Category Archives: Born, Raised in Nebraska

May Celebrations – 2017


Born in May, Born in Nebraska

Henry Jaynes Fonda. Born in Omaha on May 16, 1905, died August 12, 1982, of cardio-respiratory arrest in Los Angeles.

Henry Fonda Trivia:

  1. He was also known as One-Take Fonda.
  2. At 76, Fonda was the oldest person to win a best actor Oscar (On Golden Pond).
  3. He studied acting in Omaha with Dorothy Brando, mother of Marlon Brando.
  4. One of Fonda’s hobbies was beekeeping. He also enjoyed making model airplanes and kites. He earned the rank of Life Scout and became a scout master as an adult.
  5. Fonda served in the Navy for three years during WWII, winning the Bronze Star for his service in the Central Pacific.

Quote: “If there is something in my eyes, a kind of honesty in the face, then I guess you could say that’s the man I’d like to be, the man I want to be.”


May 8-14. National Children’s Book Week. Pick up a children’s book at the library and read it to a child or just for yourself! Many fabulous kids’ books are not just for kids. (Two of my recent favorites: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. CB)

May 12. National Limerick Day, celebrating the birthday of Edward Lear, born in 1812. He wrote this one:

There was a young lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin;
So she had it made sharp, and purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.


William Jennings Bryan 1860 – 1925

Born in March, Statesman from Nebraska

Born in Salem, Illinois in 1860, William Jennings Bryan was renowned as a gifted debater. He was elected to the U.S. Congress to represent Nebraska in 1890 but was defeated for the U.S. Senate in 1894. The next two years, he served as editor of the Omaha World-Herald.

Bryan ran for president in 1896, traveling more than 18,000 miles through 27 states, but he lost to William McKinley. He lost to McKinley again in 1900 and to William Howard Taft in 1908. In 1912, President Woodrow Wilson appointed him Secretary of State.

With his deep, commanding voice and wide travels, he was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era. Because of his faith in the wisdom of the common people, he was called “The Great Commoner.” He supported Prohibition and attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously at the Scopes Trial in 1925 in Tennessee. On July 26, 1925, five days after the Scopes case ended, Bryan died in his sleep in Dayton, Tennessee. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.




Thomas William Osborne – born February 23, 1937


Tom Osborne – former Cornhuskers football coach, U.S. Representative, and UNL Athletics Administrator, and one of the most admired men in Nebraska – was born in Hastings. Considered a star athlete at Hastings High School, he excelled in basketball and football and earned the Omaha World Herald’s “Athlete of the Year” title.

Here are some other facts you may or may not know about Osborne:

  • Like his father and grandfather before him, he attended Hastings College, earning a B.A. in history in 1959.
  • Osborne achieved an M.A. in educational psychology from Nebraska (1963) and a doctorate in educational psychology (1965). He also served in the Nebraska Army National Guard from 1960 to 1966.
  • His tenure as head football coach at the University of Nebraska, from 1973 to 1997, is the longest in school history. Under his guidance, the Cornhuskers had a 255-49-3 record – the sixth-most all-time among major college football coaches with a winning percentage ranking fifth all-time.
  • Osborne was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (1999) and received the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award (2000). ESPN honored him as the coach of the decade for the 90s (1999).
  • He and Nancy will celebrate their 55th anniversary this year. In 1991, they founded the TeamMates program to encourage school-aged youth to graduate from high school and pursue a post-secondary education.
  • In 1999, the playing surface at Memorial Stadium was renamed Tom Osborne Field, but Osborne asked that his name be removed from the field because he didn’t think it was fair to his successor, Frank Solich. His name was replaced in 2013 when the university installed its new FieldTurf.  

John Milton Thayer: 1820-1906

Born in January, Governed Nebraska

Young Lawyer: John Milton Thayer was born in Bellingham, Massachusetts, graduating with a law degree from Brown University in 1847. He was soon admitted to the bar and practiced law in Worcester, Massachusetts, for seven years.


