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NSHS Volunteer News

March/April 2003

 Volunteer Spotlight on Ruth Ann Lyness

Ruth Ann Lyness
As I began thinking about the volunteer to spotlight for this issue of Volunteer News, and knowing that all of our volunteers give so much, I expected the choice would be difficult. As I narrowed the field, I concluded that Ruth Ann Lyness perfectly represented the selfless commitment and invaluable contributions of all our volunteers.

Not one to let time march on without accomplishments, Ruth Ann began volunteering at the Society in the fall of 1991, the same year she retired from teaching. One of the last questions I asked Ruth Ann was to provide a statement or philosophy about volunteering. Her answer reinforced my decision to put her in the spotlight, and I thought her comment should appear early in the article: "We all need to volunteer and give back to our community. We can never, as individuals, give as much as we receive and volunteering is what I love to do. We are standing on the shoulders of those before us."

Ruth Ann began her career as an English teacher at Lincoln High School. She returned to graduate school, and then worked at the Lincoln Public Schools Central Office as an English consultant, which meant she provided program development for English, speech, drama, journalism, and debate, as well as staff development. Without much time to volunteer during her working years, she was ready to volunteer when she retired. The Nebraska State Historical Society was her first choice, "because I always enjoyed reading about national and Nebraska history. I became interested in volunteering with the NSHS as a docent." Her training and work as an English teacher often involved history. "Much literature is history, because you teach the time period of literature--history is a story--it was the story that drew me to teach English."

Ruth Ann feels "it is a privilege and great responsibility to tell students about Nebraska history and about the past as represented through artifacts." Her reward comes when she hears students say, "I am going to come back." Ruth Ann encourages the students to bring their parents with them, and tells them, "When you bring your families, you can linger where you wish, and take yourself or your family on a tour."

When asked what's best about volunteering at the NSHS, Ruth Ann had numerous favorites: exhibit openings, volunteer trips ("because it is dear to the heart of a volunteer to continue the educational experience"), and the docent and volunteer sessions. The docent program allows current docents to assist with training new docents. Volunteering has changed Ruth Ann's life, for she says, "I now have a new shelf of books about Nebraska history."

When asked what she would share with others about volunteering at the Society, Ruth Ann responded, "The Society makes it nice for volunteers by providing educational experiences, discounts, parking, invitations to events, and behind-the-scenes tours--it smooths the bumps for volunteers." Activities that she personally finds exciting include digital imaging and seeing how exhibits are created.

Ruth Ann also volunteers as one of four hosts for Aging Services' cable access program, Live and Learn, a program for and about older adults. Active involvement in her church is also important to her. If this doesn't keep her busy enough, she and her husband Phil have five adult children, eight grandchildren, five step-grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

As for the staff, they value and respect Ruth Ann's talents. As one person put it, "As a former educator in the Lincoln Public Schools, Ruth Ann is very enthusiastic about kids and education. Whenever I ask her for advice about our school programming, she always provides great insights and wisdom."

Another Nebraska: A Look at Our Black Heritage

Another Nebraska: A Look At Our Black Heritage is a series of events set for April 26 and 27 at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, 1326 South Thirty-second Street in Omaha. An exhibit of works by Nebraska African-American artists, a daylong history conference, a dance and jazz performance, and family activities featuring gospel music are slated. Mark your calendars and watch your mailbox for the full program announcement and registration materials.

Board Business

Patrick Kennedy, chair of the Nebraska State Historical Society nominating committee, is seeking candidates for election to the Nebraska State Historical Society Board of Trustees. Individuals may run for the board by becoming members of the Historical Society, and obtaining the signatures of twenty-five Society members. Meetings of the board of trustees are held quarterly at various locations across the state. The board of trustees consists of twelve individuals elected by the Society membership, and three appointed by the governor of Nebraska. The board of trustees assists in setting policies, provides guidance in strategic planning, and offers overall support to the director, staff, Society members, and volunteers.

