In an ideal 2020, Louise Niemann would have been told that she was elected to the national United Methodist Women board of directors at the group’s South Central Jurisdiction meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, with friends and colleagues gathering around to congratulate her.
Instead, she got a phone call at her David City, Nebraska, home in mid-July to tell her that she gained enough votes – 50%, plus one, of the delegates – to be elected to the national position.
“There wasn’t anyone there to reinforce it. If I was in Little Rock, there would be people around me and I would be excited and happy,” she recalled of getting the news.
To make matters worse, she had to keep mum for a few hours.
“Until they can verify the ballots later that evening, you can’t tell anyone,” Niemann said. “You’re thinking, did it really happen?”
Indeed, it did, and from 2021-2024, she will be one of 25 directors – five from each jurisdiction, four elected and one appointed woman – for the national UMW.
Niemann was modest about her election, especially after looking up the other candidates online and marveling at their accomplishments.
“Every one of them is worthy of that position. There isn’t anyone there who couldn’t do the job,” she said. “It’s a pretty awesome thing to be elected to.”
The board of directors, which meets twice a year, determines the four focus areas for UMW to concentrate on for the next quadrennium. For the four years ending in 2020, the focus areas were criminalization of people of color, economic inequality, climate justice and maternal health.
“It’s something that has global impact but something that can be addressed locally,” she said of the focus areas. “That’s part of the strength of United Methodist Women, where you’re working in your local community addressing issues but then we work around the world also.”
Even before the racial unrest at the beginning of the summer, Niemann said, discussions at the jurisdictional meeting were going to include matters including the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m kind of hoping we can tie up some loose ends around that” in further discussions, she said. “I really am looking forward to finishing up what I had started for the Little Rock quadrennial meeting.”
A mother of four and grandmother of eight, Niemann vividly remembers her first UMW meeting in the mid-1970s at St. Luke’s UMC in her hometown of David City.
She remembers the formality of women wearing hats and gloves, dining on china with fine silverware, but discussing topics at the time such as boycotting the Nestle corporation (for its aggressive marketing of breast milk substitute in underdeveloped countries), women’s rights and other women’s issues.
“It was so exciting, because a lot of women’s issues were going on at that time,” Niemann recalled. “To be able to go to a meeting and see them addressing those was something I did not think I would witness in a very conservative Nebraska community.
“I was just like, wow, this is a meeting for me,” she continued. “I had no idea this was something they were doing in the church basement.”
Since then Niemann has been president of the district and conference UMW, and program advisory group at the national level and as chairperson of the nominations committee for the South Central Jurisdiction.
“The leadership opportunities in United Methodist Women are fabulous, and if you say yes to them, you make very, very interesting relationships and have phenomenal experiences,” Niemann said.
Among those experiences was a 2016 trip to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to stand in solidarity with the Dakota Sioux natives opposing the pipeline crossing Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, along with officials from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
“Our friends at OIMC have nothing but phenomenal things to say about her,” Lisa Maupin said. “She really became an active voice and an active leader in that.”
Maupin, Great Plains Conference lay leader, is also chair of the nomination committee for the South Central Jurisdiction UMW for the upcoming quadrennium and is a longtime admirer of Niemann.
“Here’s this person who has this joy of servitude. She is a true servant leader and she has a passion for it and an enthusiasm, and an excitement and you can’t help but feel it.,” Maupin said. “Here’s a woman who has such a heart for leadership, but not just leadership – leadership of women in the church and in the community. That passion and that idea that leadership is also connected through her spirituality and faith and it comes out as her.”
Niemann has many natural talents, Maupin said, but has learned much more through the years.
“She has the passion, she has the vision, but she has the knowledge and the ability to communicate with people and relate to people,” Maupin said. “Our church is in a time and a place of unknown and unrest. So someone like Louise is a perfect person to help guide United Methodist Women through that.”
Working on behalf of women, children and families has been a priority for UMW in its 151-year history, Niemann said.
And it is something that will continue at the local, conference, jurisdictional and national level, she said.
“When you talk about United Methodist Women, the heart of the organization is that local unit,” she said. “The women do the work and the women pay those mission monies not only in their community but around the world. To me, that’s where the work is done and the money is given.
“I love it that at that local unit you invite your family and your local congregation and the community to be involved. I love that aspect of reaching out in missions,” Niemann continued. “That’s the piece of the local unit that’s most important to me.”
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