MR. STARR: I'm doing an interview with Vince Kramper, who was a director of the Middle Missouri Natural Resource District and then the Papio Natural -- Papio/Missouri River Natural Resource District, a member of the Natural Resources Commission and a member of the State Environmental Trust, all for a number of years. And I'm doing this interview at his home in -- near Dakota City, Nebraska, and this interview is being conducted for the Natural Resources Districts' oral history interview project. I'm doing the interview and my name is Gayle Starr. The interview is being conducted on September 27, 2013. And with that, Vince, could you give me just a summary of what you've been up to?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, how many years (indiscernible), 40 years?
MR. STARR: However many years -- you want to start at the beginning, or wherever.
MR. KRAMPER: Well, when I was younger I was on the SWCD board, which all the counties in the state were that, and perhaps the commissioners would give us a little money to do some project, but we really couldn't do anything. Then, all of a sudden, when the NRD started out -- and I just feel like Nebraska is the luckiest state in the whole union. It was the best thing. Every time you'd go to a meeting, everybody would say, “Oh, I wish we could have the NRDs, but we can't convince our legislature to do it.” And I kind of felt sorry for them. It's been the greatest thing that ever happened to the state of Nebraska. We got tax money to do projects, do the conservation, which were made -- that was our purpose and so forth. So, like Gayle says, I've been on that for many, many years. And then we had 24 NRDs in the state and I was the chairman of the Middle Missouri Tribs NRD and here again we had a low count of people in our district, the northeast corner here, and so we really didn't get enough money to do the projects. We got some nice small projects done, but we really weren't getting anywhere. And then the Papio NRD says, “You know, if you want to merge with us, we'd welcome you in.” And I had very -- I had a problem with that because I thought, “Well, how are we going to have any representation?” However, it was the best thing that ever happened. They're taking good care of us up here in this corner. It's just working great. I couldn't -- I don't know how you could improve it any better. Projects are getting done. People are happy. I'm just thrilled to be a part of that -- or been a part of that, I'm retired now of course, but --
MR. STARR: When the NRD laws were initially passed in 1969 and then there were amendments for a few years and it was actually implemented in 1972, at that point how much did you know about what the NRD law really was, what was going to happen?
MR. KRAMPER: We really didn't know too much. I guess I had the attitude we had nothing, practically nothing, and I'm sure a lot of people worked on the rules and regulations and I felt -- I had enough faith in them that they probably were pretty good, maybe needed some refining, but I just felt, “Wow, maybe we're going to get something done now,” and it certainly turned out to be true.
MR. STARR: Were you involved in any of the state association activities at that time and the -- contacting senators saying what your opinion was and so forth?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, yeah, we were always encouraged to be in touch with the senators and to let them know what's going on. If we had a certain view on things, we wanted to let them know. And what better way for them to know than finding from the grass -- finding out from the grass roots, which we were. So, yeah, we did that.
MR. STARR: When it went into effect, July 1, 1972, and you had your first board meeting -- and however many directors there were on the Middle Missouri Tribs, what was the reaction of everybody? What were the board members saying?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, we had a lot of, “I don't know what's going to happen or what we're supposed to do,” but we had a manager -- I can't think of --
MR. STARR: Rod Storm (phonetic).
MR. KRAMPER: Rod Storm. I was chairman of the board at the time we were looking for one and he came to me, just a young guy, and he was interested in the job. And I said, “Well, by golly, let's get him started, the young man,” and he just turned out to be terrific. He was really a good person for that job. And he helped educate the board members so we knew more what we were going to do and he ran a good ship. He did a good job.
MR. STARR: But did you hire Rod right away or was it --
MR. KRAMPER: No. If I remember right, we didn't have anybody there as chairman -- I guess I was kind of leading what was going on and, like I say, we really weren't positive what we were supposed to do and so forth. We were getting a few things done and everything, but we could see we needed some -- people working every day on it.
MR. STARR: One of the -- if I remember right, one of the projects you had was that Tekamah mud watershed.
MR. KRAMPER: Yes.
MR. STARR: That was probably one of the few things that this NRD really had going at that time.
