WAHOO – Don Clark’s neighbor suggested that he run for Saunders County Register of Deeds.
That was in 1978.
But, Clark wasn’t the only one to throw a hat into the election ring that year. There were eight other candidates – two democrats and six republicans – that wanted the job too.
“I wasn’t from around here. I went door to door personally myself,” he said about that first campaign. “I got off work, I put my suit on and I walked door to door until dark.”
He won the job and has been elected many times since. He is now ready to retire as the longest serving elected official in Saunders County.
“I don’t know where the 40 years went. I really don’t,” Clark said.
Clark first came to the county in 1966. Kennedy College Coach Bob Cerv and a baseball scholarship brought him to Wahoo. In addition to athletics, he studied sociology and psychology and graduated from John F. Kennedy College in 1970.
His first job was working for the Work Release Program for the State of Nebraska.
Next, he went to work for Boys Town as a teacher and group leader. But then a change in philosophy at Boys Town required the group leaders to move to campus.
By this time, Clark had met and married his wife, Cheryl. That was not a move they wanted to make.
So, he got started with Wahoo economics and Wahoo Built. Clark said the company built many buildings and homes in Wahoo. He met many people in the community through his work with Wahoo Built.
He worked with Nick Johnson, one of the original partners of JEO Consulting Group. Johnson was also a neighbor. He was the one who suggested that Clark should run for Register of Deeds.
“So, I checked it out and then I filed,” Clark said.
Once elected, he said he was lucky to have Vera Swanson to show him the ropes in the office.
“She really took me under her wing,” he recalled.
When Swanson retired, Clark hired her daughter, Roma Smith.
Another mother-combination has also worked for Clark. When Smith left the office, Clark thought back to someone he met during his time with Wahoo Built. He hired Linda Semrad. Semrad’s replacement was her daughter, Rhonda Andresen. Andresen is the deputy Register of Deeds and won the election in May for the soon to be combined County Assessor/Register of Deeds.
Clark admitted he still is not fully supportive of the county voters’ decision to combine the offices. But, he said he is supportive of the people that work in the offices and knows he is leaving the records of the county in good hands.
For Clark, maintaining the deeds of land in Saunders County has been a source of pride.
“Since 1859, we have every record ever filed,” he said.
Keeping those records has changed over the years. When he first took office, everything was done by hand. There are multiple locations where the county’s records are stored.
In recent years, computers have aided Clark’s work and now records are accessible online as well.
The volume of work has also changed. He said the pace and number of deeds filed on a weekly basis has definitely increased over the years.
What hasn’t changed over the years is Clark’s commitment to serving the people and being involved in community.
“I think it is important to go beyond the service of your office,” he said.
Clark said he has told that to other elected and appointed officials as well. He has also often shared a piece of advice given to him by Swanson when he first started.
“Smile at people and treat them nice. You are a public official,” he said.
Clark and his wife have made it a point to get to know people from across the county. Whether it has been going to a community event, stopping in at a coffee shop or just buying a stamp at the town’s post office, he said these connections have always been important to him and he is appreciative of the support he has received from the community.
Trying to help county government run efficiently has also been important to Clark. He offered the example of the MIPS program, software written by himself and county resident Frank Koranda.
“We still use it today and other people have copied it,” he added.
The program saved the county money, is now used by 57 other counties and won an award for Saunders County.
Clark has gathered many awards and recognitions during his 40 years in office. He has also served on many committees and boards, both for the county and statewide.
He said sometimes the red tape and politics of government can get frustrating, but overall his four decades of public service have gone fast and been enjoyable.
He has especially enjoyed working with his fellow county employees.
“I have always had good relationships with employees. We have some of the best people I deal with anywhere,” he said.
But now, he is ready for retirement. He is looking forward to spending more time with his two grandkids and there will be some short trips to take with his wife.
“It’s hard on a family when you have to run for your job every four years,” he said. “I owe so much to my family.”
He said he is planning just to spend more time with family. And golf, retirement will mean more time for golf as well.
This is his last full week in office. A retirement party is being planned for Clark later in January.