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Former Ameritas CEO JoAnn Martin dies

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JoAnn Martin, the former CEO of Ameritas, died Wednesday.

Her family announced in August that she had been diagnosed with a rare degenerative neurological disease that usually progresses rapidly.

Martin, a lifelong Nebraskan who grew up on a farm near Plainview, came to Ameritas in 1984, when it was then known as Bankers Life Nebraska. She started as an audit division manager and rose through the company, serving in various key leadership roles before being elected CEO in 2009.

Martin, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a business degree in 1975, retired in January of last year.

Under her leadership, Ameritas saw its assets grow by 61% and its number of customers increase by 75%.

Bill Lester, who succeeded Martin as CEO and also serves as president of the insurance and financial services company, said in a press release that the “entire Ameritas family is mourning the loss of a great friend and leader today.”

“JoAnn was a mentor to me and to many others. She encouraged us to grow as individuals and to always lead and serve with purpose,” Lester said. “She will be missed and fondly remembered by the many people whose lives she touched.”

In addition to her roles at Ameritas, Martin also served in a number of other business and community roles. Among them were chairwoman of the American Council of Life Insurers, chairwoman of the University of Nebraska Foundation board of directors and board member for publicly traded companies National Research Corp. and Nelnet.

Nelnet Executive Chairman Mike Dunlap said Martin was an “invaluable member” of Nelnet’s board of directors.”

“With the financial acumen she honed over more than a decade as CEO at Ameritas, she helped guide Nelnet through the complications and difficulties of the pandemic,” Dunlap said.

He also called her a “strong leader and a great friend.”

“We feel lucky to have known her and worked alongside her.”

Among the awards bestowed on Martin for her corporate and community leadership include her 2015 induction into the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame, 2018 Woman of the Year honor at the Lincoln Journal Star’s Inspire Awards, the Burnham Yates Citizenship Award from the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Nebraskan of the Year by Lincoln Rotary Club No. 14.

Ava Thomas, president and publisher of the Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald, called Martin a “servant leader.”

“She always put others first,” Thomas said. “She once said that her proudest moments were being able to watch others being recognized for their success and described good leadership as helping others and to learn and grow. She did that for me and countless others. My deepest condolences to the Martin family.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday that Martin was a pillar of the Lincoln community and trailblazer in the insurance industry.

“Her contributions to growing opportunities for Nebraskans have had a generational impact on the city. Susanne and I are keeping the Martin family in our prayers as we remember her life and legacy,” he said in a release.

Lincoln Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Birdsall called Martin “an instrumental leader In Lincoln’s growth and success.”

“She was selfless and generous person. Joanne was a mentor to many including myself. I will dearly miss her,” Birdsall said.

Martin is survived by her husband, Derrel Martin, two daughters and three granddaughters. Funeral services are pending.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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