MR. KRAMPER: That is so right. We had a lot of people being flooded in that area and when we started on that project, we had so many nay-sayers on there that said, “Oh, it's never going to work. We don't need that.” Ironically, as soon as it was built, within a year they had a terrible storm there and it would have flooded terrible, so that stopped any nay-say after that. But that was a good project. Worked hard on that. I felt it was a good accomplishment.
MR. STARR: Yeah. When that merger came along, about when was that? Was that after about five years, or 10?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, it must -- I had those figures. We were like 17 years, I think we went without the merger, and then we -- over 20 years we've been in the merger. And people talk about changing representation and so forth, but everything is working so smooth I personally don't see any reason to change anything.
MR. STARR: Yeah. When that happened, what kind of process did your board go through? Was it -- I assume there was a lot of questions and a lot of --
MR. KRAMPER: A lot of questions.
MR. STARR: -- maybe controversy?
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah. Like I say, we weren't sure we were going to represent it from up here, but I forget we had something like 11 on our board and there was like 11 on their board, so we merged both boards and we had 22 or 20, I forget the exact figure. It's very hard to get anything done with that many people. Of course, we slowly put that down and now they have, I believe, just 10 or 11 on their board and that's working. It was too big a board before.
MR. STARR: Yeah. So what were the -- what do you think were the benefits that you got out of the merger or what were the -- well, first of all, what were the arguments that people made against the merger?
MR. KRAMPER: I think they thought that they wouldn't -- nobody would even see or know who they are, just no representation. That's what I think scared everybody, including myself, I had no idea. They were all mostly city people down there, what are they going to know about farms? But that turned out not to be true, they were very conscientious, good people.
MR. STARR: What were the arguments for the merger?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, we could see there could be more money available to do these projects. We were letting a lot of things go because we just had no way we could finance them and yet the conservation projects needed to be done. So we thought, “Well, maybe this is a chance to get something like that done” and that turned out to be true also.
MR. STARR: When were you -- if you recall, I don't. When were you first on the Natural Resources Commission? Was it about 1980 or --
MR. KRAMPER: Well, let's see, I think my plaque is 30 years or something.
MR. STARR: So somewhere around 1980 then?
MR. KRAMPER: I think it must be.
MR. STARR: So when you first got on the Commission, what was your initial reaction of what the responsibilities were and what your fellow commissioners were?
MR. KRAMPER: Overwhelming. It was -- they're involved with so many things that I didn't know too much about. I had so much learning and even after those 30 years, I'm still sure I didn't know all about it. They did wonderful things but it was very deep and well-thought-through things, and a lot of special people worked on projects to help us get along and find out how to do it. It was good.
MR. STARR: One of the concerns I mentioned earlier before we started recording was that a group of us a year or so ago had gotten together to talk about funding, and a number of people in that group were concerned about the relationship of the Natural Resources Commission and the Natural Resources District. They said, “Well, you know, the districts control the Commission. It's not a fair playing field for those of us that are not involved.” What's your reaction to those comments?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, I always felt that the Commission was kind of overseeing. Then, when state money came, the NRDs would ask us what they could get, how much, and so forth. And I thought it was, we're the ones that kind of doled it out on the need, and so forth, in each district and I hope that's what we got accomplished.
MR. STARR: What was your view of the relationship and your trust and so forth with the fellow Commission members that you worked with over the 30 years or however long it was?
MR. KRAMPER: I had a lot of respect for everyone who was on the board. (Indiscernible) get elected onto it by their area told me that their people -- that they had faith in their -- and I had no problems having faith in them. You could just see them interacting in how -- that they knew what they were doing going on.
MR. STARR: Yeah. How about working with the various managers, and a number of them came to the Commission looking for funds, looking for help on various things, legislation and what have you? How was that relationship over the years?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, I've got to tell you that the managers were out to get something for their districts and they just --
MR. STARR: Surprise, surprise.
MR. KRAMPER: But this was their job and there were certain ones who were more aggressive than others, but they all did -- had a good presentation and they really had a need. Our problem was, we didn't have enough money to satisfy everybody so we had to make some hard decisions which way to go. But the managers were great people, I can't think of a bad manager we ever had.
