Carlson adjusts to family tragedy, life with new parents

UNK junior Dan Carlson, left, was raised by Bob and Rita Hays of Grand Island after his mother committed suicide and his father was sent to prison. Carlson’s family received the UNK Outstanding Family Award during recent homecoming festivities, where Carlson also was voted king. (Photo courtesy Jamie Emal)

Writer: Sara Giboney
Office: 308.865.8529

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – His mom committed suicide when he was three years old. His father was sent to prison just a few years later. But University of Nebraska at Kearney student Dan Carlson has a family worth celebrating.

After losing both parents, Carlson and his brothers – Andy, Tom and Steve – moved in with their former neighbors Bob and Rita Hays of Grand Island and their four children – Grant, Matt, Beth and Emily. Carlson’s oldest brother, Phil, started college that year.

“Over the course of the next 13 years, as I went through elementary, middle and high school, we’ve all become one big family,” Carlson wrote in his 2013 UNK Outstanding Family application. “Even though they aren’t my biological parents, Bob and Rita have done so much to encourage me and help me succeed.”

Any UNK student can nominate their family for the Outstanding Family Award. Carlson’s family received the award this year.

“We’ve overcome so much as a family,” said Carlson, a junior music and organizational and relational communication major.

Combining two families was a challenge, he said, but they came together as one family to love and support one another.

“All the support they’ve given us throughout the years, and everything that they’ve done for us even though they necessarily didn’t have to – I just thought that was something that was very cool,” Carlson said about why he nominated his family.

Although Carlson isn’t sure what convinced the Hays family to take in him and his brothers, he wanted them to get some recognition for their support.

“My parents lived next to them and they were really close with our family. They already cared about us even before we had moved in,” Carlson said.

Carlson, who was the youngest of all the children, said he enjoyed always having someone to play with and having his older siblings look out for him.

“It was tougher for the older siblings,” Carlson said. “They had to adjust a lot more than I did.”

Carlson is a member of the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, resident hall assistant, member of the band and was crowned king during last week’s Homecoming Week festivities.

The UNK Outstanding Family receives a free lunch, rides in a convertible during the Homecoming and Band Day Parade, receives complimentary Loper gear and watches the Homecoming football game with Chancellor Doug Kristensen from the Nebraskan Student Union skybox.

“It was really exciting to know that they were going to be honored,” Carlson said. “They’ve done so much and it’s not always that they get recognized for it.”

His parents, Bob and Rita, and some of his siblings came to campus to receive their award and participate in Homecoming activities.

“They were touched that I thought to nominate them,” Carlson said. “I didn’t tell them I was going to do it.”

The day was also meaningful for Carlson because it was his biological mom’s birthday. “To be recognized as the outstanding family on that day, that was special,” he said.