Just three weeks ago, I came to the office like any Tuesday. I knew I had a meeting on my calendar and a number of projects to work on and a couple of workshops to prepare for. I like Tuesdays. My whole team is in house and it’s great because there is a special kind of energy when everyone is here.

My meeting had been set up right before I left for a trip to North Carolina by LuAnn Brown. It was to meet Karl Elmshaeuser, the Nebraska State Director for the USDA. He was coming to see the work and projects we had done under our USDA loan over the past 5 years. I was looking forward to showing him how we had invested the dollars through new carpet, a new roof, a remodeled kitchen and such. I had compiled invoices, prepared some financials and was ready to answer questions on how we worked through each part of this project and the impact each part had on what we do here at The Leadership Center.

This wasn’t like any other Tuesday though. People weren’t as talkative as normal. Shelby, our contracted bookkeeper, seemed to have a lot more questions than usual. Things seemed strained between our Events Coordinator and Facilities Manager. Then John, both our Kitchen Manager and my husband, showed up from his other job at 10 a.m. He normally isn’t in until noon, when he has a break for lunch. Everyone seemed focused yet a bit anxious. Then the rest of the staff in the building started gathering in the lobby when Micheala said, “Maile, your appointment is here.”

Things felt different and weird, but I tried to put it aside while I went out to greet Karl and Luann. When I stepped out of the office, I noted audibly that things seemed off between Micheala and Dario and asked if everything was ok. I realized that there was someone with a camera and my team was gathering behind me as I went out to the lobby. Strange, to say the least. As I extended my hand to Karl, he shook my hand and motioned to everyone, when I realized Micheala was recording this entire experience. I exclaimed, “What is going on?”

Karl said, “We are here to do an inspection for the USDA.”

“Okay.” I said.

And then all was revealed and I was humbly in awe. Karl said he was here to award me the “Strong Community Leader” on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture. To hear the words, “on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture” just about knocked me off my feet proceeded by “Your work through the Nebraska Vocational Agricultural Foundation is monumental. A special thank you for your participation in the USDA Summer Meals Programs to ensure that no kids when hungry.” I was rendered speechless and leveled humble to my core. All I could say was, “it’s the right thing to do,” as he read of a number of the things “I had done.” After his speech, he gave me a flag that had been flown over the United States capitol in my honor and the tears began to fall.

Crew prepping new walk-in fridge pad.

If you have ever seen me at work, it doesn’t take much to realize that I really love what I do. The Leadership Center has provided me with so many opportunities, challenges, moments to grow in and through, heartbreak, frustrations and even defeat and in the next moment, celebrations, wins, and everything in between. Through it all, the work hasn’t really been done alone. I have had the support and assistance of so many throughout this journey. Knowing this, receiving an award like this, while amazing, for me, belongs to my team, my board, our supporters and contributors, to George, Chad, and Nick, my family and friends, my son and my husband. It also belongs to Janice Stopak and Luann Brown too.

Shortly after I arrived at The Leadership Center in 2010, the board and I started discussing how to rehab the property while strengthening our financial position and growing our business and offerings. On past projects, we had been eligible for grants through the USDA along with raising funds privately.  With the economy as it was when I came and the fact that economically, the county we resided in had grown so much, our eligibility for grants changed and the opportunity for private funding had been deeply affected. It was both a huge challenge and a wonderful opportunity.

The kitchen prepped for a new hood, HVAC and ceiling grid.

Under the tutelage of Dr. Alan Blezek and Doug Gibson, I was able to assess our needs and begin making plans. After learning we were no longer eligible for a USDA grant, they were able to help me secure a meeting with Janice Stopak, a community specialist with the USDA Rural Development program. Janice helped us navigate through our financials, by-law changes and other details needed to move forward. Please note this wasn’t one meeting and done. It was several meetings and a couple of years of advisement to help us move in the right direction. It was during this time, we also learned more about the flood plain and elevations than we ever thought we’d need to know. It took team work, out of the box thinking and a lot of patience.

I will never forget the August day, when then NVAF Chairman, Brad Andreason, Janice and I went to Cornerstone Bank to meet with Dennis Ferguson of Cornerstone and Wade Regier of Pinnacle Bank to sign all the loan paperwork making the 1.255 million dollar remodel a possibility. Brad and I couldn’t believe that with a few strokes of an ink pen, we would be changing the future of our organization, securing a brighter future and one that was updated, to code and equip for the future that we had planned for The Leadership Center.

After paperwork was signed, it was time to map out project timelines, seek out vendors and to fit it all into our ever growing and busy calendar. It was exciting and nerve-wracking and overwhelming all at once.