MR. STARR: One of the things that we were talking about in the process of doing this project -- and that John Miyoshi and I talked about this morning, was that a number of the managers, particularly the original managers, are either retired or about to retire and there's going to be a lot of talent that's going to be retiring before long or already has retired in a few cases. It's a difficult thing but life goes on.
MR. KRAMPER: That's right. Well, like, when I retired, I'd been on there a long time and, of course, you get that attitude, “How is it going to go without me?” Well, they can. And it's time there's -- when new, younger people should step in -- and maybe they don't have the experience, but they might have an idea that we never even thought about, and a good idea. I never had a problem with new ones -- younger ones coming in.
MR. STARR: Talking about what was happening before your area, this merged NRD, two years ago we had a monumental flood on the Missouri River and of course, the Papio/Missouri NRD has a big chunk of the Missouri River. What happened in this area from the NRD's standpoint or from the citizen's standpoint?
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah. I wasn't on the board at the time this was going on, but I know they did a lot of stuff in the area and I'm sure they did everything they could. It was a big, big project like you're talking about. It covered a big area and a lot of water. Sand was the biggest problem. But I've heard stories and stuff that they did a good job with what they could do.
MR. STARR: The landowners, farmers, et cetera -- and I think this is more true on the Iowa side than it is on the Nebraska side, really suffered some tremendous losses as a result of that from what I've seen.
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah.
MR. STARR: It's been a tremendous thing. One of the things that you did -- the shirt you've got on, Environmental Trust --
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah.
MR. STARR: Are you still on the board?
MR. KRAMPER: No, I retired from that also. Been on it since it was first started. Governor Bill -- Ben Nelson started it and I really enjoyed being on there. It kind of worked with the Commission on things we got done. It was all conservation work. It's lottery money. People are against the lottery but, by golly, I call it a free tax.
MR. STARR: Voluntary tax.
MR. KRAMPER: A voluntary tax, that's what it is. It got so many good projects going, or helped the NRDS on some of their projects (indiscernible) that we were eligible to help them with, that was good times.
MR. STARR: How did you feel you worked with your fellow board members there because that was a mix of people, state agency heads, and -- Governors appoint you basically, the various governors along the line.
MR. KRAMPER: Well, again, there they were, either appointed or elected, they came from good backgrounds. I don't -- I can't think of a member that I didn't like or anything like that. We got some that maybe talked more than others, but we (indiscernible).
MR. STARR: That's true in any group.
MR. KRAMPER: That's true. But they were just good representatives for their areas.
MR. STARR: Yeah. And you had that change where, when the governors changed, they appointed different people and -- as well as the agency heads. Some of the directors, they had friends or whatever that they appointed and that made a difference in there. When the merger -- getting back to the NRD, when the merger happened I think at that time Jim Besik (phonetic) was the manager.
MR. KRAMPER: That's right.
MR. STARR: And was there much concern on the part of the staff on that happening? Not just Jim, but whoever else you've had.
MR. KRAMPER: No, not -- there wasn't any controversy or anything. Things worked out good. Jim was new, too. He didn't know a lot of the stuff, but he learned real fast and did a good job.
MR. STARR: As far as I know, he's still working for the NRD, as far as I know.
MR. KRAMPER: Yes, there on the Papio.
MR. STARR: Have you had much contact with the current NRD manager down there?
MR. KRAMPER: Oh, yes, John -- yes.
MR. STARR: Winkler or something like that.
MR. KRAMPER: Winkler, right. In fact, the whole board was up here just last week. Once a year I talked him in to coming up here to Dakota County to have their meeting up here, and in the process we have a picnic out in my big shed out here and we have it catered and everything, and then we invite the City administrators, the boards, the county boards, the leaders of the county and so forth so they can meet the NRD board members and the board members can meet them. It's worked very good. We had a hundred people here just last week.
MR. STARR: Am I remembering right, the City manager is Lance Headquist (phonetic), is that right?
MR. KRAMPER: Right, from South Sioux City.
MR. STARR: He's still --
MR. KRAMPER: Yes, still there. One of the best in the state, they tell me, and I think he is.
MR. STARR: He's been there quite a while --
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah.
