Engineering donor does more than just talk about Nebraska
Robert McBroom honors his father, who never got to go to college.
Posted: Thu, May 29, 2014
He talks of the day in the Dust Bowl when a tumbleweed knocked him down.
He was a kid, standing next to a cousin on their grandparents' farm in south-central Nebraska. At first, he thought the cousin had hit him.
He talks of the dust, the chickens and the buckets blowing past the kitchen door.
He talks of the black cloud reaching "from the ground to the zenith."
"You'd see it blowing and get blacker and blacker and blacker," Robert McBroom says, "and the next thing you know it's blowing past you."
Robert McBroom talks by phone from his home in Wisconsin.
"As I'm fond of saying, ‘Everything was quite awhile ago.'"
"When you're 91, everything was long ago."
Robert talks of the day his mother died. He was 8. He remembers it in bits and pieces. The doctor removed her thyroid and the surgery was a success, but a few hours later she died anyway of post-operative shock.
And he talks of the way his dad kept going forward, despite the dark days.
His dad, Robert says, would promote other people, not himself. His dad would always talk about them, not himself. Other people made him happy. He'd talk about his town, Superior, Neb., where he lived all of his life and where people called him "Mac."
His dad worked as a traveling salesman, a merchandising man, and, later, as the manager of the city's Chamber of Commerce – a perfect job for a promoter like him. He loved the city's celebrations, the fireworks, its school and its sports.
He loved the University of Nebraska even though he never got to go to college. He'd grown up on a farm, to people who weren't so prosperous.
"Farm people wouldn't even think of going to college in those days unless they had something special, special, special," Robert says. "The nearest boy around was Ed Weir, who became a famous football player at Nebraska. He lived up the road half a mile from my dad. They were the same age, and friends.
"My dad didn't go to college, but he always thought I should."
His dad saved the money his mother had left when she died, money that had come from her own mother, to pay for Robert's first two years of school in Lincoln. Robert went to World War II for a few years and then returned to Lincoln to resume his studies at the university. Uncle Sam, he says, paid for his final two years. He graduated in 1948 with an engineering degree.
Robert talks of the day his dad came to the campus to watch him graduate. That was 1948. He talks of how his dad was so proud because Robert was the first McBroom to earn a degree.
Education is the key to opening doors, Robert says, and it's the key to opening minds. It opened his. It helped him have an interesting career as a mechanical engineer with General Electric. It gave him a great wife, Mary, who was a secretary at GE.
And though Robert hasn't been back to Nebraska in years, he's given back for years because he feels the university gave him a great life.
The first few years, he says, he gave just a few dollars. That was all he could afford. He gave more as the years flew by. A decade ago, he started a fund that he named for his father: the R. Vernon McBroom Fund. The fund grew quickly because he capitalized on the GE Matching Gift Fund from his company, which matches his gifts up to $50,000 annually.
The College of Engineering used the fund to support a professorship. It now provides support for Yuris Dzenis and his research team that focuses on nanofibers.
Robert's father died in 1976, long before the fund was created. Robert thinks he'd be pleased that the McBroom name was on something that mattered to the university – especially something that promoted other people.
"I'm very content at the moment because we're modestly prosperous," he says, "and what family we have is doing fine. My son is fine. My granddaughters are beautiful. Yes, anyway, I'm OK."
He laughs again.
"Old men, we talk and talk. And I could talk to you for hours."
Faculty Support is one of the top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. So far, $86 million has been raised for Faculty Support. If you would like to help attract and keep the best faculty members in UNL's College of Engineering – people like Yuris Dzenis – please contact the foundation's Karen Moellering at 800-432-3216.