Donor feels the satisfaction of giving

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UNL alum John Bruhn still has a piece of paper with the words his English teacher wrote.

“You must feel the satisfaction of a job well done.”

From a conversation with John, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.:

It was my senior year of high school. I’d written a 25-page term paper – “The Last Day of Abraham Lincoln’s Life.”

Lincoln was my hero. He’d persisted through all kinds of barriers to achieve equal opportunity in America. I’d spent hours in the public library researching it. My teacher gave me an A+.

In the years since then, I’ve written more than 20 books and 200 articles and five books of poetry. But when I write a story now for publication, I still always have her voice in the back of my mind – that gold standard I have to shoot for.

You must feel the satisfaction …

I had wonderful teachers in high school and then while I was studying sociology, and that’s the bedrock of why I’m giving back now – those wonderful mentors. I’ve been overly blessed in my life. My whole career was profoundly influenced by teachers.

I grew up in Norfolk, Neb. It was a wonderful place to grow up. Everybody knew everybody else and the rules were very clear. The worst thing you could do was smoke a cigarette or have a six-pack of beer. My dad owned The Norfolk Shoe Company, which was located between a drugstore and a bakery. He was second generation in the business, and I would have been the third.

My parents hoped I’d get a business degree at the university and return to Norfolk. But I was interested in the social and behavioral sciences and in medicine. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed going back to Norfolk. There’s always been part of me that liked the intellectual curiosity that led me into teaching and research.

My advisors in sociology at the University of Nebraska really took an interest in me. They had a hand in the things that happened to me in my career. For example, during the Korean War, I was due to be drafted, so I signed up in the active Reserves and became a Medical Corpsman. While I was in the Army, one of my sociology professors sent me a flyer on the new medical sociology programs at Harvard and Yale.

“These really put together your interests, John.”

I applied to Yale and got accepted, and that’s where I got my Ph.D. in medical sociology and earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Scotland.

A few years ago I endowed a professorship in sociology at UNL. It went to Les Whitbeck, a wonderful choice. He works with very contemporary problems – homelessness, runaways, Native American issues.

He was being recruited by another university when Nebraska offered him this professorship.

One of the reasons I wanted to endow this professorship now, before I passed, was because I wanted to see the effect of it. And now that I’ve seen, through Les, it’s like my dream for my gift has come alive. At my death, there’s a life insurance policy that will help UNL upgrade the professorship to a chair.

I guess you could say that I’ve been inspired to give back by those who inspired me. And in giving back, yes, I do feel the satisfaction.

Support for faculty is a top priority of the campaign. If, like John, you’d like to give back to the university in honor of professors who made a difference in your life, please consider giving online or call the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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