The Commissioner’s Homecoming: Logan View welcomes back Dr. Brian Maher, class of 1980, on teacher in-service day

The Commissioner’s Homecoming: Logan View welcomes back Dr. Brian Maher, class of 1980, on teacher in-service day

By Tyler Dahlgren

Nebraska Commissioner of Education Dr. Brian Maher sat shotgun in a 15-passenger van that rolled north down Highway 77 on a Monday afternoon, past the tiny town of Winslow and the school on the hill with the famous domed gymnasium.

By the time the van reached Uehling, some six-and-a-half miles north of Maher’s hometown of Hooper, its passengers were lost in stories from yesteryear. They were riding in a van, not a DeLorean, but the joyride felt like a step back in time for the commissioner and a group of old friends and coaches that joined him.

The van turns around in the parking lot of the softball field, where a young Maher umpired games and rang up a girl named Peg on strikes once. He’d go on to marry that girl one day.

“Bad call,” his wife chimed in from the van’s third row.

The van makes its way through the streets of Winslow, Nickerson and back to Hooper, where the memories really come rushing back in waves. Maher points towards the town’s swimming pool.

“That building over there used to be the auditorium, where I’d watch Hooper High play basketball.”

“There’s the Don Schwab sign. He used to hand out nickels for returning foul balls.”

“There is so much history in this vehicle right now,” said superintendent Craig Taylor. “And the fact that they can go however long without seeing each other and pick it right back up where they left off, that’s amazing.”

It’s a testament to Logan View’s past, and the lasting love they have for this place is a beacon for Logan View’s future. Bridging the two is what elementary principal Mike Janssen had in mind when he pitched this idea to Taylor near the beginning of the year. 

“We were in a staff meeting, identifying some different things we needed to be celebrating, and I said, ‘Well, I know something we need to celebrate,’” said Janssen, a 1981 Logan View graduate from Nickerson and old teammate of Maher’s. “I said, ‘The commissioner of education graduated from this school. We need to get him up here, and I think I can help.’”

Everything aligned for the commissioner to come home last Monday, a teacher in-service day at Logan View. For the first time in 30 years, he walked into the school and down hallways that still  echo with memories from his past. 

“It wasn’t just one memory or one thing, it was just a flood of different memories from seventh through 12th-grade,” Maher said. “They may be selective, but they’re awesome memories. The importance of the school to my development, that’s really what I want for every kid, to have that anchor, that local school and those teachers and administrators they know they can count on.”

That’s primarily the message Maher delivered during the two hours he spent with the Logan View staff.

“I have firsthand benefited from a quality education,” Maher, who was a free and reduced lunch student from a split home, told them. “I know the power of teachers rallying around me. There are kids out there who need you. Collectively, you’re the force they need. I challenge you to rise up and be that force for the kids. For the blue and the bold, the mighty and bold.”

Lunch was held in the cafeteria before Taylor led Maher and a small group of former classmates on a full tour of the building. They spent the most time in the dome, standing near the baseline and telling old basketball stories. Tales of triumphs and defeats, big shots and narrow misses.

“We spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears together, so that was a lot of fun,” Maher said.

The fun was just beginning. The group then filed into the van and swung by the houses of Al Ott, Ralph Nelson and Gary Beard, three of Maher’s old coaches who were more than happy to take the afternoon drive down memory lane.

“Uh oh, I better get my detention slips ready,” Ott joked after peering into the van.

They hopped from town to town, different small communities with their own histories that blend together at the school on the hill with the famous domed gymnasium.

“It’s the people,” Maher said. “There’s no place like Nebraska, and that’s certainly true for Peggy and I. Growing up here, you see the common themes of hard work and solution-seeking folks.”

Eventually, you learn to embody those very themes. Maher will forever be grateful for that.

“Logan View, my coaches and my teachers, this place in general, was my rock,” he said. “Logan View made me choose the right path.”

No matter how many decades pass, that path will always lead right back to here.

Right back to home.