Ben Nelson Gala

Our 2023 Ben Nelson Gala will be on Sept 29, 2023 at the Capitol District Marriot in Omaha.

The theme for this year’s Ben Nelson Gala is Freedom and Justice for All.

Gala Details

  • Friday, September 29, 2023
  • All events takes place at the Capitol District Marriott in Omaha
  • VIP Reception on first floor, 5:30-6:15pm
  • General Reception on ballroom floor, 5:30-6:15pm
  • Program and Dinner, 6:30-8:30pm
  • Young Dems After Party, 9-11pm

Congratulations to the Award Winners

  • Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD1, Liz Tompkins
  • Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD2, John Fox
  • Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD3, Nate Helzer
  • Schimek Quirk County Party Volunteer Award, Dawson County Chair Ann Trullinger
  • Carrie Howard Sunshine Award, Angie Lauritsen
  • Anne Boyle Young Democrat Award, President Larissa Schultz
  • Mike Fahey Block Captain Award, Deanna Pulse
  • Brad Ashford State Senator Courage Award, Senator John Cavanaugh
  • Frank LaMere Hall of Fame Award, DNC Committeewoman Charlene Ligon
  • The State Party Chair Award, Senators Cavanaugh, Hunt, Fredrickson and Planned Parenthood, I Be Black Girl, OutNebraska

Featured Speakers

  • Emcee, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird
  • Keynote Speakers Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Tennessee Representative Justin J. Pearson, and former Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson
  • Additional address from Senator Tony Vargas
  • David Hogg will keynote the Young Dems Sneaker Ball Afterparty

In addition to the Ben Nelson Gala, the Nebraska Democratic Party will host a Candidate and Party Leader training:

Candidate and Party Leader Training Details
September 30, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Omaha Marriott Capitol District, 222 N 10th Street

Featured Speakers

    • ASDC President & DNC Vice Chair Ken Martin
    • Kentucky Chair Colmon Eldrige
    • Nebraska Chair Jane Kleeb

Chair Jane Kleeb commented about the keynote speakers:

“We are honored to welcome back Nebraska native, Governor Tim Walz, who is returning to his Cornhusker roots, bringing hope to our party leaders and supporters on the legislative victories in the state of Minnesota. As one of the most progressive states in the country, we look forward to Governor Walz’s words of inspiration that will culminate in a call to action in all corners of our state.”

“As one of the Tennesse Three, State Senator Justin Pearson converted an expulsion from the super-majority Republican Tennessee House into a rallying cry heard across the nation. Representative Pearson was overwhelmingly reinstated in large part due to the strength and energy of the state’s younger generation and a resilient and proud Black community. We welcome Representative Pearson as a beacon of hope to energize Nebraska Democrats, young and young at heart.”

“As the heart and soul of Nebraska Democratic politics for many years, former Governor and Senator Ben Nelson continues to motivate and instill pride in all Nebraska Democrats. A constant advocate for families and the underrepresented, he is the epitome of a party ambassador. We are delighted that he is able to continue to provide guidance as a true Democrat in our annual gala.”

More about the Gala

Each year the Nebraska Democratic Party celebrates the elected officials, candidates, party leaders and grassroots volunteers that build our party.

For about two decades, the annual event was called the Morrison Exon fundraiser in honor of Gov. Frank Morrison and  Sen. Jim Exon.

In 2022, the NDP decided it was time to honor one of our current party titans — Sen. Ben Nelson — and re-named the annual event the Nelson Gala. 

Additionally, we are renaming various awards after leaders who shaped our party.

The annual fundraiser always includes great Nebraska and national speakers. Past speakers included Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Senator Jeff Merkley, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Cori Bush and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Rep. Grace Meng.

About Nelson

A U.S. Senator from 2001 to 2013 and governor from 1991-99. Nelson founded the CHIP program ensuring kids in our state had access to health insurance. A champion for the environment and property rights, Nelson denied a nuclear waste dump from being built in Boyd County.

Award Descriptions

In both 2018 and in 2022, the NDP re-named awards to honor Democratic leaders. Chair Jane Kleeb and the leadership team believed it was critical we honor Nebraska leaders in naming our awards. Note that recipients of past awards are still listed below with the name of the award they received that year.

