The beginnings for Leadership Kearney started in 1990 at a Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors planning retreat. Discussion centered on ways the Chamber could insure a constant flow of qualified volunteers and leaders for the organization while supplying a pool of ready emerging leaders for other boards and committees throughout the area.
In 1991, Chamber Chairman of the Board John Boomer forged the formation of a leadership development program by making it one of the chamber's top priorities that year. Chairman Boomer appointed a committee chaired by long time Chamber leaders Ben Homan of Edward Jones Investments to create and develop a leadership training program for the community. Other members of the committee included Patty Shefte (Nebraska Organ Retrieval Program, Dan Brosz (Kearney Public Schools), Mike Baldwin (attorney), Mark Sutko (Platte Valley State Bank), Nancy Etzelmiller (Good Samaritan Hospital), Glennis Nagel (UNK) and Chamber President Bruce Blankenship.
The committee set out in earnest to create a program that could inspire and train "the next generation" of leaders in Kearney. The committee researched already established programs in other Nebraska communities including Lincoln and Omaha as well as the LEAD program that provides training for agricultural leaders. The group poured over mission statements, selection criteria, session itineraries and more to create a program that best suited Kearney's unique and growing needs.
In the end, Leadership Kearney was born as a hybrid of other existing leadership programs coupled with the unique needs of Kearney in mind. The Leadership Kearney organization committee felt strongly that the program should be dynamic and interactive. Instead of lectures at the monthly sessions, the organizing committee worked hard to provide participants with role playing opportunities, tours, roundtable discussions and much more. The committee also chose to move the location of each session to insure participants experience first hand many of the facilities essential to the operation of the community.
Finally, in September 1991 the first Leadership Kearney class was selected from a large field of applications and the program was off to a very successful inaugural year.
In 1994, Youth Leadership Kearney was created to mirror the Leadership Kearney program that started in 1991. Recognizing that there was a need to inspire and train the next generation of youth leaders in Kearney, a task force was created by Leadership Kearney Class #2 graduates, Tim Hughbanks, Julie Rawlings Hoppe, Jim Ganz, Jr. and Randy Tonniges. The mission of the Youth Leadership Kearney program is to help develop the hidden potential in our high school students in regard to their leadership qualities and to instill in them the importance of community trusteeship, all in an effort to prepare them for the leadership opportunities ahead of them in their later lives. Participants are provided with tours, roundtable discussions and speakers during their leadership sessions.