Sen. Dennis Utter Remembered

By Steve White

A warm man who'd shake your hand if you were the governor or an everyday citizen, Senator Dennis Utter is remembered as a respected legislative career is cut short. Utter died this week in Hastings, following complications from lung disease.

The loss hits those who worked closely with him, like Dee Haussler, head of the Hastings Economic Development Corporation.

He said, "We couldn't ask for a better individual to represent us in the legislature than Dennis. He did a great job. We are so saddened and heartbroken his life was taken so quickly."

Elected in 2008, he was a likeable leader, who made more friends than enemies.

Hastings Mayor Vern Powers said, "Sometimes he didn't like what I said, sometimes I didn't like what he said, but we parted friends and knew we were each trying to help Nebraska."

Utter served as an ag banker in Kenesaw, mayor of McCook and state senator for the Hastings area.

Powers said, "People turned him on, he was excited to engage with people and get their ideas and get his back and found a place in the middle that helped everyone."

He played a key role in labor reform and economic development. Senator Mike Gloor said Utter was especially important on dealing with the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR).

Gloor said, "People outside of central Nebraska who didn't know Senator Utter will feel his loss because he was intelligent, involved, stabilizing influence."

This sudden loss leaves a void.

Dee Haussler loses more than a golf buddy. "A great friend, a great friend to the community, great friend to rural Nebraska," he said.

Vern Powers just met with Utter to talk about issues in the coming lawmaking session and said, "We're going to miss his talent."

Gloor said they were elected at the same time, and became fast friends and could trust each other to bounce ideas off of.

"There were a lot of people whose lives have been touched by Sen. Dennis Utter," Gloor said.

Going forward, area state senators have promised to help Utter's district, knowing it may take time to fill these big shoes. The area includes not only Hastings and Adams County but Wood River and Doniphan in Hall County.

A celebration of life is scheduled for Friday, December 30 and 11:00 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Hastings. Visitation is set for Thursday from 1:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Livingston-Butler-Volland Funeral Home.

Dennis was born February 21, 1939 in Wheatland, Wyoming. After studying agriculture at the University of Wyoming, he married in Nebraska and became a banker in McCook. In 1978 the family moved to Kenesaw where he was president and later chairman of Adams County Bank. After his retirement in 2001, he moved to Hastings and in 2008 was elected to the legislature.

Utter served as vice chair of the Revenue Committee and was a member of the Banking Committee in the legislature. He was an avid golfer and enjoyed spending time with his six grandchildren.

He is survived by his wife Kathy and their children Mark and Ann Utter of Kenesaw, Ward and Lynn Utter of Devon, PA, and Denise and Lt. Col. Chris Ott of Fort Leavenworth, KS.

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