History / Regions


Merrymakers was born out a belief in the positive impact of music. Area performers had been performing in nursing homes for hire on a sparse and irregular basis due to a lack of a dedicated budget.

Sandy Lemke, Executive Director of Merrymakers, said the founder, Jim Johnson, a local entertainer, saw the transformative effect of his music on his audience and wanted to reach more people on a regular basis.

“Lights were going on inside these people that hadn’t been turned on in years,” Lemke said. “Something big was happening and we knew we had to grow this further.”

The Merrymakers Association began serving the seniors in nursing homes in 1986 when Johnson met with a group of Omaha businessmen to form an organization dedicated to bringing quality music and laughter to seniors on a regular basis.

That year, eight nursing homes were given ten performances for the year.

Slowly this dream to provide the elderly and seniors with musical entertainment began to grow. Each year, more and more residents receive the benefit of Merrymakers’ free entertainment.

Today, Merrymakers serves more than 50,000 elderly and seniors with free musical entertainment annually.

In 2020, 153 facilities receive Merrymakers musical programming.


Merrymakers serves the entire state of Nebraska and western and central Iowa.

Roast/Toast History

Merrymakers founders saw that demand for performances was growing, and that the only way to meet demand was to increase revenues. They decided on a format that was unique to the Omaha area, a roast of prominent residents. Starting in 2015, the Roast became a “Toast.” The distinguished honorees are as follows:

  • 1991 Ben Nelson
  • 1992 Del Weber
  • 1993 Bob Kerrey
  • 1994 Chip Davis
  • 1995 Dr. Lee Simmons
  • 1996 J. James Exon
  • 1997 Walter Scott, Jr.
  • 1998 Reverend Michael G. Morrison
  • 1999 Bruce Lauritzen
  • 2000 Michael Yanney
  • 2001 Chuck Hagel
  • 2002 Ken Stinson
  • 2003 Dana Altman
  • 2004 Mary Maxwell
  • 2005 Mike Fahey
  • 2006 David Sokol
  • 2007 Dick Holland
  • 2008 Mogens Bay
  • 2009 Susan Jacques
  • 2010 Bruce Rasmussen
  • 2011 John P. Nelson
  • 2012 Sid Dinsdale
  • 2013 Tom Fangman
  • 2014 Cyndy Peacock
  • 2015 Michael Simmonds
  • 2016 Greg McDermott
  • 2017 Hal Daub
  • 2018 Stephanie and Jack Koraleski
  • 2019 Eldora and Jack Vetter