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.





December, The Giving Month: Remember the Pantry

While some of us groan and complain about how much we overate on Thanksgiving, others in our community couldn’t buy enough food to last the month. That’s why the Chase County Pantry is such an important service.

The Chase County Pantry Service began decades ago through the efforts of Monsignor Jerome Murray of St. Patrick’s Church and Pastor Bob Call of the First Methodist Church in Imperial. It is now a cooperative effort of volunteers and the City of Imperial, who provides the facilities and overhead expenses.

Nancy on Duty at the Pantry

According to Nancy Terryberry, president of Chase County Pantry Services since 1996, about 20 volunteers work in pairs on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. in a room behind the old gym. They receive donations, make grocery runs, stock shelves, and serve those who come in for help.

Everything in the pantry comes through food drives and monetary donations from churches, schools, local organizations, and individuals. It is usually well-stocked during the holidays, but supplies can get low in the summertime.

What kind of donations are best for the holidays? Since the pantry has three freezers, they can take small turkeys and other kinds of meat. Other suggestions: Fruit juice, canned fruit and vegetables (no more green beans, please!), dried beans, popcorn, stuffing mix, and cranberry sauce.

If you’d like to donate funds – any time of the year – mail your check to the Chase County Pantry, c/o Nancy Terryberry, PO Box 4, Imperial. To volunteer or for more information, phone Nancy at 882-5136.

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

What You Might Not Know about Popcorn

  1. popcornNebraska produces more popcorn than any other state in the country – around 250 million pounds per year – about a quarter of all the popcorn produced in the United States.
  2. Americans consume about 14 billion quarts of popcorn per year – 43 quarts per person.
  3. Why does it pop? Each kernel contains a small drop of water, inside a circle of soft starch, inside the kernel’s thick hull. When the kernel gets hot, pressure from the heated water builds, and it bursts open.
  4. Most popcorn comes in two basic shapes: snowflake, used in movie theaters because it looks and pops bigger, and mushroom, used for candy confections because it doesn’t crumble.
  5. How old is it? In 1948, popped kernels around 5,000 years old were discovered in caves in New Mexico.
  6. It is believed the Wampanoag Native American tribe brought popcorn to the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  7. On average, a kernel will pop when it reaches a temperature of 347 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. North Loup, Nebraska is one of the five contenders for the title “Popcorn Capital of the World.”
  9. Popping popcorn is one of the number one uses for microwave ovens.

Find out more at

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.


“Where’s the Fire?”

That’s the question most of us ask when we hear the sirens go off in Imperial. Later, when we discover what it was, we’re grateful – for a moment – that our fire department was able to take care of the problem, then we go about our business.

That’s not the case with members of the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department (IVFD). The problem is their business. They are always on the alert, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. And it’s a lot more than just fires.

IMG_2001Early in the evening of my interview with Assistant Fire Chief Dan Robinson and the Department’s Secretary Josh Burke, eleven firefighters had answered a rural call because of a carbon monoxide alarm. They also provide rope rescue – in case of a grain elevator or canyon accident – and they’re called out to accidents involving vehicles, which could include not only cars but trucks, tractors, earth movers, and heavy agricultural equipment. Divers provide lake and river rescue and recovery – in the wintertime, that becomes ice rescue. As Dan expressed it, “When the alarm goes off, someone has an emergency we need to tend to.”

Their Equipment

Did you know? The white trucks are for rural calls, and the red ones Rural Fire Truckare for city calls – with one exception: that huge red six-wheel-drive truck that was decommissioned by the U.S. Forestry Service. (All they paid for the truck was the transportation to Imperial.)

All the trucks and equipment – except for dive rescue equipment, which the Co-op stores – are housed at the fire station. The truck bay is crowded; it was built in the 1930s when trucks were much smaller.

A Crew with Distinction

Imperial has one of the few volunteer departments in the country that not only have a full complement of volunteers (35) but a waiting list. Josh once worked with a department in a small town near Lincoln who because of their call volume could have used 50 firemen, but they were lucky to keep 25.

