2020 Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumnus Award

Van Vahle, MD (Class of 1970)


Dr. Van Vahle was born in Holdrege, Neb., and grew up in Alma, Neb. He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and went on to medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, graduating in 1970. He studied OB/GYN for an additional year before moving to Seward, Neb., his wife Rebecca’s (Becky’s) hometown, to join a family practice.

In his career, Dr. Vahle formed a strong bond with the Seward community and his patients; serving them throughout their lives, ranging from births to grave illnesses.

His career stands out due to his generosity in opening his practice to countless UNMC medical students and residents as part of their education, and at times he would even welcome these students to stay at his home while they were in Seward.

Dr. Vahle’s intrinsic gift for teaching and mentoring medical students was something he committed to for over two decades, with not so much as a second thought. His volunteer teaching role had everything to do with how he felt about how he was treated at UNMC as a medical student; and the feeling that he wanted to pay back to the institution where he earned his medical degree. 

He has been recognized for his commitment to family practice and educating generations of health professionals, some of which he even inspired to come back to smaller communities to practice.  In 2009, he was recognized as the Nebraska Family Physician of the Year. In 2010, he was awarded the Outstanding Rural Physician of the Year Award in Nebraska. In 2011, he was recognized with the prestigious Theodore H. Koefoot Jr. MD Award for UNMC’s most outstanding preceptor in rural family medicine. The Koefoot Award recognizes the above-and-beyond service of volunteer faculty who are beloved by their students and consistently provide an outstanding educational experience. UNMC could not educate physicians to serve Nebraska without the assistance of volunteer faculty like Dr. Vahle.

In addition to his practice and teaching students and residents, Dr. Vahle has completed six trips to Haiti for medical services, teaching and outreach. Also in Seward, he was a member of the medical staff at Memorial Hospital, and also served a stint as chief of the medical staff there. While he is now retired from full-time practice, he still serves several hours each week as Medical Director at Concordia University working with students and student athletes. He has been involved in countless community organizations, including the local Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club, and served as treasurer of the College of Medicine Alumni Association (now called the Alumni Council). 

Dr. Vahle is humble, proud, and is representative of a generation of UNMC physician alumni who care deeply for the future of medicine, educating future health professionals, providing access to quality care across the lifespan, and serving others. He can best be described as a physician-statesman in service to others. His wife Becky is vice president at her family business, Cattle Bank & Trust in Seward. Dr. & Mrs. Vahle have four grown children, Heather Dews, MD (a 1995 graduate of the UNMC College of Medicine); Van C. Vahle; Nicole Schneider, and Kourtney Vahle. They have six grandchildren that are their pride and joy. 

In his free time, Dr. Vahle enjoys skiing, traveling, bee keeping, hunting, fishing, trains, remote control airplanes, antiquing, singing and band.

Early Career Achievement Award

Daniel Hershberger, MD (Class of 2010)


Originally from Milford, Neb., Daniel Hershberger, MD is a 2010 graduate of the UNMC College of Medicine. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at UNMC and a fellowship at Creighton University Medical Center in Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine.

He is Assistant Professor of Medicine in the UNMC Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep.

In addition, he is taking over the role of Medical Director of Critical Care Medicine, Pulmonary Services, including the Pulmonary Function Testing Lab at Bellevue Medical Center in Bellevue, Neb. Both roles provide opportunities for leadership, teaching, and mentoring of others early in his career.

Since coming to UNMC in 2016, Dr. Hershberger has continued to develop into an outstanding educator.  He is recognized by his colleagues as someone who works hard to perfect his teaching skills. He excels at teaching medical students, residents and fellows and has thus been awarded top teacher awards by both pulmonary fellows and Internal Medicine residents. The scores on in-training exams for Internal Medicine residents studying pulmonary care have increased significantly since Dr. Hershberger took over leadership of the lecture series. In addition, he has taken over the respiratory block for the pre-clinical medical students and has been awarded two consecutive Golden Apple Awards, the highest teaching award voted on by the students. 

Early in his career, Dr. Hershberger has been involved with breakthrough clinical research. He is participating in ongoing research regarding autoimmune lung disease and interstitial lung diseases. He has co-developed an Autoimmune Lung Clinic that combines Pulmonary and Rheumatology evaluations of patients with connective tissue related lung diseases.

Dr. Hershberger is a fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP). He is triple certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, and Critical Care Medicine. He has been involved in international work with the Chest Annual Meeting of the ACCP– where he has served as a facilitator, moderator, and reviewer. He has mentored several faculty at UNMC in curriculum development and participates in Faculty Development programs that benefit the entire campus.

