Nebraska Greats News

The Nebraska Greats Foundation partners with Nebraska-based First State Bank

The Nebraska Greats Foundation (501C-3) www.negreats.org is proud to announce a corporate partnership.

Gothenburg-based First State Bank www.1ststatebank.com will serve as “The Official Community Bank” of the Nebraska Greats Foundation.  The two Nebraska-based organizations completed a five year agreement (terms not disclosed) that will provide the NGF with financial and external support while offering FSB unique exposure, brand association and exclusive client experiences.

“This is a wonderful partnership that will allow us to better serve our current and future recipients while also getting the word out about the mission of the Nebraska Greats Foundation.   It was very important that we work with a statewide company since we serve those in need from all 15 four year schools from Chadron to Peru.” Says NGF Founder and Board President Jerry Murtaugh.

“We’re excited to be a partner with such a meaningful foundation, that aligns with our culture and purpose. The Nebraska Greats has already done a tremendous job and has big dreams to accomplish even more. We’re honored to be a part of it.”  Says Derek Randecker, Market President.

“Everyone in this state appreciates what collegiate athletes accomplish and we’re thrilled to be working with a foundation that makes sure these athletes have opportunities to be successful.” Says Leti Wees, Vice President

First State Bank serves the communities of Omaha, Ralston, North Platte, Mullen, Wallace, and Gothenburg. The $500 million in assets bank provides products and services for any industry; commercial, residential, farming, and ranching. One of the bank’s missions is to always be thinking outside the box and not get stuck in the “traditional banking” ways.

The Nebraska Greats Foundation provides financial assistance to any qualified former letter winners who have emergency or on-going medical needs.  To date, the NGF has awarded grants in excess of $500,000. 

Giving a Helping Hand to Nebraska Greats

Memory-makers.

That’s what former Husker gridiron great Jerry Murtaugh calls the ex-collegiate athletes whose exploits we recall with larger-than-life nostalgia.

Mythic-like hero portrayals aside, athletes are only human. Their bodies betray them. Medical interventions and other emergencies drain resources. Not every old athlete can pay pressing bills or afford needed care. That’s where the Nebraska Greats Foundation that Murtaugh began five years ago comes in. The charitable organization assists memory-makers who lettered in a sport at any of Nebraska’s 15 universities or colleges.

“All the money we generate goes into helping the memory-makers and their families,” Murtaugh says.

Its genesis goes back to Murtaugh missing a chance to help ailing ex-Husker star Andra Franklin, who died in 2006. When he learned another former NU standout, Dave Humm, was hurting, he made it his mission to help. Murtaugh got Husker coaching legend Tom Osborne to endorse the effort and write the first check.

“The foundation has been a source of financial aid to many former Huskers who are in need, but also, and maybe equally important, it has helped bind former players together in an effort to stay in touch and to serve each other,” Osborne says. “I sense a feeling of camaraderie and caring among our former players not present in many other athletic programs around the country.”

The foundation has since expanded its reach to letter-winners from all Nebraska higher ed institutions.

By the start of 2018, more than $270,000 raised by the foundation went to cover the needs of 12 recipients. Three recipients subsequently died from cancer. As needed, the foundation provides for the surviving spouse and children of memory-makers.

The latest and youngest grantee is also the first female recipient—Brianna Perez. The former York College All-America softball player required surgery for a knee injury suffered playing ball. Between surgery, flying to California to see her ill mother, graduate school, and unforeseen expenses, Perez went into debt.

“She found out about us, we reviewed her application, and her bills were paid off,” Nebraska Greats Foundation Administrator Margie Smith says. “She cried and so did I.”

It’s hard for proud ex-athletes to accept or ask for help, says all-time Husker hoops great Maurtice Ivy, who serves on the board. Yet they find themselves in vulnerable straits that can befall anyone. Giving back to those who gave so much, she says, “is a no-brainer.”

The hard times that visit these greats are heartbreaking. Some end up in wheelchairs, others homeless. Some die and leave family behind.

