Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce got Nebraska’s 150th birthday celebration off to a festive start, with a birthday-party-themed annual banquet and awards presentation.
A sell-out crowd of 225 filled the Rosenow Room of the Lied Lodge for a buffet dinner, live and silent auctions, the awards presentation and a presentation by Dr. Sara Crook and Amanda Barker on the state’s sesquicentennial celebration.
The celebration will allow Nebraskans to see where the state has been, where it is now and where it’s going, said Crook, who told the audience about some of the programs already underway, including the NE150 Challenge, in which Nebraskans can walk, run or bike 150 miles during the year; NE Impact, in which citizens can volunteer 150 hours during 2017; I Am Nebraska, an opportunity to upload personal video stories to the sesquicentennial website; and Now You Know Nebraska, which offers a daily fact about the state.
Upcoming events in Nebraska City include “Cruising the Wide Missouri,” featuring cruises on the Spirit of Brownville riverboat Sept. 7 through 10; the Chautauqua June 21 to 24; a Farm to Table event that will turn Central Avenue into an al fresco dining experience on Aug. 20, and a Veterans Day recognition event on Nov. 11.
The city will also host tree-planting events that will give students an opportunity to partner with the Arbor Day Foundation to repopulate the canopy that’s been damaged by pine wilt and the emerald ash borer, said Barker.
The first award of the night was the Business of the Year, which went to Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast. Owner Jeanna Stavas told the audience she had “no idea it would turn out this good” when “took the leap of faith” and started her business 11 years ago.
“The community is just fantastic,” she said. “There’s always someone here with a smile to help out.”
The Nebraska City Recreation Agency was honored as Organization of the Year.
Former Nebraska City Parks and Rec Commissioner Jeff Crunk spoke for the group, and he began by thanking the citizens and voters who supported construction of the new aquatic center.
“You made this happen,” he said before thanking the foundations and donors who have pledged $621,131 that will go toward “lots of extras,” according to Crunk.
Crunk also thanked the SPLASH Committee, along with the city council and city staff. He acknowledged that two projects are left to be completed: a 30-foot-high fence to protect swimmers from foul balls at Clemmy Holmes Field, and a flagpole.
Crunk said the flagpole will be surrounded with “a little piece of the old building” in the rock that will surround the pole.
Jim Kuhn, who serves as part of the Recreation Agency, was named Volunteer of the Year.
He gave the audience a little background on the Main Street Historians project to provide a one-sheet history of the buildings along Central Avenue to display.
Kuhn said the project got started when he heard someone ask, “I wonder what this used to be?” while walking on Central Avenue.
He and other volunteers searched old photos, old phone books and old city directories to learn the buildings’ histories, which were then summarized with historic photos of the buildings through the years and given to the current owners of the building to display.
Sharon Sheldon of Sheldon’s for Women received the Golden Apple for Outstanding Customer Service.
Pam Frana, who presented the award, told the audience that NCTC received a letter from a woman in Texas, who wanted to compliment Sheldon on her superior customer service.
The woman wrote that she is battling cancer and that she isn’t always able to get out to shop for clothing. She contacted Sheldon, who arranged to have boxes of clothing sent to the woman for her to try on as she’s able. The woman then returns the clothes she doesn’t want to Sheldon.
“It’s fun to do work that you love,” Sheldon told the audience before thanking her family, the community and her customers for their support.
Nebraska City High School senior Kelsie Stovall, who will attend Nebraska Wesleyan University, received the NCTC scholarship.
NCTC Past President Tammi Thompson was recognized for her seven years of service to the NCTC board.

***See photos of other award winners on page B5.