MR. STARR: -- (indiscernible). I don't know (indiscernible), but he's good.
MR. KRAMPER: Yes, he is.
MR. STARR: Is -- and I can't remember his name now, but the guy that was the -- he was kind of in the Tri-State Planning Commission head.
MR. KRAMPER: Oh, I know who you're talking about. I can see his face.
MR. STARR: Yeah, I can't remember his name, but he was really --
MR. KRAMPER: Skip Eisner (phonetic).
MR. STARR: Yeah. He was really a top guy, too, I thought.
MR. KRAMPER: Yes, he was, very knowledgeable.
MR. STARR: Yeah. I would guess he's probably retired by now.
MR. KRAMPER: I would think so. I haven't seen Skip for years now.
MR. STARR: Yeah, I know he was -- but he was a top individual, too.
MR. KRAMPER: Yes, he was.
MR. STARR: You went to a number of national conventions, state conventions.
MR. KRAMPER: Right.
MR. STARR: And particularly at the national convention, you mentioned earlier talking to people from other states and what their view was of NRDs. How would you characterize that -- those conversations?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, I felt so fortunate and so lucky to have the NRDs that when I talked to these people and the problems they were having, they were having financial problems. Very, very few districts across the United States have any money other than -- they can't -- they don't have tax money, for instance, so it was very hard for them to get good projects going and so forth. I just really felt very fortunate. One convention we went to -- and I thought that the convention -- a lot of people think they're a waste of time, but that's where I learned about rural waters was at a convention. And when we came back I said, “Can't we do something like that?” because we've got a lot of water here in Dakota County, but it's very irony water. And from there it mushroomed and we got the job done. The Papio is running it now and it's just a great, great thing for the people.
MR. STARR: Has that expanded very much or is that --
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah, it keeps expanding. We're limited because where we borrowed the money -- I think it was FHA or something, they would not allow for future expansion, you only had (indiscernible) for what you had so that puts us at a stress in adding some people at certain areas. Then we got it connected with South Sioux City so if they run out of water, we can help them, vice versa. A very good community thing.
MR. STARR: So the rural water has their own wells?
MR. KRAMPER: No, Dakota City is -- they have a well. They purify the water. They pump it to our -- the NRD's tower, which happens to be on my land out here, and from there it goes back to the city when they need it and from the tower it goes to the rural water district all over.
MR. STARR: Is that the fancy blue tower I saw?
MR. KRAMPER: Yes.
MR. STARR: Is that new? I didn't remember seeing that before.
MR. KRAMPER: Well, it's been there since the NRD --
MR. STARR: Maybe they just repainted it or something.
MR. KRAMPER: Well, they did just this last summer. And that's been working good for both the City and for us.
MR. STARR: The NRD has another rural water district -- well I think two more, I guess.
MR. KRAMPER: Uh-huh, two of them.
MR. STARR: They have one down in Fort Calhoun and then one at Pender --
MR. KRAMPER: Yes, right.
MR. STARR: -- that provides water. I think they give their water -- Fort Calhoun gets from Metropolitan Utilities District and the one down here in Thurston County, they get their water from Pender -- the City of Pender or the town of Pender.
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah.
MR. STARR: And I think that one's having -- well, it's supplying water to rural residences and, as you well know, there are getting to be fewer and fewer rural residences and that's apparently an issue for them, which is understandable. I don't know how you deal with that when you're providing it to a city or a suburban area, then it's a whole lot different thing.
MR. KRAMPER: This one up here is doing very, very well, but we have -- South Sioux City is spreading out and it's easy for the rural water to take them on so we get people adding almost monthly on it so it's been working out very good up here. I know some of them do have a problem (indiscernible).
MR. STARR: One of the things that we observed at the national conventions were, there were some people from Nebraska, not you, Vince, certainly, but there were some people from Nebraska who went to those national conventions saying, “You all ought to do NRDs, it's the greatest thing since sliced bread,” and that wasn't taken very well in some corners. And so a whole lot of us were trying to say, “We have NRDs. It's good for us. I don't know if it's good for you or not, but this is -- it's good for us.” So did you observe that as well?
