The Early Years 1946 – 1953

In Nebraska, Cerebral Palsy as an organization can be traced back to 1946. Known then as the Nebraska Parents Council on Cerebral Palsy, it was a committee of the Nebraska Crippled Children’s Society or “Easter Seals.” There were chapters in a number of the larger cities in Nebraska, but the focus remained on eastern Nebraska. The services provided in Omaha by J.P. Lord Therapy Center and in Lincoln by the State Orthopedic Hospital weren’t available anywhere else in Nebraska. Those two programs drew children with cerebral palsy from all over Nebraska.

During this era the news media and medical experts referred to persons with cerebral palsy as “spastics.” Much of the focus was on children during this period. Another misconception of the 1940’s was the generally held belief that persons with cerebral palsy were mentally deficient in some way, primarily because they were non-verbal.

Mrs. Ben H. Cowdery, the daughter of Henry Doorly, owner of the Omaha World Herald Newspaper, became involved in the Parents Council during the 40’s because her daughter, Nancy, was born with cerebral palsy. For the remainder of her life, Peggy Cowdery was a driving force for Cerebral Palsy as an independent organization in Nebraska. She helped separate the Parents Council from Crippled Children’s Society by forming United Cerebral Palsy Association of Omaha in 1951.

The new organization became affiliated with the two-year-old United Cerebral Palsy Associations (UCPA) that was founded in New York City in 1949 by several parents who had children with cerebral palsy and exerted considerable influence on the East Coast. One such parent was Leonard Goldenson, owner of American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Service programs for the era in Nebraska included loaning of special furniture, braces, or wheelchairs. The Society and later UCPA of Omaha provided the salaries for staff physiotherapists at J.P. Lord School in Omaha and Park School in Lincoln. Also salaries for nursery class teachers, clinical secretaries, and matrons were provided by the Society. The training of those therapists was also funded. Finally symposiums and conferences on the subject of crippled children were sponsored in the Omaha area, bringing many nationally recognized experts into Nebraska to speak.

Operating funds for the Crippled Children’s Society were raised through the sale of the traditional Easter Seal. Annually, the Society had a direct mail appeal for funds consisting of 250,000 letters and it was the major source of operating money. Half of the money raised out state in this direct appeal remained in the local areas to support local needs. The Omaha Cerebral Palsy Association became a member of the Community Chest Drive, forerunner of the United Way. The Chest provided some of their funding but not enough so UCPA of Omaha in 1953 organized their own campaign, which became known as the 1953 Minute March for Cerebral Palsy because public health statistics showed a child was born with cerebral palsy every 53 minutes in the USA. The March involved recruiting thousands of volunteers to go door-to-door asking for money and was held every May or June for over a decade. Over the years, the March raised tens of thousands of dollars for UCPA programs in the Omaha area. At the time federal financial support was nearly non-existent.

United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska 1954 – 1965

In March of 1954, Nebraska United Cerebral Palsy Association was incorporated. Founders signing the incorporation were Peggy D. Cowdery, Bernard J. Dudgeon, Doris Graham, and Bruce H. Thomas . Its basic mission statement was, ‘Assist those suffering from cerebral palsy, both children and adults, by providing medical treatment, nursing care, hospitalization, and braces; training personnel to care for such persons; by providing medical and scientific research in connection with such illness’.

It was also affiliated with the United Cerebral Palsy Associations (UCPA) of New York City. Peggy Cowdery was a personal friend of Mr. Leonard Goldenson , president of ABC Television. This relationship was an important ingredient in the success of the Omaha Affiliate. Peggy’s influence with national provided Omaha with many opportunities it might not have had otherwise.

Programs consisted of grants to J.P. Lord School and other organizations involved with persons having cerebral palsy. Staff consisted of the Executive Director, with volunteers providing much of the support. The organization’s mission primarily consisted of fund raising and awareness training.

