UNK honoring 10 distinguished alumni during homecoming celebration

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney Alumni Association has announced 10 alumni award recipients who will be recognized during homecoming festivities Oct. 4-5.

Recipients of the awards include: Richard Davenport of Mankato, Minnesota; Mark Graff of McCook; Sandy (Holen) Johnson of Omaha; and Mark Sanders of Nacogdoches, Texas.

The Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service Award will go to Pete and Jane Kotsiopulos of Kearney, and the Distinguished Young Alumni Award will go to Krystle (Faust) Buntemeyer of Kearney.

The College of Education Distinguished Educator of the Year is Mary (Van Ackeren) Clark of Brady.

This year’s Dr. Don Fox Lecturer is Tim Slocum of Gretna, and the Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumna award goes to Nicole Elliott of Houston (1999).

The 39th Annual Distinguished Alumni Awards will be given during the luncheon at 11:30 am Oct. 4 in the Ponderosa Room in the Nebraskan Student Union. Tickets are $25 per person ($30 starting Sept. 27), $15 for children ages 12 & under, and can be purchased at unkalumni.org/homecoming or by calling the UNK Alumni Association at 308-698-5271.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Richard Davenport
Richard Davenport

Richard Davenport (Ph.D. 1967) of Mankato, Minnesota, is the president of Minnesota State University. Davenport has been an educator since 1968, spending most of those years in higher education and has served as MSU’s president since 2002.

Davenport’s career in education started at Manchester Public Schools in Iowa in 1968. Throughout the next 33 years, he served as a speech and hearing disorder professor at Iowa State University and St. Cloud State University; coordinator of university programs for Winona State University, St. Mary’s University and St. Teresa College; associate vice president of academic affairs and graduate dean at Western State University of Colorado; and senior vice president and provost for Central Michigan University.

Under Davenport’s leadership, more than $750 million has been raised to support scholarships as well as campus infrastructure updates at Minnesota State University, including six new academic and student affairs buildings, replaced athletic and intramural fields, and renovations to or replacement of all residence halls. MSU has grown to the second largest higher education institution in the state of Minnesota.

Davenport has served on the executive board of the American Association of Higher Education; chair of the Western Collegiate Athletic Hockey Conference, North Central Athletic Conference; was appointed to the Minnesota Judicial Selection Committee; served on numerous local and regional boards and traveled with the Minnesota governor to China and India as part of a trade mission.

Davenport, a Grand Island High School graduate, earned his degree in education, speech and hearing disorders from Kearney State College in 1967. He went on to earn a master’s in speech and language disorders from Colorado State University 1969, a Ph.D. in higher education from Iowa State University in 1974 and completed the Harvard University IEM Program in 1992.

Mark Graff
Mark Graff

(Peter) Mark Graff (1979) of McCook is chairman and president/CEO of MNB Financial Group, serving as the chairman of the board of directors for MNB Bank, MNB Financial Group, MNB Insurance Services and Graff Family, Inc. Graff has been with MNB Financial Group (formerly McCook National Bank) since 1983.

Graff has been active on multiple boards and associations, including the Banker Advisory Board of the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin, American Bankers Association’s ag and rural bankers committee, Western States Directors of Education Foundation, Nebraska Bankers Association, Nebraska Diplomats, Nebraska Community Foundation, Nebraska Beginning Farmers Board, Nebraska Investment Finance Authority Board, Senator Mike Johann’s Ag Advisory committee, McCook Community Foundation Fund, McCook Economic Development Corporation, McCook Area Chamber of Commerce and McCook Optimist Club. Graff was a charter member of Leadership McCook and was the 2004 McCook Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award.

Graff is a McCook High School graduate and received his degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from Kearney State College in 1979. He also graduated from the Graduate School of Banking program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989.

Sandy Johnson
Sandy (Holen) Johnson

Sandy (Holen) Johnson (1967) of Omaha recently retired after 28 years in marketing. She spent the past ten years with the Colorado Physicians Insurance Company as director of market relations. She previously held executive positions with Nebraska and Iowa Men’s Markets, Metro Omaha Medical Society and the Nebraska Medical Association. Johnson served as a public schools and community college educator for 13 years after she graduated from college.

