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Citizen of the Year: Volunteerism, leadership, charity distinguishes Mike Minzey for honor
January 01, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Photos by Kay Grote/Gering Citizen - The success of the 2014 Chautauqua held in Gering and Scottsbluff last summer was due in large part to the leadership and tireless efforts made by Mike Minzey, left, pictured with Chautauqua co-chair Barbara Schlothauer. Dressed in period clothing hand sewn by Mike’s wife, Linda, the two greeted guests during the Chautauqua ice cream social at the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering.

The very lifeblood of any organization, any celebration, is the volunteers who put in the necessary time to make those events successful. And this year’s Citizen of the Year has spent the last 40-plus years volunteering for the community good.

Although Gering is now his adopted hometown, Mike Minzey had a long record of volunteerism before he headed west. In 1966, he developed a swimming program on four Native American reservations in Wisconsin while serving with VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. Soon after that, he was assigned to Gering then on to Colorado, where he established an all-volunteer Spanish language newspaper.

While in Indiana for several months, Mike volunteered in migrant labor camps. That took him up and down the migrant highway to Texas. Then it was back to Gering, where he settled and enrolled in Hiram Scott College.

Mike spent his career with the Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, where he helped upgrade the community through housing complex development, rehabilitation and residential energy conservation. But even then, and after his retirement, Mike remained active as a volunteer for a wide variety of causes. Just a few of the boards where he’s been a member include the Oregon Trail Association, the Nebraska Rural Community Federal Credit Union, the Nebraska Housing Developers Association, Scotts Bluff County Tourism, the City of Terrytown Board of Health and Friends of Robidoux Trading Post.

This past summer, Mike was named co-chair for the organizational committee for the Chautauqua event at Legacy of the Plains Museum. “There are so many organizations he’s been involved with,” said Barb Schlotahuer, his Chautauqua co-chair. “He’s not just a member. He’s a contributor. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. And he’s very committed to the community.”

Mike, a resident of Terrytown, has done it all. He’s been an assistant Scoutmaster, an advisor to two youth boards, has played a living history blacksmith at Legacy of the Plains Museum, cleaned tables for Thanksgiving in the Valley, parked cars for the Spooktacular Halloween event at Riverside Discovery Center, called cars for the Sugar Valley Rally and helped coordinate the West Nebraska Paint-a-Home Project. And he’s had a 32-year run as an elected public official with the Sanitary Improvement District #3.

“Mike was a dedicated volunteer when we worked together on county tourism,” said Karen Anderson, director of the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce. “He’s also working with or Valley Visions taskforce and has been a great advocate for Gering and development along the Scottsbluff-Gering Highway. He’s loyal and diligent – just a great, dedicated volunteer.”

In his early days of involvement in tourism, Mike chaired the committee for organizing Gering as a host site for BRAN, the Bike Ride Across Nebraska. He also assisted with the development of the Robidoux Trading Post, the Robidoux RV Park and renovation of the Gering tourism information caboose through the Gering Tourism Committee.

Mike is currently the treasurer for the Oregon Trail Days Association. “I don’t know how we’d function without him,” said general chairman Bill Schlaepfer. “I can’t believe the detail that goes into everything he does in helping all the committees. Whenever we need a hand, he’s there. When he commits to something, we know it will be done right. That’s just the way he is. He doesn’t take credit for a lot of the things he does and spends a lot of his own time to volunteer. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the award. Without people like Mike, a lot of things would never get done.”

Mike has a strong interest in history and was the winner of Gering Citizen’s history of Gering contest two years ago during the city’s 125th anniversary celebration. Because of that interest, he pays special attention to the details of any project he takes on.

With new census numbers, Gering has realigned the boundaries of its four election wards. Consequently, some voters might be unaware they now reside in a new ward. So during the recent primary and general elections, Mike was at the Gering Civic Center with a map to help residents determine where they needed to vote.

“Mike’s been very beneficial to Gering voters,” said County Election Commissioner Vera Dulaney. “He works all day on election day to help people find the right place to vote. I value that immensely. He’s a good friend who enjoys sharing his talent for the betterment of the community.”

From working with him on the Chautauqua project, Barb Schlothauer said Mike has many varied interests and is a very multi-dimensional person. “In everything he does, he wants the best for the community as a good place for families to raise their children. Mike is a very positive person, a complimentary team player. He doesn’t always take the credit, but he’s there working, even in his retirement.”

The Gering Citizen staff completely agrees with everyone we contacted that Mike is well deserving of the recognition he’s receiving. That’s why we’ve named him our Citizen of the Year.

Wearing his trademark top-hat, Mike Minzey assists a voter at the Gering Civic Center polls during November’s general electon. After Gering realigned its four election wards, Minzey volunteered to assist residents with understanding the new boundaries and directing them to their correct polling sites.

Mike Minzey, center, enjoys a visit with fellow OTD committee member John Ewing, left, and Tom Cozad during the OTD car show.
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