By BART SCHANEMAN
Scottsbluff Star Herald
GORDON, Neb. (AP) - To take a ride around this small Nebraska town with Fred Hlava is to see the place through the eyes of a man who is proud of where he comes from.
He’ll take you to the edge of town, where Highway 20 cuts through the southern side, and show off the community welcome sign. At the end of March it’s painted with a bunny and an egg and reads “Gordon wishes you a happy Easter!” The sign can be changed out with a simple flip of a latch and replaced dependent on season or coming holiday.
“I oughta patent it,” Hlava said.
Born and raised here, Hlava is the state’s longest-serving city manager. He’s been on this job for nearly 30 years and he’s about to retire, pending finding a suitable replacement.
He’ll point out the four parks, something he considers special in a town with a population of 1,612. He will also speak highly of the annual Willow Tree Festival, held each year on the second weekend of September. The festival is a two-day, outdoor party in one of those four parks.
Hlava said the people here are a little different compared to what you might see in other places in Nebraska.
“We probably have more community fundraisers than any town you’ll ever see,” he said.
To the north of town is farmland and to the south ranchland. He sees the place as a mini-regional hub.
“When you look at Gordon, you have to visualize there’s nothing north until Rapid City,” he said. “If you look south, there’s nothing until Ogallala.”
The trees along downtown are another thing Hlava’s proud of, part of a downtown improvement project from 25 years ago.
“It just gives the downtown some vibrancy,” he said. “Some communities have got it, some don’t.”
Aside from the trees, the city put in new sidewalks and water mains. Hlava even designed the sidewalk squares.
Prior to the city manager position, Hlava served on the city council for seven years. He also chaired the Environmental Quality Council for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for 15 years and served on it for 20.
The town is in the middle of a $2 million airport improvement project. Flight For Life can come in from Rapid City, S.D. and the community just raised $120,000 to install an Automated Weather Observatory System.
“The greatest asset the city has are our employees,” he said. “We have a wonderful group of well-trained, committed and dedicated employees that 24/7, 365 days a year are committed to providing the citizens of Gordon and the surrounding area with quality police and utility service.”
During his tenure, he’s seen the town march steadily ahead.
“Gordon throughout the years has been a progressive community,” Hlava said.
He said the area has been blessed with astute business people who have pushed forward economic development.
The water distribution project that he worked on from 1995 to 2004 goes on his list of highlights. The project included installing five new wells and updating the water tank from 125,000 gallons to 700,000 gallons. The new system was designed so that the water could be treated in one location.
In an agriculture and cattle community, having facilities for livestock production is a priority.
The Open Range beef packing plant, which opened at the end of 2013, needs plenty of water to operate.
“It’s an important part of our community,” Hlava said. “Water is the glue that holds it all together.”
Another major accomplishment in Hlava’s career was the development of the Solid Waste Agency of Northwestern Nebraska (SWANN), created in 1990. At the time, a federal mandate closed small landfills and towns were forced to regionalize their dumps.
Hlava helped to develop a site 15 miles north of Chadron where trash is baled and covered. He said people from all over the world have visited to tour the landfill.
Now the area doesn’t have a problem with roadside dumping, he said.
“You have to develop a utility that people can use,” he said.
He also put together a system for rural trash collection, where for a minimal fee people out in the country can bring their trash to town and then the city hauls it to Chadron.
“It’s been very successful,” he said.
Hlava’s underlying philosophy is to do what seems reasonable.
“The greatest part of being in this part of the country is that our forefathers lived on common sense,” he said.
He wanted to thank all of the people he’s worked with over the years.
“All of the important projects that have been successfully accomplished over the past 30 years have been through the collaboration of working with employees and community members,” Hlava said.
Hlava’s married, with three children. He likes to travel and said he plans on doing more of that when he retires.