The Donald and Lorena Meier Foundation of Chicago is making a major gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to create four endowed student scholarship funds and to expand and permanently endow 14 existing scholarship funds. The scholarships will benefit students across the University of Nebraska system who meet the criteria of each.
This article originally appeared on Nebraska Today.
To contribute to any of these Universities and specifically CoJMC at UNL, see the links below:
An additional gift of $755,000 from the Meier Foundation will support the construction of a new television studio and newsroom at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. It replaces an existing studio and will include a newsroom, television control area and three separate news sets. It will incorporate cutting-edge technology that supports live broadcasts or one-person productions.
A 1941 Husker alumnus, the late Donald “Don” Meier used estate planning to direct assets from his charitable foundation to provide significant support for the University of Nebraska. During their lives, Meier and his late wife, Lorena, gave regularly to the university and established 14 student scholarship funds, the first one being created in 1999.
“The generous support from Donald and Lorena Meier — during their lives and through planned giving — will help make the university even more accessible and affordable for thousands of students,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said. “Support for a new, state-of-the-art TV studio and newsroom will also offer a truly professional experience for journalism students.
“The philanthropic mark made by Don and Lorena on our students and the entire University of Nebraska system will continue for generations.”
The Donald and Lorena Meier Foundation has committed to transfer assets to the University of Nebraska Foundation over the next several years to fulfill the Meiers’ wishes of helping young people achieve their educational goals.
“Don and Lorena Meier cared deeply about Don’s alma mater and assisting students in achieving their own career success and enjoyment,” said David Shoub, president of the Donald and Lorena Meier Foundation. “Over the next 25 years, the foundation plans to provide an estimated $10 million in support of student scholarships to fulfill the charitable wishes of Don and Lorena. We’re pleased to be carrying forth their aspirations in making a University of Nebraska education possible for more promising students for generations to come.”
Don and Lorena Meier had distinguished media careers that included the production of award-winning national network television shows, the most popular and long running being Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” and “Zoo Parade.”
“Wild Kingdom” was an Emmy-winning wildlife documentary program starring Marlin Perkins that aired from 1963 to 1971 on NBC, after which it entered syndication. Episodes of the program air on RFD-TV, with new and updated content across many of its digital properties.
Meier also produced “Zoo Parade,” a 1950s NBC program featuring animals from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Prior to producing these programs, Meier served as an NBC producer for several local programs and events, including television broadcasts of Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball games.
Don Meier’s interest in supporting student scholarships was influenced by his own experience at the University of Nebraska. During his lifetime, he considered different ways to support the university but was especially drawn to opportunities for scholarships or other projects that directly benefit students.
“I had no other dream than to go to the University of Nebraska,” he told the university in 2008 in announcing his plans for significant support of student scholarships.
Don Meier’s dream did not come easy. He worked off and on during college, sometimes taking up to a year off to work or to return home to Oshkosh, Nebraska, where he had a job as a high school librarian. He completed his college education in six years.
“I remember my own struggles to complete my college education,” he once said. “In those days, back in the 1930s, they didn’t have a lot of scholarships. I just remember how tough it was for me to make it. It became apparent to me as I pursued my own career that the main thing is not only the support, but it’s important to get kids into college, and I agree with my wife who says that all students should seek to expand their potential by seeking full development of their talent.”
Lorena Meier died June 22, 2018, at age 100, and Don Meier died July 13, 2019, at age 104.
The Donald and Lorena Meier Foundation has committed over several years to support new and existing scholarship funds that were established by Don and Lorena Meier. Students enrolled in the following colleges and areas of the University of Nebraska who meet certain scholarship criteria are eligible:
University of Nebraska–Lincoln:
University of Nebraska at Kearney:
Any University of Nebraska campus:
Story from the University of Nebraska at Kearney
A partnership between the University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska Medical Center, the proposed Rural Health Education Building in Kearney will further address the need for more health care workers in the state’s rural areas.