Throughout this project, to date, here is what we have accomplished:

  • A new membrane roof over the gym, the pool and Lakeside as well as a small roof correction where the buildings all joined.
  • New HVAC for the gym.
  • New carpet in Lakeside, the conference room and the hallways from Lakeside to the gym.
  • A new sidewalk and sidewalk repair in the front of the main building.
  • The kitchen was remodeled in phases:
      • Phase 1: remove the outdoor freezer, pour a new cement pad, cut a door for the new walk-in refrigerator and install refrigerator. Convert walk-in cooler/freezer back to a walk-in freezer. Install new ovens. Convert newly purchased used tilting skillet and range from propane to natural gas and install. Remove trees for future parking lot project.
      • Phase 2: install a new hood system and HVAC in the Kitchen, Mather, Mather East & Mather West. Install a new fire suppression system as well as new lights. Replace roof shingles and install new gutters and down spouts.
      • Phase 3: Remove old cabinets and install new stainless steel ones.
    • Phase 4: Remove old parking lot and pour new parking lot, grill pad and dumpster pad.

There are still a few things to be done, but we’ll be all wrapped up before the end of 2018. The list makes the project seem a bit small, but during all of it, we never stopped serving guests which included meetings, meals, lodging and more. During a portion of Phase 2, all of our food was prepared at the fairgrounds in the 4-H Building and transported back here to be served. It wasn’t a day or two but 3 very busy weeks of meals and refreshments. There was a lot of employees parking in the front lot amongst our guests as construction happened in the back lots. There numerous conversations with our guests apologizing for unexpected noise from roofing or serving meals on paper versus china due to limited access to the kitchen or apologizing for the smell of carpet glue. No matter what, we are so grateful we have had the opportunity to remodel for our guests and our future.

As you can see, this work wasn’t done by one person. I was more like the administrator who tried so hard to keep things organized and people informed. It wasn’t easy nor was I always successful, but because it wasn’t a solo venture, it was something feasibly traversed because of my team, my board, our numerous vendors and supporters. This why I think this award belongs to so many.

I want to say thank you all of you.

Thank you to Nick Clinebell for helping navigate many parts of this project. Thank you to Chad Carlson for suggesting the partnership between Aurora Cooperative to share Nick’s talents as an architectural engineer. Thank you to the late George Howieler and now Chris Vincent for supporting this partnership and sharing of resources.

Thank you to Dr. Alan Blezek and Doug Gibson for making calls to contacts to make meetings happen. For lunches, coffee and all the advice and mentoring you have given me throughout this project and my time here in Nebraska.

Thank you to all of our vendors. Your knowledge, expertise, patience and work have been pivotal in the success of all this.

  • AR Roofing
  • Jerry’s Sheet Metal
  • Burton Enterprises LLC
  • Island Flooring
  • Katts Surveying
  • Sysco
  • Midwest Restaurant Supply
  • Paschke Bros. Construction
  • Nunnekamp Electric
  • Juzyk Plumbing
  • Juzyk Electric
  • Tab Refrigeration
  • Ott Concrete & Construction
  • Nebraska Fire & Sprinkler
  • Goodwin Tucker
  • Timberlake Camp
  • McEndarfer Tree Service LLC
  • RTC Lighting
  • Hamilton County Ag Society
  • City of Aurora
  • Nebraska Fire Marshal
  • …and all the other vendors I might have failed to mention.

A huge thank you to the NVAF Board of Directors who have served over the time of this project. Thank you for trusting me at the helm of this project and for believing in our future. This has been a large investment of time and energy as we have navigated all of it, but worth it. Thank you for staying the course. Thank you for your encouragement and your patience.

I want to say a special thank you to my staff for working through all of the unknowns of this project…and there were many. It has taken longer than we thought and so much of it has been far from ideal in timing or execution. Thank you for smiling through it and finding ways to make it all work. I am so, so grateful for each of you. Thank you.

Thank you so much to Janice for answering my questions. Hashing out all the details over and over and over again via phone calls, emails and meetings. For helping me traverse codes, all the flood plain issues and for always believing this was a worthwhile project and investment.

Thank you LuAnn for helping with SAMS. It sounds small, but you and I both know it wasn’t. The two of you served as sources of information, assistance and encouragement. Thank you for always believing. Also thank you to the USDA for taking on our project.

Thank you to both Cornerstone and Pinnacle Banks for backing these projects. It has been a long journey and your support has been pivotal in the success of all we have done.

John and Chaz, thank you. I know you have spent a lot of time looking at carpet samples, helping me with pro and con lists regarding bids, finishes and fixtures and more. Thanks for grinning and bearing the stress and making sure we always had coffee or giving me time to go out on a solo run to sort things out. I love you both and being able to share this work is a dream come true.

This project has stretched my horizons and taught me so much. It has been equal parts of frustration and reward. It has taken a lot of time away from other parts of my work, time away from my family and friends. I am blessed to have understanding and encouraging people in my life. I do not take it for granted by any means and ever so grateful for their understanding, encouragement and for coming to work alongside me.

Photo Credit: Mae Small Photography

If you happened across the Facebook video or the articles in the newspaper about this award, I was quick to say this award was made possible of many. As you can see, it does.

The improvements we have made to our facility was to better serve our guests and to help make sure we’d have the facilities to serve the guests of our future. They were to help build programs to educate and serve our community. They were the right things to do. They are the right things to do and that is why we, yes we, do it.

I am honored, humbled and still a bit in awe of this award. I am grateful to have been acknowledged for the work I love. Thank you.


Maile Ilac Boeder, IOM

Executive Director



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Mobile Explore at Milfrod High School. Session presented was "Shine"