Since 1994-95, Opera Volunteers International has honored over 100 individuals and support groups who have made outstanding contributions to their opera companies and to their communities. Partners in Excellence recognition also may be extended to support groups to recognize an important milestone or achievement.  Recipients of a Partners in Excellence Award are recognized for their achievements at a meeting of the membership at an OVI Conference, and in OVI’s various publications.

Each Partner in Excellence has been recommended, in writing, by the president of an OVI member Support Group; two additional letters of recommendation are required from senior, appropriate, involved persons who are familiar with the individual or organization being nominated (eg, opera company general director or board president, music school department head, school district superintendent.)

Applicants can choose between two application formats: a Printable Microsoft Word document to fill out, save, and email in, or an Online Form featuring auto-save, so you can complete your form at your own pace. Your application is automatically forwarded to OVI, with a copy sent to you for your records.

Have a Question for our Partners in Excellence Director? Reach out via email:

Celinda Niggemyer:

Click here to download a Microsoft Word document of the application materials.


SANDI BRUNS  –  Opera Omaha

Sandi Bruns’s dedication to the opera community is truly commendable, spanning over three decades of passionate volunteerism.  Her journey began in 1985 when she took on the role of Vice President of Education for the Opera Omaha Guild, newcomers to the world of opera.  One of her notable contributions during this time was helping to establish “Opera and Entrees,” a social event featuring a speaker from the current opera, to make opera more accessible and enjoyable for all.  Bruns’s leadership skills and commitment to opera education didn’t go unnoticed, as she was elected President of the Opera Omaha Guild in 1987.  Her tenure was marked by solid leadership and a strong emphasis on education.  Such was her impact that Bruns was re-elected to serve a second term as President in 1994, further solidifying her legacy within the guild.

In addition to her local contributions, Bruns also made significant contributions at the national level.  She served on the OVI Board for more than two decades in various capacities, and as President from 2003-2006.  Her dedication was further evidenced by her involvement with the OPERA America Board during her time as OVI President.

Bruns remained committed to her roots in the Opera Omaha Guild.  Even after her tenure with OVI, she continued to play an active role within the guild, demonstrating her enduring dedication to the local opera community. Her contributions extended beyond the Guild as well, as she served on the Opera Omaha Board of Directors and chaired the Opera Omaha Council, further solidifying her reputation as a pillar of service and leadership within the organization.  Bruns currently serves as an Opera Omaha Advisor.  Sandi Bruns’s remarkable journey as an opera volunteer serves as an inspiration to all who value the arts and community engagement.  Her legacy of dedication, leadership, and service will undoubtedly continue to enrich the opera community for years to come.



KIRK HICKEY  –  Houston Grand Opera

Kirk Hickey has volunteered for fifteen years in multiple roles at Houston Grand Opera where he has truly shown his expertise and dedication helping the Guild and HGO become a major part of the opera world in Houston. He is always ready to step in and help with guild activities, from setting up fundraising auctions to handling publishing and advertising for the HGO guild and HGO. Kirk truly stands out as a volunteer who went to work and made a difference from his first day in the guild.  He joined the guild in 2009 just as we were planning our Spring Event which was a major fundraiser for the Guild.  With his background in advertising and publishing, he quickly offered to coordinate our silent auction. As the event chair, he immediately began soliciting donations and more volunteers.  He has truly made a difference in so many areas of the guild and other opera groups.

After the success of his first HGO Guild auction, Kirk took the position of VP-Marketing to oversee the marketing and publishing piece of the guild to build more outreach in the community. In 2015, the HGO Guild really reaped the rewards of Kirk’s advertising and publishing experience under his leadership. In addition to his knowledge and help in the advertising area, Kirk has volunteered in many other areas, including recruiting new members at the Volunteer Gathering.  His work soliciting donations for fundraising events has the added benefit of friend-raising for HGO among local businesses.  He is active in providing support for the YAVA program bringing in young singers to HGO for a week of classes and training. When the Boutique encountered some major changes this year, he stepped up to welcome customers and assist as a cashier. Once again, he decided to volunteer in an area where he can use his community outreach skills.  Kirk lives in the Heights area of Houston, and they have a small opera company called Opera in the Heights. They focus on providing young singers the opportunity to perform well-known Verdi and Puccini operas. They were looking for additional volunteers to assist, so again looking to help the company, Kirk joined the Opera in the Heights Guild and began to coordinate the concessions service selling coffee and cookies to generate much needed additional revenue for the company. At one point, he worked in the box office to arrange ticket purchases, and the director of the company asked Kirk if he would oversee the volunteer nurses who volunteer in exchange for free tickets for providing an in-house resource for medical emergencies.  There is one additional area where Kirk has brought tremendous help to the opera world.  He volunteers with the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition in the Houston area. He works checking in singers and guests, getting them to their practice areas, helping them on stage at the appropriate time, and celebrating with the winners.  Before the day of the competition, Kirk has created marketing materials for the event, so Houston is aware of the competition as well as creating a program guide for the day. His skills have no end, and he is tirelessly willing to give his time and talent to opera everywhere.


