Richard Beran, Rita Goldfish, Dean Rasmussen


Interviewee Richard Beran, Member, Sarpy County SWCD, 1960’s; Papio Watershed Advisory Board, 1960’s - early 1970’s; Manager, Lower Loup NRD, 1972 - 2005

Richard Beran

Position Held: Member, Sarpy County SWCD, 1960’s; Papio Watershed Advisory Board, 1960’s - early 1970’s; Manager, Lower Loup NRD, 1972 - 2005
Interviewee Rita Goldfish, Secretary, Lower Loup NRD, 1972 - time of interview

Rita Goldfish

Position Held: Secretary, Lower Loup NRD, 1972 - time of interview
Interviewee Dean Rasmussen, Board Member, Lower Loup NRD, 1972 - time of interview

Dean Rasmussen

Position Held: Board Member, Lower Loup NRD, 1972 - time of interview

Full Interview:


Jim Barr

Associated NRDs:

Lower Loup


MR. BARR: This is Jim Barr. It's June 21st, 2013, and we're at the Lower Loup NRD Headquarters interviewing Dick Beran, Rita Goldfish, and Dean Rasmussen. And, Rita, would you like to give a little about your background?
MS. GOLDFISH: My name is Rita Goldfish and I started with the Lower Loup Natural Resources District in June of 1972. And I've been with them ever since.
MR. BARR: Any more about your background, where you're from, that sort of thing?
MS. GOLDFISH: I am originally from Loup City. And when I got married in 1972, I moved up here. My husband worked for Loup Valleys Rural Public Power District and he has since retired from there. And I have three children. My eldest son, Randall, is a doctor in Kearney. My second son, Robert, is part owner of an auto body repair shop. And my daughter, Rachel, works for The Buckle at their corporate offices in Kearney, and she is married to Ben Klein and he is a teacher in Lexington Public Schools, and they have a little boy who will be three years old. His name is Micah.
MR. BARR: Dick, you want to go next?
MR. BERAN: Okay. Richard Beran, I started out in this business with the Sarpy Soil and Water Conservation District as, I think, the first manager of a district in the state of Nebraska. I think that's correct. I came to work, then I went to the Papio Watershed Board where I worked for John Neuberger and Milton Fricke, who was well known in conservation circles in Nebraska. I progressed, then, to the Lower Loup Natural Resource District out here in June of 1972.
MR. BERAN: Outside of that for background, that's about it.
MR. BARR: When did you retire?
MR. BERAN: Oh, when did I retire, Rita?
MS. GOLDFISH: Oh, gosh.
MR. BERAN: Rita should know.
MS. GOLDFISH: I have to stop and think.
MR. BERAN: I can't remember.
MR. BARR: Well, if you think of it later on, we can add it.
MR. BERAN: We can fill it in.
MR. BARR: Dean?
MR. RASMUSSEN: I'm Dean Rasmussen. I grew up down in the Cotesfield area. There's not much there, but when I grew up, it was a thriving town, even had a high school, which I went to for a couple of years. And went to a business college and then came back to farm. And that lasted a while. And then I had a chance to buy a grocery store, or we did. And we bought that and pretty much been in the grocery business ever since. I thoroughly enjoy it. And I like to tell the story of when we were in the grocery store in North Loup. I had four young boys working for me and they all went into the grocery business, so I figure I ruined four lives right there.
MR. BARR: Well, I don't know what to talk about -- was some of the years before the NRD was formed and what you might have done in relation to soil and water conservation or any of the subdistricts that were involved, or how it come to be that you got involved with the Natural Resources District.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, I was on the old Howard County SWCD Board until the NRDs were formed, and then I trans- -- didn't transfer, but got elected here and have been a member ever since, 41 or -2 years, I guess it is.
MR. BARR: Do you remember the size of the interim board, roughly?
MR. BARR: Yeah.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Oh, my gosh, the first time or two we met at the Elks Club and it filled the whole dining area. There was so many from every town, every county, and I don't know how it happened, but I presume there was probably 200-225 people that night and they had to elect officers. And Charlie Zangger, deceased now, he was elected chairman and I was elected vice-chairman, and I haven't figured that one out yet. But it's been quite a ride. And, you know, if the NRDs hadn't been formed, it would be a sorry mess, because every farmer -- okay, “The neighbor drilled a well 150. I'm going 175.” And right up to the fence line, every one of them had 10 or 12. It's the best thing that ever happened to the State of Nebraska. I think.
