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.”
The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s newest building raises the bar for early childhood education, setting a standard for high-quality learning and instruction that will benefit the state’s youngest residents for generations to come.
Members of the UNK community and guests from across the state got their first look inside the game-changing facility during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 8, 2019, for the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center, a $7.8 million building that officially opens Nov. 4 on UNK’s University Village development.
“The Plambeck Center is going to be a model for the best early childhood education centers in the United States,” said Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who called the 19,900-square-foot building a “shining jewel” on the UNK campus.
“There’s really no place like this in the state of Nebraska,” Kristensen said while noting the impact it will have on local families, UNK students and communities across the region. “The possibilities here are endless.”
The Plambeck Center, which replaces UNK’s Child Development Center, is the first academic building in the University Village footprint. Located near the Village Flats housing complex, it features 11 classrooms that will serve up to 180 children from infant to age 6, including those with special needs, with spots available for UNK students, staff and faculty, as well as families from the Kearney area.
“By opening the doors to the community, the center will serve a more diverse group of children and give UNK students a chance to work with families from different backgrounds,” Kristensen said.
Led by highly trained educators, the center allows children to explore reading, writing, art, music, sciences and physical education in structured learning environments that utilize either creative curriculum, building on children’s knowledge to develop confidence, creativity and critical-thinking skills, or the Montessori teaching method, a student-centered approach that encourages exploration, independence and lifelong learning.
“This is much more than a building,” University of Nebraska interim President Susan Fritz said during Tuesday’s event. “It’s a signal to children and families, to our students, and to the community that we are making an investment in the future.”
In addition to serving Kearney-area families, the Plambeck Center will address a statewide need for early childhood educators by training undergraduate and graduate students in a hands-on setting that exposes them to the best teaching methods.
“We know there’s a severe shortage of high-quality early childhood education providers,” said Grace Mims, interim dean of UNK’s College of Education. “That’s been a big issue, especially for rural Nebraska.”
According to the 2018 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, nine counties statewide had no licensed child care facilities in 2017, and a majority of Nebraska counties with child care facilities didn’t have enough available spots to meet the estimated demand.
First Five Nebraska, a group working to improve early childhood education in the state, estimates Nebraska needs more than 7,900 highly qualified early childhood professionals to serve only at-risk children facing poverty and other challenges. Currently, there are about 2,000 of these professionals working in the state.
“It’s a workforce need and a community need,” said Mims, noting that child care and early education are among the top priorities for employees and businesses looking to move into a community.
UNK’s early childhood education program, which is among the largest in the state with more than 260 majors, can play a key role in building this skilled workforce.
“It’s exciting to have a facility like this in our community,” said Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Derek Rusher, who called the Plambeck Center the “Cadillac” of early childhood education. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Kearney.”
The Plambeck Center will serve as a lab school for UNK, giving early childhood and elementary education students an opportunity to work directly with children while learning from top-notch instructors.
This opens the door for numerous professional development and experiential learning opportunities, including observations, practicums, internships, student teaching, diagnostic testing and research.
“The Early Childhood Education Center already is a destination for some of the best faculty in the country,” Fritz said. “It’s a place where undergraduate and graduate students will become our best teachers.”
The Plambeck Center will also promote interdisciplinary collaborations across UNK’s three colleges and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, benefiting faculty and students in areas such as communication disorders, physical and special education, family studies, psychology, social work, fine arts and nursing, and advance and create partnerships at the community, state and national levels.
Those partnerships, including the vision shared by UNK, UNMC and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, demonstrate the University of Nebraska’s commitment to early childhood education, Fritz said.
“The Plambeck Center is another example of what we as a university system, and UNK specifically, are doing to help Nebraska thrive,” she said. “It is providing incredible opportunities to build on our momentum.”
A financial gift from LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck of Omaha, a longtime advocate for early childhood education, added two dedicated Montessori classrooms to the Early Childhood Education Center named in her honor, as well as an endowed Montessori education professorship and an endowed fund that will support workshops, seminars and other outreach activities for early childhood education providers across Nebraska.
“LaVonne’s vision to bring this kind of expertise and emphasis on early childhood education to UNK will impact the state forever,” said Mims, who recognized Plambeck with the Early Childhood Pioneer Award during last month’s Early Childhood Conference at UNK.