Preston Love Award

The Love Award is presented to volunteers who personifies the spirit of the Nebraska Democratic Party. The award is given to an individual who is tireless in supporting the Nebraska Democratic Party, county parties and candidates’ campaigns. An award is given to one volunteer per Congressional District. 

Preston Love Jr., the NDP’s former Vice Chair, is a community advocate who served as Jesse Jackson’s campaign manager during the 1984 Democratic primaries. He is the first black person to receive the support of a major political party for U.S. Senate in Nebraska, as he was endorsed by the NDP’s for the 2020 senate election in Nebraska, challenging incumbent Sen. Ben Sasse. For years, he has taken hundreds of young people and adults on tours of civil rights landmarks in the south through his Black Votes Matter, Black History tours.

Schimek Quirk Award

The Schimek Quirk Award is presented to a county party volunteer who works tirelessly to promote the activities and values of the Democratic Party in their county. The award winners demonstrate a dedication to service, integrity, the organizing of their county party infrastructure, and support for local Democratic candidates.

DiAnna Schimek, was chair of the NDP from 1980 to 1984. She, was elected in 1988 to represent the 27th Nebraska legislative district and re-elected in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. She sat on the Business and Labor and Urban Affairs committees as well as the Committee on Committees and chaired the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Schimek was largely responsible for the enactment of Nebraska’s method of apportioning electoral votes in presidential elections by congressional district. In 2011, Schimek was appointed to replace Jane Snyder, who resigned for health reasons, on the Lincoln City Council. She took her seat on October 10, 2011 to represent one of the at-large seats. She did not seek reelection in 2013.

Deb Quirk knew the importance of local campaigns and gained her first experience in a Hastings City Council race. She met her husband John when he was working on the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign. While the family business is the Quirk Cattle Company, politics is also family business. Deb and John were a force in the state Democratic Party as well as in Adams County and CD3. Deb was elected state party chair and served from 1995-1998. Even after serving as chair, Deb has remained active in both local and NDP party and candidate activities. Always with attention to detail and strategic planning, making sure resolutions and motions were in proper form, Deb has always been a champion for rural Nebraska and assured rural counties and rural voters matter within the party structure. 

Sunshine Award

The Sunshine Award is presented to individuals who are dedicated to improving both the Nebraska Democratic Party and their community as an ally to our Democratic values. The award is open to any ally working or volunteering in the community and does not have to be serving in a Democratic party role. 

This award is given in honor of Carrie Howard, sister of Sen. Sara Howard and daughter of Sen. Gwen Howard.

Anne Boyle Award

The Anne Boyle Award is presented to a young person under 36 (using the age criteria of the NYD & Young Democrats of America) for their exceptional volunteer activities and participation within the Nebraska Young Democrats organization and the state party. 

Commissioner Anne Boyle was the first woman to serve on the Public Service Commission and served three six-year terms beginning in 1996. Boyle was our state party chair from 1998 to 2001. Boyle was committed to lifting young people and mentoring fellow Democrats. Commissioner Boyle passed away in 2019.

Mike Fahey Block Captain Award

The Mike Fahey Award is presented to a Block Captain who goes above and beyond in their canvassing efforts and talking to their neighbors.

Mike Fahey took office as mayor of Omaha in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005. He was a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, an effort to push for gun reform at the local level. He was responsible for changing the landscape of the city with new development and a revitalized commitment to neighborhoods. At the end of Fahey’s term in 2009, the city of Omaha named a section of Webster Street downtown, between 10th and 17th streets, in his honor.

Brad Ashford Award 

The Brad Ashford Award is presented to a current State Senator who shows conviction, support for our party’s platform and leadership in the Unicameral.

Brad Ashford served in the Nebraska Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives from Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. He served in the Legislature from 1987 to 1995, and returned to the Legislature in 2007 to 2015. Brad Ashford defeated 16-year incumbent Rep. Lee Terry to proudly serve the famous “blue dot” of Nebraska. Brad Ashford passed away in 2022 and dedicated years of his life to our state and country to better the lives of all Americans.

State Party Chair Award

The State Party Chair Award is presented to a person or group chosen by the NDP Chair.

