Omaha Hall of Fame inductees share stories of their lives in business

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:00 am

Laced with the usual pomp, Omaha's annual Business Hall of Fame induction gala also was peppered with fun pokes and sentimental memories.

About 500 guests came to the Wednesday ceremony honoring six civic and business leaders who helped develop Omaha: the late Louis Blumkin and sons Irv and Ron Blumkin of Nebraska Furniture Mart; John Boyer of Fraser, Stryker law firm; the late Paul Jessen, who co-founded Koley Jessen law firm; and Aldo Tesi of Election Systems & Software.

Besides a harpist, pianist and comedienne, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce event at the Holland Performing Arts Center featured biographical videos that revealed some little-known tidbits about inductees.

There was the nugget about why a life-size bronze statue of Louis Blumkin as a war hero is not publicly displayed in the Mart store. A modest Louie had suggested a better spot for the gift from a store vendor — between the offices of sons Ron and Irv.

Ron recalled his late dad's words: “He says, 'That way, no matter what, from here on out, I'll be able to keep an eye on you guys.' And every day, we walk by the statue knowing that my dad is keeping an eye on us.”

Ron told of his ride-along with an appliance driver to get a better grasp of that part of the business. At the first stop, Ron dropped a washing machine and broke a toe.

“That gave me a very healthy respect for just how tough that kind of job is, as are many of the jobs at the Furniture Mart.”

Irv recalled the phone call that brought him back to Omaha after the 1975 tornado ripped apart the family's business. At the time, Irv was working at a bank in Tucson, Ariz.

“My dad gave me a call and says, 'I think it's time you come home. We need your help.' I picked up my bags that day, came home, and it's been a ride ever since.”

John Boyer, a longtime attorney heavily involved with Omaha's zoo, told of times he stepped away from law books to focus on such natural wonders as the world's largest freestanding mountain.

He helped create “Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa” and “Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West” — two big-screen, privately funded films that showed in more than 200 theaters worldwide and in 12 languages.

For the Kilimanjaro project, Boyer climbed 23,000 feet in a helicopter to explore mountain views. “Without oxygen and no doors,” he added, “that's kind of a thrill.”

Paul Jessen's 59 years were illustrated in photos: as a kid; on a horse at a rodeo; hunting stag; showcasing a fish; walking down the aisle; graduating law school; as a youth coach; holding his children.

His wife, Mary, said baseball was “near and dear” to Jessen, whose negotiating skills led to 25 more years of College World Series in Omaha. “We went to every game as long as I knew Paul.''

Aldo Tesi, previously with First Data Resources, has traveled with his family to all seven continents and more than 30 countries. Upon moving to Omaha in the late 1980s, they became steadfast Husker fans.

Tesi shared the tag line for his current ES&S firm: “Live Above the Line.” He tells his kids that the mantra is key to overall success.

“Be positive. Take ownership and be accountable for what you do, and always be your best.”

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