Time out with T.O. - A salute to the Yanneys

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC strategic communications (retired) | January 07, 2021

Image with caption: Mike Yanney and Gail Yanney, MD

Mike Yanney and Gail Yanney, MD

From their home on the 28th floor of the Woodman Tower, Mike and Gail Yanney have a bird's eye view of the community they cherish.

The dynamic duo has been a driving force in making UNMC/Nebraska Medicine the stellar academic medical center that it is. But most people would never know.

That's how the Yanneys like to roll -- doing amazing things behind the scenes and seeking zero attention.

Perhaps, James Linder, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine, summarized the Yanneys best: "Gail and Mike are members of the 'First Name Club' in Omaha. When you are told that Gail and Mike are involved in the planning of a community project, you know it will be a success."

See more information on the Yanneys

"Their high energy and ethical compass are widely admired," said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, chancellor for UNMC and UNO, "and set the value-based trajectory for our community."

In the words of Bob Bartee, vice chancellor for external affairs for UNMC and UNO: "The Yanneys represent all that is noble and decent that humankind has to offer. They are humble, yet their achievements are monumental."

What makes them so special?

To their daughter, Lisa Roskens, chairman and CEO, Burlington Capital, the company started by her father, it's the "combination of great personal drive and a huge dose of compassion for others . . . little things (they do) like a college scholarship for a struggling waitress or finding an internship for a promising young person or the key introduction for an entrepreneur."

Incredibly, well into their 80s, the Yanneys continue to perform their magic.

Mike, 87, is chairman emeritus of Burlington Capital, a firm that raises money to build apartment houses around the country by working with a national stock brokerage firm. Gail, 84, practiced for more than 20 years as an anesthesiologist primarily at Clarkson Hospital before retiring in 1986.

Their Nebraska roots are strong. Mike was born in Kearney and earned his business degree at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Gail was born in Chicago but moved to Omaha when she was 8. She earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her medical degree at UNMC.

They met in Denver on a blind date arranged by college friends. Gail was in her final year of medical school, while Mike was working at a Denver bank. It was love at first sight. Four days later, they were engaged. They got married in 1960 on Christmas Day.

"It came as a surprise to my mother," Gail said. "She wasn't sure I knew how to spell Mike's last name."

With Gail's medical career about to take off, the Yanneys decided to settle in Omaha -- a fortuitous decision that has paid huge dividends for our community and state.

Mike took a position with an Omaha bank, then started his own company, America First Companies, in 1983. The business flourished. He also established a mentorship program that has helped thousands of children from disadvantaged families.

Although never seeking the limelight, the Yanneys soon became synonymous with success. If you needed something done that would benefit the community, you knew who to call.

The Yanneys have become "pillars of the community," said Ken Cowan, MD, PhD, director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, as well as University of Nebraska President Ted Carter.

Bartee said, "They care deeply about individuals, yet their influence also has shaped the vision and character of countless organizations and institutions."

Thankfully, a couple of those institutions were UNMC/Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska system.

Their pride in UNMC/Nebraska Medicine is off the chart. "It is the No. 1 employer in the state of Nebraska," Mike Yanney said. "It's by far and away our state's best prospect for future development. With the combination of leadership and the highly engaged private sector, the medical center has the potential of becoming the 'Silicon Valley of Medicine.' That's saying a lot."

The Yanneys rave about the leadership team, beginning with Harold M. Maurer, MD, chancellor emeritus for UNMC, and extending through Drs. Gold and Linder as well as NU President Carter.

As Gail Yanney said, "We've been blessed to have such outstanding leadership. They are fabulous people -- the right men at the right place at the right time."

Mike adds, "It's really rewarding to be engaged with people who are truly passionate about excellence."

Humble as always, Gail uses an analogy to provide perspective on the place the Yanneys hold in the community.

"I'm reminded of the story about a cowboy riding along to make sure the ranch's fence is intact. He sees a turtle on top of one of the fence posts and says to himself, 'That's interesting -- there's no way a turtle could get there by itself.'