The heart of this home beats happily because its walls can now tell the whole story.
The story of all its lives. The story of all its people, who lived here and loved here and (sometimes) died here in this red sandstone mansion on the prairie.
Thanks to a head-to-toe restoration — along with a head-to-toe restoration of its story — this home, now called the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, can tell its more complex and compelling story. It’s a story that’s no longer just about the wealthy Frank family who built the house in 1890, but one that also talks about all the people whose hearts once beat within these walls.
The servants, who kept the fires burning and cooked and cleaned and quietly turned in at night to their quarters, up a narrow stairway to the third floor.
The patients, who lived here after the Franks had moved on, when the house became part of the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis.
The kids with sick lungs. The adults. The fear.
The families who’d visit.
The blood, coughed up into paper bags.
The brave local workers, who took those bags to the incinerator and changed bedpans and rubbed backs and pushed bodies to the morgue, workers who risked their own lives in a time when TB was the nation’s No.1 killer.
Those stories and more are now being told in depth, said William Stoutamire, Ph.D., the director of the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture at UNK who oversaw the restoration.
And the museum is now, at its heart, he said, the bigger story of Kearney itself.
“This place tells an important story,” he said. “But the impact of the story is much broader than the home and its grounds. We’re always trying to think, as a museum, how we can reach beyond the walls, to the reverberations, the ripples in the pond, of the impact that the actions and decisions of the people in this house had on the broader community.
“And I think these walls now speak, among other things, of the diversity of the history of this part of the country — a much more vibrant and dynamic history.”
Kearney had never seen anything like this house when George and Phoebe Frank built it. Kearney had never seen anything like the gilded Franks, who came from the East with the hope in their hearts to develop Kearney’s industry, complete its canal and turn Kearney into a hydroelectric-powered city, one to rival Minneapolis.
This home was their stage, in a way, a place to throw lavish parties to show potential investors that this part of world was civilized. It was the first home around with indoor plumbing and electricity and radiator heat. One of the Franks’ sons, an architect, designed it. It has hand-carved woodwork and hand-stenciled walls. A grand stained-glass window at the top of the grand staircase depicts a woman, a bird eating from her hand. (Phoebe? No one knows for sure.)
This home became the heart of Kearney’s high society.
But the Frank family’s fortunes wilted. The Panic of 1893 hit them hard, and so did a drought, which dried up the local economy. They went bankrupt. The architect son died young. The oldest, a banker, probably killed himself. After Phoebe died in 1900, George lived his last few years in Lincoln with their daughter.
This home moved on.
By the early 1900s, the Franks were all but forgotten. The Frank House name is a modern anachronism. The home, for most of its life, was simply called the Stone House.
Most of the Franks’ servants were immigrants from Sweden, Germany and Czechoslovakia who barely spoke English, Stoutamire said. They moved on, too, but often they moved into the community.
The next owners of the house were married doctors who turned it into a hospital. After they divorced, the wife kept it going for a few years before selling it to the state of Nebraska, which turned it into the TB hospital for the next six decades.
Most of the patients weren’t from the community. They came from Lincoln or Omaha and beyond. They were the poor who couldn’t afford a sanatorium, people of all colors, living and dying alongside one another in their hospital beds.
Kearney, its economy still recovering from the crash, was happy to have the hospital here in 1912, even if people feared the disease its walls were trying to contain.
As the epidemic grew across the state, the Stone House grew too small. A big brick hospital was eventually built nearby and connected to the Stone House by an underground tunnel (that building is now the home of the UNK College of Business and Technology). The hospital treated up to 300 patients at times. The Stone House became living quarters for the workers and some of the patients’ families.
“Kearney had a mixed relationship with the hospital,” Stoutamire said. “Some people were very happy. Some were afraid of having a hospital here and the potential of an epidemic breaking out in the community.”
The new story here now talks a lot about those local workers, how even though the hospital became a place of fear, it also became a place for opportunity, a way for those workers, often young farm women, to gain financial freedom. Many formed bonds with this place and with one another.
In what could have been such a sad setting, its old photos seem to show happy stories, too.
