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Nebraska Business Honors Outstanding Alumni and Leaders

Four Awards Presented at Annual Advisory Board Luncheon
Nebraska Business Honors Outstanding Alumni and Leaders
Renee Sjulin, ’86, Donald Everett Jr., ’90, and Dawn Amend, ’89, of Runza Restaurants; Linda and Don Eckles of Scooter’s Coffee; Jason Muhleisen, ’11, of Union Bank and Trust; and Jim Abel of NEBCO received 2024 Nebraska Business Advisory Board Awards.

Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance, and Lisa Smith, ’90, senior vice president with D.A. Davidson and Company and chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board, hosted the 39th annual College of Business Advisory Board Awards Luncheon on April 26. Those recognized at the event included Jim Abel, Dawn Amend, ’89, Donald Everett Jr., ’90, Renee Sjulin, ’86, Jason Muhleisen, ’11, and Scooter’s Coffee.

"We celebrate our Nebraska Business community who work with us to meet the needs of employers now and in the future. We believe in business as a force to drive positive societal change in the world," Farrell said. "These outstanding award recipients show the world the high-caliber business leaders we have in Nebraska and as part of our Nebraska Business community."

She and Smith celebrated the award winners and recognized the event's 19 corporate sponsors at an award luncheon, sharing how they are examples of the college's strong partnerships in the community. They included: Ameritas, Assurity, Bryan Health, CDBykerk Consulting, Conagra Brands, Cornerstone Bank, D.A. Davidson & Co., Deloitte, FORVIS, Gallup, Lincoln Industries, Lutz, Nelnet, Pinnacle Bank, RSM, Speedway Properties, Talent Plus, Union Bank & Trust and US Bank.

Lifetime Achievement Award –  Jim Abel
Jim Abel and Kathy Farrell
Jim Abel received the Nebraska Business Lifetime Achievement Award from Dean Kathy Farrell.

Jim Abel, chief executive officer and chairman of NEBCO since 1998, received the Nebraska Business Lifetime Achievement Award for providing outstanding leadership, time, energy and guidance throughout his career. NEBCO is a family-owned business in Nebraska created by Abel's grandfather in 1908 with interests in manufacturing concrete building materials, road construction, farming and real estate development.

"There are many people who have been impacted by Jim Abel's leadership and dedication to helping others," said Smith as she presented the award.

Abel began working at NEBCO during summers throughout high school in the company’s concrete pipe plant. In 1973, after studying at Nebraska, he worked in different areas of the company until his responsibilities grew into management. He succeeded his father, George P. Abel Jr. as president of NEBCO in 1985. Along with the growth of NEBCO's construction division, Jim focused on growing the company’s real estate and recreational areas, a vision that included Quarry Oaks Golf Club and Fallbrook in Lincoln, both developed on reclaimed or reused land. He also was instrumental in adding the Lincoln Saltdogs and Haymarket Park in Lincoln.

"Jim’s activities in the community and state extend to membership on civic, philanthropic and professional boards including the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation, Nebraska Wesleyan University, the University of Nebraska Foundation, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Vision 2015 along with the boards of Nelnet and Ameritas as chairman. He believes that examples set forth by his father, his mother Betty Abel, his aunt Alice Abel, and his grandparents George and Hazel Abel helped instill the value of public involvement and charitable giving," Smith said.

Abel continues to apply these values to his work and contributions today and offers advice to other business leaders.

"My grandfather was interested in his employees because he realized the importance of an organization. He had vision and cared about his community. These are all principles that I have remained committed. Philanthropy has become so important to me that, years ago, I made the personal decision that I wouldn't join a business board if it didn't have a foundation," he said. "Hire good people, trust them, be loyal to them, and they'll be loyal to you. Leaders need to lead." 

Business Leadership Award – Dawn Amend, ’89, Donald Everett Jr., ’90, and Renee Sjulin, ’86
runza siblings
Renee Sjulin, Donald Everett Jr. and Dawn Amend of Runza Restaurants earned the Business Leadership Award.

Honored with the Business Leadership Award for an outstanding example of successful leadership in the field, including community service, business ethics and overall business excellence, were three siblings who lead Runza® Restaurants, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dawn Amend, ’89, purchasing director, Donald Everett Jr., ’90, president, and Renee Sjulin, ’86, executive vice president.

As 12-year-olds, Donald and Dawn began working at Runza along with their older sister, Renee. Their first job was making onion rings on weekends. They each worked their way up to learning all positions at the restaurant and worked throughout their school years and beyond.

After graduating from Nebraska with a business administration degree, Donald started at the Runza corporate office as a district supervisor. Dawn Amend earned a degree in marketing, and Renee Sjulin earned a degree in accounting from Nebraska. The three Everett children officially assumed responsibility for Runza Restaurant operations in 1990, growing the chain to more than 90 restaurants, with sales approaching $150 million. Donald succeeded his father, Donald Everett Sr., as president of Runza Restaurants in 1997. The chain now has restaurants in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas and Colorado.

