Alumnus gives $20 million to support agriculture at UNL

Texas cattleman Paul F. Engler’s gift to focus on Nebraska Agribusiness

University of Nebraska alumnus and cattleman Paul F. Engler of Amarillo, Texas, announced today a $20 million gift to support programs in agribusiness at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

The gift from the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation to the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities will establish a permanently endowed fund to support the Paul F. Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The gift will provide new student scholarships and an endowed chair in agribusiness entrepreneurship. Among other ways the endowment will support ag entrepreneurship at the university include program support for student courses, a lectureship series, entrepreneurship training camps, internship placement assistance, student travel and more. It will also help create a venture capital fund to support student start up businesses.

Engler, 80, said he feels strongly about finding and mentoring kids who have the entrepreneur’s “fire in the belly.”

“I think about myself and my age, and I still have fire in my belly,” Engler said. “We need to identify these boys and girls who have that fire in the belly when they are young and then when they come to the university, expose them to a curriculum that teaches risk—how to evaluate it and how to manage it—because if you do not take risk as an entrepreneur, you are not going to make it.”

Engler also said he is concerned about the health of the country’s rural communities.

“A lot of these rural communities are in tough shape economically,” he said. “They have lower populations, and then services move out of the town. That is true not only of Nebraska but in other ag states as well. Statistics will show that in Nebraska we have a higher percent of the population living in small, rural towns than do other states. I want those communities to not only survive but to become more active.”

Clarence Castner, president of the University of Nebraska Foundation, said Engler’s gift supports top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, which was publicly announced last fall.

“We are extremely grateful for Paul’s generous support of the campaign and of the university’s students,” Castner said. “His gift provides much-needed support to priority areas of this campaign, including students and agriculture.”

James B. Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska, said a recent study by Gallup indicates about 70 percent of young Nebraskans want to start their own business, which he said is also key to our state’s future economic growth.

“Paul Engler’s gift taps into Nebraska’s greatest resource—our young people—and leverages the university’s greatest strength: an education that prepares them to be successful,” Milliken said. “Nebraska can be strong only if all regions prosper, which is why we should all celebrate this gift.”

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said Engler’s generosity will provide tremendous new opportunities for countless students across the state as they experience the opportunities to build businesses for rural Nebraska.

“Paul’s vision is a unique comprehensive program to support entrepreneurship and young Nebraskans,” Perlman said. “This program will be an important component of UNL’s efforts to serve rural Nebraska. Paul knows well and embodies the spirit of agricultural entrepreneurship, and his leadership and mentorship to the next generations will benefit this state more than anyone can imagine today.”

John Owens, NU vice president and Harlan Vice Chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, praised Engler’s desire to motivate Nebraskans and to empower them with education.

“Entrepreneurship is the driving force in the American rural economy, and Paul Engler has made a permanent investment in generations of the future”

“Entrepreneurship is the driving force in the American rural economy, and Paul Engler has made a permanent investment in generations of the future,” Owens said.

Paul Engler was born in Stuart, Neb., and took an interest in agriculture at age 12 when he helped manage the family’s small cattle herd and made his own cattle purchase. He studied animal sciences at the University of Nebraska and graduated in 1951. He worked at various agriculture companies before starting a cattle operation in Texas in 1960. He started a Texas-based operation for Iowa Beef Packers in Amarillo, Texas, and formed his own company, Cactus Feeders, in 1975, which is now the world’s largest privately owned cattle feeding operation with locations across northern Texas and southwest Kansas.

Paul Engler married Virginia “Jinx” Engler in 1981 in Amarillo, Texas. Also a Nebraskan, Virginia grew up in Valentine and attended Valentine High School and the University of Nebraska. She died on Dec. 16, 1996, at age 64.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for 74 years. In 2009, the foundation provided the university with more than $102 million in private funding for scholarships, medical research and support for faculty and academic programs. In October of 2009, the foundation announced Unlimited Possibilities: the Campaign for Nebraska, a $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign—the largest in the university’s history.

Personal Background

Paul F. Engler was born in Stuart, Neb., in 1929. At age nine, he began working at his father’s gas station for 50 cents a day. At age 12, he bought and managed his first cattle herd of 100. He enrolled at the University of Nebraska in 1944 and used the proceeds of his first cattle sales to fund his education. He studied agriculture and graduated in 1951.

He married Virginia “Jinx” Engler in 1981 in Amarillo, Texas. Also a Nebraskan, Virginia grew up in Valentine and attended Valentine High School and the University of Nebraska. She died on Dec. 16, 1996, at age 64.

Paul Engler is founder and chairman of the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation.

Career & Industry Experience

Founded Cactus Feeders in Amarillo, Texas, in 1975 and serves as chairman of this largest privately owned fed cattle producer in the United States.

Directed the carcass division for Iowa Beef Processors in 1972 at its Dakota City, Neb., operation and was responsible for cattle procurement and sales for eight plants.

Founded Hereford Feedyard in Hereford, Texas, in 1960, the first large scale commercial feedyard in what has become the epicenter of the fed cattle industry.

Recognized for creating the formula pricing method of fed cattle sales in 1987, which provides incentives to feeders to consistently produce beef that meets consumer’s health and quality demands.

Vision and foresight planted the seeds of an industry in Texas that today represents one-third of the total U.S. fed beef production and has a significant annual economic impact.

Awards & Recognition

Meat Industry Hall of Fame

University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Henry Beachell Distinguished Alumni Award

Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame

Nebraska State Historical Society, Nationally Distinguished Nebraskan

University of Nebraska, Distinguished Alumni Award

Texas Tech University, Outstanding Agricultural Producer Award

Texas A&M University, Distinguished Texan in Agriculture

About Cactus Feeders, Inc.

Employs more than 500 people across 11 locations in Texas and Kansas.

Recognized as one of the “50 Largest” companies in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine and recognized by Forbes magazine’s “Private 500” as one of the largest private companies in the United States.

Expanded internationally in 1998 with development of the first large-scale commercial operation in Argentina, producing grain finished beef for domestic consumption and export to Europe and Asia.

First company in fed cattle industry to establish an employee stock ownership program.

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