MR. BARR: Backing up just a bit from the Howard County, did you have any projects for that?
MR. RASMUSSEN: No, not very many, because we had to go to the county board for a few dollars. Sometimes that wasn't easy.
MR. BARR: Richard, did you want to talk a little about the Papio, your experience over there before we get into this NRD?
MR. BERAN: Yeah, I sure do. Richard Beran again, speaking on history a little bit. I started in the conservation business with my father, Father and Son Conservation Contracting. When that business was liquidated, I went to the Sarpy Soil and Water Conservation District as the first manager of a district in the State of Nebraska, largely due to the efforts of Milton Fricke, who was an old-time conservationist and renovator of the Papio Creek in the Omaha metropolitan area. So, I worked there. Initially consisted mainly of putting the levies -- pushing the levies back, allowing more flood flows down the Papio Creek channel. And of course, we operated heavy equipment and we done the other conservation work. I can't give you a year for the district, but I was the first manager for a soil and water conservation district in the state. When the Papio Watershed Board was formed, I then changed from the Papio Watershed Board -- excuse me, from the Sarpy Soil and Water District to the Papio Watershed Board as Assistant General Manager for John Neuberger. Our office then was in Ralston, Nebraska. And we then took over the maintenance of the Papillion Creek and the flood control projects in the City of Omaha, the ones that were within our jurisdiction. In '72, then, through the efforts of Rudolf Kokes, who was a long-time state senator, and one very interested in agriculture and conservation, Rudolf convinced me I should come out to central Nebraska and be one of the first managers of the newly formed natural resources district. And I think Rudolf basically, as a state senator, was probably pretty instrumental in getting the whole natural resources district organizations set up in Nebraska, because, as a state senator, he carried the ball for the rest of us. And we could always count on support from Rudy. Rudy has since passed on, and we owe an awful lot conservation-wise in this area and the state to Rudolf's effort.
MR. BARR: While you're at it, would you mind talking a little about Milt and any other leaders in the Papio while we're -- I hate to bring it in --
MR. BERAN: No, that's fine.
MR. BARR: -- but we may not have anybody else able to do that. I know Milt Fricke was -- he was also on the Soil and Water Conservation Commission as I recall.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, Milt was -- Milt served on the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission. He was Chairman of the Papio Watershed Advisory Board. He was a cow milker, had a big milk business just outside of Papillion. And milk was renowned nationally in the National Association of Conservation Districts. So he goes a long ways for conservation. I don't want to say too much about the Papio Watershed Board, but it consisted then of the City of Omaha and included work on the main channels of the Papio Creek and, of course, conservation in the agricultural areas. And, of course, flood control was their main objectives. We all know what the floods have done in Omaha, so I don't know -- I can't tell you where John is right now. He's someplace.
MR. BARR: We'll try to figure it out. If you think of any other leaders you'd like to mention, either of you, on the early leadership either here at the Lower Loup or in the Papio, just bring it in whenever it occurs to you.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, several people come to mind in the Sarpy Soil and Water District who I worked for first. Dale Harder being one of the old board members. I can't think of any of the others right now.
But we then came out here in 1972 at -- I guess Rudy Kokes was the guy that kind of brought me out here to central Nebraska. I was born and raised in Beatrice, moved to Hebron, so my entire history, I'm a Nebraska boy, been here all my life. Rita, why don't you take over for a while? I'll think a little bit.
MS. GOLDFISH: You're going to think a little bit? Okay, there were 54 members on the full board of directors when it first started and then 20 members were elected to the executive board, and they were the ones that met regularly every month. And every now and then, they would have the full board. I can remember our first office was on M Street.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Yeah, we moved around a little. I would like (indiscernible) Richard was saying he got out here and I sat on the bunch that hired him at that time. And I never will forget, Bill Schudel, he was on with us, and he's passed on now, but I think we had three or four that we narrowed it down to. Then, of course, an old country boy, you know, he always looked at the dollar. Well, Richard had maybe a few dollars more he wanted. I never will forget old Bill Schudel, he says, “Boys, we better throw a few dollars in and hire somebody good,” so we hired Mr. Beran.
