Northeast Nexus campaign kickoff

DR. TRACY KRUSE, associate vice president of development and external affairs at Northeast Community College, leads the press conference Thursday announcing the college’s Nexus capital campaign to build the Agriculture & Water Center of Excellence. 

With the announcement of a new campaign and a $5 million lead donation, Northeast Community College’s newest agriculture initiative has taken root.

On Thursday morning at the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex, Northeast administrators and supporters shared their vision for the future — cultivating the next generation of farmers and ranchers — which they said would be accomplished through their Nexus campaign.

On a stage flanked by a John Deere tractor, a pickup truck and trailer and pens holding cattle and sheep, Dr. Tracy Kruse, associate vice president of development and external affairs, told a packed crowd of community members, Northeast employees and journalists that the expansion would help students play a critical role in the ever-evolving field of agriculture.

“We can do a lot of things with our excellent faculty, great equipment and technology, but at the end of the day, we need to bring up facilities to a modern era,” she said.

The press conference announced the kickoff of the first part of a three-phase project to build the Agriculture & Water Center of Excellence. The $23 million raised in this part will go toward building a college farm with feedlot operations next to the Pohlman complex, as well as facilities for precision and mechanized ag, veterinary technology and large animal handling.

Acklie Charitable Foundation of Lincoln leads the campaign with a $5 million donation, and the farm will be named after the Acklie family in recognition of this initial donation. The college also will be contributing $10 million from capital funds.

Another $8 million is needed to complete the first phase, which fundraisers will be seeking from area donors. Campaign co-chairs are Jeanne Reigle of Madison and Russ Vering of Scribner.

Mary Honke, co-interim president of the college, said the new facilities are a continuation of Chuck Pohlman’s vision of training agriculture students.

Northeast’s agriculture program started in 1973 with three students. In the past 20 years, the program has doubled in growth, serving about 350 students with 12 programs and 14 faculty members.

“I was one of those people who had the great fortune to work with Chuck Pohlman for many years,” Honke said. “I know how pleased he’d be to see where we are and the growth and strength of the program.”

Northeast built the Pohlman complex in the late 1990s, when the program had about 180 students. The arena hosts more than 30 community events, and need for its space continues to grow as the college’s ag program expands.

Northeast alumnus Kreg Schlautman attested to the need for new facilities to support the first-rate education the college is providing.

In a comment directed at ag students, he said, “The level of knowledge you’ll gain from Northeast is outstanding. There’s times we wish the facility was updated and that’s why we’re here today.”

He said the college farm, which is a 1920s-era repurposed dairy facility, at times had problems meeting the level of cutting-edge education provided in lectures.

“The facility is good, but throwing 20 students in, you have an animal in the chute, they can’t see what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “Not the safest with tight corners.”

Schlautman, who graduated with precision ag, agronomy and mechanized ag degrees in 2018, said the campaign also would benefit the program by having more facilities to house ag equipment and not having to move things around when the Pohlman complex has a community event.

“We have an old maintenance facility on the main campus. The only problem is we can’t pull a combine in there. … This facility is very much needed, I cannot promote it enough,” he said.

Halley Acklie Kruse, vice president and general counsel of the foundation, said Madison County and Northeast Community College have a special place in her family’s history. Acklie Kruse is the granddaughter of Duane Acklie, the late chairman of Crete Carriers who helped start the foundation along with his wife, Phyllis, and their daughters.

“After my family established Acklie Charitable Foundation, (Duane Acklie) expressed that it was his wish that it would help Nebraskans attain a quality education,” Acklie Kruse said. “For Duane, it all started at Norfolk Junior College (now Northeast). His history and connection to Madison and Northeast Community College brings me here today.”

She said the foundation’s support is about much more than supporting a single college program, but also the future of agriculture in Nebraska.

“Agriculture drives Nebraska — people sitting here know that better than most. Agriculture plays a role in feeding the world and propelling Nebraska’s economy,” she said. “When Nebraska agriculture succeeds, Nebraska thrives.

“This is why ACF believes it’s important to support Nebraska’s next generation of farmers and community leaders. It’s lucky to have Northeast Community College as a partner in developing this future.”

Other speakers at the event included campaign co-chairs and agricultural leaders in the state, Reigle and Vering, as well as radio show host and ag-vocate Trent Loos.

Loos motivated the crowd by talking about the role of agriculture in the future and the importance of preparing students to take on the roles of tomorrow’s farmers and ranchers.

“No matter where we travel, every farm and ranch has one common denominator that’s their greatest challenge. What is that? Skilled labor to do the work,” he said. “That’s why we have to empower the next generation of folks to know how to produce more with less. we’re in the greatest position we’ve ever been in.”

Kruse said groundbreaking for phase one construction will be in the spring of 2020. A $21 million second phase involving expansion of the ag complex arena, a greenhouse and other facilities is planned, along with a third and final $5 million phase for programmatic support.

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