Randy York’s N-Sider
Three hours before Saturday’s Nebraska-Penn State game, an important ceremony drew Nebraska’s chancellor, NU’s current athletic director as well as its future AD, the Big Ten Conference commissioner and a University of Nebraska regent. Every college executivegathered in Memorial Stadium’s West lobby to commemorate a giant nameplate that touches every student-athlete in the Nebraska program … the Dick and Peg Herman Family Student-Life Complex.
“Dick’s support for the academic part of athletics has been extraordinary,” UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said beforeSaturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “His support is a part of our tradition of caring about the academic success of our student-athletes as much as their athletic success. I don’t think we could have been so successful for as long as we have without Dick and Peg Herman and their family.”
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne recalled how Nebraska built its first student-life complex almost three decades ago when he was able to convince then NU Athletic Director Bob Devaney to earmark $500,000 from the Huskers’ first appearance in the Kickoff Classic against Penn State in East Rutherford, N.J.
“I approached Bob and asked if we could keep that money for an academic center, so that’s how it all started,” Osborne said. “Our student-athletes have benefitted from the generosity of the Herman family for many years, and when Dick informed us that he wanted to make an additional gift, everyone was in full agreement that we should name the Student Life Complex in his and his family’s honor.”
The naming rights have been approved by Chancellor Perlman and President J.B. Milliken, and Regent Tim Clare said Saturday that the Nebraska Board of Regents will take formal action to approve the naming in January. Shawn Eichorst, who will succeed Osborne as Nebraska’s athletic director on Jan. 1, 2013, also attended Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and privately shared his admiration for Nebraska's national leadership reputation in academic and life skills support.
Herman Recalls Hardin’s Confidence in Osborne
A member of the Board of Regents from 1968-71, Herman recalled Saturday how Devaney asked Osborne to develop more academic rigor in the athletic department. “Clifford Hardin was our chancellor, and he wanted Tom to get in an academic position, and he committed to him,” Herman said. “He (Chancellor Hardin) told Tom: ‘If you will do this, you have the talent to be president of the University, and I will commit to you.’ Tom is not only a great coach, but a great educator, and he was right when he took that $500,000 and started our academic awards program.”
Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s senior associate athletic director for Academics, said he was thrilled when he learned the Student Life Complex would be named in honor of the Herman Family.“Dick Herman and his late brother Dale had a vision in 1989 to have our athletic department become a national leader in academics, and because of their generosity their vision has come true,” Leblanc said.
“It’s a great honor for me to be able to say:‘Welcome to the Herman Family Student Life Complex’ because Dick is a dear friend of mine, and he truly understands that college athletics is about more than winning," Leblanc said. "He understands that it’s about giving individuals opportunity. He understands that it’s about developing leaders. And because of him and his family, thousands of Nebraska student-athletes have realized their dreams beyond their sport.”
Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s associate athletic director for Life Skills, echoes Leblanc’s appreciation for the Herman family’s generosity. “I’ve long been impressed with Dick and his unwavering commitment to the best interests of Nebraska student-athletes,” Zimmer said. “Dick and the entire Herman family had a vision for providing our student-athletes with the nation’s very best facilities and resources so they could realize their full academic and career promise. Every time I see Dick, whether it’s at the recognition banquet or on game day, he’s beaming with pride about the outstanding academic and community accomplishments of our student-athletes.”
Major Contribution in Honor of Entire Herman Family
Herman contributed to the Student Life Complex in honor of his family, including his late wife Peg and their children – Anne Jensen, Mike Herman, Rick Herman and wife Sherry, and Catherine McHugh and husband Martin. The Student Life Complex was completed in 2010 and includes six centers of excellence: 1) the Hewit Academic Center; 2) the Abbott Life Skills Center; 3) the D.J .Sokol Enrichment Center; 4) the Scott Technology Center; 5) the Papik Compliance Center; and 6) the Lewis Training Table.
A Fremont native, Dick and Peg lived in Omaha, California and South Dakota throughout their 60 years of marriage, but they always called Nebraska home. An active philanthropist, Dick held major interests in the Herman Oil Company, D&D Distributing, and Herman Brothers Trucking.
“I’m so proud to be associated with a university that has had the most Academic All-Americans in the country,” Herman said before cutting the ribbon with the new nameplate that was installed in the West Stadium entrance on Friday.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Nebraska was well ahead of the curve in building an academic center for student-athletes. “It takes a lot of energy when there are higher expectations for improved graduations rates,” he said. “The Big Ten and our universities started investing heavily in that 15 years ago.”
Delany described Nebraska’s academic facility as state-of-the-art. “It is certainly one of the nicest in the country from what I’ve seen, and the results on the walls testify not only to Nebraska’s success in athletics, but in academics as well,” he said.
Nebraska Commitment Has Midwestern Sensibility
A commitment to a broad-based program was pivotal in the Big Ten inviting Nebraska to become member No. 12 in the nation’s oldest intercollegiate athletic conference. “Nebraska’s commitment to its student-athletes is both on the field and in the classroom,” Delany said. “It has a Midwestern sensibility that winning is important, but it is certainly not the only thing that’s important.”
Delany described Perlman and Osborne as experienced executives and accomplished administrators. “They know how to get things done,” he said, “and they realize that we were expanding the Big Ten. We weren’t merging, so they were very open about Big Ten thought, Big Ten governance and the Big Ten way.”
In 1989, the Herman family established an endowment to fund Nebraska’s first-ever Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet in 1991. This annual banquet honors all non-first-year Husker student-athletes who have posted a 3.0 grade-point average or better. The banquet honors the top male and female Student-Athletes of the Year, plus the Herman Team GPA Award winners that honor Husker programs with the highest team GPA.
The annual banquets not only honor the student-athletes’ academic achievements, but also might include their favorite teachers, the deans of the colleges they represent, plus, in many cases, their parents. “Every year," Leblanc said, "I talk to our student-athletes after our banquet, and so many of them have told me that the recognition banquet that Dick has underwritten all these years is the highlight of their entire career at Nebraska.”
It’s a highlight, Leblanc said, because Nebraska produces a first-class event, thanks largely to a generous donor, whose nameplate will now greet every student-athlete that will walk into the main entrance of the West Stadium on a daily basis ... in his family's honor.
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