It was both a retirement and a birthday party Thursday night for Paula Obermark, executive director of the Franklin County Area United Way.
Obermark is stepping down after 33 years with the United Way, a nonprofit organization that raises and allocates funds, provides resources and training, identifies critical issues and builds collaboration within the community.
Close to 200 people, including past and current board members, staff, business leaders, agency representatives, volunteers and family, turned out to recognize her service and commitment for more than three decades.
“It’s pretty rare these days for anyone to work for an employer for 33 years, and it’s almost unheard of for someone to work 33 years for a nonprofit,” said Becky Buhr, past campaign chair and board president.
“Paula has dedicated her life’s work to this organization,” Buhr said. “For 33 years, she’s worked to build better communities for the people of Franklin County.”
Obermark is retiring after hitting both a personal and professional milestone — raising $1 million in her final campaign.
“It might have taken a little longer than we’d like, but we all pulled together to hit that million dollar mark,” Buhr said. “That million dollars is a testimony to the vision Paula’s had for making this organization the success it is today . . . it’s a career worthy of a big celebration.”
Special Gifts, Guest Speakers
As part of the festivities Thursday night at Jesuit Hall, the United Way presented Obermark with a birthday cake and engraved vase. Special entertainment was provided by sixth-graders at St. Gertrude School.
R.J. Crunk with the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which has a partnership with the Franklin County Area United Way, also presented gifts and spoke about Obermark’s passion for her work and love of the community.
“She just has this fire in her eyes when she talks about this community,” Crunk said. “For 33 years she has helped other people and deflected all of the praise to the community, her volunteers and staff.”
He added her more than three decades of service is an amazing accomplishment and inspiration to him personally and to others.
Other speakers included John Trentmann, a past board president and longtime volunteer for the United Way, who passed the Superman cloak he wore during a skit years ago when he was on the board to his son, Stephen Trentmann, a current board member and campaign co-chair for this year’s drive.
Trentmann said Obermark’s retirement brings an end to one era of the United Way and marks the beginning of a new generation of leaders to continue the cause.
“This lady was a true visionary,” he said. “She took an idea from the 1950s and turned it into the biggest fund-raiser in Franklin County.”
“We are all blessed to have known Paula,” Trentmann added.
His son Stephen said Obermark’s “influence and wisdom” have impacted so many in the community. He also offered a toast, saying “May we all aspire to change the world through our efforts to change our community as much as you have.”
Obermark also spoke briefly, thanking everyone for coming and for “always answering the call” in every campaign.
“We just have the best people in the world in this community,” she said. “This is such a unique and giving and caring community, and so progressive, you just don’t find that in many places.”
Obermark said it’s been gratifying to work in a community that once it recognized a need, it figured out how to take care of it.
“You all deserve gold stars,” she said, repeating a phrase she’s well-known for saying during the campaign season when people step up to help out.
“I feel very blessed,” she added.
Obermark also recognized Kim Strubberg, who is the new executive director, and said the organization will be in very good hands under her leadership.
Instead of gifts, guests were asked to bring peanut butter and jelly for a program Obermark started years ago to help feed area children during the summer months when school is not in session and lunch programs aren’t available. The jars filled a back table at the reception.