When the Chadron State Foundation began raising money in its first-ever multi-million-dollar campaign, fundraisers weren’t surprised when longtime Mitchell resident Verne Lewellen and his wife, Erma, were among the first to pledge support.
Verne Lewellen, known as one of Chadron State College’s most spirited alumni, made an outright gift and has earmarked $50,000 from his estate to the Vision 2011 campaign.
Those who know Lewellen aren’t surprised that he’s among the many supporters of the campaign, which is raising $11 million to meet its three initiatives. The campaign will provide funds for the college’s endowments and annual fund, in addition to its two facility projects -- the renovation and expansion of the Ross Armstrong Physical Education Building and the construction of the new Rangeland and Agriculture Center and Pavilion.
Lewellen, a 1950 graduate who is retired from a remarkable career as a teacher, coach and administrator in the Nebraska Panhandle, has long played a part in helping CSC students succeed. Since 1988, he has provided scholarship assistance to students from the six Nebraska communities he and Erma have called home --Minatare, Hay Springs, Bayard, Chadron, Rushville and Mitchell. After 43 years of living in Mitchell, the couple moved to Scottsbluff this year to be closer to family.
Lewellen said he has enjoyed helping students meet their financial needs, and receives affirmation of his contributions’ worth each time he receives their thanks.
“I’ve been really close to the college through the years,” Lewellen said. “Growing up when I did, people helped each other all the time. It was right at the end of the Depression, and my parents were such that if anybody needed anything, they would give it to them. We weren’t rich and nobody else was.”
Lewellen was awarded the CSC Distinguished Service Award in 1988 and serves as a member of the foundation’s board of trustees and the Eagles Booster Club. He is a World War II veteran, was a stellar football and baseball player and a successful coach. He is a member of the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame, and still shares a place atop the records with the four passes he intercepted in his final game as an Eagle.
“I was treated so well at Chadron. I was going to quit after the first year, but I had a couple of professors and (longtime coach and administrator) Ross Armstrong come talk to me and encourage me to stay,” he said. “Just that simple act of showing interest is very typical of Chadron State College instructors. They know you, they know a little bit about you and they care.”
Lewellen still bleeds Eagle red. He has traveled to countless football games both home and away to support the Eagles, and is the driving force behind CSC’s most active alumni group, Purple Passion. The group, which includes many of his fellow former athletes, has convened in at least 20 locations in six states since the 1960s, including numerous gatherings in Chadron.
“Verne Lewellen has been Mr. CSC for many years, and we are so thankful for his support. What he’s given us as a fan and what he’s done to help our alumni network can’t be measured in dollars,” said Dr. Janie Park, CSC president. “He keeps in touch with so many people and has helped our Alumni Office staff develop lifelong friendships.”
Lewellen has been called one of the Panhandle’s most well-known citizens. In July 2010, more than 250 of his friends from at least 16 states people gathered at the CSC Student Center for a special surprise tribute in his honor.
—Justin Haag, CSC Information Services