In Memoriam: Frederick C. Luebke (1927 – 2021)

Frederick C. Luebke passed away on November 27, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon at the age of 94. Retired since 1994, Fred was the Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Like many of us in this field, Fred grew up in something of an ethnocultural enclave, “self-contained” as he put it. But with all his success in mainstream academia, he never forgot where he came from. A fourth-generation German American, Fred was the grandson, nephew, grand-nephew, and cousin, of Missouri Synod Lutheran ministers. Born in 1927, in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, the son of a Lutheran parochial schoolteacher, Fred was trained as a teacher at one of the many Concordia Colleges, in River Forest, Illinois, where he met his future wife, Norma Wukasch, herself descended from two generations of Lutheran teachers.

Luebke’s remarkable teaching career spanned every level from grade school to grad school. Starting out as a Lutheran elementary teacher first in East St. Louis and soon in California, he did graduate work on the side to earn his M.A. at Claremont Graduate School in 1958. Now teaching high school, he began work on a doctorate at the University of Southern California, until he was appointed to the history faculty of another Concordia, in Seward, Nebraska, in 1961. He completed his doctoral work at University of Nebraska in 1966, and two years later was appointed to replace his doctoral advisor in Lincoln. What followed was a remarkable scholarly productivity.

Luebke published an even dozen books, seven of them edited and five authored, several of which have become standard works, indeed classics, in the field of German American studies. His crowning achievement is undoubtedly Bonds of Loyalty: German Americans and World War I, published in 1974, and still unsurpassed in its field. His Germans in Brazil, also concentrating on the World War I experience, is one of the finest pieces of comparative history of any ethnic group. His early work stressed ethno-religious factors in German American political behavior: Immigrants and Politics: The Germans of Nebraska, 1880-1900 (which appeared in 1969), and particularly his edited collection Ethnic

Voters and the Election of Lincoln, which followed two years later.

Along the way, Luebke earned the highest teaching and research awards at the University of Nebraska, as well as a Fulbright to Germany and a Rockefeller Foundation Scholar-in-Residence appointment at Bellagio, Italy. A specialist not only on ethnicity, but also on Nebraska and the West, Luebke served as Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and the founding editor of its journal, which now awards an annual article prize named after him. In 2009, his alma mater, Concordia University Chicago, recognized him with an honorary doctorate, and in 2010, he was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award of the Society for German American Studies.

Luebke’s rich body of scholarship was unified, as he put it, by a “point of view that seeks to transcend filiopietism [i.e., ancestor worship] and to find the place of German immigrants in the broad context of social history.” He followed Booker T. Washington’s advice to “Let down your bucket where you are at,” but if he researched the provinces, he was never provincial. He drew upon his unique insights and perspectives gained from his insider status, but always maintained a clear-eyed, objective viewpoint that resisted the temptation to romanticize German Americans or paint over their internal differences. Nor did he hesitate to criticize what he saw as naïve or misguided strategies on the part of ethnic leaders.

Fred always wore his erudition lightly, given at times to a bit of self-deprecation. He shares a surname with a former German Bundespresident known for putting his foot in his mouth, giving rise to all kinds of jokes. At one bilingual symposium in Germany, we both attended, Fred apologized at the beginning of his talk for speaking in English, saying that if he spoke German, he feared that it would give rise to another whole round of Luebke jokes. But his German was better than he let on. While on a guest professorship at the University of Hannover in 1992, he visited his ancestral homeland near Osnabrück that his great- great-grandparents left in 1835 and started a lifelong friendship with a local couple there.

In 2005, after some years of serious globetrotting, Luebke and his wife moved to Eugene, Oregon, where their son David is a professor at the University of Oregon, specializing in German history. When Luebke retired, he left academic pursuits behind, but he retained a vital interest in politics and current events, expressed by frequent Facebook posts reflecting his indignation during the previous administration.

Luebke is survived by his wife Norma, with whom he recently celebrated 70 years of marriage, their four children, and three grandchildren.

Submitted by: Walter D. Kamphoefner, Texas A& M University

Posted: December 20, 2021
Tagged: In Memoriam