MR. BERAN: Well, thank you, Dean. I'm going to tell you a little, just another little story. I'm going to tell this on Rita. I don't really expect you to put it in a report, but one day I heard at the office, I heard some yelling, couldn't figure out what it was. I run up front and at that time, Rita had, I think, about waist-length hair. And it got caught in the copy machine. (Laughter.)
MS. GOLDFISH: I bent over to pick up a -- change papers or whatever it was, and the dang thing caught my hair.
MR. BERAN: And there she was trapped in the copy machine. (Laughter.) That's it for that.
MR. BARR: I see she has short hair now. Well, unless, if there's anything else up to the point you started as the district, kick it in. Otherwise, we'll just go to the --
MR. RASMUSSEN: I would like to say though that, I'm sure every board would or district can say it or would, but we can really truthfully say it that Mr. Beran started it and from then until today, we have been blessed with the most wonderful staff that you could ever ask for, not a clock-looker in the whole bunch, and they've been very, very good to work with all the way from the top to the bottom. We're very -- our board is very, very proud of the people that has worked for us, very proud.
MR. BARR: What were some of the original challenges you faced as you started the district?
MR. RASMUSSEN: I remember me and the late Frank Bartak and a guy from Ericson figured out the first budget. We were pretty proud of ourselves. We got it in there, but we only forgot one thing. We put in enough to pay the wages, but we never put anything in to start a project. I never will forget that either. But we got some put in.
MR. BARR: What were some of the sorts of projects you did early on as a district?
MS. GOLDFISH: We did -- well, they picked, of course, the SWCD's tree planting projects and stuff like that. Then also, they implemented the road structure projects. And they also -- one of the first foresters that we had here brought about the plan of living snow fences that are along some of the highways now, and county roads now, too. And then it went into water programs, the measuring of the wells, and water samples to see where the nitrates were concentrated and things like that. And it's kind of just, you know, gone from that on down the road. But a lot of water projects.
MR. BERAN: I think one of the most early projects that -- not projects, but programs that the districts had to confront was public acceptance. We were new. We were a new organization. It was somebody else that was going to tax, so we had to pretty much watch out what we were doing. We weren't spendthrifts. We watched the pennies pretty close, and we had to, because of public acceptance. The Lower Loup District here, is close to the largest NRD in the state. And so we had all kinds of folks that, you know, we had farmers, and we had ranchers, we had businessmen, we had everybody. And I can think of some of the businessmen that probably saved the bacon for the districts, and didn't let us go downhill. Dean, I think you can look back at some of the people like Rudy Kokes, who was a farmer, but yet, he was a businessman also.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Oh, yes, he was. Intelligent man.
MR. BERAN: Some of the men out at Columbus that were -- we had Luchtel that was a banker?
MS. GOLDFISH: Luchteh.
MR. BERAN: Lucktel, Luchtel was a banker in Columbus. And we had folks like that on the first board that really helped us, because the farmers didn't really know whether they wanted to put out the money for an organization like this. Now, Bill Bowness from Loup City was another banker that we had on the board at one time.
MS. GOLDFISH: He was my former boss.
MR. BERAN: Yeah. Did I take you away from him?
MS. GOLDFISH: No, I quit. He's the one who told me, he says, “Go up there and apply for that job.”
MR. BERAN: That's right, because you got married and you moved to Ord, didn't you?
MR. BERAN: Rita used to ride sidesaddle on a motorcycle at lunch, too. I don't think she ever fell off.
MR. BERAN: She had a good hold on her husband.
MR. BARR: Did you guys get involved in Senator Kokes' plan to bring the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to Ord as the headquarters or --
MR. RASMUSSEN: He would have liked to have saw that done.
MR. BERAN: I'm not familiar with that.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, he kind of used that to get the State to build a new Game Commission headquarters in Lincoln, as I recall. But I'm sure he would have liked it in town here.
MS. GOLDFISH: But I think he was probably instrumental in getting the NRD to locate here.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah, very.
MR. BARR: How many counties, partly or wholly, do you roughly encompass?
MS. GOLDFISH: In the beginning, we had all or parts of 15 counties, and now we have all or parts of 16 counties with the little piece of Butler County that we got.
MR. BERAN: You have a piece of Butler County?
MS. GOLDFISH: Yes, we have a piece of Butler County.
MR. BERAN: I'll be darned.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Not very much.
MS. GOLDFISH: Not very much, but we got a piece.