The new story also talks about how the workers built a sense of normalcy for their patients, especially the children. There were picnics along the Kearney Canal, holiday concerts, big bows in combed hair and smiles that don’t look staged for the camera.
“As far as the people who actually came and spent time out here,” Stoutamire said, “I think it speaks to their humanity — of wanting to do great things for others.”
Eliza Galloway’s story has been restored, too.
She was a servant in the Franks’ household, one of the few African-Americans in Kearney at the time. According to the old story, Galloway was practically a member of the family, a former slave whom the Franks had rescued from homelessness after she had been freed. (Not true.)
Galloway didn’t talk much about herself, so her story has been told through oral histories. To a white woman in Kearney she’d befriend, Galloway told one version — that her slave owners were benevolent, tried to teach her to read and write, but she just hid under the table, too afraid. But on her deathbed, Galloway told a nun a different story — that her life as a slave had been horrific, far worse than anything in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The new story shows her in context with her times and the limited opportunities she had to advance in life, unlike the Franks.
“With historic house museums,” Stoutamire said, “it’s been so, so, so common, still, today, to basically try to restore the place to the way it would have looked at the time of the first family and erase everything else that happened.
“We’re trying to do something different. We’re trying to show how the history of this place has evolved, how so much has happened since 1890.”
If these walls could talk, what would they say about this renovation?
“Hopefully, they’re happy,” Stoutamire said. “Hopefully, they like what we’ve done.”
He credits all of the generous people who’ve donated to the museum for making this renovation and rebranding possible. The vast majority of this work, he said, has been done with that support.
“We have received some external grants,” he said, “but by and large, it’s been done through the support of people through the University of Nebraska Foundation.”
If these walls could talk, what would they say to those donors?
“I think the walls would say, ‘Thank you,’ and that this place probably wouldn’t be here without them,” Stoutamire said. “And I think these walls would say, ‘Come see what good can be done with your donations.’”
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.
Well known among the University of Nebraska at Kearney community – especially by those in Loper athletics – for his compassion and generous student scholarship donations, Bob Sahling is helping students once again.
The Robert P. Sahling estate has bequeathed $1.95 million to UNK, bringing to more than $3.25 million the total support the late Kearney resident and businessman provided to help Nebraska students with their college educations.
“The Sahling family has made a difference for many years, and continues to make a difference, in the lives of our students,” UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said in recognizing this latest gift. “Their support and longtime commitment to UNK has meant so much to many people. We are grateful for their generosity and interest in our university.”
While Sahling didn’t have the opportunity to attend college, he enjoyed providing scholarship support for UNK students, including awards for Loper football players and non-athletes studying any major on campus. The permanently endowed funds he established through the University of Nebraska Foundation provide an annual income that will perpetually enable the university to award scholarships to both UNK football players and non-athletes who graduate from a Nebraska high school and meet certain academic requirements.
As a current recipient of a Sahling Scholarship, Jonah Peterson of Central City says that without the tuition help he received, his goal of helping others through health care information technology would be difficult to achieve on his own.
“The Sahling family’s love and generosity have helped in ways I can’t even begin to describe to you,” said the UNK junior systems administration major who plans to work in rural health care. “From the bottom of my heart, believe me when I say this, the university appreciates his one-of-a-kind contributions. He has made so many students’ dreams become a reality, and I can only hope to repay the kindness by helping others through my career.”
Based on current estimates, the combined endowed Sahling scholarship funds will make available about $140,000 each year for the university to award in scholarship support. Depending on the number and award amounts, this will enable the university to help between 30 and 40 students each year with tuition assistance.
When announcing his earlier $1.2 million scholarship gift in 2013, Sahling said, “I experience real joy in getting to know the students and seeing their many accomplishments. What has also motivated me to give is witnessing the dedication of university leadership to the important mission of UNK.”
Sahling grew up in the Dust Bowl days on a farm near Kenesaw, and is a childhood survivor of scarlet fever, which took the life of his sister. His mother worked tirelessly to care for her family, making the family’s clothes and maintaining their home, while his father operated trucks to support his family.
After graduating from Kenesaw High School in 1943 and serving in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, Sahling worked for his dad’s combining and trucking business. He started selling trucks in 1948 for Hastings Motor Truck Co. and later worked as a real estate broker.
