One proud son honors two amazing parents

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A few years back, Chris found a way to honor his parents. He created two scholarship funds in their names at UNL, where his parents met and fell in love.

In three hours, Maria Leipelt was to be executed.

The 19-year-old was to die because the Nazis considered her a Jewish “half-breed,” one guilty of high treason.

Unbeknownst to her at the time, her older brother, Hans Leipelt, a student organizer a nonviolent underground Nazi-resistance movement called The White Rose Society, had already been executed.

Nor did she know that her mother, who had been arrested at the same time, had swallowed cyanide to avoid deportation to a concentration camp, or that her grandmother had died in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.

This was Germany, 1945, a horrible time to come of age. But Maria, who’d spent a year in solitary confinement, had a knack for staying alive.

And luck.

Patton’s 9th Armored Division arrived and freed Maria and other refugees just three hours before she was scheduled to die. Later, stranded behind the Russian line, she found a way to get herself and a train car full of other refugees across the line to the American side – by bribing rail workers with cigarettes.

After the war she worked as an interpreter and helped the U.S. Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps hunt down the Nazis.

She came to the United States in 1946 and ended up studying science at UNL. She received her bachelor’s degree in physiology in 1951, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and her master’s of science degree in 1954.

She gave birth to Chris in 1958, and then earned her doctorate in biochemistry in 1960 from Yale.

Biochemist. Professor. Noted inventor. (She held patents around the world for the process she created for making useful material from the waste by-product from the harvesting of crustaceans.)

Devoted wife and mother.

Dr. Maria Leipelt Bade – a “tough cookie on the exterior at times,” according to her only son – died four years ago at the age of 82.

“My mother was a brilliant scientist and loved to teach,” says Chris Bade. “And she was a survivor. She used to say that society is a thin veneer, so be careful. Watch it. She was very protective and very concerned about civil rights, and the rights of individuals, because she had watched a whole society turn upside-down. She saw how quickly things could change.”

Not many people can tell such a remarkable story about their mom.

But that’s just half of the story. His dad, he says, had quite the life, too.

Bill Bade grew up in Omaha during the Great Depression. At age 12, he taught himself calculus. He built a chemistry lab in the basement of his home. He made explosives just for fun.

He attended UNL, too, graduating in 1954 with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. He also was Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to become a leader in the field of re-entry physics for the U.S. space program, making major contributions to the understanding of the development of heat shields. He wrote and published science-fiction stories and was an amateur photographer, cabinet maker and geologist.

“They were very different people,” Chris says. “My dad was a complete straight-shooter. He wasn’t politically inclined. He was Nebraska-raised – what you saw was what you got. He really taught me a lesson in honesty, and dealing with people straight.”

Dr. William Bade was a survivor, too.

In the summer of 1975, the physicist contracted cryptococal meningitis that left him disabled and unable to work until his death in 2005.

Yet he adapted.

Instead of riding a bicycle with two wheels, for example, he switched to one with three. He continued his loves of reading and photography.

He continued to enjoy Maria’s gourmet cooking, which she had learned from her mother. (Maybe the years of deprivation – living on skinny bread slices that were mostly sawdust – fueled her love for great food.)

“When my father was stricken down by meningitis in his prime, my mother took on the additional role of care giver to her spouse and she looked after and protected him for the last 30 years of his life,” Chris says. “She was at her best when confronted with difficult challenges.”

A few years back, Chris found a way to honor his parents. He created two scholarship funds in their names at UNL, where his parents met and fell in love.

“I was looking for something that would be a lasting memorial – something that if they were still around would put a smile on their faces,” he says. “And I think this would have. I think they would have been very happy about this.

“They valued education immensely.”

Creating the scholarships made Chris happy. It feels good, he says, to honor his parents, who taught him so much about life, especially the value of education and knowledge.

Student support is one of the top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you’d also like to start a scholarship fund in memory of your parents – or anyone else who has mattered to you – please contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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