State’s 150th anniversary creates a time to reflect, celebrate Nebraska

KEARNEY, Neb. — Jeff Searcy considers Nebraska’s sesquicentennial as a special event, not to be missed.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look at Nebraska — where we’ve been, where we are today at that 150-year mark and where we’re headed,” he said at a reception for the leaders of the celebration Sunday at The Archway in Kearney, Nebraska.

Searcy, a former Kearney resident who now lives in Omaha, also understands the importance of acknowledging the state’s history. To underscore the importance of the 150th anniversary of Nebraska statehood, he now serves as the chair for the Nebraska Statehood 150 Friends Foundation.

“We want to make sure that the story, that fabric, the history we don’t want to lose, remains vibrant because it’s so easy to live in the current,” he said. “At the same time we look at that and say, how did that prepare us to be where we are today? Where can we go tomorrow?”

Searcy hopes the entire state can appreciate the state’s birthday.

“That opportunity to pause in 2017 gives us not only a chance to reflect, but to celebrate today and look forward to the future,” he said.

Leaders from across Nebraska began planning for the yearlong 150th anniversary more than six years ago. They hope to create a celebration that will serve as a catalyst for promoting a spirit of pride, growth, engagement and connection within the state.

The statewide programs start on Jan. 1.

Highlights include:

* NE 150 Union Pacific Whistle Stop Tour Across Nebraska — A three-day railroad tour with stops and events in communities along the way.

* Time Machine: Nebraska Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow — A Mobile Children’s Museum — A state-of-the-art children’s museum that will tour the state for 26 weeks visiting 40 communities

* Nebraska Atlas Project — An opportunity for fourth-grade students to learn about the state, our history and our people

* A Salute to the Good Life — Celebration on Centennial Mall in Lincoln — A large scale tribute to Nebraska’s history and culture with performances, music, fireworks and food

* Painting the Legacy — An exhibit of paintings of all of Nebraska’s 93 counties by Central City native Todd Williams, touring the state throughout 2017

More information can be found at

Sara Crook, chair of the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commission, noted that the planning includes the entire state.

“We wanted to plan some things that were statewide and not just a Lincoln or an Omaha thing,” she said. “The commission is made up of people from all over the state. We’re doing things from the top down.”

Communities and organizations throughout the state can submit events to help celebrate Nebraska’s sesquicentennial.

“If Kearney wants to do something, Kearney can plan an event,” Crook said. “Once they get a plan together, they apply to be recognized as an official event. They can use the logo and all that information will go on the website.”

With only one geographic boarder — the Missouri River — Crook sees Nebraskans as a group of people who possess a unique quality.

“I go back to something Addison Sheldon said: That it’s the spirit of the people, the pioneer spirit of the people,” Crook said. “We are anything but wimps. We are hard-working, community-minded, loyal individuals in Nebraska who support each other and support our communities.”

She hopes to see that spirit reflected in the sesquicentennial celebration.

Searcy agrees.

When word of the celebration began to circulate, Searcy heard from people who wanted to help.

“All of the sudden, we had people wanting to join the organization,” he said. “We had a lady from Singapore that had Nebraska roots, from Vancouver, from various states. That was a thrill. It was because of their roots and their love of Nebraska. I had a gentleman who called me the other day. He’s lived in the Des Moines area for the last 50 years, but he said, ‘Nebraska is home.’ Nebraska really is home for a lot of people.”