Bill and Evonne Williams have been driving force behind Honor Flights, memorial display
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Bill and Evonne Williams the most patriotic couple in Nebraska.
The Omaha couple has been the driving force behind the Honor Flights that have transported more than 3,300 Nebraska veterans back to the U.S war memorials in Washington, D.C.
The duo is now working on another project, which they unveiled in Lincoln in July and nationally, in Washington, D.C. at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on September 7. It’s called the Remembering Our Fallen memorial – a large photo display depicting more than 4,500 servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and related missions since Sept. 11, 2001.
When completed, the memorial will include almost 7,000 Fallen on 40-45 Tribute Towers, each one 10 feet tall and featuring three double-sided banners with military and personal photos of each service member.
For all their patriotic endeavors, the Williams will be recognized on Sept. 28 as the Omaha Press Club’s 154th Face on the Barroom Floor. It shapes up to be one of the more memorable Face events in Press Club history.
“This is truly a special couple,” said Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association and an OPC board member. “They’ve given thousands of veterans the opportunity to go to our nation’s capital and reflect and observe the monuments that they helped to erect because of their service.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for these people, and for many of them, it’s probably the last time they will be able to visit. They get to kneel down in front of the monuments and pray – for the families, our nation and the world. It’s a chance for them to give thanks to those whose names are on the memorials.
“The Williams made all this happen, but they would be the first to say, ‘Oh, but a lot of people helped us.’ That’s the Nebraska way.”
The Williams will be roasted and toasted by a group of roasters that includes two past Faces on the Barroom Floor, the couple’s four sons, and two Honor Flight volunteers.
The two past Faces are Hal Daub (No. 23 – June 1983) and Gary Sadlemyer (No. 115 – Feb. 2008). A partner in the Husch Blackwell law firm and a member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Daub will serve as emcee.
For Sadlemyer, a longtime radio personality for KFAB-AM, it’s an opportunity to pay homage and get some laughs at the expense of one of his favorite couples.
“They are fabulous, wonderful people,” he said. “I knew Evonne first, and it was easy to see what a quality person she was. Then, I met Bill when they started the Honor Flights project, and their work with Patriotic Productions has only amplified my feelings toward them.”
The two Honor Flight volunteers are Bob Scudder and Rick Lienemann. The Williams’ four sons – Ben, Tom, Sam and Max – will be the concluding roasters.
Although neither Bill nor Evonne served in the military, all four of their sons served in the military – two in the Army and two in the Marines.
The Williams both grew up in rural communities where volunteering and helping others was a way of life. Bill was born in Ames, Iowa, and grew up in Red Oak, Iowa. Evonne grew up on a farm near Byron, Neb. They met when Bill was a teacher at Evonne’s high school. They have been married for 36 years.
A 1973 graduate of Dakota State College in Madison, S.D., Bill served as a social studies teacher and coach at Byron High School and Chester-Hubbell (Neb.) High School. He also was director of student services at Nebraska College of Business in Omaha and later held a sales position with Cox Cable and served as a Yellow Pages consultant.
A 2003 graduate of Bellevue University, Evonne worked in the insurance industry for 16 years and was executive director of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska for 16 years. She also served as deputy director and later interim director at the Strategic Air & Space Museum for about three years.
In 2011, the Williams co-founded Patriotic Productions, the non-profit organization that has been responsible for the Honor Flights and the Remembering Our Fallen Memorial. They work out of their home, tirelessly collecting photos and background information on fallen soldiers.
Among their numerous awards, the Williams were recognized as Distinguished Nebraskalanders by the NEBRASKAland Foundation in 2016 and as Midlanders of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald in 2013.
The Face event is open to the public. Reservations can be made by calling 402-345-8008. Cost is $50 for OPC members and $60 for non-members.