Philanthropist Dave Van Meter leaves a tremendous legacy in improving the sport of OPS
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No sports facility is named after Dave Van Meter, although there could be many.
The retired CEO, who lived in Omaha for 47 years, has repeatedly led fundraisers to improve conditions in underserved areas, particularly in Omaha Public Schools.
One estimate puts Van Meter and his wife Carol’s involvement in more than $42 million in sports projects — including weight rooms, football and soccer stadiums, and baseball and softball diamonds.
Dave Van Meter says Ms Carol “was an enthusiastic and tireless advocate for inclusion and tolerance in all aspects of life.”
SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD HERALD
“Dave was a one-of-a-kind person,” said retired OPS athletics director Bob Danenhauer. “He and Carol were very nice people. Always very sensitive.”
Dave Van Meter, 86, died of cancer May 11 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee had moved to live with his family. His wife died of a brain aneurysm in 2016.
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A native of Mount Vernon, Iowa, Van Meter graduated from high school at Lake Forest Academy in suburban Chicago. At Colorado College, he was selected as the conference-wide tight end by the Los Angeles Rams in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL draft.
He was an Army veteran who served at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The Van Meters, who married in 1960, moved to Omaha from Denver in 1968. He spent much of his career investing at Chiles, Heider & Co. and successor companies until he retired in 2004. Until 2000 he co-owned Travel and Transport, which the investment firm acquired in 1974.
Her first athletic donation in 2000 was to the Mount Vernon High School weight room. Next up was the weight room at Omaha Central, where sons David (Bo) and Jim had played football.
Then all middle and high schools in OPS—18 at the time—received weight room upgrades from the Van Meters. Ditto for several locations of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Omaha.
“What encourages someone to keep doing it is when you get so many thank-you letters from kids,” Dave Van Meter said in 2014. “It makes you want to do it again.”
While the Van Meters spent more than $600,000 on the OPS weight rooms, their larger projects like Collin Stadium for Omaha South and Seemann Stadium were public-private partnerships, many through donor group Heritage Services (now Heritage Omaha).
“Dave changed the landscape for OPS athletics because one of our strategic goals was to improve our facilities for our coaches and student-athletes,” said Danenhauer. “I truly believe that our student-athletes and coaches felt the love for Dave and Carol Van Meter and were inspired because (the VanMetres) cared so much for them.”
Danenhauer said that during his time at OPS, he and Van Meter met each year with then-Principal John Mackiel and Deputy Principal Jerry Bartee to discuss what project should be undertaken next for the schools.
“We built the outdoor facilities, including the Omaha City and recreational fields, to be used by OPS Athletics and the community,” Danenhauer said. “If it were an OPS facility, Dr. Mackiel and Dr. Mackiel would determine how much OPS would commit to. If it were a municipal facility, (Van Meter) would provide 100% of the need.”
Van Meter was hands on. He would oversee projects. A senior engineer said in 2014: “When we work with him, he understands the projects from start to finish. He is involved every step of the way.”
One of the couple’s last projects before Carol’s death was helping rebuild the Christie Heights Community Center and adjacent fields at 36th Street and Q Street.
Before Dave Van Meter, his wife and son Bo died. Son Jim is among the survivors. A memorial service could be held this summer.