By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Brad Kernick doesn’t need a long list of reasons to give back to his community.
His motivation can be boiled down to six words.
“It’s the right thing to do.”
The longtime Kearney resident was raised with this attitude.
“I don’t do anything to try to win an award,” Kernick says. But that doesn’t mean he’s not worthy of receiving one.
Kernick was recognized Friday with the Ron and Carol Cope Cornerstone of Excellence Award, the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s highest honor. Established in 2003, the annual award is presented to honorees in appreciation of their community service and support of UNK, higher education and the Kearney area.
Fittingly, Kernick received the award inside UNK’s Cope Stadium, where he’s spent countless fall afternoons.
The Atkinson native and UNK alumnus is a diehard Loper football fan and one of the program’s biggest supporters. UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer called him a “difference-maker” for the athletic department.
“Brad’s initiative is unmatched, and his loyalty to Loper athletics is unwavering,” Bauer said. “I have always appreciated his can-do attitude and approach to getting things done.”
Kernick, who contributed to the Cope Stadium construction and field turf replacement projects, is best known for his role with the Loper Football Backers event. He co-founded the yearly fundraiser in 2010 and continues to serve as chairman.
“Brad has been a driving force behind the Football Backers committee since its inception,” Bauer said. “Coach Josh Lynn and I can always count on his willingness to help organize the group, plan and prepare for the banquet and find Loper faithful to get involved. I cannot thank him enough for committing so much of his time, energy and resources to helping our coaches and student-athletes succeed.”
The Loper Backers event, a celebration of UNK football that includes a social hour, dinner, live and silent auctions and raffles, has generated nearly $2 million for student-athlete scholarships over the past decade.
“I would like to believe that’s had a lot to do with the growth and evolution of the football program here,” said Kernick, who was in the stands last December when UNK completed a 7-5 season with a 17-point victory over Winona State in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
Kernick graduated from UNK (then Kearney State College) in 1971 with a degree in business administration before beginning a nearly 40-year career with Eakes Office Solutions. After retirement, he created Kernick Consulting, which assists companies with audit and personnel issues.
The 72-year-old shares his professional expertise as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for UNK’s College of Business and Technology. He also supports the UNK Alumni Association and Museum of Nebraska Art, and he serves as a trustee with the University of Nebraska Foundation.
UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who presented the Cornerstone of Excellence Award during a combined spring/summer commencement ceremony, described Kernick as a caring and committed friend of the university.
“Brad Kernick is one of the most energetic and passionate UNK alumni I know,” Kristensen said. “His dedication to this university is endless.”
“He’s a great role model for people,” Kristensen added. “If they want to become more involved with their university, they should look at Brad Kernick.”
Kernick believes it’s his responsibility as a graduate to support his alma mater and help make UNK an even better place to study.
“For our students who walk off that stage during graduation, you want them to be as prepared as possible and have as many tools as they can to go out in the world and succeed in their careers,” he said.
In addition to his impact at UNK, Kernick has been an active and involved member of the Kearney community for many years.
The self-described “car guy” is chairman of Cruise Nite, a six-day festival that’s become a signature event for Kearney.
An estimated 25,000 to 35,000 people attend Cruise Nite each year, according to Kernick, who’s been involved for more than a decade. The event adds more than $3 million to the local economy, he said.
“It’s great for Kearney and it’s great for the car culture,” said Kernick, who owns several classic vehicles.
Started in 1988, Cruise Nite includes a classic car auction, two large car shows, tours of BluePrint Engines, a vehicle parade at local nursing homes, burnout contest, drag racing, entertainment and food vendors.
Proceeds from the event support scholarships for students studying auto mechanics or auto body repair, as well as charitable organizations such as United Way of the Kearney Area, American Red Cross, Kearney Jubilee Center and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“We’ve donated $8,000 or $9,000 a year,” Kernick said. “That feels good. You know you’re helping those agencies that help people who are less fortunate.”
Kernick is president of the Nebraska Rod and Custom Association, a statewide organization with more than 1,800 members, and vice president of the Central Nebraska Auto Club, which hosts Cruise Nite. He also serves on the board of directors for the Classic Car Collection, Kearney Visitors Bureau, Kearney Jubilee Center and Merryman Performing Arts Center.
A member of First Lutheran Church of Kearney, Kernick previously served on The Archway board, chaired the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council of Buffalo County boards and led a pair of United Way fundraising campaigns.
“I care about those organizations and I care about what they’re doing,” Kernick said of his community service.
Plus, it’s the right thing to do.
Previous Cope Cornerstone of Excellence Award recipients are:
2003 – Carol Cope
2004 – B.M. and Beverly Stevenson
2005 – L.R. and Jane Smith
2006 – Steve Chatelain
2007 – Robert and Dode Sahling
2008 – Paul and Linda Younes
2009 – Earl Rademacher
2010 – Dwayne and Margaret Brown
2011 – Todd Thalken
2012 – Thomas Henning
2013 – Bill B. Beavers
2014 – Joel T. Johnson
2015 – Daniel P. Slawski
2016 – Stanley P. Clouse
2017 – Galen and Marilyn Hadley
2018 – Richard and Barbara Bush
2019 – Jerry and Nancy Dulitz