“I cry behind closed doors,” Murtaugh says. “One of the great ones we lost, a couple weeks before he passed away said, ‘All I’m asking is take care of my family.’ So, we’re doing our best. What I’m proud of is, we don’t leave them hanging. Our athlete, our brother, our sister has died, and we just don’t stop there—we clear up all the medical bills the family faces. We’re there for them.”

 

“We become advocates, cheerleaders, and sounding boards for them and their families,” Smith says. “I am excited when I write checks to pay their bills, thrilled when they make a full recovery, and cry when they pass away. But we’re helping our memory-makers through their time of need. Isn’t this what life is all about?”

Smith says the foundation pays forward what the athletes provided fans in terms of feelings and memories.

“We all want to belong to something good,” she says. “That is why the state’s collegiate sports programs are so successful. We cheer our beloved athletes to do their best to make us feel good. We brag about the wins, cry over the losses. The outcome affects us because we feel a sense of belonging. These recipients gave their all for us. They served as role models. Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”

Murtaugh is sure it’s an idea whose time has come.

“Right now, I think we’re the only state that helps our former athletes,” he says. “Before I’m dead, I’m hoping every state picks up on this and helps their own because the NCAA isn’t going to help you after you’re done. We know that. And that’s what we’re here for—we need to help our own. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Funds raised go directly to creditors, not recipients.

He says two prominent athletic figures with ties to the University of Nebraska—Barry Alvarez, who played football at NU and coached Wisconsin, where he’s athletic director, and Craig Bohl, who played and coached at NU’s football program, led North Dakota State to three national titles, and now coaches Wyoming—wish to start similar foundations.

Murtaugh and his board, comprised mostly of ex-athletes like himself, are actively getting the word out across the state and beyond to identify more potential recipients and raise funds to support them. He’s confident of the response.

“We’re going to have the money to help all the former athletes in the state who need our help,” he says. “Athletes and fans are starting to really understand the impact they all make for these recipients. People have stepped up and donated a lot of money. A lot of people have done a lot of things for us. But we need more recipients. We have some money in the bank that needs to be used.”

Because Nebraska collegiate fan bases extend statewide and nationally, Murtaugh travels to alumni and booster groups to present the foundation’s work. Everywhere he goes, he says, people get behind it.

“Nebraskans are the greatest fans in the country and they back their athletes in all 15 colleges and universities,” he says. “It’s great to see. I’m proud to be part of this, I really am.”

Foundation fundraisers unite the state around a shared passion. A golf classic in North Platte last year featured the three Husker Heisman Trophy winners—Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch—for an event that raised $40,000. Another golf outing is planned for July in Kearney that will once more feature the Heisman trio.

 

Murtaugh envisions future events across the state so fans can rub shoulders with living legends and help memory-makers with their needs.

He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”

Visit nebraskagreatsfoundation.org for more information.

 

Originally published March 2, 2018 Omaha Magazine
Leo Adam Biga, author

Nebraska Greats Foundation looking for next athletes and ‘memory-makers’ to help

Amid the euphoria of a former Nebraska great coming home to coach, the Nebraska Greats Foundation continues its quiet work — helping ex-athletes in medical need.

Among those helped:

» David Humm, the lefty Husker quarterback from 1972-74, now wheelchair-bound with multiple sclerosis in his hometown of Las Vegas, received thousands for nursing care.

» Josh Jones of Omaha, a Creighton basketball player from 2009-13 with a heart condition, received a grant for medical costs not covered by insurance.

» Jim Unger of Lincoln, a 1975 All-America gymnast for the Huskers who was paralyzed in a 2012 bicycle accident, was able to purchase specialized equipment.

» Willie Miller of Gulfport, Mississippi, a 1996-2000 Husker fullback, received a grant for weight-loss surgery (not covered by insurance) so he could have long-needed back surgery, now scheduled for Wednesday.

The foundation has helped about a dozen former athletes from colleges and universities in Nebraska — not just ex-Huskers — but it has an unusual problem: more money on hand than people to spend it on.

