A cowboy in blue jeans and a hat, Bob Jessen intended to spend his years farming along side his dad in Knox County. Instead, the 20-year-old traded his rope for an M-60.
But the1966 Bloomfield graduate never made it home from Vietnam and was killed near the village of Ha Tay Republic of South Vietnam on October 24, 1967.
Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of Bob’s death, and his family and community have made sure his sacrifice is remembered.
“It’s emotional,” admitted Gary Jessen, who was two years younger than his brother. “But we aren’t forgetting about him.”
Five decades after a fatal search and destroy operation, Bob Jessen remains a fixture in the Bloomfield community. After all, Freedom Hall bears his name — right beside another local hero, David Meirose, who was also killed in Vietnam.
Proud To Serve
The son of Herbert and Violet Jessen, Bob was drafted into the U.S. Army right out of high school and was shipped to Vietnam six months later. Gary said his brother was proud to serve his country.
With Bob, Gary, Les and Euince, the four siblings were close. But none closer than Bob and Gary, and it was hard for Gary not to have his big brother at his side. Where you would see one, the other was likely near by. They worked hard, played hard and even double-dated. They were always together, especially if horses were involved.
Bob was a member of the Bloomfield FFA and local saddle club. The Jessen boys didn’t play football or basketball because “my dad always said, ‘If you need exercise, get your (expletive) home and I’ll give you all you need,’ ” Gary said with a chuckle.
But they did rope and ride horses often for enjoyment. Sometimes they met friends for a horse ride or roped calves. Bob was given a two-week leave to see his family before deploying to Vietnam. Gary and Bob spent much of the time on their horses.
“We were doing what we always did — roping calves and riding horses. That’s what we enjoyed,” Gary remembered.
Three days before Bob gave the ultimate sacrifice, he penned a final letter to his family. He wrote of the previous day when his platoon ran into a wall of Viet Cong and had to be airlifted out. His M-60 broke down during a fire fight, but he made it out.
“I was damn luck to have some good men around, so I could get it working again. One good thing about being here by the DMZ, the Charlies shoot at you from about 300 to 400 meters out. At that range, he can’t hit too much with his weapons,” the letter reads.
With more emphasis on his Army brothers than himself, it reads as almost an after thought telling of a recent promotion to specialist fourth class in the 7th Division 1st Cavalry.
The last lines of the letter were the most important, though. “Love, Bob.”
Another letter followed, but this one came from George D. Lenhart, CTP, Infantry Commanding. It was the letter every parent of a soldier fears. Dated Nov. 4, it informed the Jessen family of Bob’s death.
“On the night of Oct 24th, Robert and his platoon were members of a search and destroy operation near the village of Ha Tay Republic of South Vietnam when he was mortally wounded by enemy small arms fire. It may afford you some comfort to know that death came quickly, and he was not subject to any unnecessary suffering,” Lenhart wrote.
The letter went on to tell the family of Bob’s work ethic and dedication that made him an exemplary soldier and one of honor. He was respected.
“Robert’s enthusiasm and devotion to duty, no matter how difficult the mission was, identified him as an outstanding solider,” the letter stated. “As a machine gunner, he commanded the respect of his superiors as well as his subordinates. He displayed the finest example of soldierly bearing, discipline and conduct. I am proud to have served with him and proud he was a member of this unit.”
50 Years Later
During the first part of September — with the 50th anniversary of Bob’s death nearing — the local American Legion Riders, along with Legion and Auxiliary members gathered in Bob’s honor. Also there was Lee Freeman, who personally escorted Bob home after his death.
Friends and family barbecued and shared memories about Bob. Fifty years later, the memories remain as strong as ever. But it’s not just those who knew him who continue to honor Bob. Westlake High School in Texas created a video in memory of him as part of a class project.
The teacher randomly selected Vietnam soldiers to honor, and Bob was chosen. After much prodding and watching other tributes, the family eventually consented and allowed the video to be produced.
The video remains close to the family’s heart, especially Gary. The brothers were side by side for two decades, and five decades after Bob’s death, Gary still gets choked up talking about their bond.
But one thing he doesn’t waver about is the pride he feels for his brother.
“I’m proud my brother served,” Gary said. “Sure, it makes you sad, but it makes me proud, too.”
Bloomfield is nearly one-third of the way to having a new school — all without having to pass a bond issue.
The district opened its doors last Wednesday afternoon to the public to show stakeholders firsthand how they are working to drastically improve the learning environment without having to build a new school.
