SCOTTSBLUFF — Whether it was his city, the local airport, the many boards and clubs he was involved with or his church, Don Overman lived to serve.
He died early Monday at the age of 90. He leaves behind Bernadine, his wife of 65 years, and children Mark Overman, Barbara Miller, Chris Overman and Donna Weitzel.
Born in Pittsburg, Kansas, Feb. 25, 1929, Overman took a job with the F.W. Woolworth Company in 1943, working in stores in Kansas, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico before settling in as the store manager in Scottsbluff, then becoming a sales agent for Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in 1967. For more than 50 years after arriving in Scottsbluff, he went about the business of serving the community and its citizens.
Overman served the City of Scottsbluff as its longest-running councilman when he was on the council from 1969-94. He was the city’s mayor from 1974-94, making him the longest serving mayor of the city as well. He was named Mayor Emeritus after stepping down. He was a longtime member of the Western Nebraska Regional Airport Board of Directors and that board’s predecessors, and the airport’s new terminal opened as the Donald E. Overman Terminal in 2005.
Overman served on the Nebraska Crime Commission for 20 years before stepping down in 2017 as the longest serving member of the commission. He testified before House and Senate committees in Washington, D.C., supporting essential air service. The Nebraska Chapter of American Society for Public Administration awarded him the Advancing Excellence in Public Service Award as its Elected Official of the Year in 1995. Overman was named the Star-Herald’s first Citizen of the Year in 1990 and the Star-Herald’s Citizen of the Century in government in 2000. All of the awards and honors received and boards and commissions served are too numerous to list them all here.
Mark Harris, who served on the city council alongside Overman for six years and followed him as mayor, said it was tough to follow those footsteps.
“I don’t think anybody could have adequately filled his shoes,” Harris said. “He was really a great mentor for me. He taught me a lot about how to deal with people, how to make things run smoothly. He taught me a great deal about how to trust people more.”
Bob Unzicker, who was mayor of Gering from 1986-94 while Overman was mayor of Scottsbluff, says Overman has been a “wonderful friend, and Bernadine is such a neat lady.” The two families spent considerable time together and became very close through the years.
“He was such a big help to me, having been in office for a number of years before I came on,” Unzicker said. “He seemed to always have good suggestions, always had good advice. I really appreciated him for that.”
A member of the Scottsbluff Noon Kiwanis for 55 years, Overman was named a Lusche Fellow, the highest honor for service a Kiwanian can receive. Raul Aguallo is the director of the Western Nebraska Regional Airport and also a member of the Noon Kiwanis Club.
“He really brought a balance to the club,” Aguallo said. “He was always very progressive. We’re always trying to bring younger people into the club, but as an older member, he was never narrow minded about the future of the club.”
The legacy of service will be long remembered.
“I know that he loved being the mayor,” Harris said. “He loved doing things for the community. People respected him.”
Aguallo said Overman was very altruistic, a “fantastic mentor” and always kept his family in the back of his mind, no matter what he was doing.
“I just can’t say enough about the man,” Aguallo said. “I really think that anybody who has had the opportunity to know him has been influenced in a positive way by him.”
Unzicker, who also served for many years on the airport boards with Overman, said that Overman and then City Manager Frank Kohler were the driving forces behind bringing the Monument Mall to Scottsbluff.
“He’s really meant an awful lot to the Valley,” Unzicker said. “A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a lot of what we have around here that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Don.”
While the stamp Overman left on Harris individually was significant, the mark he left on the community was even greater.
“His presence caused many, many things to happen here,” Harris said. “In my opinion, he almost single-handedly kept our airport viable for a great number of years.”
Former Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Tom Parker replaced Overman on the Crime Commission and said Overman was a tremendous resource for the law enforcement community in western Nebraska and the Panhandle.
“He’s always been a strong supporter, not only of the community in general, but especially of those in law enforcement and public service, first responders in general,” Parker said.
Opportunities to run for state and national offices may have been options at different times for Overman, but Harris said Don always asked Bernadine the same question: “Why would we want to go and live someplace else?”