UNO means the world to a man who’s seen the world

Lee Velde, an Air Force veteran, feels lucky to give back to his alma mater – for all it’s given to him over the years.

For Air Force veteran Lee Velde, Omaha was just a layover in his world travels. He’s seen Germany, China, Brazil, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Russia and more.

But Omaha left a lasting impression. Lee, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, still feels connected to Nebraska, a place where he lived for only nine months while attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha long ago.

That’s why Lee has established the Lee D. Velde Aviation Scholarship through a planned gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation. The scholarship will benefit undergraduate students at UNO studying aviation.

“It’s a payback,” Lee said one recent day. “I feel dedicated to Omaha and appreciate what the university did for me.”

Lee was born and raised in Seattle. He was a child during the Great Depression.

“It was a humble beginning,” he said, “compared to the way I’ve ended up.”

He enrolled at the University of Washington in 1952, at the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll and the Cold War.

Two years later, Lee was accepted into the Air Force’s aviation cadet program. After passing a battery of mental and physical exams, he was sent to Texas for basic training and qualified to become a navigator. From there, he was transferred to Oregon and then to California.

He served in Sculthorpe, England, around the same time the Berlin wall went up. During his time there, Lee navigated B-66’s that were carrying atomic bombs.

He served his first tour in Vietnam from November 1962 to April 1963.

After returning to the United States, Lee was accepted into the “bootstrap” program at the UNO. He graduated in September of 1964 with a degree in general education. This degree allowed Lee to compete for promotions with graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy. During his time in the military, he was promoted to first lieutenant and then to captain and finally to major.

“The University of Nebraska at Omaha put me on a level playing field,” Lee said. “I was very lucky the Air Force allowed me to go.”

Lee has many memories of his time at UNO – including leaving the quiet nightlife of Omaha to go bar hopping in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“The University of Nebraska at Omaha was a big feature in my life at the time,” Lee said. “I have fond memories of my time there and of what the university did for me.”

After graduation, Lee continued to serve in England, Thailand and Vietnam.

Lee retired after serving in the Air Force for 20 years. He settled in the San Francisco area with his partner and worked in the travel business for 13 years before retiring permanently in 1988. Since then, Lee has continued to see the world. He has been on 35 cruises and plans on going on two more next year.

“I have an interest in different societies,” Lee said. “I like visiting cities with history and going to churches and museums. It’s an experience.”

Now in his 80s, Lee looks forward to giving back to UNO, a place that gave him so much.

“I’m happy to pay the university back for what they’ve done for me,” Lee said. “I am very lucky to be able to do it.”

“Our Students, Our Future,” the University of Nebraska’s $200 million fundraising initiative that runs through 2017, will provide direct support for university students through scholarships that will make their college education more affordable; support for programs that improve student outcomes, particularly among traditionally underrepresented students; improvements to facilities that will enhance the learning experience; and other student-focused priorities.

If you would like to help our students, please contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216. And if you, like Lee Velde, would like to leave a gift in your will, please contact the foundation’s Planned Giving team.

This story was written by foundation intern Madison Wurtele, who is studying journalism, English and political science at UNL.

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