The only Nebraska Cornhusker left a quadriplegic from a football injury is now 56, his life facing another difficult chapter.
This one, unfortunately, includes Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
After all that Budge Porter has overcome since his catastrophic injury in spring practice 36 years ago this month — April 21, 1976, when he tackled teammate I.M. Hipp — financial difficulties finally overcame him. He and wife Diane and their three children had to move out of their home and into an apartment.
But now friends are rallying behind him, creating The Budge Porter Project. Its purpose is to build a handicap-accessible, barrier-free home for him and his family.
"I just thank the Lord every night," Budge said, "that I have such wonderful family and friends who have always helped pull me through. Now this project is beyond our wildest dreams."
The foundation has been dug at 13522 Corby St., south of the Champions Club, and the hope is that the Porters could move in this fall. But much work and fundraising remains.
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Grosvenor M. "Budge" Porter III comes from a widely known Nebraska City apple-orchard family with ties to J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. The Porters are the only three-generation Husker football family — besides Budge, his brother (Scott), father (Mort) and grandfather (Grove) all played for the Big Red.
Budge, whose nickname comes from a parakeet known as a budgie bird, was a defensive back in his redshirt year when injured at a Wednesday afternoon practice. When his father arrived at the hospital, not realizing the seriousness of the injury, his first question to coaches was, "Will Budge be able to play in the Spring Game?"
When Mort Porter was told his son was paralyzed, he collapsed to the floor.
Budge endured much, but suffered no paralysis of spirit. After months of therapy in Colorado and learning a new way of life, he returned to school at Nebraska, eventually graduated and began a career.
The night before brother Scott Porter played for the Huskers at UCLA in 1984, Budge met Diane LaBerge, who found him handsome and charming and assumed the reason for his wheelchair might have been knee surgery.
The next day, she saw him interviewed on the sideline on national TV and found out he was paralyzed. In spite of that, he wooed her from that wheelchair off and on for five years, much of it from long distance, and they married in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in 1989.
They were told they couldn't conceive children, but did so through in vitro fertilization. Claire is 18 and a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Twins Bret and Brooke are 11.
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Paralyzed from his chest down, Budge retained about 5 percent use of his arms. His work as a stockbroker allowed his family to live comfortably in Ginger Cove near Valley, Neb.
Financially, things went downhill in the 2000 stock-market crash. Like many others in Omaha, Budge also lost money investing in the company called Level 3 — he estimated his loss at $100,000 from its peak value. Many of his clients also lost on Level 3, he said, which had the further effect of his losing their business.
It was one thing after another. A creek behind the family home at 535 S. 166th St. seriously eroded and caved in their backyard, causing great expense and loss in home value.
Osteoporosis has caused Budge's bones to become prematurely brittle, and his physician said he would only get worse if he continued his stockbroker work, which meant leaning over his desk all day while on the phone. After 25 years, he had to retire.
Budge also had two long hospital stays four or five years ago, one for neck surgery and another for an infection. He ran up medical expenses, much of it on credit cards or on his mortgage.
Then the 2008 financial and real estate crisis hit, and eventually the Porters went upside-down on their mortgage — they owed more than the value of their home.
Budge said he always had had a good credit score, but had to swallow his pride and file for bankruptcy. (Chapter 13 provides for eventual partial repayment to creditors.)
The family lost its home of nine years. Because of the bankruptcy, Budge said, several apartment complexes turned them down before Lakeside Hills Apartments in southwest Omaha rented to him and his family.
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The home under construction is not a total gift. Despite the bankruptcy filing, Budge said he and his family can afford a modest mortgage.
Budge receives Social Security disability payments and, for the past 10 or 12 years, has received a monthly stipend from the University of Nebraska Foundation. (He declined to say the amount.)
Because the home will be barrier-free and include a platform lift and other amenities, though, it is more than they could afford. That's where friends and others come in.
A website has been created — find the link in this story on Omaha.com. Donations can be made there or at any Omaha State Bank. NU Athletic Director and former coach Tom Osborne has lent his support.
Tim Leininger, a certified public accountant and treasurer of the nonprofit South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, said the alliance is serving as the sponsoring nonprofit for The Budge Porter Project, so donations are tax-deductible.
Spearheading the house project is Budge's longtime friend Brad Brown, an Omaha homebuilder whose company is called Archistructure. He said he has long admired how Budge approaches life.
"Budge never complains, although he has every right to," Brad said. "He's just a fantastic person to be around."
The home's main living area would be 1,923 square feet, with wide doorways throughout to accommodate his wheelchair. The home also would include space for a therapy pool.
"That's not a luxury item," Brad said. "In Budge's world, it's a necessity."
Besides Brad and wife Mary Kay, Budge said Sam and Connie Marchese have been stalwarts for his cause. Steve and Brenda Reeder, he said, donated the lot.
Brad, who is acting as the general contractor, said he's had the idea for a handicap-accessible house for Budge for several years, but the bankruptcy and the Porters' loss of their home at Thanksgiving put the project into high gear.
A number of contractors and professionals have donated things or offered discounts.
Budge said his medical debts are "astronomical," but his disability payment and the stipend from the NU Foundation are enough to cover a $1,200 monthly payment on a $200,000 mortgage. Brad Brown said the goal is to raise another $150,000 to customize the home so it can provide what Budge needs as he ages.
"The key here," Brad said, "is that Budge is looking for a hand up, not a handout."
Last week the Dallas-based College Football Assistance Fund announced it would award $10,000 to The Budge Porter Project.
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One evening last week, Budge watched son Bret's baseball game at Lamp Field, a few blocks southeast of 114th Street and West Dodge Road. It was windy and chilly, and daughter Brooke curled up on her dad's lap. Diane handed her a comforter.
Asked about all he has endured, Budge replied: "I hate to sing the blues, because so many people are suffering — physically and financially. I'm just one of many."
He said he would like The Budge Porter Project to become a long-term vehicle to help others who need assistance with barrier-free homes.
But of the thousands who have played Husker football, he is the one who broke his neck and became a quadriplegic.
"I'm the one and only," he says without sounding bitter. "All of those All-Americans and Academic All-Americans are pictured down there (at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln). But I'm in a category all by myself."
Except for that one tackle, his life would have turned out so differently. He is philosophical, noting that he also wouldn't have his great family.
Some have suggested over the years, he said, that he should have sued the university — but he said he couldn't do that, and he's happy with the way he has approached life since his injury.
"If I didn't go out and earn a living and provide for my family for 25 years," he said, "I don't think I would have been able to establish the great friends that I have today, the ones who have looked up to Diane and me and admired the way we just tried to handle our lives like everybody else's. We've tried to lead good, upstanding lives. I think there's a lot to be said for that."
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