Senator features

Riepe ready for new chapter

Above: Sen. Merv Riepe, pictured in front of the Omaha skyline, has returned to the Legislature after a four-year absence.

Ralston Sen. Merv Riepe still hasn’t learned how to do retirement. Since leaving his career as a hospital executive in 2008, he took a number of interim positions in the health care field, served one term in the Legislature and won a seat on the Ralston School Board before returning to the Unicameral in 2023.

“I flunked retirement,” he laughed. “I find gratification in work. I’ve always worked, since the time my foot could push in the clutch on a tractor.”

It’s that fulfillment found in a job well done and the opportunity to be engaged with others that brought Riepe back to the Legislature for another go at lawmaking.

“My experience was very positive when I was here before and it’s been very positive this time,” he said. “I haven’t had one day that I’ve regretted returning or second-guessed my decision.”

He acknowledges, however, that the Legislature has changed in the four years that he’s been gone. The divide between urban and rural senators has deepened, he said, and members are having difficulty working together — all of which increases concerns outside the Capitol that progress on important issues isn’t being made.

“I think the public gets frustrated that we don’t get more done, but in some ways that’s how the democratic process works,” Riepe said. “It’s intended to be push and shove.”

He’s tried to encourage more Nebraskans to participate in that rough-and-tumble while knocking doors during his campaigns — asking folks if they’ve ever thought about running for school board, for example. His hope is that the more individuals engage with the process, the more they’ll understand it and the better the outcomes will be for everyone.

It’s also a reflection of his belief in the power of hard work. Riepe said his son, an organizational psychologist who earned a PhD and currently works as a consultant, found his most character-building work scrubbing pots and pans in a pizza parlor.

“He learned humility,” Riepe said. “I’m a firm believer that success isn’t necessarily where you are at the end of the road — success is all the obstacles that you’ve overcome to get to where you are.”

His office in the Capitol is a testament to Riepe’s own road. It was put together by his wife, Jody, an interior decorator, and is filled with artwork and mementos: a picture of him at 17 as a Navy corpsman; a rendering of the Capitol signed by every governor since Charles Thone; a framed news story of the time Johnny Cash stayed in a hospital that he ran.

“Life is a series of chapters and you need to write each one and try to make it as interesting as you can — and you’re a success as long as you feel that you’re meeting your purpose,” Riepe said.

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