1/28/1946 – 10/8/2023

She brought art to underserved populations in Omaha through her work and advocacy.  A mentor, role model, leader, visionary, and mother to many.

Carolyn Owen Anderson, founder of the non-profit WhyArts, longtime advocate for accessibility and inclusivity in the arts, passed away  peacefully in her home surrounded by family from recently diagnosed esophageal cancer.

Through Carolyn’s eyes, equity, inclusion, empowerment and love drove her passion to build ideas and connect.  “I believe art is for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself,” Carolyn said.

Carolyn’s longtime history of work in the Omaha community spans decades and organizations; Monroe Meyer Institute, JP Lord School, Heartland Family Services, Great Plains Theater Commons, Circle Theater, No More Empty Pots, Benson Theater, Boys and Girls Club, Omaha Children’s Museum, Nebraska Good Beginnings, Lauritzen Gardens and more.

She is a Graduate of Northwestern University, with master’s in agency counseling and Ed.S. in school psychology from University of Northern Colorado.

In 2023, Carolyn received the “McDowall” award from Great Plains Theater Conference.  Carolyn is a past recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award from the Nebraska Arts Council for “Access to the Arts” in 2020.  She is a past YWCA Woman of the Year in the arts. November 2nd was officially declared “Carolyn Owen Anderson Day” by Mayor Stothert in 2019.  She received a Key to the City for her work bringing arts to the underserved in Omaha.

Carolyn’s continued dedication to the organizations she was passionate about continued until her very last days.

Carolyn is survived by her five children, their families, and her rescued Great Pyrenees Lucky.  Kalen Mehlman and John Lichtenberg (Phoenix) Ben, Lily, Isa, Gia,  Laurie and Charles Kay, Jr. (Omaha) ; Miles and Evie, Steve and Courtney Anderson (Kansas City); Will and *Liesel*   Tim Anderson and Katie Bestenlehner (Palatine, IL); Owen, Emmett, Parker, Lila,  Anna and Todd Swirczek (Omaha).

A Celebration of Carolyn’s Life will take place on Monday, October 16th, 11AM at the Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass Street).

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Omaha Community Playhouse in honor of the Owen Family Legacy.



  • Paula Wallace Posted October 9, 2023 2:50 pm

    A life well-lived. I am grateful for her advocacy, leadership, and love.

    • Dr. Hamza Haqqi Posted October 10, 2023 7:59 am

      She was a wonderful person.

  • Mary Beth Budz Posted October 9, 2023 4:45 pm

    I didn’t know Carolyn well, but our paths crossed occasionally. For me. she was a source of advice and experience to learn from. She will definitely be missed. She left a legacy that will continue on for many years to come. RIP.

  • Giesbrecht Penny Posted October 9, 2023 5:06 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of this great loss to your family and also to all the dear ones Carolyn ministered to in Omaha. She was a mentor and inspiration to me in so many ways!

  • Fran Sillau Posted October 9, 2023 5:55 pm

    My heart is with you all, Carolyn changed my life. I will miss her very much.

  • Jack Zerbe Posted October 9, 2023 6:17 pm

    Carolyn was always a generous and gentle teacher. Such a loss. I’m holding her entire family in the Light.

  • Janie York Posted October 9, 2023 6:49 pm

    I will never forget Carolyn! When I first started a textile arts business years ago the best advice I received was this…. If you want to do something in the arts you have to meet Carolyn Anderson. She has her hands in every art pie in Omaha! I did meet her and was enriched beyond words. I am so sorry to all her family for the loss of this magnificent woman.

  • John Pavel Posted October 9, 2023 7:50 pm

    Lady A was such a treasure! Thank you to the entire Anderson family for including me in your lives – your mom was so special. John

  • Sarah Hofschire Posted October 10, 2023 7:54 am

    Lady A was generous, direct, intelligent, funny, creative, an attentive listener and had an iron will. She would figure out a way to get something done. Period. A single mother who raised five exceptional children, she made space to mentor, care for and love many of the friends that passed through the Anderson household over the years. She also gave great hugs. What a life!

