From NET Now, April 2014
MEET MARY ANN JOHNSON
What do you get when you find a person with great ideas, great follow-through and a deep love for public broadcasting? You get an extraordinary volunteer named Mary Ann Johnson. And if you add her to the dynamic team in the Omaha NET Foundations office, you get a lot of laughs and a tremendous amount of joy.
Mary Ann first met Bridget Robbins, who heads the Omaha NET Foundations efforts, in 2008 when Mary Ann and her family signed up for an NET-sponsored trip to Eastern Europe. "We just hit it off right away," Robbins said.
Mary Ann was finishing a big project for the Omaha Food Bank and looking for something new. Her husband, Bob, a semi-retired Lutheran minister, suggested NET because a large fundraising campaign had just been launched. It was a perfect fit.
At first, Mary Ann did a lot of filing and updating mailing lists. NET Human Resources developed a procedures for volunteers' efforts around sensitive data. Now Mary Ann is actively involved, particularly in thank-you and follow-up for donors and others.
"She has beautiful handwriting and that personal touch makes a difference," Robbins said.
Soon, Mary Ann's "great ideas" mode kicked in. Together, she and Robbins came up with an idea to host watch parties for Antiques Roadshow in which guests had an educational program, watched the show, shared coffee and treats and became friends. Robbins and Johnson also held view parties at retirement centers for a number of NET Television productions. They organized a view part for Call the Midwife and a visit to a midwifery in Bellevue. And they've hosted numerous teas and other events spun around Downton Abbey.
The Johnsons have lived in Omaha 18 years: Bob Johnson served congregations and college communities in Minnesota and Iowa. They hold memberships with public broadcasters in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin. "We don't listen
to anything but public radio," Mary Ann said. Prior to her gig with NET, Mary Ann directed a food pantry associated with Lutheran churches in Nebraska where she organized conferences for food pantry providers in five states and then volunteered for the Omaha Food Bank. She and Bob, her spouse of 47 years, have three grown children and four grandchildren.
Now (2014) a new opportunity has unfolded. Mary Ann recently was named a trustee for the National Friends of Public Broadcasting that is devoted to promoting and supporting volunteer support for public broadcasting. One of her goals is to convene a regional workshop in Omaha for public broadcasting employees who work with volunteers and for the volunteers themselves to share ideas.
Although Mary Ann worked for years with hunger issues, she finds that her work with NET has garnered more comments.
"People would nod and say it was nice that I volunteered for the Omaha Food Bank," she said,"but when I say I volunteer for NET, our PBS station, they immediately tell me their favorite program and are impressed. I don't volunteer for any other reason than I love PBS and public radio and have for years."