LINCOLN — Nearly all of the homes ringing Lake Waconda are empty now, their owners having retreated a safe distance from the swollen Missouri River. But caretaker Larry Hathaway and a team of seven volunteers remain, fighting around the clock to keep floodwaters at bay.
Several residents have touted Hathaway’s efforts as the reason their lake homes have not yet been flooded. They say he’s their flood-fighting hero.
“You come over the big hill, and all you see is miles and miles of water — and you say ‘How can that lake still be there?’ ” said Ruth Gerdes of Auburn, who owns a weekend house at the lake with her husband, Myron, and her family.
“You get down there and you’re dumbfounded that it’s as good as it is,” she added. “I’m flatly amazed at what Larry’s been able to accomplish. He deserves all the credit in the world.”
Jeff Stoehr, an Omaha attorney who has had a summer place at Lake Waconda since 1978, agreed. He said Hathaway wouldn’t even take time off to let Stoehr take him out for dinner in nearby Murray.
“Larry goes above and beyond,” Stoehr said. “He’s living this 24 hours a day. He’s concerned about every person and property on this lake as if it were his own.”
Lake Waconda is a man-made lake built in the 1960s. Most of the recreational development’s 228 residences are weekend and summer homes, although 38 house full-time residents. Some homes are valued at $300,000 to $400,000, Stoehr said.
The development is in Cass County, about 16 miles south of Plattsmouth.
Hathaway said he is no hero — he’s just doing his job. Any credit must go to the seven “hard-headed” residents who have refused to move out and who are working to save their homes.
“Anybody who looks like a hero has got a helluva team with him, making him look good,” he said. “I’m not the hero — we all are.”
On Sunday, Cass County authorities asked any remaining residents to sleep elsewhere for the time being. With seepage and soft spots in the levee raising concerns, they feared sleeping residents would not have time to get out in case of a breach.
Hathaway said he and his volunteer crew have a plan to get out safely if something does happen. Meanwhile, they are trying to fortify the levee enough to enable residents to move back.
He believes the levee can be fixed.
“Everybody’s got the attitude that we’re going to save this place, and we’re going to make it,” he said. “If you don’t have that attitude, you wouldn’t come out here in the morning.”
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