For Jerry Huse, publishing the Norfolk Daily News was never just a business to run.
Huse considered a locally owned newspaper to be a trusteeship on behalf of the community and area it serves. That's why he always strove to publish a first-rate newspaper that promoted the welfare of Norfolk and Northeast Nebraska.
Publisher of the Daily News from 1956 to 2013, Huse died Friday at the age of 91. He was serving as president of the newspaper at the time of his death.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Home for Funerals of Norfolk.
“Virtually everywhere I look, I see Jerry's impact on Norfolk,” said Kent Warneke, editor of the Daily News. “Most of all, he loved publishing the Daily News. I think I speak for all past and current employees in saying that we felt privileged to work for him. But he also always was looking for ways to help Norfolk grow and prosper, and he was willing to put his time and resources into those efforts. When it comes to newspaper publishers, ones like Jerry Huse are few and far between.”
In addition to his ownership of the Daily News and sister radio stations WJAG, 106 Kix and Lite Rock 97.5, Huse was a civic leader in Norfolk, involved with countless projects and endeavors designed to improve and promote Norfolk.
“For decades, Jerry Huse has invested continuously in Norfolk's development and civic life,” said Dr. Gordon Adams, a former Norfolk mayor.
Among many other examples, Huse:
— Was founder and the longtime president of the Norfolk Civic Development Corp. that helped bring Roehr Products (now Cardinal Health), Norfolk's first major industry, to town;
— Played a key role in attracting Nucor's first plant to Norfolk;
— Played an instrumental role in the construction of the Norfolk Family YMCA in 1979 and subsequent expansions;
— Led capital campaigns for Northeast Community College, the Norfolk Country Club, the Elkhorn Valley Museum and several others; he also contributed financially and in other ways to the Norfolk Arts Center and Faith Regional Health Services of Norfolk;
— Was an original and longtime active member of the Norfolk Action Council, the economic development arm of the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jim Bradford called Huse a “terrific guy” who was generous with his time and finances.
Bradford, a local insurance agent, said Huse asked him to be involved in the campaign to build the “new” YMCA back in 1979.
“I got to see his organizational skills ... and was impressed,” Bradford said.
In addition to the YMCA, Huse was involved in a long list of projects, including the Lifelong Learning Center, the hospital, the arts center, the Elkhorn Valley Museum and more, Bradford said.
“Very little went on in this town that he didn’t have something to do with,” Bradford said. “He was able to put the pieces together.”
In addition to his time, Huse and his wife, Karla, supported organizations financially. Karla Huse died a year ago today at age 78.
“They made a marvelous team,” he said.
Plus, Huse recognized the need to train the “next generation” of community leaders who could step in when needed, Bradford said.
His death marks “the end of an era” in Norfolk, he said.
Former Mayor Sue Fuchtman said she would remember Huse as a “humble man” who “wanted what was best for Norfolk.”
“I was always honored to have a one-on-one with this gentleman. First and foremost, he was a listener. Then next, he’d share his views. He would always try to incorporate it in such a way that both of us would be moving in the same direction and we’d go forward in a positive mode.”
Fuchtman said he never sought the spotlight and cared deeply about his hometown.
“I will always say if all of us could have the genuine love for Norfolk that this gentleman had, this would be a much greater place. He often liked to be behind the scenes. He didn’t have to be out in front, but everyone always knew what his thoughts and feelings were. And nobody had a true and more genuine love for Norfolk, Nebraska, than Mr. Huse.”
That sentiment was echoed by Ron Stauffer, who worked with Huse on a number of projects.
“He was something else,” Stauffer said, citing his tremendous impact on the community by providing leadership and financial support to those projects he believed in.
“He was always willing to participate,” Stauffer added.
Plus, Stauffer said he learned a lot about community leadership from Huse.
“He was a good mentor to me,” Stauffer said. “He gave me a lot of insight into managing projects. He’ll be missed.”
Randy Hagedorn, executive director of the Norfolk Family YMCA, said he first met Huse in 1984 when he arrived in Norfolk. About 1987, when Hagedorn became the sports director, he got to know him much better.
“He was just a great guy,” Hagedorn said. “He was one of those guys who was always there for me. He would take time to help me. He reminded me of my dad, but in Norfolk. When I needed advice, he would give it. And he would always thank me for coming and always would stop by my office.”
Huse was active physically, often swimming and running late into his life. Huse also donated funds for the trail around Skyview Lake and ran around it frequently.
“He was so well known and powerful in Norfolk, but I was just a Y guy and when I first came, he treated me with respect,” Hagedorn said. “I’m not sure exactly how to put it, but it is cool when you can talk to a guy like that.”
Hagedorn was named to his current position as executive director of the Norfolk Family YMCA in 1998.
He said Huse always made it a point to tell him that the Norfolk YMCA was one of the best.
“If it wasn’t for him and a few other guys, this Y wouldn’t be here today,” Hagedorn said. “He had such a major role. He would always make those comments about how much he liked the Y.”
Huse also was involved on a statewide level, serving as president and board member of the Nebraska Press Association; board member and secretary of the Nebraska Press Foundation; director of the Hitchcock Foundation for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications; trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation; and board member of the Lied Center Performance Foundation in Lincoln.
But amid all his civic efforts, Huse always focused on the Daily News as a hands-on publisher who was involved in all aspects of the operation of the newspaper. Staff members said they appreciated him serving as coach, critic, planner and administrator all in one.
He had a particular interest and expertise in typography — the design and appearance of the newspaper — and redesigned the Daily News several times over the years, always improving its look and readability for subscribers and advertisers.
Huse said he always believed in attracting the best staff members possible, providing excellent working conditions and equipment and sharing the rewards with employees.
He became publisher of the Daily News in 1956 at the age of 29 following the death of his father, Gene. At the time, he was the youngest individual in Nebraska to serve in that capacity.
He was the fourth generation of the Huse family to serve in that role and continued until 2013 — earning the distinction of being the state's oldest daily newspaper publisher — when he was succeeded by his son, Bill.