Board of Directors

Leverne Barrett, President, was elected to the board in 2009. He lives near Ceresco, Nebraska, and has worked at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln since 1980. Vern teaches leadership courses and assists communities and organizations with leadership development.

Becky Gould, Vice President, joined the board in 2010. Becky is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest law firm that advocates for equal justice and full opportunity for all Nebraskans. She is a native Nebraskan and grew up on a small farm just outside of Valparaiso. Becky has practiced poverty law in Nebraska since 2001.

Chuck Karpf, Treasurer, was elected to the board in 2007. Chuck is the Executive Director for Panhandle Area Development District. He has been involved in rural development and entrepreneurship for most of his career.

Joe Blankenau, Secretary, is a political science professor at Wayne State College in rural Northeast Nebraska. Joe is conducting research on the unique rural aspects of health care finance reform. He was elected to the board in 2008.

Cait Caughey was elected to the board in 2016. She and partner Tyler Magnuson operate Botna Burrow, a diverse, small-scale farm nestled on the edge of Hancock, Iowa. They are a certified naturally-grown farm and produce high quality vegetables and herbs. Cait works off farm at The Big Garden in Omaha, Nebraska as Education Coordinator and is an active advocate for beginner farmer issues.

Melissa Florell, a registered nurse, was elected to the board in 2011. She and her family live and work on a farm near Kearney, Nebraska. Melissa is a passionate health care advocate. She has witnessed first hand the shortage of primary care providers in rural areas. Melissa is the Director of State Affairs for the Nebraska Nurses Association.

Greg Fripp joined the board in 2015, after serving on the Center's advisory board. Greg is founder and Executive Director of Whispering Roots, a nonprofit that provides fresh, locally grown, healthy food for socially and economically disadvantaged communities. His knowledge of Aquaponics, Hydroponics, and Urban Farming has led to innovative educational programs in public schools and 2 and 4 year colleges. Greg lives in Papillion, Nebraska.

David Hansen, Past President, was elected to the board in 1978. Having served rural and suburban Nebraska churches as a full-time Methodist minister for many years, David returned to farm in Custer County, where he was born. He has since retired from the ministry.

Connie Harvey, owner of Efficiency Counts, lives in Hastings. She joined the board in 2013. Connie is passionate about helping small businesses stay on top of bookkeeping and data tracking. She helped us to develop the Center's Bookkeeping Basics for Business Success training resource and was the Center's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011.

Jim Knopik, Past President, was elected to the board in 2002. He farms with his sons west of Fullerton. They along with others have formed a cooperative that is direct marketing several commodities they raise.

Keith Mahaney was elected to the board in 1992. Keith is a Thurston County farmer who practices sustainable farming. He and his family have been long-time Center supporters and are active in Extension, church, Picotte Center, and other community activities.

Paul Olson, Past President, was elected to the board in 1979. Paul was an English professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He is a former director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and is involved in rural cultural affairs. Paul was the driving force behind creation of the School at the Center, which engaged rural schools and students in understanding and reinvigorating their communities.

Maryanne Rouse, Past President, was elected to the board in 1986. Maryanne has worked to gain urban support for issues that link urban and rural concerns. She was formerly on the staff of Catholic Charities and the New Community Development Corporation in Omaha and is currently with Creighton University.

Paul Swanson, Past President, was elected to the board in 1995. Paul is a retired Extension Educator who specialized in sustainable agriculture and direct and cooperative marketing. He is now also an organic farmer.

Karen Tikalsky, Past President, was elected to the board in 1986. Karen worked with the developmental disabilities division of Health and Human Services in Knox County, Nebraska until retirement. She and husband Jim participated in the Center’s Small Farm Resources Project and are members of the Small Farms Cooperative, a group of farmers that are selling their natural livestock at premium prices.

Santiago Vasquez, with the Platte County Time for Change Coalition in Columbus, Nebraska, was elected to the board in 2014. He is an active volunteer bringing all members of the community together in activities like a new community garden.

Clark Nichols, Director Emeritus, was elected to the board in 1979. Clark practiced law in the Panhandle, where much of his work involved natural resources, particularly water. His family has farmed at Minatare since 1888. Clark now lives in Texas.

Don Reeves, Director Emeritus, a farmer from Central City, returned to Nebraska after working for Bread for the World in Washington DC. Don is a board member and former interim director of the American Friends Service Committee. He and his wife relocated to Oberlin, Ohio in 2009. Don was elected to the Center board in 1997.

Bob Warrick, Director Emeritus, was elected to the board in 1976. Bob is a strong conservationist and a retired diversified farmer who now resides in Oceanside, California. He long served as co-chair of the Agriculture Committee of the National Sierra Club.

Advisory Board

Center for Rural Affairs Advisory Board members are recruited for their special backgrounds and insight into our program areas. They meet quarterly with the Board of Directors and Center staff. Members include:

Rural Enterprise Assistance Program

  • Eli Aguilar, Gering, Nebraska
  • Milo Alexander, Omaha, Nebraska
  • Susan Baumert, Omaha, Nebraska
  • Jay Hall, Red Cloud, Nebraska
  • Leisha Roberts, Axtell, Nebraska

Farm and Community Program

  • Memo Castillas, Columbus, Nebraska
  • Mynor Hernandez, Schuyler, Nebraska
  • Charles Shapiro, Wayne, Nebraska

Rural Policy Program

  • Dennis Demmel, Ogallala, Nebraska
  • Barbara Dilly, Omaha, Nebraska
  • Mark Epp, Henderson, Nebraska
  • Kevin Raun, Minden, Nebraska

Board Structure & Organization

Our board of directors consists of between 12 and 24 members that govern the Center. Members of the board serve staggered three-year terms. The board determines policy and overall direction of the organization at quarterly meetings.

An executive committee consisting of the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and two members elected by the board meets in conjunction with regular board meetings. In addition, the board establishes oversight committees to counsel staff on the implementation of the Center’s various programs.

About one-half of the board is farmers or ranchers. Others are small town business and working people including a small number of urban members with a strong interest in rural improvement. The board is self-selecting, and has made it a policy to provide the organization with a broad leadership base. Accordingly, it has recruited men and women from all regions of the state and people with diverse occupational backgrounds and personal perspectives.

The board has been conscious of the need to provide both continuity and new insight, and thus the by-laws require at least one new director be added annually. Director Emeritus status was established in 1990. We have 3 Emeritus directors at present.

The board plays an active role in the development of Center programs. Each board member serves on one of three program advisory committees that provide quarterly oversight of program activities and guide the annual planning process. Directors also serve on at least one of the institutional committees that discuss finance, nominations, media and communications, development, engagement, and constituency building.