By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Brian and Carey Hamilton’s philanthropy impacts nearly every aspect of campus, from academics and athletics to extracurricular activities and facilities.
They’re true pillars of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, according to Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
“If you’re graduating today, I guarantee they’ve touched your academic lives, your personal lives and your student involvement through their personal generosity and their financial commitments to UNK and the university system as a whole,” Kristensen said during Friday’s spring commencement ceremony.
Calling them role models and leaders for the university and state, he selected the successful Nebraska business couple for this year’s Ron and Carol Cope Cornerstone of Excellence Award. Presented annually during spring commencement, the award recognizes individuals for their community service and support of UNK, the Kearney area, state of Nebraska and higher education. It is UNK’s highest honor.
The owners of Midway Auto Group in Kearney and Beardmore Chevrolet Subaru in Bellevue lead by example – “all for the benefit of our students.”
“Their energy and willingness to serve and support our university is admirable,” Kristensen said.
Currently, Brian and Carey are executive committee members and UNK co-chairs for the Only in Nebraska campaign, a historic effort to raise $3 billion to support University of Nebraska students, faculty, academic programs and research. UNK’s campaign priorities include the Rural Health Education Building, new student scholarships, endowed faculty professorships and chairs, Loper Sports Performance Network, Calvin T. Ryan Library redevelopment and student success programs.
The Hamiltons were also committee members for the Campaign for Nebraska, a 10-year effort that raised more than $1.8 billion for the NU System, including $57.7 million for UNK.
Brian served on the NU Foundation Board of Directors during the first campaign and Carey is a current board member. They’ve both been on the NU President’s Advisory Council, as well.
“What’s so great about the Foundation side of things is the scholarship money that allows students to come to college,” Brian said. “When you see what a difference it makes for these students, and what it’s going to do for them down the road, that’s just amazing.”
The Hamiltons established their own endowed scholarships for students in the UNK College of Arts and Sciences and College of Business and Technology, along with another available to Lopers pursuing any major. They also support the Loper Pantry, UNK Chancellor’s Fund, Delta Tau Delta fraternity and UNK Athletics. In 2015, they provided the lead gift for a $250,000 project that upgraded the football locker room, which is named in their honor.
“Carey and Brian have been tremendously supportive of UNK Athletics over the years. They are strong advocates of our university who want to help us achieve excellence and enrich the student-athlete experience,” said UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer. “We are grateful for the Hamiltons and what they continually provide to support our mission, vision and future.”
Brian and Carey called the Cope Cornerstone of Excellence Award a “tremendous honor.”
“We think the world of Doug Kristensen, and the fact that he chose us is the ultimate compliment,” Carey said. “And the Copes transformed so much of Kearney and UNK with their generosity, so to be associated with their name is quite humbling.”
“We don’t hold a candle to what they did for UNK, but we’ll do as much as we can,” Brian added. “We’re just blessed to be in the situation where we’re able to help and give back.”
Both Nebraska natives – Carey’s mother grew up in Kearney and she still has family members here – the Hamiltons met when they were students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“So we owe the university system a lot,” Brian said with a smile.
They got married in 1971, and Brian graduated the following year with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After the birth of their two daughters, Carey completed her degree in business administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in December 1978 and started working for her father, Moe Beardmore, the following month.
She represents the fourth generation of her family to enter the automotive industry – a tradition that started in Mankato, Kansas, in 1919 and eventually spread to locations across central and eastern Nebraska. Beardmore opened his first dealership in Oxford in 1954, followed by Beardmore Chevrolet in Bellevue in 1971.
Brian spent 10 years working in the trucking industry before he and Carey decided to purchase their first dealership – Hamilton Chevrolet Cadillac BMW in Grand Island.
“We sold our house, insurance policies and stock, her father loaned us some money, General Motors loaned us some money, and we bought the Grand Island location and started there,” Brian explained.
Five years later, the Hamiltons entered the Kearney market when they purchased the local Chevrolet and Mazda franchises. Kearney had been without a Chevy dealership for about two years when Midway Chevrolet Mazda opened in 1987.
Their footprint has continued to expand since then.
After leasing the original location – where King’s Buffet is now – Brian and Carey purchased land six blocks south along Second Avenue and built a new dealership for Midway Chevrolet. They added the Cadillac and Buick franchises in 1999, the Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership in 2004 and the GMC franchise in 2014.
The Hamiltons have lived in Omaha since 1995, when they purchased Beardmore Chevrolet from Carey’s family following her father’s death. Subaru and Hyundai vehicles are also sold and serviced at their Bellevue locations.
Altogether, the couple employs about 300 people, including around 120 in Kearney. Many of these employees are UNK graduates or current students working part time.
“Our controller, Peggy, went to UNK and she’s an accounting graduate. She started with us as a sophomore in college. Shane Killion played on the football team. He’s our service director,” Brian said. “Everywhere in this dealership, there are ties to UNK. That’s another reason why we want to support it.”
“The university is such an economic driver for this area,” Carey added. “It’s so important not only to businesses in Kearney but also to the living atmosphere – the arts and culture, the speakers they bring in, the conferences they host. It enhances Kearney as a place to live.”
In addition to UNK, the Hamiltons support UNL, UNO and Bellevue University, where Carey serves on the board of directors. She’s also a founding member of Women Investing in Nebraska, an organization that has awarded nearly $180,000 in grant funding to UNK to promote STEM education in Head Start programs and increase college attendance aspiration among Hispanic youths.
Brian previously served on the National Automobile Dealers Association Board of Directors.
“Carey and Brian are genuine, caring and supportive Nebraskans,” Bauer said. “It’s one thing to identify and support the needs associated with a city or institution that you live in or graduated from, but the Hamiltons’ reach is felt across the entire state of Nebraska. They understand that the future of Nebraska, both rural and metro areas, requires educated leadership that will help the state prosper for generations to come.”
As alumni themselves, they’re a shining example of the benefits of a University of Nebraska education.
“I can’t imagine not having had that experience,” Carey said. “I just can’t imagine it. It’s had an immeasurable impact on our careers.”
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 – Stan Clouse
2017 – Galen and Marilyn Hadley
2018 – Richard and Barbara Bush
2019 – Jerry and Nancy Dulitz
2020 – Brad Kernick
2021 – Pete and Jane Kotsiopulos
2022 – Tom Tye