forward. Mero grew up in Utica, Neb., where she began dancing at the age of 3. “I always knew I wanted to teach dance,” she said. “I loved dancing, but I also loved children and the teaching aspect of it.” Mero earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, teaching at a number of dance studios throughout the Capitol City during her college career. Eleven years ago, she took the next step, feeling it was the right time to open her own dance studio. Mero, who lived in Ashland, knew she wanted to open a studio somewhere in the Omaha and Lincoln area. She decided on Gretna, originally opening where the Nebraska Crossing Outlets now sit. “I felt like I had a lot to offer in different styles that weren’t offered in the

area,” Mero said. After three years, the studio was moved to its current location at 13633 S 217th St., offering lessons in ballet, tap, jazz, cheer, ballroom and hip hop. “I’ve always felt like the people who come here aren’t customers; it’s really a dance family and friends,” Mero said. That family feel drives Mero to teach her students not only the art of dance, but the art of kindness and giving. “We do a lot of talking about why it’s important to get along with everyone,” she said. “If we can figure that out personally, these are skills they can take into the real world.” Her studio’s competition dance teams spend time at nursing homes in Gretna, Louisville and Ashland performing their routines for the residents. When members of her dance family needed a special class more tailored to their needs, Mero was quick to jump at the opportunity. “I’m always looking for ways to help not only the families here but also the community,” she said. “Instead of Secret Santas, we pick a local charity to donate

to each year. Little things make big impacts in the long run.” In the past, the Dance by Design family has collected toys for children overseas and funds for the Ashland Public Library. This year, the group plans to collect items for The Dragons Closet, a Gretna clothing closet for those in need. “To do some of the community things, I pull the studio in because it allows us to do more,” she said. “We can make a bigger impact, a bigger donation.” Mero also volunteers her time to mentor college students interested in dance through the Nebraska Women’s Leadership Network, created by the Nebraska Alumni Association. She and her husband Cory live in Ashland with their daughter Jade, who is in first grade. “Because Gretna has always felt so warm and welcoming, it’s always made me want to do things in return,” Mero said. “I’m always thinking about how I can pay that forward and continue that good relationship in the community. The more we support each other, the more we both can be successful.”

Photo by Rachel George

Springfield: JoAnn Ostransky By Ashley Quintela Staff Writer

Photo by Ashley Quintela

To JoAnn Ostransky, there’s no place like home, especially when it’s in a town as special as Springfield. For 86 years, Ostransky has called Springfield home and watched it grow. “At one time, I could drive down the streets of Springfield and know where everybody lived,” Ostransky said. Growing up, Ostransky lived in the Springfield’s home for the elderly, where she helped her mother care for the residents. Ostransky continued to live there years after the facility was renovated into a home and farmed the land alongside her parents who taught her three important lessons she continues to live by today. “They always said to always tell the truth, work hard and be kind to people. That’s been my motto,” she said. Ostransky earned her teaching degree from the College of Saint Mary and taught kindergartners through eighth-graders for nine years at Snyder School, which was located along Highway 50.

“When you teach at a rural school, you’re like a mother hen with her chicks because you really become very close to them,” she said. After marrying Fred Ostransky, she decided to stay home and help with the farm just outside Springfield they moved to 1985, but still couldn’t bring herself to leave the classroom completely. Ostransky began substitute teaching for Springfield Platteview Community Schools, where she taught everything from English to math for 19 years and went on to earn the Outstanding Substitute Teacher of the Year Award. “I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I had a rule for all the teachers: I wanted something to do. I am not a babysitter.” In Springfield, she learned the importance of staying involved in the community. “If there was something going on in Springfield, my family tried to take part,” she said. Ostransky helped organize the first Mass in Springfield before St. Joseph Catholic Church was built, lead Confraternity of Christian Doctrine lessons and