MR. KRAMPER: Yes. Yeah, I did -- I do remember some of that and it's like, you're doing something good and you think the whole world should do the same thing you do. But, like you say, what works here doesn't necessarily work everywhere.
MR. STARR: That's right.
MR. KRAMPER: So, yeah, I think they did quiet it down and they finally saw the light that you don't tell people what to do in the first place. And it -- yeah, we told them our story and whatever they wanted to do -- I'm sure they quit saying, “You've got to do this.”
MR. STARR: Well, maybe. Are there any of the -- your original board members still on the Papio/Missouri NRD?
MR. KRAMPER: No, I was the last hold-out, I guess.
MR. STARR: The last hold-out.
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah.
MR. STARR: At the time that that happened, that merger, there was some people who said, “Well, should the Middle Missouri merge with the Lewis and Clark instead of the Papio?” or there were a few even that said, “Should all three of them merge?” Did that discussion come up?
MR. KRAMPER: I do remember some of that being talked about, but there was good reasons why they didn't think it would work and I guess I agreed with them because I sure was not trying to force anything like that. It just worked out so good for us. Lewis and Clark is a little different land type up there and so forth and I think it was wise to leave it like it is. And they're doing real well. I represented them on the Commission so I'd go to their meetings once in a while. And I always said that Tom Moser (phonetic), their manager, he could do more with less money than anybody I've ever seen. He got good jobs done and they didn't really have a big base of money either, but they just do fine.
MR. STARR: Yeah. They have -- Tom's been a good fit for that NRD. I think one of the arguments one time was that, well, the Middle Missouri and the Lewis and Clark, population-wise, were sort of similar, and there would not be that concern about Omaha overpowering the two NRDs. The Middle Missouri and Lewis and Clark were similar size, similar population, mostly smaller towns, whereas Omaha had half a million people, or whatever it is, that might overpower it. And fortunately -- and I've sure observed that, too, that hasn't happened.
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah.
MR. STARR: I think they've done a good job of doing that under Steve and now under the new manager, Tom.
MR. KRAMPER: Yeah. And they work across boundary lines very good, especially rural waters. Those sometimes go from one district to the other and that's all working out real good.
MR. STARR: One of the things that happened statewide -- and this probably is not a big issue in this area, but we basically divided up the districts on hydrologic boundaries or surfacewater drainage. Well, as time went on, groundwater became a much huger issue and groundwater doesn't follow the same boundaries, they overlap in a different way. That has been a real concern, but some of the districts are -- they're working it out, it's just a little more complicated.
MR. KRAMPER: It seems like it.
MR. STARR: A little more complicated. Well, Vince, any more historical facts that you'd like to pass on?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, you missed -- yeah, you missed one thing there. The state staff, the Natural Resources Commission, they are the most wonderful people, knowledgeable people. I never could have got through the Commission without their talent and their background and so forth. It just made a difference. And you happen to be one of them, Gayle.
MR. STARR: Just one of many.
MR. KRAMPER: It was great. Dale Williams (phonetic) was just great. The whole bunch was. Really helped us.
MR. STARR: What -- when Dale left 10 years ago or whatever it was, and then at about the same time I retired and then very shortly Tom retired and very shortly Jim retired. Did that make a difference?
MR. KRAMPER: Well, I don't think so.
MR. STARR: Good.
MR. KRAMPER: Everything worked just as well. Of course, where there's new people (indiscernible) say, “Do we have to train them or what?” “No, you don't have to.” They knew what was going on and they did a good job. We always say nobody did it like the older guys did, but things change and it works.
MR. STARR: That doesn't mean they did it right either.
MR. KRAMPER: That's right.
MR. STARR: Nobody's irreplaceable.
MR. KRAMPER: That's right.
MR. STARR: Anything else, Vince?
MR. KRAMPER: No. I think it's great that somebody like you guys are putting this together and putting it in history because 40 years, like you say, that's a long time. A lot of these people like myself aren't going to be around that much longer.
MR. STARR: None of us are.
MR. KRAMPER: That's right.
MR. STARR: Well, thanks very much, Vince. I really appreciate your contribution.
MR. KRAMPER: My pleasure.