Farming Family Supports Scholarships for Rural Nebraskans

John and Mary KaldahlWhen Burnett Society members John and Mary Kaldahl gave this interview, they were relaxing under a tiki hut in Florida — soaked in sunshine, palm trees swaying in the breeze behind them.

But even as they were hundreds of miles away, enjoying much warmer weather than Nebraska had to offer, their rural home was never far from mind.

“It’s a close-knit community, a good place to raise children,” John said, speaking of Superior, Nebraska, a small town on the Nebraska-Kansas border, population 1,957 at last count. John and Mary live on a farm a few miles from Superior, which touts itself as a hub for business, recreation and Victorian architecture. Its active downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town features several beautifully maintained Victorian homes. It has two parks, a museum, a vineyard and other family-friendly activities.

John and Mary Kaldahl

John and Mary Kaldahl

But before we make Superior sound too good, John quipped, “we want to keep that a secret.” After all, it may lose its small-town charm if too many people know about it.

John and Mary have raised three daughters, living and working on the same land farmed by John’s parents and grandparents. They are deeply rooted in farming life. Mary was also raised on a farm, about 200 miles north in Pender, Nebraska.

But while those farming traditions run deep, John and Mary have also started new traditions in their family. Specifically: Husker traditions.

They met at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1976. John was studying agricultural economics, and Mary was studying business education at the Teachers College. They got married, and after returning to John’s family farm, they raised their girls on the farm and sent them all to UNL.

“And now we have a granddaughter there, too,” John said proudly.

Now John and Mary have decided to make educational opportunities available to more people, building their connection to the university and giving back to the community they love. Working with the gift planning team at the University of Nebraska Foundation, they established a planned gift through a bequest and a retained life estate to support scholarships at UNL and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. A retained life estate is a gift of property in which the donor deeds land but retains the right to live on the property for however long they wish.

Under the terms of their fund agreement, first preference for scholarships awarded from the Kaldahl fund will go to students from Superior High School. John said they are intended to open a door for young people who may not have the opportunity otherwise to further their education.

“Many people are successful without a college education,” Mary said. “But we want to provide a college education to those who want to go.”

The Kaldahl fund will also support graduate fellowships at UNL as well as students in the University of Nebraska College of Law, all colleges at UNMC and at Southeast Community College and Central Community College. John and Mary have also given outright gifts to support Husker athletics, including football and volleyball, of which they are steadfast fans.

“We have been very fortunate,” Mary said simply. “We want to share.”