Imagine driving down 38th Street in Columbus and seeing nothing but farmland – no hospital, YMCA, other businesses or schools. That was Amy Blaser’s view almost every day growing up in the 1970s and ’80s.
“I remember this part of the community was a pasture,” recalled Blaser from inside Columbus Community Hospital, where she serves as vice president of physician relations and business development. “I was in the same childhood home for 20 years … I had a typical All-American childhood growing up.”
Still, as much as she enjoyed her youth, Blaser never imagined she would return to her hometown once she was an adult.
“When I was in high school, I was looking forward to what college had to offer, and honestly, I did not have a distinct plan to come back to where I grew up,” recalled Blaser, who managed the service desk at Kmart when it was in town all through her high school years.
Fast forward a few decades later, Blaser is entering her 10th year as a CCH vice president, and Columbus itself has grown leaps and bounds. Although she has played an instrumental part in helping with CCH and the community’s growth through her hard work professionally and numerous service efforts, according to many who know her, Blaser is too humble to take or want any credit.
“If you’re passionate about something, you can always find time to make it happen,” she said, with a smile. “The best gift my parents ever gave or instilled in me was work ethic.”
CCH President/CEO Mike Hansen, who promoted Blaser to her current role 10 years ago this summer when he first took the helm at the hospital, praised and called her a leader in Columbus.
“I really admire her work ethic. She’s a super hard worker not only here, but also in the community,” Hansen said. “She’s 110-percent committed to everything that she does. She’s really connected to the purpose of what we do here at CCH and is dedicated beyond belief. She wants to make sure that everybody she comes into contact with is successful.
“She just inspires people to do the best they can.”
Blaser was born in 1970 at the old St. Mary’s Hospital, which is now the home of Nebraska Public Power District in Columbus. She grew up in a home near the intersection of 34th Street and 48th Avenue alongside a younger sibling, attending Lost Creek throughout elementary school. Life was good.
“We lived on a street where all the neighbors had kids,” Blaser said, recalling a lot of fun times she and her peers had growing up.
She eventually went to Columbus Middle and High schools, where she blossomed as a person and really developed a passion for learning and helping others.
“I have just tremendous memories of being a student in Columbus Public Schools – I have great memories of all my years,” she said. “Academics were always something I loved growing up.”
By ninth grade, Blaser was very serious about becoming a pharmacist as it was a way she could help others and feed her love of education. But in the midst of high school, one teacher specifically – Roberta Uhrig – had a profound impact on and helped her realize her true calling: Business.
“We really made a genuine connection,” Blaser said.
With much support from her teacher and others, Blaser ran for and served in a statewide officer capacity for DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) her junior and senior years. Being in that role for the nonprofit, which aims to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe, was a highly-rewarding experience.
Around the same time, Blaser elected to take an intro to marketing class. Like Uhrig, fellow business teacher Ramona Schoenrock guided Blaser and helped her figure out what she wanted to do in life.
“I never looked back after that,” Blaser said, reiterating how those two teachers really helped her discover her love for business. “I knew business was just the route I was going to go. They really saw the passion that I had for marketing and business. I loved learning.”
FINDING HER WAY
Upon graduating high school, Blaser chose to pursue a major in business administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While there, she got a job working 4-9 p.m. weekdays in the independent youth treatment center and then the business office at Lincoln General Hospital (now Bryan Medical Center). She was responsible for numerous tasks, such as registering people for in-patient treatment and helping work out payment plans for their accounts.
Then, each summer, officials gave her a full-time position in the main business office that enabled her to learn all aspects of the operation. Blaser called those years working in Lincoln “valuable experience.”
Although quite the bookworm and hard worker, Blaser still vividly remembers one Thursday night while in college in which she decided to break her routine and go to a dance with her friends after they pleaded with her.
“I took my academics very seriously, but they kept asking, so I decided to go,” she said.
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It turned out to be a good move as she ended up meeting the man who would become her husband, Chris, that night. Chris, a fifth-year senior who grew up on a farm near Duncan and went to CHS two years ahead of Blaser, made quite an impression.
The two dated for three years and were married on Oct. 30, 1993. With Chris being a fifth-generation farmer, there was no doubt in their minds Platte County is where they wanted to be.
