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Historical Newsletter

March / April 2006


Michael J. Smith has been appointed director/chief executive officer of the Nebraska State Historical Society by the Board of Trustees. Formerly the president/CEO of the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, Mike also has served as executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science in Davenport, Iowa, and the Buffalo, New York, Museum of Science.

An Illinois native with a master's degree in management from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a master's in American history from the University of Minnesota, Smith has been president of the American Association for State and Local History and deputy director of the Michigan Historical Museum. In his role as director he will also serve as state historic preservation officer, secretary of the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission, and as a member of the Nebraska State Capitol Environs Commission, the Governor's Residence Advisory Commission, the Nebraska Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, and as advisor to a number of other groups.

Mike Smith's tenure with the NSHS began on January 30. Members will have the opportunity to become acquainted with him at venues across the state in the next few months. Watch for more details.


Hello! As I complete my first few weeks as director of the Society, I'd like to pause for a moment and share a couple of thoughts with you. My wife, Mary Ann, and I are very excited about the new opportunities we have in the Cornhusker State.

I would like to thank the board of trustees of the Society for giving me this opportunity to serve the Society and the people of Nebraska. The Nebraska State Historical Society has a wonderful reputation for service and commitment to the history of the state, its communities, and its people. I am looking forward to working with the Society's trustees, members, staff, volunteers, and, of course, the people of the state in discovering and preserving our history and making it available to all.

I often say that our work is important and indeed it is. History is the record of past choices made by political, business, and social leaders as well as those of every citizen. Their choices have shaped our present world. In understanding those past choices we create tools for understanding our present and for making our own choices that will further shape the future. There is no present and no future without a past. Without question, the work of the Nebraska State Historical Society is important. From the time we get up in the morning until we rest at the end of the day, our work is vital and irreplaceable.

Please, do not hesitate to contact me with ideas, suggestions, recommendations, and reminders as I work my way to a more complete understanding of my new state and my new Society. Together we can and will accomplish much. Thank you.



Bev Wilhelm, as chair of the Nebraska State Historical Society nominating committee, is seeking candidates for election to the Society Board of Trustees. Twelve board members are elected by the Society membership, and three are appointed by the governor. The board assists in setting policies, provides guidance in strategic planning, and offers overall support to the director, staff, Society members, and volunteers. Candidates must be members of the Society, and obtain signatures of twenty-five Society members. Board meetings are held quarterly at various locations across the state.

Individuals interested in running must contact Bev Wilhelm by June 1, 2006, at 2341 H Road, Unadilla, Nebraska 68454, or or by phone at 402-828-3875. For further information about membership, visit or contact the NSHS at 1-800-833-6747 or 402-471-4955.

Nebraska State Quarter Featuring Chimney Rock To Launch April 7

Soon people all over the United States will be able to carry a little piece of Nebraska history with them. The Nebraska State Quarter, a product of the United States Mint, will be released to the public at three locations across Nebraska on Friday, April 7. Prominently featuring Chimney Rock, the Overland Trail landmark owned and preserved by the Nebraska State Historical Society, the new quarter will make its debut at ceremonies in Lincoln, Kearney, and Gering. The first coins for circulation will be struck at the Denver Mint in March; Loren Pospisil, site supervisor, will represent the NSHS at the event.

Launch activities will be determined by the U.S. Mint and a State Quarter Launch Committee chaired by Nebraska Banking Department director John Munn. At press time the most current information included: eastern Nebraska launch, 9:45 a.m. CDT, Devaney Center, Lincoln; central Nebraska launch, 12:15 p.m. CDT, University of Nebraska-Kearney; western Nebraska launch, 1:30 p.m. MDT, Five Rocks Amphitheater, Gering. New Chimney Rock quarters will be distributed to all in attendance under the age of eighteen.

In conjunction with the launch, the Nebraska State Historical Society plans a new issue of Nebraska Trailblazer featuring the quarter design process and the story behind the designs that were selected as finalists. The Trailblazer will be distributed to Nebraska history students this spring, and will be available for order in future school years.

Check our website at for Chimney Rock quarter launch updates.


The "Saving Nebraska's Treasures" project gets underway on Sunday, March 19, when conservators from the NSHS Ford Conservation Center will be on hand in Lincoln to evaluate and make care recommendations for family and community treasures. NSHS members, staff and volunteers from libraries and local historical organizations, and the general public are invited to bring objects they'd like to have examined to the Morton Building (west of Ag Hall), Nebraska State Fair Park, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Conservators will examine objects, identify materials of which they're made, analyze previous care, and offer tips for storage and handling to maximize preservation. Monetary value will not be assessed. Crews from NET Television will record the consultations for possible inclusion in the one-hour television documentary scheduled for broadcast next year. The program will feature the fascinating stories revealed by historic artifacts, scenes of artifact treatment from the Ford Conservation Center labs, and more. Funding for the project is provided in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Partnership for a Nation of Learners program.

For more details, visit our website, or contact Lynne Ireland at 402-471-4758.


A trio of gentlemen, all former faculty members at Nebraska Wesleyan University, is the focus of volunteer opportunities at the Nebraska State Historical Society, and the Society recognizes the value of their work. The first of the trio to volunteer was Dick Quinn. Through a conversation with his wife, Bonnie, we discovered that Dick could translate Russian. Dick then recruited his friends, Tony Epp and Bob Meininger, to provide their expertise on a project in the Library/Archives Division.

