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Born in Venezuela, James Walbridge’s father is from upstate New York, and his mother is from Cali, Colombia. James grew up in Miami, has a degree from the University of Florida and ran a successful company in San Francisco. So, how did he end up in Nebraska?

Would you believe a chance meeting with someone at a conference in North Carolina?

Walbridge is director for civic architecture and manager of HDR’s office in Lincoln. HDR is an Omaha-based firm with offices throughout the world focused on helping find solutions to the world’s greatest problems. The company’s portfolio includes power and energy, transportation, education, justice, communities and more.

Walbridge joined the firm in 2016, but that’s really not what brought him to Lincoln.

So, about that chance meeting in North Carolina ... Walbridge is an architect by formal training and experience. In 2002, he attended a meeting of the American Institute of Architects in North Carolina, and that’s where he met Sara Kay from Nebraska. He was a partner in an architecture and construction company in San Francisco; she was the head of AIA in Nebraska.

A few phone calls and emails later, “I decided the best way to get to know her was to just show up in Nebraska, so I arranged to surprise her during a luncheon meeting she was having in Lincoln,” noted Walbridge. “I flew to Nebraska, then just walked into the restaurant and walked up to her table. We really hit it off, eventually got married, and that’s what brought me here.”

But, there’s more. The marriage survived more than a dozen years with Walbridge still living in California but traveling to Lincoln several times a month. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve of 2016 that he moved to Nebraska.

“I showed up with all my stuff in the back of a truck and went to work in January for HDR,” said Walbridge. “And it’s been great. We’re doing work for the Lincoln Public Libraries, the Johnny Carson Center for New Media Arts and several other projects.”

When he was in Nebraska, before selling his company and moving here, Walbridge attended AIA Nebraska functions with Sara.

“Making those connections through Sara’s involvement really led me to the opportunity with HDR,” he said. “And, my experience with the Leadership Lincoln Executive Series gave me an even greater understanding of the civic, government, business and nonprofit aspects of Lincoln.” He added, “The incredible involvement of people in this community lures you in. So many people are involved in so many ways, you just want to be involved.”

Spending his early years in Venezuela, growing up in South Florida, then attending the University of Florida, moving to the West Coast, doing business in the Bay area … Walbridge said he never really had the opportunity to experience a community the way he has Lincoln.

“I’m a chameleon,” he said. “Drop me anywhere and I’ll do fine.”

Indeed, in his less than two years full-time in Nebraska, he’s helped grow HDR’s footprint in Lincoln, plugged into a number of Lincoln organizations including Leadership Lincoln, and helped get Sara’s son Matthew off to a good start at UNL.

James Walbridge – truly a community chameleon, adapting and plugging in wherever life has taken him.

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L Magazine editor

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