During the 1950’s UCPA began using telethons to raise support and money. The key figure in this new fund raising media was Leonard Goldenson and ABC Television. The first one was held in Omaha during the 50’s and was widely successful. Stars were brought to the local TV station to put on a live show for ten plus hours. Omaha’s first one was done with WOW-TV because at the time there wasn’t an ABC station locally. The popularity of the telethon was high because television was so new and everyone wanted to be involved and costs weren’t nearly as staggering as they are today with huge advertising revenues. During the first telethon pledges were collected immediately by a local cab company and trucking company. Services provided during the telethon by local companies, such as the cab company, TV station, telephone company, and many others was donated free gratis. Needless to say it was a great success financially.

The End of the Omaha Era in UCPA 1966 – 1979


UCPA of Omaha continued to thrive during the 60’s. During this time, the UCPA of Nebraska organization maintained an office at 440 South 44th Street in Omaha. Its mission was to provide public awareness, assist other affiliates in Nebraska, and provide an influence for government.

In June of 1973, the office was formally moved to Lincoln at 724 Lincoln Building on the corner of 10th and “O” Street. It could better influence state government in the states capital city. The Executive Director in Lincoln was Mrs. Jean C. Taylor. Mrs. Helen Davies resigned when the office moved to Lincoln.

UCPA of Nebraska didn’t directly solicit funds. It was supported by the local affiliates who paid an apportionment to it.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, the local Omaha affiliate continued with direct grants to other supporting organizations in the Greater Omaha area. This money helped the flag ship providers such as J.P. Lord School, Hattie B. Monroe Home for Children, and summer camp at Elmwood Park.

During this time, the Omaha affiliate used the traditional Sunday afternoon ’53 Minute March to help raise money and a new fund raising media called the walk-a-thon. Walk-a-thon’s proved to be a very good way of making money in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Another method of raising money involved passing containers around in movie theaters before movies started. This effort was provided by a local college sorority Alpha Gamma Delta and its Alumnae Club in the Omaha area.

During 1971 a new UCPA affiliate was formed in the Lincoln area called UCPA of Southeast Nebraska. In a stroke of luck, Dee Coalson was hired as the Executive Director. Because of her dedication and charisma, the Southeast affiliate thrived.

Programs in the Lincoln area included an Early Childhood Development Center at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Superior Street. The organization was gifted with several talented and driven persons who provided much of the momentum.

Southeast Nebraska UCPA was astute enough to realize the value of well-run telethons for money raising purposes. They had their first one out of the TV station in Lincoln and it was a great success raising much more than the goal. For a number of years this first telethon using national talent in a local station set the record on demographics best on money raised per capita in a viewing area for UCPA nationally. After the first year in Lincoln, the telethon moved to central Nebraska out of the Kearney TV station. It stayed there for 4 years.

Because the Southeast Nebraska affiliate was doing so well and the Omaha organization seemed to be running out of steam, in 1975 a merger took place that combined the three organizations remaining in the state at the time. Southeast Nebraska, Greater Omaha, and UCPA of Nebraska were merged into one organization called United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska with responsibilities of both the local affiliates (direct programs) and the state affiliate governmental influence.

The Lean Years of UCP of Nebraska/CP of Nebraska 1980 – 1990


The merger was not a marriage made in heaven, although it worked reasonably well for several years. It tended to support the Southeast Nebraska programs and neglect the Omaha area. After the merger, the organization maintained a $300,000 budget for several years until the money source began to dry up. Over the balance of the decade the budgets declined to under $120,000. Another key factor was the resignation of Dee Coalson to move with her husband to Georgia and the loss of one of the key program people to illness.

In the later part of the 70’s another merger occurred between a local disabled athletes association and UCP of Nebraska. UCP of Nebraska continued to support the telethons moving them to KETV in Omaha when the telethon went to a national feed. The change to national feed was the beginning of the end for UCP of Nebraska’s solvency.