Dr. Hershberger is a very bright, talented and motivated physician. His accomplishments early in his career indicate he is headed towards more exciting things to come. 

Daniel is married to his college sweetheart, Laura. They have young boys. The family loves to be together whether playing basketball, football or Legos.

Dedication to Student Excellence Award

Richard E. Jackson, MD (Class of 1969)


Richard E. Jackson, MD was born in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Ralston High School in 1962; went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and on to the UNMC College of Medicine and graduated in 1969. He completed an intern year at Immanuel Medical Center in 1970, and entered into General Practice in Pawnee City.  He became certified in Family Medicine in 1978.  

Throughout his career Dr. Jackson has been actively involved with the Nebraska Medical Association, American Academy of Family Practice, Nebraska Academy of Family Physicians and is a past chairman of the Southeast Nebraska Medical Society. 

Dr. Jackson’s practice in Pawnee City spanned just over 49 years and would have continued, however, because of recent medical issues, he made the decision to retire from his long and successful career. 

His practice in Pawnee City has been the quintessential example of what a small town physician’s career looks like – delivering babies, treating and saving countless lives, counseling his patients through their tough times, grieving with those who have lost loved ones and celebrating victories with those who have overcome.

Throughout his 49 years of practice, Dr. Jackson never lost his zeal for learning more and advancing his knowledge on the newest treatments available for the conditions of the people he treated. He consistently worked on advancing and perfecting his own skills as well as constantly looking for ways to help his patients improve their health, whether it be through counseling, treating or educating them on their condition. 

He freely shared his knowledge with UNMC medical students early in his career and then later was one of the first clinical rotation sites for UNMC Physician Assistant students. He was committed to teaching both clinical and personal skills to enhance patient care. His practice of medicine has been exemplary and his ability to teach both the technical and personal aspect of patient care goes above and beyond what one would expect. Countless students have expressed their appreciation and sometimes awe at his ability to imprint medical knowledge in their minds so that they are able to carry that knowledge with them for the rest of their career. He was especially proficient at advancing students’ suturing and physical exam skills, patiently working with them to perfect their techniques. 

Through the years, Dr. Jackson has consistently demonstrated his passion for teaching students and guiding them to develop a desire for growth of knowledge. Practicing in a rural area has presented some challenges for him along the way, but he has an innate ability to improvise when needed and, in doing so, has saved many lives as well as been able to tailor the treatment to the patient. This kind of teaching can’t be found in a textbook.

Most impressively, Dr. Jackson’s nomination for this award received 14 supporting statements from colleagues. These statements were absolutely glowing and illustrate the broad base of support he devoted to others throughout his career.

Dr. Jackson is an avid runner, a spelling and grammar enthusiast and dedicated to advancing his knowledge of medicine by daily listening to Audio Digest. Perhaps just as importantly, he has maintained his sense of humor which he enjoys sharing with others. He has a vast bank of experience which he used to teach not only medical and Physician Assistant students, but also his patients who he cared deeply about. Students who shadowed him learned the ability to practice clinical medicine and how to connect with patients on a personal level. 

Dr. Jackson is married to Barbara Anne. They have a grown son Aaron and two grand-daughters, Avery and Elyse.

Honorary Alumnus Award

Sue Pope


Sue Pope, a long-time program coordinator in the College of Medicine, who has worked with countless medical students, retired fall 2020. She joined the College of Medicine in 1970 and has been involved with many important student milestone events including the white coat ceremony, Match Day, and the hooding ceremony, among many others, for 50 years.

An Omaha native, Pope was only 19 when she left the daily grind of transcribing insurance company claims for the job variety offered at UNMC.

Initially, she shared a tiny office with the registrar. The office was so cramped that she had to step away from her desk each time the registrar opened a file cabinet drawer. Within weeks, she moved into the newly built Wittson Hall.

Although she dreamed of being a teacher or nightclub singer, she so enjoyed her job at UNMC that she opted not to go to college. In 2013 Ms. Pope was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold “U” Award for the month of May. “She has helped thousands of medical students throughout her tenure and has become an icon to the student body,” said one nominator.

Outside the office, Ms. Pope is an avid NASCAR fan, has collected nearly 700 Beanie Babies, loves panda bears and has a personal collection, enjoys reading, movies, and watching taped episodes of “Alf.” She also has collected countless memories of students, who view her as a mother figure, friend, confidant and supporter. In appreciation, one recently sent a dozen roses. “He thinks I went above and beyond the job, but I see it as all in a day’s work,” she said. “It’s gratifying when they graduate to know that maybe, in some small way, I contributed to that." In winning this award, she says, "I am humbled and honored, to say the least."

Past Recipients