Jaclund (Jack) D. Mills, 81, of Lincoln passed away February 14, 2019, following a courageous extended battle with cancer.
The son of Dr. Dale and Fern E. (Zieme) Mills, Jack was born August 22, 1937, in Holdrege. As the son of educators, Jack would spend his formative years in Colorado, Shelton, Lincoln and Big Springs before graduating from Superior High School in the mid-1950s. He would continue his education at Kearney State College, the University of Nebraska and eventually earn his degree from Bellevue University.
Jack’s entrepreneurial spirit once again took him west to Big Springs where he successfully established himself in the grain, fertilizer and cattle business. His can-do attitude also led him to serve on both the local Educational Service Unit Board and the Big Springs School District Board.
Jack successfully ran for the Nebraska Legislature in 1974 and represented the 44th District from 1975 until 1978. Here he would form many long-lasting friendships and leave an indelible impression. But Jack’s best accomplishment while in the Statehouse may very well have been marrying Norma Thorell Swanson, who was employed in the Attorney General’s Office. On August 7, 1976, Norma agreed to be Jack’s beloved wife and for the next 43 years serve as his rock, guiding light and inspiration. It was truly a love story.
Jack left the Legislature to become Executive Director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials on September 1,1978, a position he would steadfastly hold until his retirement on June 30, 2000. During those years Jack worked alongside five different governors and countless state senators to formulate legislation that was in the best interest of the Nebraska’s 93 counties and local taxpayers.
One example was successfully leading an effort in the 1980s to create the state’s first public entity risk management and self-insurance program, the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, that to date has saved counties and taxpayers millions of dollars. The Association of Governmental Risk Pools would recognize this and in 2008 made Jack an Honorary Lifetime Associate Member of the international organization.
When Jack announced his plans to retire, members of the Legislature paid tribute by adopting a resolution recognizing his service and, one by one, 16 senators took to the microphone to praise Jack and recount his days as the counties’ representative and voice.
“He is one of those stars, I think, among the lobby group. He does exactly the things that I think should happen by a lobbyist. He represents the people very well. He understands the issues. He presents them forthrightly,” said one senator. “I don’t even think of Jack Mills as a lobbyist. I think of him as an ambassador … (a) diplomat,” said another.
Retirement did not mean slowing down as Jack would continue to serve as a member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska Board of Directors, and for a period of time as Chief Executive Officer. After 28 years on the board, including 10 as chairman, Jack resigned in 2012. In recognition of the unparalleled legacy he left, Jack was bestowed the title of Chairman of the Board Emeritus, the only person given this honor.
Jack and Norma enjoyed traveling together. They explored the United States in their motor home and sailed on their boat, appropriately named the Norma Jean, that would take them from Lewis and Clark Lake to the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Jack charted a course that would take Norma and him along the East Coast from Havre de Grace, Maryland, to Stuart, Florida, a trip that would span 40 days and nights and cover a distance of more than 1,000 nautical miles.
Later on in retirement, Jack opted for a bit less adventure, trading his boat shoes for flip flops and a condominium in Florida where Norma and he would spend the winters. Jack enjoyed visiting with other “snowbirds” from around the country and world, and equally enjoyed serving as president of the Villas at Island Club Condominium Association for 14 years. One of Jack’s other enjoyments in retirement was attending his Thursday morning coffee group in Lincoln where he visited and reminisced with other retired professionals. It was the highlight of his week.
While Jack was the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his career, possibly the highest professional honor came in 2010 when the Board of Governors of the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben inducted Jack in their Court of Honor as the honoree for Lifetime Contributions to Public Service.
A man of benevolence, Jack was always the one to ask about your family, lend an ear or offer a helping hand to those in need. He enjoyed his many years as a Mason and found great pleasure in participating in local parades with his fellow Shrine members, oftentimes driving his red Corvette.
Jack was a longtime member of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church where he served on the Finance Committee.
Jack had a subtle yet direct way of offering encouragement, whether it would be with a friend, coworker or family member. He enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren, stressing the importance of a good education, encouraging them to strive for excellence and often challenging them in different ways.
Those who knew Jack will remember him as a man of vision, ambition, fortitude and someone who always remembered your name. And, they can attest, Jack Mills was not a potted plant.
Jack is survived by his wife Norma; son Kevin (Kim) of Bellevue, daughters Melanie of Omaha, Jody (Randy) Himan of Bellevue, and Stephanie (Brian) Beeson of Tulsa, Oklahoma; 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren; brothers- and sisters-in-law Rodney (Wanda) Thorell, DeWayne (Alice) Thorell, Alex (Marlene) McClean, and sisters-in-law Elaine Westergren and Ginger Thorell; numerous nieces, nephews and friends.
He was predeceased by his parents Dale and Fern Mills; father and mother-in law Raymond and Ruth Thorell; brothers-in-law Wendell Thorell, Don Thorell and Arlyn Westergren; sister-in-law Pat Thorell; and nephews Ryan Westergren and Todd Thorell.
Funeral services were held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday (2-19-19) at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 8550 Pioneers Blvd.