For Ebke, public service runs in the family

Above: Sen. Laura Ebke (center) with her family: son-in-law Chris, Tasha, Russ, Jennifer and Isaac.

For most kids, sitting through a city council meeting would seem like punishment. For future senator Laura Ebke, it only increased her desire to become involved in local government.

Ebke attributes her interest in politics to her very civically engaged family. Her father, Ron Schwab, held the distinction of being Fairbury’s youngest mayor and her grandfather, Charles Schwab, held the record as the town’s longest-serving mayor. Her mother, Gwen Schwab, served on the local school board and her other grandfather, Alvin Junker, served on the city council.

Ebke married her high school sweetheart, Russ, and moved to Omaha for his medical school and residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. After seven years in Omaha, the couple moved to Tennessee and North Carolina for his later naval deployments. During their travels Laura and Russ welcomed their first child—daughter Jennifer—and Laura finished her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science.

While working on her master’s program at the University of Memphis, a professor requested that she teach a class, and her experience was so positive that it derailed her previous plan to attend law school.

“I had never really considered teaching before,” she said. “I realized that I enjoyed the challenge of connecting with the students and engaging them in the material.”

Over the next decade, Laura and Russ welcomed two more children—daughter Tasha and son Isaac. Ebke also earned her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, began teaching part time and won election to the Crete School Board.

Ebke’s rural upbringing will impact her priorities during her time in the Legislature, she says. While issues like prison reform and tax relief will always be important, helping small town Nebraska grow will be her priority.

Of the 39 towns and villages in her district, only one—Crete—has shown growth in the last 20 years. Her hometown of Fairbury has seen a population decrease of roughly 1,000 people since she lived there as a child.

“You go to small towns that are just drying up,” Ebke said. “That’s where real Nebraskans live. And we can accomplish that growth with more businesses and improved infrastructure allowing people to telecommute, for example.”

Her belief in government transparency has fueled her approach to constituent services. In addition to interacting with constituents in face-to-face meetings and phone calls, Ebke has fostered a strong social media presence.

“[Social media] is just one more nice tool in the toolbox,” she said, noting that she tries to update her constituents daily with her votes and general news from the Capitol. “Even when people disagree with my positions, they seem to appreciate the communication.”

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