Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor, Jewish Press
Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m., the Jewish Federation of Omaha will honor Henry Davis as Humanitarian of the Year. It’s well deserved, friend Stacey Rockman said:
“Henry is one of the most generous people I know. He is always available to discuss a project or a challenge, always wants to help others, especially children and those who are less fortunate. His work has helped thousands of people in the community at large.”
Henry grew up in Omaha and graduated from Central High School. He earned his B.S. in Business Administration at the University of Denver and subsequently joined the family business, Greater Omaha Packing Company. He became President and CEO in 1987. In addition to being a successful businessman, he is deeply involved in the well-being of his native city.
“He has helped Omaha in so many ways,” Stacey said. “He has provided dedicated healthcare and further education to all his employees and their families. He has improved the lives of so many children in the community thanks to his passion and support for organizations like Project Harmony, Children’s Hospital, Avenue Scholars and many others. He is also a huge supporter of the arts through Joslyn and Kaneko. In addition, he is an incredible father, loyal friend and obviously a huge success in business. He is kind, generous with his time and financial support of many local organizations, and one of the most positive people I have ever met. He has high expectations of himself and others and strives to make Omaha a better place for everyone.”
As other recipients before him, his response is humble:
“It is a privilege and high honor to accept the Jewish Federation of Omaha’s Humanitarian of the Year Award. At the same time, it is humbling to be placed in the company of the men, women and families, many of whom I know or have known who are the past recipients.”
He’s been fortunate, he said, to have been raised in a caring and loving family.
“I was taught by my parents to respect others and give back to those you can help,” Henry said. “My Mother was a loving Mom who dedicated herself to our family and always provided a beautiful, warm home and environment that nourished and promoted health, happiness and education. My Dad did the same and taught us to work hard and play hard and along the way he taught us about business and the value of always maintaining the highest ethics. My Dad instilled a strong sense of ethical values which begins with treating people with respect and demanding to be treated with respect in return.”
With that comes an awareness that not every child is that fortunate.
“The largest percent of my charitable support goes to helping underserved youth in our community. I serve or have served on the boards of several non-profits. I see the good that they do. One example is Project Harmony, which serves over 6,000 children a year who have been physically, sexually or mentally abused. About 25% are under the age of six and 70% are younger than 12. Project Harmony impacts 20,000 others within a few hundred miles of Omaha through various types of support.”
He is a big supporter of Project Harmony, which focuses on ending child abuse in all its many forms. The organization aims to break the cycle by leveraging resources to respond to, treat and ultimately prevent child abuse. A personal letter Henry received from Bryan Boeskin, Senior director of the National Children’s Alliance in Washington (the National Association and Accrediting Body for Children’s Advocacy Centers in the US), said: “Project Harmony is one of the most progressive and innovative Children’s Advocacy Centers in the country, they are demonstrating what a world-class children’s Advocacy Center should look like.”
Henry also supports Israel, and while he does most of that under the radar, when he was asked to host a dinner for the most significant Israel Bonds supporters, he answered the call:
“With the help of many, we had the first event of its kind. The event opened with a video message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Warren Buffett agreed to be our featured guest and he answered questions for over an hour. The event raised over 65 million dollars and it lead to a similar event in NYC the next year that I was told raised over 200 million.”
The key to Henry’s philanthropy, it appears, lies in not only his own dedication, but in winning others to the cause. He understands that philanthropy is more than writing a check; it means showing up to board meetings, working with other volunteers and lay leaders as well as professionals to get the job done. Then, and only then, can one make a difference:
“Omaha is a wonderful city in so many ways, but like most cities, there is a group of citizens -many of them minors- that are underserved, which can lead to very unhealthy lives. Our community is extremely fortunate to have so many great leaders that not only make major financial contributions, but also contribute their time and leadership skills to continually improve the environments and lives of so many that are underserved. I have observed firsthand how humanitarian acts have made a difference with the youth of our community,” he said. “While I served on the boards and financially supported Project Harmony, Boys and Girls Clubs, Partnership For Kids, NorthStar and Avenue Scholars, I have witnessed it is the dedication of staff and volunteers that is essential in those organizations achieving their missions and goals. In accepting this award, it is my intention to do so in recognition of the many volunteers and staff at all the agencies that provide services to those in our community who are in need and may have nowhere else to turn.”
“Henry always asks how he can help and will often do so in a quiet way,” Stacey added. “He always wants to know what I am working on and offers encouragement.”
He believes that training and education after high school is very important. Over the years, Henry has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of educational scholarships for students to attend universities, community colleges and trade schools:
“I try to target those students whose teachers and counselors believe deserve additional support and may have not received any other financial help. Without assistance, those students may never receive the benefit of further education after high school.”
The care Henry has for Omaha does not stop here. He has thrown his support behind the rebuilding of the three black churches in Louisiana, which were burned down earlier this year:
“I know it is very important to support those communities that have been terrorized and help rebuild the houses of worship so that their members can exercise their right of religious freedom.”
In 2000, Omaha awarded him the ‘Living the Dream-’ Award, in memory of the late Martin Luther King Jr., for his assistance to foreign-born workers. Greater Omaha Packing offers English classes to its workforce and pays fees and processes applications for legal residents to become citizens.
“If you are capable of helping out, I feel you should do that,” Henry told the Omaha World-Herald in 2000. “This company has a responsibility to its employees, the community and to our society.”
Summarizing everything he does in one article is impossible and most likely not what he wants. He’s focused on the fact that it takes a village.
“I clearly remember the sense of pride I felt when walking through the city of Acco and seeing a food delivery van with Henry’s name and the JFO logo emblazed on the side,” Alan Potash, JFO CEO said. “Here at home, I have enjoyed seeing him address the recipients of the Avenue Scholars Foundation awards. He is passionate about so many important issues impacting our community. Having witnessed firsthand Henry’s generosity and leadership, here in Omaha and in Israel, it is clear why he is our Humanitarian of the Year.”
“My gratitude goes out to all who are committed to human well-being and who want to make our world fairer, safer and more fulfilling for everyone, especially those who are underserved,” Henry concluded. “Each of us is given the opportunity to change our world for the better by making a positive difference in the lives of others every day as we perform those Humanitarian acts, one act of kindness, one helping hand at a time.”
Please join the Jewish Federation of Omaha at the June 3 Awards Night and Annual Meeting at 7 p.m. in the JCC Theater, and help us celebrate Henry Davis as our Humanitarian of the Year.