UNMC’s leader and ’24th and Glory’ athletes honored by Aksarben Foundation
Seven of Omaha’s greatest athletes and the leader of one of the city’s most prominent institutions were honored Saturday night at the Aksarben Foundation’s 128th annual ball.
Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, was given the foundation’s Most Honored Citizen Award. Gold was presented the award by last year’s Most Honored Citizens, Sid and Dawn Dinsdale.
Gold said in a statement that he was humbled to receive the honor, in part because of the enduring legacy of those who have received the award before him and stood on the stage since 1895.
“I’m excited to represent the thousands of faculty, staff and students at UNMC — past, present and future — who get up every morning, roll up their sleeves and work hard to make this community a better place, just as Aksarben does,” Gold said.
A native of New York City, Gold was named UNMC’s eighth chancellor in 2014 when he came from Ohio. Gold is also the chairman of the board of Nebraska Medicine, UNMC’s primary clinical partner.
In 2021, Gold was named provost and executive vice president of the University of Nebraska system. From 2017-2021, he also served as chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The Aksarben Foundation said it selected Gold for the honor because he has been “instrumental in growing UNMC in multiple ways, including expanding its physical presence in midtown Omaha, bringing more high-quality jobs to Nebraska and elevating the prestige that UNMC enjoys in the medical community across the nation and around the world.”
During Gold’s tenure, UNMC established and opened the Global Center for Health Security, which facilitated UNMC collaboration with the federal government and put the university at the forefront of nationwide biohazard response efforts.
The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit was activated when the federal government asked UNMC and Nebraska Medicine to respond to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, UNMC was one of the first in the nation to respond, beginning with the medical center providing care to passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and later counsel to local and national leaders.
UNMC has also opened numerous buildings during Gold’s tenure that will keep the medical center on the cutting-edge of research, education and patient care, including the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in 2015, the Dr. Edwin G. & Dorothy Balbach Davis Global Center and the opening of the new Munroe-Meyer Institute building in 2021.
UNMC is also currently developing its Saddle Creek Campus, which includes construction of the Catalyst building and CORE building.
A cardiothoracic surgeon during his medical career, Gold earned his undergraduate degree from the Cornell University College of Engineering and his medical degree from the Weill Cornell College of Medicine.
On Saturday evening, the Aksarben Foundation also inducted seven “24th & Glory” athletes into its Court of Honor, which is among the highest honors bestowed by the organization.
“Each of these elite athletes overcame significant obstacles to achieve greatness in their various sports,” the foundation said in a press release. “All are inducted into the Court of Honor for their contributions to Sports and Community Service.”
“24th & Glory” refers to a book and newspaper series by former World-Herald sports reporter Dirk Chatelain about Omaha’s greatest generation of athletes. The book tells the story of a group of Black athletes from North Omaha who rose out of segregation and ascended to national prominence during the civil rights era.
Those athletes are Ron Boone, Bob Boozer, Marlin Briscoe, Bob Gibson, Johnny Rodgers, Gale Sayers and Roger Sayers.
Boone was a professional basketball player playing in 1,041 consecutive games and scoring over 17,000 points in both the American Basketball Association and the NBA.
Boozer, who died in 2012, played in the NCAA Final Four, won an Olympic gold medal and won an NBA Championship.
Briscoe was the first Black quarterback to start a professional football game in 1968. He died in 2022.
Gibson played 17 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, earning two Cy Young awards and two World Series MVPs. He set a modern benchmark for pitching in the 1968 World Series, posting a 1.12 ERA. He died in 2020.
Rodgers led Nebraska to two national championships in football in 1970 and 1971 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1972.
Gale Sayers, who died in 2020, set the NFL record for touchdowns as a rookie in 1965 for the Chicago Bears. He twice led the NFL in rushing before a knee injury in 1968 shortened his career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
Roger Sayers was a two-sport standout at Omaha University before outrunning “Bullet” Bob Hayes in the 100-yard dash at the NAIA National Meet. Sayers then was a member of the USA track team.
Four other people were also inducted into the Aksarben Court of Honor. They are Marc LeBaron, chairman and CEO of Lincoln Industries; Ruth Meints, the artistic director of the Omaha Conservatory of Music; Robert Hoogeveen, the founder of Quality Living Inc.; and Henry “Hod” Kosman, chairman and CEO of Platte Valley Companies in Scottsbluff.
In addition to honoring members of the community, the Aksarben Ball awards over 300 scholarships annually, assisting students at four-year and two-year institutions. The aggregate value of these scholarships is over $1 million.