Frank LaMere Hall of Fame Award

The Frank LaMere Hall of Fame Award is the highest honor given by the Nebraska Democratic Party. The award is presented to a former or current elected county party officer, state party officer or an elected official who are dedicated to the principles of the Nebraska Democratic Party and who have contributed above and beyond the call of duty to the Nebraska Democratic Party along with local issues that impact the state and national level.

Frank LaMere was the first Native American to serve as a Democratic National Committee member and he founded both the state and national Native American caucuses. LaMere was the longest-serving Native American on the DNC. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention seven consecutive times from 1988 to 2012. LaMere also served as the NDP’s first associate chair. LaMere dedicated his life to social justice and helped close down illegal beer sales at Whiteclay, NE, just across the border from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Past Award Recipients


Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD1, Hannah Wroblewski

Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD1, Edward T. Ventura

Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD2, Meghan Rivera

Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD3, Kay Thomas

Preston Love Jr. Volunteer Award CD3, Randy Fair

Schimek Quirk County Party Volunteer Award, Marthaellen Florence

Carrie Howard Sunshine Award, Medical Marijuana Team
–Sen.Adam Morfeld
–Sen. Anna Wishart
–Crista Eggers
–Daniel Gutman

Anne Boyle Young Democrat Award, Mike Lee

Mike Fahey Block Captain Award,Bev White

Brad Ashford State Senator Courage Award, Sen. Wendy DeBoer

State Party Chair Kleeb Award, the late Seth Rich

Frank LaMere Hall of Fame Award, Patty Zieg   



Bob Kerrey CD1 Volunteer Award: Chris McCoy

Bob Kerrey CD2 Volunteer Award: Dulce Sherman

Bob Kerrey CD3 Volunteer Award: Marci Docekal 

Ben Nelson County Party Award: Terry Sigler

Carrie Howard Sunshine Award: Meg Mikolajczyk

Anne Boyle Young Democrat Award: Ben Cass

State Senator Courage Award: Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh

State Party Chair Kleeb Award: State AFL-CIO President Sue Martin

Frank LaMere Hall of Fame Award: Preston Love, Jr. 


Bob Kerrey Volunteer Award, CD1: Emma Craig

Bob Kerrey Volunteer Award, CD2: Women Who Run, Denise Blaya Powell + Leanne Prewitt

Bob Kerrey Volunteer Award, CD3: Chair Kris Kinzie

Ben Nelson County Party Volunteer Award: Chair Janet Chung

Carrie Howard Sunshine Award: Yolanda Chavez Nuncio

Anne Boyle Young Democrat Award: James Michael Bowers

State Senator Courage Award: Senator Carol Blood

State Party Chair Award: Senator Justin Wayne; Board Member Kimara Snipe; Black Caucus Chair Precious McKesson; Jasmine Harris; Alisha Shelton

Frank LaMere Hall of Fame Award: Trevor Fitzgerald


Bob Kerrey CD1: Roger Eschliman

Bob Kerrey CD2: Lilia Franciscony

Bob Kerrey CD3: Haley Mazour

Ben Nelson County Party: Judy Vohland

Carrie Howard Sunshine: Lisa Fricke

Anne Boyle: Caleb Rohrer

Anne Boyle: Krystal Fox

State Chair: The Women of CD1 – Pastor Janet Banks, Adelle Burk, Sydney Rae Butler, Janet Chung, Marthaellen Florence, Mary Harding, Jessica McClure, Megan Mikolajczyk, Michele Tilley, Christa Yoakum, Laurie Martinez

Frank LaMere Hall of Fame: Senator Patty Pansing Brooks


Bob Kerrey CD1: Shirl Mora James

Bob Kerrey CD2: Scott Williams

Bob Kerrey CD3: Tom Genung and Doc Moore

John F. Kennedy: Zachary Mora James

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Senator Bob Kerrey

Sunshine: Brian Mikkelsen

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Lauren Williams

Morrison Exon: Delmer Adam

State Chair: Big Mama’s Kitchen

Hall of Fame: Senator Tony Vargas


Bob Kerrey CD1: Mike Pittz

Bob Kerrey CD2: Rachel Huggins

Bob Kerrey CD3: Terry Wegner

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Meg Mandy

Sunshine: Patsy Koch-Johns Volunteers–Inonge Kasaji, Kaylie Schnittker-Hogan, Cooper Christiancy, Brodey Weber, Michael Maly and Maluba Mudundulu

