It was a critical two-year stretch early in their relationship that shaped the values Lawrence “Red” Thomas and his wife Jann have tried to live by for over 60 years together and it helped define the values and balance they wanted in their lives and what kind of legacy they wanted to leave behind.
It was the late 1950’s and the young couple were checking off important life milestones one after the other. Red completed both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA in finance and finished active-duty military service. As if that wasn’t enough, during that same time, the young couple got married, bought their first house and had children. At the tail end of that two-year stretch, Red began his professional career at Nebraska Consolidated Mills, a small flour mill which grew to become ConAgra Foods.
“Our first priority was family, second was our own personal development, and third was our community,” Red said.
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Learning by Example
Being involved in the community they lived in was a priority for the young Thomas family because that’s the way they were raised. Both Red and Jann grew up in families who sought out opportunities to be involved and generous to those in need. They each recalled the generosity shown by their parents when it was time to raise a family of their own. Red and Jann discussed how could they give back to their community and what would that look like?
“We wanted balance in our lives and give to the community as much as we gave to our children,” Red said. “We also wanted to give of our time and treasures to help others in need.”
Red’s volunteer journey started on the Big Brothers board serving as both treasurer and president. It was the hook that kicked his volunteerism into gear, eventually serving on 35 boards and many committees all aimed at helping others. For Jann, in addition to raising their three children, it meant joining the Fontenelle Forest Board, starting their Forest Guild, and serving on the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center and Junior League boards and as a volunteer coordinator for Girls Inc.
“There are so many ways of giving,” Jann said. “We’ve had a very involved life of giving out. You can always find a way to be involved.”
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What Does a Legacy Look Like?
Near the end of a successful 36-year career at ConAgra, Red served on the board of the Omaha Community Foundation (OCF). The role exposed him to many new challenges facing parts of the community and helped him better understand the organizations working hard to address their needs.
“We saw what the ‘star’ givers in Omaha were doing and knew we couldn’t approach their charitable capacity. But, by then knew we needed to start planning for what we could be leaving behind,” he said.
The Thomases set out to construct their legacy plan with the help of the community foundation. It’s a plan that will extend their giving intent and ensure after they are gone that their philanthropic priorities would be honored. The plan also depends on the insight and knowledge the Omaha Community Foundation provides when it comes to identifying the current and future needs of the community.
Red said that even after a lifetime of community involvement, they still can’t know where the future needs will be and who will be most in need of help. But building a plan with OCF alleviated some of those concerns.
“To find current high needs in the community and support whatever those are, we’re happily depending on the Community Foundation,” he said. “I’m sure they can do a great job.”
Both Red and Jann said they truly value that guidance and expertise and agreed it was one of the most important aspects to planning their legacy.
The plan has evolved over many years, but the key priority has always been encouraging, promoting, and rewarding volunteerism.
“Great use of volunteers is a challenge. That’s why we think it’s important to help reward those who do it best,” he said. “We also want to recognize great volunteers and help support the charities in which they believe. Volunteerism is an important part of what makes America great.”
Teaching Future Generations to Give
Keeping their family involved was another feature of their legacy plan. They’ve included a matching gift goal their children can take advantage of and has a strong volunteer component encouraging the Thomas children to truly be involved in helping others.
“We are delighted when they want to give back and hope to encourage more of it. It’s all about wanting to help others.” Red said. “Our lives have been blessed and that carries a very large and gratifying obligation to give back.
Their children’s philanthropic passions are diverse which he said is, “pretty great” ranging from creating a golf event in support of cancer research at Washington University in St. Louis to programs that reach homeless and abused women through poetry therapy in Portland.
“OCF has provided such great flexibility for constructing a legacy plan and they try hard to make your ideas turn into reality and extend your charitable life,” Red said. “That is a legacy.”
Plan Your Legacy
If you have been thinking about what your lasting legacy will be, it’s time to put your thoughts down on paper. Through the Omaha Community Foundation, you can use a wide range of legacy giving options to support the organizations that are important to you, for generations to come.
Contact our Donor Services team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-342-3458 to start a conversation about your legacy.