THE ISSUE: Honoring Veterans
LOCAL IMPACT: Dedication of mural, re-opening of community center serve to honor the sacrifices of local veterans.
Dedication of a mural honoring the service of veterans and the re-birth of a community center built with the same idea in mind provided the perfect punctuation for Veterans Day festivities in downtown Nebraska City on Saturday, Nov. 11.
Nebraska City Mayor Bryan Bequette served as the master of ceremonies and the Nebraska City High School concert band provided musical accompaniment for a ceremony that dedicated a mural and launched a busy weekend at the Veterans Memorial Building.
The event, Nebraska City Honoring Our Heroes, was an official Nebraska 150 event. The Nebraska 150 events are those which celebrate the state’s sesquicentennial.
The veterans mural, which spans nearly 100 feet on the west wall in Memorial Way was painted by Kent Schwartz and commissioned by the Paul John Anton and Doris Wirth Foundation Inc.
Mayor Bequette talked about both the west wall mural honoring veterans and the east wall mural, also painted by Schwartz and commissioned by the Wirth Foundation. The east wall mural honored the early Pioneer history of Nebraska City.
Bequette’s remarks began with some history about Nebraska City.
“I can tell you, as a veteran, I am very proud to live in this city,” said Bequette. “This city, since it’s inception, has had a flavor of military service to it.”
Bequette said Nebraska City got its start with the building of Fort Kearney in May of 1846 and, after the fort moved west to its current location, the city stayed and thrived.
By the time Nebraska had been granted statehood in 1867, Nebraska City had been established for 13 years.
The mural on the east wall shows scenes from the early days, but the military, Bequette said, would continue to be a feature of Nebraska City.
“Over the decades, we have continued to send our sons and daughters to serve in the nation’s military,” Bequette said.
Citians have served the nation in many conflicts, all of which are honored by the Schwartz mural on the west wall.
Bequette said the Memorial Way murals are just part of a showcase of great murals that Schwartz has painted here in recent years.
“I can tell you that we are mighty proud of the murals that Kent has done around town and for the things that he has done for our city,” Bequette said.
The mayor and Ted Beilman, an organizer of the Veterans Day event, honored Schwartz with a U.S. flag.
The flag, which was obtained through the coordination of Beilman and District 1 Representative Jeff Fortenberry, previously flew over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
After receiving the flag, Schwartz addressed the crowd and noted that his main objective was simply to honor all veterans and try to make all feel included. With the variety of the kinds of service, he said that was a tough task. But in conversation with veterans, Schwartz said he got the feeling the mural was close to the mark.
In explaining the panels of the mural, Schwartz said the southern-most panel is one that features the images of Nebraska City residents who served. Pictures of those veterans were brought to Schwartz before he started work.
The other panels feature enlistment posters and iconic images, like Rosie the Riveter. A third panel honors those who lost their live in service to the country.
And the final image, a flag, gives people a chance to take a picture or a selfie and send it those who are serving the nation to let them know that everyone is thinking of the them and is grateful for their service.
“I hope that all the veterans who come through from out of state and in town will feel honored,” Schwartz said. “This (mural) was a tough one, but it was definitely my favorite.”
Schwartz closed by thanking everyone for coming to the ceremony and thanking veterans for serving the country.
Bequette then turned the attention of the assembly to the second piece of the Veterans Day program, the near by Memorial Building.
Just as he had with the murals, Bequette provided a historical background for the Memorial Building.
Bequette said the plan for the building began when 12 citizens got together in 1927 with the idea to build a memorial for veterans and a community building. The group of 12 became a committee of 100 that raised funds locally for the project and, within two years, the building stood.
Bequette noted that a four-day event celebrated the opening of the building. A program for that event noted three ideals of the building, to commemorate a nation’s defenders, to observe the 75 year anniversary of Nebraska as a territory and to demonstrate community coordination.
On that first day, the Memorial Building Association took control of the structure and they would manage it until handing it off to the city in 1943.
Through its years, the Memorial Building served as a home for meetings and events with veterans, the school and the city using its space.
In 2007, citing a lack of funding to keep the building at code, the city closed the building.
Bequette noted that a group of citizens, including Beilman has been working hard to bring the building back to life, to modernize it and to make it open to the public.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Memorial Building was open to the public with numerous displays honoring service to the country and the men and women who have represented Otoe County in the nation’s military.
All told, the displays at the Memorial Building shared information about over 800 service members from the area.
Although he had a lot of people help him along the way, the Memorial Building project has definitely been spirited forward by the efforts of Beilman. And that did not go unrecognized on Saturday.
Mayor Bequette noted that, through Beilman’s efforts, the Veterans Memorial Building in Nebraska City was placed on the state and national historic registries. Beilman obtained a tax exempt charitable status for the project, obtained a grant from the USDA for a culinary incubator project at the site, and collected some $76K in monetary donations and in kind services.
Mayor Bequette honored Beilman with a Nebraska 150 pin and a Nebraska 150 commemorative coin.
Bequette communicated the thanks of the community to Beilman and further noted that, “As a veteran. I am in awe, Ted.”