Bud Harbsmeier, who in his 39 years at WHAS was a journalist and director of the Crusade for Children, died Saturday after a battle with kidney cancer, the station announced.
He was 86.
Harbsmeier grew up in western Louisville, on Cecil Avenue near Shawnee Park. He graduated from Shawnee High School and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Louisville. He later studied combat photography at the University of Oklahoma.
After serving in the Army and a stint living in Washington, D.C., he returned home and became a reporter at WHAS in the early 1960s.
Although he didn't expect to make a career of it at first, the work appealed to him. "Once I got into it, I knew that was what I had to do," he told The Courier Journal in 2013.
WHAS reporters filed stories for TV as well as radio. Harbsmeier became a police reporter, working the crime beat for about two decades.
Harbsmeier also covered the civil rights movement, court rulings on school desegregation and the protests on the issue, WHAS said.
In 1981 he was asked to lead WHAS’ Crusade for Children, a charity that raises money for special needs children and donates it to organizations, schools and hospitals.
He told The Courier Journal that he was reluctant to leave the newsroom, but his wife Barbara encouraged him to take the job.
"I went from seeing people at their worst to seeing people at their best," he said in 2013.
Harbsmeier courted fire departments across Kentucky and Southern Indiana, promising them that most of the money they raised would return to their communities.
He also introduced new types of fundraising beyond firefighters collecting change at traffic lights — like payroll withholding. "I found out that it was really an untapped source," he said.
Under his leadership, the Crusade's "annual donations rose from $1.6 million to $5.9 million, turning the WHAS Crusade for Children into the most successful local telethon in America,” according to WHAS.
The Crusade raised more than $67 million under Harbsmeier — compared with $16 million in the 27 years before he started.
He retired in 2000, and joined the Highview Fire Department's board of directors in retirement, helping it raise money and going to the station when the firefighters presented their Crusade donations.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Former WHAS reporter, Crusade for Children leader Bud Harbsmeier dies