  • Dr. Hamza Haqqi Posted October 10, 2023 7:59 am

    I had the tremendous pleasure of studying under, developing under, and receiving mentorship from Carolyn Owen Anderson. She was a person who inspired so many people, and I’m pleased to have met her. She worked with WhyArts Inc., No More Empty Pots, Ronald McDonald House Charities in Omaha, Benson Theatre, and countless other nonprofit groups. In August, I had the privilege of saying goodbye to her at the Intercultural Senior Center. We appreciate your generosity and shall miss you very much my friend! I loved our coffee conversation and how it helped me understand the nonprofit world a lot more.

  • Michelle and Bryan Kort Posted October 10, 2023 8:33 am

    Sending love and prayers to you all. Your Mom was extraordinary and shines through all of you!

  • Michael Murphy Posted October 10, 2023 9:38 am

    A good woman, I knew whenever she called that she was offering me an opportunity to do something very good. I miss those calls, till we meet again, peace and love,

  • YVETTE SEMEDO Posted October 10, 2023 10:57 am

    I will keep you all in my prayers. Your mom was a wonderful person.

  • Ron Niederhaus Posted October 10, 2023 8:12 pm

    I truly loved working with Carolyn over the years. We had lots of laughs as we watched our children grow. I am at a loss for words. She raised a beautiful family that I love dearly. God has gained a saint.

  • Ron Niederhaus Posted October 10, 2023 8:20 pm

    Carolyn was a great friend of our family. We had many laughs over the years as we raised our families. I love her family. She was a community leader in so many respects. I pray the family finds comfort as she joins the saints

  • Melinda Eames Posted October 11, 2023 9:40 am

    My heart is so saddened, not only for myself, but for her family, our community and our state. It goes unspoken that her pride of her family, and her passion to make a difference drove her life every day.Carolyn will ALWAYS be immensely respected, valued, remembered and loved by soooooo many.
    Most of all,I will miss our wonderful friendship. Our monthly or bi-monthly get-togethers were always insightful, funny, and honest,….sharing everything going on in our lives.She would always say “ we must see each other soon, you make me laugh!” Carolyn made me laugh, as well, with her little know antics and trying to boss me around. She even had to see a picture of a walker I had to buy to advise me on the color I should get! She made me a smarter & better person.I am so blessed and proud to call this amazing woman my friend!
    She would say “ I’m not artistic at all” but look at the legacy she created! Carolyn ,herself, was a work of art! I miss her.

  • Olivia Escobedo Posted October 11, 2023 9:45 am

    First of all my condolences to the entire family of Carolyn. I had the pleasure of working in couple projects to Carolyn. She was absolutely passionate about arts and if you ever had the opportunity to sit with her you know exactly what I mean! She was creative, intelligent and just a sweet lady. My prayers to her entire family. Rest easy Carolyn.

  • Sandi and Bill Bruns Posted October 11, 2023 3:40 pm

    Omaha has lost a wonderful woman and a wonderful advocate for all that is good. Especially the arts. (You know I have always said that “in the end it will be the arts that save the world..”) She will be missed.

  • Paula Steenson Posted October 13, 2023 10:40 am

    Carolyn was an amazing woman to work with and I loved every moment that I had to work with her.

  • Audrey Woita Posted October 16, 2023 1:14 pm

    Everyone’s writing about Carolyn captured her completely. an iron will. tenacity to get things done and have fun. She made me believe in me. This world has lost an angel. Truly.

  • Hal France Posted October 17, 2023 6:10 am

    I met Carolyn when she served on the Opera Omaha Board of Directors. What she would build from her faith in the arts, her heart and her remarkable instincts was renarkable!

    Carolyn was dependable and true in her actions and support for people and the service she brought to our community. She could be seen at countless events and performances. She truly loved the arts but I always felt that Carolyn was present to support the artists, the art, and the message being shared. In holding to principles and creating action that delivered those principles in tangible and compassionate ways to people Carolyn set a high standard. Her life and work really mattered. We will all miss her presence in the community. She was a unique and strong person. My condolences to her five children and her family.

  • Jane Hill Posted October 21, 2023 6:04 pm

    I can’t believe she’s gone. A colleague, dear friend and my Omaha hostess when I came back to town. She hauled my suitcase up and down her stairs and hauled my spirits out of any dark moods. I loved her and will miss her deeply.

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