McCook honored its native son, Sen. Ben Nelson, this weekend with a reception that included both a serious look back and a chance to poke a little fun at Nelson, who is retiring from public service.
McCook Mayor Dennis Berry reminded those gathered at the Keystone Business Center in McCook that the city is often referred to as the city of governors, producing Ben Nelson, Frank Morrison, and Ralph Brooks, Nelson’s high school principal. Berry said thinking about Brooks prompted him to recall his school days.
“I got to thinking about my high school Greek and Latin classes and thinking about politics. The derivation of politics is poly, meaning many, and ticks, meaning blood-sucking creatures,” Berry said to laughter in the room.
The state’s current governor, Dave Heineman, also lived in McCook for a time during his youth. McCook also claims two United States Senators, Nelson and famed Sen. George Norris.
Many speakers did recall the achievements Nelson had has governor and senator, but a few also recalled his youth.
The former owner of Sehnert’s Bakery, Walt Sehnert, remembered a polite and a little shy young Ben Nelson who began working at the bakery to earn some extra money as a teen-ager. One day, Nelson asked Sehnert if he could eat a donut.
“I assured him that eating a donut would be fine. In fact, that he should feel free to eat as many donuts as he wanted while he was at the bakery. I knew what would happen,” Sehnert reminisced to laughter.
Former State Senator Tom Vickers of Farnam said Nelson achieved quite a bit during his tenure as governor, largely because he hired members of the legislature to work on his staff. Vickers said that gave Nelson an advantage when working with legislators. Nelson first won election as governor in 1990. He won re-election four years later.
Banker Mark Graff, past chairman of the Nebraska Community Foundation, which Nelson created as governor noted the impact of the foundation.
“So, I had an up-close view of how that foundation has changed lives across Nebraska,” Graff said. “His administration was able to create a vehicle where people could use personal philanthropy to change the path of their community, especially in rural Nebraska.”
The Nelson Tribute was sponsored by the McCook Economic Development Corporation.
Rich Barnett, KICX, contributed to this story.