Individuals interested in running for the board must contact Kennedy by May 30, 2003, at 350 North Forty-first Street, Omaha, Nebraska, 68131, 401-553-6828, or by e-mail For further information about membership contact the Nebraska State Historical Society at 1-800-833-6747 or 402-471-4955.

NSHS Board of Trustees (newly elected) l-r: Jason Kress, Bev Wilhelm, Ann Marsh, Charles Trimble
new board members

Recently elected to serve three-year terms are new board members Jason Kress, Sterling; Bev Wilhelm, Unadilla; Ann Marsh, Grand Island; and Charles Trimble, Omaha. Other members of the board include: Margaret Allington, Lincoln; Keith Blackledge, North Platte; Dr. Peter Bleed, Lincoln; James Denney, Omaha; Dr. Herb Grandbois, Omaha; Joyce Hillman-Kortum, Gering; Patrick Kennedy, Omaha; Dr. Martin Massengale, Lincoln; Pat Phillips, Omaha; Jack Preston, Lyman; and Sally Vifquain, Kearney.


LR2CA Can Assist Communities and Historic Preservation

Senator Don Pederson (District 42) has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment - LR2CA - in the 2003 legislative session. If passed by the Nebraska Legislature, LR2CA would go to a vote of the people in November 2004.

The intent of the constitutional amendment is to enable future legislation that would establish a property tax policy to assist owners that rehabilitate historic properties. This would provide a major boost for historic properties, older neighborhoods, "main street" business districts and historic town centers.

LR2CA was voted from the Revenue Committee on January 29 and has moved to the floor. For more information contact: Bob Puschendorf, State Historic Preservation Office at (402) 471-4769, or e-mail

Quilt Display at Norris House

A post-World War II quilt display at the George W. Norris State Historic Site, 706 Norris Avenue, McCook, will run March 1-29. The display includes quilts that have been quilted since the end of World War II to the present. Items will include approximately fifty wall hangings, clothing pieces, pillows, and quilts. Hours are 9:30-12 and 1-5 every Tuesday through Saturday during March. Society members receive free admission, and $3 for non-NSHS members is requested.

Sixteen Volunteers Complete Twelve-week Docent Education Series

February 19 was graduation day for sixteen new volunteers who completed the Nebraska State Historical Society's Docent Education Series, the classroom component of docent training, prior to their becoming active docents at the Museum of Nebraska History. The education series features guest instructors, tour models and advice from current docents, discussion, time in the exhibits, homework, and handouts. The next steps in becoming an active docent include developing tour plans and "team teaching" until the volunteers feel ready to give tours on their own.

We are excited to work with each of these new docents and for the educational impact they will have on Nebraska's young people visiting the museum. Newly retired, currently employed, full-time students, teachers, artists, administrators, ranchers, grandmothers and grandfathers - each of these volunteers brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the museum.

With this new class, our docent team will increase from ten to twenty-six. This spring, we hope to be able to meet all requests for guided tours (compared to 50 percent last year) and to divide school groups for more intimate tours. To find out more about becoming a docent, or nominating someone as a potential docent, please contact Jessica Stoner, 402-471-4757 or

2002-03 Docent Education Series Graduates

Carole Barnes-Montgomery

Jack Chaffin

Tom Curran

Evelyn Hastings

Gladi Helm

Glen Houtz

Jim Kendrick

Leona Kolbet

Dorothy Neill

Linda Oehlerking

Rich Oehlerking

Kathy Plessman

Amanda Ray

Penny Stovall

Don Swing

Jeanne Vannorsdall

The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial, 1803-2003

With all the attention that is being focused on the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Nebraska State Historical Society, perhaps the public has overlooked another important anniversary this year, the bicentennial of the acquisition of the Louisiana territory by the United States. Seriously, while the Society's birthday does not rank in historical significance with the Louisiana Purchase, the pending bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition may well have overshadowed our recollection of the dramatic political agreement that preceded their journey.

