District Communications - News Room

20
Villamonte Inducted into Benson High School Hall of Fame

By Tom O’Connor

Communications Committee

Installation into a Hall of Fame is perhaps the ultimate endorsement that an individual has achieved a successful career and life.

With his recent induction into the Omaha Benson High School 2019 Hall of Fame, Steve Villamonte, executive director of the Omaha Press Club (OPC), now has two Hall of Fame honors on his résumé. In 2014, the Omaha Restaurant Association inducted him into its Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame.

“This is truly a great honor for Steve,” said Jeremy Maskel, president of the OPC. “It acknowledges the great work he has done at the Omaha Press Club for the past two decades. Our entire organization is proud of him.”

Villamonte, a 1980 graduate of Benson High School, was one of eight people inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame class.

“I was blown away, since I only attended Benson my senior year,” Villamonte said. “It was a night I will never forget. One of the people honored – Kelly Johansen (1971) - was a computer engineer who contributed to the national defense with his work on top-secret projects. Another was Andre Woolridge (1992), who is the all-time leading scorer in Nebraska Class A basketball. It’s pretty humbling to be included with them.”

One of the other inductees, Ingrid Jordon-Thaden (1993), is the director of the Botany Garden and Greenhouses at the University of Wisconsin and the daughter of longtime Omaha Press Club anchors Steve and Helen Jordon.

Villamonte spent his first three years of high school at Chatham High School near Springfield, Illinois. After his parents divorced his junior year, his mother decided to move back to Omaha where Steve enrolled at Benson High School.

“My dad was a hot-tempered Peruvian chef who moved from club to club with the same general manager,” Villamonte said. “Our family only had one car, so in the summer my father would bring me and my two brothers to work and drop us off at the pool. When the pool closed, my dad had to start his second shift, so he would put us to work in the kitchen. I’ve been working in kitchens since I was five years old.”

A graduate of Bellevue University, he was one of only two certified executive chefs in Nebraska in1984. While going to college, he worked as a cook at the Happy Hollow Club. He later served as the executive chef of the Lakeshore Country Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa. From 1991-1999, he was the executive chef and operations director for the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s food service division. In 2000, he started his own catering operation – Villamonte’s Cuisine.

Before he became executive director in 2000, the Omaha Press Club was struggling and had considered closing because First National Bank of Omaha had largely subsidized it. With Villamonte at the helm – and his wife, Christine, as the restaurant and events manager – the club has been able to operate in the black for nearly all of the past 20 years.

During his time at the Omaha Press Club, Villamonte established a government trademark for his father’s Thunderbird Salad Dressing and started manufacturing Thunderbird and Blackstone Reuben Dressing for commercial and retail sales. The Thunderbird Salad is a staple at the Omaha Press Club and Sysco, U.S. Foods and Hy-Vee stores sell Villamonte’s branded dressing.

Among his other accomplishments, Villamonte is proud to say he has:

· Mentored several chefs who have gone on to become industry leaders,

· Founded the Ron Sailors Culinary Scholarship in honor of one of his closest friends in the restaurant business who died in an accident. An annual fundraiser has raised more than $135,000 in scholarship funds and helped established a lifetime endowment,

· Earned a black belt in karate and won gold and silver medals at the Midwest National competition,

· Been a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. His family includes three sons, a daughter and two grandchildren, and

· Coached youth sports (wrestling, football, karate, baseball and basketball) for more than 20 years.

Congratulations to Steve Villamonte!
Posted in: News
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |