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Rick Vest is facing incumbent Todd Wiltgen for the District 5 seat on the Lancaster County Board of Commissioner.

Growing up

"I grew up, mostly in Greenwood, where there were 410 people. I remember the sign saying 410. My father drove to Lincoln and worked at American Stores, a meat-packing plant.

"I have two younger brothers and a younger sister. And my mom was a stay-at-home mom.

"Greenwood was almost like Mayberry RFD without Andy Griffith. It was just this close-knit family community. We could go anywhere in town, and do what we wanted to do. If we had been up to any shenanigans, my parents heard about it before we got home. And my dad would be standing in the driveway.”

Vest graduated from Ashland-Greenwood High School in 1972, where he played football, basketball, ran track and played baseball in the summer.

"I moved to Ashland and raised my five children there. I am delighted to say they are all fully employed and productive and responsible citizens and very enjoyable to be around.

Vest and his wife have 19 grandchildren. “Birthdays come up really fast. I can’t believe Toys 'R' Us went out of business. We used to pull (shopping) carts, strung together like wagon trains, through the store.

“My family is a source of great joy.”

Interest in politics

"As a young person, I had to make a decision. It was 1972. I struggled which way to go. I decided I was more Democrat than Republican. Today it is clear I do identify with the tenants of the Democratic Party. We need to have a system that takes care of our citizens. Not a system that enables them to be irresponsible, but a system that attempts to help them when they are being responsible.

“I have a strong labor and union background. I do identify with working people. I am a blue-collar individual who got a college degree.”

Vest has volunteered on several local campaigns but decided to run for Legislature in 2016.

“When I retired in 2015, after 40 years service with the BNSF, I started watching the Legislature. In 2015, there were a lot of big topics being discussed and debated and I thought debated well. I loved the exchange of ideas. I had helped get Ken Haar elected (to the Legislature) and I thought, maybe I can do it myself.”

Vest said he was naive and didn’t understand that both parties had already picked a candidate for that race. “I showed up as a newcomer.” He lost in the primary.

He decided, after being asked to run and researching the local issues, to run for the county board.

Today, he has many friends who are conservative Republicans, and some of them support his candidacy, he said.

“I’ll be honest. I think extremists are the biggest problem we face, because they prevent us from developing a healthy relationship and the ability to resolve problems.”

On college and his interest in mediation

"Twenty years ago I took mediation training through the state of Nebraska. I value the process so much that I still do it. I can tell you a lot of energy (in a conflict) gets put into the dispute and not much energy put in on things they (the two sides) actually agree on.

"In 1998, I had just graduated from Doane College in Lincoln, as a non-traditional student. I joke that I graduated from high school in 1972, went off to college in the fall and graduated in 1998.

"BNSF had a tuition-refund program. They paid my way through Doane College. I worked in the shops during the day and went to classes at night.

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"I value challenges and growth.”

On partisan politics

"Many county issues are going to require non-partisanship and problem-solving. I am used to making difficult decisions. When I was a claims representative (with BNSF), I would sit across the table and negotiate the value of claims with people I worked with. It did not become acrimoniousness or bitter. We could walk away and still be friends."

Life-changing events

"The birth of my oldest child, my first daughter (when he was 20). I was holding that precious little girl and I thought, ‘You've got to straighten up. You have a daughter to take care of.'"

Graduating from college as an older adult "helped awaken me to the possibility that I could do more things." 

"In October of 1980, I had a low-key religious experience. The common terminology would be that I was born again. I just felt a need for something more in my life. I prayed and asked Christ into my heart. There were no fireworks, no lights. I didn't feel any different. But within a very short time, I started noticing some difference in what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live.

"That process has been going on since. I have received a tremendous gift of love, forgiveness and mercy. It is my responsibility to share that gift with others. Every person I meet I consider of great worth, of great value."

On issues

"One of the important things to know about me is that I am very pragmatic. I think, when talking about using government money, we need to ask is that something our community wants and needs? Is it going to use tax dollars wisely? It doesn't matter whose idea it is, is that a workable idea?"

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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