Learning is lifelong passion for Pahls

Above: Sen. Rich Pahls delights in spending time with grandsons Parker (left) and Garrett.

When Omaha Sen. Rich Pahls left the Legislature in 2013, he gave away many of his things — information packets, personal effects.

“I thought I was finished,” Pahls said of being term limited eight years ago.

His new office is a little bare, but ready to be filled as Pahls begins his third term at the Capitol.

In January, he stepped down from a seat on the Omaha City Council where he focused on “the gut-level work: potholes, street repair, trash.”

Debate on the council was limited, and Pahls said he wanted to get back to Lincoln where he and 48 colleagues could discuss issues at length.

Pahls grew up in Downs, Kansas — a small town about two hours south of Grand Island. He idolized teachers, planting a seed that eventually germinated in a long career in education. Pahls earned a master’s degree at Fort Hayes State, then took a teaching job in Atkinson, Nebraska in 1968.

He later earned a PhD in education from the University of Nebraska Omaha and spent 32 years as a teacher and administrator in the Millard School District.

Pahls’ early work life wasn’t confined to education. In fourth grade he took a job as a shoe shiner at a barber shop in Downs. On Saturday nights, people would sit in rocking chairs, get their hair cut and talk politics.

“I didn’t understand it all, but I learned a lot,” Pahls said.

Harm Voss, Downs’ representative in the Kansas Legislature, was one of his clients.

“I was always impressed with him because he was a spiffy dresser and he always tipped me,” Pahls said. “He treated me with respect even though I was a kid from the other side of the tracks.”

It was Voss who first told a young Pahls that he could become a state senator. While that prediction eventually came true, Pahls’ next job was at the town’s grocery store, where he worked for eight years.

“When I was in fifth grade, I had to file income tax,” Pahls said. “I made so much money … at 50 cents an hour.”

As he begins settling into his new space, it is unlikely to look like the office he had while a school principal. He often had a collection of exotic animals — macaws, a pot-bellied pig, tarantulas, snakes, iguanas — that students could see up close.

“I had an African Pixie Frog the size of a dinner plate,” Pahls said. “I got animals that I thought would be very intriguing to kids.”

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