Top service honors conferred on John and Jan Christensen, and posthumously on JoAnn Martin

From left: JoAnn Martin's headshot next to formal portrait of John and Jan Christensen.
JoAnn Martin, left, was recognized posthumously with the Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service. John and Jan Christensen, right, received the Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service.

The University of Nebraska Foundation has given its top service awards to University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Chancellor Emeritus John Christensen and his wife, Jan, and posthumously to business leader JoAnn Martin.

The awards were announced Sept. 29 during the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Annual Meeting of Trustees.

John and Jan Christensen, Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service

John and Jan Christensen received the Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service. The Noddle Award is named in honor of longtime University of Nebraska advocate Harlan Noddle of Omaha, who died in 2005. The award is given to a university or foundation employee who has provided exemplary service in development while demonstrating, among other characteristics, the values of integrity, commitment and initiative.

John Christensen’s career at UNO dates to the start of his tenure as a faculty member in the College of Education in 1978. He was named UNO’s interim chancellor in 2006 and formally named chancellor in 2007. Christensen, who retired in 2017, is the first and only UNO alumnus to serve as chancellor, earning his master’s degree in special education/speech pathology from UNO in 1974.

Under Christensen’s leadership, UNO achieved tremendous growth and recognition. Among the university’s accomplishments were enrollment increases of more than 12% from 2006 to 2016; classification as a Carnegie Doctoral Research University; the largest philanthropic gift in UNO history to establish Mammel Hall; the opening of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center and Baxter Arena; and the transition from Division II to Division I athletics.

Jan Christensen was a longtime teacher and administrator with Omaha Public Schools.

“John Christensen utilized his strong interpersonal skills and humble Midwestern roots to strengthen connections with the campus community, Omaha business leaders, alumni and donors,” said Lori Byrne, executive vice president of advancement and campaign director at the University of Nebraska Foundation. “John and Jan were visible leaders who tirelessly built relationships and promoted the important role of UNO. Together, they guided the institution to become the premier metropolitan university that it is today.”

JoAnn Martin, Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service

JoAnn Martin, who died Oct. 20, 2021, was recognized with the Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service. The award is named for Perry W. Branch, the first employee and executive director of the University of Nebraska Foundation, and serves to commemorate the importance of volunteers to the organization.

A Nebraska native, Martin was an alumna and dedicated supporter of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She served in various leadership roles with Ameritas for 35 years, including as CEO from 2009 through her retirement in 2020. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UNL and a master’s degree in business administration from Colorado State University. She received numerous awards from UNL, including the College of Business Administration Alumni Leadership Award and the College of Business Leadership Award. She was also inducted into the School of Accountancy Hall of Fame.

Martin became a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation in 2009 and was elected to its board of directors in 2010. She served as board chair from 2017 to 2019. As a foundation trustee, she volunteered on 10 board committees, in addition to serving in many volunteer roles at the University of Nebraska.

Members of Martin’s family accepted the award on her behalf.

“JoAnn Martin was an extraordinary leader — in business and in the community — and is dearly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing her,” said Brian F. Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “She was a mentor to so many people, including myself. I will be forever grateful for her legacy of service to the University of Nebraska.”

About the University of Nebraska Foundation

The University of Nebraska Foundation grows relationships and resources that enable the University of Nebraska to change lives and save lives. During the most recent fiscal year, 58,072 donors supported the University of Nebraska, and a record $354.5 million in new funds were committed to aid UNK, UNL, UNO, NCTA and UNMC and its clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine. The foundation raises more than $7 for every $1 spent. Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future is its current campaign with a goal to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska. More information is at

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