Over the summer the district remodeled the third floor of the 1925 building, finished an HVAC project and fixed the roofs. And there are plans to finish the rest next year, making the school new from the inside out, which will be less than 25 percent of what a new school would cost the taxpayers.
And that, Superintendent Shane Alexander said, is the key: Efficient spending to improve education.
“Our board decided it wanted to make the biggest impact that it could the first year, which was the third floor. It’s sciences,English, SPED, library. Those have the biggest impacts on our learning, so we started there,” Alexander said.
The project’s bid was $781,000. How was the remodel possible? Longterm planning and strategic decisions, according to Alexander.
The Board of Education had been putting five or six cents into the building fund annually, with the funds earmarked for this project. Between that — and having an additional $600,000 thanks to having the roofs hailed out — the district was able to complete the project in one summer, along with fix the roofs and add a chiller to finish the HVAC system that had been started several years ago.
“We don’t spend money frivolously,” he said. “We buy trucks and vans and run them to the ground before we get new ones. We fix our buses and don’t buy big fancy buses. We pinch pennies some places, so we can do things like this.”
Bloomfield’s levy is now just 63 cents. Alexander said the low levy makes it possible to include 14 cents in its building fund to ensure next year’s project can move forward.
The third-floor facelift is already boosting academics, according to science teachers Robbin Beckman and Richard Kaiser. Bloomfield now has a state-of-the-art science department with lab stations directly hooked up to gas and water.
“The update has improved efficiency,” Kaiser said. “The kids can take notes and then go right to their experiment. They don’t lose focus and can shift right to that next step.”
Beckman said she often has ﬁ ve labs going on at the same time, but she’s never had the room before to store projects. Now, she said, students can stop midway through the project and continue the next day, which saves valuable learning time.
“The efficiency is tenfold,” she said. “They can pick right up where they left oﬀ that previous day. We couldn’t do that before because we had one drawer for everybody. Now we have enough storage for all of our labs going on.”
The remodel also increased the size of an English classroom and created a modern library with an open concept, which increases safety with the librarian now able to see all occupants at all times.
While Alexander is excited to have the third floor finished, he said the district isn’t resting on its laurels and has plans to renovate the first and second floors next summer.
“The second and first floors will have about the same square footage, so I’m hoping the costs will be about the same. There will be other costs, such as asbestos, but hopefully it will be close,” he said.
If the cost is too high, the district will simply wait another year. But it will happen soon, he promised. Bloomﬁ eld is a growing district with all but one class now with 20-plus students, so Alexander said the district must stay competitive academically.
And Bloomfield isn’t stop-ping there. Once the learning environment is improved, the board hopes to update its practice facility, which resembles more of a dungeon than a gymnasium.
“The board’s vision is to have a difference practice gym. We need ADA compliant locker rooms to host tournaments, so that’s part of the next phase,” he said. “Our priorities are the learning environment, then activities.”
Bloomfield High School kicked off their homecoming week with the coronation to announce this years homecoming king and queen. The event was held at the high school auditorium where student participated in games, music and the annual auction with Kelly Bruns as the auctioneer.
Coach Walling, Cripe and Wilken were presented with the monster-sized posters with their respective teams. Coach Walling was the coach for the '92 Class C-2 Football State Champions, Coach Cripe for the '78 Class C Volleyball Champions and Coach Wilken for the '80 Class C Track Champions.
Following the presentation, the auction was held with games between sales. Items were donated by the local community in hopes for raising funds for the Bee Boosters Club. Sales on the night were over $1,300.
The cheerleaders put on a show while the band played to prepare the court for their entrance. Once ready, the court was introduced as they proceeded to the stage for the results. Homecoming King and Queen were nominated by the student with the honors going to Michael Castaneda and Hannah Schmeckpeper Pena. Congratulations as it will deserved!
After 93 years of ownership by the same family, the Bloomfield Monitor is now under new leadership.
Longtime publishers Joseph and Mary Skrivan plan to retire after selling the newspaper to Pitzer Digital, LLC, and owned by Carrie and Wade Pitzer. Carrie Pitzer will become just the fifth publisher in the history of the publication.
Joe Skrivan purchased the paper from his father, Bill, in 1981. Bill Skrivan purchased the Monitor from his brother-in-law Pete Stepp in 1944. Stepp became publisher in 1924, having bought the paper from founders Walt and Whitt Neeman, who published the first newspaper on Dec. 12, 1890.
“We’ve spent the last several months working with and getting to know Joe, Mary and the Bloomfield community,” Pitzer said. “It’s very important to us to carry on their strong tradition and legacy. The more I get to know Joe, the more I find he and I are very similar in our journalistic integrity and values. I hope to make them very proud.”
