Bruce D. Loebs, 87, longtime professor of speech and rhetoric at Idaho State University, died in his home on Saturday, April 9, 2022, following a lengthy illness.
Bruce was born in Bowdle, South Dakota, on September 9, 1934, the second son of John Lewis Loebs and Bertha Irene (McCafferty) Loebs. Bruce’s parents met while John was working as a cowboy on the Montana cattle ranch owned by Bertha’s family. Bertha contracted tuberculosis before Bruce was born, and she died when he was two years old. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and Bruce’s father had to travel to find work, leaving Bruce and his older brother James (“Jimmy”) to be raised for several years by their grandparents, John and Anna (Krebs) Loebs, in Bowdle.
When Bruce was in first grade, his father married Elsie (Blumhardt) Loebs, who became a devoted and loving mother to Bruce and Jimmy. The family then moved to a small farm outside Bowdle, from which Bruce and Jimmy rode bareback on their horse Buddy to attend school at a one-room schoolhouse. During first grade, Bruce fell off Buddy and broke his arm, forcing him to learn to write left-handed, which he did awkwardly for the rest of this life. When Bruce was 10, his family opened a restaurant and moved back to Bowdle, where Bruce’s brother Ivan was born. One of Bruce’s fondest memories of Bowdle was meeting Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, his boyhood idol, who paid Bruce a quarter to fetch his hunting boots.
Bruce’s family left Bowdle and moved to Lodi, California, when Bruce was in eighth grade. Bruce attended Lodi High School, where he played on varsity baseball and basketball teams that won the San-Joaquin Conference Championships during his senior year, and was the editor of the high school newspaper, The Flame.
After high school, Bruce worked as the sports editor for the Lodi Times for a year before enlisting in the U.S. Army, where he was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, during the Korean War. Following his discharge in 1955, Bruce attended Stockton Community College, becoming the first member of his family to go to college. At Stockton Community College, Bruce was student body president and began participating in speech and debate, winning first place in oratory and fourth place in debate at the national Phi Rho Pi junior college debate tournament.
Bruce enrolled in the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1957, where he participated in speech and debate and was editor of the school newspaper, El Gaucho. Bruce met Neila Rae Wiersema when they were both juniors at Santa Barbara, and they were married the fall of their senior year, on September 6, 1958.
Following graduation, Bruce taught elementary school in Palmdale, California, before moving to Eugene, Oregon, to attend graduate school. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, Bruce taught and coached debate at the California State College at Hayward for several years. In 1969, he was hired as the Chair of the Communication and Theatre Department at Idaho State University, a position he held for 36 years—longer than anyone in ISU history.
Bruce taught full-time at ISU for 46 years. Although he also taught Speech 101 and Argumentation, Bruce specialized in teaching classes that combined his expertise in rhetoric with his fascination with history, including American Public Address, the Rhetoric of Hitler and Churchill, and rhetorical issues classes that focused on historical events such as the American Revolution, Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War. In 2001, the ISU Alumni Association named Bruce the Most Influential Professor.
For more than 20 years, both before and after his retirement, Bruce enjoyed teaching in the ISU New Knowledge Adventures program, where he offered classes to community members on issues including the rhetoric of World War II, the Vietnam War, and the American Revolution—and, his most popular class, the rhetoric of Adolph Hitler. Many of Bruce’s New Knowledge students took all his classes—sometimes more than once.
Throughout his time at Cal-State Hayward, Bruce was active in state and national politics, including speaking on behalf of candidates he supported and engaging in debates about U.S. foreign policy. He continued this engagement after moving to Pocatello, where he was most proud of his work to help Steve Symms defeat longtime Idaho Senator Frank Church during the 1980 Senate race. Bruce campaigned for President Richard Nixon in 1972, remained an active supporter of Nixon’s foreign policy, and corresponded with Nixon throughout the rest of the former president’s lifetime.
Bruce’s greatest passions in life were teaching, his family, and his pets. He looked forward to the end of every school vacation so he could return to the classroom, and throughout his career remained dedicated to continuing to master his subject matter and connect with his students.
Bruce was zealous about becoming an authority on every subject on which he spoke, debated, or taught. He was a leading national expert on the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler, the U.S. decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagaski, and issues related to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Throughout all his decades of teaching, he continued to revise his lectures before every class, and never stopped reading new material and expanding his knowledge.
A dedicated and loving husband, father, and grandfather, Bruce always got up as early as necessary to see his wife and children off to school or work, spent long hours “babbling” with his sons while stacking firewood, secretly purchased candy bars for his daughter while shopping for groceries, and delighted his children and grandchildren with a wide variety of ludicrous games, either of his own invention or dating back to his days in Bowdle, including Ducky on the Rock, Sink the Hun, Stick the Stallion, All the Way with LBJ, and Up and Over and Right Back at ‘Em.
Bruce instilled a strict sense of ethics, compulsion for thoroughness, and commitment to accuracy into his children, improving their thinking and writing with the ruthless use of his red pen. Bruce’s children also inherited their father’s love of debate, and after stints in politics and journalism, all three eventually became lawyers—and Bruce was very proud to watch them each use that profession to accomplish something worthwhile. His son Grant has served as the Twin Falls Prosecuting Attorney for the past 25 years, his son Blake was a leading San Francisco trial attorney representing police and firefighters, and his daughter, Claire, owns a Washington law firm that advocates on behalf of wildlife and the environment.
Bruce was preceded in death by his mother, father and stepmother; his brother James; and his son Blake
Bruce was also preceded in death by Oliver Mudgrips, Buddy, Piggy, Humphrey, Waldo, Clyde, the Ret, Kitty, Flower, Lyle, and Friend.
Bruce was also preceded in death by Aristotle, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln.
Bruce is survived by his wife of 63 years, Neila, who cared for him in their Pocatello home throughout his lengthy illness. He is also survived by his brother Ivan Loebs and wife Connie, of Boise, Idaho: son Grant Loebs and wife Elisha, of Twin Falls, Idaho; daughter Claire Loebs Davis of Vashon, Washington; daughter-in-law Alisa Loebs, of Corte Madera, California; grandchildren John Loebs, Sarah Loebs, Nathaniel Loebs Davis, Ryan Loebs, and Amanda Loebs; and dog, Lucy.
Bruce became close to many of the wonderful caretakers who assisted him and Neila during his illness, including Donna Tordecillas, Loretta Johnson, Tyler Vickers, and Jesse Crabtree.
In accordance with Bruce’s wishes, no public services will be held. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Washington Wildlife First
Condolences to Bruce’s family can be sent online through www.cornelisonfh.com