Bob married Doris “Dode” Heacock in 1955 in Kearney, and they raised four children: John, Sherry, Ron and Holly. In 1968, Bob started his own company, Sahling Truck and Trailer in Kearney. The company changed its name to Sahling Kenworth in 1973. It also had operations in York and Columbus. Bob retired from the business in 1998.
Dode Sahling died on Oct. 19, 2007, and Bob Sahling died on March 1, 2017.
UNK senior says Sahling Scholarship ‘helped me achieve my goal’
By Mariah DaMoude, University of Nebraska at Kearney
I am from Hershey and am a senior studying Spanish education and English as a second language. After graduation I would like to fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher.
My goal has been to make it through college debt free which is not an easy thing to do, and I am going to be a teacher, so everybody knows it would be hard to pay off that debt on a teacher’s salary.
I want the Sahling family to know that this scholarship has helped me achieve my goal of making it through college debt free, and, because of that, I feel so much more ready to pursue my dreams of becoming a teacher without the financial burden of college to worry about. It’s going to help me focus on my teaching instead of worrying about the payments. I am so thankful to them for being so generous.
Thank you for honoring the Sahling family and their generosity.
Many generations of Kearney-area children and university students preparing to be early childhood teachers are at the heart of plans for a new facility at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
UNK will name its new 20,000-square-foot Early Childhood Education Center in honor of Dr. LaVonne Plambeck of Omaha, who made a leadership gift toward its construction and established permanently endowed funds to forever support its related academic programs. The board of regents will be asked to approve the naming at its June 28 meeting.
“This will be the premier early childhood education center in the Midwest, and we are so grateful to Dr. Plambeck for her leadership in this area,” said Dean of the College of Education Sheryl Feinstein.
The new center is the first academic footprint on UNK’s developing University Village and will become a model for exemplary early childhood education, early childhood educator preparation, and research.
Programs to involve campuswide, statewide collaborations
In addition to training undergraduate and graduate students and integrating coursework from all across all three of UNK’s academic colleges and University of Nebraska Medical Center, the new center will serve Kearney-area children and families with developmentally appropriate early education for a diverse population.
Undergraduate and graduate experiential learning will occur in the building in the forms of practicums, internships, observations and diagnostic testing. For example, working with a curriculum designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, teaching early literacy strategies, and diagnostic testing in the areas of speech, language skills and cognitive development. The building will facilitate learning and improve undergraduate and graduate students’ skills working with young children including relationship-building, classroom management and age-appropriate expectations.
“This education center will improve service to area children and enhance educational experiences for UNK students and faculty. That improves our community,” said Feinstein. “The project will grow our early education program to increase the quality of services provided and the number of young children enrolled. Early education programs, majors and minors across campus will benefit from state-of-the-art learning environments. This larger facility will also enable UNK and ECEC to increase collaborations that involve academics, research, and outreach to the community, and state and national organizations.”
Feinstein said the facility will also advance and create new partnerships at the community, state and national levels.
“With the Buffett Institute, we can increase the early childhood workforce in Nebraska while developing a high-quality component to the workforce; increase our partnership with Buffalo County community partners in curriculum and mental health collaborations; work on early literacy programs and research with the Nebraska Library Commission and the Nebraska School Librarians Association; and work with the National Coalition for Campus Children’s Centers and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on resources supporting and educating student parents.”
New center to educate more, serve as a home to research-based learning
The facility replaces the Child Development Center in the existing 1950-era Otto Olsen building, which cares for and educates 60 children – with an ongoing waiting list of 75 from infants to age 6. The capacity for the new LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center will be 176.
When completed in fall 2019 the center will feature three research-based philosophies of Early Childhood Education: Eclectic (Waldorf, Reggio and others), Montessori, and Project Based. One classroom will be devoted to Project Based Early Childhood Education, two classrooms to Montessori, and eight classrooms to Eclectic.
The Plambeck gift brings the total project cost to $7.8 million and 19,900 square feet that will include two dedicated Montessori education classrooms.
The naming recognizes a leadership gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation by Plambeck, for her undisclosed gift for construction, endowing a Montessori education professorship and establishing endowed excellence funds for early childhood programs.