“We need recipients,” said Jerry Murtaugh of Omaha, the 1970 NU All-America linebacker who founded the nonprofit. “We’ve spent $275,000 the past five years, but we have $200,000 in the bank.”

With former quarterback Scott Frost returning as the Husker coach, excitement for the future of the football program is building, and Nebraska is receiving renewed national attention.

The Nebraska Greats Foundation is independent of the university, but Murtaugh and his board, including ex-Huskers and former players from other schools, are seeking a little attention — hoping that former athletes in medical need will make contact.

Ex-letterwinners or their friends and families can go to nebraskagreatsfoundation.org and download the application.

Each case is different. The need may be a little, or it may be a lot.

The foundation provided $80,000 for Humm and about $40,000 for Unger, who called it a godsend.

On Aug. 12, 2012, Unger was riding his bicycle three blocks from his home when he glanced over his shoulder for traffic — and didn’t see a pothole.

“As soon as I landed, I tried to get up, but nothing worked,” he said. “I was paralyzed from the neck down.”

For decades he operated his own gymnastics school and had been in great shape. Besides the neck injury, he needed 100 stitches in his face and had four broken ribs.

Through extensive rehab, including physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture, he has regained some function. He stays positive, asserting, “I’m going to walk again, for sure.”

At a Nebraska Greats event recently at the Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, he explained his high-tech machine that uses electrodes to help him exercise his legs. He also has an electrical stimulator for his hands.

The foundation’s problem of finding recipients, Unger said, isn’t that athletes are too proud to ask for help. “I just think nobody knows about this.”

Murtaugh and others want to get the word out. Among the foundation’s board members are Eric Crouch, 2001 Heisman Trophy winner; Maurtice Ivy, three-time all-conference women’s basketball player at NU; and Sandy Buda, former football coach at UNO.

Medical consultants are former Husker football players Dr. Monte Christo and Dr. Rob Zatechka.

Willie Miller, a Bellevue West graduate from an Air Force family, played as a backup NU fullback with Frost and as a two-year starter with Crouch.

An academic all-conference honoree, he missed a chance to play pro football, he said, because a neck problem caused him to fail the NFL physical.

He worked in pharmaceutical sales but said he later suffered from depression and was diagnosed as bipolar. His 260-pound playing weight grew to 390.

Now a motivational speaker in the mental-health field, Miller said his back surgeon required that he first get his weight under 300. A friend notified the Nebraska Greats Foundation, and Willie received a call from Murtaugh.

Miller soon received a $25,000 grant for gastric-sleeve surgery, and he has changed his diet and lost 100 pounds. He said he had put off the back surgery for 17 years.

“The foundation has been a huge blessing,” he said. “And it’s reminded me of the importance of the sacrifices I made in my career, giving it my all on every single play on the field.”

The foundation has assisted ex-Husker basketball player Larry Florence (1996-2000) with travel expenses for medical treatment.

And it has helped wipe out bills for the families of some who have died: Anthony Steels, a 1979-81 NU football player; Alan Pogue, multisport athlete at Dana College, 1984-87; Adam Skoda, NU football, 1994-95; and Pat Kiehn, UNO football, early 1980s.

The first female recipient will be announced soon.

The Nebraska Greats Foundation is modeled somewhat after former NFL star Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. Murtaugh consulted with Ditka, a Hall of Famer who played for and coached the Chicago Bears.

In Nebraska, money has been raised through tax-deductible donations as well as through golf outings and other fundraisers.

Murtaugh said he knows of no other such foundation in the country with a mission to assist former college athletes in need.

He’s not worried, he said, that the $200,000 in the bank will get spent, and that will be the end of it. More money will come in, he said, when more ex-athletes in need come forward.

“All these athletes,” Murtaugh said, “were the memory-makers of the state of Nebraska.”

 

Originally published December 12, 2017 on Omaha.com
Michael Kelly, World Herald columnist
michael.kelly@owh.com, 402-444-1132