Nicholas Babchuck (1922-1999)

Nicholas Babchuck, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, died on August 18 after a short battle with cancer.

To those who knew him, Nick was a charming man with a wonderful sense of humor, a compassionate zeal for life, a bounce in his step, and a remarkable social intelligence. As a department colleague, Nick was friendly and supportive, yet assertive and argumentative. Of himself, he eagerly gave enormous amounts of time and energy but expected comparable investments in return from students and colleagues alike. He was, without question, the consummate professional committed to the discipline, to his students, and to his colleagues.

After obtaining a BA and MA at Wayne University, Detroit, he earned a PhD at Washington University-St. Louis in 1954. As a graduate student, he was fortunate to work with several distinguished sociologists, including William Goode and Stuart Queen, both of whom would serve as ASA Presidents. After receiving his doctorate, he spent one year at Washington University and four years at the University of Rochester before joining the faculty at the University of Nebraska in 1959.

The sociology department at the University of Nebraska was strengthened in the ensuing years, both with regard to the number of faculty and the camaraderie with which faculty worked together toward common ends. To illustrate, under his leadership, the department was awarded a National Institute of Mental Health training grant in Sociology and Social Psychology, providing many graduate students with stipends from 1964 to 1976. The department also benefited from Nick’s strong publication record, his term as department chair, and his appointment as Carl Adolf Happold Professor of Sociology, the highest recognition the University of Nebraska can bestow upon a member of its faculty. Moreover, the department’s visibility was concurrently enhanced through his leadership roles in professional organizations, namely, those in board membership and as president of the Midwest Sociological Society, council member and chair of the ASA Section on Aging, board member of the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars, President of the Midwest Council for Social Research on Aging, in addition to numerous committee assignments in the ASA, Gerontological Society of America, and the Midwest Sociological Society.

Nick’s career, spanning some 45 years, cut across several substantive areas, namely the nature of primary relationships in friendship and kinship networks, black family structure, religion and family stability, life course transitions and social integration among the aged, and departmental prestige. Among these areas, he is perhaps best known for his work in voluntary associations: research, which, even 30 years after its publication, is still cited. More recently, he turned his attention toward issues concerning the discipline and academic excellence. Although retired for more than a decade, Nick remained intellectually engaged until the end. Even the week before he died, colleagues could find him working diligently in his office on a current research project. True to his life-long concern with excellence and his commitment to working with graduate students, his last three publications were co-authored with a former graduate student. The last article, concerning scholarly productivity and departmental status, appeared in the June 1998 issue of Social Forces. He is also co-author on four additional manuscripts, one to be published later this year in the American Sociologist and three others working their way toward the review process.

During the course of his career, Nick authored 52 articles, many of which are reprinted, and a book on voluntary associations with C. Wayne Gordon. To date, his articles include eight in the American Sociological Review and five in Social Forces. Other outlets included Sociological Quarterly, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Sociological Inquiry, Phylon, Social Science Quarterly, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Journal of Gerontology, Research on Aging, Journal of Voluntary Action Research, and the American Sociologist. While he published with department colleagues, the majority of his co-authors were graduate students.

Those who collaborated with Nick on various research projects gained much through the many hours of discussion, writing, more discussion, and rewriting. The work embodied the very essence of scientific inquiry with all the challenges and rewards it entails. There was a tenacity in the way Nick pursued an idea that led to invention, a process that enriched our own creative powers. He was meticulous to a fault, a trait quite apparent in terms of the care with which he edited work and familiarized himself with data. My initial contact with Nick was as a graduate student, where he was both taskmaster and friend. High standards were coupled with enormous investments of energy in students’ progress in the program. He would spend hours poring over students’ work and many more hours giving needed direction to produce research that would result in publication. Frequently, he ran interference for students within the department and in the University graduate office to expedite the students’ progress. The careers of many students undoubtedly benefited from his efforts, including that of my own.

The University of Nebraska, his students, and his colleagues gained much from Nick. While he will undoubtedly be missed, Nick’s persona is certain to leave an indelible imprint on the lives of those persons who knew him.

Alan Booth, Pennsylvania State University
ASA Footnotes, November 1999

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