Howard Wiegers honored for 100 years, dedication to natural resources

Howard Wiegers at his 100th birthday celebration, which took place July 21 at Hardin Hall on UNL's East Campus. (Mekita Rivas | Natural Resources)
Howard Wiegers at his 100th birthday celebration, which took place July 21 at Hardin Hall on UNL's East Campus. (Mekita Rivas | Natural Resources)

Howard Wiegers, longtime professor and founder of the fisheries and wildlife program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, turned 100 years-old on July 20. To celebrate his long life and contributions to Nebraska, a birthday celebration was held July 21 at Hardin Hall on East Campus.

(Editor's note: to see photos from the event, visit

Howard's dedication to the university and its students goes beyond the classroom.

He started out as a poultry professor in the animal science department at UNL. He had a vision for conservation, passion for wildlife preservation and connection with students. He saw a need for a wildlife studies program and began teaching his first wildlife course in 1948.

He ended up with about 200 wildlife studies advisees and retired from university service in 1985.

Howard knew that this program needed to extend beyond one class. In collaboration with students, he worked to lobby administration to institute a full-time wildlife program. He and his students invited administrators to events and enlisted the support of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Their efforts were rewarded when that one class turned into a sanctioned fisheries and wildlife program, a program that is now one of the top five degree programs based on enrollment in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

The program celebrates its 25th anniversary this fall.

"Building the program came about because of the students. That's why we're here: the students," Howard Wiegers said.

Since the start of the program, Howard has provided hundreds of students with lifelong memories and valuable skills. Through his efforts, students were able to gain hands on experience in the wildlife field by attending conferences and seminars, such as Wildlife Student Conclaves and the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference.

To honor Howard's commitment to students, his students, colleagues and family have established the Howard Wiegers Student Travel Support Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation.

This endowed fund will forever help to support his vision of learning opportunities outside the classroom. It will provide annual student scholarships for field experiences associated with the fisheries and wildlife program by supporting field trips and study programs for undergraduate students.

Howard's passion for hands-on learning along with a zeal for the outdoors led him to sponsor an annual two-week summer canoe trip for students who showed a great interest in his wildlife classes. He saw the trip as a chance for students to not only further their educational experience but to also encourage self-development.

"The trip was partly vacation, partly a lesson in wildlife studies and ecology and partly a personal growth experience," Howard said.

After seeing the impact the trip had on students, Howard once again lobbied the university's administration. This time it was an attempt to help students gain credit for attending the study trip. His dedication to his students transformed the two-week trip into a semester long class that prepared students to study the ecosystems they would encounter at the Minnesota-Ontario border.

"It wasn't only about the courses. Howard took the time to take care of his students," said Gary Hergenrader, professor emeritus at the UNL School of Natural Resources and former Nebraska state forester.

Howard's legacy also continues through the Howard L. Wiegers Nebraska Outstanding Wildlife Conservation Award. Each year, the UNL Wildlife Club in collaboration with the Lincoln Journal Star presents the award to an individual who shows exceptional efforts toward wildlife conservation.

"Howard truly made a difference in my life and the lives of many others by his genuine interest in his students and advisees as individuals," said Tom Christiansen, Howard's former student and the sage-grouse program coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "He didn't maintain office hours; his door was always open."

To donate to the Howard Wiegers Student Travel Support Fund, gifts may be made online at Gifts made payable to the University of Nebraska Foundation may also be sent to University of Nebraska Foundation, 1010 Lincoln Mall Ste 300, Lincoln, NE 68508-2886.

To learn more about supporting the Howard Wiegers Student Travel Support or the School of Natural Resources, contact Josh Egley at the University of Nebraska Foundation at 402-458-1202 or at

— Robb Crouch, University of Nebraska Foundation