John F. Kennedy: Mina Davis

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Frank LaMere

Hall of Fame: Senator Rick Kolowski

Morrison-Exon: John Quirk

State Chair: Janet Stewart and Stephanie Matejka


Bob Kerrey CD1: Tom Havelka

Bob Kerrey CD2: Susan Tafini

Bob Kerrey CD3: Bud Pettigrew

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Paige Hutchinson

John F. Kennedy: Jose Jimenez

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Dennis Crawford

Hall of Fame: Senator Paul Hartnett

Morrison-Exon: Sharlette Schwenninger

Sunshine: Kathy Moore-Jensen

State Chair: Charlene Ligon


Bob Kerrey CD1: Ellen Moore

Bob Kerrey CD2: Ramona Lisa Fricke

Bob Kerrey CD3: Ismael Valadez

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Meg Mikolajczyk

John F. Kennedy: Marque Snow

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Tom Tilden

Hall of Fame: Dave Newell

Morrison-Exon: John Yoakum

Sunshine: Dave Domina

State Chair: Andy Holland


Bob Kerrey CD1: Marta Nieves

Bob Kerrey CD2: Bryon Line

Bob Kerrey CD3: Shaun Baker

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Jeremy Nordquist

John F. Kennedy: Lacey Merica

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Jim “Doc” Moore

Hall of Fame: Senator Bob Kerrey

Morrison-Exon: Charlene Ligon

Sunshine: Amanda McGill

State Chair: Deena Province


Bob Kerrey CD1: Jon Rehm

Bob Kerrey CD2: Susan Tafini

Bob Kerrey CD3: Terry Sigler

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Bob Holmstedt

John F. Kennedy: Rebekah Caruthers

 Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Peg O’Dea Lippert

Hall of Fame:

Morrison-Exon: Jeff Leanna

Sunshine: Joey Adler

State Chair: Ken Mass


Bob Kerrey CD1: Mary Herres

Bob Kerrey CD2: Shelisa Minnifield

Bob Kerrey CD3: Deena Province

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service:

John F. Kennedy:  Bri McLarty

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:  Lanny Munson

Hall of Fame: Benjamin Nelson

Morrison-Exon: Bud Pettigrew

Sunshine: Chuck Hassebrook

State Chair:


Bob Kerrey CD1: Bennie Shobe

Bob Kerrey CD2: Joe Higgins

Bob Kerrey CD3: Judy Vohland

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Jim Rogers & Missy Wigley

John F. Kennedy: Karlee Coleman

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Joan Killingsworth

Hall of Fame: Don Eret

Morrison-Exon: Bill Forsee & Christa Yoakum

Sunshine: Jane Raybould

State Chair: Mayor Jim Suttle


Bob Kerrey CD1: Becki Gaston

Bob Kerrey CD2: Charlene Ligon

Bob Kerrey CD3: Frank Johannsen

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Danielle Conrad

John F. Kennedy: Crystal Rhoades

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Ted Kessler

Hall of Fame: James Quigley

Morrison-Exon: Tom Brown

Sunshine: Jan Osten

State Chair: John Yoakum


Bob Kerrey CD1: John Yoakum

Bob Kerrey CD2: Sandi Skorniak

Bob Kerrey CD3: Bud Pettigrew

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Mark Fields

Hall of Fame: Mike Fahey

John F. Kennedy: Jessica Rathbun

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Kyle Michaelis

Morrison-Exon: Carol Blood

Special Services to the State: John Berge

State Chair: Chris Jerram


Bob Kerrey CD1: Vic Covalt

Bob Kerrey CD2: Peg O’Dea Lippert

Bob Kerrey CD3: Carolee Koehn

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Donna Noll

Hall of Fame: Don Preister

John F. Kennedy: Heath Mello

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Vince Powers

Morrison-Exon: Marion Bahensky


Bob Kerrey CD1: Rick Carter

Bob Kerrey CD2: Phyllis Ebey

Bob Kerrey CD3: Mike Zgud

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Selma Mesner

Hall of Fame: Colleen Seng

John F. Kennedy: Jeremy Nordquist

Kathleen Fahey Young Democrats of Service: Bill Avery

Morrison-Exon: Duane Jones