Portraits of Philanthropy: Paul Engler

Paul Enger standing in front of cattle operation.

Paul F. Engler passed away Friday, May 3, 2024, at the age of 94. Below is Paul’s personal reflection on giving, which was originally published in Portraits of Philanthropy in 2010.

Paul F. Engler

You’re going to get a lickin’ when your dad gets home.

I can still hear my mother’s voice the day I bought myself a hundred head of cattle. I was just 12 or 13. After the sale, I’d gone up to the owner of the sale barn. He was a tough guy.

Paul, he said, you just bought yourself some cattle today.

Yes, I did, I said.

You don’t have any money, he said, do you?

I told him I didn’t and that he was going to have to loan me some. And he said OK.

My dad had been out of town that day. When I got home and told my mother about the cattle, she had a fit. She thought I got cheated. But I knew I’d done a good job. I liked cattle. I worked at the sale barn. I’d get excused from school on sale days to go to the sale barn.

My father already had a hundred head of cattle. I helped take care of them. I also worked at my dad’s filling station. My father had a lot of good qualities. I think he gave away more money than he made in those post-Depression days. But he did not pay me. Other kids had allowances, but not me. That pissed me off. I wanted to make my own money. That’s why I bought those cattle. I guess I could see that the class of people who were really, really successful and had the new cars were the ranchers. I always had a fire in my belly. Why? I haven’t quite figured that out. That might be the secret to entrepreneurship – if you have that fire.

That’s why we started the Paul F. Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the university. We did it for the young people who have that fire in the belly, the ones out there who think there is a better way of doing things, who want to be a little bit different than the other person. I think universities can play a very important role in nurturing that entrepreneurship. I paid my own way through the University of Nebraska with the cattle I raised and sold as a kid. And I didn’t get a lickin’ after all for buying that first herd of cattle all those years ago. By the time my father got home, I had worked all the cattle and branded them and turned them out with his cattle.

Well, he said, after we drove out there, I see the herd got a little bigger while I was gone. I told him the terms for the loan. He said he thought I could do a little better at the bank. Then he stuck out his hand and said this: I’m proud of you.

Someone like that in your life when you’re young can give you the old impetus to go for it.