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Neihardt, John G.

John G. Neihardt (1881-1973), named Nebraska poet laureate in 1921, enjoyed a growing literary reputation as his epic poems were published. He had early in life demonstrated superior intellectual ability. He entered Nebraska Normal College at Wayne at the age of thirteen and took a great interest in poetry and classical literature. Neihardt worked his way through Nebraska Normal by ringing the school bell every hour from 6:30 A.M.until suppertime. He earned a bachelor of science degree when he was fifteen and published his first major work, The Divine Enchantment, a long narrative poem, in 1900. Although the work received some favorable reviews, it did not sell well. Neihardt taught country school and took a series of low-paying jobs to support himself while he continued to write.

On December 11, 1922, the Omaha Daily News, which had briefly employed Neihardt as a reporter, covered an Omaha event which reflected the pride of Neihardt's family and friends in his literary achievements and his growing public renown.

"Before 450 persons, the largest crowd ever assembled in the Omaha public library art galleries, Mrs. Alice M. Neihardt, a dainty, little white-haired woman, stood on tiptoe and lifted the veil from the portrait of her illustrious son John G. Neihardt," reported the News.

"Mrs. Neihardt came to Omaha from Branson, Missouri, to participate in the ceremony of presentation of the portrait of Neihardt, painted by J. Laurie Wallace, to the Omaha public library. The portrait is the gift of the Omaha Neihardt club to the city."

Neihardt himself was not present, but an uncle, George Culler of Fremont, attended the ceremony and visited with his sister, Neihardt's mother, afterwards. "'I'm just as proud of the boy as his mother is,'" Culler told the Daily News. "'John spent all his summer vacations on my farm, and he had this notion of becoming a poet even then.'"

The News in a December 13 editorial entitled "Mother Always Sees It First," commented that during the unveiling Mrs. Neihardt "confided to several persons that she knew John was going to be great, because she saw unmistakable signs of it when he was only 6 or 8 years old." Neihardt recalled near the end of his life in his autobiography, All Is But a Beginning, that he had had a happy childhood, which furnished material for his poetry.

(April 2003)

 

 

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