June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chris Hochstetler’s successes in life are many, though for the new executive director at KANEKO, success is elusive to define. With age and experience, he’s grown to see that satisfaction and accomplishment are more than a rising career or a certain pay grade.

It’s about making a difference in the world.

About being a part of the community.

ChrisHochstetler1After two decades serving in the Army—earning the rank of sergeant major, the highest an enlisted soldier could achieve—he went to work serving the community: raising money for the American Lung Association, the Missionary Society of St. Columban, and now, KANEKO.

Fundraising has become his means to make a difference. And he’s successful at it.

For all his successes, military or philanthropic, he can name those who helped: foster parents, social workers, Army officials, friends.

According to Hochstetler, success doesn’t happen without the support of others. He learned that lesson early.

Hochstetler was the second of three children born to a single mother in Grand Island. Life was hard, and when he speaks of his past, it is not without some reluctance.

Childhood nights were spent sleeping in a car. Three square meals were not guaranteed.

In the winter, his mom took him to the library to keep warm. There, young Chris found comfort in the books on the shelves and the art on the walls.

“You could really lose yourself in a place like that,” he recalls.

Not realizing how dire things were, he didn’t expect what happened next: foster care.

It was a truly difficult time for him, especially as a preteen. “You don’t think about the fact that you can’t eat,” he recalls. “You think about being taken from your mom for no other reason than for being poor.”

He’s quick to emphasize his foster parents were wonderful. Along with his social workers, they became key players in his successful life.

After graduating from high school, Hochstetler enlisted, seeing the military as his chance to get an education and break the cycle of poverty. The opportunity to have his education paid by taxpayers is something for which he’s grateful.

He served for 20 years, deploying to the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. It was a pensive time that helped him to develop a passion for poetry.

It was also when he met his wife, Kelly—then a nurse in the Reserves—while he worked as an Army special ops recruiter at the Mall of the Bluffs. They married in 1994 and raised two children: Hayley, 21, and Tanner, 18.

Returning to civilian life, Hochstetler used his master’s degree in nonprofit management to begin his quest to give back. His first job was with the American Lung Association as senior vice president of resource development for a nine-state region in the South.

He then returned to Nebraska to fundraise for the Missionary Society of St. Columban. As U.S. director of fund development, he honed an expertise and joy for connecting donors to a cause that was important to them. “It’s fulfilling not only for the donor, but for the development officer.”

The travel required for that position wore on Hochstetler and his family. So he listened when a friend told him he should look into the position at KANEKO.

After a months-long interview process, Hochstetler got the job, thanks to his unique background and development credentials. Jun Kaneko acknowledged Hochstetler’s background was different from the other candidates, and that there was some worry that he wouldn’t understand the arts. But when he met Hochstetler in person, he knew Hochstetler could lead KANEKO.

“He has a very strong drive,” Kaneko says.

Hochstetler is tasked to maintain the vision of KANEKO: Making the center a world-class creative facility. “And I take those two words, ‘world’ and ‘class,’ to heart,” Hochstetler says. He believes KANEKO is approaching that level, and his mission is to protect the quality and increase the quantity of what’s
offered there.

Kaneko’s wife, Ree, says Hochstetler is a born leader. “He’s been able to invigorate that staff,” she says, including the board of directors. “We couldn’t be happier.”

Hochstetler’s drive extends beyond his career. Hochstetler is a competitive runner and cycler. Rising at 3:30 a.m. on a weekday, he’ll hoof up to 13 miles before heading into work; weekends are for longer distances. He allows his work and worries to disappear while running and cycling. “I can let everything go. I’m not thinking about work, kids, the next fundraising appointment.”

Once he’s returned from the trails, he’s focused back on his roles and his mission.

“I would like my children to understand that they can change the world if they try hard enough, and they can’t do it by themselves. I hope that the work I do is an example for them.”

Visit thekaneko.org for more information.

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