Nebraska “history makers” gathered for the Nebraska State Historical Society awards luncheon on Friday, October 14, at the Embassy Suites in Lincoln.
You can read about the award winners and their contributions to Nebraska history in the following paragraphs.
ROBERT W. FURNAS AWARD
The Robert W. Furnas Memorial Award recognizes outstanding contributions or assistance to the Nebraska State Historical Society in the form of either long-term service or a significant one-time contribution by an individual or organization. The 2016 Robert W. Furnas Memorial Award winner is Rhonda and the late James Seacrest.
Rhonda and her husband James underwrote the publication of Nebraska Post Office Murals: Born of the Depression, Fostered by the New Deal. They also underwrote the donation of the book to each library in Nebraska. In 2004, Jim Seacrest served as co-treasurer of the “Friends of Amendment One” group that supported a ballot initiative that cleared the way for the Nebraska Legislature to enact legislation to allow a temporary tax freeze on historic properties undergoing renovation. The Valuation Incentive Program projects represent private investments of millions of dollars and have been particularly valuable in preserving historic homes that contribute to Nebraska’s community identities. In 2012, the Seacrests provided financial support of the exhibition, The Illustrator’s Pencil: John Falter, from Nebraska to the Saturday Evening Post, at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln.
NSHS Board of Trustees President Katherine Endacott presented the award to Rhonda Seacrest.
JAMES C. OLSON MEMORIAL AWARD
The James C. Olson Memorial Award is given to a Nebraska teacher who epitomizes the best Nebraska educators have to offer in engaging, inspiring, and guiding their students to discover, enjoy, and learn from the fascinating and important histories we share. The award is limited to K-12 teachers who encourage and support their students in endeavors such as National History Day, who use documents, oral history, or place in classroom projects, or who employ other imaginative or innovative methods to make Nebraska history come alive for their students. The 2016 James C. Olson Memorial Award winner is Scott Wilson.
Scott has established a multiyear project for Advanced Placement history students. This project has produced biographies and videos of Omaha Central High School alumni veterans who have died in combat. He has worked with National History Day and other Nebraska-focused student research. The students interviewed families, did research, and even included videos for the presentations about their soldiers. There were a total of ninety stories researched. Last year Mr. Wilson led a group of his students to the grave sites of some of the veterans in Normandy, the Netherlands and Belgium. The students met the local families who tend the American graves, and presented them with the biographies. Often this was the first information the local families had about these soldiers. The students could see their efforts were well connected to the past. Other similar subjects have been researched by his students in his past twenty years of teaching. The projects often involved using the archives at the NSHS in Lincoln.
NSHS Trustee Kim Elder presented the award to Jim Wigton, who accepted the award on behalf of Scott Wilson. Wilson was on a research trip to New Orleans with some of his students and unable to attend the awards luncheon.
ADDISON E. SHELDON AWARD
The Addison E. Sheldon Memorial Award created in 1973, is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding contributions to the preservation and interpretation in the field of Nebraska History. Individuals or organizations may qualify for the Sheldon Award for long-term contributions to Nebraska history or for an important one-time accomplishment. The 2016 Addison E. Sheldon Award winners are John Carter and Jim Potter.
Potter began work at the NSHS in 1967. Over the years he served variously as state archivist, editor of Nebraska History, and finally as senior research historian, working for the NSHS for nearly 49 years. Along the way he wrote and edited several books and dozens of scholarly articles. His most recent book, published just this spring, is called From Our Special Correspondent: Dispatches from the 1875 Black Hills Council at Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska. His depth of knowledge was legendary, and was always shared with generosity and good humor. He died unexpectedly in August 2016.
Carter worked for the NSHS for almost forty years. He served as photo curator, senior research folklorist and associate editor for the NSHS over his career. He authored several books and published numerous articles in both scholarly and popular journals. He was a scholar/consultant for many documentary films, including several produced by filmmaker Ken Burns. He was a well-known and much-requested speaker on almost any aspect of Nebraska. John was enthusiastic in his work and play, and had a deep and abiding love for the history and culture of Nebraska. He passed away after a long illness in July 2015.
NSHS Trustee Jim McKee gave John Carter’s award to his wife, Ann Billesbach. He presented Jim Potter’s award to his wife, Gail DeBuse Potter.
