Official Nebraska Government Website Nebraska State Historical Society

NSHS Volunteer News

July / August 2005

Director Lawrence Sommer to Retire

Effective July 21, 2005, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer Lawrence Sommer will retire from the Nebraska State Historical Society. Larry has served as director since July of 1992. Prior to his arrival in Nebraska he was director of the Montana Historical Society, and he formerly worked as a private historic preservation consultant, as assistant director of planning for the City of Dubuque, Iowa, and as director of the St. Louis County Historical Society and Lake Superior Railroad Museum both in Duluth, Minnesota.

While NSHS director, Larry worked to finalize the construction and opening of the Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site near Bayard, as well as the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha. A state-of-the-art digital imaging lab was developed at the Ford Center, placing the NSHS in the forefront of digital imaging of photographs and other historical collections. He also oversaw the reconstruction of the Cheyenne Outbreak Barracks at Fort Robinson, the development of the public records archives facility at the K Street Records Center in Lincoln and the offices, laboratories and collections storage for the NSHS archeology and historic preservation divisions in the Lincoln Children's Museum building.

Throughout his thirteen-year tenure Sommer emphasized statewide public service and responsiveness to all constituents, greatly improved the stewardship fo the Society's historic sites, encouraged the creation of innovative partnerships with a wide variety of other agencies and worked to get legislation passed in 1994 designating the Society as an independent state agency.

During Larry's administration, the Society celebrated its 125th anniversary and sponsored numerous special and ongoing public programs, such as the biennial Fort Robinson History Conferences, "The Way West" symposium with Ric Burns, and fundraisers featuring Ken Burns. Special issues of the Society's quarterly, Nebraska History, featured articles on Czech history and William Jennings Bryan in connection with exhibits at the Museum of Nebraska History on those themes. Several new books, ranging from The Nebraska Indian Wars Reader to a two-volume history of Fort Robinson, have also marked a revitalized publications program.

While working to minimize the impact of state budget cuts on staff and programs in recent years, Sommer reduced the Society's dependence on state tax funding and increased earned income tenfold.

Along with developing a great staff he regards his most important accomplishments to be the settlement of years of litigation over the repatriation of human skeletal remains with the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and having the Society involved in the effort to pass a constitutional amendment and subsequent legislation to encourage historic preservation in Nebraska.

Fall Tour to Include Missouri Museums and Historic Sites

Keep open the dates of September 29-30 and plan to join us for an exciting tour of Missouri museums and sites. We will be traveling in a luxury motor coach, with admissions and meals included in the tour package. The tour is open to NSHS volunteers, NSHS members, and non-members alike and departs from Lincoln.

Day one will begin with a visit to the 1861 Battle of Lexington State Historic Site in Lexington, Missouri. On our drive through the town of Lexington, we will glimpse a cannonball from the battle imbedded in a column at the courthouse. After a stop at the visitor center, we will tour the Anderson house, which served as a Union hospital during the battle, along with much more as part of the walking tour. Next, we will stop at the Fort Osage National Historic Landmark on the Lewis and Clark Trail at Sibley, Missouri. Today's Fort Osage is a reconstruction on the original site, and was noted as a good location for a fort by Lewis and Clark. Fort Osage was a U.S. government "factory" for trade with Indians.

On the second day we will tour President Harry S. Truman's Museum in Independence, where you will see a replica of the Oval Office and numerous displays focusing on his presidency. The day will conclude with a stop at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. The Liberty Memorial is dedicated to those who served in World War I and has been recognized by Congress as "America's National WWI Museum." Following lunch at one of Kansas City's best barbeque restaurants, we will be on the way back to Lincoln.

Tour registration materials or additional information may be requested by calling 402-471-3272. The tour is limited to fifty persons, first come, first-served.

