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Has it really been three years ago tonight since Dan Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy) sold out all available seats for his Fourth of July Concert inside Lincoln's Memorial Stadium, where one of America's best comedians made people laugh until they almost cried while the show was taped for Comedy Central? Tom Osborne wasn't there, but Nebraska's Hall-of-Fame football coach and now athletic director is certainly happy that Dan and his wife, Cara, will be honored with the Clarence E. Swanson Meritorious Service Award this fall by the Nebraska Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame.
"Dan is one of our more faithful fans," Osborne said. "He loves Nebraska so much that he and his family moved back here. Even when he was living in Florida, he and his wife were here a lot. In fact, they seldom missed a game."
Osborne would know. "Dan's box was right next to mine (in the North Stadium until Whitney moved to a West Stadium suite)," Osborne said. "It was always fun to see Dan, especially when he would start throwing hot dogs to the fans below him with four or five minutes left in the game. People liked that, and they like Dan."
This Mighty AD Did Not Strike Out
Whitney's camouflage cap and his sleeveless flannel may fool some of the people some of the time, but they never fooled Osborne, who remembers a certain whiffle ball game at the indoor Hawks Championship Center when Larry the Cable Guy was determined to strike out an outstanding American Legion baseball player from decades ago. "We were playing indoors in the winter time, and he thought he was going to strike me out," Osborne recalled with a laugh while discussing the high honor that will be presented to the Whitneys at Nebraska's annual Hall-of-Fame banquet on Sept. 21, the night before the Huskers host Idaho State.
Did Larry the Cable Guy strike out Osborne?
"No," Nebraska's AD said.
"Did you go yard on him?" I asked
"I hit the ball pretty hard," Osborne replied before admitting that nothing Dan Whitney does surprises him because "He always seems to be up to a challenge, and he really does get a lot of things done."
Dan and Cara Are Generous Donors
Whether that was an intentional pun or not, few would dispute that Dan Whitney is a Git-R-Done kind of guy. So, for that matter, is his wife. They donated generously to build and equip the Nebraska Football Recruiting Lounge, a showplace for current football players, prospective recruits and their families. All marvel when they step into the facility just down the hall from NU's coaching offices and meeting rooms.
That recruiting room, however, isn't the only reason why Dan and Cara are receiving the Swanson Award for "outstanding contributions to the University of Nebraska and the Husker Athletic Department through personal service, personal support of athletic department programs and dedication to the Husker football program and intercollegiate athletics."
The Whitney family made a significant contribution to Nebraska's 2006 Championship Drive to help build the Osborne Athletic Complex and the North Stadium addition. They also support other Husker sports programs, including the Nebraska baseball and basketball programs. Dan, Cara and son Wyatt and daughter Reagan Whitney are all avid Husker fans. But no one can extend the brand like Larry the Cable Guy, whose signature hat has the Nebraska "N" emblazoned on it for everyone across the country and around the world to see.
And everyone seems to notice because Larry the Cable Guy is one of the most ubiquitous personalities in America. He's here; he's there; he's everywhere. He's a multi-platinum recording artist, a Grammy nominee and a Billboard award winner. One of the top comedians in the country also has his own line of merchandise and continues to sell out theaters and arenas across the United States, week after week. month after month year after year.
Larry the Cable Guy on History Channel
Currently, Whitney is the host of Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy for The History Channel. The show has been ordered for a third season after premiering in 2011 and becoming a huge ratings success. In each episode, Larry visits various sites across the country and reveals bits of real history at the same time he immerses himself in new and different lifestyles, jobs and hobbies that celebrate the American experience. If you haven't seen it, try it. You'll get a kick out of a guy who can be as serious as he is funny.
Dan Whitney created the Git-R-Done Foundation, named after his signature catchphrase, and has donated more than $7 million to various charities. Make no mistake, though. Cara Whitney, a former radio personality, is a driving force behind the foundation.
As the father of a daughter who had hip dysplasia, I was moved that the Whitney family donated generously to create an institute that provides help, understanding and hope after their son was born with a congenital dislocation of the hip. Ironically, Mitch Johnson, a University of Nebraska-Kearney football player who will be inducted into Nebraska's Hall of Fame Chapter in September, also overcame the perplexing condition of dysplasia. Fortunately, Cara recognized the need for more information, and the International Hip Dysplasia Institute grew from her desire to help others avoid the problems that she and her husband faced. The Whitneys are the major benefactors for this program through the Git-R-Done Foundation.
Institute Has Wyatt Whitney Wing
Two years ago, their foundation donated $5 million to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children for further development of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute. The hospital opened a new wing called the "Wyatt Whitney Wing" and construction was completed less than two months ago.
That's not all, folks. The Git-R-Done Foundation also has made local donations of $1.2 million to The Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln and $1 million to the Nebraska Child Advocacy Center. The Whitneys' non-profit organization is a focal point for the family's philanthropy, and the foundation's mission is to provide assistance to charitable organizations that have experienced hardships beyond their control, with an emphasis on children and veterans.
Oh, I almost forgot. Did we mention that the Whitneys also donated money to buy new theatrical equipment for the local high school in Dan's hometown of Pawnee City, Neb.?
By now, everyone understands why Dan and Cara Whitney are deserving recipients of the Swanson Award, even though neither seeks the limelight.
Badger Band and Husker Football Fan
We also should mention that Cara is a Cornhusker convert, but loves the Badger band almost as much as she loves Nebraska. Wisconsin, after all, is her home state, and you can only imagine how much grief she takes from her husband for that. But know this: Even though Larry the Cable Guy loves a hot dog as much as anyone inside Memorial Stadium, he is far from a hot dog. His philanthropic side defines who is, what he stands for and why he bleeds red like few others.
Sometime in the near future, Dan Whitney/Larry the Cable Guy's dream is to buy every Husker fan a hot dog at the same game in Lincoln.
Logistically, of course, that would be a concessionaire's nightmare.
"But if he writes us a check for $240,000," Osborne said, "we'd probably find a way to get it done."
Just like Larry the Cable Guy does, pun intended or not.
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