The Rural Health Education Building would build upon an existing partnership between UNK and UNMC that’s shown great success. The two institutions opened a $19 million Health Science Education Complex on UNK’s west campus in 2015, and that facility quickly filled to capacity.
The new Rural Health Education Building would allow UNMC to expand its existing nursing programs and bring new options to the UNK campus, including occupational therapy, medical nutrition, genetic counseling and respiratory care – all high-need areas in rural Nebraska.
For the first time, the UNMC College of Medicine would educate physicians in rural Nebraska, and a Master of Health Administration would be added to complement UNK’s undergraduate program.
The Rural Health Education Building would also offer professional development, training and continuing education opportunities for existing health care workers and support research that improves the lives of Nebraskans.
UNK’s Big Blue Cupboard helps students in need.
Luis Olivas knows the contours of Grand Central Apple Market well.
He’s learned who the quickest baggers are and who will point out active markdowns.
Rolling through checkout with 45 TV dinners or enough produce to comfortably feed a residence hall typically elicits a second glance, a probing question or two.
Olivas has grown accustomed to the attention. One of his responsibilities as diversity coordinator in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nebraska at Kearney is to keep the Big Blue Cupboard stocked. So as the coronavirus emptied businesses throughout the country, Olivas was still making biweekly speed-runs through the grocery store, filling his cart with peculiar quantities of food.
Hundreds of students rely on the Big Blue Cupboard — and, in turn, Olivas — whether learning is remote or not. To keep the cupboard operational during the spring, Olivas alternated shifts with Juan Guzman, director of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion.
Both were first-generation, Latino college students who earned associate degrees at Central Community College before attending and serving UNK.
“We have many immigrant and international students as well as refugee and asylum-seeking students,” Olivas said. “Thus, it’s super important for them to be able to see somebody that has been in their shoes to not only create empathy but also to be able to relate on a personal level.”
As an undergraduate student, when Guzman returned to Kearney from weekend trips home to Grand Island, he made sure to have meals in tow.
He vividly remembers the hunger that comes from prioritizing tuition or rent as a month winds to a close. And he remembers the strength of a community that lifts each member in times of need.
“Juan is a big inspiration to UNK students and the UNK community,” said Sergio Ceja, a Loper graduate who’s currently studying at the University of Alabama.
Olivas said, “He’s one of the university’s biggest assets. If it wasn’t for him, dozens if not hundreds of students wouldn’t have been able to come to college or realize their full potential.”
Nineteen years after Guzman arrived at UNK, his most indelible marks can be found in a quiet corner on the first floor of the student union.
After watching a conference presentation on food insecurity, Guzman vowed to bring a food pantry to his alma mater. The Big Blue Cupboard opened in April 2012 and has since served thousands of students, staff and community members, with an average of 1,200 food and hygiene items distributed each month.
“We have many students from different backgrounds, so we always make sure to have certain ingredients, to make sure we meet those cultural needs,” Guzman said.
Students can use a mobile app to shop for items, which in turn helps employees learn the diet of the student body. And understanding that audience is paramount.
“We can have 5,000 creamed corn cans in there,” Olivas said, “but that doesn’t mean students are going to take them.”
That the cupboard is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of campus isn’t by accident. Stigmas can turn hungry students away, so Guzman was careful in the planning phase to mitigate this issue.
Even as students left campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Guzman and Olivas saw an immediate uptick in demand, with more than 1,000 items leaving the shelves over a single week. Frozen meals went especially fast, as daily food trips were suddenly questionable. So Guzman and Olivas submitted a request for a second deep freezer.
Approval was granted within five minutes.
“We can’t say enough about the leadership here,” Guzman said.
Shortly after Chancellor Doug Kristensen announced that in-person classes would be suspended, he raised an additional $10,000 for the cupboard in private donations.
“Putting food on the tables of students is the most fundamental thing I can do to help,” Kristensen said.
