'I'm So Proud of What Those in This State Achieve'

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Foundation’s first female board chair champions NU 

Josh Planos

Assistant Director of Communications
Contact: josh.planos@nufoundation.org

It is with reluctance that, after a lifetime of service, Marian Battey Andersen has assumed the role of matriarch for the numerous organizations that she has elevated over the years.

Not that she isn’t proud. In speaking with the 91-year-old one gets the sense that the trailblazing, philanthropy-championing, dame of the Cornhusker state would rather be considered just another woman born and bred in the capital city who never lost track of home or how to support those who claim it. 

But with apologies to Andersen, the innumerable list of accomplishments and of lives forever altered has rendered that desire for relative anonymity impossible.

Andersen is the daughter of C. Wheaton Battey, one of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s first trustees. Over nearly a half-century of involvement, she said she has watched something her father helped establish “evolve into a really significant, great part of the university.” 

Her fingerprints can be found on many of the levers that moved the foundation to where it is today.

It was Andersen who, in 1984, became the first woman to chair the University of Nebraska Foundation Board of Directors, a role her late husband, Harold Andersen, assumed in 1991. The Andersens also co-chaired the foundation’s Campaign Nebraska, which raised more than $725 million.

The Andersens philanthropic efforts touched everything from buildings on the university’s campuses to scholarships to groundbreaking medical research. 

“I continue to like to know what’s going on,” Andersen said with a laugh, explaining why she remains so involved. “I’m still very invested.”

She hasn’t lost her curiosity, either. 

Andersen is quick to abandon the role of interviewee in favor of being the interviewer.

That inherent interest in the unknown has guided her to every state in the U.S. and dozens of countries, to high-ranking volunteer positions at the Public Broadcasting Service and the American Red Cross. It also led her to every major league baseball stadium. 

Years ago, Andersen and a co-worker were traveling to various cities to conduct interviews. “Why not go watch some baseball?” the two thought.  

“So one day I started,” the self-described sports junkie said. “And then I just finished it off, I guess.” 

Having attended Nebraska football games since she was a child, Andersen says her expectation is to be in the stands at Memorial Stadium this fall for what’ll be her 89th season as a Husker fan.

Not far from the stadium is Harold and Marian Andersen Hall, which since 2001 has housed the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, of which Andersen is an alumna.

For Katie Knight, a 2018 graduate of the college, Andersen is an inspiration.

“In an industry that was predominantly male-occupied, she was fearless in making sure her voice was heard and that she had a seat at the table,” said Knight, a former recipient of the Harold W. and Marian B. Andersen Honors Scholarship. “Marian’s generosity and desire to lift up emerging journalists through financial support is essentially the reason I ended up attending UNL.”

Andersen abruptly stops interviewing the interviewer at one point.

“I’m just so proud of what those in this state achieve,” she said.

The state could surely say the same about her.

This story is one in an ongoing series of features that highlight trustees’ engagement with the University of Nebraska and the NU Foundation.

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