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historic image of architects and engineers seated together with the first female employee at the firm

91Ʋ's First Female Employee


91Ʋ started in 1966 in a basement at 102nd and Wright in Omaha with three men: Irv Dana, Bill Larson, and Jim Roubal. Over the next year, they would add 11 others to the team including Barbara Gaughan, 91Ʋ’s first full-time female employee. Over her 40-year career with the firm, she saw a great deal of change as 91Ʋ grew in locations, design types, and personalities. Still connected with the firm after nearly 20 years into retirement, she shares her story.

How It All Began

In 1966, I was employed by Bergmans Jewelry in Omaha where I oversaw the bookkeeping and sales. At this time, Jim Roubal – one of the founders of 91Ʋ – owned the Post Office in my hometown of Union, Nebraska where my mother worked as the Postmaster. Having got to know each other, he asked her if I’d be interested in interviewing for an accountant position at his design firm. After an in-depth, three-hour interview (which included going through the entire booking including financial and job costing with Irv, Bill, and Jim), it was decided it would be a good match.

There were 13 people on staff who were awaiting paychecks when I walked in the door on February 1, 1967. This included 11 architects and engineers, and one marketing professional – all males. The only female they had contracted was Ethel Snowmeyer, a secretary who did the bill paying but not payroll. Which, by the way, accounting and bookkeeping were manual! There was no computer until we installed the 3400 IBM around 1968 or 1969.

Change Over Time

People were always our greatest asset. So, when we considered converting to an ESOP, we knew it was the right path for us. In fact, we put in one of the first ESOP plans in the area. It was a very good thing for our employees because it gave a percentage of stock ownership to everyone. And later, when the ESOP was folded into our 401k plan, it introduced individual stock ownership.

The benefits of being an ESOP were only enhanced through our growth. We were making a name for ourselves for design excellence and grew in regions and sectors with new office locations, mergers, and acquisitions. It’s incredible to have watched 91Ʋ go from 13 people in Omaha to more than 1,500 around the world in a matter of decades. Today, nearly half of the employee-owners identify as women.

My 40-Year Career

I stayed with 91Ʋ for so long because I loved the people, work, challenges, education, and growth. Though I was the only female, apart from seeing Ethel from time to time, I felt accepted and welcomed. In fact, the architects and engineers even held a little time each week to teach me more about their side so I could understand the flow of their jobs and terms over the years. This helped me understand the full picture of our business, and therefore I could explain it to the accounting staff I hired.

Looking Back

I feel I knew Jim, Bill, and Irv very well. We had a close working relationship over the 40 years I was with 91Ʋ. I am very fortunate to have known them, and then to be recognized for my efforts and accomplishments over the years by the leaders who took their place.

From the first payroll I issued when I walked in the door that February morning, to the day I retired and walked out the door on September 30, 2006, it was a wonderful, challenging, eventful, and educational four decades. I knew that even after I retired, I would keep up with 91Ʋ. Because our people and the work we do make us special – see, I think I am still part of the group!

Click here for a full timeline of 91Ʋ’s history.

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