Many readers already will be familiar with the Pitzers, who have ran the online-based Knox County News website since 2014. They also own the Antelope County News and Living Here Magazine. Carrie Pitzer has spent 20 years in Northeast Nebraska media, having spent the first 15 years of her career at the Norfolk Daily News, beginning in sports, then news and finally in online news and advertising.
Under new ownership, there will be noticeable changes with the Bloomfield Monitor from content to design. Pitzer said she has spoken at length with the Skrivans about the changes, and they have been nothing but supportive.
Among the most visible changes will be the updated design, color photos and emphasis on technology and social media. Pitzer said these are also the changes that the Skrivans are the most excited about seeing with the publication.
“We have a different philosophy than most newspapers simply because we don’t believe we are one. We’re a news source - not a newspaper,” Pitzer said. “We utilize old fashioned journalism but present it in a high-tech manner. The Bloomfield Monitor will be online and implement social media — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We want everyone to know the great things going on in Bloomfield and Knox County.”
Pitzer Digital has already hired Cory Loomis, a 1988 Bloomfield graduate, as a reporter and photographer. Loomis’ photography ability is well known in the community and is a great asset to the publication, Pitzer said. He also has strong connections with the community.
The company plans to hire another reporter and photographer in the coming weeks. Pitzer said Jessie Loomis also has joined the company as an advertising representative and will work with all of the company’s publications.
While the Bloomfield Monitor is officially now the Knox County News/Bloomfield Monitor, Pitzer said subscribers should not be concerned about the name change. In fact, Pitzer said the first edition should rest all fears as it will be full of Bloomfield news.
“If this wasn’t a good move for the Bloomfield Monitor, there’s no way Joe and Mary would have sold it to us,” Pitzer said. “Times and technology have changed, and they understand that in order for a small town newspaper to thrive, it has to expand. They support this expansion, and I truly believe our Bloomfield readers will be happy with our plan to increase coverage in Bloomfield and still add in Knox County news. This really is a win-win for the Bloomfield Monitor.”
The Knox County News/Bloomfield Monitor will still be located at 110 N. Broadway in Bloomfield. Staff can be reached by calling 402-373-2332 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Bloomfield FFA Chapter recently received a $1,000 donation from the Brandon Gerdes Memorial Trap Shoot. Corey Gerdes presented the check to the chapter officers. Corey and Lisa are the parents of Brandon Gerdes, who was killed in a semi-truck accident in December 2016. Corey is also the Farm Manager at Bloom N Egg Farm.
The trap shoot was held at the Northeast Nebraska Shooters Association Club located north of Pierce. Family and friends of Brandon gathered to compete and raise funds for organizations that were important to him. Brandon was a member of the Pierce FFA Chapter and always cherished his memories and knowledge he gained from FFA.
The donation is greatly appreciated by the Bloomfield FFA Chapter. Other organizations receiving donations from the event include the FFA Chapters of Pierce, Osmond, Plainview, and Verdigre along with Pierce FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and the Northeast Nebraska Shooters Association.
Next year’s trap shoot is scheduled for June 24 so please mark your calendars.
Front Row- Corey Gerdes, President: Reece McFarland, Secretary: Michaela Johnson, Reporter: Addison Barger
Back Row- Sentinel: Jackson Eisenhauer, Vice President: Travis Doerr, Treasurer: Mitchell Mackeprang, and Parliamentarian: Brooklyn Eisenhauer
Students, parents and teachers gathered for the annual See You At The Pole (SYATP) event that took place at 7:00 Wednesday morning. The event is held annually during the fourth Wednesday of September at 7 a.m. which is organized and led by the students.
While the students prayed at the flagpole, parent and faculty conducted their own prayer gathering in the parking lot of the St. Andrew's Catholic Church led by Pastor Bobby from First Trinity Lutheran Church.
SYATP is a global movement organized and led by students to promote prayer that originated over 25 years ago. For more information about SYATP, visit their website at www.syatp.com
A Nebraska Firearm Hunter Safety Class was held Sept. 23 at the Bloomfield fire and ambulance hall and along with target shooting at the airport.
Turnout for this year's class was twenty-two students which was considerably higher than the previous year. Having close to 50 years combined experience teaching this class, volunteer instructors Joe Kauth, Steve Barney and Ken Gill are providing yet another year of successful training. The participants must spend ten hours of class time and pass a written exam in order to become certified. The certification is a lifetime certification and is good in any state in the United States. The class is sponsored by the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission at no charge.