NEBRASKA PRESERVATION AWARD
The Nebraska Preservation Award was created in 1988 to recognize significant achievements in historic preservation in Nebraska by an individual or organization. The award is given for one of two categories: “brick and mortar projects,” or “individual or group achievements.”
By 1971 the Omaha Burlington Station at South Tenth and Pacific no longer served general passenger traffic. The building became vacant in 1974 when Amtrak relocated their facilities. After 40 years of being vacant, the building was purchased by Hearst Television Inc of New York City to become studios and headquarters for KETV- Channel 7, Omaha’s ABC affiliate. They completed the rehabilitation and moved into their new high-tech studio and offices in late 2015.
The Burlington Station was built in 1898 to the design of Thomas Rogers Kimball, Nebraska’s preeminent architect. In 1930, the station was substantially remodeled and redesigned to its present appearance. The 48,000 square foot building was renovated at a cost of $27.5 million in 2015. Federal and state historic preservation tax credits were used to assist in rehabilitation. The station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bob Puschendorf presented the award to Ariel Roblin of KETV, who accepted for John Drain, Hearst Properties Inc.
ASA T HILL AWARD
The Asa T. Hill Memorial Award was created by the NSHS Foundation in 1975 “to recognize an individual or organization for an outstanding research project or interpretation of an archeological site or sites in the field of Great Plains archeology.”
Curt’s first formal foray into archeology was as a crew member working at two Nebraska Culture lodge excavations and at the Nehawka Prehistoric Flint Quarries in Cass County. These research projects sparked a life-long interest in Native American stone source studies and tool manufacturing. His passion for Nebraska archeology continued over the course of four decades. His contributions have had a lasting impact.
Curt and NSHS archeologist Gayle Carlson published a report in 1975 titled Lithic Distribution in Nebraska which featured maps and descriptions of all the major sources of flint and other stone used by prehistoric peoples in Nebraska for 12,000 years. The report is a standard for anyone researching stone tool technology and stone procurement in Nebraska.
After coming to NSHS on 6 June 1969, Curt helped build the popular Pawnee earthlodge replica and the buffalo products exhibit. He meticulously researched, planned, drew, and then painted – on stitched-together animal hides – a 17-foot-long-replica of the original Spanish depiction of the 1720 massacre of Pedro de Villasur’s force by the Pawnee and allies. These displays were among the most popular in the First Nebraskans gallery and were enjoyed by thousands of museum patrons.
Based on Gayle Carlson’s excavation, Curt made incredibly detailed architectural drawings of buildings at Fort Atkinson, Fort Robinson, Fort Kearny, Rock Creek Station and other sites. These proved informative not only to the archeological community, but also served as the basis for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission architects to accurately design building reconstructions at these wonderful state historic parks. You can see his work at the Fort Atkinson visitor center by viewing his miniature models of the Fort complex of scattered buildings and the Western Engineer – the first steamboat to successfully ascend the Missouri River in 1819. The Fort models are so detailed they even include tiny sheets flapping in the wind on tiny clothes lines!
Rob Bozell presented the award to Curt Peacock.
JAMES L. SELLERS MEMORIAL AWARD
The James L. Sellers Memorial Award was created in 1967. The award is given each year for the “best article” published in a volume of Nebraska History. This award is supported through the NSHS Foundation and Catherine Sellers Angle. Articles are evaluated on use of primary sources, quality of research and writing, and reader interest.
Brian Sarnacki is receiving this award for “In the Biting Stage’: The 1955 Nebraska State Penitentiary Riots and Violent Prison Activism” from the Spring 2015 issue of Nebraska History.
This year’s judges were John Calvert, Britta McEwen, and Adam Sundberg of Creighton University. Dr. Calvert writes: “We found the article to be a compelling and well written account of the violent disturbances, born out of prisoners’ grievances, that led to changes in the state’s correctional services.”
Brian Sarnacki grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in history from the University of Notre Dame and then continued studying history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he received a Master’s Degree. He currently lives in Omaha and works as a community learning specialist at Do Space, a one-of-a-kind community technology library.
Sarnacki was unable to attend the awards luncheon.
Thanks to everyone who attended, and congratulations to the award winners!