Carolyn German has to look only as far as her family for strong examples of service to others.
On Saturday night, she was recognized for her volunteer work and her family's history of service and leadership when she was crowned the 117th queen of Ak-Sar-Ben at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation and Scholarship Ball at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
Carolyn, 21, is the daughter of Karen and Cal German of Omaha. Her father, president and CEO of DMSI Software in Omaha, has provided funding and leadership for construction of university dorms for impoverished students in the Philippines, and her mother is an active community volunteer through the Ak-Sar-Ben organization and other groups.
Carolyn will graduate during the 2014-15 school year from Creighton University and is studying English. She wants to teach at the high school level, and ever since she was a teenager has been involved in helping young people.
“She has a big heart,'' her mother said.
As a student at Omaha Duchesne High School, she worked with classmates to raise money to purchase computers and help pay tuition for students attending Catholic school in Africa.
The summer after her sophomore year of high school, she traveled with classmates to Uganda to visit the school and students who benefited from the fundraising efforts.
Carolyn said she was struck by both the similarities and differences between her and her classmates and the African students. The Omaha and African girls liked the same kinds of music and fashion, and shared a desire for a good education. But the students in Africa faced hardships, such as the loss of family members to AIDS.
“A lot of them were having to grow up a lot sooner than we would,” Carolyn said.
Carolyn visited the computer labs equipped with help from the Duchesne fundraising. She also heard the African students describe how their education, paid for with help from the fundraising, gave them a boost for their future.
She said it was a strong reminder of how volunteer work makes a differences in people's lives.
She also has helped with literacy efforts. Carolyn started her college career at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and with her sorority she raised money for literacy programs in the community.
Part of that effort involved a book drive for local schools.
Carolyn stays active in other ways. She ran her first marathon earlier this month in Minneapolis and this summer started taking flying lessons.
But she said helping others is the most fulfilling part of her life, and she learned the importance of it from her father, mother and grandparents.
Her paternal grandfather, Lee German, was a missionary bush pilot in the Philippines in the 1950s and 1960s. He flew food, medical supplies and missionaries into remote tribal areas. Her grandfather, who was originally from Cozad, Neb., also flew sick villagers to hospitals in Manila and other cities in the country.
Carolyn's father, Cal, was born in the Philippines and lived there until his family moved back to Nebraska in 1971.
In 2010, Carolyn, her father and grandfather traveled to the Philippines, and she saw the villages that benefited from her grandfather's missionary work decades ago.
On that trip, her father saw the need for housing for college students and provided funds to build dorms in the city of Bambang in the north-central area of the Philippines' main island. The first dorm was completed in 2011.
A second dorm was completed this summer. Carolyn's grandfather provided the bulk of the money for that dorm, and her father gave some as well.
Carolyn also learned about serving others from her mother, Karen, and her side of the family.
Karen has been involved in the Ak-Sar-Ben organization, and she said the group's scholarship program gives young people a boost. The program provides $300,000 in scholarships a year.
Karen also has served the community through her work with Christ Child Society, Omaha Symphony Guild Debutante Ball Committee, the Archbishop's Committee for Development and other organizations. She and Cal also were co-chairs twice for Conge, the annual fundraiser for Duchesne.
Karen's father, Eugene Witt, was a founding member of the Christ the King Educational Trust. His other community involvement included serving on the board of the Christ Child Society.
He was also a big believer in the importance of Catholic education and a college degree, even though he didn't go to college. All six of his children attended Catholic schools and graduated from college.
Karen's mother, Josephine, served the community through the Christ Child Society, the Bergan Mercy Auxiliary Board and other organizations.
Carolyn said she hopes she can continue the good work started by her parents and grandparents.
“They set a good example of giving back,'' she said. “I saw their contributions.”