Opening for big entertainers like AC/DC and Pat Benatar, J. E. Van Horne Jr., ’75, took his business degree from Nebraska on the road making a career as a musician and sound engineer. Adding a surprise encore, Van Horne decided to match the funding for not one but three endowed chairs at Nebraska Business – with the third to be named by Jim and Georgia, ’72, (Lord) Thompson.
“We’re all lucky – any of us that ended up with cash we can give back. It could have gone the other way just as easily,” said Van Horne, who created opportunity through his gifts and ensured that top professors can be hired and retained. “If you don’t take care of other people, why have money? You have to push students to be the best they can be, and the faculty who receive these chairs will do that.”
Born in Kansas, Van Horne moved to Nebraska at age eight. His family worked in the banking business for 140 years, and his grandmother graduated from Nebraska in the early 1900s followed by his father, aunts, uncles and many cousins.
“We believe in Nebraska and want to improve our state. You do that by giving back,” he said.
He first met the Thompsons in 2019 when they provided half the funds for five endowed chairs, challenging others to match them. As an added benefit, the Thompsons allowed the matching donors to name the chairs, they helped fund. Van Horne jumped at the opportunity twice and created both the Van Horne Family Endowed Chair and the Amy & J. E. Van Horne Endowed Chair.
“After we funded two chairs with the gift from the Thompsons, I wanted to continue that momentum and help the college with another chair. It was time for Georgia and Jim to have one to name the way they wanted,” said Van Horne.
His vision to create a legacy in Nebraska harkens back to a conversation he had early in his career when working sound for one of the biggest names in country music.
“It all comes down to Charley Pride,” he said, referring to the legendary singer and guitarist who scored 50 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. “He asked if I thought of going to a bigger city. I told him I worked at a 24-track music studio in Omaha where I can record whatever I want, whenever I want. He said, ‘Think long and hard before you give that up because if you go someplace else, you work for someone else, and they’ll always tell you what you’re going to play and when you’re going to play it.’ That’s why I stayed.”
Van Horne’s career was an adventure working with prominent entertainers in all genres of music. He provided sound for Johnny Cash, Chubby Checker, The Judds, John Denver, Steppenwolf and The Bangles. He also earned a 3M Visionary Award for engineering the Boyz II Men song “The Birth of Christ” in 1992.
“My band opened for big names like AC/DC and Pat Benatar and played with the Ramones at the 20s Club in Omaha,” said Van Horne, who used the skills learned in his business law class often. I would leave Omaha in May and be doing sound at various places three to five nights until October with different acts like Gloria Estefan and Mel Tillis.”
Van Horne’s work continues to shape his commitment to education – using his gifts to start something now for future generations.
“J. E. is one of our shining stars,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance. “In August, Dr. Jennifer Ryan, professor and chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics, was named the Van Horne Family Endowed Chair. Endowed chairs create meaningful partnerships, support faculty and raise the stature of the college. Ultimately, they establish excellence in academics to help our students maximize their talents.”
Published: January 9, 2023
1 The endowed chair donors include (from left to right) Alice Dittman, ’52 & ’56; J. E. Van Horne Jr., ’75; Georgia, ’72, and Jim Thompson; and Jennifer, ’70, and Stephen, ’70 David. 2 Van Horne matched the funding for two endowed chairs and then provided a challenge gift to the Thompsons to name their own. 3 The Thompsons provided the initial matching gift challenge in 2019 for five endowed chairs. 4 Stas Nikolova, finance, received the Alice Dittman Endowed Chair this fall. 5 Former College of Business Dean Cynthia (Hardin) Milligan also provided funding for an endowed chair.