volunteered at the Sarpy County Fair tractor pull for 31 years. She was also one of the founding members of the Sarpy Shifters Extension Club where she learned a variety of skills including cooking, safety and sewing. And for the past 21 years, she had been on the library board and served as president for eight years. “I keep telling them that I’m 86 years old and they better get someone,” she said laughing. With each passing year, Ostransky scrapbooks the city’s milestones and history. From church events to pie contest winners, she has scrapbooks of newspaper clippings that proudly represent Springfield. Ostransky credits her love of volunteerism to not only her parents, but her late husband. “He was the kind of man who wanted to help whoever needed it,” she said. Like her husband, Ostransky encourages people to get involved and help. “If you see a need in Springfield, go see if you can help,” she said.



October 30, 2019

Truly women of distinction By Ron Petak Executive Editor Each year when Suburban Newspapers sets out to recognize honorees for our annual Women of Distinction special section, we are amazed by the talented and giving women living in our area. If this year’s honorees can be summed up in a single word, the word would be givers.

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PATRICIA HARROLD of Papillion is a “self protection advocate,” in which she trains and educates women about self defense techniques, gun safety and situational awareness through her involvement in Omaha’s Well Armed Woman chapter. JEAN HURST is a familiar face at the La Vista Public Library, but the same can be said with her volunteer hours to help make the city’s civic celebration, Salute to Summer, one of the most popular in the metro area. AMBER MERO and her Gretna dance studio spend time visiting senior living centers and fundraising for a variety of local charities, including toys for children overseas. This year’s plan is to collect items for The Dragons Closet, a Gretna clothing closet for those in need.


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JoANN OSTRANSKY is a retired teacher who helped organize the first Mass in Springfield before St. Joseph Catholic Church was built, has volunteered at the Sarpy County Fair tractor pull for

a fundraiser for the Ralston High School R-Pantry.

31 years, is a founding member of the Sarpy Shifters Extension Club, and for the past 21 years has been on the library board. NAVIERE WALKEWICZ is an Air Force Academy graduate who, through her business, is doing her part to keep her community healthy and fit. Her efforts include offering classes for children with special needs to help them feel motivated and active. DR. NIKI PEARSON is a Ralston chiropractor who has not only given her time to many local causes, but regularly makes medical missions to such places as El Salvador and Mexico City. The clinic’s annual Restore Ribfest benefits a different local organization each year, and each fall, hosts a chili cookoff that serves as

T O N Y A WILKINSON is an advocate for finding employment for those with disabilities. For the past five years, Wilkinson has served on the advisory council for Project SEARCH, a nationally known organization that partners with school districts and helps students with disabilities gain work experience and become competitively employed after finishing the program. As you can see, our honorees are truly women of distinction and our communities are better places because of their care and compassion. Congratulations to each of these outstanding women.

Congratulations Dr. Niki!

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October 30, 2019



Congratulations Amber Mero “Thank you to Amber for your dedication to the youth in our community!” Visit our website at www.gretnachamber.com


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Chick-fil-a Bellevue congratulates our Director of Operations, Tonya Wilkinson and others being honored in the 2019 Women of Distinction! At Chick-fil-A at Bellevue, we believe in providing our guests with the best “REMARK”able experience we can. Our team prides itself on providing great tasting food and a comfortable environment in which to enjoy it.

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October 30, 2019



You Make the Difference 2019 Women of Distinction Honorees

Thank you for your outstanding generosity and dedication. We are proud to recognize you and your contributions to your community. Patricia Harrold Jean Hurst Amber Mero JoAnn Ostransky Dr. Niki Pearson Naviere Walkewicz Tonya Wilkinson


