by Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Editor, Jewish Press
When Barbara Kirkpatrick began working at the Jewish Federation of Omaha, she was a mere 17 years old, her hair was long, and she never drove herself “because my sister Mary had the car.” It was 1967, the conflict in Vietnam was in full swing, Elvis was still thin and nobody had landed on the moon yet. Together with Mary and friend Kathy Watkins, Barbara –who is known by all as BK attended business school and worked the receptionist’s desk (back then they called it the basket room) at the Jewish Community Center from 5 pm until 10 pm. Her pay was $1.25 per hour. It was the beginning of a 47-year-long career, starting at 20th and Dodge, and soon ending on 132nd Street with her retirement.
“It was Federation DirectorPaul Veret who hired me,” says BK, “and I distinctly remember the first time I answered the phone. The caller wanted to talk to Harry Kulakofsky, and I had absolutely no idea how to spell that. Besides, even back then my handwriting was horrible. Paul even asked me: “If I sent you to handwriting school, would you go?”
Rocky Lipp (now Rocky Lewis) was in charge of the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign master files, BK remembers. “The names are on 5×7 cards, handwritten, and I’ve told Julee Katzman she’s not allowed to ever get rid of them. They hold a wealth of information, and they are part of the community’s history.”
In 1968, Rocky left to get married, and BK started working full time. Her job title was “Master File Secretary,” and her responsibilities included typing 2,500 campaign pledge cards (no computers!), calling newcomers, and recording deaths, births, and other life events. But BK also stepped away from her desk from time to time.
“It’s not easy to think of what my favorite memories are,” BK says. “It’s been so many years. What’s really vivid in my mind is the time Kathy Watkins and I spent going to Esther K. Newman Camp in the spring, getting everything set up for the kids. The Camp Director back then was Sherman Poska, of blessed memory, and we had a wonderful time.”
She spent hours, again with Kathy, sewing pillows for the teens in BBYO. Lunch was at a nearby bowling alley, also known as the greasy spoon; since the old J was closer to downtown, “you could walk to 19th Street and walk through the tunnels downtown. We’d go to Brandeis or JC Penney’s after work, and had a great time.”
BK is known for her sense of humor, up for anything, and not averse to dressing up in funny costumes. However, she also has a serious side.
“Learning about Judaism throughout the years has been an eye opener, especially when, in the early days, we’d have campaign meetings and watch films about the Shoah. It was so heartbreaking,” she says. “When I came to work here, I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism, but that changed rather quickly. I started in September and had so many days off for the High Holidays, my father asked if I actually had a job.”
The Jewish Press staff has relied on BK for many years in keeping its budget organized. She’s helpful in other areas as well: when anyone needs a sympathetic ear or some advice, BK is there. She’s much more than a colleague: she’s a very good friend. During the past few months, BK has been extra busy preparing Thierry Ndjike to take over, and it’s not uncommon to see them together in BK’s office, discussing the responsibilities that come with BK’s job.
“BK has done a super job at the Federation,” Ndjike says. “She just knows how to bring out the best in others. I’m grateful to her for being such a great mentor, and I know we will all miss a great colleague when she retires. I hope she will visit from time to time so we won’t have to go without her smiling face too long. May she get the best of everything in life!”
In recent years, BK has worked most closely with the accounting department of the Jewish Federation, in close contact with CFO Jordana Glazer and Federation Controller Richard Goedeken.
“It’s been a tremendous pleasure, working with BK,” says Glazer. “We’ve all been in situations where long time employees are reluctant to change, but not BK. She always goes with the flow and always has a smile on her face. And with her background in record keeping, she knows this community so well. She may not type those cards by hand anymore, but she still knows what is going on, who just had a baby, who is getting married. She reads the Jewish Press cover to cover, usually knows things before I do, and truly cares about community members. We will miss her enormously.”
Goedeken seconds that sentiment: “The Federation office will just not be the same without BK,” he says. “She is such a pleasure to work with, always puts forth the greatest effort. I congratulate her on her retirement, and I hope she makes the best of it!”
“The campus will not be the same when BK retires,” says CEO Mike Silverman. “She is a continuous source of positive energy and good spirit and just fun to be around. Hopefully she will come visit us often.”
Julee Katzman, JFO Associate Director, says: “BK embodies who we are as a community. All of us need to stay focused on our mission, and BK personifies that mission. She has that personal touch, and whenever people interact with her, they feel that. Just imagine, she’s been a part of this community for 47 years! She’s interacted with countless people during that time. We are all incredibly grateful that we’ve had someone like Barbara Kirkpatrick for so many years, and we will miss her expertise, her friendship, and her smile.”
A goodbye party for Barbara is scheduled in the Federation auditorium for June 30, at 1:30 p.m. The entire community is welcome to attend. But although BK is retiring, this will certainly be only a partial goodbye. As much as we will all miss her, she’ll miss us too, and has promised to stop by often. We’re going to hold her to that.
“The most meaningful thing about my time here has been the people,” BK says. “The staff I’ve worked with, the camaraderie, and the many community members I’ve built relationships with over the years. At the end of the day, it’s always about the people.”