Alfred Arthur “Bud” Pagel, 93, emeritus professor of journalism and mass communication, died peacefully at his home on June 30.
Pagel grew up in Neligh, Nebraska, where his parents, Alfred and Ruth Best Pagel, ran the weekly newspaper (which was established by his maternal grandfather in 1885). The family business took seed early in Pagel’s life as he began helping as a printer’s devil (apprentice) at the age of 12. He never lost his pride in or passion for the field.
Pagel had an idyllic childhood in an era when small-town kids could run wild. For him and his pals, summer meant hitching their homemade campers (that were extended annually to accommodate the year’s growth) to bikes and heading for the Elkhorn River. Despite the privations of the Great Depression, Bud’s greatest hindrance in those days was his older sister, Shirley; although they grew to be the closest of siblings in adulthood.
He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict. He was fortunate to be stationed in Ulm, Germany, an experience that broadened his world view. Pagel’s first order of business following his discharge was to enroll in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
After graduating, Bud returned to Neligh to operate the newspaper with his parents. This was the first of three related careers.
He sold the Neligh Leader in 1963 and, after short stints at the Norfolk Daily News, the Lincoln Journal and the Omaha World-Herald, he was hired by the Miami Herald as its medical writer.
In 1969, he married Alabama-born Anne Burnett. The following year, the couple moved to a small farmstead in Ballaghaderreen, Ireland. The months there were filled with beauty, good times and friendships that became lifelong.
They returned to Omaha in 1971, where Bud spent the next decade working for the Omaha World-Herald, first as assistant city editor and, then, as a writer for the Magazine of the Midlands.
Another major career change came in 1982, when Bud joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Beginning reporting and depth reporting were his favorite classes, but his real love was the students who brought worlds of talent, intelligence, character and what Bud called “fire in the gut” — just the materials needed to become consummate journalists.
Pagel stayed in touch with many of his students and took greater pleasure in their career successes than his own. Each time he learned of one of their achievements, he would light up and claim: “She couldn’t write her name until she came to me.”
Bud was the first to acknowledge that he, too, couldn’t have written his name without the mentoring of his parents, professors and other journalists. He was an enthusiastic learner.
He served for 15 years in the college, retiring in 1997.
Among the recognitions he received were the University of Nebraska Alumni Association Doc Elliott Award in 2020; induction into the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame, 2017; induction into the Nebraska Press Association Hall of Fame, 2006; the College Legislative Teaching Award (Distinguished Professor), 1996; Recognition Award of Contribution to Students, UNL Parents Association and Teaching Council, yearly from 1990 through 1995; the M. Duncan Sowles Distinguished Service Award, College of Journalism, 1986; National Merit Award for Creative and Innovative Community Journalism Programs, North American Association of Summer Sessions, 1984; Florida Mental Health Association, Distinguished Service, 1968; Dade County, Florida, Medical Association, Distinguished Service to Medicine and Community, 1970, and first place in the American Osteopathic Association Competition, 1968.
While he loved journalism, the deepest part of his heart was saved for his wife, Anne and his son, Sean; daughter-in-law, Marlene, and granddaughters Brianna and Ella of Parkland, Fla. He loved his extended family, his friends and his offbeat wheaten terrier, Ceili.
When inducted into the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame, Pagel said the honor prompted him to look back over the years and ponder the meaning of life.
“The answer was amazingly clear — it was about the people, all kinds of people… people I worked with, people I worked for, people I wrote about, students I tried to teach, readers I tried to woo,” Pagel said. “Some of those folks were amazing. Some, like me, were a bit flawed. But each of them made my life better, richer.”
A celebration of Pagel’s life is 2 p.m. Aug. 15 at Sheldon Museum of Art, 12th and R streets. A graveside service will take place in Neligh. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that those wishing to make a memorial contribution consider the Alfred “Bud” Pagel Scholarship Fund through the University of Nebraska Foundation, 1010 Lincoln Mall, Suite 300, Lincoln, NE 68508.
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