Time out with T.O. - The transformer

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public relations | December 13, 2017

Image with caption: John Niemann, Ed.D.

John Niemann, Ed.D.

Being a fundraiser who asks people for multi-million dollar donations is not for the faint of heart.

Niemann reception set for Friday

The retirement reception for John Niemann, Ed.D., senior vice president at the University of Nebraska Foundation, will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Friday in the Harold M. and Beverly Maurer Commons in the Durham Research Center II. A brief program will begin at 4:30 p.m.

The reception, which is by invitation only, is being hosted by Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation, and by Amy Volk, senior vice president of development, UNMC, and chief development officer, Nebraska Medicine, for the University of Nebraska Foundation.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Annie Bougger, 402-502-4122.

"It's either in your DNA or its not," said John Niemann, Ed.D., senior vice president at the University of Nebraska Foundation who is closing out a brilliant 30-year career at the foundation later this month.

During his tenure running the foundation's Omaha office, Niemann was instrumental in raising nearly $1 billion -- much of what went toward transforming the UNMC campus with the construction of one amazing building after the next.

So, how did he do it?

Dr. Niemann is quick to share the credit. He said much of his success could be traced to Harold M. Maurer, M.D., who served as UNMC chancellor from 1999-2014.

"Hal and I got along from the first day," Dr. Niemann said. "He told me, 'John, I'll give you half my time, and we'll get things done.' I loved that spirit. There was no one better than Hal. Nobody worked harder."

Unless it was Dr. Niemann himself.

The Niemann file

  • Born in Parkersburg, W.V.; his family owned a steel mill
  • A flood on the Ohio River wiped out the steel mill and the family relocated to Maplewood, N.J.
  • B.A., 1964, psychology and business, Tusculum College, Greeneville, Tenn.
  • M.S., 1966, industrial psychology, University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Ed.D., 1971, measurement and statistics, University of South Dakota
  • 1966-1987, Briar Cliff College, Sioux City, Iowa -- held several positions including vice president, institutional development, dean of students and student affairs; raised money for two new buildings, including an activities center
  • 1987-present, University of Nebraska Foundation
  • Married to wife, Joann, for 51 years
  • Four children, seven grandchildren

His philosophy was simple -- you meet people, you make friends, and the money will follow.

Some of the largest donors in medical center history -- Ruth and Bill Scott, Chuck and Margre Durham, Leland Olson, M.D., and Stan Truhlsen, M.D. -- considered Niemann to be one of their closest friends.

"We are like brothers," Dr. Maurer said, "He is like a son to one major donor."

"John Niemann is the consummate fundraiser," said Del Weber, Ed.D., chancellor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha from 1977-1997. "I attribute his success to a deep understanding of people, hard work, meticulous preparation and pride in his profession. John treats those with whom he works, and those from whom he seeks monetary gifts, with the greatest respect."

"It was a pleasure for us to have so much confidence in his ability to present projects of interest to us," Ruth Scott said. "John had a real gift -- pick 'em rich and pick 'em clean!"

"John was always there when I needed him for anything whatsoever," said Bill Scott.

Margre Durham used to pick Niemann up in her green Jaguar and take him around and introduce him to her social network.

Dr. Truhlsen hooked him up at the Omaha Country Club -- nothing like a little golf to establish friendships and open up a few wallets.

Dr. Olson loved Corvettes and boats and going to car auctions. Guess who used to tag along with him at car auctions?

Dr. Maurer would bring Niemann to some of his so-called "Kitchen Cabinet" meetings with Omaha's most powerful community leaders -- the kind of exposure you can't put a value on.

Dr. Maurer suggested that Niemann meet with Mike Sorrell, M.D., perhaps UNMC's most legendary physician.

Dr. Sorrell provided some sage advice -- all you need to do is strive to make UNMC the second most famous institution in Nebraska . . . behind the Cornhusker football team.

Like a sponge, Niemann soaked it all in. He loved his job. He called it "the opportunity of a lifetime."

"I skip to work every day," he said. "I love doing fundraising, because I know it's for the greater good. Fundraising is not work for me - it's fun. It's the normal course of activities among friends who want to get things done.

"You never ask for a gift. We ask them to make an investment in the medical center -- the most important institution in the state. It will return dividends the rest of their life and beyond. This makes perfect sense to people with money. They expect a return on their investment."

The formula has worked like a dream. The philanthropic community has supported UNMC like no other entity. It's not even close.

It started with a major gift from Ben Cowdery, one of Niemann's golfing buddies, to get things rolling with the Lied Transplant Center. It continued with multiple gifts from the Durhams for the research towers, the outpatient center and a new parking garage.

Dr. Olson funded the Olson Center for Women's Health. Dr. Truhlsen put his name and money behind the Truhlsen Eye Institute, while Ruth and Bill Scott led the way in developing the academic campus and anything that makes UNMC better for students.

The list of investors goes on and on --- Walter and Suzanne Scott, CL Werner, Allan and Dianne Lozier, Mike and Gail Yanney, Dick and Mary Holland and many more too numerous to name.