The treaty by which France sold the Louisiana territory to the United States was signed on April 30, 1803. Formal transfer ceremonies were held New Orleans on December 20. The United States assumed authority over "Upper Louisiana," which included present-day Nebraska, on March 9, 1804, in St. Louis. We all remember learning in school what a bargain the purchase was. For about $15 million, the United States added some 900,000 square miles of territory at a cost of roughly four cents an acre.

Also interesting is that President Thomas Jefferson had set the wheels of the Lewis and Clark expedition in motion even before France offered to sell Louisiana. In January 1803 the president secretly asked for and received a congressional appropriation to send an exploring party up the Missouri River. By the time Lewis and Clark embarked in 1804, however, they were openly exploring lands belonging to the United States, rather than conducting a secret reconnaissance of territory claimed by a foreign power.

We know, of course, that the Louisiana territory was not unknown to white men before the United States acquired it. European powers had been contesting over its political and commercial control for decades, and numerous explorers, fur traders, and soldiers had passed by or through present-day Nebraska. A look at what was going on out here before 1803 is provided by Abraham Nasatir in Before Lewis and Clark (University of Nebraska Press Bison Books, 1990), and by Louise Barry in her magnificent bibliography, The Beginning of the West (Kansas State Historical Society, 1972). Two recent Nebraska History articles focusing on Nebraska before 1803 are W. Raymond Wood, "Fort Charles, or 'Mr. Mackey's Trading House'," (Spring 1995); and James A. Hanson, "Spain on the Plains," (Spring 1993). The Wood article tells about a trading post established in 1795 near present Homer, Nebraska, for Spanish St. Louis traders. The Hanson essay reviews the Hispanic legacy in Nebraska and the Great Plains from Coronado in 1541 through the present day.

Although the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase is an anniversary well worth observing, it is merely one of many noteworthy events in the fascinating history of this place called Nebraska.

--Jim Potter


Here Open to All is the History of This People: 125 Years of the Nebraska State Historical Society opened at the Society headquarters building, 1500 R Street, Lincoln, on March 1, Nebraska Statehood Day. The exhibit, curated by Society historian Jim Potter, uses historic photographs, documents, and artifacts to recount the development and growth of the Society. This account of how the Society has safeguarded your history will be on display through 2003. Building hours are 8:00-5:00, Monday-Saturday.

Digital Imaging Focus of Volunteer Program

Join us Wednesday, March 12, for a program that focuses on the Society's ditial imaging program. Jill Koelling, curator of photographs for the NSHS, will present the program. The Society became involved in digital imaging in 1998, to create the best possible duplicate versions of collection materials for researcher use, while at the same time safeguarding the originals for future generations. The Society runs two digital imaging labs, one housed at the Society's Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center and the other at the Society headquarters building.

The program will begin at 10:30 a.m., at 1500 R Street, Lincoln, and be followed by a potluck luncheon. All volunteers are invited to attend the program and luncheon. Please contact Deb McWilliams at 471-4955 regarding your attendance.

Upcoming program dates for your calendar include: May 14, July 9, September 10, and November 12.

It's Back: Fort Robinson and the American West, 1874-1899

The first printing of Fort Robinson and the American West, 1874-1899, was so popular it sold out quickly. Now the book is being reprinted in paperback, and will be available for purchase April 1. In this, the first of a two-volume history of Fort Robinson, author Tom Buecker tells how the fort played a vital role in the history of the Indian wars of the American West in the late nineteenth century. A U.S. Army post from 1874 to 1948, Fort Robinson was the site of the surrender and death of Crazy Horse in 1877 and the tragic Cheyenne Outbreak in 1879. In the 1880s and 1890s the fort was home to the army's black cavalry, the famous "buffalo soldiers." Volume two of the fort's history, Fort Robinson and the American Century, 1900-1948, was published in 2002 and is currently available.

The paperback reprint of Fort Robinson and the American West will cost $19.95, plus $5 shipping and handling (IA, SD, KS, MN, and NE residents add tax). Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express are accepted. The book will be available at all NSHS museum stores. Contact the Museum Store at 1-800-833-6747 or 402-471-3447. Order your copy now!


