‘Break that glass ceiling’: Omahan Marian Andersen has relished a life filled with firsts

Originally published: April 2, 2022

‘Break that glass ceiling’: Omahan Marian Andersen has relished a life filled with firsts

There aren’t enough hours in the day, Marian Andersen says.

At 93, she’s still reading four newspapers daily. Magazines and books also keep her busy.

“I’m not giving up on newspapers,” she said.

She couldn’t wait for the NCAA basketball tournament to start — she picked Gonzaga to win it all. Baseball is another love, and with a fall trip to Texas, she’s seen every major league stadium.

She’s also a huge Nebraska football fan. People are astounded to learn she’s been attending games for 90 years. Her father took her to her first one when she was 3 years old.

Her social calendar is packed — she enjoys playing bridge and attending the movies. Thank goodness for younger friends, she said, since many of her older ones have sadly passed away.

“One of the amazing things about Marian is her positive attitude and zest for life and her genuine interest in other people,” longtime assistant Jackie Wrieth said. “Not only does she want to know everything about you, but also about your kids and grandkids — and she remembers it all.

“A mutual friend always said if you’re attending a banquet — you want to sit at Marian Andersen’s table. She’s one of a kind.”

Life has always been full for Andersen, who still lives in her home with a cocker spaniel, Ashley. Ashley doesn’t cook, Andersen jokes, but she’s great company.

She’s got family here, too. Son David, his wife, Leslie, and three grandkids live in the Omaha area as well as San Francisco. Daughter Nancy Andersen and her three sons live in Denver.

Her husband, the late Harold W. Andersen, was publisher of The Omaha World-Herald from 1966 to 1989. Although she didn’t have a full-time career, Marian didn’t sit home on the sideline. As a longtime community volunteer, she has been a pioneer.

She was the first woman chairman of the University of Nebraska Foundation and the first woman board chair for the Red Cross in Omaha.

She was on the board and co-chair of the committee that hired the first woman president of the national Public Broadcasting System. The Andersens made significant contributions locally and nationally to PBS.

She was also pleased recently to make the acquaintance of Ava Thomas, The World-Herald’s second woman publisher.

“I’m all for women to break that glass ceiling,” she said.

Together, she and Harold supported a long list of organizations.

She was named the United Way of the Midlands Citizen of the Year in 1994. With her husband, she was a co-founder of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, a group of contributors who donate a minimum of $10,000 to the annual United Way campaign.

She also received the Distinguished Nebraskalander Award from the Nebraskaland Foundation and was named outstanding sustainer by the Junior League of Omaha. She was a past president of Planned Parenthood and co-chairman of the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival.

Brian Hastings, the president and CEO of the Nebraska Foundation, said Marian Andersen has a long history of supporting the foundation. She is its longest-serving trustee, since 1962, served as the chair of the board of directors in 1984 and 1985 and was the first woman to do so.

“She liked to say she broke the glass ceiling for her husband, Harold, who became chair of our board later, in 1991 through 1993,” Hastings said. “She and Harold were the volunteer chairs of a comprehensive campaign that ran from 1993 through 2000. The goal was to raise $250 million for the University of Nebraska. It raised $727 million — due to Marian and Harold’s leadership. She is one of the foundation’s and university’s most ardent and faithful supporters.”

Andersen said she’s just always been a leader, from when she was student council president at Lincoln High and president of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she also was a Phi Beta Kappa.

“I never was intimidated,” she said.

After she married at 23, which at that time she said was almost “an old maid,” she and her husband saw the world. They visited 60 countries and every state.

Another great love of Andersen’s is tennis, and she’s been to the grand slam of tournaments: the Australian Open, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the French Open.

During women’s history month, Andersen said she’s most proud of two things.

“I think my family,” she said, “and the fact that I have maybe made a difference in some of the organizations.”

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