MR. BERAN: Can't be satisfied with being the biggest.
MR. RASMUSSEN: We're spreading out.
MR. BARR: Did you ever get involved in the North Loup Project or any of the relationships about that project?
MR. RASMUSSEN: You mean the Calamus or --
MR. BARR: Yeah.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, I tell you, my dad was -- been on the board of that from day one, and when he passed away, why, they appointed me to be on there and I was only there, I don't know, a few months, and I -- I shouldn't say it because I'm there now, but most of them gentlemen were -- had a little age on me, and at that time I was a little younger, and I had to choose one or the other. And I knew -- I elected to go to the NRD. I thought them people were going to come to the front, which they have, each and every one in the State of Nebraska.
MR. BERAN: I can't think of the name of the guy that was ahead of that Loup Irrigation Project.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Cyrus Shaugnessy, wasn't he?
MR. BERAN: Okay, well, I can't remember. But I know there was some personal jealousy between the irrigation district and the natural resources district thinking that we were trying to steal their thunder, something to that effect.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Henry Lange was another one on there.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, Henry Lange was a -- they all done a good job.
MR. RASMUSSEN: You bet they did.
MR. BERAN: We didn't have any -- we had enough to do without fooling around with an irrigation district.
MR. BARR: That was one of the original discussions in the legislation was rather to try to bring irrigation districts and then decided not to.
MR. BERAN: Yeah.
MR. RASMUSSEN: I was a delegate to SWCD convention in South Sioux City when we voted on whether we should go to the NRDs or not. And that was a very, very ticklish situation. There were some very, very against it. Then there was guys like me, very, very for it. And when we voted, the chairman at that time, I think maybe was Warren Patefield. And he had everybody for stood, and then those against stood, and he counted. I remember that.
MR. BARR: Quite a day. Well, that -- speaking of that, in this general area, was there any strong opposition either from soil and water -- soil and conservation districts or any other particularly strong opponent, particularly at the time of the legislation?
MR. RASMUSSEN: Not as much here as in a lot of districts, I don't think.
MR. BERAN: I don't think so. There was probably a little bit of animosity from a -- what do they call it? Jim Pinkman's organization.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Oh, the irrigation districts.
MR. BERAN: The local irrigation district that was headquartered here out of Ord, I think probably was wondering whether we were trying to steal their thunder. We didn't have any, you know, irrigation districts were not part of our makeup. We didn't want anything to do with them, frankly. But we have the two, the Farwell Irrigation District, the North Loup Public Power and Irrigation District.
MS. GOLDFISH: Middle Loup.
MR. BERAN: Middle Loup, yeah. So there was some jealousy, put it that way.
MR. RASMUSSEN: But as of today, every one of them irrigation districts, if they got problems, they look to us. I mean, they really do, thanks to our staff. They smooth things out.
MR. BARR: Over the years, what are some of the projects and programs that you think were most successful or useful in this district?
MR. RASMUSSEN: You'd know more about that.
MR. BERAN: Well, I think probably Davis Creek was one of the biggest ones. Actually, the public acceptance of soil and water conservation work was probably one of the biggest also. But Davis Creek, which we now -- which the District now manages as a recreation area, and it was put in by the irrigation district for -- to hold irrigation water in. I'm trying to think.
MS. GOLDFISH: Probably water quantity that has kept us out of being designated fully appropriated, because we put in a lot of studies. Right now we have the ongoing ELM Project.
MR. RASMUSSEN: But, you know, when we went to moratorium --
MS. GOLDFISH: The well moratorium?
MR. RASMUSSEN: Yeah. I was scared to death to have the phone ring. I was scared to go to the mailbox. I was scared to meet anybody on the street. But they all say that was the best thing you ever done. But I was scared. I'll admit it.
MS. GOLDFISH: Yes, that kept us out of being fully appropriated.
MS. GOLDFISH: Which I'm sure we were headed. And the ELM Study, when they did kind of designate us a little bit as being fully appropriated, kind of turned them around, because we had the figures to show that, no, this is otherwise.
MR. BERAN: This was all after my time.
MS. GOLDFISH: Yes, the ELM Study was, yes.
MR. BARR: Could you describe the ELM Study while we're -- just for anybody that might not know what it involved, just roughly?
MS. GOLDFISH: It's the Loup-Elkhorn Modeling Study of river basins to see how, you know, if it's being depleted and things like that.
