Editor’s note: Robert Bruce is Hoisington’s newest city council representative. His journey to becoming the kind of man who chooses to take part in civic life took a tragic turn early on, one that led to a conviction of involuntary manslaughter after a drunken driving incident, time served in prison, and the choice to give up alcohol. Today, he is working to make his community a better place. Here is the second in a two-part series.
Since completing his prison sentence for his involuntary manslaughter conviction, Robert Bruce’s family has called Hoisington home for the past nine years. He no longer drinks. After prison, he attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for three years, and today continues to be there for others who struggle with alcohol. The friends he spends time with refrain from drinking around him too. He’s learned that life can be fun without it; the July 4 block party he has with neighbors is evidence.
“A real big plus is my wife supports me,” he said. “She wasn’t a drinker before, and she stays sober with me.”
Another big change is the way he cares now. He cares about his neighbors, and he cares about what they think about him. The Tribune spoke with Don Doerschlag, the Hoisington Police Officer that wrote the letter of support for Bruce.
“Robert Bruce is a good man, and he’s a voice for the common man, something Hoisington needs right now,” he said. “He’s a blue-collar guy, and he can relate to what a lot of people are going through.”
Bruce confirms he and his wife both work full-time jobs and understand what it means to live from paycheck to paycheck, struggling to decide what bills to pay first and what can be saved for the next check. They are raising their children, finding ways to pay for school activities, and this year there will be all the expenses associated with high school graduation for one of their daughters. While it can be tough, he looks to the elderly in his community, including his own parents, who struggle with financial and health-care decisions, taking on part-time jobs in retirement in order to make ends meet.
“Hopefully now, this is my chance to straighten my life out more and do good for my community. It is my job, and I will do whatever I can to learn more about my job so I can make things a little better,” he said.
Doing the work
As soon as he was appointed to finish out Wilborn’s term, he went right to work. The council was in the midst of determining the coming year’s budget, and the question was on the table of how the city could find a way to replace a pumper for the volunteer fire department. There were some funds put aside, but not enough to cover the expense in full. A mill levy increase was being considered. Bruce began calling and visiting with officials in other cities like Hoisington. If the pumper was not replaced, there was a question of how it would affect the city’s ISO rating which determines what insurance companies will charge for homeowners insurance.
“I found that other communities are struggling just like us,” he said. “They are looking at other avenues.”
It was beginning to look as if money was going to have to be spent one way or another. The question then was, what would benefit the community more, raising the mill levy and getting the equipment the fire department needed, or having insurance rates go up and the money leaving the community. He was prepared to take the position that the city should get the equipment.
“Going to the council meetings has made me aware of what the issues are. I found them interesting, and I want to be a part and know what is going on,” he said. “I can’t complain just off hearsay. It’s important to be informed on what is happening in the community.”
But Bruce also understands not everyone can make it to the meetings. He has friends that work 12-15 hours a day and come home to take care of three kids and don’t get to bed until midnight. It’s for these people that he takes his job as council person so seriously. He looks around at work and at home and sees there are a lot of people who soon will retire.
“Unless the younger generation like myself jumps in there and start learning this stuff now, what is going to happen? We need to know what is going on and learn before they retire, move or pass away.”
Changes for the better
For Robert Bruce, his wife and his children are his world. He wants to leave it in a better place for them, and his way of doing that is serving on the council and being a part of his community, helping to build better schools and better streets. He knows he’s rough around the edges, but he’s ready to do his part.
But there was a time earlier this year when he almost decided not to run. A story in the Feb. 26, 2016 edition of the Hoisington Dispatch shined a light on his past once more, upsetting his wife and causing him to consider what kind of an impact his campaign could have on her and the family. The next day, he was ready to bow out of the campaign, but his wife and his daughter rallied and threw their support behind him. They knew he had considered running for a long time, and didn’t want his past to hold him back any longer. They reminded him how many others were in support of him, and in the end, he was glad that they would not let him give up. Even though he did not win the election, he gave his all, he said. Now, he hopes to bring something good to the table.
“One of my neighbors said, if you can change your life around, what can you do for our community,” he said. He’s going to do his best to find out.