Fred Luebke

Friday, December 17, 2021 10:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

We regretfully inform you that Dr. Frederick C. Luebke died on November 27, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon. He was 94 years old. You can access his obituary here to learn more about Dr. Luebke's life.

You can also read more about Dr. Luebke's significant contributions to the field of western history and the WHA in a message written by WHA member and Past President John Wunder. 


Elaine Nelson, WHA Executive Director

Our Colleague, FRED LUEBKE

Sadly, we here in Lincoln have learned from afar that Fred Luebke has died. Once Fred had retired from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he and his wife Norma moved to Eugene, Oregon, to live near several of their children and grandchildren who resided on the West Coast.

Fred left UNL and us a rich and significant legacy.  He was professor of history and served as the third director of the Center for Great Plains Studies.  He also was the first editor of the Great Plains Quarterly. Fred was one of the founders of the Center and contributed greatly to its success. When Fred decided to step down from his directorship, I was chosen to come to UNL and direct the Center; so I am intimately familiar with all of his accomplishments.

There are at least three major gifts from Fred. First, he helped author and was the primary mover and shaker both creating the bylaws of the Center but also implementing them. They are strong bylaws that provide for the Center’s structure. Above all, the bylaws involve the Fellows significantly in the operation of the Center. 

Second, during the early years of the Center, Fred raised lots of money for the Center’s endowment. Fred wrote the grants and raised matching funds for two $500,000 NEH grants. That may have been the first time two half-million dollar grants were achieved at NEH for one university. These grants form the primary funding for the Center’s endowment. In essence, Fred stabilized the Center’s finances. I liked to joke with him that he raised all of this money so that I could spend it. Seriously though, the reason why the Center functions so well is that strong financial basis upon which it was built; and credit for that is a part of Fred Luebke’s legacy.

Third, Fred was the founder of the first of several publications of the Center, and the most important was the humanities journal, Great Plains Quarterly. He served as the founding editor, and then he recruited the excellent editor Fran Kaye of the Department of English to take over. The Quarterly set the tone for the building of knowledge about our region. It published the first academic papers delivered at the annual symposia developed around the Great Plains. These symposia and articles defined our region, the Great Plains.  Another accomplishment of Fred’s related to the Quarterly was his development of courses about the Great Plains and Nebraska history. Hundreds of undergraduate students learned about the uniqueness of our place. Fred wrote the definition of the area for a brochure that again defined the region. The Great Plains, he said, was a place of distinctive environmental features and a region where diversity defined its history and culture. 

Now if these fundamental accomplishments of the Center were not enough, Fred also wrote a number of profound articles and books about Nebraska and Great Plains history. He directed a number of graduate students who added to our knowledge of our region by writing Master’s theses and PhD dissertations under Fred’s direction.

It seems that I have only scratched the surface of Fred Luebke’s legacy.  But there is one abiding trait of his that I shall forever remember. When I arrived from South Carolina to become the director of the Center, Fred said to me, “I will not be very active with you and the Center this first year. You should have the ability to develop the Center in new ways to increase its academic presence and its contributions.” And Fred was true to his words. He also said, “You know where to find me on the sixth floor of Oldfather Hall. If you need information or advice, come by any time, but I promise I will not intervene.” And there were a few times that I needed his help which he always willingly gave to me. 

Fred loved the Center for Great Plains Studies, and he passed along that love to me and to many of its devoted Fellows. His legacy is profound.  It was formative. He made the best academic, financially stable, and most significant regional inter-disciplinary center in North America possible and successful here at Nebraska.

The WHA is located in the Department of History at the University of Kansas.

The WHA is grateful to KU's History Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for their generous support!

Western History Association

University of Kansas | History Department

1445 Jayhawk Blvd. | 3650 Wescoe Hall

Lawrence, KS 66045 | 785-864-0860