The trio is translating a collection of documents from the American Volga Relief Society, most written in German and some in Russian, which relates to the mass starvation in Russia between 1920 and 1924. The Lenin government's forced grain requisition policy stripped entire provinces of grain, including those occupied by ethnic Germans along the Volga River. The Volga Relief Society was organized to solicit funds from Volga Germans in the United States for the relief of relatives in Russia.

The collection contains letters written by Volga German village leaders recording population statistics before the Russian Revolution and after the famine in 1923; lists of donors with items donated; receipts for food/clothing packages and cash; religious confirmation lists; letters from Volga German professors and pastors; and other items relating to the American Volga Relief Society and the Volga German communities of Lincoln and McCook, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon. The translations of these documents will ultimately be made available to researchers in a database.

When Dick, Tony, and Bob have completed translating the documents, the records of the American Volga Relief Society may be of special interest to families doing research, and whose names appear on lists of those receiving and sending packages between Nebraska and Russia. Examples of names include Schwartzkopf, Lefler, Niederhaus, Ehmen, and Huck. We are grateful for the trio's generous contribution of their time in helping the NSHS fulfill its mission to preserve and open to all, the histories we share. Thanks, gentlemen, for your good work.

Deb McWilliams


By Cindy S. Drake, Library Curator

Beckelshymer, Beckelhymer, Behymer Roots, compiled by Mary Johnson Behymer. (Breckelhymer, Behymer, and Wilson families in Lancaster County.)

Carl Raymond Gray, 1867-1939: Footprints on the Sands of Time, assembled by Bill Boggess. (Gray family in Douglas County.)

Cumming Family Cookbook: Recipes From the Descendants and Families of James Cumming and Mary Ann Moody, compiled by Mary Ann Behlen Hruska. (Families in Platte, Saunders, and Boone counties.)

The Davis-Rife Family [compiled by John K. Davis]. (Davis, Rife, Atwater, Jean, Rifkin, Somberg, Perina, Brukner, Levi, Rifkin, and McGregor families in Douglas, Boone, Lancaster, Saunders, and Sarpy counties.)

Descendants of Joannis Kramer, Nebraska, by [Leona Paulsen McMaster]. (Family in Lancaster and Hall counties.)

Descendants of Paul Paulsen, Nebraska, compiled by Leona Paulsen McMaster. (Family in Buffalo County.)

Do You Remember?: A Boy From the Nebraska Sandhills Shares Memories of the Post World War II Era, by Jay Brady. (Brady family in Brown County.)

Golden Memories : Stories of My Life, by Les Wade. (Wade family in Cherry County.)

History and Genealogy of the Gov. John Webster Family of Connecticut with numerous portraits and illustration, by the late William Holcomb Webster and Rev. Melville Reuben Webster. (Webster family in York and Lancaster counties.)

Holub Family Tree, Nebraska: A Time to Remember [compiled by Dale Keith Holub]. (Czech American family in Buffalo and Gage counties.)

A Maple Branch: Descendants of John Maple & Nancy Hickman, by Shirley Jackson Sowell. (Maple, Hickman, Seth, Morrill, and Hickman families in Dawson County.)

The Maternal Family of Richard Bruce Cheney: Vice President of the United States of America, researched and prepared by Cynthia E. Shay Monroe. (Cheney and Dickey families in Lancaster and Otoe counties.)

Oliver: An American Genealogy, by Frederick Eugene Oliver. (Family in Cass County.)

Weimann-Dobkowitz: A Family History [compiled by James H. Hensel]. (German American families of Weimann and Dobkowitz in Dodge County.)


In the September/October 2005 newsletter I mentioned that the Arphax Publishing Company ( was publishing Family Maps Land Patent Books for the public land grant states. Since this includes Nebraska, we hope to purchase the volumes as they are produced. We have received a donated copy for McPherson County, and now two other counties are available. The price for Garfield County is $17.95, and the price for Arthur County is $18.95. If you would like to sponsor the purchase of one or both of these volumes, please contact Cindy S. Drake ( or 402-471-4786.

The Senator George Norris State Historic Site in McCook entered a 1941 Ford convertible in the annual Heritage Days Parade, held September 24, 2005, in McCook. Car owner Eugene Lyon (driving) as a young man built the fence behind the Norris home. Passengers are Jeff Tidyman (front) and Bud Manker (back). Manker shined shoes for the Norris family in the 1930s.


March 12: Sunday at the Museum Series, "My Two Friends: Mari Sandoz and John Neihardt," by Ron Hull of NET. 2 p.m., John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, 306 W. Elm Street, Bancroft. Free and open to the public; reception following. For information call the Neihardt Site at 1-888-777-4667 or

March 16: Brown Bag Lecture, "History of TV," by Bill Kelly. 12 noon, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Free and open to the public.

April 20: Brown Bag Lecture, "The Edges of Genius: Nebraska's Visionary Artists," by John Carter, NSHS senior research folklorist. Although many call these artists' work "outsider art," it is more. Although it is outside mainstream art and the academic world, it is possessed of wonderful vision and grand scale. 12 noon, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P streets, Lincoln. Free and open to the public.

April 29: Annual Neihardt Spring Conference, "The Poet and the Public." A look at the role of the poet in social conscience and political voice. Registration required. John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, Bancroft. For information, please contact the Neihardt Site as above.

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From the Museum Store

On March 1, 1867, Nebraska became the thirty-seventh state.
Celebrate Nebraska's birthday with some of these great items
from the Museum Store.

MUSEUM of NEBRASKA HISTORY, 15th & "P" Streets, 402-471-3447
10:00 - 4:30, Tuesday - Friday
1:00 - 4:00, Saturday and Sunday
Museum Store Catalog online


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