Generous couple helped Omaha grow great

The Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Memorial Foundation.

The Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Memorial Foundation

A granite mausoleum stands on a hill at Omaha’s Forest Lawn cemetery. Engraved above the door:


Beyond the glass are the names of a man and his wife and their child. The boy was just 4 years old when he died one March day in 1907. A few years after the boy’s death, the man and his wife – Clair and Mabel Criss – founded the company that grew into one of the biggest names in the insurance world, Mutual of Omaha. Over the years, Clair and Mabel gave back to Omaha. After they died, they continued to help the city through their foundation.

The Criss name is on the library at UNO. It’s on a seminar center in UNMC’s Durham Research Center. It’s on the Health Sciences Building at Creighton University. And it’s on the name of the foundation created in 1978, the year Mabel Criss died:

The Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Memorial Foundation.

Clair and Mabel grew up in Iowa, but lived most of their lives in Nebraska. Clair received his medical degree from Omaha’s Creighton Medical School in 1912. He sold insurance on the side to pay for his studies. While still in school he and Mabel acquired the charter of the Mutual Benefit Health & Accident Association, which later became Mutual of Omaha.

People liked Clair. They liked working for him. Though he wasn’t an extrovert, he gave much of his time to causes around Omaha. He belonged to Ak-Sar-Ben, the Elks and the Chamber of Commerce. He liked to hunt. He was considered a “great and good man of high vision,” according to the company’s announcement of his death in 1952:

“Kind, capable, patient, conscientious, and helpful, he leaves his name and memory forever engraved on all of our saddened hearts and indelibly imprinted on these great Companies that he founded and directed throughout his lifetime of effort. The works and spirit of Dr. Criss will never die.”

He wanted Omaha to “grow great.”

Mabel’s organizational and management skills helped the young company grow strong. She kept fresh flowers on her desk. She wanted the company to feel like a family.

Black-and-white photos from the ’50s show her smiling at wide-eyed children as they sit on Santa’s lap. Every year, she made sure that the kids of the company’s employees had a Christmas party, even though it must have been a difficult time of the year for her.

Their boy had been born on Christmas Eve.

Beyond the glass door of the mausoleum, you can see his name engraved:

Harry Mantz Criss.

He died of a blood infection in Bloomfield, a town in northeast Nebraska. Clair had been managing one of his father’s clothing stores at the time. According to his obituary in the Bloomfield Monitor, the boy had “seemingly never been in first class health.” A decade after his death, Clair and Mabel moved his casket to Omaha and interred it in the mausoleum.

He was their only child.

They’ve been gone for years. But because of their generosity, and their foundation, their good works live on. And so does their name.


Student support is a priority of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you, like the Crisses, also would like to support University of Nebraska students, please consider giving online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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