Bust of Thayer in the Vicksburg National Military Park

Civil War Soldier: Shortly after the Nebraska territory was created in 1854, he and his family moved to Omaha, where because of previous experience and interests, he was appointed to head the territorial militia. In Nebraska, he led two expeditions against the Pawnee. In 1861, responding to President Lincoln’s call for volunteer soldiers, Thayer recruited a thousand men and served as colonel of the First Regiment of Nebraska volunteers, which fought in the battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh. As a Brigadier General, he served with Grant at Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Read a description of “Thayer’s Approach” at

First Senator: Following the Civil War, Thayer was actively involved in securing Nebraska’s admission into the union. When Nebraska became the 37th state, he became one of its first two United States Senators, serving from 1867 to 1871. In 1875, President Grant appointed him governor of the Wyoming territory, a post he held until 1878, after which he returned to Nebraska to resume his law practice.

Seventh Governor: In 1885, at the age of 65, he was elected Governor on the Republican ticket – the oldest Governor in Nebraska history – and served two full terms from 1886 to 1888 and a partial third term in 1891-92. He died in Lincoln and is buried there in Wyuka Cemetery. Thayer County in southeast Nebraska is named for him.





Willa Cather: 1873-1947

Born in December,
Raised in Nebraska

catherYou probably recognize the name of Willa Cather, author of My Ántonia , O Pioneers!, and The Song of the Lark and consider her one of ours. You may know that many of her best known books were influenced by her childhood in Red Cloud, Nebraska (population 987); the house where she lived there is a state historic site.

Here are 7 things you may not know:

  1. She lived in Nebraska only 13 years, from 1883 to 1896. Born in Virginia as Wilella Cather on December 7, 1873, her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine.
  2. Though some of her novels are set in Nebraska, others are set in New York, San Francisco, New Mexico, Quebec, and France; her last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, was set in her birthplace of Virginia.
  3. She moved to Lincoln in 1890 to study at the University of Nebraska, intending to study science and medicine. After a Lincoln newspaper published an essay her English professor submitted, her name in print had an “hypnotic effect” on her, and she decided to become a writer.
  4. She is the only American woman writer included in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s list of “Great Books of the Western World” (1990).
  5. Before she was a novelist, she was a journalist. Beginning as an editor, in Pittsburgh, she eventually became managing editor of McClure’s Magazine in New York City.
  6. Her most famous book, My Ántonia , was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize but didn’t win it. That honor came with her book set in World War I, One of Ours.
  7. Cather died in her home in New York on April 24, 1947, of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 73 years old.

Sources:; University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Johnny Carson, Aspiring Magician – 1925-2005

Born in October, Raised in Nebraska

Carson was bojohnny-carsonrn in Corning, Iowa, on October 23, 1925, moving with family to Norfolk, Nebraska at age eight. At age twelve he found a book of magic, ordered a magic kit, and began practicing with the goal to be a magician. His first paid performance was at the Norfolk Rotary Club when he was fourteen years old.

Carson, a high school senior when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, enlisted in the Navy after graduation. He served by entertaining troops with his ventriloquist dummy, Eddie. Later he returned to Norfolk, graduating from UNL in 1949 with a major in speech and a minor in radio. His final college thesis was on “How to Write Comedy Jokes.”


Actress Swoosie Kurtz: Named for a Bomber

Born in September, Born in Nebraska

Swoosie Kurtz

Swoosie Kurtz received her unusual first name – which rhymes with “Lucy” – from her father, Air Force Colonel Frank Allen Kurtz, Jr., who was an American bomber pilot. During WWII, he had flown the last surviving Boeing B-17D Flying Fortress bomber named “*The Swoose” – half swan, half goose.

Born in Omaha on September 4, 1944, she was an only child and has never been married.

Kurtz majored in drama at the University of Southern California, also studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Her first television appearance at age 17 was on The Donna Reed Show in 1962. At age 18, she appeared on To Tell the Truth, where she identified her father from two impostors.

Kurtz’s theatrical career began on Broadway, where in 1978 she received Broadway’s “triple crown” – the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won a second Tony in 1986.

Also in 1978, Kurtz appeared in Mary Tyler Moore’s short-lived variety show Mary, which also included David Letterman and Michael Keaton. She has received eight Emmy Award nominations, with one win for Carol and Company in 1990. She was in the NBC drama Sisters, Huff, Pushing Daisies and in the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly (2010-16). Her films include Wildcats, Dangerous Liaisons, Stanley and Iris, Citizen Ruth and Liar Liar.

