Sandie Fischer isn’t one to stress out and sweat the small stuff in life. After all, she’s a person who soldiered on after practically breaking both her legs at once.
About 25 years ago, Fischer was a volunteer stage crew member for Platte Valley Playhouse, helping out with props and sets for performances. One particular night during a dress rehearsal for an upcoming show, Fischer was helping change the sets in the dark in between scenes when she lost her footing.
“I happened to step right off the stage,” Fischer recalled, laughing as she recounted the incident that resulted in her being in a wheelchair for a while. “I broke the right one (leg) in three places and I fractured the other one. So when they say, ‘break a leg,’ I don’t take it too seriously.”
Her knack for managing a ton at once all with a smile comes in handy, such as at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Red, White, KaBoom!” Fourth of July event last Wednesday night. As the chamber’s longtime events planner and entrepreneurship/membership developer, Fischer plays a pivotal role in the almost year-long planning for the early July celebration. She also keeps things running the night of and interacts with the hundreds of people that come into Platte County Ag Park. That’s on top of organizing efforts for other chamber-related events throughout the year, which often overlap.
“She is such an inspiration to so many people because she is always so upbeat,” said close friend Jo Suess, who is on the Chamber board for “Red, White, KaBoom!” and Columbus Days thanks, in part, to Fischer. “I don’t know how she does it. She really inspires other people to be so positive as well.”
Fischer is class personified, by all accounts. A native of the area, she’s volunteered her time to dozens of community organizations and initiatives throughout the years, hosted a popular radio show on the local station and has become a friend of everyone she’s interacted with in the process.
For Fischer, Columbus is home; Columbus represents family.
“There are so many wonderful people in Columbus,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years that we have an awesome community. We support our community, we believe in Columbus. I’m just thankful to be part of it.”
Attempting to figure out where exactly Fischer and her nine younger siblings grew up is like solving a math problem.
Her parents’ farm had a Monroe address, but a Platte Center telephone number. The family went to church in the village of Tarnov at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, while the kids eventually went to Humphrey High School. So Platte County, as a whole, is home.
One thing was certain among that confusion: It was special when you got to join mom and dad for a shopping trip in Columbus.
“It was a big deal to come to town,” Fischer said. “To get to come to town with mom and dad for shopping, that was a treat.”
The oldest of 10, Fischer often was the one responsible for watching her younger siblings (she has seven sisters and two brothers, with one of the latter being 16 years younger than her).
But occasionally, Fischer got to join her parents to shop or go see a film at the old drive-in movie theater that is now home to the new Bomgaars location.
“It was fantastic,” Fischer said of her childhood, noting her folks farmed corn and soybeans, among other things, and also had some cattle.
Fischer graduated from Humphrey High in May 1974, and soon after that, went to work for First National Bank in Columbus for about a year. Before long, she moved to Omaha and married her significant other, Bob.
COMING BACK HOME
Admittedly, Omaha wasn’t for Fischer. It’s not a knock against Omaha – Fischer is just firm in her belief that the greater Columbus area was and continues to be where she belongs.
“I was homesick. I was homesick from day one,” Fischer said. “I cried on our honeymoon because I missed my little siblings.”
After a few years in Omaha, Bob got a job with Nebraska Public Power District in Columbus that prompted the family to relocate back to her home turf.
Over the years, Fischer has worked at a crafts/floral shop and in the sales department for radio station KLIR 101 in Columbus, jobs in which she was a natural fit for because of her outgoing and bubbly personality. That paved the way to a new opportunity in 2001 when the Columbus Chamber created the events planner and entrepreneurship/membership developer role.
“It was a brand new position,” Fischer said. “So there wasn’t anyone I could ask for advice or how they did things. I just had to figure it out.”
Still, Fischer dived right in. In her role, she manages membership and retention activities, staffs multiple committees and works on meeting preparation on top of coordinating chamber functions, events and other activities.
“I enjoy what I do every day,” she said. “It’s not work to me.”
Fischer is passionate about her career, and her actions only strengthen her words. When former Chamber President K.C. Belitz challenged the staff in January 2015 to set professional goals, Fischer made a commitment to herself to shop exclusively local for an entire year.
