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This past week my uncle, Eddie Kuehn, passed away following a 15 month battle with a brain tumor. Like many rural Nebraskans, I grew up as part of a large extended family that worked, socialized, and worshipped to together. My father and his three brothers lived and raised their families within two miles of each other their entire lives. My cousins and I all received plenty of instruction growing up. Among the many lessons, I fondly remember Uncle Eddie sitting on the fender of a 4020 John Deere, while I, a young boy, repeatedly practiced backing a hog feed grinder/mixer out of the shed. To this day it is a running joke in my family about how many things I have backed into. It turns out Uncle Eddie was terrible at backing, and he passed his “skills” on to me.
Over the course of the past week I have been reminded of the very unique way a rural community comes together when it loses one of its own. Eddie did not know a stranger. As people, many I don’t even know, have reached out to express their condolences, most share a memory or characteristic about him. Eddie was the epitome of the rural Nebraska farmer. Farming was his life, not his job. He and Aunt Sandy served our community in countless ways doing the tasks most people don’t even realize need to be done.
Reflecting upon my Uncle Eddie’s life and the power of family and community that I have observed this week has strengthened my resolve to advocate for rural Nebraska. It is easy to only focus on the policy challenges ahead. However, it is valuable every now and again to remind ourselves of the strengths of our rural communities and the community ethic that created them. My priority for addressing issues in the Legislature should reflect the priority of the communities I represent.
Agriculture is the foundation of my community. Through boom and bust, agriculture primarily funds local education, conservation, and vocational training. Sales of ag products are the largest part of our state economy, and growth of the ag biotechnology sector will be our largest growth into the future. Nevertheless, continued stigmatization of advanced technology used in production of crops and animal health jeopardizes future growth in agriculture. Tax policy is stifling the ability of farmers to make a living and pass their family farm to the next generation. Eddie saw the transition from farming with horses and picking corn by hand to GMO crops and use of GPS within his lifetime. We must ensure the next generation has equal opportunity for success in agriculture.
Health care is also vital to our rural communities. From delivering babies and primary care to young families through critical care and hospice for seniors, access to care providers is essential. Home health, telemedicine, and utilization of nurse-practioners and physician’s assistants have enabled high quality care throughout our rural areas. Too often access to health care is reduced to a discussion about entitlements. Training, recruitment, and retention of health care providers of all levels is essential. While my uncle received cutting edge treatment at UNMC, the local hospital and providers in Minden and other local hospitals were invaluable throughout the course of his illness.
The inherent strength of our communities lies in our sense of responsibility to each other. Whether someone was stuck, having equipment trouble, or cattle were out, Uncle Eddie dropped everything to help, even strangers. That help usually came with an in-depth, embellished story. The most outspoken member of our family about his political views, Eddie frequently shared his opinions with me, first as my uncle, later as my constituent. It remained his firm conviction that solutions were to be found in communities, not governments. Many in Nebraska have no idea where Heartwell is. For Eddie it was home, and he lived every day of his life trying to make it better. In your memory and honor Eddie, so will I.