Johnson currently serves on the board of directors for the Physician’s Foundation, Physicians Advocacy Institute and Nebraska Academy of Family Physicians. She has also served on boards of the American Association of Medical Society Executives, Omaha Downtown Rotary and Omaha community Foundation Women’s Fund. Johnson received the 2000 Friend of Metro Omaha Medical Society Alliance Award, the 2000 Domestic Violence Coordinating Council Leadership Award and the 2008 Metro Omaha Medical Society Community Service Award.

Johnson, a Lexington High School graduate, earned her degree in education from Kearney State College in 1967.

Mark Sanders
Mark Sanders

Mark Sanders (1976, MAE 1979) of Nacogdoches, Texas, is associate dean for the College of Liberal and Applied Arts at Stephen F. Austin State University. Sanders began teaching in 1977, spending three years in Nebraska high schools and 39 years in higher education in Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Idaho and Texas. He has been at Stephen F. Austin State University since 2008, serving as associate dean since 2018.

Sanders has written or edited numerous books, including more than 500 publications of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism in journals in the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and Australia. He received the Mildred Bennett Award from the Nebraska Center for the Book in 2007 and has had several essays and short stories noted as outstanding works by a variety of publications. His work earned 2016 and 2018 Nebraska Book Awards, and his book “Landscapes, with Horses” received the 2019 Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Sanders was inducted into the Ord High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2018.

Sanders was born in Creighton and graduated from Ord High School. He earned his education degree in 1976 and a master’s in English education in 1979, both from Kearney State College. He holds Ph.D.’s from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Idaho.

Krystle Buntemeyer
Krystle Buntemeyer

Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Krystle (Faust) Buntemeyer (2006) of Kearney is president of SCORR Marketing. She started as an intern in 2005, working her way to the role of president, a position she started in 2018. As president, Buntemeyer is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business.

During her time at SCORR Marketing, Buntemeyer has worked with pharma, drug development service providers and health care organizations across the United States, as well as around the globe, providing marketing strategies and brand development, assisting with mergers and acquisitions, and launching products and services.

Buntemeyer was recognized as the 2017 Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association, Omaha. She has served as a presenter and panelist for the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, Meet the Pros and the Public Relations State Association Nebraska chapter. She is also a volunteer for the Kearney Habitat for Humanity and is an active member of the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce.

Buntemeyer, a Boone Central High School graduate, earned her degree in journalism advertising with a minor in marketing/management from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2006.

Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service Award

Pete and Jane Kotsiopulos
Pete and Jane Kotsiopulos

Pete (1970) and Jane Kotsiopulos of Kearney are recipients of the service award. Both Pete and Jane are retired after 50 years in the public and private sector. Both have been long-time volunteers for the University of Nebraska system, UNK and UNK Alumni Association.

Pete started his first business, Varsity Formal Wear, in 1969, eventually adding Liberty Uniform and Linen Supply, then merging with Liberty Cleaners to form Liberty Services, Inc., in 1975. After 36 years in business, Pete served as the University of Nebraska vice president of university affairs for seven years. Pete worked for the University of Nebraska Foundation for the UNK campus for eight years before retiring in 2019.

Jane taught English for five years in New Jersey before returning to Nebraska. She managed the Lodge Restaurant, served as public relations manager for Platte Valley State Bank, and was the personnel/payroll coordinator for Liberty Services, Inc.

Through the years, Pete and Jane have served on numerous boards, including UNK Chancellor’s Advisory Committee, have chaired or served on several capital campaigns, are active members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, and both are admirals in the Great Navy of Nebraska.

Jane has been active on the UNK Academic Affairs Advisory Board, Crane River Theatre Board, UNK Athletics Board, Friends of Lied Board, Kearney Public Schools Foundation Board, Governor Kay Orr’s Judicial Nomination Commission and is the co-founder of PRIDE (Parents Resources and Information for Drug Education).