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It didn’t stop after 365 days, though. Since then, Fischer has made it a point to shop at a Chamber-member business every day, except when she’s out of town or on vacation. It’s meant to show her loyalty to those who she says essentially sign her paycheck, so to speak.
“Columbus provides everything I need,” she said. “Chamber members are the ones who write out my paycheck, so I want to support them.”
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
When Fischer isn’t working in her official capacity, she’s often involved in some sort of community activity. She’s a member of St. Bonaventure Church, a “Ladies of the Lord” group,” the Santa House Committee, the Downtown Business Association, Columbus Noon Lions Club and Platte County Food Pantry, among many other things.
She’s a Leadership Columbus graduate (1996-1997) and one of its former program committee chairs. Additionally, she has helped the American Red Cross, the Columbus After School Program, Relay for Life of Platte County, Columbus Area Arts Council, the Miss Columbus Scholarship Program and more.
“I wish I could be more like her,” said Suess, labeling Fischer as ‘a dear friend.’ “I just can’t say enough about her being such an inspiration. People always talk about volunteering or getting involved in things and building relationships with the people you volunteer for … She is just such a hard worker.”
Lynette Hogelin, a longtime close friend and owner of Lynette’s Dance Studio in Columbus, met Fischer decades ago when they were both helping out with the Miss Columbus pageant. They continued to bond by spending time together for enjoyment, through their shared commitment to their faith and while helping with other community efforts.
“We’re very close friends. She’s like a sister to me,” Hogelin said. “She is an amazing person. I look to her not only as my friend but my mentor. I’ve learned so much as far as how to handle myself in public situations … how to be an active community member.”
She added her friend’s personality is unique and something special.
“She is always upbeat and positive and always concerned about the other person …” she said. “She has a servant's heart. That would be my best description of Sandie … She brings joy to everyone she meets.
“She just truly, truly makes Columbus a better place to live.”
Another big passion of Fisher’s is her family. She has two grown sons, Dan and Jesse (with daughter-in-law, Heather) and young granddaughter, Indi (her pride and joy). Jesse and his family live in Durham, North Carolina, so Fischer said she travels out to the East Coast as often as possible to spend time with them, especially her granddaughter.
Oh, and she’s quite the gardener having earned her Nebraska Master Gardener certification through the extension office. She spends a lot of time working on her own garden, while also keeping up with her urban farm collection.
“My favorite color is rust,” she said.
Throughout the years she has managed to collect various pieces of farm equipment, as well as random items she calls “shabby chic.” Among them is the old cemetery fence from St. Anthony’s Church, which is now proudly placed around her backyard gazebo.
This last year did bring some hardship as Bob passed away in October 2018.
“He supported me,” Fischer said, noting Bob was a great man who loved his family and helping however he could.
Actually, Bob became quite the volunteer for the chamber, helping out with Columbus Days and other projects. Fischer said he made it easy for her by taking care of some of the cooking and cleaning at home when she had particularly busy weeks with her job and volunteer efforts.
In the last year, Fischer has forced herself to get more comfortable using the lawn mower and other tools.
“I can also run a chain saw,” she said proudly, though politely declined to demonstrate for a photo.
Although she’ll never say it herself, the local chamber’s motto of “Something Good” is something she embodies. Throughout the years, Fischer has been the recipient of numerous awards for her efforts. Among them is the Charles E. Farnham Volunteer of the Year title (1995), Modern Woodmen of America Community Service Recognition (2001), Competent Toastmaster (2003) and Commodore of the Year (1999-2000 and 2000-2001). She also served as Queen Isabella during Columbus Days in 2001.
She’s honored to have received such distinctions, but it’s not what keeps her involved. Fischer, who retired from her radio show in 2018 after 19 years to spend more time with family and to make more time for other activities, remains highly involved in various capacities.
Not even her fall 25 years ago could slow her down. Fischer has continued to help out with the Platte Valley Playhouse, having served as its past president. She’s no longer working on the sets, but she is its current publicity chairwoman. If she has learned anything over the years, it’s to not worry about what you can’t control.
“Don’t take ‘break a leg seriously,’” she said, noting she hasn’t broken any bones since that one infamous day. “It doesn’t do you any good. Why be stressed about something when you can’t change it? I just don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.