Budge Porter and wife Diane have three children. Photo by Eric Francis
By Randy York
On Thursday, Oct. 25, Budge Porter and his family were presented the keys to their new Omaha home at an event that was open to the media. The next three days, the fully barrier free and wheelchair accessible home at 13522 Corby Street was open to public tours for a $5 donation or for free to those with physical disabilities because it showcased construction techniques and amenities that accommodate the disabled.
The Budge Porter Project, you see, is just the latest chapter in The Budge Porter Story, and this third-generation Husker, who followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father to play for Nebraska, was more than willing to serve as a model for the handicapped, especially when so many sub-contractors and suppliers supported this grassroots effort to help Budge, a quadriplegic who has been paralyzed for 36 years.
On April 21, 1976, Porter used his speed to tackle fabled Nebraska walk-on running back I.M. Hipp in a spring practice scrimmage. That play was the last day Budge was able to stand on his own, let alone walk. That tackle broke his neck and shattered his dreams, but it did not crush his spirit. Even though the severity of his injury confined him to a wheelchair, he rehabbed hard and regained muscle. In 1981, Porter received a standing ovation when he used crutches and walked slowly to receive his diploma on a stage set up inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Son Bret Porter Named after Husker All-American
Three years later, he met Diane LaBerge when he went to watch his brother, Scott, play for Nebraska in a non-conference football game at UCLA. Five years after that, the two married in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and moved to Valley, Neb., where he was a stockbroker. Times were good, enabling them to pay for expensive fertility drugs that helped produce three children – Claire, 18, a freshman at UNL, and 11-year-old boy/girl twins Bret (named after former Husker All-American and fellow Nebraska City native Bret Clark) and Brooke.
Talk about miracles. Budge and Diane counted their blessings every day, but were unable to meet the skyrocketing medical costs associated with a lifelong disability. Combine that with an economic downturn and an upside-down mortgage, and the Porter family finally was forced into foreclosing on their home and filing for bankruptcy.
Four Men Changed the Porter Family’s Lives
For 25 years, Budge survived the grueling challenges of daily living and working in a wheelchair. He drove to his office with hand controls in his car and provided for his family until two lengthy hospital stays cost him both his strength and his job, but not his pride, thanks to four people who went out on a limb to put Budge and his family back on the right track against all odds: 1) Brad Brown, a fast friend who once dated Budge’s sister and started the “let’s build Budge a house that can serve his needs” discussion; 2) Steve Reeder, the first to step up and donate a lot to give that dream its roots; 3) Sam Marchese, an Omaha business owner who did all the heavy lifting for an August banquet that raised $120,000 for the cause – the perfect complement to Brown’s efforts to find builders, suppliers and sub-contractors willing to donate work or provide deep discounts to make the project a reality; and 4) Tom Osborne, who coached Budge and helped draw 425 people to a banquet with a Husker legend at every table.
“Because Tom was behind the project, no one even sent out an invitation,” Budge said. “That banquet took on a life of its own. We could have doubled the price, and we still would not have needed invitations. When Tom’s involved, the human spirit rises to the highest levels from people in Omaha and all over the country, really.”
That includes contributions from Husker fans in Encinitas, Santa Ana and Danville, Calif. “My wife was born and raised in Southern California,” Budge said. “She’s always heard that there’s no place like Nebraska and now she knows why. Coach Osborne has been a very big part of why that’s so true.”
An Emotional Goodbye … A Hope He Stays Visible
“It was so emotional for me to watch Coach Osborne take that last Tunnel Walk with this year’s team and then wave to the crowd after running off the field one last time,” Porter said. “When he and his family were honored at halftime (of the regular-season finale against Minnesota), my throat was dry, and I had tears in my eyes, just like every other Husker I know that was there that afternoon.
“I know I speak for every Husker fan that I know when I say I hope Coach Osborne stays around as long as possible as our Athletic Director Emeritus,” Porter said. “He has the trust of Nebraskans everywhere … and we all need him.”
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