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Gibbs brings experience to Gering City Council
August 04, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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Larry Gibbs

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of profiles of Gering City Council members.
Larry Gibbs, Gering’s city council member for Ward III and current City Council President, was first elected in 1978. Although there was a five-year gap along the way, Gibbs has about 30 years of service to the city.

Born in Brooklyn, Larry grew up on Long Island in East Rockaway, N.Y. “a long time ago.”
As a senior in high school, he was accepted to attend Hiram Scott College in Scottsbluff but he decided to put college on hold and instead enlisted in the Marines 45 years ago.

“I spent 13 months in Vietnam during my two-year enlistment,” he said. “I was originally supposed to be a ‘grunt,’ but I scored well on some tests and they sent me to data processing school. During my time in Vietnam, I worked with computers.”

After his discharge in 1968, Larry came to Nebraska to attend Hiram Scott College. “I majored in political science and minored in history,” he said. “I went year-round except for one semester, so I finished four years of courses in three years. It was a good thing I did, because I graduated the day before the school closed.”

About two weeks after Larry arrived in Nebraska, the chamber of commerce sponsored a mixer at the Scottsbluff National Guard Armory for students at Hiram Scott and Nebraska Western College.

“There was free food, so a college student wouldn’t pass that up,” he said. “I remember The Dynamics were playing. That’s where I met Nita, who became my wife the next year. That was 42 years ago.”

Their one son, Lawrence Matthew, is currently a director at KUSA Channel 9 in Denver and has won three Emmy awards for his work over the past 10 years.

Later in the 1970s, Larry went back to school at Chadron State College and earned a second bachelor’s degree in business administration.

After graduation, Larry became the information services and training specialist with Nebraska Panhandle Community Action Agency, which evolved over time into the current Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska.

Larry’s next job was with developer Marks Morrison. The startup company was called Plains Insulation Manufacturing, which recycled newsprint into cellulose insulation. That lasted a few years until the market changed and the plant closed.

Morrison then asked if Larry wanted to transfer to another of his companies, House of Hose in Alliance. So Larry became the operations manager there.

“After a few years, the farm economy went in the tank and I was laid off,” Larry said. “There wasn’t much else available for me, so it was either move or start my own business.”

So in July of 1981, he opened Oregon Trail Hobbies in downtown Gering. Later on, the business moved to the former ALCO building.

“I got my first model train when I was 4 and my first model kit at 6, so I’ve been interested since then.” Although the store closed in 2005, Larry continues to sell all kinds of collectible and antiques online.

During his years in Gering, Larry remembers when there were only two trains a day coming through the city, one east and one west. With the opening of the coal fields in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, train traffic through the area has increased to about 100 trains a day.

Larry was instrumental in getting the Automated Train Horn system installed at Gering train crossings in the early 1990s. “We were the first in the nation to install them, even before they were approved by the Federal Railroad Administration,” he said. “The FRA didn’t approve them for about 12 years, but the horn system is now being used around the country.”

Larry said one of Gering’s biggest challenges continues to be economic development. “That hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. Our downtown continues to decline, but we’re starting to make some progress in turning that around.”

He said another challenge Gering will have to deal with at some point in the future is narrowing 10th Street. “We got a lot of opposition from the Oregon Trail Days people when we suggested that about 20 years ago. They said they couldn’t run the annual parade on a narrow street.”

But Larry said that if Gering wants to be a pedestrian friendly retail area, the city can’t have a street that’s four lanes wide, plus two parking lanes. With a narrower street, it opens up possibilities for sidewalk cafes and similar pedestrian friendly businesses.

Larry’s term of office expires in 2012, and he said he’s inclined to not run again; however, he admitted, he’s changed his mind in the past.
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