15th & "P" Streets 402-471-3447

March Markdowns

March 10 - 17, 2003
10:00 - 4:30, Monday - Friday
1:00 - 4:00, Saturday and Sunday

Stop by the Nebraska State Historical Society Museum Store at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln, for our inventory clearance sale.

Museum Store Volunteers Needed

The Museum Store in Lincoln is looking for volunteers interested in greeting and assisting museum visitors with store sales. Important qualifications include being friendly, dependable, and able to work a cash register and credit card machine - but don't worry, we are more than happy to provide training. The rewards include meeting great people from a variety of states and countries, learning more about Nebraska history, and receiving a store discount.

Volunteers are needed on the second and fourth Wednesdays from 1:00-4:30, Fridays from 1:00-4:30, and on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00-4:00. If you, or anyone you know, are interested in volunteering at the store, please contact Deb McWilliams at 471-4955. Volunteers are essential to the Society - and store volunteers are key to continuing the educational experience of museum visitors.

Brown Bag Lectures

Join us on the third Thursday of March and April for the Society's free Brown Bag lecture series at the Museum of Nebraska History, Fifteenth and P Streets, Lincoln. The lectures begin at noon - so feel free to bring your lunch.

On March 20, Paul Eisloeffel, Curator of Audio-Visual Collections, will present "Nebraska's Moving Image Treasures." In the last four years the Nebraska State Historical Society has received seven grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation, a funding organization set up by the U.S. Congress to help preserve America's motion picture heritage. Come see excerpts from these treasures, ranging from promotional films from the 1910s and 1920s, to amateur and home movies of the 1930s!

Plan to also to attend the April 17 lecture, "Walt Behlen: Cornbelt Edison," presented by Jill Ebers, Society historic buildings survey coordinator. Walt Behlen of Columbus, Nebraska, was a quintessentially American renaissance man, combining an Edisonesque talent for invention and innovation with a brilliant business and marketing mind. Behlen's frameless metal buildings had an enormous influence on the appearance of our rural built environment. Behlen's house, built in 1958 entirely of his steel corrugated panels, represents a departure from the common uses of his materials, but illustrates the wide potential uses of the panels in its luxurious ornamentation.

New Faces

Vanessa Alexandre, museum store

Bob Beckman, administration

Jennifer Brockmeier, historic preservation

Dean Cloud, library/archives

Molly Christensen, museum

Joyce Hannawald, library/archives

Karen Isenberger, Ford Center

Eugene Nick, library/archives

Bill Murphy, Ford Center

Bill Schroeder, museum


Calendar of Events
March 2003

March 2: Film Series
2:00 pm, Lincoln

March 12: *Volunteer Program
10:30 am, 1500 R Street, Lincoln

March 17: Saint Patrick's Day

March 20: Brown Bag Lecture
12:00 noon, Lincoln

March 21: Spring

April 2003

April 17: Brown Bag Lecture
12:00 noon, Lincoln

April 20: Easter Sunday (see note, below)

April 25: *NSHS Board of Trustees Meeting,

April 26-27: *Another Nebraska: A Look at Our Black Heritage,
Gerald R. Ford Center, Omaha

April 25: Arbor Day Observed (see note, below)

(*Location other than the Museum of Nebraska History)

Note: In observance of Easter, Society headquarters will be closed Saturday, April 19. The Museum of Nebraska History and the Historic Sites operated by the NSHS will be closed April 20. Call for holiday hours at the Neihardt Site (402-648-3388) and Cather Site (402-746-2653) .

In observance of Arbor Day, Society headquarters, NSHS offices in the Lincoln Children's Museum, and the Ford Center will be closed Friday, April 25. Society headquarters will be closed April 26. The Museum of Nebraska History will be open. The Historic Sites operated by the NSHS will be closed April 27. Call for holiday hours at the Neihardt Site and Cather Site as above.

"The mission of the Nebraska State Historical Society is to safeguard and interpret Nebraska's past and make it accessible in ways that enrich present and future generations."

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 20 February 2003

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