2017 Nebraska Adventure

OLLI/UM Visits OLLI at UNL

June 9, 2017

Impressions & Musings about Our 2017 Nebraska Adventure

Deb McKnight & Cecelia Boone

Twenty-five of our University of Minnesota OLLI members accepted an invitation from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln OLLI chapter to visit their state after the Nebraskans had a great time visiting in the Twin Cities last fall. Members of UNL’s OLLI chapter saw the Twins play at Target field and attended a play at the Guthrie. From March 20−24, we returned the visit, traveling through Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney, and Red Cloud with ten Lincoln OLLI members who quickly became our dear friends.

Marghe Taber and Connie Waterous were course co-leaders for the trip.  On our first night, the group enjoyed a delicious dinner in the attractive atrium of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln. Sally Dunn was enthusiastic about "the great singing by Lincoln OLLI members of 1950s to 1970s tunes like 'Bye Bye Love' and 'Blowin' in the Wind.'" In Sally's opinion, their best was a re-do of John Denver's "Country Road" substituting Minnesota themes for the West Virginia original. Some of the group, which called themselves the OLLI Greasers, were decked out in ‘50s outfits—even poodle skirts and pink fluffy sweaters!

Photo of quilt at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum

Photo of quilts at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum

Photograph of quilt.

After dinner, we enjoyed three quilt exhibits. Joyce Peterson said, "I especially liked Luke Haynes's log cabin quilts featuring black-and-white fabric with points of red. The artists use repurposed clothing and household fabric. Unlike typical exhibits that hang quilts on the wall, Haynes displayed his quilts hanging from rings or draped over metal rods."  Connie Waterous noted, “There were also some stunning examples of quilts using more traditional designs and artworks in batik and other materials reflecting Nebraska icons, such as the sandhill areas and  wheatland.” 

Another feature of the trip was a tour of the handsome, architecturally unique Nebraska Capitol building. Barb Burleigh, one of three former Minnesota legislative staff on the trip, observed, "The tour was our opportunity to see the [nation’s] only unicameral legislature in action. The lobbyists clustered by the chamber doors were exactly like those at our St. Paul capitol!"

Continuing west our next stop was Grand Island for the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, which combines informative historical exhibits with changing art exhibits.  Marghe was struck by the building itself, which was designed by Edward Durrell Stone (architect of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC).

"The modern-appearing building was not at all what I expected to encounter on the Nebraska plains. The inside is filled with light, and the winding stairway to the second floor is graceful—a perfect place for group photographs. The four water pools on the first floor invite one to sit, listen, and enjoy the architect's vision."

Photo of sandhill cranes in distance.

The migrating cranes at Rowe Sanctuary near Kearney were the peak experience for several of us, including Barb Burleigh. According to her description, “Hundreds of thousands of cranes stop in this area to rest and eat on their migration north each spring. At dusk, we had the opportunity to see them arrive, hundreds at a time, to settle on sand bars for the night after a day eating leftover grain in the fields. Their squawking was really loud. We have a small number of these cranes in Minnesota, but seeing so many at once is an experience everyone should have.”

Sandhill cranes about to land on sandbar in Platte River.

Connie described the scene in more detail as follows: “At first the cranes seem far away ... but as the sun falls they get closer and closer as more and more cranes join in. The sound is incredible, a mixture of somewhat hoarse calls and ‘purring.’ The cranes settle in the sandbars in the river for protection from predators. We stayed 2½ hours, and our volunteer guides said about 9,000 cranes landed that night, one of the larger groups they had seen. An estimated 410,000 had come through the Platte so far in 2017. The cranes stay at the Platte for three to four weeks, gaining enough body weight to carry them north to Siberia and Canada for breeding.” 

Photograph of sandhill cranes on sandbar in Platte River.

The devotion of the volunteer guides was evidence of how fascinating this spectacle is. In our group two guides were from DC, two were from Alaska, most were multiple-year returners, and they were all staying for the three weeks of top migration.

Photograph of childhood home of Willa Cather.

Our last major stop was in Red Cloud, hometown of the novelist Willa Cather. Willa Cather Foundation staff and volunteers oriented us to the role Red Cloud played in Cather's life and work. We had a guided tour of her childhood home as well as the house where Anna Pavelka (the inspiration for Cather’s Antonia in My Antonia) worked as a hired girl, the bank owned by the husband in A Lost Lady, and the church where Cather's parents and brother's funerals were held. Marghe noted, "It was memorable to stand in Willa's small attic bedroom and see the peeling rose-colored wallpaper she saved up for and applied so many years ago."

The Opera House, which meant so much to Cather, has been restored and provides space for the Cather Foundation’s headquarters. The restored redstone State Bank Building remains an impressive presence on Red Cloud’s main street. Connie noted, “Trains were central to the growth of Red Cloud—and train travel was central to Cather’s own life and the lives of her characters, so it’s appropriate that the depot has come in for its share of restoration as well.”  

Photograph of sculpture of Willa Cather.

The trip wasn’t all cranes, Willa Cather, and art. In Kearney, we took in the Classic Car Collection, which included more than 270 vehicles ranging from aged to new, from basic to luxurious (from Duesenbergs to a DeLorean with a pink 1959 Cadillac thrown in). Near Kearney, we visited the Great Platte River Road Archway Memorial, where a museum of  pioneer history and modern transportation is located in an elevated structure spanning Interstate 80.

Our Minnesota OLLI members greatly enjoyed the trip and the opportunity to meet and spend time with Nebraska OLLI folk.