The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

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By Forrest Hershberger
Publisher, Sun-Telegraph 

Sidney Loses Veteran, Businessman, Community Leader

 

On April 30, Sidney businessman and inventor, former city councilman, and former newspaper owner Robert “Bob” Van Vleet died at the age of 87.

Van Vleet was born in Redfield, S.D. After graduating high school, Van Vleet enlisted in the USAF at Aberdeen, S.D. and entered the service in 1952. Basic Training was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He spent three months at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, then a brief stop at Camp Stoneham, San Francisco, Calif., in 1953, prior to his assignment in Korea.

He and his family moved to Sidney in 1975.

On Nov. 10, 2001, Bob Van Vleet received documentation affirming his honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, 41 years after the fact.

During his years in Sidney, he was involved in many ventures public and private. Swede Nelson says Van Vleet played a major role in development of Sidney's memorial park, including the flag that waves above the trees. Nelson said the project started in January of 1989, and by July 4 the flag was up.

“It was Bob's ingenuity that really put it all together,” Nelson said.

The flagpole itself has a history of, “public service.” It started as a light pole on Interstate 80. The pole was downed and Van Vleet offered then Neb. Gov. Orr scrap price for the pole. The intention was to fit it as the flag pole for Legion Park. Nelson said when Gov. Orr heard about the project, the light pole was donated.

Initially, Van Vleet determined there was a bend in the light pole. The belief was the bend occurred in a storm. Studying it, Van Vleet learned the bend was a result of the sun's heat on the metal, not damage to the pole.

Getting the memorial to its current glory wasn't over yet. After the pole was transported to Sidney by Filsinger Excavation. The base was built with 20 feet of concrete and a wire cage, Nelson said. Structurally, the monument was ready for display. However, the next challenge showed up a little unexpectedly, and took some creativity to find a solution. The cotton fabric of the Stars and Stripes couldn't withstand the Panhandle wind.

“It would only stay up about 24 hours without fraying,” Nelson said.

He said Van Vleet's creativity is what changed that.

According to Nelson, Van Vleet was watching a football game and noted the fabric of the jerseys. They were of a material resistant to the stress and strain of the game, and loose enough to seen through.

“That sparked Bob's idea,” Nelson said, of a flag made of similar material that could display the red, white and blue and still withstand the weather.

Van Vleet is also is the founder of Convert-A-Ball. Convert-A-Ball was founded in 1986 and incorporated in 2002. The original convert-a-ball was designed as a handy-man's tool for towing. Each set came with one shank and two or three balls.

Van Vleet also served on the Sidney City Council. He served on the City Council from December 1988 to December 1996, and served as mayor from December 1992 to December 1994. He then came back onto the Council from December 2008 to December 2012.

He was also a sponsor of the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

During the 1990s, he found a reason to get into newspaper publishing. According to Nelson, a headline was written that Van Vleet didn't agree with. He promptly purchased a printing press and opened the Sidney Sun. The Sun became the official paper of the county. After a time, ownership of the papers changed and the papers merged into the Sun-Telegraph.

Nelson said Van Vleet had his own way of predicting the economy as well. He said the original Convert-A-Ball location was on Grant Street, north of the BNSF railroad tracks. He would talk of sitting in a chair facing the railroad tracks and could get a feel of the economy based on what was on the train cars.

 

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