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NSHS Volunteer News

January / February 2005

 Volunteer Spotlight on Larry Sommer

Larry Sommer

To kick off a new year, I thought I would spotlight NSHS Director Larry Sommer. Larry has been in Lincoln and with the NSHS for twelve and a half years.

I asked Larry what sparked his interest in preservation and history, and he said, "I've enjoyed a life-long interest in history and historic places. My college major was history and my graduate degree is in history and historic preservation studies. I credit a junior high school history teacher with convincing me that history can be fun as well as a worthwhile subject to study."

Larry's first job right out of college was with a planning and architectural consulting firm. He said, "I was assigned to work on several county and regional land use planning projects that included survey and analysis of historic structures and sites. At the same time, while completing my graduate studies, I worked with a cultural geographer to study North European settlement and farmstead development in the Lake Superior region. We inventoried, mapped, and photographed over twelve hundred farmsteads and produced a number of reports and articles. It was a great introduction to historic preservation planning within the context of state and local history."

He continued by stating, "Before becoming involved in the museum business I spent nearly a decade working as a historic preservation planning consultant and city planning administrator. I actually became involved with museums as a result of a preservation project I consulted on to save and restore a historic railway depot in Minnesota. I was then hired to become director of both a regional historical museum system and a new railroad museum. After twelve years there, I was director of the Montana Historical Society until I came to Nebraska in 1992."

When I asked about favorite experiences or projects during his career Larry responded, "I have enjoyed seeing innovative projects become reality. In Minnesota, for example, we started a railroad museum with an empty building that became one of the largest and most successful in the country within ten years. Here in Nebraska the Chimney Rock visitor center and museum, the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, and advanced imaging laboratory are other examples. My involvement over the years with numerous historic preservation projects also have brought great satisfaction."

In asking Larry to share his thoughts about what volunteers bring to organizations such as the NSHS, he replied, "At every place I have worked, volunteer staff have been critical to the success of the organization. They provide skills and assistance that otherwise would not be available. Even though I may not know all of our volunteer staff personally, be assured I appreciate their commitment and work for the NSHS. I am always impressed by the variety of projects our volunteer staff are working on, and by the great things they accomplish that might not otherwise get done. Thank you!"

Already anticipating my next question about hobbies or interests, Larry reinforced what I already knew, but wanted to share with others. "With a work schedule that averages 55-60 hours every week and requires 50-60 days per year on the road there is not a lot of time for hobbies, but I do enjoy reading, travel to historic places, and woodworking. I am also a lifelong skier. When we lived in Minnesota and Montana I was able to average at least forty days on the slopes every winter."

Larry's family includes his wife Barbara, who has worked in the field of public history for more than thirty years. She is an oral history and cultural resource management consultant. Larry and Barb have been married for thirty-six and a half years and have three adult children, the oldest of whom is married.

My final question was if Larry had a quote/philosophy on volunteering that he would like to share. He responded, "For me, giving back to the community and your profession is a key aspect of volunteer commitment. We all have an obligation to share our talents and resources with those places and organizations that have supported us in our careers and related endeavors."

-- Deb McWilliams

Pages In History to Hold First Meeting

Anyone who loves literature about Nebraska and the West is invited to participate in the Nebraska State Historical Society's new Pages in History series. "What we are going to do is read some great literature about our past, and combine the discussion with the NSHS collections, staff and other resources of the NSHS, according to NSHS Volunteer Coordinator Deb McWilliams. Volunteers, NSHS members, staff, and the general public, are welcome.

Pages In History will meet in the auditorium at the Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History, 15th and P Streets at 2:00 p.m. Dates and topics for the first two facilitated book discussions are as follows:

Books may be purchased at the NSHS Museum Store at 15th and P Streets, Lincoln, checked out from your local library, or purchased from other bookstores. Pages in History will run from January through May. Please contact the NSHS at 471-3272 if you have questions or plan to attend.

A Nation Divided?

When he spoke in Lincoln on November 20, Ken Burns had many interesting things to say about the value of history and what it can tell us. His films, including The Civil War, Baseball, The West, and Jazz, among others, all seek to use the past to help us better understand who we are as a people. I was struck by his comment, coming as it did just after the November election, that more things unite Americans today than divide us. Differences that may be reflected by an election map of red and blue states seem less significant when given context and perspective by comparison to the mid-nineteenth-century upheaval known as the American Civil War. Then we were truly a nation divided, as the war made clear.

Modern political contests are often perceived as little more than "negative campaigning" featuring "mudslinging" against one's opponent, with little discussion of important issues, all reported by a biased media. If only we could return to the more high-minded politics that surely characterized the early years of the Republic.

Here, too, history provides a frame of reference. David McCullough, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams (Simon and Schuster, 2001) called the election of 1800 "a contest of personal vilification surpassing any presidential election in American history." Adams, the Federalist incumbent, was excoriated as a British sympathizer, corrupt, toothless, and even insane. Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson was accused of being a swindler, libertine, coward, and a godless man, who Martha Washington termed "one of the most detestable of mankind" (543-44).