DR. ROBERT FEIBEL  –  Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Dr. Robert Feibel has been active with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in many capacities since its founding in 1976.  While maintaining an active practice as an ophthalmologist in St. Louis, he did more than buy a ticket and attend the operas from the beginning.  He joined the group of volunteers for Opera Theater of St. Louis and served as the second president of the “Opera Buffs” which is now known as the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Guild, participates in several committees throughout the year, and is an active member of OTSL’s Board of Directors.  His service has inspired others to participate.  Perhaps his most influential work has been his work as “The Opera Doc.” As a retired ophthalmologist, he has written articles and columns for the Guild’s newsletter under the name “The Opera Doc” since 1991.  Through his writings, he has interviewed dozens of directors, artists, composers, librettists, and more.  He has provided unique insight into topics from lighting and projections to sound design and vocal artistry, and even what it was like to hold a Festival Season in the parking lot during a pandemic.  He also creates the always fun Opera Doc columns that contain a quiz on OTSL and general opera history that people discuss for weeks on end.  Dr. Feibel has been a cornerstone of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for nearly 50 years, and he continues to find new ways to be involved.  You’re likely to see Bob anytime you have a reason to visit the theater building or the administration and rehearsal hall building.

TULSA OPERA GUILD  –  Tulsa Opera 75th Anniversary

Tulsa Opera is celebrating its 75th year of consecutive seasons in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It is the 12th oldest opera company in North America, and one of America’s Top 10 favorite regional opera companies according to Opera News magazine.  However, the story of opera and the foundations of Tulsa Opera begin with the city’s earliest settlers.  As Tulsa grew from cowtown to Oil Capital of the World seemingly overnight, the city attracted a sophisticated citizenry with a developed taste for the arts and culture.  In 1904, just six years after Tulsa was incorporated as a city, Gounod’s Faust was performed at the Epperson Opera House on Main Street – this is the city’s first documented opera performance.  As L. J. Martin, president of the Commercial Club and City of Tulsa founding father, famously commented in 1905, “Of course, we did not have any sewers or street paving, but these were luxuries that could wait, whereas an opera house loomed as an immediate necessity.”
In 1914, Convention Hall opened at the corner of Brady and Boulder, and for the next fifteen years, this venue, now known as Tulsa Theater, hosted many opera greats of that time. This includes the great tenor Enrico Caruso, who died shortly after his appearance at the Brady Theater, and who some say still haunts the building today.  Tulsa Opera, in its legendary history, has featured countless international opera stars, debuted several up-and-coming singers, and produced numerous extravagant performances.  Tulsa Opera works diligently to invest in the future of opera and has invested in Tulsa Youth Opera and collaborated with Tulsa Public Schools to create vocal music education programs.
The City of Tulsa highly regards the Tulsa Opera and The Guild of Tulsa Opera as the cornerstone to the Tulsa arts community and the ever-evolving cultural landscape of the city.  Tulsa Opera is an integral part of Tulsa’s past, present, and future.

PIE Archive

2023 Partners in Excellence

Arlene Alm – Twin Cities Opera Guild

Arlene Alm of Twin Cities Opera Guild and PIE winner 2023

Arlene Alm – Twin Cities Opera Guild

Arlene Alm has been a member of Twin Cities Opera Guild for 45 years, serving in many leadership roles since 1977. In addition, she has supported and promoted opera through her company, Ovation Opera Tours – opera tours between 1977 and 2017, leading people to opera in the US and opera tours throughout Europe, Some of her roles at Twin Cities Opera Guild include, 1993-2001 -TCOG Assistant Treasurer, 2001-2005 -TCOG President, and 2005-Present – TCOG Treasurer. She created a d mailing list of 2000 friends of opera and music education for TCOG. The guild has made grants totaling over $758,000 benefiting 208,000 students. “Arlene has gone above and beyond in her volunteer work because she also performs most of the duties that would normally be done by an executive director. The TCOG has been made better because of Arlene’s passion, commitment, and talent”. John Kupris


Lisa Hagstrom – Opera Omaha Guild

Lisa Hagstrom Opera Omaha Guild

Lisa Hagstrom
Opera Omaha Guild

Lisa Hagstrom was nominated by Opera Omaha and the Opera Omaha Guild for her over 25 years of volunteer activities. According to Deb Peterson, Opera Omaha Guild President, “Lisa’s time volunteering shows her love and commitment to her community, …[she] is always available to help when needed, all the while working full time and raising her family.” Her commitment to volunteering merits recognition with this achievement award. Lisa has served as OOG Marketing Chair, Membership Chair, Guild Vice President,2014 OOG Cotillion Chair, 2017 Cotillion involvement, 2006 and 2014 Guild President, and 2022 Opera Omaha Advisory Board. Lisa will attend the Awards Luncheon in Pittsburgh with her daughter, who is also active in Opera Omaha Guild’s Cotillion.