MR. RASMUSSEN: We've spent a lot of time on that. Some very intelligent people have worked on that as part of our staff.
MR. BERAN: I think one thing could be made. Flood control isn't a big thing in this district, because most of our head waters come out of the Sandhills. And, you know, we don't get anything out of the Sandhills but what nature gives us a year-round runoff. So, flood control wasn't too big a project. But we did work that, and nobody's mentioned, (indiscernible) Soil Conservation Service, jiminy Christmas. They'll hang us if we don't talk about them a little bit.
MR. BERAN: The Soil Conservation Service, of course, is an organization that's -- it's a federal organization through the Department of Agriculture, and they maintain offices in most all the counties within the district. Well, some of them have more than one county.
MS. GOLDFISH: Yes, and some of them they've consolidated here recently, because we had, at one time, nine field office locations and now we only have eight. And we provide the secretarial staff for them, and we also have some technical representatives in some of the offices. And, they do the tree planting or they supervise the tree planting and they do the chemigation permits, the well monitoring and the water collecting for the nitrate program.
MR. BERAN: SCS does that?
MS. GOLDFISH: No, our technical guys.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, our technical.
MS. GOLDFISH: Yes. SCS, they do all the technical things for on ground projects such as grazing systems and tree belts and grade stablizations and things like that.
MR. BERAN: One other thing, Rita, how many employees do you have in the Loup?
MS. GOLDFISH: In the Lower Loup? Well, our constant employees, I think, are 26. I don't do the payroll anymore, but I think 26. But during the summer, we hire college-age students and some high school students to do the maintenance in our arboretum and down at Davis Creek, and now that the Game and Parks gave us Pibel Lake, they do that too. And also, we have a landmark arboretum on the Aagaard farm. The Aagaards gave us their farm. And just this past year, we stepped up doing more things out there than what we have in the past. And it's kind of an experimental farm where we do tree plantings to see if they'll grow and if they won't grow and stuff like that.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, I forgot all about that.
MS. GOLDFISH: The Aagaard Farm?
MR. RASMUSSEN: I haven't -- I rode with you out there one time in a pickup.
MR. BERAN: I have a lot of bad -- off the record. Dean and I and probably Rita also have some bad thoughts about some of the things that happened at the Aagaard time, but let's just say that the Aagaard family, Jim, Anna, and Valborg Aagaard, who were a bachelor and two spinster sisters who lived on the farm that we got acquainted with -- I guess mainly I must have started that.
MR. RASMUSSEN: I think you did.
MS. GOLDFISH: I think they acquainted themselves with us, because they had the reputation of giving their farm to a charitable organization so that they didn't have to pay taxes.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, that was -- it was 440-480 acres?
MS. GOLDFISH: Something like that.
MR. BERAN: 480 acre farm that the Aagaard family deeded to the Natural Resources District for experimental purposes at grass seedings and what have you. And they gave us the farm, but they didn't want us to have it, kind of. They were old folks and you had to treat them really with kid gloves. I spent a lot of time out there just mending fences, verbal fences. I didn't mend any wire fences, but anyway, Jim, Anna, and Valborg were old Danish folks that had their own ways and -- but we eventually, I think they understood that it was probably the thing to do, because they didn't have anybody to leave the farm to. The NRD now manages the farm, and I have been out of it for long enough that I don't know what they're doing, but I'm sure that they're still doing some things out there on the farm.
MS. GOLDFISH: Right now we have put in different food plots this year for wildlife and they're in the process of putting in -- they're called guzzlers for wildlife. And they're basically waterers for wildlife that collect the dew and rain and store it so that there's a water source for the wildlife out there. And that's what they're doing out there now.
MR. BERAN: Well, one time we had some experimental plantings. We done -- along with the University of Nebraska, we had some experimental sprayings, things like this that we wanted to -- actually, the University was looking for a place to do it, and we were, I guess, a good subject, because we had control of that farm. We didn't -- I don't think we cropped anything, did we?
MR. RASMUSSEN: A little bit.
MR. BERAN: It wasn't much.
MS. GOLDFISH: I think just some hay, because the Forest Service or someone says for fire protection, you better cut some of this because it's getting rather dense out there. And NRCS contributed a lot of different trees for experimental plantings out there.