“Dr. Plambeck’s generosity and vision will make a profound difference in the lives of children and in the preparation of highly qualified early-childhood educators for generations to come,” UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
The Plambeck gift includes an endowed professorship in Montessori education, which will enable UNK to increase its offerings in Montessori education by hiring a professor of excellence in Montessori. It also includes an endowed excellence fund for early childhood programs. These funds will help UNK deliver outreach services to early childhood providers in Nebraska with a focus on rural communities through workshops, professional development, and in-service through on-site and online modes.
Plambeck ‘fierce advocate’ for early childhood education
Kristensen said LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck of Omaha has been a “fierce advocate” for early childhood education for nearly 50 years. Described as an educational legend and visionary, Plambeck has understood and invested in high-quality experiences for babies and young children decades before recent research confirmed her actions.
Inspired by the Montessori teaching method, based on a philosophy that puts much of the responsibility and freedom for learning within a child’s control, she opened Omaha’s first Montessori Educational Center in 1968 and later added seven locations and opened schools in Denver and Fort Worth. She launched the Mid-America Montessori Teacher Training Institute to provide professionals with training and certification.
In addition to working on early childhood education extensively with UNO, UNK, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, College of Saint Mary’s and Concordia University, she has served the Nebraska Association of Young Children, the American Montessori Society Board of Directors and Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education. She also served on an advisory committee on early childhood education for the State of Nebraska and was appointed to a White House conference on families.
“Dr. Plambeck’s support for this new facility in Kearney and her permanent support for UNK faculty members and academic programs is yet another extension of her tremendous interest in education and her life’s work in this vital area of early childhood education,” said University of Nebraska Foundation President and CEO Brian Hastings.
Pending board approval, the building will be funded by state funds through LB 957 and dedicated facility funds from the Plambeck gift.
A celebration and ceremonial ground-breaking for the building is planned for September.
About the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center
Construction Start: Contractors will break ground later this summer (August)
Completion: Summer 2019
Size: 19,900 square feet
Cost: $7.8 million
Capacity: 176 children from infant to age six.
Other: A model for exemplary early childhood education, early childhood educator preparation, and research, the facility replaces the Child Development Center in the existing 1955 Otto Olsen building. In addition to training undergraduate and graduate students and integrating coursework from all across all three of UNK’s academic colleges and University of Nebraska Medical Center, the ECEC will serve Kearney-area children and families with developmentally appropriate early education.
Classrooms: When completed in fall 2019 the ECEC will feature three research-based philosophies of Early Childhood Education: Eclectic (Waldorf, Reggio and others), Montessori, and Project Based. One classroom will be devoted to Project Based Early Childhood Education, two classrooms to Montessori, and eight classrooms to Eclectic.
He tells the story of a boy in pain.
His right leg hurt. A disease called linear scleroderma was slowly taking it over — “suffocating it,” he says, stunting it, starting the year he was 4. While the boy’s body grew, that leg did not. He walked with a weird gait.
The boy’s heart hurt, too, because some days at school his pain was so bad that he couldn’t go out at recess to play. Some nights, his mom would stay up with him, rubbing his back as he cried.
Why is this happening to me? I don’t deserve this. I’m just a little kid.
But the people surrounding him took away some of the pain.
His friends stayed and played with him inside at recess time as he sat with an icepack on that leg. His teachers and coaches and the whole community of his hometown, Aurora, Nebraska, treated him like any other kid. So did his parents and two big brothers, who gave him lots of love but never any extra stokes when competed on the golf course. His brothers never took it easy on him when they wrestled with him in the house (before their mom told them all to stop).
Most everyone in his world, he says, saw that he was able, not dis-abled.
And that made him see it, too.
And everyone is the reason, Luke Grossnicklaus says, that he stands before young people today, whenever asked, and tells the boy’s story — his own story — because he knows it might help them overcome their pain, too.
Luke, who was UNK’s 2016 homecoming king, is studying business education. He would love to become a high school principal somewhere in Nebraska one day, maybe a coach. He was recently president of his fraternity.
Whenever asked, he tells his story to schoolkids.
He tells them that if they’re from broken homes or feel broken inside, that they can’t let their situation define their future.
He tells them they can get out of their own pain by helping other people in pain to cope.