Pete has served on the State College Board of Trustees, UNMC’s Board of Counselors, Kearney City Council member and mayor, Nebraska Diplomats, Boy Scouts of America, League of Nebraska Municipalities, The Great Platte River Road Archway, Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, Kearney United Way, and the Kearney Sertoma Club. Pete has been recognized as a UNKAA Distinguished Alumni, Sigma Phi Epsilon Distinguished Alumnus, UNK Distinguished Service, Kiwanis Citizen of the Year, Nebraska Diplomats Ambassador of the Year, Kearney High School Distinguished Graduate and earned a Kearney Freedom Award in Business.

Pete, a Kearney High School graduate, earned his business administration degree in 1970 from Kearney State College. Jane, a Davenport High School graduate, earned a degree in English secondary education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1967 and a master’s in reading specialization from Newark State University (now known as Rutgers University) in 1970.

College of Education Distinguished Educator of the Year

Tim Slocum
Tim Slocum
Mary Clark
Mary (Van Ackeren) Clark

Mary (Van Ackeren) Clark (1986) of Brady taught for 33 years, spending 31 of those years at Gothenburg High School, before retiring in 2019.

While employed with Gothenburg High School, Clark taught English, speech, reading and study skills, and coached volleyball, track and speech. She was the first recipient of the GHS Teacher of the Year Award. Clark served on the Gothenburg Education Association and is the assistant coordinator of the annual Nebraska Championship Meet held in Gothenburg.

While in college, Clark was a member of the Loper volleyball team. Clark, a Howells High School graduate, earned her bachelor’s degree in English, speech and theater 7-12 education from Kearney State College in 1986.

Dr. Don Fox Lecturer

Tim Slocum (2000) of Gretna, Nebraska, is the director of operations for Rieke Metals in Lincoln.

After receiving his degree from UNK, Slocum joined Rieke Metals as a synthetic chemist. Throughout his career at Rieke Metals, he has been involved at a bench chemistry level and oversite for the production of organometallic reagents, highly reactive metals, fine chemicals and organic polymers. He has overseen the synthesis of advanced chemical intermediates for active pharmaceutical and material science projects for more than 15 years. In 2017, Slocum was promoted to director of operations and now oversees all business and chemistry operations, including budgeting, personnel oversight, capital expenditures and business development. Slocum has been published in “Tetrahedron Letters” and “SYNTHESIS.”

Slocum received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 2000 from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumna

Nicole Elliott
Nicole Elliott

Nicole Elliott (1999) of Houston, Texas, is a marketing advisor for BP, as well as an adjunct faculty member for marketing in undergraduate studies and corporate fellow for the MBA program for the University of Houston-Downtown. She has spent her career pursuing marketing in a variety of industries, including music publishing, academic publishing, digital retail and energy.

Elliott is currently serving as the vice president of audience development for the Houston Choral Society, of which she is also a performing member. She recently served as the vice president of communications for the Houston Chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) where she was also awarded the Volunteer of the Year and was part of the executive board which was named Chapter of the Year (2017). In 2013, she was named Marketing Manager of the Year for SAGE Publications. While at Alfred Publishing in California, she was recognized with “Morty” Special Recognition Awards in both 2006 and 2009. Elliott was also awarded the NAMM Music Industry Internship, open only to students of NAMBI-accredited schools such as the UNK music business program (1999).

While in college, Elliott was a member of the UNK Pride of the Plains Marching Band, concert band, jazz/rock ensemble, Choraleers, Collegium and Nebraskats. Elliott earned a Bachelor of Science in music business from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 1999, and her MBA with concentrations in both marketing and management from CSU Northridge in 2008.

2019 Homecoming Alumni Events

Friday, October 4
11:30 a.m. – Distinguished Alumni Awards Luncheon (Nebraskan Student Union – Ponderosa Room)
2:30 p.m. – Chemistry Department’s Dr. Don Fox Lecture (Copeland Hall, 131)
3:30 p.m. – One Room, One Teacher Induction Ceremony (College of Education Atrium)
5:30 p.m. – Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet (Nebraskan Student Union – Ponderosa Room)

Saturday, October 5
10 a.m. – Homecoming Parade (Downtown Kearney)
Noon – Loper Brews & Brats Tailgate at Loperville Fan Fest (Cope Stadium)
2 p.m. – UNK Football vs. Northeastern State (Cope Stadium, Foster Field)