Ernie Kuehne Jr. is not known for doing things halfway. He says he learned his determination and work ethic from his mother. But he credits UNT with teaching him how to race toward any goal line at full speed and with laser focus.
In August 2012, Kuehne (’66) and other passionate advocates of Mean Green Athletics showed what goal-oriented people who share a love for UNT can do when they have a finish line in sight.
As chair of UNT's Basketball Enhancement Committee, Kuehne and his committee members raised more than $3 million in gifts in 30 days, funding a new basketball training facility and a state-of-the-art scoreboard in the UNT Coliseum and providing additional support for scholarships. As part of that campaign, Kuehne presented the athletic department with a cornerstone $1 million gift, which he funded by selling one of his top thoroughbred racehorses.
“I care deeply for this university because it shaped me as a person and prepared me for life,” Kuehne said. “And I am not alone. Our effort proved that a lot of people believe in UNT and credit the education they received here for their success in life.”
Kuehne left the family farm outside the tiny town of Mart, Texas, to pursue his college degree and run track at the University of North Texas in 1962. But he said his support for Mean Green Athletics does not entirely stem from his experiences as a student-athlete.
“Athletics is a gateway, a window into the rest of the university,” he said. “I support a lot of initiatives at the university. I do it because our students need support to be successful and to get a head start on their futures. I support athletics because if our intercollegiate athletic programs experience success, it offers the institution an opportunity to share with the world about our academic programs and the other activities available to students.”
Kuehne said the university opened his eyes to a world of possibilities, and gave him the tools he needed to turn potential into reality.
“I was a pretty raw kid from the country when I went to the University of North Texas,” Kuehne said. “But it allowed me to grow as an individual and at the same time receive an education in an environment that was not intimidating.”
Today Kuehne has risen above his hardscrabble beginnings to achieve success in litigation, banking, on Wall Street and in the energy business. He’s even experienced success on the track. Kuehne, who has owned thoroughbred racehorses for more than 40 years, once owned Game On Dude, a top-ranked racehorse with earnings exceeding $3 million.
Kuehne is president and board chairman of Kuehne Oil Co. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason and a volunteer for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and Greater Dallas Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He is also past chair of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank Board of Directors, past president of the American Junior Golf Association and a past member of the Park Cities YMCA Sports Committee.
A passionate advocate for diversity, Kuehne said the university’s diverse student body prepared him for the real world.
“I experienced diversity at UNT that I would never have been exposed to if I had not left home,” he said. “I am incredibly proud that UNT has been a leader in the state and throughout the nation with diversity.”
The 2013 recipient of the Ulys Knight Spirit Award from the UNT Alumni Association, Kuehne gets emotional when he talks about how his experiences at UNT have impacted his life.
“I have often said that my family is the foundation, but North Texas is the cornerstone of sending me well on my way to a successful life as a businessman and as an attorney,” he said. “It is an unbelievable opportunity for me to be able to continue to give back to a place that molded me.”
Kuehne is a member of UNT’s McConnell Society, the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity Alumni Advisory Board, and a lifetime member of the UNT Alumni Association and UNT Ex-Letterman's Association.
He said he encourages other alumni, friends and fans to find ways to get involved with UNT.
“This is a remarkable institution,” Kuehne said. “UNT is important to the region; it’s important to the State of Texas, and the students deserve our support. UNT is a place where dreams are possible. I am living proof.”
Photo: Kuehne and UNT President V. Lane Rawlins at the 2013 Alumni Awards where Kuehne was honored with the Ulys Knight Spirit Award.