Osbornes and Varners honored with highest development service award

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Nancy and Tom Osborne have been conferred the 2019 Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service in recognition of the years they advocated for the university and their involvement with private philanthropy for the university.

Paula and Woody Varner were also conferred the award posthumously by the University of Nebraska Foundation, with their family members accepting the award on their behalf.

The recipients were recognized by the University of Nebraska Foundation at its annual meeting of trustees on Oct. 4, 2019.

The Noddle Award honors longtime University of Nebraska advocate Harlan Noddle of Omaha, who served as chair of the University of Nebraska Foundation board of directors among many other volunteer roles.

He died in 2005, and the award was created in his memory by his family and the university to recognize university employees who assist with fundraising efforts on behalf of the university and who exemplify Noddle’s initiative, honesty, integrity, compassion, commitment, foresight, tolerance and diligence.

Nancy and Tom Osborne’s ‘lives have been an example of service’

Scott Frost, Husker football head coach, said, “When I read about the Noddle Award, the first four characteristics for its recipients are honesty, integrity, compassion and commitment. There is nobody I know who embodies those traits more than Tom and Nancy Osborne. Tom has been a role model to so many, and Nancy sacrificed so much to allow Tom to do that and has helped people as well.”

VIDEO: See video tribute to Nancy and Tom Osborne

For decades, the Osbornes of Lincoln have been tremendous partners together in encouraging philanthropic leadership for UNL’s student-athlete programs. This includes private support for the expansion of East Memorial Stadium and the addition of the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab, the Hendricks Training Complex and the redevelopment of the Bob Devaney Sports Center for Husker volleyball

They were also instrumental with the Gordon Indoor Practice Field for baseball and softball, the David and Carol Alloy Strength Complex, Cook Pavilion for indoor football practice, Pinnacle Bank Arena that’s home to Husker Basketball and the Lewis Training Table and Academics and Life Skills Programs in West Stadium.

Nancy and Tom founded TeamMates Mentoring, a program that has provided support to thousands of youth with the goal of seeing them complete high school and pursue more education.

“The first thing my parents would say is that they are servant-leaders, so they don’t always want the attention and acknowledgment, but they are certainly deserving of it,” said Suzanne Hince, a daughter of the Osbornes’ and executive director of the TeamMates Foundation. “Their whole lives have been an example of service to others.”

Paula and Woody Varner ‘knew how to do the right thing’

Paula and Woody Varner advanced the University of Nebraska from the time they arrived in Nebraska in 1970.

Woody was recruited from Oakland University, then part of Michigan State, to become chancellor of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

In 1971 Woody Varner was appointed as the first president of the newly established University of Nebraska System, a post created when the university was reorganized by the Nebraska Legislature to add the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly the University of Omaha) and to designate UNL and UNMC as separate campuses.

After leading the university for 24 years, Woody Varner joined the University of Nebraska Foundation to manage its first comprehensive campaign, which raised $51.3 million, greatly surpassing its goal.

Paula provided support in all of the couple’s activities and achievements by engaging donors, students, faculty, public officials and others while serving as an active community volunteer.

VIDEO: See video tribute to Paula and Woody Varner

Tom Osborne, a longtime friend to the Varners who served as the Husker football coach under Woody Varner’s leadership, said Woody was someone who wore a lot of hats.

“He was first the chancellor and then the president of the University of Nebraska and did great things with the NU Foundation,” Osborne said. “He was kind of a remarkable person, and as a couple, I just can’t think of better people that the foundation can honor.”

Sue Wilkins, one of the Varners’ daughters, said, “My dad and my mother had a great knack for doing the right thing. It was an innate ability they had. They knew how to say the right thing, they knew how to do the right thing, and it was always very genuine ― it was straight from their heart.”

Tom Osborne added, “I would have to say that Woody was somebody who was foundational; he was somebody who would set the table for lots of people to do better.”

Woody Varner died in 1999, and Paula Varner died in 2007.

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