Steven E. Achelpohl
July 15, 1950 – April 17, 2021
Steven E. Achelpohl, Omaha attorney, former Nebraska Democratic party chair, devoted father and adoring grandfather passed away on Saturday, April 17th from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 70.
Achelpohl is survived by his wife Sara; five children: Joe (Alison), Sam (Mary), Raechel Meyer (Gino), Ryan Sullivan (Sarah), and Peter Sullivan (Seba); and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ray and June Achelpohl, and daughter, Rebecca Sullivan.
VISITATION: Tuesday, April 20th from 5pm to 7pm at the West Center Chapel. Please wear a mask. MEMORIAL SERVICE: Wednesday, April 21st at 10am, West Center Chapel, followed by private family burial. Memorials are suggested to Nebraska Appleseed.
To view a live broadcast of the Memorial Service, please go to heafeyheafey.com and click the “View Live Cast” button on the home page.
Scrappy shortstop. Wily point guard. Above average cook. A fiercely determined attorney unshakeable in his advocacy for his clients. Democratic party chairman happy to be the idealist in a ruby red state. Loving husband and brother. Adoring father and grandfather. A good man.
That was Steve Achelpohl, whose passing we mourn today. Steve died on Saturday, April 17, 2021, from complications due to Alzheimer’s, a disease that despite its relentlessness, will never erase our memory of him, his grace, his brilliance in the courtroom, his activism on behalf of others or his perfect jump shot. Nor can it erase our love for him and the love he had for his family.
Steve is survived by his wife Sara; five children: Joe (Alison), Sam (Mary), Raechel Meyer (Gino), Ryan Sullivan (Sarah), and Peter Sullivan (Seba); and six grandchildren: Matthew, Colin, Charlotte, Isabella, Louisa, Poppy, sister, Jan; brothers, Todd and Scott. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ray and June Achelpohl; daughter, Rebecca Sullivan.
Born in Wichita, Kansas on July 15, 1950, Steve and his sister Jan shuffled around the country for several years while his father Ray finished graduate school. With stops in Minnesota, California, New Jersey, Topeka, they eventually settled in Omaha, Nebraska in 1963. Despite a kind of nomadic nature up to that point, Omaha became the city the family would eventually describe as “home.”
Good family genes made Steve a natural athlete. Both his grandfather, Virgil “Zeke” Barnes, and uncle, Jesse Barnes, pitched for the New York Giants in the 1920s, Zeke having pitched in both the 1923 and 1924 World Series. And while his plucky play at point guard for Westside High School earned him all-city honors, it was Steve’s scrappiness as a shortstop that won him a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he would eventually become an Academic All-American, star in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (kind of a big deal at the time) and become a draft pick of the Detroit Tigers.
But as fate would have it, Steve chose to trade dirt for idealism, and his spikes for books on constitutional law. He enrolled in law school, and three years later, after finishing near the top of his class and earning a spot on UNL’s law review, he landed the coveted job as clerk for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, cutting his teeth and earning his chops writing opinions for the honorable Judge Donald Ross (also kind of a big deal).
Steve followed that with an incredibly successful, decades-long career as a defense attorney in Omaha, litigating some of the more recognizable cases in recent Nebraska history. He served as co-counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s attempt to preserve the Jobber’s Canyon historic district, as well as capital crime and death penalty cases. His success as an attorney eventually led him to be named a fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the American College of Trial Lawyers, and a nomination by President Bill Clinton to become a federal judge.
It’s no wonder that the honorable U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon described Steve as a sight to see in the courtroom. “It was good sport watching him tangle with prosecutors. Steve knew everything, every angle, every fact, every part of the law. You knew you were in for a tussle,” he said.
In 2001, Steve took on a different but equally challenging role – chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party – a position he held for eight years, longer than any other at the time. It was under his leadership that Democrats recaptured the voter registration majority in Douglas County and the party had some of its best financial years. He was incredibly proud to say that he left the job better than when found it, a fact that few could argue.
But despite all the success, the victories and losses in the courtroom, the TV interviews, the conversations (and beseeching) from future presidents, there existed overwhelming evidence of one thing in particular – his love for his family, including his six children. To say they were everything to him would certainly be an understatement.
It was common knowledge that beginning in 1978, and continuing until the very end, colleagues, politicians, nurses, doctors, and more than a few complete strangers rarely escaped a conversation with Steve without hearing declarations of pure fatherly or grandfatherly pride.
And that is what matters most. To be utterly loving is how he lived his life. And it is for that reason that we miss him the most.
Thank you for helping us celebrate Steve’s life.