Nebraska Business Hall of Fame Inductees Announced

Nebraska Business Hall of Fame Inductees Announced

Friday, January 20, 2017 - 1:00pm

LINCOLN – In early February, a distinguished group of business leaders and entrepreneurs will be inducted into the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame, according to Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  The inductions will take place Thursday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. (CT) at The Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in Lincoln as part of the Nebraska Chamber’s Annual Meeting and evening banquet.  (For more information, including how to register, click here or call 402-474-4422.)


Established in 1992 by the State Chamber and the University of Nebraska College of Business Administration, the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame recognizes some of the state’s most accomplished business leaders and their contributions to our free enterprise system.  Candidates are nominated by individuals from the business community, business associations and academia.


The 2017 Nebraska Business Hall of Fame class members are:


PHILLIP C. NELSON, Hamilton Telecommunications, Aurora

Phil Nelson has been a key to the success of both Hamilton Telecommunications and the Aurora area community.  Currently serving as the company’s chairman of the board, Nelson has led Hamilton Telecommunications since 1967 – helping transform it from a small, local telephone cooperative to a leading telecommunications and information technology company.  He made his mark early as the first president of Nebraska Cellular, a predecessor rural network of Verizon.  Through his leadership and insight, Hamilton Relay was formed and is today one of three major national players in the telecommunications relay services industry.  In addition to several leadership roles in state and local organizations, Nelson has actively recruited new businesses and jobs to the Aurora area.


TONN OSTERGARD, Crete Carrier Corporation, Lincoln

Tonn Ostergard is president and CEO of Crete Carrier Corporation.  Under his leadership, the transportation and logistics company has grown to more than 5,600 power units and 13,000 trailers.  Today, Crete Carrier operates in 48 states, with terminal operations in 19 locations and approximately 6,000 employees.  The company is the 20th largest trucking group in the United States and is one of the largest privately owned.  In addition to his many business and civic leadership roles, Ostergard serves as a director of the American Trucking Association & Truckload Carriers, and is past chair of the Nebraska Trucking Association. 



Revolutionizing the restaurant business since 1973, Willy Theisen is perhaps best known as the founder of Godfather's Pizza, which went on to become the fastest growing pizza chain in America by the late 1970s.  Since then, Theisen has opened thousands of restaurants across the country.  His GB Foods Corporation blossomed in the 1990s, while the 2000s saw his Barbecue Ventures, LLC expand the Famous Dave’s franchise across the Midwest.  Theisen also created Pitch Pizzeria, a successful Omaha-based venture that started in 2009.  His latest effort, called Paragon, opened in August 2016 in Omaha’s historic Dundee neighborhood.  Much of Theisen’s success has been tied to his ability to identify a high growth category and develop it using evolutionary techniques, an approach that has inspired some of his employees to also become entrepreneurs.


FRANK ZYBACH (deceased), Columbus

Columbus’ Frank Zybach transformed modern farming practices and helped ensure a more dependable food supply when he invented the center pivot irrigation system in 1948.  After he was awarded a patent in 1952, Zybach, along with A.E. Trowbridge, started building center pivots in 1953.  Soon after, manufacturing rights were sold to Robert Daugherty, president of Valley Manufacturing.  By 1990 virtually all of the center pivots employed worldwide were produced by Nebraska manufacturers, the largest being Valmont.  Today, Nebraska is the state with the most center pivot systems, with more than 30,000.  Zybach passed away Aug. 19, 1980, in Columbus, but his innovation has forever revolutionized the way the world farms, while also solidifying Nebraska’s role as the leading manufacturer of this important agricultural technology.