May 21, 2024

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Engler remembered for generosity, entrepreneurial spirit | Nebraska Today

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University of Nebraska alumnus Paul Engler, who died May 3 at age 94, believed the secret to successful entrepreneurship was to have “a fire in the belly” to find a better way of doing things. He credited that mindset for his accomplishments in the cattle industry and wanted to find a way to nurture future entrepreneurs at his alma mater.

In 2010, the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation made a $20 million gift through the University of Nebraska Foundation to establish the Paul F. Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. In the years since, Engler alumni have gone on to start businesses that have generated an estimated $200 million in cumulative revenue. Businesses range from robotics to world-class craftsmen to direct-to-consumer food ventures to manufacturing entities. Fashion, entertainment, agriculture, marketing and design, and financial services are also represented in the array of businesses that have been formed.

“Paul Engler’s entrepreneurial spirit was forged in rural Nebraska and served him well throughout his life,” said Brian F. Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “Paul never forgot his roots. He believed in the American dream and generously established the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program because he wanted to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs to make their own positive impact on Nebraska and the world. We are grateful for his generosity, but also his personal involvement as a volunteer for the university and as a former member of our foundation board.”

Engler also was a University of Nebraska Foundation trustee and member of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources campaign committee for Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future.

“Paul Engler was beloved for his passionate support of student success and offering opportunities to Huskers pursuing entrepreneurial dreams,” Chancellor Rodney D. Bennett said. “UNL shares in mourning Paul’s passing with all who loved and cared for him. He leaves a legacy that will continue to positively impact generations of UNL students.”

The Engler program — part of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources — emphasizes learning by doing and takes an individualized approach. The gift established a permanently endowed fund to provide student scholarships, faculty and staff support and other programmatic support, and to create an endowed chair for the director of the Engler program.

In starting the program, Engler, who lived in Amarillo, Texas, said his vision was that students who graduate from the program would return to their communities inspired to build sustainable businesses.

“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 said in 2010.

Among Engler alumni surveyed, 83% said their interest in starting a business in a rural environment increased from being in the Engler program. In a survey of current Engler students, 86% said their Engler experience makes them more likely to become an employer in the future.

“I’m grateful for the vision that Paul Engler had in creating the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program,” said Michael Boehm, Harlan Vice Chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL and vice president for agriculture and natural resources in the University of Nebraska system. “The Engler program is an extremely popular program in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and it’s serving our students and our state well.”

Engler was the founder, chairman and president/CEO of the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation.

Engler’s own entrepreneurial journey began at age 12 in Bassett, Nebraska, when he bought 100 head of cattle on loan while his dad was away on business. His mother told him to expect a licking when his father got home. Instead, he got a handshake, and his dad told him he was proud of him.

Engler enrolled at the University of Nebraska at age 15 and put himself through college. He studied animal science and graduated in 1951. He began his career as an ag teacher, then moved on to purchasing cattle and building feedlots. With a partner, he co-founded Cactus Feeders, based in Amarillo, which grew to become one of the largest cattle-feeding operations in the world. He’s credited with innovations in cattle feeding and improving technology associated with the fed cattle business.

“Paul Engler was a legend in the beef cattle industry and his impact on that industry will be felt for generations to come,” said Tom Field, director of the Engler program who also holds the Engler Chair in Entrepreneurship. “Paul wasn’t just the benefactor of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program. He was a mentor and a friend to our students and our team. The program was built on the principles of grit, determination and passion for work because that’s how Paul lived his life.”

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