Roger Holthaus was offered a summer job in 1960 as a park ranger in Wyoming. Several days later, a second letter arrived offering him a job in the Eisenhower White House.
The White House job was a perfect fit. He was one year away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
Looking back on his time in America‘s most famous house, Holthaus says, “Security was different then. When Vice President Nixon was not there, anyone could do what I did. I would go to his office to chat and have coffee with his secretary, Rose Mary Woods.”
Washington, D.C., was filled with Nebraska natives that year. Former Nebraska Gov. Val Peterson was Federal Civil Defense Administrator. Fred Seton was Secretary of the Interior. Seton’s newspaper, the Hastings Tribune, sat down the street from the drugstore owned by Holthaus’ father.
Holthaus’ boss in the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization was Bob Gray, special assistant to President Eisenhower and a fellow Hastings High School alum. Gray would call Holthaus and say, “Ike’s out of town. Want to join me in the swimming pool?”
“I was the state champion swimmer in high school,” Holthaus says. The retired attorney is still a champion swimmer, traveling the country to compete in National Senior Olympics.
Holthaus returned to the State Department in 1961 after college graduation. “That was going to be my career,” he says.
But his path took a twist when he was called up by the Selective Service. He applied for a direct commission. Within a week, Lieutenant Holthaus was on his way to Fort Sam Houston and then to a front-line aid station in the DMZ in Korea as part of the Army Medical Service Corps.
Holthaus left the Army and earned a master’s degree in political science and government in 1966 from the University of Nebraska. He then taught political science classes at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City for three years.
After graduating with a law degree from Creighton University in 1972, he became Deputy Douglas County Attorney and later established his own law firm.
Historical buildings have been a big part of his life. His law offices were once in the 1600 Farnam Building, built in 1916 for First National Bank. He also had a condominium there. Today his home is in the St. Joseph Tower on 10th Street, built in the 19th century as a hospital.
Although he retired in 2012, Holthaus still maintains an office in the more-than century-old Keeline building near the courthouse. He works there representing District 2 in the Learning Community of Douglas-Sarpy Counties. He once lived in the nearby Orpheum Towers, which is listed on the National Historic Registry.
His Carleton College roommate was Garrick Utley, who became a well-known NBC newsman. Holthaus once jokingly told his friend that he thought Maria Shriver, Utley’s co-anchor on NBC News Sunday Today, was cute and would he introduce them? Utley called back in a few days and said, “She says if I do, I will be terminated.”
At the time, Shriver was married to Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger.