August 22, 2014

Benedictine sisters to bestow Angel of Grace awards

By Natalie Hoefer

Throughout the Bible, three archangels are listed by name: Gabriel, messenger of good news to Mary and Zechariah; Michael, defender of heaven who cast the devil into hell; and Raphael, the traveling companion of Tobias.

For the last seven years, the Sisters of St. Benedict in Beech Grove have found three women who have heroically served in the roles of messenger, defender and companion, and recognized their service with an “Angel of Grace” award.

This year’s recipients are Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis co-founder Donna M. Oklak for the “messenger” Archangel Gabriel Award; former first lady of Indiana Judy O’Bannon for the “defender” Archangel Michael Award; and The Good House volunteer Lori Hofmann for the “companion” Archangel Raphael Award.

These women will receive their award at a fashion show and luncheon fundraiser honoring all women and benefiting women’s programs at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove. The event will take place at Primo Banquet Hall on the south side of Indianapolis from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 27.

Fashions by The Secret Ingredient in Indianapolis will be modeled by friends of the Benedict Inn and will be available for purchase, with 10 percent of the proceeds going toward the women’s programs at the center. Raffles will also be held for gift baskets and a week’s stay at a home on Lake Michigan.

Here are the stories of this year’s messenger, defender and companion.

Archangel Gabriel Award winner Donna M. Oklak

Donna M. OklakWhile Donna M. Oklak was “surprised and pleased” to hear she was chosen to receive the Archangel Gabriel Award, she is more comfortable with giving than receiving.

Oklak is a co-founder of Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis, “a charitable women’s giving circle dedicated to awarding high impact grants to nonprofits in our community in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment, family, and health and wellness,” according to the organization’s website.

Women contribute $1,000 as individuals or a group to join the giving circle each year. They then join committees representing the different nonprofit areas listed above.

“Through the process of learning about the community, each committee selects one final applicant, then all of the women decide collaboratively by consensus who will get that year’s $100,000 [grant],” Oklak explained.

Since its founding in 2006, Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis has given 11 $100,000 grants totaling more than $1.4 million, including a few small grants with leftover funds given to runner-up organizations.

Oklak, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis, received her master’s degree in philanthropic studies 15 years ago.

“I worked on a nonprofit recognition program called the Indiana Achievement Awards,” she said. “That’s where I got this idea of being a program officer. I got to read applications from all these nonprofits doing fantastic things. [Creating Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis] allowed me to have that same job.”

Oklak said she is proud of the fact that the women are “really good through the process of consensus in identifying nonprofits ready for an infusion of cash. We give them that stamp of approval, and they’re ready to really blossom after our gift.”

Spreading the message of giving has helped Oklak assist women in shaping the world around them.

“This [organization] is a great tool for women to discern and make strategic giving decisions so money can go out to help the community.”

Archangel Michael Award winner Judy O’Bannon

Former first lady of Indiana Judy O’BannonFormer first lady of Indiana Judy O’Bannon is still a first lady when it comes to defending the self-worth of Hoosiers and the needs of the elderly.

Having traveled to more than 40 countries on mission and delegation trips, it would seem that O’Bannon’s inclination is to remove herself from the Hoosier state.

Rather, she said, “There is a lot for people in Indiana to learn from” those other places, particularly areas that don’t see much hope.

“I’m always equating things I see [on my trips],” she said, particularly in Moldova, which she has visited 12 times. “There they have a victim mentality, a survival mentality. How do we relate those things to small towns in Indiana, where we see populations dwindling and stores closing? What do we do?”

O’Bannon takes a video camera and creates documentaries to address such questions. Her efforts have earned her three Emmy Awards.

At 79, O’Bannon, who recently wed 84-year-old Don Willsey, is also concerned with the adaptations required of seniors to function in today’s world.

“Seniors are out and about and doing stuff, not living just in their kid’s spare bedroom,” she said. “We need to do city planning so we’re less car-dependent. We’ve made it now so that even in small towns you have to get in a car to get to Walmart.

“We need places where people can be connected and walk outside to talk to people, or walk to the hair dresser or the grocery. You have to be picked up by the jitney [a small bus] that takes you where it’s going, which may not be where you want to go.”

O’Bannon said she feels fortunate to receive the Archangel Michael Award.

“I was surprised that [the Sisters of St. Benedict] would consider me to be somebody who’d be worthy. The work they do is so important. I just never thought of being attached to something so special.”

Archangel Raphael Award winner Lori Hofmann

Lori HofmannBecky Armbruster has a good companion in her niece, Lori Hofmann. So do all of the families who benefit from Hofmann’s assistance at The Good House.

The Good House is a renovated home in downtown Indianapolis providing short-term housing for patients traveling from outside the city to undergo bone marrow transplants at Indiana University Hospital. It was started in 2012 by Armbruster, Hofmann’s aunt, as a way to give back for the care her deceased husband received at the hospital.

“Around that time, I ran the Moms Group at St. Barnabas [Parish in Indianapolis],” said Hofmann, who is still a member of the parish with her husband and their four daughters. Lisa Latimer—one of the Moms Group’s members and a friend of Hofmann’s—had passed away from leukemia.

Hofmann co-founded and now operates Lisa’s Warriors, a group of about 200 volunteers providing assistance to The Good House by bringing meals to the patients, creating welcome baskets, cleaning and helping with upkeep of the home. Hofmann, who works full time, also coordinates donations and does fundraising for the organization with her aunt.

“I work with bone marrow transplant nurses and cancer social workers at [Indiana University Hospital]. I work with the patients when they need things.

“But I wouldn’t be able to do it without all of our volunteers.”

The Good House and its residents have had an impact on Hofmann.

“I’ve grown from getting to know amazing people that have gone through so much, and seeing people that thrive out of these terrible situations that I’ve been fortunate enough not to have to go through, and they’re still able to overcome and give back.”

Hofmann said she felt “extremely honored and humbled, and a little embarrassed” about receiving the Archangel Gabriel Award.

“It’s become a passion of mine,” she said. “But also it’s done so much more for me.”

(Tickets for the Angels of Grace fundraiser are $35 per person. Fashions by The Secret Ingredient will be modeled and available for purchase, with 10 percent of proceeds going toward the women’s programs at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center. The event includes raffles for gift baskets and a week’s stay at a home on Lake Michigan. For reservations or questions, contact the Benedict Inn at 317-788-7581 or

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