Monday, June 8, 2015

Ed Bieganski has long history in Dawes County

(Thanks to the Chadron Golden Age Courier and Chadron State College!)

Ed Bieganski’s connection to Chadron State College began more than 75 years ago, at about the same time as he started a 20-plus year career with the United States Army. Newly arrived in the area in the spring of 1938, after hitchhiking from his parents’ farm in Pennsylvania, the lanky, six-foot tall, 18-year old had done some boxing and says he was allowed to train in the CSC gym located in the south side of Miller Hall.

Now 95 years old, Bieganski’s life experiences have taken him across the country and around the world, but with strong and lasting ties to the Pine Ridge area, Chadron and Chadron State College, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, taught speech and communications and was involved in adult and continuing education classes.

Ed Bieganski in uniform back
at Fort Robinson in 2006
Academics were a second career for Bieganski, who enlisted at the U.S. Army remount depot at Fort Robinson in August, 1938, and spent most of his time for the next three years handling horses that were needed for cavalry troops in the field. His taciturn ways, and exploits at occasional boxing matches in area towns, earned him the nickname “the Pugilistic Philosopher” from a fellow recruit who wrote a column for the local newspaper.

During that time, Bieganski met his future wife, Fern Linabery, a Rushville school teacher, on a blind date, and they married in August, 1941, just before his three-year Army enlistment ended. But the Pearl Harbor attack a few months later sounded the call to duty, and Bieganski re-enlisted, once again as a private. Assigned first to another remount depot in Oklahoma, he was later tapped for Officer Candidate School in Virginia, where he emerged as a second lieutenant. After duty assignments in Texas and Mississippi, he was sent with a trucking company to Pearl Harbor and then to Iwo Jima, the Pacific island which had just been taken from the Japanese by the U.S. Marines. “The Marines made it safe for me to go ashore and try to win the war,” he says of helping build an airfield and other facilities on the island during the remaining years of WWII.

After the war’s end, Bieganski’s unit shipped supplies to Europe, and he later served in Okinawa, Ohio, Germany and Utah before retiring in 1959. He built a home south of Chadron, worked for a Chadron-based moving company for a time, and later, with credit for some of his military training, earned an undergraduate degree from CSC in 1968 and a master’s degree in Education just two years later.  

Bieganski spent a relatively short time on the CSC staff before retiring for good, but made a significant enough impact that one former student-1975 graduate Mitch Bean-has established and funded the Ed Bieganski Develop Your Potential Scholarship in his honor. Bean credits Bieganski with encouraging him to join the speech and debate team and study communications. “The lesson Ed Bieganski taught me in 1971 has become my life’s work,” Bean said.

Bieganski’s connection to Chadron State encompasses even more than his time as a student and on the faculty. His son Gary earned a degree from CSC in 1969, is married to Donna, a 1967 alumna, and is now in his second term on the Nebraska State College Board of Trustees, which oversees all three state colleges. Ed’s grandson, Mark, and his wife, Andrea, are also CSC graduates.

Ed Bieganski at his DAA ceremony at CSC
Although it isn’t well known, Bieganski also has a long-standing role in CSC football games. As a member of the Dawes County Honor Guard, he has been part of the flag raising ceremony before home games for more than 20 years, though he admits to not always staying for the contest itself.

He is also a strong supporter of fine arts at Chadron State, and is a regular presence at concerts, plays and lectures on campus. “My favorite events…are the fine arts recitals-the band and chorus and (individual) recitals,” he says.

With a wealth of life experiences to share, Bieganski continues to teach others as well. He was one of a number of WWII veterans profiled by students in 2000 for an award-winning special English project that was later displayed at the state capitol  and he has been part of a mentoring program for students for several years.  And at a Graves lecture series talk last year on poetry as a form of therapy, the proud veteran stood tall and recited “In Flanders Field” from memory.

Like his bond with the U.S. Army, Ed Bieganski’s connection with Chadron State College that began when he first set foot in northwest Nebraska three-quarters of a century ago has proved its strength. “CSC has been part of my life since 1938,” he says.

(Editor's Note:  We remember when the Bieganski family arrived in Chadron after Ed retired from the Army in 1959.  We've followed their achievements with great interest, and were delighted to learn that Ed Bieganski has been honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from Chadron State College.  Our thanks to the Chadron Golden Age Courier and CSC's Director of College Relations Alex Helmbrecht for sharing the story above.)