The Nebraska City Cemetery Board unanimously rejected a proposed plan from the City of Nebraska City to construct temporary soccer and ball fields on property adjacent to Wyuka Cemetery that is slated for future cemetery expansion.
Board members held a two-hour meeting to hear comments from city representatives and the public before voting to reject the plan.
Public comments were about evenly divided on whether or not the property should be used temporarily for three soccer fields and two practice fields for T-ball, baseball and softball.
Two board members, Lynn Pursel and Tom Hemphill, expressed their disapproval of the project during the meeting.
Pursel indicated he did not think the Wyuka property was the place for the athletic fields, and Hemphill said he thought it was disrespectful to put a practice field next to the cemetery.
Nebraska City resident John Brust expressed concern over spending more than $800,000 to improve the cemetery property without the opportunity to expand it if  it was needed.
He suggested that the matter be put to a bond vote of the residents of Nebraska City.
Resident Richard Rhinehart reminded board members why the cemetery location was selected in the first place: to protect Nebraska City from potentially contagious diseases.
He suggested that the city look at other locations for the athletic fields
Two members of the local clergy, Michael Schmidt of the First Christian Church, and Tom Osborne of the First Presbyterian Church, spoke to the sacredness  of the land in and around Wyuka.
Schmidt noted that, although soccer players, coaches and fans might not intend to be disrespectful, their actions might be seen that way by other cemetery visitors.
“Using this ground comes at a high price,” said Osborne, “given what the land was to be used for.”
Osborne asked board members to remember and consider that cost as they moved forward.
“If this meeting weren’t at 9 o’clock on a school and work day, there would be a lot of families here,” said Doug Friedli, who expressed “a need and an urgency” to find space for soccer fields within Nebraska City as they are attractive to young families who may move into the area for work.
Amy Allgood, executive director of Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce and a youth soccer coach, asked the board to “take into consideration Nebraska City as a whole” as they made their decision.
Allgood noted that she has family members buried at Wyuka, and she saw the proposed soccer fields as an opportunity to reflect on the past and to talk to her players about respect and family history.
Dana Stovall, tourism and marketing coordinator at NCTC and also a long-time youth sports coach, reminded the board and the audience that ball games were once played south of the cemetery on property now used by Honeywell/ American Meter until the Softball Complex by Larson Motors was built.
Stovall said that youth sports association members continue to seek a site for a permanent sports complex in Nebraska City, but no suitable land is currently available.
Jim Thurman, Otoe County commissioner, told the board that Nebraska City is not currently ready to build or maintain a sports complex, but the proposed soccer fields project was needed to help grow the town’s amenities and make it more attractive to young families who might relocate to Nebraska City for work.
The Nebraska City City Council, which has the final say on the proposed project, had the matter on its agenda for the Monday, March 18, meeting.
The meeting was to be held at the Rowe Memorial Public Safety Complex.
Look for a report on that meeting in a future issue of the News-Press.