Above: Sen. Hilkemann (right) and his late brother Larry take a break along the route of the Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska.
Two pieces of artwork that rest atop the radiator in Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann’s Capitol office provide insight into the guiding forces in the new senator’s life: a solid grounding in small town life and a determination never to stop learning.
On the left, a painting of a one-room schoolhouse, like the kind Hilkemann attended during his elementary years near Randolph. In the painting, done by a local artist, a young student stands at the chalkboard, repeatedly writing, “I will not talk in class.”
Hilkemann joked that he “probably had the opportunity” to engage in similar activity in his youth. With an average of four students sharing his grade, Hilkemann said the lessons in cooperation learned in that schoolhouse served him well later in life.
“You learn to share resources, to help each other and that you have to get along in order to succeed,” he said. “I think it was a fabulous way to learn.”
The other framed piece is a photo of Hilkemann’s small airplane—his most recent hobby. He noted that there likely won’t be much time for flying with his new duties as a state senator, so the plane recently was sold.
The retired podiatrist also puts his feet in the pedals when he can. Among the events Hilkemann enjoys is the annual BRAN—Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska, which he has participated in for the last three years.
“I’m a life-long learner,” Hilkemann said, “and I do some of my best thinking on a bike.”
After graduating from Randolph High School, Hilkemann became a high school science teacher and football coach. While he enjoyed both professions, Hilkemann said he had long known that he wanted a career in podiatry.
So, he and wife Julie headed to Chicago for medical school and Milwaukee for residency—knowing that returning to Nebraska was always in the cards.
“There’s no place like it,” he said, adding that it was a stimulating environment in which to work and a good home base for the couple’s three children: Todd, Elizabeth and Sara.
After working with the Legislature to modernize the practice of podiatry in the state and being active in church and community service, Hilkemann decided to run for an open seat after retirement.
Now that he’s settling into a new routine at the Capitol, Hilkemann said he’s excited to serve on the Appropriations Committee, which he described as an opportunity to explore and understand the vast inner workings of state government.
“A former senator told me, if you really want to know what’s going on, get a seat on the Appropriations Committee,” Hilkemann said.
He added that the common thread he’s found among his fellow senators is a genuine desire to help the people of Nebraska—a desire he understands well.
“I don’t have an agenda,” Hilkemann said. “I’m not a one-issue guy. I want to be part of the process and part of finding solutions to the state’s challenges.”