The students spent Saturday morning in the classroom where they learned about game laws, safe gun handling, hunter ethics, game processing and more. At noon they were treated to pizza and pop provided by the Bazile Creek Pheasants Forever Chapter. At 2:00 they were taken out to the airport for target shooting with a 22 rifle and a 20 gauge shotgun. Assisting at the airport were Kevin Millikan, Neil Guenther, Rose Keith, Janet Gill and Glenda Byerly.
While at the airport, Nebraska Conservation Officer Jeff Jones came and visited with the students about his job and some of the laws. He also assisted with the target shooting.
Some of the students will be chosen to participate in a Youth Mentor Hunt on October 14 which will be sponsored by the Bazile Creek Pheasants Forever Chapter.
Students must be a minimum of 11 years old in order to take the class and is held once a year in Bloomfield. You may check the Nebraska Game and Parks website for other firearm and bow hunter safety classes.
The Landlord/Tenant Cash Lease workshop will be offered on July 26, 2017 at the Bloomfield Community Center in Bloomfield, NE from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 pm. The workshop is designed to help landlords and tenants put together a lease that is right for both parties involved and help maintain positive farm leasing relationships.
Topics for discussion at the leasing workshop include: latest information about land values and cash rental rates for the area and state; lease communication, determining appropriate information sharing for both the tenant and landlord; lease terminations, including terminating handshake or verbal leases; legal issues related to land ownership; and flexible lease arrangements.
This free workshop is sponsored by the Northcentral Risk Management Education Center, but registration is requested. To register for the workshop, contact the Nebraska Extension Office in Knox County by phone at 402-288-5611. Register by July 25, 2017 to ensure that there are enough handouts and refreshments.
The agricultural land management workshop series have been held extensively across Nebraska for the past several years with over 3,300 attending. The vast majority of both landlords and tenants find the information to be very helpful in improving communications, setting rental terms, and learning about agricultural land. As farm budgets tighten, it is even more important to attend and listen to the latest discussion about leasing issues.
A cropduster registered to a Bloomfield business was involved in a plane crash near Pierce on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the Pierce Sheriff's Department, at approximately 1:50 PM, Pierce Fire & Rescue, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, and Nebraska State Patrol were dispatched to a location 7 miles west and 1½ miles north of Pierce to a crop duster crash.
The pilot was transported by Life Net to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, IA. Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol remained on scene until the FAA arrived to investigate the accident.
Records show the single engine Piper PA-25-235 is registered to Steven and Cindy Barney of Bloomfield and was built in 1965. It reportedly is owned by Bloomfield Ag & Aerial Service.
(Picture courtesy of the Nebraska State Patrol)
Shane Greckel has announced that he will run for the District 40 seat in the Nebraska Legislature.
District 40 is made up of Boyd, Cedar, Dixon, Holt, Knox, and Rock Counties. The district is currently served by Senator Tyson Larson, who cannot run again due to term limits.
Greckel, a Republican, is a fifth-generation farmer in Knox County near Bloomfield, where produces corn, soybeans, and has a small cow/calf feed yard. He studied Computer Programing at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, and pursued a degree in Computer and Systems Design at Mount Marty in Yankton, South Dakota.
“I have a passion for rural Nebraska, and I believe my agricultural background and technological experience will help our small rural communities grow and thrive,” stated Greckel. “Advances in technology and the tech industries in agriculture can help keep younger generations in our communities.”
In 2016, Shane was appointed to the Nebraska Information Technology Commission where he has made it a priority to represent the needs of agriculture and rural businesses. Rural businesses and agriculture are essential to the growth of Nebraska as well as retaining population and industry in our rural communities. By bringing forward these issues to help spur the expansion of technical infrastructure in our rural areas, Greckel believes we can ensure a bright future for our local schools and communities.
Other priorities for Greckel include broad based tax relief and addressing skyrocketing agricultural land valuations, eliminating burdensome government regulations, and emphasizing rural economic development.
“We are a smaller population state, and the only way to provide meaningful tax relief is by growing our economy and attracting new businesses and jobs to the state. There are things we can do, especially in the agricultural technology fields, that can greatly benefit rural Nebraska,” added Greckel.
When not working on the farm, Shane is involved with many community activities – helping with county fairs, church activities, and the promotion of local AG events. He is a member of the Knox County Farm Bureau Board, Clydesdales of the United States, and he is a Life Member of the National Rifle Association. In 2014, Shane, with Knox County Development, helped successfully lead the effort to declare Knox as a Livestock Friendly County.