"I always think of Mike and me as the turtles on the fence post. We didn't get there by ourselves."

On Christmas Day, the Yanneys celebrated their 60th anniversary. As Dr. Maurer said, it's a marriage that has produced a "legacy that will live on for generations."

To Mike and Gail, we offer our congrats and thanks. Job well done.

Leaving their mark on medical center

The Yanneys have left an indelible mark on UNMC/Nebraska Medicine.

As Brian Hastings, president and CEO, University of Nebraska Foundation, put it, "What you get out of life often is a result of what you give away."

"There are no words to adequately describe the impact Mike and Gail Yanney have made at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine and in our community and nation," said Amy Volk, senior vice president for UNMC development and chief development officer for Nebraska Medicine.

Volk singled out their leadership in Campaign for Nebraska, which included fundraising for the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. The Yanneys also have championed countless important fundraising efforts at the medical center, she said.

Most recently, the Yanneys led the way in bringing the iEXCEL/Davis Global Center project to fruition.

"They put their hearts and souls into making sure the project was a success," said Pamela Boyers, PhD, associate vice chancellor for clinical simulation, iEXCEL. "This not only included helping to raise funds, but weekly oversight of the project, bringing in help when it was needed -- and above all else -- making sure that the people involved in creating this new entity felt supported and valued."

Dr. Boyers, who was new to Omaha when the project began, credited Gail for providing her with a better understanding of the Omaha community and introducing her to family, friends and other helpful connections. She especially appreciated how Mike would unfailingly check in to make sure we were "doing alright" or "is there anything you need?"

For the Yanneys, the project was a perfect fit, as it will ultimately boost Omaha's stature and reputation around the world.

"The Davis Global Center was really the genius of Dr. Gold and Dr. Boyer," Mike Yanney said. "They had the vision to really change how we teach medicine and bring it to the digital world. They not only had the vision but also the exceptional ability to make it happen."

Yanney was so moved by the project that he came to UNMC and made a special video to recognize all the people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen.

In the video, he said, "Great projects take incredible people who are committed and passionate about making a great project a success. You deserve all the congratulations and tributes and all the honors we can give you!"

Dr. Boyers responded, "Back atcha, Mike!"


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Beverly Maurer
January 13, 2021 at 3:36 PM

Gail and Mike you are our dearest friends. Celebrating openings of buildings, family events,and our joint 50th anniversary were memorable times. It took a pandemic to keep us from our 60th celebration. We miss you. Beverly Maurer

Don Leuenberger
January 07, 2021 at 2:31 PM

Energy, Vision, Compassion and Generosity--Mike and Gail embody these qualities more than any others that I have known in my long career in government and the University and I very proudly claim him as a mentor and role model. I've known Mike and, and later, Gail since my time in state government and then as VCB&F at UNMC. Their impact on Nebraska goes far beyond Omaha and UNMC and stretches nationally and internationally. They are leaders in the best sense of that word, and the fact that they have contributed so much of their talent and energy to UNMC's growth and success is something for which I am profoundly grateful'

Ronald Krueger
January 07, 2021 at 1:01 PM

As the new Chair of UNMC's Department of Ophthalmology, Mike and Gail have been one of the most welcoming couples to my wife (Ivey) and I as we are integrating in the Omaha community. They as well as their daughter, Lisa, have become the warmest and dearest of friends in such a short time. They really care about us, and what we are doing here as new comers for the Omaha community. They epitomize "Unity in Community" in all they do for Omaha and the UNMC community! Ron and Ivey Krueger

Donny Suh
January 07, 2021 at 9:45 AM

I agree with Ruth Utman. I have never found two people who are so giving and generous to their community, We are honored to call them our friends for life. Donny and Susan

Mike Berney
January 07, 2021 at 8:40 AM

I have had the pleasure of meeting Mike Yanny throughout his visits on the planning of the BCC. Always had time for a hello and a smile. Always humble and helpful. Mike and Gail Yanney fit the true meaning when I say they are the true Salt of the Earth!