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After 34 years, Columbus Area United Way Executive Director Pat Heimes is calling it a career.

Heimes recently announced her plans to retire from her role to the nonprofit organization’s board of the directors, noting the timing just felt right.

“I hit the big 70 in July, so I thought, ‘you know what, I am ready to call it quits and spend some time with the grandkids and do some others things,” Heimes said on Friday afternoon.

In a way, it’s still surreal to Heimes that she has been on the job for multiple decades. She initially took the role, which was originally called coordinator before it morphed into its current title, because it seemed like a good part-time position she could handle while raising her four young sons with her husband. She started training in October 1985 and officially took over in January 1986 from Berdean Miller, never thinking it would become a multi-decade career.

“My predecessor had been in the role for 14 years and I remember I thought, ‘Wow, who stays in a job 14 years?’”

Needless to say, time has changed Heimes’ stance. But the reason she has stayed in the position for three-plus decades is her love for what she does and what the organization represents. Serving Platte, Colfax, Boone, Nance, Polk and Butler counties, the local United Way’s mission is to focus resources to measurably improve the education, health and financial stability of the community.

“We have really expanded our ability to help people and that’s the main thing,” Heimes said of what she has found most rewarding during her tenure as executive director. “We’re not just a funder anymore; we find out the true needs in the community and we work with our partners to address those needs.”

The hard work has paid off thus far. Heimes said her first United Way campaign raised about $110,000 and the last effort raised substantially more - about $850,000. United Way officials are hoping to raise about $875,000 from the current campaign, she added.

“It has grown with help from our partner agencies,” she said, noting United Way provides money to its partner agencies and runs several direct service programs likes its Imagination Library that works by having a book mailed to children every month from birth until they’re 5 at no cost.

Heimes said she has enjoyed working with the many people who have served on the nonprofit’s board of directors throughout the last 34 years, adding they’ve all become friends.

She has undoubtedly left an impression on those she has worked with throughout her tenure, too.

Longtime friend Dennis Hirschbrunner, who is currently serving the local United Way as its campaign drive chairman, said Heimes has been a tremendous asset to Columbus.

“She represents the community and the United Way very, very well,” he said, noting Heimes is a very caring and civic-minded individual who loves Columbus. “I think she has more than served the community very well and for a long time. I’m really happy for her that she is able to at this point step down. The United Way is in great shape.

“I’m hoping we can have an outstanding year in fundraising. That would be a tremendous way for her to leave - on a really successful fundraising year.”

Former Columbus Area United Way Board of Directors member and president Amy Blaser, who is the vice president of physician relations/business development for Columbus Community Hospital, praised Heimes as a community leader and for being a good person.

"Pat has served the Columbus Area United Way with dedication, vision and integrity. Under Pat’s leadership, the Columbus Area United Way has grown to be the preeminent organization it is today," Blaser said.

"She helped the organization create community-wide strategies and bring businesses, individuals, non-profits, faith-based leaders and educators to the same table. Pat inspired a collaborative spirit that will propel us forward as we continue to work for the health, education and financial stability of our families, friends and neighbors."

Blaser said that she is most impressed with the level of impact the nonprofit has been able to obtain and sustain under Heimes' capable leadership, noting she has enjoyed her time working directly with Heimes since 2012 as a volunteer on the board, on the annual campaign and as a donor.

"I have always found Pat to be someone who was deeply involved in the community and wasn’t afraid to take risks to help alleviate and solve the underlying issues plaguing our community, and for that she will be greatly missed," she said.

Bob Hackett, current Columbus Area United Way Board of Directors president, said Heimes personifies what it means to be a kind, generous and hardworking individual.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to work with her. I consider Pat to be a really iconic community support leader,” Hackett said. “She just embodies what it means to come around those who need support in the community and is a leader in finding the appropriate partnerships and community support, whether that’s from a financial perspective or an educational perspective or from the aspect of identifying the current status of the community and being able to harness all resources in the community to focus on whatever is needed.

“She is just so passionate about the work she does that she has been able to grow the United Way into a very viable and supported organization that literally touches thousands of lives in this community day after day.”

For her part, Heimes said the nonprofit’s success cannot be attributed to one person. She praised fellow Columbus Area United Way employees Jo Suess (development director), Tammy Bichlmeier (director of community impact), Denise Kollath (program coordinator) and Sue Hoge (community information coordinator), calling them a great team. She also noted she gets great support from her husband and other family members.

Hackett said the Board of Directors has organized a committee that will search for the organization’s next leader, noting that Heimes has graciously agreed to stay in the role for a bit and help with the transition. He added the United Way has an excellent team in its office besides Heimes and that the board hopes to find the right person for the job by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Heimes said she’s looking forward to spending more time with her seven grandchildren and visiting her now grown-up sons. Two of her boys live in Omaha, while a third lives in Seattle and another lives in Luxembourg with his family and has plans to move to Seattle next year.

Heimes and her husband, Don, have no plans to leave Columbus, though. She said he isn’t retiring just yet, so she looks forward to having some downtime and volunteering with various charitable groups in town.

“It has been a very rewarding, great way to give back being part of the United Way,” she said. “We don’t have plans to go anywhere. I think it’s just time for new people to take over the reins and come up with new ideas on how to raise funds for this community.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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