Columbus native, ex-UNO Chancellor Del Weber reflects on life, career

OMAHA – The sun shone through the window blinds in Del Weber’s west Omaha apartment, and the 86-year-old former University of Nebraska at Omaha chancellor leaned back in his reclining chair.

Weber said he has nothing to be sad about, even though treatments failed to thwart his lymphoma — the third kind of lymphoma he has had. He now is in palliative care, which keeps him comfortable.

Weber, chancellor of UNO from 1977 to 1997, was key to UNO’s transformation from a commuter school to a metropolitan university.

He said he feels fairly well, all things considered, and sleeps fine. He is able to eat and has no pain or nausea from the lymphoma, a form of cancer. He was down to 134 pounds last week; his typical weight is 175. He uses a walker. He struggles a bit to catch his breath.

“I’m gonna die. We all are,” he said. “And it’s just a matter of time. How long that will be, I don’t know.”

His wife of 64 years, Lou Ann, has her own medical troubles and went to the emergency room last week. She sat in a second reclining chair, next to her husband’s.

Weber reflected on numerous steps in his career that demonstrated good fortune and judgment as he rose through school and college, and into faculty and administrative life. His three siblings didn’t go to college, he said, but his mother was determined to see that he, the youngest, did.

She went to work as a hotel chef and saved about $300 so he could pay for his first semester at Midland Lutheran College, now Midland University, in Fremont. He then worked his way through college and became a teacher and principal at little Creston High School, north of his hometown of Columbus, Nebraska.

Advisers and mentors urged him to go to graduate school, and he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in education at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Then it was on to the faculty at Arizona State University, then Cleveland State University, and back to Arizona State with his mentor, Harry Newburn. During his career, Newburn led universities in Montana, Oregon, Ohio and Arizona.

Weber became dean of Arizona State’s College of Education, a job he held about eight years, and moved on to UNO’s chancellorship in 1977.

The Webers said UNO was downtrodden in appearance and virtually devoid of trees. When he arrived, he said, a reporter asked him if he had heard UNO being referred to as West Dodge High. Weber, who had, denied that he was aware of the demeaning nickname and said he didn’t want to hear it again.

That launched his 20-year career as UNO’s boss.

“After I came here, I just had no interest in going any other place,” Weber said.

“We were building UNO,” Weber said. “The great thing about UNO is, it was better than everybody thought it was, and for me, it was just the right fit.”

UNO’s physical plant improved with new buildings and landscaping. Under Weber, UNO won the right to offer some of its own doctoral programs as opposed to joint programs with other institutions.

He was at UNO during the Omaha-Lincoln battle over engineering in the 1990s, which led to a compromise and the creation of the Peter Kiewit Institute on the UNO campus. The institute contains some UNL engineering programs and UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology.

He won approval from the NU Board of Regents for the concept of UNO residence halls, although construction on actual buildings began shortly after Weber left.

Tom Gouttierre, who retired in 2015 after 41 years as UNO’s dean of international studies, said he and Weber occasionally drive to Columbus, the community in which Weber grew up.

Lou Ann Weber said of the Columbus trips with Gouttierre: “I’m never invited.”

Weber responded: “There are some things that are sacrosanct.”

Weber and Gouttierre eat a burger and drink a beer at Glur’s Tavern, and Weber talks to old-timers.

Then he drives around the area, growing sentimental as he points out places from his and Lou Ann’s youth. Gouttierre teases him for stepping back into the Abe Lincoln era. They laugh.

Weber always has loved to laugh.

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