Rapid Response

Bunker gear ready to grab and go.

Last month I was across the street from the station when we heard the sirens. Before the sirens had finished blaring, men were piling out of their vehicles in front of the station. Within seconds, a white truck was pulling out headed south. It was impressive. Even though the dispatcher learns all she can from the 9-1-1 call, “You never know until you get there exactly what the problem is or what extent,” said Dan.

And that’s why their training is so important. “When we first get on, it’s just the older guys that show us the ropes,” said Dan. “Then there are fire schools throughout the year, every couple of months.” Four or five of their men are about to finish a weekly, year-long training class in Grant.

Their Territory

The IVFD covers Chase County and part of Dundy County, one of the largest districts in the state. They are also part of two mutual aid associations which extend east to Cambridge and north to Arthur. Mutual aid associations also call on each other. “We’ve gone as far as Halsey, and up north of North Platte, north of Paxton,” said Josh.

How They’re Compensated

The members of our Volunteer Fire Department do not receive any financial compensation; firefighting is just who they are. But you can sure express your appreciation either in person – or by commenting on the Department’s Facebook page (@Imperialvolfiredept). Be generous when you receive a letter in the next few weeks asking for donations. It helps with their training and equipment purchases not covered by their budget. Also thank the employers who allow these men to leave their jobs at a moment’s notice, never knowing what to expect, but always willing to go wherever and for whatever reason we need them.


Message on a Hay Bale

Hay Bale Banner

Here’s an idea that’s bound to catch on – especially in the rural areas of our country. And a Chase County businessman is the first to think of it!

Rod Keiser of Champa Group in Wauneta has come up with a unique kind of display – vinyl banners that attach to the ends of hay bales – with any message you choose.

Want to market an ag product? Congratulate a graduate? Post directions to your party? Hay Bale Banners will certainly capture the attention of everyone – whether they’re just passing by or are headed to your event.

Keiser and his innovations are well known in Chase County. He established Champa Group in 2004 to provide technology solutions in Southwest Nebraska. When he would go to trade shows, he found it was a challenge to find a printer to produce the marketing and display materials he needed. Figuring other enterprises would need that type of service, in 2006 he established Exceptional Prints, expanding it to Imperial in 2015.

As the printing business expands, he continues to add new equipment to accommodate even larger displays – hence, the new color printer that can print 63-inch-wide graphics, custom wallpaper, and round hay bale banners. The banners are full-color, waterproof, fade-resistant, and can withstand temperatures as low as minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take a look at their website – – to see examples of banners they’ve created, or stop by their office at 130 N. Tecumseh Avenue in Wauneta to look at miniature samples so you can see for yourself their quality and durability.

Prices start at $99 per banner for standard designs. A custom design will cost extra – or you can design it yourself. Champa Group will email you the Photoshop/Illustrator template. Phone 308-394-6900 or e-mail to find out more.   Feather



The Chase County Area Arts Council Is Back!

“Imperial may be a small community, but it is big on talent!” says Kay Younger, one of twelve members of the new, revitalized Chase County Area Arts Council. “We are fortunate to have many people of all ages, representing all forms of arts, living in our community.”

The Arts Council will host their first event – the Downtown Art Walk – on Saturday, August 6, preceding the Chamber’s Smokin’ on Broadway event. The Council will consider two- and three- dimensional artwork, to be exhibited at various businesses in town. If you’d like to participate or want more information, phone Sara Stretesky (308-883-1505) or Marcia Baurle (308-882-8814).

The Council will also host a booth during Smokin’ on Broadway. Please stop by to visit, find out how to become a member, and share your ideas on how the Arts Council can best serve our community! You can also look at the Arts Council Facebook Page for updates and to give input.

Also – don’t miss the People’s Choice Art Competition, sponsored by the Chase County Community Hospital, August 1 to August 5 – the week prior to the Downtown Art Walk. Details on submission and voting are on Chase County Community Hospital’s Facebook page.  Feather