He tells them there’s hope, even on the darkest day.
He tells then about his darkest day, which was when he was 12, and the doctors said they had to amputate that leg.
“Imagine being a kid who loves sports being told that,” he says.
He tells them that a kid with an amputated leg can be a college athlete and how he played on the UNK golf team his first two years, walking on as a freshman and then earning a scholarship his sophomore year.
One day, after speaking at a high school, a student approached Luke. Her parents had divorced and she hated one of them, she told him, for not being there for her. She thought her life was only going to get worse. She thanked him for his message.
“It felt good to help her,” Luke says. “It feels good to be that mediator between teachers and students and to encourage students with — ‘Hey, I’ve been here before. I know what it’s like. It may not be the same situation, but, hey, you’re not the only one going through it.’”
Luke tells his story because he’s able to. ABLE to. He emphasized that word whenever he tells his story. Not DIS-abled.
“That’s a big part of my message, why I’m so passionate, because I had a lot of people who helped me,” says Luke, who graduated this spring from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. “My whole message is that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people surrounding me at my toughest and my darkest moments. That’s where we get stuck — when we don’t have the people around us.
“We need to be the people who are willing to help others in need.”
Support for students like Luke was one of UNK’s priorities in the University of Nebraska Foundation’s recent Our Students, Our Future fundraising initiative, which ended Dec. 31, 2017.
Luke says he sees a lot of young people like him who are already finding ways to give back. Millennials, who have grown up digitally connected to the world, he says, tend to care about the future and feel able to make the world better place.
A few examples of other UNK students and why they give back:
Miguel Baeza Aguilera
Recent graduate, degree in general studies
Hometown: Grand Island, Nebraska
Why do you give back?: My parents educated my siblings and me that it is always better to give than to receive. Impacting lives and seeing someone smile is the best feeling in the world. I also give back because I wouldn’t be where I am today everyone who took the time to support me throughout my life. You have to remember that someone is always looking up to you as their role model, so why not keep the chain reaction of giving back going.
Graduate student in the MBA program
Hometown: Kearney, Nebraska
How/why do millennials give back to the world?: After traveling to South America, I gained a new perspective on what it means to live in “poverty.” I believe that other millennials who have traveled abroad will attest to the same sentiment — once you are exposed to the lifestyles that those across the globe live in, you become so much more thankful for what we have here. This, in turn, provides inspiration to give back to others.
Senior, 7-12 social science education major with endorsement in ESL (English as a Second Language) and minor in political science
Hometown: Papillion, Nebraska
How do you give back to the world?: I enjoy going on mission trips to different parts of the world and learning about other people’s cultures and countries. I know I was born with so many things that others could only imagine. For example, I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to receive a higher level education. I think it is important to meet others and learn about their lives and how they are different, yet so similar to my own.
Senior, business administration major
Hometown: Grand Island, Nebraska
Why do you give back?: Because it makes an impact in people’s lives. If I can spend a few hours positively impacting someone’s life, it’s worth it. Giving back strengths the communities. It’s also an avenue to meet other people and share experiences.
Whether you are a longtime supporter or a new graduate, you can impact students immediately through the UNK Fund. Every dollar invested in the UNK Fund provides scholarships, supports talented faculty, enhances your college’s priorities, and much more. And it all happens because of you.
If you would like to help, please contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216 or send us a message.
PHOTO: George and Venetia Peterson (center) made Kearney their new home in the early 1900s and raised sons Peter (left) and John. Peter Peterson has created a scholarship at UNK for students who are first in their family to attend college.
George and Venetia Peterson immigrated to Kearney in the early 1900s with nothing but a third-grade education and the desire to work hard so their children would have a better life – and the opportunity for education.
Their son, Kearney native Peter G. Peterson, has honored his family’s tenacity and Nebraska roots by establishing a new scholarship for students at the University of Nebraska Kearney who, like him, are the first in their family to ever attend college.
“I was lucky enough to live the American dream, and my story began in Kearney,” Peterson said. “This scholarship will help make it possible for more first-generation students to realize their own American dream by accessing the world-class education offered by the University of Nebraska at Kearney.”
