COLERIDGE — Former Dist. 19 Sen. Elroy Hefner died at his home Sunday.
Hefner, 96, served in the state legislature from 1976-1992.
Hefner was a huge Coleridge and Cedar County community supporter. The World War II veteran always got involved in community improvement projects and did what ever he could to support his hometown.
Even after leaving office, Hefner continued to be a statesman for this region and for the state of Nebraska.
When he turned 90 in December 2013, he marked the occasion by throwing a community event, inviting area residents to join him for free coffee and rolls at Rodeo’s Bar in Coleridge. That birthday tradition continued every December from that point forward.
Hefner looked back on his life in a 2013 Cedar County News interview.
“I have done a lot in the 90 years,” Hefner said. “It has been an interesting life and I met a lot of people along the way.”
Hefner’s life has been anything but ordinary.
He is featured in at least two books.
His story on serving during World War II is included in the book “At War — At Home; Stories of Sacrifice and Commitment.”
Highlights of Hefner’s life also appear in the Nebraska Blue Book of Nebraska Legislative Council.
Hefner was born in 1923 and grew up on a farm northeast of Coleridge, graduating from Coleridge High School in 1941.
He had been encouraged to make a run for legislature by Jules Burbach who had served 20 years in the Unicameral.
“My predecessor, Jules Burbach, talked to me about running,” Hefner said. “I made the decision and started campaigning.”
A short time after the election, Burbach, the former Speaker of the Legislature, resigned as State Senator and Gov. Jim Exon appointed Hefner to fill out the month left in Burbach’s term.
Hefner was re-elected in 1980, 1984 and in 1988.
There were approximately 34,000 residents in the 19th Legislative District during the years Hefner served as Senator.
“Now the population is down in the rural counties. The small towns, schools and churches are all struggling across the state,” Hefner said.
Hefner and his wife, Carol Rae, made the move from Coleridge to Lincoln each year.
“We moved down to Lincoln the first of the year for the long session which would wrap up by the end of May. The next session was for 60 days — it was out by the middle of April,” Hefner said.
Hefner enjoyed the years he spent as a State Senator, although it was a busy time.
“It was very interesting. There was a lot to keep up with,” Hefner said. “We kept track of city, county and state government and we had a lot of influence on schools with state aid.”
Growing up on a farm in Cedar County, Hefner never dreamed he would be in the South Pacific on a ship one day.
In 1944, Hefner entered the military and served with the U.S. Navy amphibious forces.
Hefner went to U.S. Navy Reserve station in Omaha and then by train to Farragut, Idaho, for basic training. He attended various engineering schools and was then assigned to the tank landing ship LST-491 for duty in the South Pacific.
Hefner ended up spending two years on a ship in the South Pacific in the middle of World War II.
“I slept on a ship for 19 months — we were never on land during that time,” Hefner said. “We were in the midst of the Pacific War. I wondered if I would ever be back home in Nebraska again.”
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