Early B-17D at Wright Field. The “D” model was the last B-17 series to have a small “shark-fin” tail and underside “bathtub” gun position. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Early B-17D at Wright Field. The “D” model was the last B-17 series to have a small “shark-fin” tail and underside “bathtub” gun position. (U.S. Air Force photo)
DAYTON, Ohio - Artwork depicting "The Swoose" on the B-17D aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
DAYTON, Ohio – Artwork depicting “The Swoose” on the B-17D aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
One of crews from "The Swooze"
One of crews from “The Swoose” (pictured after the war). From left to right are Charles Reeves, Harold Varner, Col. Frank Kurtz, Harry Schreiber and Roland Boone. The aircraft also set two point-to-point speed records and carried several famous passengers, including Lt. Commander Lyndon B. Johnson (future president of the United States). (U.S. Air Force photo)



Pete Ricketts, 40th Governor of Nebraska

Born in August, Born in Nebraska

Ricketts,_Pete_2013-11-04aThe 40th Governor of Nebraska was born in Nebraska City as Peter John Ricketts on August 19, 1964. He is the oldest child of Marlene, a public school teacher, and J. Joseph Ricketts. In 1975, J. Joseph 1975 founded a brokerage company, which later became Ameritrade.

Pete’s younger siblings are Tom, Laura, and Todd – all of whom live in the Chicago area. The Ricketts family has owned the Chicago Cubs since 2009.

The Ricketts family was far from wealthy in its early years. Pete recalls a time when their mother made curtains for the boys’ bedroom out of plastic picnic-table covers. Todd says one reason he owns a bike shop is that he never had a bike as a kid.

Pete Ricketts graduated from Westside High School in Omaha before attending the University of Chicago, earning a bachelor’s in biology and an MBA in marketing and finance. He began working at Ameritrade as a customer services representative, eventually becoming its Chief Operating Operator. He and Susanne were married in 1997. They have three children – 15-year-old twins Roscoe and Margot, and 13-year-old Eleanor.


Gerald R. Ford, 1913-2006


Gerald FordGerald Rudolff Ford was born as Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska on July 14, 1913, but was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His name was changed when his mother remarried, to Gerald R. Ford, Sr.

Although as President he had a reputation of being clumsy, he was captain of the football team in high school and served as assistant coach while studying law at Yale. In the Navy during WWII, he attained the rank of lieutenant commander and earned several medals of distinction.

He and Betty – a former model who taught dance to handicapped children – were newlyweds when he was elected to Congress in 1948.

Ford was the only president never to be elected – even as Vice President. In October 1973, President Nixon appointed him Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned. On August 9, 1974, Ford became the 38th President after Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

FORD FACTS: During his first 14 months as President, Ford vetoed 39 measures; he was the first U.S. President to visit Japan; two assassination attempts were made on his life. Ford viewed himself as “a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs.” On Inauguration Day, his successor, President Jimmy Carter, began his speech: “For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”

Gerald Ford died on December 26, 2006 – the longest any president has lived to date. Feather


Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, 1865-1915

BORN IN JUNE, BORN IN NEBRASKA Susan La Flesche Picotte, 1865-1915

The first American Indian woman to become a physician in the United States was born on the Omaha Reservation in Thurston County in northeast Nebraska.

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was born June 17, 1865 to Waoo-Winchatcha (Mary Gale), who was half French and half Omaha, and Joseph LaFlesche (Chief Iron Eye), who was half white and half Omaha.

Dr. Picotte was educated at Hampton Institute in Virginia and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, graduating at the top of her class in 1889. It was unusual for women to attend medical schools; many social conservatives believed that women weren’t able to “manage the mental strain of higher education.”

As a child, Picotte had witnessed the death of a member of her tribe because the agency doctor never came. In her private practice, she treated both tribal and white patients, advocating for better health care for all. In 1912 she founded a reservation hospital, which was later named in her honor.

Picotte crusaded against tuberculosis, which killed hundreds of Omaha, including her husband Henry in 1905. With no cure available, she advocated cleanliness, fresh air, and the eradication of houseflies, believed to be major carriers of TB. She also campaigned against alcohol, lecturing about the virtues of temperance and embracing prohibition laws.

Dr. Picotte died at the age of 50, on September 18, 1915 in Walthill, Nebraska – probably of bone cancer. She is buried in Bancroft Cemetery in Bancroft, Nebraska.