Historian John Ferling, in a November 2004 Smithsonian article on the 1800 election, remarked of the parties that they "appeared to agree on one thing only: that the victor . . . would set America's course for generations to come, perhaps forever." Moreover, the election took place "in an era of intensely emotional partisanship among a people deeply divided over the scope of the government's authority" (46). While the issues and personalities have changed since 1800, much seems familiar about the political process itself.

History can inform the present, making it more understandable and demonstrating what the human spirit can achieve, both the good and the bad. As Ken Burns and David McCullough have so well demonstrated, it also provides great stories to which we can relate.

-- Jim Potter

Curators' Choice: A Film Series at the Nebraska State Historical Society

NSHS curators chose some favorite, but obscure, movies to present during the 2005 film series. Major underwriting for the film series is provided by the Douglas Theatre Company. The films will be shown free of charge at the Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History, 15th and P Streets, Lincoln at 1:30 p.m. Mark your calendar and join us.

Nebraska State Historical Society to Award Three Research Grants for 2005

The Nebraska State Historical Society will award three, one thousand dollar research grants to support original research and interpretive writing related to the history and archeology of Nebraska and the Great Plains to be conducted during 2005. The 2005 NSHS Research Grant application period opens January 2, 2005. Applications must be postmarked by March 1. Recipients will be announced in April. Projects are to be completed within one year.

Applicants from any background, including academic and public historians, graduate students, and independent researchers and writers, are welcome to apply. Preference will be given to applicants proposing to pursue previously neglected topics or new approaches to and interpretations of previously treated topics. Preference for one of the grants will be given to current graduate students, young scholars, or nonacademic scholars whose work is not otherwise subsidized.

Grant recipients will be expected to spend at least one week during the grant period in residence in Lincoln working with materials from the Nebraska State Historical Society collections. The grants are intended to support research that will lead to submission of a manuscript by April 1, 2006 for possible publication in the NSHS quarterly journal, Nebraska History, or another appropriate venue.

Funding for the research grant program is provided by the Gladys Marie Lux Education Endowment and the Tom and Marilyn Allan Fund, both administered by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

More information about the 2005 Grant Program is available online at or by mail from Nebraska History, P.O. Box 82554, Lincoln, NE 68501-2554.

Beadwork Masterpieces: Native American Bandolier Bags of the Prairies and Lakes

Bandolier bags are elaborately decorated shoulder bags made by native people of the upper Great Lakes and prairies from southern Canada to Kansas. These showy, intricately beaded bags are featured in a new exhibit opening Friday, February 25 at the Nebraska State Historical Society's Museum of Nebraska History, 15th & P Streets, Lincoln.

Ojibwa, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Potawatomi, Oto, and Omaha bags dating from the 1880s to the 1940s are featured in the exhibit, along with historic photographs from the Nebraska State Historical Society and Minnesota Historical Society collections. Bags were loaned for the exhibit from the University of Kansas in Lawrence and Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Tom Myers, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, assisted in development of the exhibit, on display through 2005.

Dr. Myers will discuss the beadwork masterpieces included in the Museum of Nebraska History's new exhibit at the NSHS Brown Bag lecture on February 17.

Indian on horseback logo


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

Join the Westerners

The Lincoln Corral of Westerners, an organization dedicated to promoting knowledge of and appreciation for Western history, invites you to join their chapter. The Westerners meet in the evenings on the second Thursday, September through May, at the Holiday Inn, Ninth and P Streets, Lincoln.

Social activities begin at 6:30 p.m., with dinner at 7:00, and the program following at 8:00. Reservations are required. For further information contact Margaret Allington at 488-5698.

Westerners International was founded in Chicago in 1944. Today, there are more than 120 "Corrals" throughout the United States and overseas. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in the history of the American West.

Brown Bag Lectures

The Brown Bag lectures begin at noon and are presented at the Museum of Nebraska History on Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln. Bring your lunch and join us for some informative presentations. If you can't join us for the lecture, look for them on Lincoln's Cable Channel 5.

New Volunteers

Gina Fette, library/archives

Eric Garland, museum store

Deborah Heinrichs, historic preservation

Taylor Keller, library/archives

Chris Miller, library/archives

Calendar *

January 7: NSHS Board of Trustees Meeting

January 20: Brown Bag Lecture, 12:00 noon

January 23: Film Series, 1:30 p.m.

January 30: Film Series,1:30 p.m.

February 6: Film Series,1:30 p.m.

February 13: Film Series,1:30 p.m.

February 17: Brown Bag Lecture, 12:00 noon

February 20: Film Series, 1:30 p.m.

February 25: Exhibit Opening

February 27: Film Series,1:30 p.m.

March 6: Film Series, 1:30 p.m.

* Calendar events held at the Museum of Nebraska History, Lincoln

"The Nebraska State Historical Society collects, preserves, and opens to all, the histories we share."

Volunteer News is published bi-monthly for the world-class volunteers at the Nebraska State Historical Society. For information about volunteering with any of our divisions, or at any location across the state, contact:

Deb McWilliams, Volunteer Services
402-471-4955 or 1-800-833-6747

Apply for Volunteer Service today!

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Last updated 12 January 2005

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