The Nebraska State Historical Society Invites You to Visit Us This Summer

General Information: 402-471-3270 or 1-800-833-6747

Administration: 402-471-4746
Archeology: 402-471-4760
Education: 402-471-4757
Conservation: 402-595-1180
Historic Preservation: 402-471-4787
Library/Archives: 402-471-4751
Membership: 402-435-3535
Museum: 402-471-4754
Museum Store: 402-471-3447
Research & Publications: 402-471-4748

Nebraska State Historical Society Sites (call for hours)

Nebraska State Historical Society
1500 R Street, Lincoln

Museum of Nebraska History
Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln

Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center
1326 South Thirty-second Street, Omaha

Chimney Rock National Historic Site
1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92, Bayard

Fort Robinson Museum
3200 W. Hwy. 20, Crawford

John G. Neihardt State Historic Site
Elm & Washington Streets, Bancroft

Thomas P. Kennard House
1627 H Street, Lincoln

Neligh Mill State Historic Site
N Street at Wylie Drive, Neligh

Senator George W. Norris State Historic Site
707 Norris Avenue, McCook, NE

Willa Cather State Historic Site
413 N. Webster, Red Cloud


Chimney Rock Featured on Nebraska Quarter

Governor Dave Heineman has announced his selection for the Nebraska quarter design featuring Chimney Rock. The Governor visited the Nebraska State Historical Society's Ethel & Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center at Chimney Rock to make his announcement of this celebrated landmark on the Nebraska quarter. The quarter will be available in March 2006.

Fort Robinson Museum Authorized Fifty Years Ago

The Nebraska State Historical Society has been headquartered in Lincoln since its founding in 1878, and for most of its first century did not operate historic sites or museums in other areas of the state. That situation began to change in May 1955 when the legislature passed and Governor Victor Anderson approved LB545, which appropriated $36,644 to the NSHS to develop a "western branch" at Fort Robinson. The bill was introduced by the legislature's revenue committee, which was chaired by Senator Monroe Bixler, a rancher representing Sioux, Dawes, and Box Butte County. A companion appropriations bill for the Game and Parks Commission funded the renovation, repair, or construction of cabins and other facilities at Fort Robinson for tourist use.

At first the NSHS considered using the old post hospital building as a museum, but it was deemed too large and expensive to operate, and in a poor location. When the USDA (which then operated a beef research station at Fort Robinson) moved its offices out of the former post headquarters building, the NSHS decided to convert that structure into a museum, where it remains today. It opened to the public in 1956.

For more information about the transformation of Fort Robinson from military post to beef research station to state park and national historic landmark see Fort Robinson and the American Century, 1900-1948, by Thomas R. Buecker available from the NSHS museum stores.

-- Jim Potter

Brown Bag Lectures on TV

The Brown Bag Lecture Series (a history forum) is presented on the third Thursday of each month, at noon, in the Blackman Auditorium, Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets (131 Centennial Mall North), Lincoln. Bring your lunch and enjoy the lecture! The July and August programs are as follows:

July 21: "Pvt. August Scherneckau's Civil War: A Soldier's Diary of the First Nebraska Volunteer Regiment in Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska Territory, 1862-1865," by Jim Potter, NSHS associate editor/senior research historian, and Edith Robbins, an independent scholar.
    August Scherneckau was the only man from the German settlement at Grand Island to serve in the First Nebraska Regiment during the Civil War. He recorded his experiences in detail for the benefit of friends and relatives back home. Robbins and Potter will discuss how Robbins located the diary in Oregon, where Scherneckau moved after the war, and their work to translate and edit it for publication. Excerpts from the diary will highlight its value as the best account of a Nebraska soldier's Civil War service to be discovered thus far.

August 18: "Nebraska Aviation," by Vince Goeres. 
    Using photographs and information gathered for a soon-to-be-published book, Vince will take us on a trip through the fascinating world of Nebraska aviation.

If you are unable to attend the lectures at the museum, catch the series as it is broadcast each month on Lincoln Cablevision Channel 5. Lectures are televised the month following the original presentation. The history forum lecture series is broadcast on Wednesdays at noon and 8:30 PM, Fridays at 5:00 PM and Saturdays at 6:00 PM.

The lectures are also being broadcast in Omaha on public access Channel 23 and Cox's new digital Channel 802. The lectures air on Cox Channel 23 at 3:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, followed by five days of broadcast on Digital 802.

Funding for the filming of the Brown Bag Lecture Series is provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation.

