Behind-the-scenes star of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom dies

(Editor’s note: Don and Lorena Meier have been long-time scholarship donors and friends of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. See below for Lorena Meier’s obituary)

Don and Lorena Meier shared the honors as recipients of several Emmy Awards during the 25 years “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” aired on TV stations across America in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Lorena Meier died at age 100 on June 22, 2018. (Photo: Courtesy Don Meier)

From 1963 to 1987, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” was a Sunday night television staple for tens of millions of families across America. The show made host Marlin Perkins a household name and earned its creator and producer, Don Meier, well-deserved status as a creative visionary.

But behind-the-scenes, there was a low-profile star, Lorena “Lorie” Meier, Don’s wife for 68 years, who ran the business end with a firm hand and unfailing competence.

Sadly, on June 22, 2018, Lorie Meier died at age 100.

Don said, “without her, the success of Wild Kingdom couldn’t have happened.” Regardless whether Don was traveling into the wild, or back home, Lorie attended to all the financial matters at the company’s Chicago office. She dealt with the lawyers, bankers, insurance companies and ad agencies and occasionally helped in the film editing department.

Lorie Meier was bookkeeper for “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” during its 25 year television run. She frequently helped review and edit film for many episodes of the popular wildlife television program. (Photo Courtesy Don Meier)

“She was the General in charge of everything. She ran the place,” said Don. “It just naturally evolved that I could go any place in the world and take as long as it took, and I knew that things were being taken care of honestly and completely and efficiently, which she did.”

(Watch the documentary: “Exploring the Wild Kingdom”) 

Lorie was born in Warren, Ohio on September 26, 1917. She graduated from high school in Milwaukee and studied piano at Marquette University. In her early 20s, she worked as an executive assistant for top-level managers at Allis-Chalmers in Milwaukee, then moved to Chicago to take similar positions at various corporate offices.

She met Don during an industry/social event at the downtown Playboy Club in 1946, and in 1950 they married. She continued to work as an executive assistant at Esquire Magazine and then an advertising firm until teaming up with her husband after he formed Don Meier Productions.

“She was not only a wife, she was a partner, she was an advisor, she was a supporter. She was everything, and never for a moment did she relinquish that role. My life became full when I met her. There was never a time when I could not depend on her 100 percent and she the same way with me.” (Don Meier, husband of Lorie Meier) 

In her spare time, Lorie loved to garden and took great pride in bringing creative landscape designs to life. “The place used to look like a botanical garden,” said Don. “She had all these different species of flowers, and flower beds all around the yard but her favorite were always the daises.”

“My Great Aunt Lorena has always been a major inspiration to me,” said Lorie’s niece Kelsey Bennett. “She had her dreams, created goals to meet them, and through her tenacity, made her dreams come true.” Kelsey said.

“She was happy-go-lucky and vivacious and fun,“ said Lorie’s nephew, Bob Bennett. “She knew when to work hard and when to enjoy herself.”

“She was an incredibly loving, caring and compassionate woman, yet very down to earth,” said Doreen Pizzato, a former employee who remained her close friend for 49 years. “There wasn’t anything she did that she didn’t do incredibly well. She was one of the most classically elegant women I have ever known.”

Lorie and Don Meier are long-time donors to the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Don Meier earned his broadcast journalism degree from CoJMC. Over the year’s the Meier’s have continued to sponsor scholarships for dozens of CoJMC students.

“Our college could not have asked for greater friends and supporters than Don and Lorie,” said CoJMC professor Barney McCoy, producer of an hour-long documentary on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” “Their financial support of our college has made it possible for dozens of Nebraska students from across our state to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,” said CoJMC Interim Dean Amy Struthers. “The Meier’s legacy of giving will make it possible for many future generations of Nebraskans to afford a college education.”

Lorie Meier was the loving daughter of the late Marie and Marvin Olson and dear sister of the late Donald (the late Virginia) Bennett. She is survived by her beloved husband of 68 years, Donald Meier; her loving nieces and nephews; James (Denise) Bennett, Donna Bennett, Bob (Diane) Bennett, Lori Bennett, Mary Bennett (Eric Munkwitz) and many grand nieces and nephews. She is also survived by Don’s numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

A very special mention and “Thank You” to Lorie’s in-home caregiver Jessica Salinas, for all she did and meant to Lorie during the last year and a half of her life.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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