This is a reproduction of my first column for the Kearney Hub as a “Soils and Streams” contributor since the untimely passing last October of my predecessor, Tim Anderson. For years, Tim contributed to the Hub, so it seems fitting that I use this space to share some memories and observations about working with him for more than 27 years.
Tim and I joined The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in Holdrege at about the same time in August 1990. I actually arrived a couple of weeks earlier than Tim because he was just transitioning from his position as executive director of the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and had a few “irons in the fire” that he wanted to take care of before leaving the Chamber.
Central was then in the midst of seeking a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate its hydroelectric facilities associated with Kingsley Dam. Don Long, the assistant to the general manager at the time who was responsible for public as well as governmental relations for the District, was nearing retirement and Central’s management decided that with the relicensing process underway and a growing need to expand the District’s outreach to the public and the media, it would be best to hire two people for a new public relations department.
Tim was 12 years older than I and much more experienced in working with state senators and other governmental officials, so it was predetermined he would assume the role as Central’s lobbyist and spokesman to the public and the media. I would support various public relations activities, including the District’s newsletter, news releases, brochures, and eventually our plunge into the “World Wide Web” with the launch of our first web site.
Over the many ensuing years, Tim and I worked together on many projects and traveled many miles together on tours of the project and other Central-related PR business.
One of my favorite memories was one of our first projects: the search for a time capsule that had been buried inside of Kingsley Dam for opening on the dam’s 100th anniversary. In 1991, as part of the dam’s 50th anniversary, Tim thought it would be great to retrieve the time capsule and place it in a more accessible place for opening in 2041. There was just one problem: no one knew where the capsule was located.
A search of Central’s archives turned up no record of its location and an older employee’s vague memory of a plaque describing the capsule’s resting place being sent to the State Capitol for safe-keeping turned out to be a dead end — no one at the Capitol had ever seen or heard of such a plaque.
Undeterred, we pored through old photographs of the dam’s construction, including photos taken during the dedication ceremonies in July 1941. We found one depicting two young girls – daughters of Central engineers – poised to cut a cable and send the time capsule through a casing deep into the earthen dam. Thanks to this photographic evidence, we were able to determine the approximate location of the shaft near the south end of the dam.
Tim enlisted the assistance of Rodger Knaggs, then Central’s Kingsley Dam superintendent and an experienced “beach-comber,” to use his metal detector to locate the top of the casing. In a few days, Rodger called to say he’d gotten some promising “pings.” Coincidentally, the highway across the dam was being resurfaced; once the concrete and asphalt were removed, it would be easier to find the opening to the shaft.
Tim came into my office and said, “Grab your camera! Rodger thinks he found the capsule!”
We jumped into his car and raced to Kingsley Dam, arriving just in time to watch the retrieval efforts involving use of a hook at the end of a long cable. However, it soon became apparent that the casing had bowed enough over the past 50 years that removal of the capsule would be impossible.
Tim was clearly disappointed, but said, “Let’s mark the spot and try not to lose it again!” Maybe, he continued, in another 50 years some new approach or machinery would make it possible to remove the capsule in time for the dam’s 100th anniversary. Always the optimist.
On the subject of his columns for the Hub, they were always interesting. He would give his handwritten article to me to “clean up,” since my college education was in journalism, but whereas I performed the editing function – grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like –the topics and content of the columns were always his.
Over the years, he wrote about many things. Most were uncontroversial, but he wasn’t averse to occasionally writing about issues that were important to him, even when he knew he might ruffle some feathers. His topics were typically related to irrigation, natural resources, the importance of public power, the Nebraska Legislature, politics, drought, water law, interstate water issues, and the need for “more young people with fresh ideas to carry on the work” in water resources management.
He even wrote about “global warming,” (or “climate change,” as it’s now called) and what it might mean for the future of Nebraska’s agriculture. And as part of a column about Legislative leadership, he expressed disappointment that term limits would lead to Sen. Ernie Chambers’ departure from the Legislature at the end of 2008, taking with him his sharp wit and ability to halt the passage of “badly written and poorly conceived bills.”
In the end, what I’ll remember most about Tim were his people skills. Tim knew people. I don’t mean he just knew their names and titles; he knew about people. He could relate stories about prominent politicians, businessmen and community leaders, but not in a name-dropping way. He knew their personalities and how to best interact with them. He was the consummate “people person.”
At the same time, he rarely talked about himself or his accomplishments. He’d share a tidbit or two, usually while talking about someone else as part of the story, but “I” was a rarely used pronoun. He had a way of turning the conversation, almost imperceptively, back to being about the person with whom he was speaking.
While I’m continuing Tim’s role as a Hub columnist, there’s no way to replace him. At his funeral, one of the songs Tim chose for the service was “I Did It My Way,” by Frank Sinatra. Yes, Tim, you certainly did.