Ervin Matulka

Position Held: Board Member, Oak Creek Valley Watershed; Farmer

Interviewer: Jim Barr

Associated NRDs:

Lower Platte South

Upper Big Blue


MR. BARR: It's October 30th, 2013. This is Jim Barr. I'm interviewing Ervin Matulka north of Valparaiso. And a nice wet day today, so would you kind of give us a little bit of your background and --

MR. MATULKA: Well, I grew up on the farm and the only time that I left the farm is when I went to the Navy for a couple years. Saw the world, basically, I did. I mean, traveled all over. Then I came back and got married and started into farming. And then I became involved with the Water and Soil Conservation. I don't even remember what we were called. There was conservative districts and watershed districts, and I was on the watershed board for this area, Oak Creek Watershed Board at that time. And of course, I continued to farm for many years and then farming wasn't treating me too well, so I went into construction. So, that's where we're at today. We're putting in swimming pools. That's what we're doing.

MR. BARR: Did you, in your construction, do any dam or do any conservation type work or anything like that?

MR. MATULKA: No, I don't. I do just strictly residential stuff, you know, anything for the residential. You know, I might have used my tractor here for myself, you know, but that's about it.

MR. BARR: What do you remember about the time leading to the formation of the natural resource districts?

MR. MATULKA: Oh, yeah, I remember there was a lot of people that were involved back then, and, you know, local people like myself, you know, people that were in the local district, local concerns, involved with the local people, you know. And that's what I liked about it. And I guess I kind of like, you know, there's some political atmosphere to it, too, at that time, even back then. And I kind of like that kind of thing, you know, getting involved. So, that's how it came about --

MR. BARR: What was the name of your district, do you remember? Or which -- what general area did it cover?

MR. MATULKA: I think it was the Oak Creek Valley Watershed.

MR. BARR: And it would have covered the Oak Creek Watershed.

MR. MATULKA: Yeah. Oak Creek (indiscernible).

MR. BARR: And was it all -- which counties were that --

MR. MATULKA: Would have been Saunders County and part of Butler County.

MR. BARR: Did you get involved any in the discussions of whether to form a natural resource district?

MR. MATULKA: Yes, I did. Matter of fact, I was an opponent to it. I was a lobbyist opposing the natural resource districts, because my concern was, you know, once you start creating bureaucracy, why then you start dropping people that have the -- their local interest at heart and start dropping them off the edge of the map. And then, they don't become involved anymore. I mean, they're gone.

MR. BARR: What all did you get involved in during that process?

MR. MATULKA: Oh, we had to organize meetings, you know, around, trying to get some opposition towards it, you know, and trying to retain what we had, let the powers that be. Of course, the outcome is -- you know the outcome.

MR. BARR: Were you involved in a lawsuit on this, too?

MR. MATULKA: Yes, we were.

MR. BARR: And do you want --

MR. MATULKA: And you know that.

MR. BARR: Yeah, I mean, I used to read the papers.


MR. MATULKA: Yes, we did. We did, and we had the (indiscernible) firm represented us. An of course, we weren't successful in that, too, because we were told that it's over with, period, you know, so -- and, you know, I guess the courts can deem what they want, you know, at any given time. Everybody knows that. Whether you like it or not. You know, if you don't like it, it's wrong. If you like it, it's right.

MR. BARR: What were the main issues involved? Just local control or --

MR. MATULKA: Yeah, well, it's a lack of a, you know, local control and getting control of our destiny out of our hands. And that's basically what we were after, you know. And we weren't successful.

MR. BARR: What kind of projects had the Oak Creek Watershed done up until then?

MR. MATULKA: We had some of the dams approved. You know, at the time, before the NRD took over, we had the one over here west of Valparaiso on the Ivan Nord (phonetic) farm. That was one of them. Then we had, I think, one or two up in the Brainard area that were in the making at that time that we were negotiating (indiscernible). And that's as much as I remember back then.

MR. BARR: What about -- now, the Branched Oak, is that on Oak or is that on --

MR. MATULKA: That was a bigger project that -- I think that's a federal project, isn't it?

MR. BARR: Yeah, but was that in the Oak District or was that --

MR. MATULKA: It would have been in our district, yeah.

MR. BARR: Was that -- that was built about that time? I can't remember when that --

MR. MATULKA: Yes, it was. And, you know, at that time, too, there was a lot of opposition to it, you know. And as time transpired, you know, those people were right, because they got bought out at bottom -- bargain basement price, whereas, some of their heirs and even some that are living yet today would have been pretty well off if they had that land in their control yet.

MR. BARR: That, I take it, was taken through condemnation?

MR. MATULKA: Yeah, a lot of it was.

MR. BARR: Well, when the district formed, how did that affect the people in the Oak Watershed?

MR. MATULKA: You mean, when the NRD formed?

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MR. MATULKA: Well, the first thing that transpired, which we knew was going to happen, they were going to hire a manager, even though they wasn't -- that, you know, during the process, that that wasn't going to be necessary. But that's the first thing they did. They established a bureaucracy, basically. They hired a manager, then, of course, the first few years, the manager had probably one assistant, and then you can see what's happened since then, it's just grown and it's become a big business.

MR. BARR: How do you think it's worked out over the course of time?

MR. MATULKA: Well, I think probably, you know, and I don't know what it's due to, but I think you're seeing less conservation practices, which we were pushing, like terraces, you know, and which evolved back into parallel terraces in later years, and I don't think you see any of that going on. Anyway, I don't. I can't say it's not happening, but it's not evident around here anymore.