History Detectives Come to Nebraska

History Detectives will begin its third season on PBS with one of its eleven episodes focusing on a Nebraska site. Episodes present three, twenty-minute segments, and are devoted to solving historical mysteries or searching out facts behind folklore, family legend, and interesting objects.

The History Detectives production crew has been in Nebraska filming Engineer Cantonment, the 1819-20 winter camp of Major Stephen Long's party of scientists and army engineers, which is located north of Omaha. From there, the explorers traveled along the Platte River in the spring of 1820 to explore the Great Plains. Until NSHS archeologists confirmed its location in the spring of 2003, Engineer Cantonment remained one of Nebraska's most significant undiscovered historic sites.

History Detectives is expected to air this fall. Watch the NSHS website for further details about the show airing on PBS.

Marketing Program

As part of the NSHS's marketing program, the Society developed an exhibit case related to the University of Nebraska football team. Items in the case are from the NSHS museum collections. The case is located inside the Nebraska Bookstore, Thirteenth and Q Streets, Lincoln, and invites and directs visitors to the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln, to see more great exhibits.

New Faces

Floyd Counts, Fort Robinson

Kate Larson, library/archives

Bob Meininger, library/archives

Ellie Miller, research and publications

Diana Tappe, Norris House

Tyler Teater, library/archives

 Save the Date

Save the evening of Friday, October 14, and plan to attend the Nebraska State Historical Society's event, "Friday Night with Fred Astaire," in cooperation with the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln. The annual Society members' meeting and the NSHS awards will also be presented as part of the evening's activities.

Douglas County Historical Society Publishes First Volume of the Barker Letters, Their Man in Omaha

Few communities have the opportunity to visualize their beginnings through words recorded during their first decade. Omaha has the rare privilege to experience the lives and happenings that shaped the infant city through letters written in the 1860s by immigrant Joseph Barker to his family in England. The Douglas County Historical Society has published the first of two volumes of the Barker letters covering the years until 1868, when Joseph returned home to England for a short time.

The letters from Omaha to England provide a vivid window into the past, covering events of the time such as the Colorado gold rush, the coming of the Civil War, the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, Indian affairs on the Great Plains, and national politics. "Precisely because the letters were never intended for publication, the writers spoke their minds freely, revealing a society of both beauty and ugliness at the same time," according to Michael Tate, history professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The collection was donated to the Historical Society in the mid-1990s by Charles W. and Mary C. Martin, who found the letters half a century ago in the attic of the family home in Omaha. More recently, following their deaths, their son Chuck and daughter Julie Martin Videon of Bozeman, Montana, initiated the publishing of the collection with funds donated by their immediate families. Matching funds have been provided by the Peter Kiewit Foundation to complete the $110,000 project.

Their Man in Omaha will be available for $49.95 at the Douglas County Historical Society (402- 455-9990, online at, and at The Bookworm in Omaha. A second volume is to be published in late 2005.

What is RSVP?

The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is sponsored by the city of Lincoln's Aging Services Division and the National Senior Service Corps.

The purpose of RSVP is to encourage citizens fifty-five years and older to volunteer and share their skills. The RSVP program also provides accident and liability insurance while volunteering, will reimburse volunteers for mileage, and has an annual recognition event.

As a volunteer at the Nebraska State Historical Society, you can also be enrolled with RSVP to receive their benefits. All that is asked is that you turn in a calendar quarterly to RSVP with the hours that you have volunteered, so that your impact as a volunteer in Lincoln can be acknowledged.

RSVP works with agencies that need volunteers and individuals that are interested in volunteering. RSVP has asked for our help to recruit citizens fifty-five years and older to be involved with their program. For further information about RSVP contact their office at 441-7026.

Indian on horseback logo


Books for summer fun and learning:


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

"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!

Volunteer News backissues


NSHS Home  |  Search  |  Index  |  Top
Last updated 23 June 2005

For questions or comments on the website itself, email
Nebraska State Historical Society - P.O. Box 82554, 1500 R Street, Lincoln, NE 68501
Nebraska State Government Homepage
 |  Website Policies  |  © 2009 All Rights Reserved