It doesn’t matter what exactly longtime Columbus resident Jessica Leffers is doing as long as she’s with her family or friends. Even something as simple as a Taco Bell run with a loved one makes her happy.
Actually, trips to the fast-food restaurant that serves a variety of Mexican-inspired foods has become somewhat of a tradition for her and her husband, John, by accident. They weren’t feeling the best the night of their first wedding anniversary 14 years ago, so they decided to go pick up some comfort food and keep things simple.
“I think I ordered Taco Supreme tacos and John had, more than likely, a burrito of some sort,” Leffers recalled. “Every year after that we did Taco Bell just as a joke. We laugh about it now.”
Leffers is all about keeping things simple but by many accounts has a huge heart and commits much of her time to help others quietly, such as baking a cake for a funeral and aiding with church functions or nonprofit causes when possible.
“I definitely believe Jessica goes above and beyond to help anybody and everybody,” longtime friend and fellow Columbus resident Angie Arndt said. “She does it out of the goodness of her heart. She doesn’t help others because she has to, but because she wants to.”
Leffers will tell those who ask that her mindset comes from her DNA, noting her mother is quite social while her father is more introverted. She called herself a combination of the two.
“I like to do things where I’m under the radar. I still love being able to in the back of my mind know I’m helping somebody,” she said. “I think ultimately no matter what I decided to do I knew I wanted to help people.”
It’s been a journey for Leffers, a self-proclaimed farm kid who grew up aspiring to follow a specific plan in life only to find another one that she believes is equally rewarding.
FINDING HER WAY
Leffers grew up in the Humphrey/Lindsay areas on a family farm alongside her three younger brothers.
“We went to school in Humphrey but we lived closer to Lindsay,” she said.
The family had plenty of crops and pigs on their property, with the siblings raising calves to earn their own money.
Leffers was also quite active while attending Humphrey High School, playing volleyball and basketball while also participating in track and the Future Homemakers of America and Future Farmers of America programs.
“Childhood was great,” she said.
Leffers graduated from Humphrey High in 1996 and wanted to follow her passion for helping people by going into nursing. So, she decided to enter the nursing program at what is now Central Community College-Columbus.
While attending college and going through the program, Leffers worked regularly as a certified nursing assistant at a local nursing home. She enjoyed getting to know the residents but acknowledged she didn't anticipate how hard it would be, as she got extremely emotionally attached to those she helped.
“I didn’t honestly know if I could do that every day,” she said. “So I decided I should do something else.”
Once Leffers decided to get out of nursing, she had to figure out what exactly she wanted to do next. She ended up getting a receptionist job at the Columbus office of FLEXcon, a global leader in coated and laminated films and adhesives used in graphics applications, manufactured goods and new products.
“I thought it would fill my void while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said, noting her dad also worked there.
During this time she was traveling back and forth living at both her parents’ farm and her grandfather’s Columbus home. She decided she was ready to find her own place, and with encouragement from her father, bought a home in Columbus at age 20.
“It was scary, but I just wanted a place I could go home to,” she said.
Everything was coming together for Leffers, whose hard work and commitment to her job were noticed by her superiors. That resulted in numerous promotions over the course of 13 years, including inventory control to safety environmental technician and later environmental technician.
As she worked her way up in the company she also decided to go back to school while working and obtain her bachelor’s degree through online courses with Concordia University (based out of Seward).
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“I felt like I just wanted to challenge myself and do more than I was currently doing,” Leffers said, noting she got her degree in 2011.
She bought a house, got her bachelor’s degree and earned several promotions while working at FLEXcon. She also ended up meeting the man who would become her husband, John, while playing on the company’s softball team. That happened in 2000.
“We became friends through softball and then started dating,” she said.
Leffers jokes about her engagement. She said John actually proposed twice to her, as she acknowledged she wasn’t sure about what her path in life was going to be. She acknowledged she had some fears initially about having a blended family as he has two daughters from a previous relationship who were young kids at the time.
But, she said, she said yes the second time because she knew she loved him and believed they could all make it work. They became engaged in 2003 and were married Aug. 21, 2004.
“I thought it could be challenging having a blended family but John has been very supportive of it and the girls have been really good about it,” she said, noting she has a really good relationship with her stepdaughters, 27-year-old Jennifer and 23-year-old Stephanie.
Jessica and John also have a daughter of their own, Ashlee, who is now in eighth grade at Scotus. Several photos of the family are proudly on display in the Leffers’ Columbus home.
Family means a great deal to Leffers and she relishes having those closest to her inside the home creating memories, whether that’s enjoying some beverages together, grilling or just hanging around. Her parents, Jerry and Kathy Pfeifer, live in Columbus. Her three younger brothers all live in the Omaha area, so they get down to see them and their families when they can and do things like attending concerts together.
Columbus, however, is their permanent home.
“I like the Columbus community- I think it’s a good town and is a great place for somebody to raise their family,” she said. “There are a lot of school options and opportunities for anything really – and it has grown a lot. I remember when Walmart was over by where Hobby Lobby was. This is just a good place to be.”
Things have also worked out well for Leffers professionally. In 2013, she took an opportunity to work as a safety manager at Valmont in town and leave FLEXcon after 13 years. It was admittedly a tough decision because she grew close to her co-workers, but decided it made sense. A couple of years later, she accepted a job in human resources and safety for the Columbus branch of Superior Industries, which designs and manufactures crushing, screening, washing and conveying solutions to support the world’s dry bulk producers. It’s a job she loves and remains in today.
After buying her first home in Columbus, Leffers had interest in obtaining her real estate license in 2005. She’s putting that to good use working on a part-time basis as a realtor for friend and broker Steve Miller of Capstone Realty.
“I just know she’s a high-character person, has good Christian morals. I know her to be honest, hardworking and I never have to worry about how she’s representing both herself and our company when she’s interacting with people," Miller said, noting they got to know each other years ago when they worked for another real estate agency in town.
Miller said some of Leffers best qualities are that she genuinely cares about people, is empathetic to others and knows how to brighten a person’s day.
“She’s a great person,” he affirmed. “I just think she’s positive and honest. She’s involved in the community and a good church person.”
Indeed, Leffers enjoys helping out at her church, St. Isidore’s, whenever she can. She also likes doing things behind the scenes to help local causes and nonprofits. It’s not about recognition, but rather bringing a smile to someone else’s face.
Leffers' journey hasn’t always been an easy one, but she’s certainly proud of it. She said she’s proud of what she has accomplished and become, adding that she hopes people know changing your plans doesn’t mean you’re not successful.
“I think it probably just means even though your game plan didn’t go the way you intended, it doesn’t mean your next game plan isn’t going to be just as successful or self-satisfying as you thought it would be,” she said. “So plans can change and it can still be a good thing.”
Leffers and her husband kept the Taco Bell tradition going up until this year when they decided to take an excursion to the Nebraska State Fair. It was in celebration of their 15th wedding anniversary.
“No Taco Bell. We kind of upscaled things this year,” she said, laughing.
But, Leffers, whose favorite Taco Bell item is a Taco Supreme, said they may start the tradition up again in the future.
“Oh, I’m sure we will,” she said. “We still laugh about it.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.