The Peter G. Peterson Scholarship Fund was created as a permanently endowed scholarship with a $50,000 gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation. Annual net income from the fund will be awarded by the UNK office of financial aid as scholarships to first-generation students from Nebraska who are studying any major and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.
“Throughout its history, UNK has been a welcoming school where many first-generation college students completed an education that was both affordable and of the highest quality,” said Charles Bicak, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at UNK. “This remains true today, and because of Pete’s generosity, many more generations of students who otherwise would not be able to afford college will have an opportunity to realize their dreams at UNK.”
Having grown up in Kearney, Pete Peterson graduated from Kearney High School in 1942 and then graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University in 1947 before earning an MBA at the University of Chicago.
Peterson’s distinguished career includes contributions and accomplishments in public service, business and philanthropy. He has served in government roles including as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the early 1970s and as chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2000 – 2004. His highly successful business career includes serving as chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers and founding The Blackstone Group in 1985.
In 2008, Peterson founded the Peter G. Peterson Foundation as a non-partisan organization dedicated to addressing America’s long-term fiscal challenges. In addition to his current work with the foundation, he is chairman emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, founding chairman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., and founding president of the Concord Coalition.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney conferred on Peterson an honorary doctorate degree in 2006.
Peterson has five children and nine grandchildren. He lives in New York City with his wife, Joan Ganz Cooney, a director and co-founder of the Children’s Television Workshop.
What happens when the sun turns off?
Well, it won’t literally turn off, but what can you expect to experience this Aug. 21 near the end of the noon hour when the moon covers the sun and a total solar eclipse occurs, cutting a narrow, dark path through this part of the planet?
Four University of Nebraska at Kearney professors who came to Kearney from four different educational paths can tell you. This past semester they gave talks about the eclipse in the dark of the UNK Planetarium, telling their audiences about this rare celestial event from the vantage points of their four areas of expertise: physics, biology, art and history.
“This is called the great American eclipse for a good reason — the entire North America, the entire Central America and parts of South America will be able to actually see at least the partial eclipse,” said Mariana Lazarova, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy who also is the planetarium’s director. “So you’re talking about hundreds of millions of people looking up in the sky.”
So what happens to this part of the planet when the sun turns off?
It will get darker, colder, Lazarova told her audience.
You will see a black disk over the sun. You will see the pearly white glow of the sun’s corona. You will see the brightest of the stars, and you will see Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury all straddling the sun. Looking across the land at the horizon, in all directions, you will see beyond the moon’s shadow to where the eclipse isn’t experiencing totality, and it will be an eerie twilight of yellow and orange.
Kearney will experience the total eclipse for 1 minute, 54 seconds, starting at 12:57 p.m.
In Lincoln, totality will began at 1:02 p.m. The city lies along the northern edge of the shadow, so totality will be shorter. Even a few miles will matter. If you’re standing on the grass of the State Capitol, you’ll experience totality for 1 minute, 25.5 seconds, but just a few blocks north — on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium — you’ll get five seconds less.
Lazarova serves as Nebraska’s coordinator for the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Experiment, called “Citizen CATE.” She will observe the eclipse in Ravenna, Nebraska, while also managing observations of the sun during the eclipse at eight different locations across the state, from Mitchell to Beatrice. And this summer, she’s running a workshop at UNK to train the observers, who are volunteer citizens passionate about astronomy.
According to the project’s website: The goal of CATE is to produce a scientifically unique data set: high-resolution, rapid cadence white light images of the inner corona for 90 minutes.
“The coolest thing about Nebraska is that that path of totality has the longest stretch within the state of Nebraska — close to 500 miles because we’re a pretty long state to begin with,” Lazarova said. “And then it crosses kind of diagonally, from upper left corner to lower right, so the shadow is going to move very fast. It crosses the entire United States in 90 minutes.
“It moves about seven times faster than a passenger airplane, faster than the speed of sound.”
So what happens to animals when the sun turns off?
Nate Bickford, a professor of biology, can tell you about it. (The tongue-in-cheek title of his talk was “Wildlife Behavior When the Sun Turns Off.”)
Some animals in the moon’s shadow, he said, will think it’s a thunderstorm and will hide.
Some birds will fly toward their roosts. Most birds will fall silent. Their songs will begin again as it ends, as if it were daybreak.