At age 75, Dr. Niemann is not certain what the next chapter holds in store. He'll no doubt remain active.

He likes to harken to the words of Margre Durham as she lay in her hospital bed.

"John," she said, "you either wear out or you rust out. I want to wear out."


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Clarence Ueda
December 14, 2017 at 10:39 AM

Retirement? For sure? For real this time? John, you have been an incredible 'behind the scenes' force behind the growth of the UNMC campus and its programs. You have made contributions to UNMC where it really counts. . . . pocket book! As you move on in life's journey, know that you leave the University with an remarkable legacy. Enjoy retirement to its fullest. It really doesn't get any better than that! Congratulations on an outstandingly successful career.

Bud Shaw
December 14, 2017 at 9:31 AM

John can't possibly be 75. Check that birth certificate: the year's wrong. I think most of my time with John over the years has been in the hallways of UNMC.. He is everywhere, all of the time. Such brief encounters — always warm, complimentary, uplifting. He left me happier and honored and hopeful for the next time our paths might cross. Stay busy, John.

Robert J Berger
December 13, 2017 at 8:52 PM

The best psychology teacher I ever had. Also fond memories while serving on the Alumni Board at Briar Cliff University. You have influenced many in your in your illustrious career. Robert J Berger, CRNA, MS Anesthesia, retired Briar Cliff College & Mount Marty College

Nancy Woelfl
December 13, 2017 at 3:02 PM

Others have rightly lauded John’s awesome talent and accomplishments on behalf of UNMC and the University of Nebraska. On a more personal level, I’d like to speak to John the person — who was genuinely kind, caring, and considerate toward everyone with whom he came in contact. His smile made many a day, including mine.

Don Leuenberger
December 13, 2017 at 10:44 AM

John, congratulations on a great career and all you have contributed to UNMC, the University of Nebraska and to the State of Nebraska. So much of what we see at UNMC is due to the confidence our donors have in you and the great partnership you formed with Hal. It was a pleasure to be part of it. Best wishes for wherever life now takes you and yours.

Rick Blum
December 13, 2017 at 9:32 AM

John, I’m doubting you’ll wear out! I am thankful for our relationship over all these years - you are truly one of those people who makes it a point to make others they meet feel good about themselves. Best of luck to you in this next stage John!

Keith D. Swarts
December 13, 2017 at 8:35 AM

I have had the privilege of not only knowing John as a friend beginning with his initial days of employment with the UN Foundation, but also the opportunity to work with him on several projects during his tenure. John is one of those people who sees the big picture and relentlessly works to show others that same picture and vision. John is a doer. "He says..he does." He truly walks the talk. Best wishes and I'm sure we'll continue to cross paths.

Carol Russell
December 13, 2017 at 7:09 AM

John, I will miss your retirement event. We will be grandparenting Sara and Matt's kiddos. You have been great for the University and a good friend. Carol and Rick Russell

Howard Gendelman
December 13, 2017 at 6:42 AM

A true mensch is a selfless, dedicated, affable, honorable person of the highest integrity or simply defined by John Niemann. Wish you all the best.

Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center
December 12, 2017 at 6:28 PM

“John has been a critical partner in building the many exciting programs and facilities that have been created at UNMC over the past two decades. He worked extremely well with faculty in understanding their vision and communicating that vision to our community leaders. He helped create the future of UNMC and make it a reality. While he will be missed on the campus – I’m sure you will see him often on the golf course outside his new home.”

Del Weber, Ed.D., chancellor emeritus, University of Nebraska at Omaha (served as chancellor from 1977-1997)
December 12, 2017 at 11:11 AM

"John Niemann is the consummate fundraiser. I attribute his success to a deep understanding of people, hard work, meticulous preparation and pride in his profession. John treats those with whom he works, and those from whom he seeks monetary gifts, with the greatest respect. To the latter, they are always more than givers, they are friends and many have become lifelong friends. In his own way, John has been a very large player in the growth of UNMC. He is not an M.D. -- he has an Ed.D. degree. Without his fundraising skills, UNMC would be less than what it is today. In short, John Niemann is one of the heroes of the University of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska Foundation. He deserves every plaudit he receives."

Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D., dean, UNMC College of Nursing
December 12, 2017 at 11:11 AM

"John Neimann's leadership and effectiveness in linking donors and friends with opportunities have led to impressive transformations at UNMC. In partnership with exceedingly generous donors and friends of UNMC and leaders throughout the university, the new opportunities and exceptional facilities that have developed contribute to our ability to achieve the mission and vision of UNMC. We will miss John and wish him all the best in his retirement."

Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D., dean, UNMC College of Pharmacy
December 12, 2017 at 11:10 AM

"A philanthropist is usually thought of as a person who donates money to good causes. The full definition is a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others. John Niemann has dedicated his fundraising efforts to that cause -- through improving the teaching, research and patient care mission of UNMC. The College of Pharmacy has benefitted tremendously because of John's efforts. He has been a good friend to me and I shall miss him. Cheers and best wishes to John Niemann -- philanthropist."