October 30, 2019



Offutt AFB: Lt. Col. Naviere Walkewicz By Cheyenne Alexis Staff Writer

Helping people achieve their health, fitness and nutrition goals has always been an important part of Lt. Col. Naviere Walkewicz’s life. A business owner of Fitssentials, 1018 Lincoln Road, Walkewicz has put an emphasis on health and wellness since she was a child. “I was really overweight as a kid and felt out of control when it came to eating,” she said. “I got involved with group fitness. That was how I got out of being unhealthy and inactive and I always said I’d be involved with it once I grew up.” Walkewicz graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1999 and was certified to teach group fitness and educate people about health and nutrition. Her first assignment was in Washington, D.C., at Howard University as a recruiter for Air Force officers. She was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in 2000 as active duty, and then transitioned to the Air Force Reserve in 2006. She and her instructor team lead different classes at Fitssentials from yoga, Zumba and cardio kickboxing. Along with her business, Walkewicz also instructed “Go-Red-Heart Balance” for the Metro Omaha Women’s Business Center and has conducted bodybuilder competition clinics at Offutt. After being approached by a former co-worker who has a child with special needs, Walkewicz started offering classes for children with special needs to help them feel motivated and active. At Offutt, Walkewicz works as a Congressional program analyst at the U.S. Strategic Command, and is also a gender adviser for StratCom. “It looks at how gender perspectives should be taken into account when we talk about operations and the way we do our missions,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome to think about incorporating more women, peace and security in the way we do business.” Walkewicz is also a professional figure competitor for the Natural Circuit in the North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation. Her various accolades include being a finalist in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Sports Festival and a finalist for Ms. Veteran America, where she raised more than $5,000 for female veterans. Walkewicz, who is married to her husband Dan and has three boys, said her health and wellness journey, for herself and others, has always been her “passion project.” “I think we all have stories in our life where we can recall exact words — maybe someone said something that made us feel not so good,” she said. “I know for me, those stuck in my head and I never want anyone to feel that way, so if I can help them feel good in their skin, at whatever point in life they’re in, more confident, to me, that’s a win. “That’s why I opened up my place, that’s why I continue to be involved with fitness and nutrition to this day.”

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October 30, 2019

Ralston: Niki Pearson By Eric Taylor Managing Editor For Dr. Niki Pearson, it’s not about what she’s already done, but what she’s going to do next. Pearson, owner of Restore Chiropractic in Ralston, has already done multitudes for her patients, her community and those across the globe. Not one to rest on her laurels, Pearson is already looking for what’s on the horizon. “I’m a very intense, competitive person,” she said. “I’m always looking at what more can we do. How can we help more? “I’ve got a fire in me that I don’t want to settle. If you’re settling, you’re not making an impact. I believe I was put here to be an influence.” Her influences extend far beyond the walls of her clinic. Restore Chiropractic has emerged as a community leader in Ralston through its fundraising efforts. The clinic’s annual Restore Ribfest benefits a different local organization each year. This year, Angels Among Us, a group supporting families of children with cancer, was the beneficiary. Each fall, it also hosts a chili cookoff where admission is canned food items that are donated to the Ralston High School R-Pantry. But the community involvement doesn’t end there. The practice has hosted diaper drives each year to benefit the Bethlehem House and hosts a ladies night each month where women can “get away from everything” and also help support a local cause. This past spring, Restore served as a drop zone for items for flood relief victims.

“Within a day we had filled up our entire waiting room with supplies,” Pearson said. Pearson opened Restore about five years ago and said she loves being part of the community. It’s why she feels so strongly about giving back to a city that has been a blessing to her. “It adds another layer of how you show up for your community,” she said. “People are understanding us by how we’re impacting our community. We’re here not just for our patients, but to help a community unite.” Her work has also helped unite people across the globe. Through the Art of Specific project, Pearson and several other doctors from the United States have made trips to countries in dire need of medical assistance. Her travels have taken her to El Salvador seven times along with two trips to Mexico City. “Going there takes all the barriers away,” she said. “I can’t speak any Spanish, but I can go there and give them a service that can change their life. I can’t imagine not having that experience. They walk hours to see us and the gratitude they show you is overwhelming. “El Salvador is a dangerous country, but I felt I was called to go and needed to go.” Her desire to become a chiropractor began in high school when a diving injury had her seeing a chiropractor herself. “I had a chiropractor help me through a serious injury,” she said. “In college, I started thinking of ways I could help others and I was very passionate about being a chiropractor.” It’s a passion that is only exceeded by her quest to assist others. “Where can I help other people?” she said. “I have that giving heart.”