Nocturnal animals will act as if it’s the early morning. Cocks will crow. Owls will hoot. Crickets and cicadas will chirp. And then, when the sun emerges, they will stop.
Spiders will begin to dismantle their webs in the dark. Then build them back up.
Mosquitos will come out to bite. Then vanish.
Creatures that live in caves or holes will just keep sleeping, Bickford said, because their internal clocks are too strong to wake them up.
“And how about dragons?” he said, smiling. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”
To prepare for his talk, Bickford also researched mythical animals associated with eclipses. He found stories from China about how a dragon would eat the sun or the moon. He found stories of the Korean fire dogs that would steal the sun or the moon. He found a story from an indigenous tribe of North America about how a mean bear got in a fight with the sun and bit it.
And then for fun, he said, he googled “werewolves” and “solar eclipses.”
He showed his audience a scary photo of a Hollywood werewolf, its jagged teeth bared.
“Should we keep our eyes open and look?”
Bickford said that he’s not an expert in animal behavior. But preparing for this talk, he said, he found that no one seems to be an expert in animal behavior during total solar eclipses — there’s just not a lot of solid research out there yet.
That realization inspired him to study this summer’s eclipse himself. So along with UNK biology colleague Dustin Ranglack, he sought and won a grant from NASA to study animal behavior during the August eclipse.
He encouraged the people who attended his talk to “science the heck out of it” as well and consider becoming “citizen scientists.”
“Your research may not be earth-shattering, but who cares? It’s cool,” he said. “So if it’s something you’re interested in, find somebody else who’s interested in it and do a little study.”
So what happens to the art world when the sun turns off?
Derrick Burbul, a professor of art and design, talked about the artistic history of eclipses, focusing mainly on photography.
Art is just a part of the stories we tell, he said, and stories are important. Some researchers believe our ability to communicate stories, he said, is a big reason that humans have been so successful as a species.
“How do you want to tell your story?”
How should you photograph it?
Remember a few things, he said:
Plan your shot ahead of time. What do you want to juxtapose with the eclipse in the foreground, for example? What story do you want to tell?
Learn how to use your camera at night, so you’ll be ready for the totality.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
“And don’t try to do too much,” Burbul said. “You want to enjoy the experience. You want to see it. You don’t want to be so caught up in your equipment that you don’t actually experience what’s going on.”
So what happens to humans when the sun turns off?
A sense of the sacred.
Eclipses have evoked wonder and awe and have sparked something spiritual inside of people, whether they were religious or not, said James Rohrer, a history professor whose talk centered on the religious significances of solar eclipses across time and cultures.
“No matter how you respond,” Rohrer said, “you will be in good company with many people who have gone before us.”
Christians, Muslims and Jews have historically used eclipses as occasions to reflect upon the glory of the Creator God, Rohrer said, and in modern post-Enlightenment times Christians have also used eclipses as a way of trying to prove to non-Christians in colonized lands the superiority of Western Science and Christianity by showing them that their traditional stories about eclipses were false.
But, Rohrer said, this insistence upon debunking the myths of other people ignores the way that mythology conveys meaning. In a very real sense, stories about dragons or demons eating the sun, although not grounded upon empirical science, nonetheless convey spiritual truth that makes sense within the framework of traditional cosmology.
Eclipses have evoked intellectual curiosity.
Eclipses have inspired the poets and the preachers. The teachers.
And the students — young people like Kayla Gade, a UNK Honors Program student who attended most of the talks at the campus planetarium.
“This is something that really made me proud of UNK,” says Kayla, a humanities major who also has a strong interest in science. “The fact that UNK did this series really emphasizes to me this interdisciplinary approach is something that UNK values.
“And I think that says something about the student experience here at UNK.”
This coming eclipse will be a rare chance for all the people of Nebraska to experience astronomy and biology and art and history in action all at once and to stand in the dark, just as people have done since the dawn of time.
And, together, look up.
Whether you are a longtime supporter or a new graduate, you can impact students immediately through the UNK Fund. Every dollar invested in the UNK Fund provides scholarships, supports talented faculty, enhances your college’s priorities, and much more. And it all happens because of you.
If you would like to help, please contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216 or send us a message.