For senator, duty and hard work just part of her upbringing

By johnworr  

By Doug Barber

Lydia Brasch wishes her mother could see her now.

The daughter of immigrants from Ukraine is in her first year as a state senator and she is literally living her duties.

Brasch was spending more than three days this week staying in Holling Hall on the former Dana College campus with people who have been displaced by the Missouri River flooding. She is hoping to help them cut through red tape and get some answers on government aid.

Brasch asked if it would be alright if she spent some time in the former college dormitory getting to know the people there and figuring out how to help them.

She considers it part of her duties as a state senator.

“I was very respectful and careful in asking to come here,” Brasch said as she sat in the shade at a picnic on the former Dana campus. “I offered to be the undercover senator. I won’t be campaigning for another four years, but today I am truly doing this from the heart because I work for you. I feel it’s my duty and obligation.”

Keeping up on flooding: State Sen. Lydia Brasch, left, and Jan Davis, external affairs manager for Black Hills Energy, listen as Rod Storm, Blair city administrator, explains the flooding situation at the Blair water treatment plant during a tour on Wednesday.

That sense of duty and obligation runs deep in a woman who was raised by parents who spoke no English when they arrived at Ellis Island in 1950.

“When my parents got to Ellis Island, my mother said they kissed the ground, then they thanked the Lord for a glimpse of heaven,” Brasch said.

Her parents came to Nebraska, worked hard, learned English at night and instilled that sense of duty and patriotism in their children.

“We grew up very, very patriotic,” Brasch said. “In Ukraine, they had to pray with a secret Bible with candle in the closet. My mother was not allowed an education.”

Her uncle, a professor in Kiev, was shot and killed when a short-wave radio was found in his room.

Another thing she got from her parents was a willingness to work hard at whatever she does.

“I have a very strong work ethic,” Brasch said. “I take my work very seriously. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a state senator.”

Brasch still wears her mother’s cross on a chain around her neck.

“I wish my mother were still alive today,” she added. “It’s phenomenal. This is truly their American dream. To be here, to raise a family, to leave this life a little better than you found it.”

As of May 27, Brasch’s legislative district now covers all of Washington County, as well as Burt and Cuming counties to the north. It was revised in the redistricting process that moves boundaries each decade to more accurately reflect population shifts.

The realignment came about the time the Missouri River waters started rising from increased releases from reservoirs upstream.

Before the Legislature had even adjourned, Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy called half a dozen senators whose districts run along the Missouri River to show them the Army Corps of Engineers’ inundation maps and to talk about the pending flooding with state emergency officials.

Memorial Day weekend, her home phone started ringing.

“I remember very clearly, a constituent in Decatur was very alarmed because it was windy, the water was rising and boaters were creating wakes and causing significant property damage,” Brasch said.

So, on a Sunday morning, the new state senator called Gov. Dave Heineman’s cell phone and left a message telling him of the problems. Heineman called back in 30 minutes and the ball began rolling to coordinate responses as “things just started going from bad to worse.”

The flooding also forced Brasch to speed up her planned introductions to people in Washington County.

I was going to earn my keep regardless of the flood,” she said. “My intention when I visited with my staff was for Washington County to be a priority. I was going to start in Washington County, then Burt County, then back to Cuming County.

“Now I am here out of necessity more than introduction,” Brasch added. “It’s more a matter of what can we do? How fast can we get it done? What resources are available and how soon can we get them?”

Brasch knows many people face a long road ahead of them. The typical story, she said, is of a working couple with a family, a modest home and the typical debts of a family.

Many of their homes are gone, along with many possessions. They can’t afford another mortgage on top of the one they have, but they need to find a new home and they may not qualify for a new home loan.

Brasch said the federal government may provide programs for the flood victims to get back on their feet.

Brasch knows a lot of other questions remain on a lot of fronts.

School will start before the floodwaters recede. What will that mean for those who are displaced and for the school districts?

Thousands of acres of farmland are under water and it may take years for some of it to recover.

Brasch has asked the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, of which she is a member, to meet to talk about the situation. She expects the flooding aftermath to be a major topic of next year’s session of the Legislature.

“People are going to lose their income,” said Brasch, whose husband, Lee, is a fifth-generation farmer. “That’s one thing we know about farming: If we don’t have a crop, we don’t have a paycheck. There is some flood insurance for this year, but how long will it be before the land is recovered?”

Despite the flooding and her overloaded schedule, Brasch said she is happy doing what she is doing and is proud to be a Nebraskan.

“This is truly the good life,” Brasch added. “I am proud to be an American. It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s all good.”

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