Commissioner Sherry Blaha retires after 36 years of service
GERING — Although Sherry Blaha has spent the last 36 years working in local government, she also has a long heritage in the newspaper industry.
She’s part of the Wisner family that, more than a century ago, founded the Star-Herald along with A.B. Wood of the Gering Courier.
Her father, Maurice Van Kirk, was editor of the Star-Herald from 1959 to 1969. Before then, he was an editor/owner of the Chadron Record.
Blaha’s entry into political office was a four-year term on the Gering City Council. She was succeeded by her husband Dick, who served as a council member for the next 20 years while he was also a deputy with the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office.
After her term on the Gering City Council, Sherry went to work for about a year with the Star-Herald classified advertising department.
“I was typing in the ad for an Emergency Management position for the county,” she said. “I thought the position looked interesting so I applied for the job.”
For the next 24 years, she served as Emergency Management director for Scotts Bluff County, and later Banner County.
The position included planning and coordinating disaster exercises, managing millions of dollars in federal Homeland Security grants and responding to several actual disasters.
Some of those emergencies included tornadoes in Minatare in 1991 and northwest of Scottsbluff in 1993. The sugar factory explosion in 1996 and a 2000 train derailment and chemical spill in Scottsbluff also occurred during her tenure. Floods, hailstorms and snowstorms were on the list as well.
After retiring from her appointed position, Blaha worked for a year in the office at the County Detention Center. While she enjoyed the work, she was still thinking about getting back into public service.
So eight years ago, she decided to run for Scotts Bluff County Commissioner in District III, which includes much of Gering.
“I wasn’t thrilled I had to run against Doug Leafgreen because he’s a friend of mine,” Blaha said. “But there was one open window and I had to take advantage of it.”
One of the county board highlights she remembered is the finalization of an interlocal agreement to combine 911 emergency services for all communities in the county and upgrade equipment capabilities.
Her background in emergency management also came into play. Two different governors twice appointed her to the State Emergency Response Commission as a commissioner representative.
Other groups where she served as a member included the Housing Authority, Tourism Board, Region I Regional Governing Board and the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
For the past four years, Blaha has also been the chairman of the Aging Office of Western Nebraska.
Many of those boards have commissioner representation from several surrounding counties. Blaha said she got to know many of them from across the Panhandle as they shared respect, friendship and a special camaraderie.
“It’s been a privilege to serve the past eight years representing the citizens and taxpayers of the county,” she said. “I’ve always taken great pride in being a commissioner and have always done my homework before each meeting so that I could be prepared.”
Blaha thanked her fellow commissioners during her final meeting on Dec. 17, saying it was an honor to serve with them.
“The times are not easy right now as our country experiences distress and challenges,” she told the board. “Local government will receive the brunt of bad decisions that are made at the federal level. I pray God’s wisdom will grant us leaders who truly care about the costs of government and the safety of all citizens in our great country.”
For the immediate future, Blaha plans to stay around the house this winter and get a number of projects completed. Once the weather improves, she and her husband Dick plan to do some traveling and visit family. They now have three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
More involvement in public service isn’t out of the question either.
“I know I’m going to miss it,” she said. “There are a couple of things I have my eye on, but right now, I just want to enjoy life.”