Vernie Jones      Opera Omaha Guild

Vernie Jones has long been a passionate and dedicated community leader. She joined the Opera Omaha Guild more than 20 years ago and held several board positions before becoming Guild President in 2005. During her tenure as President she greatly increased membership and created new fundraising opportunities with her leadership, time and talent, raising an impressive $137,000 for Opera Omaha, as well as providing fun and interesting social events for the opera community. . She has contributed to all areas of the Opera Study Group to bring community members together to learn more about and create support for Opera Omaha. Most recently she, along with a co-chair, revived Opera Omaha’s upcoming productions. successfully continued as a Zoom program

Nancy Martin       Peach State Opera 

Nancy Martin has been an invaluable, dedicated volunteer for more than 10 years with Peach State Opera. She offers to take on any job before she is asked and the list of jobs is long. Nancy’s been involved with making props, making marketing calls, inventory and making  of costumes, creating and typing supertitles, distributing tickets, enlisting and managing community groups to help with “front of house” needs, serving on the Advisory Board and more. She is always available as a “Jack of All Trades” volunteer. Nancy is known for filling in to do whatever is needed, along with a great sense of humor. The success, survival and growth of Peach State Opera has been partly due to Nancy’s initiative and can do attitude.

Jan Schueppert     Twin Cities Opera Guild

Jan Schueppert became a member of the Twin Cities Opera Guild in 1977. For over 44 years she has been a creative leader for the Guild. Jan has served as President twice, Fundraising Chairman, Newsletter Editor and vibrant cheerleader of opera education for youth. Opera education for youth has been her forte, identifying and guiding programs for all ages. She continues to this day to be an active and inspiring volunteer. The Twin Cities Opera Guild is alive and active in part because of her dedication as a volunteer. Jan has also represented Twin Cities Opera Guild as a member of OVI since 1986, serving on the board assisting opera companies with the development of Guilds.

Janet Sims      Houston Grand Opera Guild

Janet Sims has been a volunteer extraordinaire for Houston Grand Opera.  She is currently serving as Guild President for the second time. Janet has served as VP of the Houston Grand Opera Studio program, being involved as a Buddy for young artists and part of the Hospitality and Special Events. Program.  She has a passion for hospitality and has served many times as Chief Host for the Guild Artist Hospitality program. In appreciation of her years of Guild Board leadership Janet was named a Volunteer of Distinction 2009 and Volunteer of the Year 2010. Most recently in 2020 she was elected as a Lifetime Trustee of the Houston Grand Opera. Janet shows her love of opera by being a committed and active volunteer year after year.

Twin Cities Opera Guild 70th Anniversary

For over 70 years Twin Cities Opera Guild has been volunteering to offer financial and logistical support to opera companies, schools of music and a multitude of Twin City and Minnesota State organizations which perform and educate students and the general public about the art form of opera.  This is a long and impressive history of volunteer innovation and success. The Guild began in 1952 as an auxiliary Women’s Guild to promote opera and encourage attendance of the Saint Paul Civic Opera. An early focus, besides selling tickets for the season, was to enable high school students, Veterans Hospital patients and student nurses to see performances.

In the 1960’s the Guild originated “Candlelight Dinners” as their major fundraiser. The funds raised helped to expand the
promotion of performances and expand their opera education program. This event continues to be the major source of funds today supporting a major portion of annual grant awards totaling nearly $90,000.

In 1973 St Paul Opera Guild hosted the second Opera Guilds International Conference for 105 Guilds. During the same time period they hired professional singers from the New York Met to form an Artist in Residence Quartet to tour Minnesota Schools. The concept continues today through Fargo Moorhead Opera and the University of Minnesota Opera reaching students in 45 schools.

In 1976, the Saint Paul Civic Opera merged with Minnesota Opera and the name was changed to Twin Cities Opera Guild. The focus continues to be on music education, with many funded opera productions created especially for school tours. The Guild has been recognized locally and regionally for being both pioneers and current active supporters of music education in the field of opera.

2021 Partners in Excellence

2020 Partners in Excellence

Click here for a pdf list of PIE awardees since 1995