KEARNEY – Pete and Jane Kotsiopulos are not the type of people who expect recognition for their contributions to the community of Kearney and the state of Nebraska.
It’s quite the opposite.
Jane is actually a little embarrassed by the attention she receives.
“There are so many people who deserve these awards – and here we are again,” she said. “It’s very, very humiliating.”
The couple’s most recent honor came at Friday’s Spring Opening Ceremony at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where they received the Ron and Carol Cope Cornerstone Award of Excellence. Established in 2003, the award is presented to individuals in recognition of their community service and support to UNK, the Kearney region, the State of Nebraska and higher education. It is the highest honor of the UNK.
“Much like the Copes, who gave the award the name, the recipients must be true cornerstones of our university,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who called the Kotsiopuloses the consummate supporters of Kearney and from UNK.
“There aren’t many other couples like Pete and Jane Kotsiopulos,” he says.
A native of Kearney, Pete’s connection to UNK dates back to the 1960s, when he enrolled at the school (then known as Kearney State College) as an undergraduate student. He was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, president of the Interfraternity Council and student senator.
“I really matured (at Kearney State). I think that’s probably where this spirit of service started, ”said Pete, who has been named Outstanding Greek Man and Outstanding Senior Man of the college.
He was already running his own business when he graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Pete founded Varsity Formal Wear, a tuxedo rental store, in 1969 and outsourced the cleaning to Liberty Cleaners, which his grandfather opened in 1918 and later sold to Pete’s father. Pete added Liberty Uniform and Linen Supply in 1971 before merging his businesses with Liberty Cleaners four years later to form Liberty Services, a dry cleaning and formal wear company with locations in central Nebraska.
The business was owned and operated by four generations of the Kotsiopulos family for over 100 years.
A native of Davenport, Jane received a BA in English Secondary Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MA in Reading Honors from Newark State University (now Rutgers University). She taught secondary English in New Jersey before moving to Kearney, where she ran The Lodge Restaurant, a business her brother-in-law started.
Pete and Jane met at a restaurant and got married in January 1973, less than a year after their first date. Jane also worked as a public relations manager for Platte Valley State Bank and as a staff / payroll coordinator for Liberty Services before retiring.
In addition to the family business, Pete has held positions within the University of Nebraska system and the NU Foundation.
He served as Vice President of University Affairs from 2005 to 2012 under former NU President JB Milliken, overseeing economic development, academic engagement, strategic communications, public relations and marketing, and relations with state and federal governments. Pete has worked closely with partners in higher education, civic and community leaders, government and business and industry representatives to develop partnerships to enhance job creation and economic development. in Nebraska.
He has also been invited to lead the integration of the UNK Alumni Association and the Kearney Office of the UN Foundation, serving a dual role of Vice President for UNK Development and Executive Director of the alumni association while supervising Lucas Dart, who succeeded as vice-president of alumni. Relations and Development for UNK in March 2014. Pete remained at the foundation as Senior Director of Development until his retirement in 2019.
“Although they are both technically retired, they continue to help wherever help is needed,” noted Kristensen.
Pete and Jane have served on numerous boards and committees of UNK, including the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee, fundraising campaigns and as trustees of the NU Foundation. He is a past member of the Nebraska State College Board of Trustees, the Nebraska Post-Secondary Education Commission, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center Council of Advisors, and has been active on the Academic Affairs Advisory Council. of the UNK and the Athletics Council of the UNK. Jane was also on the committee that started the Blue Gold Classic, an annual golf tournament that raises money for Loper’s athletic programs.
The Kotsiopuloses regularly participate in UNK sporting, artistic and academic events, and they provide financial support for a variety of programs and projects, including the Kotsiopulos Family Scholarship which they started after the death of the Kotsiopulos. mother of Pete in 1997.
“I’m a huge UNK fan, even though I haven’t been here,” Jane said. “It’s such a gift to Kearney in so many ways, and it just keeps getting better and better university.”
“The young people who come here have been such great citizens of Kearney,” she added. “They add a lot to our community.”
Pete called the UNK a “huge asset” to central Nebraska.
“Kearney is quite unique, and without UNK it would be a whole different city,” he said.
In addition to the Cope Cornerstone of Excellence Award, the Kotsiopuloses received the Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Service Award from the UNK Alumni Association in 2019 and the Friend of Kearney Award from the Kearney Region Chamber of Commerce in 2005.
Pete has been recognized as a Distinguished UNK Alumnus, Distinguished Alumnus Sigma Phi Epsilon, Kiwanis Citizen of the Year, Nebraska Diplomats Ambassador of the Year, and Distinguished Kearney High School Graduate, and he won a Kearney Award for Business Freedom. He served on Kearney City Council for 12 years and was mayor from 1994 to 2002. He was also involved with Nebraska Diplomats, Boy Scouts of America, League of Nebraska Municipalities, Great Platte River Road Archway , the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way of the Kearney Area and Kearney Sertoma Club.
Jane has served on the Board of Trustees of the Crane River Theater, Friends of Lied and Kearney Public Schools Foundation, served on former Gov. Kay Orr’s Judicial Appointments Board and co-founded the program local PRIDE, who taught sixth grade students and their parents about the risks of drug use. She also supports Crossroads Mission Avenue and has been involved in fundraising campaigns for Rowe Sanctuary and the Kearney Area Children’s Museum.
The Kotsiopuloses are members of the Lutheran Holy Cross Church and they have both been appointed admirals in the Grand Navy of the State of Nebraska. They have two daughters – Kara Steffen from Kearney and Julia Hernandez from La Vista – and five grandchildren.
Previous recipients of the Cope Cornerstone of Excellence award are:
2003 – Carol Cope
2004 – BM and Beverly Stevenson
2005 – LR and Jane Smith
2006 – Steve Chatelain
2007 – Robert and Dode Sahling
2008 – Paul and Linda Younes
2009 – Earl Rademacher
2010 – Dwayne and Margaret Brown
2011 – Todd Thalken
2012 – Thomas Henning
2013 – Bill B. Beavers
2014 – Joel T. Johnson
2015 – Daniel P. Slawski
2016 – Stanley P. Clouse
2017 – Galen and Marilyn Hadley
2018 – Richard and Barbara Bush
2019 – Jerry and Nancy Dulitz
2020 – Brad Kernick