MR. BARR: Now, parts of the country that's, at least in my area, a lot of the terraces and dams have gone out, and supposedly they've been replaced with minimum till projects or practices, which --


MR. BARR: -- keep material on the ground. What's happened in your area here?

MR. MATULKA: I think that's pretty much, you know, people don't -- they don't cultivate, they don't plow, they don't disc unless they have to. I think that's true. But, you know, the sedimentation, I think, in our lakes is proof of what's happening. It's -- they're having to clean out the lakes, you know, before they're supposed to have to, you know, the time limit. And I think it's part due to -- that's my opinion of it.

MR. BARR: Now, you know, I'm in kind of a flat area with irrigation. How is this conservation -- conservation in general regardless of the NRD, how has it evolved since you were on the board?

MR. MATULKA: Well, since we were pushing, you know, there was a lot of terracing being done back then, you know, parallel terracing. Waterways were being installed, you know, and everything. You don't see that happening anymore. If you see a waterway being established, what they're doing, they're pushing trees out so they can farm right across it. And they're planning up and down the hills, you know, they're not, I guess, due to being -- the farmers are getting bigger. They don't have the time to have short rows, you know, so everything wants to be as long as possible. And I guess you can't blame them for that either, you know. But the terraces are being flattened out by farming over the top of them. That's one of the big things that's happened.

MR. BARR: Do you have any other observations about how this has all worked out or what you thought maybe would have been a better way to have had it work out?

MR. MATULKA: Well, you know, I would have like to have seen some way that more people would have been involved in the process, because, you know, my opinion, I've been in politics for a lot of years, and I understand that once you establish somebody in a position, he's not happy in that position. He wants to become -- he wants to be a bigger position than what he was established at, so he starts getting more people around him, and then with that process, then, of course, he gets elevated. And that's the number one endeavor in life. I mean, they're never happy with what's happening. And I would think today, if you ask anybody who walked down the street, I'll bet 60 or 70 percent of the people don't even know who's on the NRD board anymore. Or they don't even know where the NRD office is. They may take a stab at it. They don't even know where it's at or what it's called.

MR. BARR: Any other general observations you'd like to offer?

MR. MATULKA: Times are good.


MR. BARR: Oh, I was going to ask you about other people that were involved in this area, particularly. Were there any other folks that --

MR. MATULKA: There were some people that were involved. I think most of them, you know, that I was -- Julius Helrick (phonetic) has passed on, and myself, and Albert Yumbart (phonetic) from Prague. You know, if he is alive -- I haven't heard, but if he is alive, why he doesn't get around very well anymore. Yeah, things are changing, you know. We're getting older.

MR. BARR: That is for true, that is for true.

MR. MATULKA: And us, us that are up and around and can get around, the good Lord has treated us very well.

MR. BARR: Exactly.

MR. MATULKA: I don't know what's going to happen in the future. You know, it's going to all depend on what, you know, who's right on the climate change, you know, whether that's cyclical or if it's a thing that's going to be continuing, you know. Water usage is going to be a big thing. Maybe in that respect, the NRDs are going to have a little bit more power to control what's going on, you know, where the watershed has been a small unit and couldn't accomplish anything in itself. So there's some good things and some bad things -- or some disappointing things and some good things that are happening. But I shouldn't say bad things, because that's a matter of judgment.

But all in all, it's been interesting what's happened, you know, to the districts. The Lower Platte South and Lower Platte North, I don't even know who's on the Lower Platte North.

MR. BARR: Well, there was a couple of names that were familiar. One guy that lives on the highway there with cattle. I think he's still on the board. Oh, gosh, I can't think of his name. Kavan (phonetic), Don Kavan I think.

MR. MATULKA: Don Kavan's still on it?

MR. BARR: I think he's still on it. That was about the only name I -- there might be Ervin Boll (phonetic). I don't remember if he's still on it.

MR. MATULKA: Ervin Boll was -- yeah, he was a player from Yutan. I don't know if he's still around or not.

MR. BARR: I think he is, but I don't know for sure. But he was a little older than I was, I remember.

MR. MATULKA: Yeah, he's into Cattlemen's big time. And well, then, there was Al Smith from --

MR. BARR: Oh, yeah, we did interview Al.

MR. MATULKA: What's he doing these days?

MR. BARR: Well, he's watching after little kids of his.

MR. MATULKA: Where's he at?

MR. BARR: He lives up there where he's been, you know, up north of David City.

MR. MATULKA: Oh, he still lives out --

MR. BARR: Yeah, out in the country, yeah.

MR. MATULKA: I thought he sold all that.

MR. BARR: No, he was out there. That's where we interviewed him.

MR. MATULKA: I haven't seen him for years.

MR. BARR: No, he'd probably enjoy visiting with somebody. He's pretty much still Al.


MR. MATULKA: I don't think he'll ever change. But he's one character that was involved early on, too, you know, especially when the natural resource districts started forming. And then he came about to being manager of (indiscernible). But when we got out of the conservancy district, I pretty much, you know, hung it up after that.

MR. BARR: Well, I appreciate talking to you. If there's anything else you'd like to offer, just go ahead, on any subject, I guess.

MR. MATULKA: You know, like I say, life's been good to most of us, you know. And can't complain about that. You hope everything else falls into place after that, you know.

MR. BARR: Well, thank you very much.