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Former Nebraska State Sen. Cap Dierks, a champion for rural America, dies at age 89
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Former Nebraska State Sen. Cap Dierks, a champion for rural America, dies at age 89

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State Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing (center) gets help in opening a boxed ham from Cuming County hog producer Paul Peters, right, on Jan. 7, 1999, at the legislator's office in Lincoln. Also pictured are Steve Cady, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association (back) and fellow Sens. Jennie Robak of Columbus, (left foreground), and Stan Schellpeper of Stanton (far left). Several boxed hams were left at Dierks' office for shipment to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. 

Summer in the Sandhills means a leisurely float down Nebraska’s Niobrara River. The unique landscape offers plenty to enjoy for folks seeking an escape to nature.

​A strong advocate for rural development, who was known for getting things done during his long tenure in the Nebraska Legislature, has died.

Former state Sen. Merton "Cap" Dierks, 89, died Friday from complications following a stroke. He was known as a state senator who preserved relationships as he advocated for issues important to him.

"Rural America lost one of its very best champions," said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, describing Dierks as "one of the most influential and respected state senators" in the Legislature in the last 35-plus years. "He argued things from a moral and ethical and policy perspective, so he raised the level of debate on a lot of discussions."

Former U.S. Sen. and Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey and current Sen. Deb Fischer offered similar praise.

"Cap was a man whose faith and love of Nebraska combined with the virtue of caring about the opinions of everyone made him a model of what public service is at its best," Kerrey posted in a tribute on Facebook. "I trusted and loved this man completely. Young Nebraskans: Remember him. Be like him. You cannot do better."

Fischer, a former state senator who served alongside Dierks, said she got to know Dierks while advocating for Nebraska's schools.

"He was a champion in the Nebraska Legislature for our state’s children and our state’s school districts. ... He was always a gentleman, sincere and honest in every relationship, and he had the deep respect of all who knew him."

Dierks and his wife, Gloria, were married 62 years. He is survived by his wife; three sons, Jon, Tom, Chris; a daughter, Stephanie Upp;  numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"He was irreplaceable," Gloria Dierks said. "I don't know how to start. He was everything you'd want."

The Dierks family lived in Ewing and ranched nearby.

Dierks was a veterinarian and traveled widely to help ranchers and farmers with their animals. Five members of his family, a son, son-in-law and grandchildren, are also veterinarians.

His wife said her husband's first love was his ranch. "He loved that his was a fifth-generation ranch."

Dierks' nickname came from his mother's brother, who died in battle on the same day during World War I that another brother died, his family said. Dierks served in the Air Force.

Dierks represented the 40th District in the Legislature from 1987 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2011. He also served many years on the Ewing school board.

A self-described "prolife advocate," Dierks worked for years on the issue and prioritized abortion legislation a number of times.

Among his many legislative efforts were school funding and a pathway for ethanol and wind development in Nebraska. Additionally, he was active in ag market reforms, both locally and nationally, including mandatory price reporting. His veterinary practice informed his efforts to promote animal welfare reform.

For his efforts, he was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement.

Dierks was known for his ability to listen to others and care about what they think.

"He put a lot of value on relationships and friendships," Hansen said. "His word was always good ... Everyone knew him, and everyone who knew him, liked him."

The funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Peter Catholic Church in Ewing. Burial will follow in the St. Peter Catholic Cemetery. Visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the church, and the rosary will be recited at 7 p.m.​

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