MR. BERAN: I'm going to go back a little further. We left out the Forest Service, because the NRD, when I was still here, employed, through the University of Nebraska, a forester. John Van Ells was the first forester. Rich Woollen is the present forester. I think probably -- are we the only NRD that has a forester?
MS. GOLDFISH: There might be -- I think maybe there's two or three others.
MR. BERAN: If there's none other, why they'll probably tell you so.
MS. GOLDFISH: Is Doak Nickerson yet with one of the NRDs in the western part of the state?
MR. BERAN: He might have been with (indiscernible). Anyway, so we've done an awful lot of experimental forestry stuff at the farm, tree plantings, all kinds of species of trees. Rich Woollen now manages that department for the NRD, and he's on call for diseases, insect problems, what have you. And I'm sure Rich is still as busy as he always was.
MS. GOLDFISH: More so, because they declared him a district forester or whatever it was, and he has a lot of area to cover now.
MR. BERAN: Oh, does he cover some additional area?
MR. BARR: Did you have any special relationship with the Upper Loup NRD or connection to them?
MR. BERAN: Well, only we were kind of the -- we took everything out of the river that they'd give us.
MR. BARR: And was that all good?
MR. BERAN: Well, it was all good, because it was Sandhills, and you don't get much runoff from the Sandhills. We always had good relationships with the Upper Loup. Paul Madron, I think he was the first and only.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Yeah, the only until the lady came.
MR. BERAN: Is there a lady up there now?
MR. BERAN: Oh, Ms. Helen White.
MS. GOLDFISH: There's two. She left and now Anna Baum is the Manager.
MR. BERAN: That could be Anna. I'm so out of the loop. Paul Madron was the manager, and we had good relationships with Paul. But we only get what the Upper Loup gives us as far as constant river flows. We get -- of course, they have some flood flows.
MR. BARR: One question that's come up in this discussion is, Nebraska is the only state to have natural resources districts, and several have thought that it might be a good idea. Do you have any thoughts on why it happened in Nebraska and may not have happened in other states?
MR. BERAN: Warren Fairchild and Milt Fricke were the two that really got the natural resources district movement going in the State of Nebraska. That was, of course, the contribution that I forgot to mention as far as Milt was concerned, but yeah. Warren Fairchild, who was with the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission at the time, has -- he was a State employee, a State department head. I'm trying to think. I'm sure there were several others, but they fail me right now.
MR. BARR: That's fine. You've observed this now for 40-some years, both as pre-NRD and NRD. What are some thoughts you might have on how it's worked out, particularly in relation to how you might have thought it would have worked out in the beginning?
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, my personal opinion is, and I think Mr. Beran was in on that, when the districts were formed, and I'm sure you spent a night or two, you know, the Loup here, and then Elkhorn here, whoever done it did a mighty fine job of putting it in districts by themselves, pretty much.
MR. BERAN: I think there was a lot of -- a lot of states were looking at Nebraska when the districts were formed, because most of the states, I think, still operate under the old soil and water conservation district setup, which they're much -- they're on a countywide boundary. And you can't do much countywide as far as putting staff in who really get the job done. Directors, fine, they do a good job as far as directors, but they're -- they have their own businesses to run. They can't run a district and do their farming or whatever they do. So we think that natural resources district or a like organization could be used in any state and should be.
MR. BARR: How are the counties' districts funded as compared to the natural resources districts?
MR. BERAN: Well, Dean was a member. I'll let him talk first.
MR. BERAN: Yeah.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, we had to go to the county board to get money, and if you had a project you'd like to see and it was several -- at that time, several thousand dollars, good luck, fella. You just didn't get it. We were lucky to get enough money to run a little office and like that. Oh, sure, we done a few things, but not what should -- like Beran says, I mean, you cannot do it on one little square county. You cannot do it anymore, or couldn't even do it then.
MR. BARR: Would that be part of the opposition, the counties didn't want to let loose of --
MR. RASMUSSEN: Oh, sure, I'm sure.
MR. BARR: -- their control?
MR. BERAN: Oh, yeah. There was some opposition, but I'll say that Milt Fricke probably was one of the instigators. When I was with the Sarpy Soil and Water Conservation District, we had D8 CATs, we had motor graders, we had scrapers. We worked for Douglas County, we worked for Sarpy County, as far as setting the levies pact on the Papillion Creek. And that's where our money came from. That's what financed my office and allowed us to function the way we did. So a small SWCD, outside of begging the county commissioners, has no way of supporting it. Tree planting, that's some of the counties, sure, they made a little money tree planting, but it doesn't go very far. So, that's why it was the thing to do was to get an organization that was funded, that could do the job.
