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Vern Meints -- A lifetime of serving others

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nadine and Vern Meints
Vern Meints was born in rural Culbertson, Nebraska, in 1925 and graduated from Culbertson High School, where he was a standout athlete, especially in baseball. There was even the dream of a major league career. That dream (like the dreams of so many American youths of that era) was dampened during a World War II hitch with the U.S. Marines.

After the war, Vern, with a wife and daughter, turned to more serious pursuits, and when we came to McCook, in 1957, Vern was hard at work as a dry cleaner for Bob Casson at the Modern Cleaners shop, across from the bakery on Norris Avenue.

One night, long after we had officially closed, I was doing some bookwork at the bakery when someone knocked at the front door. It was Vern. He introduced himself and said that he just wanted to welcome us to McCook. He said that he was in the process of buying the cleaning plant from Bob, and offered to help us get acquainted in our new community -- who was related to whom, etc. A nice gesture for a newcomer! But I soon found out that Vern was always doing nice things -- for everyone.

It seemed that Vern was very involved in McCook affairs. He and his wife, Nadine, sang in the Peace Lutheran Choir, where my wife, Jean, played the organ. Vern was a pillar in the church. He was a very popular (and effective) Sunday School teacher for teenagers. He served on the McCook Chamber of Commerce Board. He seemed to know everyone, and everyone liked him, and trusted him. People were always singling him out, to seek advice on business or personal affairs -- or just talk.

I very much enjoyed our occasional late-night chats at his business or mine, and the times he would invite me over to see a new piece of equipment that would make Modern Cleaners yet more modern. His delight, while explaining how a new machine worked, was contagious, even if I didn't understand it.

One time, moisture leaked around one of the large show windows and stained a piece of carpet at the cleaning shop. It did look bad and we kidded Vern about the "cleaner who could not remove that stain." He took the abuse with good grace, and kept trying to clean the stain. Lo and behold, one day the stain was gone. I, with a couple of other business neighbors, gathered to offer our congratulations, saying it would be a great recommendation for Modern Cleaners. Vern accepted our good wishes and grinned widely, saying that no stain was too much for Modern Cleaners.

But as we turned to leave he called us back. "I can't do it, though I'd like to. I must confess. We were unable to get that stain out, so we replaced the carpet. So there you have it! Satisfied?"

Vern loved his coffee breaks at Modrell's Café. There were the bad jokes and involved games leaving one poor soul to pay for coffee for the group. But there were also discussions about the city's problems, which led to Vern's foray into politics. He had the knack of seeing the larger picture and offering a reasonable solution to the problem without making others mad -- just the sort of fellow to serve on the McCook City Council, which he did, beginning in 1966.

Vern was a good Councilman. He knew the statutes and he approached pending issues with a liberal amount of common sense and good humor. He immediately needed both. In April 1966 the Council passed a law that dogs must be confined or on a leash. It seemed a reasonable ordinance, considering the number of dogs that roamed the town at the time. However, a petition with more than 100 names was presented to the Council which demanded that the same statute be applied to cats -- what was good for dogs should apply to cats as well. The council passed that law unanimously, opening a very spirited city-wide debate.

A new petition, opposing cat confinement, with over 500 names, was presented. But the council did not back down and the law went into effect on Aug. 27. Though roving cats were illegal, apparently few, if any cats were picked up by the animal control officers. In November voters overturned the "Cat Law," 1,523-1074.

Vern very much enjoyed his time on the City Council, and represented the city well. In 1968, Mayor Vern Meints hosted Presidential Candidate Robert Kennedy at lunch in McCook, during a stop in Kennedy's cross-country campaign tour. The two got along very well, and Vern promised to visit Kennedy in Washington at the White House the next year. Alas, just days later, Kennedy's presidential bid was cut short by an assassin's bullet at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

In 1972, Vern's own political ambitions were cut short when he was stricken with a massive heart attack. He was the recipient of one of the early by-pass surgeries, which prolonged his life another 33 years. Though Vern retired from politics, he remained active in city affairs and in his business, which he expanded to include a laundry, on West J. Street, and a self-service dry cleaning shop, off West B. Street.

For many years Vern had worked, (without much success), to find a worthy successor, to take over his business. He brought a number of young fellows into the business -- some, down and out, who just needed a chance (he thought), others who certainly had the ability. But these ventures invariably failed. Apparently, these fellows did not have the vision, and the love that Vern possessed for the dry cleaning business.

This all changed, unexpectedly, in 1976 when Vern and Nadine sponsored the Seng family to immigrate to the U.S. from Cambodia. This turned out to be a life-changing experience for the Seng family (12 in all), and for Vern and Nadine. Vern was instrumental in helping the Seng family to the American way of life.

In Ye Seng, especially, Vern found the "son he never had." Though diminutive in stature, Ye took to the dry cleaning business as a duck takes to water. By 1983, at age 23, Ye became part owner of Modern Cleaners, and gradually became sole owner of the enterprise.

Vern could not have been more proud, or happier with her success.

In the 1980s, the Dry Cleaning Industry was faced with a crisis. So many of the new fabrics were washable in ordinary washing machines, and there was a proliferation of "self serve" coin-op dry cleaning machines. Many conventional dry cleaning operators were having a tough time. Vern saw the situation as an opportunity. He said, "Who knows more about cleaning than a dry cleaner?" -- "No one!" So he teamed up with a manufacturer of carpet cleaning machines, which he sold to dry cleaner operators over a three or four state region. The dry cleaners did well with this new dimension for their businesses, and were very happy. The manufacturer of the machines was delighted. Vern was happy because he was helping a new group of people -- but it very nearly cost him his life!

On a sales trip in Kansas Vern was coming to the crest of a hill on a busy highway. A driver coming up the other side of the hill went to sleep and drifted into Vern's lane, causing Vern to leave the highway, and veer into a barricade with heavy metal guard rails. The impact caused one of these metal rails to crash through Vern's windshield (on the passenger side), and impaled the car like a "hotdog on a skewer." Vern said that had there been a passenger with him he would surely have been killed. Vern was beat up some and scratched, but sustained no major injuries. In telling about the accident a bit later, he shrugged and said, "It just wasn't my time yet. God will let me know."

Though Vern had survived his heart problems for a long time, the disease had taken its toll. Over the years Vern's once strong body gradually weakened. Until the end he was in good spirits.

Death was something he had come close to and it held no fear for Vern.

He died quietly in Feb. 7, 2005 and is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, McCook.

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Your article touched my heart. Vern and Nadine were my uncle and aunt, and i loved them very much. They were both very caring and loving people, and will always be remembered.

Thank you for bringing back such wonerful memories.

Ray Meints

Sr. Videographer/Editor. NET TV

-- Posted by Meints on Sat, Aug 13, 2011, at 9:33 PM

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Days Gone By