"Runza takes immense pride in its long-term partnership with the University of Nebraska and Husker Athletics, making Runza and Husker sports a Nebraska tradition," Smith said. "Having grown up in a family devoted to investing in the community, all three siblings serve as board members for several organizations."

Donald Everett Jr. shared at the luncheon stories about the importance of the business to his family and lessons learned at Nebraska.

"Getting an education at the University of Nebraska and the College of Business were instrumental in guiding our leadership skills and our critical thinking skills. Early on, we had some struggling restaurants in Fremont, Grand Island, Columbus, Scottsbluff, and Loveland, Colorado. They were not making money, but my dad never gave up on any of those markets. To this day, we're still there and thriving. That was a lesson for us to be diligent and put in a lot of hard work and effort and recognize the challenges you have in each individual restaurant and try to make them better."

He also shared how his father, a former Nebraska Husker football walk-on player, began the tradition of selling Runza sandwiches in the stadium.

"My dad bought a used mail truck after he opened his first restaurant in 1966, and he used to park outside the stadium, open up the back end of it and peddle Runza sandwiches. People started taking them into football games, and because my dad had a relationship from playing football with Bob Devaney, they said why don't you come inside and sell them. And we're still in there today. We're really proud of that relationship, our partnership with the University of Nebraska. We're hardworking, honest, authentic people. That's who my dad was, and it helped our business survive and ultimately thrive. We're Nebraska alumni, we're Nebraska business owners, and always will be."

Young Alumni Award – Jason Muhleisen, ’11
Jason Muhleisen
Jason Muhleisen and Dean Kathy Farrell celebrate his Young Alumni Award.

Jason Muhleisen, president and CEO of Union Bank & Trust, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, received the Young Alumni Award for being an outstanding example of a successful leader who provides inspiration and insight to College of Business students and members of the Nebraska Business community.

Joining Union Bank & Trust in 2015, Muhleisen worked in commercial lending, private banking, personal trust and wealth management before rising to CEO. He serves on the advisory boards for the Lincoln Children's Zoo, Lincoln Parks and Recreation and the Food Bank of Lincoln. He earned his bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2011 and his juris doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.  

"We are proud to have Jason as a member of the Nebraska Business Community and to call him an alum. We appreciate your commitment to a strong Nebraska Business community," Smith said.

Muhleisen shared at the event how his education at the College of Business taught him about finance, the commercial world and running a successful business. He shared he also learned to listen to the wisdom of others.

"When I was preparing to take over as president and CEO of Union Bank & Trust, I did a lot of studying, learning the intricacies of credit, commercial lending, trust administration operations and discerning good risks from bad risks. But beyond all the studying and observing, there really isn't a substitute for listening to the wisdom of the other leaders at the bank."  

He shared how he was also blessed to have worked alongside my mother, Angie Muhleisen, who had a 42-year career at the bank.

"She was an amazing leader who grew the bank from $85 million to $8 billion during her tenure, but she never lost what truly mattered: our core values, caring about our customers, caring about our community and caring about each other," he said. "I'm grateful for everything that I learned from the university and the support you guys gave me during my time at UNL and I look forward to sharing my own guidance and support with those who come after me." 

Corporate Leadership Award – Scooter's Coffee
Linda and Don Eckles
Don and Linda Eckles accepted the Corporate Leadership Award on behalf of Scooter's Coffee.

Don and Linda Eckles, founders, accepted the Corporate Leadership Award on behalf of Scooter's Coffee. The award recognizes excellence in successful, dynamic Nebraska-based companies with a high level of commitment to their communities, customers and employees.

Don has been involved in the specialty coffee business since 1991. He and his wife, Linda, founded Scooter's Coffee in 1998 in Bellevue, Nebraska. Don helped develop and continued the evolution of Scooter's Coffee, Boundless Enterprises and Harvest Roasting.

"As an active chairman, Don has high-level involvement in organizational strategy and direction, executive support and protection of the company's core values of integrity, love, humility and courage. The company recognizes relationships are the foundation of success, and that at the end of the day, relationships are what really matter," Smith said.

At the luncheon, Don shared his appreciation for their employees and franchisees who keep kindness at the heart of all they do.

"Franchising is hard. As you get bigger, it gets harder. Our core values are integrity, love, humility and courage — love being bigger than the others. We believe love should be kind of at the center of everything, and it includes things like grace, forgiveness and understanding. We want to be known as a company where kindness matters," he said. "For us to stand out, it can't be just the quality of the drink or the speed of service. It has to be who we are as a company and the relationships we establish with our customers, and that all starts with the people who work for our company. We're proud to be a Nebraska-based company, and we'll always be a Nebraska-based company." 

The honorees join an impressive list of past Nebraska Business award recipients, including Sid Dinsdale, JoAnn Martin, Jane Miller, Allan Noddle, Jim Seacrest, Alice Dittman and Warren Buffett. A complete list of all award recipients since 1984 can be found at:

Published: April 30, 2024