MR. BARR: At this point, if any of you would like to offer any observations on anything related to conservation or natural resource districts or government in general.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, and maybe this isn't what you want, but I've had privilege of sitting on the NARD Board for several years and I'd like to continue until I, not expire, but retire. And we go to them meetings, and I don't think -- well, I call them the cream of Nebraska, the people that go to them. I mean, they're interested in saving our state, saving our water, and I'm kind of proud to have been on that organization.
MR. BERAN: Well, yeah, I think you can take a look at the makeup of the boards statewide. You have lawyers, you have local businessmen, you have farmers, you have ranchers. Rita, help me with somebody else.
MS. GOLDFISH: Oh, we have lawyers. We even had a judge at one time.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Yeah, veterinarians.
MS. GOLDFISH: Veterinarians, bankers, we have a preacher on the board now.
MR. BERAN: Really?
MR. BERAN: That's what you needed.
MR. BARR: Should have had that to begin with.
MR. BERAN: Should have had that a long time ago.
MS. GOLDFISH: We've had old SW- -- well, old NRCS, people who are retired from the NRCS, and they have been on our board. And NRD employees who have quit the NRD and started their own businesses now have ran and have been on our board or are on our board right now. And the board has changed through the years from being ultra-conservative to being more liberal.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but we had to. We had to be conservative when we started. We had to be.
MS. GOLDFISH: You had to be conservative when you begin, because I remember going to some of these -- to visit the field offices to see who the secretaries were that were supposedly supposed to be under my direction. And they were all older ladies and they looked at me, like, “Humph. What do you think you know?” And, you know, and they were -- in the beginning, it was all very -- kind of hard for them to leave go of their county lines, because this was, you know, what they operated under. And that's basically what they do, even some of the directors had a little bit of a tough time, I kind of noticed them, leaving go of their county lines.
MR. BERAN: Yeah. County lines were sacred when we first started, and that was probably one of the big things that people looked at -- looked down their nose at, was the fact that, gee, we're -- we got a little county here and we want to keep what we've got. Well, they didn't have the financing. They couldn't employ the people that was necessary. You can't build county highways without people. You can't operate a natural resources district efficiently without people to do it. And you've got to have salaries.
MR. BARR: Have you noticed any major changes in the whole conservation agenda or outlook over the 50 or so years you folks have been involved in this?
MR. RASMUSSEN: Well, it's a lot easier for people to come and ask us if they can -- or if we can help them or what would you do, and this and that. I think they come in here a lot more than they ever used to.
MR. RASMUSSEN: They think, by golly, you guys are all right. We have our problems, too, but a lot more traffic in.
MR. BERAN: I think that's right, because the district here has a sizable budget. You don't maintain a sizable budget without people yipping at you unless you're doing a good job. Part of the good job comes from changes in state law, which required it, but still you'd have a lot of opposition if you were throwing money down the rat hole. And they don't.
MR. BARR: What were some of the good changes that have been made statewide since the original legislation?
MR. BERAN: Statewide?
MR. BARR: Well, I mean, beyond just the specific NRD. How you voted, was that a difference? Some districts went to one man, one vote. The Groundwater Conservation Act was -- gave additional responsibilities to NRDs.
MR. BARR: Any other things that --
MR. RASMUSSEN: We're one man, one vote right now, aren't we?
MS. GOLDFISH: Very close to it. We have ten election districts and one at large, and every -- whenever they do the -- I want to say, the population count, we always have to go through and readjust, especially in the eastern part of the state more so than in the western part of the state. I mean, in the eastern part of our district more so than in the western part of our district. So population has kind of migrated, I guess, as you want to call it.
MR. BERAN: Looking at it historically, I would say, Rita, and you correct me if I'm wrong, a lot of people thought this was going to fail because we were bringing people in from all over to manage the soil and water resources of this particular area. “It's never going to work, it's never going to work. We want out little county organizations.” Well, you know, they were forced into it, and I think everybody accepts it now.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah.
MR. BERAN: Without a problem. I don't know whether, in the Big Blue, whether you had those problems or not.
MR. RASMUSSEN: There's been some problems.
