Burnett Society member spotlight on Jim Cudaback

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Jim attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney before enlisting in the Air Force. He then spent 20 years at the State Bank of Riverdale before becoming Buffalo County commissioner. Jim was a state senator from 1990 to 2007 in the Nebraska legislature. Learn more about Jim and why he supports the University of Nebraska.

What was the first job you ever had?

My dad was an electrician, and he owned a service station. I was about 12 or 13 years old, and I thought I knew everything, like we all do. I went with him and helped wire houses, back when electricity was first coming in the 1940s during the war. Then in about 1951, I worked at the station and helped a neighbor irrigate. I was pretty diversified!

Best advice anyone ever gave you?   

I was at my grandmother’s house when I was about 7 or so, and I dropped one of her famous, prized China dolls, and it broke. I tried to tell a white lie to get out of it, and it just broke her heart. She was even kind of crying. I finally had to tell the truth — that I was going outside to look at a motorcycle, and I just kind of threw the doll down, and it broke. She said, you know, if you just tell the truth the first time, then you don’t have to remember things.

Who is someone from history you’d want to invite to a dinner party if you could, and why?

It would probably be either Hippocrates or Winston Churchill. Churchill was a practical man who said what he thought, and I just think it would be fun to have a man like that come to your home for dinner, lunch or whatever.

What is the first question you’d ask that guest from history?

I guess I would ask Churchill how do we learn? How do we keep from repeating the same thing over and over, like war?  We just don’t learn. We repeat them over and over, and it does nothing but harm others, including our loved ones. I just think he might have the answer if he could wake up and tell us.

What is the one song you would be sure to play to set the mood at the dinner party?

I have played for a thousand dinner parties, and I played for the last five presidents of the university. I’d play the song “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller. Everybody loves to dance to it. And then “As Time Goes By” from the movie Casablanca.

What is the question that you like to be asked the most?

When I was a legislator, I used to speak to kids as they came to the Capitol, and they would always ask what it was like to be a senator. I thought how neat it is that kids would want to know something like that. Kids are so interested in that, and I loved to explain why I was one. And when I would play the piano, I would like it when adults stopped and asked how long I’d been playing. Everyone would say how their mom tried to get them to play the piano. Most people wished that they would have studied the piano or kept practicing the piano.

Why do you plan to leave a gift to the University of Nebraska in your estate?

It’s not a right to receive money, and it’s not a right to be a beneficiary. You’ve got to pick and choose, and you’ve got to listen to people and understand where the money might be needed. We all have different priorities.

I like music, and one day I thought, why not give a scholarship to kids to motivate them to come to UNK. So, I talked to J. B. Milliken and Chancellor Kristensen, and it helped me to make a choice to set up a scholarship at UNK in music. Later, they built the nursing addition at UNK. My mother worked as an aide at the hospital in Kearney 70 years ago, and she loved being a nurse. I thought it would be nice to give scholarships to students who want to be nurses, too, so I made a provision in my will to fund nursing. I’ve been fortunate all my life. There’s a quote by somebody, “give as you have been blessed,” and I’ve just been blessed my whole life.

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