Staff and programs were kept at expanded levels even though the funds weren’t available as they had been in the past. Several of the ensuing Executive Directors provided less than adequate leadership, so deficit spending began to be the rule. Borrowing from the national organization and not repaying until in 1982 when the decision was made to disaffiliate with the national organization. CP of Nebraska owed national $142,000 at the time. Much of this money was for services from them and costs to produce the local segment of the telethons. We were in the same predicament Easter Seals found itself in, lots of debt locally and nationally with a continuing high budget and dwindling income.

All the staff was laid off in early 1982. A few dedicated board members maintained the organization. It was run from a board members home. The mainstay during this time was the Bob Devaney Benefit Dance and Auction, which became the primary fund raising vehicle when the telethons were discontinued locally after 1982. The revenues from this auction have steadily increased for the last 20 years, and it remains the flagship of our fund raising fleet.

The organization has been blessed with two substantial gifts over the past decade that has helped reverse the financial decline and return the organization to solvency. Both gifts were from larger estates were Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska was just one of several recipients.

Programs during the 1980’s were minimal with the granting of funds for purchase of equipment and services being the primary one. For a number of years Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska has supported a group of persons with cerebral palsy attending the Cerebral Palsy games in Kansas City. But because of unresolved transportation problems it was also dropped in 1989.

United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska 1990 – 2000

UCP of Nebraska began to grow and expand services in the 1990’s. In 1992, Terri Mecham Butler was hired as the first Executive Director since 1982. The organization began to publish a quarterly newsletter to keep the public informed of the organization’s activities and provided some educational materials, as well.

In 1993, the board agreed to affiliate with the National Organization, now headquartered in Washington, DC. This proved to be a beneficial move and helped the organization to grow and develop.

In 1993, UCP of Nebraska became a member agency of CHAD. This further aided the organization’s visibility throughout the State but also helped to provide funds for programs and services.

The Client Assistance Grant Program remained the main program for UCP of Nebraska and a part-time coordinator was hired to oversee this project. UCP of Nebraska became a member of the Coordinated Funding Committee, a network of 20 agencies who refer to one another to better meet client needs.

In 1994, a new program was added. The TECH TOTS program, providing toys adapted for use by children with disabilities, opened sites at Children’s Hospital and the Teachers Administration Center both in Omaha. A part-time coordinator was hired to oversee this new program. In 1999, an additional site was opened at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln. The program was very successful in reaching in reaching more Nebraskans. Grants from Assistive Technology, The Sowers Club of Nebraska and First Data helped to develop and expand this program.

In 1995, the board voted to hire a Development Coordinator to help oversee fund raising efforts and expand programs and services.

In 1997, the board agreed to open a second UCP of Nebraska office in Omaha to better reach the entire state. The staff was then divided between the two sites. The Omaha office was housed at the Ike Friedman Community Health Plaza with other CHAD agencies.

In 1999, UCP of Nebraska received a $40,000 grant from UCP National to further develop and expand the Tech Tots program. It enabled UCP of Nebraska to open an additional site at Faith Regional Medical Center in Norfolk, NE, and to upgrade the other sites.

Fund raising changed during this decade. The first “HIT THE LINKS AND DRIVE AGAINST DISABILITIES” golf event was held 1998, and it was a huge success. This event has become one of the major fundraisers for the Organization.

The last official Benefit Auction for UCP of Nebraska was held in February 1999. It was a sad note but it had become increasingly more difficult to organize and hold the event. A combined UCP of Nebraska and The Antelope Park Challenged Playground Auction Event was held in May of 2000. That ended 27 years of Benefit Auctions for UCP of Nebraska.

Joe Nosek and the annual Bowl-a-thon continued to bring in funds and publicity for the organization. A variety of other events sponsored by varied local businesses and organizations have held events to benefit UCP of Nebraska, as well.

As all other agencies, UCP of Nebraska continues to meet challenges in funding and visibility. It has entered the 2000’s in a positive, growing direction.