MR. BERAN: You had those problems, yeah. But you've had a good manager that started you out and he made it work.
MR. BARR: At this point, anything you'd like to add is open --
MR. RASMUSSEN: I always looked at our district that somewhere we've done something right, because our personnel turnover is nil or near it, and that's a blessed deal to have on any organization if you got some good people and they stay with you. But we have tried to treat them decent, too. All except that time we -- (indiscernible) then got a little lengthy and 2:30 in the morning, why the wives started to call. “Where are they at? Where are they at?” I think we put one lady out to the phone. I never will forget that.
MR. BERAN: Well, there were some late meetings, which they weren't used to. Usually -- I was an SWCD district manager before I was a manager for this district. And there was an awful lot of nonsensical chit-chat that went on among board -- you know, “How's the cabin going?” “How's the crops?” You know, “What'd that guy do down the hill?” You know, things like that, but were not district business. And I suppose, you can go to some county boards right now and get the same thing in Nebraska.
MS. GOLDFISH: And we've also helped the communities. The walking trails and things like that are a fantastic hit and benefit to the communities.
MR. RASMUSSEN: I think we've done a good job letting them know that we are here and we will help you if we can.
MS. GOLDFISH: Help them get grants and right now, we've got the RC&D's tire grants --
MR. RASMUSSEN: Yeah, that's tomorrow.
MS. GOLDFISH: -- to pick up used tires.
MR. RASMUSSEN: Four hundred ton is what we're looking at.
MS. GOLDFISH: So we help with that. And then also programs for the kids at school. I know Larry, he does a lot of -- he just came back from ACE Camp in Halsey this week. And Rich, I know, goes during the school when school's on and gives different talks to the FFA students or whichever -- natural resources students they call them, too, on different tree aspects and things. And we sponsor the range and soil judging events, and different things like that.
MR. BARR: Anything else? I really appreciate your time and --
MR. RASMUSSEN: I really enjoy sitting down and starting from here and going to here.
Me and Richard do that every now and then.
MR. BERAN: Wish I hadn't lost -- kind of halfway lost my voice. But, no, I don't know. You're not going to be able to use it all, I'm sure, but things -- since I have retired, things have changed considerably. And I don't know what all those changes are. I may look at some of them unsupportively, but I don't say anything about it, because I'm not here and I don't know. So, so what? The present manager here is a damn good friend of mine. And I hired him as my first assistant -- no, second.
MR. RASMUSSEN: First, wasn't it?
MR. BERAN: No, Jerry Murray was the first. But he's a good man and he does a good job.
MR. RASMUSSEN: When you hired him, you brought him around to the officers at that time. And I remember we told you, “Beran, you have to work with him. You pick out whoever you want.”
MR. BERAN: Well, yeah.
MR. RASMUSSEN: So he done a good job.
MR. BERAN: Which goes to the fact that the boards let us have the district as long as we didn't get plum wild. They let us do about, you know, whatever we thought was necessary. I'll tell you, in the early days, not many boards spent much money. They were farmers and they were close to the vest. This district was no exception. They were the same way.
MS. GOLDFISH: Of course, with the mandates that the Legislature put on came new projects and more people and --
MR. BERAN: Well, and the breaking up of the Sandhills was one thing that we had to contend with that the district didn't like, but, you know, when a person buys a quarter of land, it's his land. He can do what the hell ever he wants to do with it, and we didn't like it and we didn't mince any words that we didn't like it. But we couldn't do anything about it.
MR. RASMUSSEN: We tried.
MR. BERAN: Yeah, you couldn't legislate it.
MS. GOLDFISH: But now they have it where they have to have certified irrigated acres, so they just can't go in and break it up like they did back then. They'd break it up and then go away, and then we'd have to pay for them to reseed it.
MR. BERAN: I suppose a lot of people -- I don't know what -- you're in York County, right?
MR. BARR: Right.
MR. BERAN: I don't know whether you know how some of that land is. There's a lot of quarters growing up to weeds, absolutely growing up to weeds, because speculators bought the land, put a pivot on it, took the goody out of the land for two, maybe three years, whatever they could, then they let it go. And it's setting up there growing tumbleweeds now. And we knew it was going to happen, but that's something you can't legislate. I'm about run down.
MR. RASMUSSEN: I enjoyed it.
MR. BARR: Thank you all very much for doing this.