Board member spotlight: Vern values rural America

Small Towns

A lifetime of being an educator and advocate for rural America has provided Leverne “Vern” Barrett with wisdom and knowledge well beyond what most of us could imagine.

Since 2009, he’s lent his voice and decades of experience to the Center for Rural Affairs as a proud member of the organization’s Board of Directors.

“The Center envelopes a niche in rural community development that no other organization addresses to date,” he said. “All of my life, I have been engaged in rural community development, and to be part of an organization whose sole mission is to lift up and enable citizens and communities to thrive is dear to my heart.”

Vern began his career as a high school teacher and taught agriculture classes for 15 years. In 1980, he became a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, College of Agriculture, where he continued his teaching legacy for 30 years. During that time, he taught leadership courses and assisted communities and organizations with leadership development.

Over the years, Vern has seen the Board through many changes, both in the topics they’ve addressed, and how they’ve handled those obstacles.

“One of the biggest issues at the time [when I joined the Board] was a change in executive transition and the ever-challenging work in raising funds,” said Vern. “Today, we are in the best financial condition since I became a member. One of the big challenges today is to lead an organization that has become much larger in scope, that spans multiple states.”

Even the Board’s meetings have evolved over the years, and Vern says some stand out more clearly than others.

“I remember when we decided to become a Community Development Financing Institute (CDFI) lending organization—at that time, we did not grasp how that would shape our lending mission,” he said. “The meetings were very cordial and task-oriented [when I first joined]. There were times in those years when the Board faced challenges from outside forces. Today, those same challenges are gone and the members can focus on the Center’s mission.”

And, that mission is what drives Vern and his fellow Board members, along with Center staff, to continue giving their time, consideration, and energy to moving the organization forward with its goals.

“I hope to see the Board continue to develop the respect and collegial atmosphere of a professional board,” said Vern. “For the Center, to continue to grow in our multi-state approach to rural development—that we never lose sight of our mission to serve rural communities and citizens who need an advocate and a helping hand to better their lives.”

Vern was president of the Center’s Board from 2014 until 2017. He also served on the Granary Foundation Board from 2014 to 2020. In addition, he has been a member of the Center for Rural Affairs Community Capital Board since 2018.

Top photo: Vern Barrett, left, joins in a board committee meeting in December 2019.

Bottom photo: Vern and Board President Krista Dittman discuss the agenda during a meeting in December 2019.  |  Photos by Rhea Landholm