Photo by Eric Taylor

Bellevue: Tonya Wilkinson By Ashley Quintela Staff Writer

Photo by Ashley Quintela

Tonya Wilkinson is the friendly, southern voice at Chickfil-A, a smiling ticket-taker at RiverFest and diligent worker behind chamber events. She’s also an advocate for finding employment for those with disabilities. Wilkinson moved to Bellevue 14 years ago when her late-husband Kenneth received his last station orders before retiring from the Army. Now, Bellevue is home to Wilkinson and it’s a community she’s proud to be serving. For the past five years, Wilkinson has served on the advisory council for Project SEARCH, a nationally known organization that partners with school districts and helps students with disabilities gain work experience and become competitively employed after finishing the program. Through the program, students have the opportunity to work at hospitals, hotels and food service businesses while gaining experience in maintenance, security, cleaning and the food industry. As a council member, Wilkinson interacts with program participants, encourages them and finds potential team members for Chick-fil-A. “I try to get to know the kids and hopefully find the ones

who will be a good fit to work for us,” she said. Her favorite part of the program, Wilkinson said, is watching students blossom. “The possibilities are just unlimited on what they can do,” she said. “To see them realize that is really wonderful.” Working with them at Chick-fil-A, where she’s been director of operations the past six years, is an added bonus, Wilkinson said. “The team is just incredible,” she said. “I love working with teenagers.” From helping them serve restaurant guests to showing them how to keep track of their college schedule, Wilkinson assists her team in all aspects. “I love trying to help them grow and move on to whatever is next in their lives,” she said. “I always ask them what classes they are taking, what they want to do after high school, what their next goal is and how they plan to get there.” In addition to her job, which she credits for her community involvement, Wilkinson is also a Greater Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce ambassador and a 2019 graduate of the Leadership Bellevue program. Being an active member of the community is a role Wilkinson doesn’t take lightly and she encourages others to find ways to help. “There’s a lot to be done, a lot that can be done and a lot of people who can be helped,” she said.

October 30, 2019


Gretna Public Schools



to Dance by Design, Owner/Director, Amber Mero, Mero Gretna recipient of the 2019 Women of Distinction Award.

Women of Distinction Congratulations to

Amber Mero

We’re proud of you and your many contributions to the community, your mentorship and to the Art of Dance.

and all honorees

Thank you for your service to our community! Aspen Creek Elementary • 402-332-5617 Gretna Elementary • 402-332-3341 Palasades Elementary • 402-895-2194 Thomas Elementary • 402-332-5578 Whitetail Creek Elementary • 402-895-3388 Aspen Creek Middle School • 402-332-3866 Middle School • 402-332-3048 High School • 402-332-3936 Administration Office • 402-332-3265

Gretna Public Schools

Undeniable and unconditional acceptance of all students


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Congratulations, Jean!

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October 30, 2019

Who’s Missing?

_ _ VOL NTEE “Anyone Looking to serve in their community, consider becoming a CASA” - R.Sexson

I am for the child

The child who lived in motels, cars and shelters. The child who now stands in the entryway of a group foster home. Clutching a makeshift suitcase. A garbage bag filled with everything she owns. That is the child I am for. And because I am, she will be half as likely to languish in foster care, and that much more likely to find a safe permanent home. I am a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

I am


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Profile for Omaha World-Herald

Women of Distinction 2019  

Women of Distinction Special Section from SNI Newspapers

Women of Distinction 2019  

Women of Distinction Special Section from SNI Newspapers