Kristensen has led UNK for nearly two decades. Campus support for The Big Blue Cupboard is on the short list of what makes him most proud.
“When you watch our students give their own time and money to go out and serve those meals, I’ll remember that for a very long time,” he said.
Stepping into the unknown was an on-the-fly exercise for everyone, Guzman said, but it was deftly navigated, from the top down.
Speaking on the phone at the cupboard, Olivas said, “Even though most of our students may not physically be here, they know that we as staff and faculty are 100 percent there for them. That connection has not been lost.”
The cupboard is home to a thousand ingredients and two eternal vows:
No student should go hungry.
What’s mine is yours.
“I feel like that sets UNK and the University of Nebraska system apart: Even though our buildings may be closed, the learning is still happening,” Olivas said. “Those students are still being provided for. They are still safe.”
About this photo: Graphic artist Jase Hueser earned six awards, including best of show, at the recent Nebraska ADDYs design competition. The 2018 UNK grad received the Daake Design Scholarship at UNK and was hired by Daake, a Nebraska-based marketing firm.
When many students head to college, their journey is often filled with discovering one’s abilities. But Jake Hueser, a recent University of Nebraska-Kearney graduate, always had a clear path. His talents were visible from the moment he stepped onto the UNK campus as a visual communication and design major.
“A lot of people assume that graphic design is just kind of this vapid profession where you make pretty pictures on a computer screen,” he said. “But there’s a lot of logic that goes into it, a lot of psychology.”
Heuser’s work ethic and artistic ability didn’t go unnoticed. He was awarded the Daake Design Scholarship during his academic career at UNK. Later, he received a job offer from the donors behind the scholarship.
Scholarship created to build future workforce
The Daake Design Scholarship fund was established in 2009 by UNK alumni Greg and Lisa Daake. Greg, a 1996 commercial art grad, and Lisa, a 1995 business administration grad, are the founders of Daake, an Omaha-based national design firm.
Their permanently endowed scholarship helps with tuition for a UNK student pursuing a degree in visual communication and design.
“I want that program to succeed. I want people to be interested in it,” Greg said. “I think it’s the best program in the state, and we’re just really thankful that we have the means to give back.”
The Daakes’ often hire student interns and full-time employees, too, with whom they share a UNK connection. Hueser was the latest student to get the opportunity.
“There is kind of a UNK DNA here,” Greg said about his company.
Graphic art a longtime passion for Jase Hueser
Hueser’s background in design extends back to his days at Papillion-La Vista South High School where he was already completing graphic design work for local clients.
“I always was really intrigued by art,” he said. “I think around junior high I started discovering art could translate into an actual vocation besides just studio work.”
His knowledge of computers allowed for his artistic abilities to translate into graphic design work. Hueser said he enjoys coming up with creative ways to communicate a message through logos, campaigns and promotional materials.
While in college, he was able to show off his passion and ability through the Nebraska ADDY awards. At the competition, he competed against student design majors from across the state and earned four golds, a silver and a special judges’ citation award.
“There was a lot of really great work from the other students,” he said. “It can be a bit intimidating to see the creativity coming from UNK and other Nebraska schools.”
Hueser’s work included a promotional package of movie posters, a wine bottle and social media and online components based on the 1944 film “Arsenic and Old Lace.” According to Hueser, the judges appreciated the cohesiveness of his design elements.
More than a scholarship, a relationship
The recent grad has his opportunities to thank for his successes. The Daake Design Scholarship allowed Heuser to develop a professional connection with the Daake family, while Hueser’s advanced UNK education allowed him to go above and beyond in his creative work.
Due to the Daakes’ generosity, we are able to see young men and women thrive in an outstanding UNK program.
“We have a special place in our heart for UNK,” Greg Daake said.
This article was written by Tyler Ellyson, UNK news writer, and was edited for this story by Jessica Moore, public relations intern at the University of Nebraska Foundation.