The Aksarben Ball is a 123-year-old tradition with an eye on the future and a foot rooted in tradition.

That was on display Saturday night at the CHI Health Center.

About 1,600 people dressed in ballgowns and tuxedos attended the Aksarben Foundation’s headline fundraising event.

The highlight of the evening was the announcement of the Most Honored Citizens of Aksarben, Steven Martin and Amy Haddad.

The couple received a standing ovation when they were announced, and Haddad noted that on one of their first dates, she brought Martin to an Aksarben Ball.

Haddad, 66, educated nursing and pharmacy students for years at Creighton University. She retired last year as a professor there and as director of Creighton’s Center for Health Policy and Ethics.

Martin, 63, headed Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska for 16 years before stepping down last year.

He is managing partner of Paxton Advisors, a business and education consulting firm.

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The Aksarben Ball’s theme of “Celebrating the Masterpieces of the Heartland” put a spotlight on art, literature and Nebraska’s landscape, while paying homage to Aksarben’s history and leadership.

Though the tradition of crowning a king and queen was replaced last year by honoring two Citizens of the Year, princesses, escorts, standard-bearers and pages still represented their families.

Sandra Reding, president of the Aksarben Foundation, said Saturday that the foundation “has really refocused its mission over the last year.”

The Aksarben Foundation has a long history of supporting education and offering scholarships to thousands of young people, and has organized a push on workforce development in Nebraska.

“We’re focusing on how do we retain talent in the heartland, how do we make sure that we’re educating students and young people and helping them get into the right career, and how do we make sure that we’re retaining our goal,” Reding said.

The foundation also named four people to its Court of Honor.

  • Christopher Abbott, a fifth-generation Sand Hills rancher and founder of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska.
  • Dr. Ken Cowan, director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.
  • Randy Schmailzl, president of Metropolitan Community College.
  • Roberta Wilhelm, executive director of Girls Inc.

“Aksarben’s Court of Honor recognition provides an opportunity to shine a light on exceptional volunteers within our communities. The inductees for 2019 truly represent ‘masterpieces of the heartland’ as each has spent years working tirelessly toward the betterment of our region,” said Women’s Ball Committee Chair Beth Wilson.

The foundation has awarded more than $67 million in direct community grants and scholarships since the organization’s founding, and it has awarded 500 scholarships this year.

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