Harold Andersen honored as "Nebraskan of the Year"

By Cara Pesek
J Alumni News staff

Accolades are nothing new to Harold Andersen.

The philanthropist and former Omaha World-Herald reporter, editor, president and publisher has received awards from the University of Nebraska, the United Way, the Boy Scouts and many other organizations—as well as three admiralships in the Nebraska Navy over the course of his long career.

But the most recent honor, The Nebraskan of the Year Award, bestowed by the state’s Rotary Clubs in January, was meaningful nonetheless.

Though Andersen, 88, retired from his post as publisher of the World-Herald more than 20 years ago, his writing (posted each week on his website, HaroldAndersen.com) and his philanthropic efforts continue to have an impact on the state.  

And it was an honor to be recognized, he said: “It was a pleasant reminder in what might be called my vintage years.”

Even more meaningful, he said, was that the award was administered by the Rotary International 14 Lincoln. Although Andersen and his wife, Marian Andersen, are longtime Omaha residents, Lincoln has always been a special place for the couple.

After graduating from Omaha North High School, Andersen attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, graduating in 1945. He worked for the Lincoln Star after finishing college but soon took a job with the Omaha World-Herald, covering the Nebraska Legislature and other Lincoln news. It was during this time that Harold met Marian Battey, a recent UNL journalism school graduate who was working at the Lincoln Journal.

In 1952, they married.  

Many years later, the building that houses the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications was named for the Andersens, who led the fund drive that purchased and renovated the building for the college.

Furthermore, the couple established an endowment that provides a four-year, full-tuition scholarship for one Andersen Scholar at the UNL journalism college every year.

“So much of what my wife and I accomplished—we were positioned to be able to make those contributions because of our splendid education,” Harold Andersen said.

Gary Kebbel, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, said Harold Andersen’s impact on journalism in Nebraska goes far beyond the name on the building and the scholarship.

“Harold Andersen is a national journalism leader who showed that supporting careful, verified reporting, clear writing and attention to community life is the way to build a strong, healthy news organization,” Kebbel said. “We strive to follow his example.”

Andersen worked at the Omaha World-Herald from 1946 to 1989 and was publisher from 1966 to 1989. During Andersen’s time there, the newspaper played an important role in both Nebraska and national issues.

“We were the first paper in the United States to call for Nixon’s resignation after the contents of the tapes became public,” Andersen said. “I’m proud of that.”

Andersen also used his position as leader of the state’s largest newspaper to draw attention to issues important to Nebraskans, including public education and natural resource conservation.  He was instrumental in the creation of several state parks and recreation areas, as well.

His work led to national and international appointments—chairman and president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association and president of the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers among them.

And he has led many fundraising efforts, too.

Andersen is a past chairman of Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation and a former member of the board of trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation, among many others leadership positions.

But the fundraising effort he is most proud of is one is one that he and Marian worked on together.

Together, they co-chaired the late 1990s campaign that raised $725 million for the NU Foundation, greatly surpassing the $250 million goal.

“We felt good about that,” Harold Andersen said.

Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association and member of Rotary International 14, said Harold and Marian Andersen made a good team.

“Everything they did, they did together,” Beermann said. “Marian always kept Harold on course, and Harold was smart enough to realize that.”

Beermann, who has known the Andersens since Harold’s reporting days, said Harold Andersen’s work in both journalism and statewide philanthropy made him a deserving recipient.

“He’s certainly passionate about Nebraska. He’s always had a keen interest in making it better and better,” Beermann said.

“We felt he was the definition of this award.”

Harold Andersen

Harold Andersen