Senator features

von Gillern builds on leadership experience

Above: Sen. R. Brad von Gillern and his wife Mary — pictured on the family’s acreage north of Palmyra — have enjoyed traveling the world together, but agree that there’s no place like home.

Sen. R. Brad von Gillern knew that he needed sign-off from one person before making his latest foray into public service as a first-time candidate for elected office — his wife, Mary.

“You don’t stay married 42 years by ignoring your other half,” he laughed. “I wouldn’t have done it had she not been on board.”

The couple have been in sync since their time as high school sweethearts and love traveling the world and learning about other cultures. They have visited all but two continents in their years together and count trips to Afghanistan, Israel and South Africa as among the most memorable.

A moment that touched the new senator deeply occurred on a two-week trip to Afghanistan about a dozen years ago. During an encounter with a father and son in Kabul, von Gillern realized that what mattered to the man above all else wasn’t religion, world events or hatred of Americans — it was the desire to care for and protect his family.

“It broadened my view,” von Gillern said. “I’m a lot more open to opinions and different ways of life than I was in the past.”

He hopes to bring that spirit of openness and cooperation with him as he begins a new chapter at the Legislature.

As a leader in the Omaha business community and member of more than a dozen nonprofit boards, von Gillern said relationships are the “most energizing part” of any leadership experience.

He is the past president and CEO of Lueder Construction, a large commercial contractor that built the Lied Conference Center in Nebraska City among many other projects.

On the day that he sold his interest in Lueder Construction, a friend asked von Gillern to lunch to discuss running for the open District 4 seat in the Legislature. It was the opportunity he’d been waiting for to take his leadership skills and community service to a new level.

“No one was surprised that I decided to run,” he said. “It felt like a very logical next step.”

When asked about the torrent of information senators face daily now that session has begun, von Gillern said he works hard to focus on what’s important and concentrate on the issues that matter most to him and his constituents.

It’s a response that hints at the introspective side of a man who “goes hard” in both work and leisure — in addition to world travel and having a private pilot’s license, von Gillern also loves to sail, hunt and fish.

“I really like to get outside and walk alone in the woods,” he said. “The silence and the solitude are restoring for me.”

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