When Ashley Dohe went to her first football game at Memorial Stadium in 2014, she fell in love with the environment. Nine years later, she hopes the passion and unity she saw that day can bring people together to support veterans struggling with mental health challenges.
“We’re all one team,” Dohe said. “If Nebraska football is what unites us, Nebraska football is what unites us.”
Dohe, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and administrative coordinator in the College of Engineering, created a Herbie Husker from papier mâché and will auction it off and donate the proceeds to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, an organization that benefits veterans and first responders.
Dohe started building papier mâché creations about a year ago. Her son wanted to be a Venus flytrap for Halloween, so Dohe started experimenting and created one for him. Since then, she’s created a figure of Kermit the Frog and a cat. This Herbie is only her fourth papier mâché project.
The papier mâché Herbie stands around eight feet tall and weighs around 80 pounds.
With Herbie, Dohe started working in August after asking to use a kitchen in her office at Nebraska Hall and finished in late October. She said she arrived at the office most days at 5:30 a.m. to get a couple of hours of crafting done before the office day started.
Dohe said she chose to do the project because wanted to make an impact with her work and she knew what Herbie represents and the attention Husker sports get in the state. She said Husker football was the first thing she clung to as a fun thing to enjoy after she left the military. Before her first game, against Miami in 2014, she saw Kenny Bell climb onto the statue outside the stadium and shake his hair, and she became an instant fan. Her husband, who is also a veteran, would wake up at all hours while deployed to watch Husker football games.
“It means so much to so many people,” she said.
Through her own experience and watching friends have a hard time finding their way after separating from the military, she’s seen firsthand some of the challenges some veterans have after leaving service. Dohe’s best friend, whom she’d deployed with to Iraq and Afghanistan, died by suicide. She’s lost other friends to suicide as well and has seen others struggle in their own way.
“I’ve seen it play out from start to finish, from good to worse to bad,” she said.
Dohe said when she left the Air Force, she missed the bond she had with fellow soldiers and found it difficult to lose that. She suddenly related to the older generations of veterans she’d heard speaking to each other about their experiences.
“I know when I separated from the military, that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she said. “The more you’re out, the more you want to talk about it.”
Dohe said many struggle to find a purpose after leaving the military, and she started looking for a way she could make a difference. She felt arts and crafts was one option for her.
“It’s finding your nook when you leave,” she said. “How can you make an impact? This is my impact.”
Tunnel to Towers, the organization Dohe selected as a beneficiary, has a variety of programs to assist veterans, including ones that pay mortgages for veterans and their families, educational programming about 9/11 and disaster relief.
Dohe is still working out the specifics of how she will hold a silent auction for Herbie and is looking for partners who can help with that process. Those interested can reach Dohe at email@example.com. She’d love to see Herbie stay at the university, but most importantly she wants to help other veterans however she can.
“Even if people hear those names, that’s an impact,” she said.