LOVE FOR HEALTH CARE
Knowing Chris was the man she was meant to be with, Blaser was happy to move back to Columbus in the early 1990s and start her professional career with CCH, where she has been ever since. She’s approaching her third decade at the organization in a few years, though it undoubtedly never gets old – every day is an adventure for her.
“I’ve been so grateful and so proud to be working at Columbus Community Hospital, no matter what my position was,” she said. “I’ve loved the work and the challenges at hand. In health care, what we do every day – it’s the people, the patients - is so unique, gratifying and fulfilling.”
Blaser climbed through the ranks throughout the years, eventually earning the fourth vice president position after a very competitive application process approximately a decade ago.
“I never set my sights on moving up in the organization, but I was always open to taking on more responsibilities,” said Blaser, who also earned her MBA through Wayne State College. “I have an amazing team I work with.”
In her current role, Blaser is responsible for physician recruitment and relations, occupational health, volunteer and guest services, the CCH Foundation, marketing/community benefit and all of CCH’s clinics, such as orthopedic, ENT, general surgery, plastic surgery, psychology, visiting physicians and the one in Humphrey.
“Every day I get to come to work at Columbus Community Hospital it’s exciting as the first day I was here, and even more so,” she said. “I’m so proud of the work that gets done across this organization.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Blaser and her family live on their farm along the Platte River, where they grow corn and soybeans and have cattle.
“It has been awesome,” she said. “It’s a perfect place to raise a family and live. I honestly could not think of any other place I’d rather live.”
The Blasers have two children: Elizabeth and Liam. Elizabeth is a freshman at Wayne State College. She’s part of the RHOP (Rural Health Opportunities Program), a special cooperative program between Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Liam is a freshman at Columbus High, where he’s a multi-sport athlete.
When she’s not helping out on the farm, at CCH or at her children’s events, Blaser manages to stay busy through all sorts of service work and community efforts.
Since 1970, she’s been an active member of First United Methodist Church. She’s also served in various board capacities with dozens of organizations, such as the Columbus Safety & Health Council, Columbus United Federal Credit Union, Prairie Valley Red Cross and Court Appointed Special Advocates. She also has a long history of volunteer service with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, specifically as a Commodore and Admiral for many years.
Although she’s proud of all organizations she’s been associated with, Blaser pointed to her time as a board member from January 2013-December 2018 with nonprofit Columbus Area United Way. She served as its campaign chair in 2014 and board chair in 2018.
“Pat Heimes, I have huge respect for the work she did,” Blaser said of the longtime nonprofit executive director who recently resigned.
Blaser remains quite active in the community, serving on the boards like the CPS Foundation and the CPS Alumni Association. Additionally, she’s a committee member for the Cattlemen’s Ball 2020, which will take place in Columbus later this year.
“She is not only committed to the hospital but also to the community in general,” Hansen said. “She’s wanting to do things in work and life in general that are going to be beneficial to our community.”
Blaser’s dedication to the community has been recognized with several prestigious honors. She received the Columbus Morning Rotary’s Service to Mankind Award and the local chamber’s Charles Farnham Volunteer of the Year honor in 2012. Then, in 2014, she earned the chamber’s Rich Anderson Volunteer of the Year. Most recently, in December, she was presented the Ovation Award at the Columbus Area Business Hall of Fame ceremony.
The award is given to women who demonstrate support of the goals of professional women and provide unselfish assistance on their behalf. Winners are chosen who have demonstrated excellence in business or profession, provided valuable service to business or profession and to the community, who have exhibited initiative and creativity-enhancing the efficiency of business or profession and have exhibited initiative and creativity-enhancing the stability and improvement of the community.
Columbus has undoubtedly evolved and grown throughout the last few decades, and though Blaser reflects fondly on the small town it once was during her youth, she’s proud of how it’s developed and eager for what’s ahead.
“I’ll be celebrating my 50th birthday in March, and when I look back, I can’t ever imagine a better place to grow up and be from than Columbus. It’s all I’ve ever known,” Blaser said. “People can argue a million places that could be great, and they could be, but I look back and think it was all meant to be.
“I’m looking forward to so many more years of being on the front line of a lot of wonderful organizations and the good work we do.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.