UNMC History 101: Doctors reign in Ak-Sar-Ben 'kingdom'

by John Schleicher, McGoogan Library of Medicine | October 01, 2013

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Wilson Bridges, M.D. Stanley Truhlsen, M.D.
Founded in 1895 by prominent Omaha businessmen, the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation was modeled on other civic organizations, such as the Rex, Proteus and Comus Society of New Orleans.

One of the founders suggested the name: "Why not reverse the name of our beloved state, since everything seems to be going backwards these days?" (There was a drought and economic depression in the mid-1890s.)

The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation continues its mission of "building a more prosperous heartland where communities can flourish and every child can succeed." They administer the Nebraska Pioneer Farm program, Good Neighbor Awards and Ike Friedman Leadership Awards. They also sponsor the 4-H Livestock Exposition, River City Roundup and the Coronation Ball.

Usually held in October, the ball is a celebration of volunteerism and civic pride. It is a fund-raising event that supports need-based scholarship programs and recognizes the volunteer efforts of individuals throughout the region by honoring individuals and families. Among the kings of Aksarben since the late 1920s, a number of physicians who have had some association with UNMC have been selected for their civic contributions and leadership.

In 1927, the 34th king was Wilson Bridges, M.D., who had been dean of the College of Medicine from 1913-1915. He lobbied the legislature to purchase land for the medical campus at 42nd and Dewey streets. His selection as king was the first time in history that a member of the medical profession was so honored.

The 71st king in 1965 was Charles W. McLaughlin Jr., M.D., professor of surgery from 1954-1972.

In 1977, Harold "Hal" Gifford Jr., M.D., became the 83rd king. Dr. Gifford was professor and chair of ophthalmology from 1964-1970.

Another ophthalmologist would reign when Stanley M. Truhlsen, M.D., was selected as the 91st king in 1985. Truhlsen was professor of ophthalmology, and interim chair of the department from 1989-1990. He also was the longest reigning king of Aksarben, from 1985-1987, since the coronation ball had been discontinued but was reestablished in 1988 as a fund-raising event for scholarships. Dr. Truhlsen has been a major benefactor to UNMC, supporting the Truhlsen Eye Institute.

The 102nd king in 1998 was world-renowned medical researcher James Armitage, M.D., who would later serve as dean of the College of Medicine from 2001-2003.

In 2005, UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., was selected as the 109th king of Aksarben.

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