Gerster cites new jail, bridge work as highlights of service

Monday, December 24, 2012

By James R. Campbell

Nevada Daily Mail

As the second eldest in a family of 11 children, Neal Gerster grew up with a sense of responsibility that carried over into his adult life as leader of a myriad of civic and social activities and as Vernon County's northern commissioner for the past 14 years.

"I love visiting and being social with people," he said. "I love working with them and I'm willing to do what I can because somebody needs to step up and do it."

Gerster stayed a private citizen into his late 40s, building a reputation for amiable dependability in the Schell City-Walker-Harwood area of northeast Vernon County, and won election to the Vernon County Commission in 1997. "We needed a jail and got that open in 2009 for $8 million," he said.

"When I came on, all our road and bridge work was contracted, but now we're self-sufficient. We have over 300 bridges and our list of unsafe ones covered five pages. We got federal funds from the BRO (Bridge Replacement Off System) program and reduced it to 1 1/2 pages."

Gerster graduated from Schell City High School in 1969 and failed his U.S. Army physical in Kansas City, when he weighed in 28 pounds over the limit. "I was disappointed that I didn't get the opportunity to serve my country," he said.

He and his wife Connie will celebrate their 40th anniversary Dec. 30. They have two children, Jason, of Dederick; and Yolanda Conner of Walker, and they raised Gerster's niece, Lamai Loyd of Nevada, and have seven grandchildren.

He grows corn, wheat and soybeans and runs 125 cattle on 140 acres at Schell City, where he is a deacon and Sunday school superintendent at the Christian Church, and 80 acres near Harwood. He served six years on the Northeast Vernon County School Board at Walker and is on the Fairhaven and Harwood park boards and Green Mound Cemetery Board at Harwood.

"I worked 18 years for the Gammon Brothers at Harwood Elevator and Floyd Gammon treated me just like another son," he said. "1982 was real bad because my mother, Rebecca Fern Flake, died of a stroke at age 58 and Floyd died of cancer.

"Mother had had two strokes before that one and it was too tough to get over. She was in a coma for a week at KU Hospital and died 15 minutes before my dad was going to pull the plug; so it was a blessing he didn't have to do that."

Gerster's father Elmo did not remarry and died four years ago at 91. "I was in the second grade when Dad went to work as a janitor at the school," Gerster said.

"He didn't smoke or drink and so far as I know, none of us do. He never told me 'no' very often, but when he did, that's what he meant."

Asked if his siblings were well-behaved, he laughed and said, "I had a couple of brothers who wanted to see who was the toughest."

Another important person in Gerster's life was his grandfather, Ross Franklin Flake, who farmed five miles southeast of Schell City and assiduously cared for his invalid wife, Lottie Ethel. "Granddad told me no matter what I did to get an education," he said.

"I wish I could have gone to college, but I didn't have that opportunity. I got as good an education at Schell City High School as I wanted. I could have gotten a better one if I'd studied a little harder."

You can't write about the 61-year-old Democrat without detailing his advocacy of the County 4-H Club, which he has belonged to since age 5 and still serves as swine barn chairman at the Youth Fair each summer.

Noting the "Hs" are for "Hands, Head, Heart and Health," he said, "4-H is a good program for teaching responsibility.

"It helps kids grow up knowing what kind of life they need to live. They grow up in the right kind of environment. It's about as big in Vernon County as any county in the state."

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