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Hastings College markers celebrate history

The organizers of Hastings College made history back in 1884 when McCormick Hall, the first building on the fledgling campus, rose above the prairie as a beacon of learning.

Then, like other colleges and universities, Hastings College saw tremendous growth more than a half-century later when U.S. military personnel returned home following World War II and made use of their educational benefits under the G.I. Bill.

Visitors to the venerable campus today will be reminded of all that growth and development over generations when they study two new Nebraska interpretive markers celebrating the Hastings College Campus Historic District.

ANDY RAUN/Tribune  

A new interpretive marker outside the Robert B. Daugherty Center for Student Engagement at Hastings College tells the story of the Hastings College Campus Historic District.

The markers were erected recently on the circle drive off Turner Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets.

The larger of the two, situated between French Memorial Chapel and the Robert B. Daugherty Student Engagement Center, recounts the growth that occurred after WWII ended, prompting construction of several new buildings in the decades that followed.

A second marker stands near the southwest corner of McCormick Hall, which remains standing today. The brick building, which has served many purposes, is named for Cyrus McCormick, a famed farm equipment inventor and entrepreneur who donated $5,000 toward its construction.

ANDY RAUN/Tribune  

A marker outside McCormick Hall recounts the history of the brick building, which was the first to be built on the Hastings College campus in 1884.

McCormick, who invented the mechanical reaper and made his fortune in Chicago, was a devout Presbyterian and made the contribution not long before his death. Hastings College has been affiliated with Presbyterian church bodies from its inception in the community’s early days.

McCormick Hall was devastated by fire in 1976 but subsequently was rehabilitated and reopened in 1982.

The Hastings College Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The register is maintained by the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, to identify historically significant structures throughout the country.

ANDY RAUN/Tribune  

A marker outside McCormick Hall recounts the history of the brick building, which was the first to be built on the Hastings College campus in 1884.

McCormick Hall has been listed on the Historic Register since 1975. Other structures included in the historic district are:

  • Taylor Hall (three phases: 1921, 1938 and 1949)
  • Calvin H. French Memorial Chapel (1950)
  • Weyer Hall (1950)
  • Fuhr Hall (1956)
  • Bronc Hall (1960)
  • Hazelrigg Student Union (1962)
  • Hurley-MacDonald Hall (1962)
  • Perkins Library (1963)
  • Altman Hall (1963)
  • Kiewit Building, which was previously the art center and Carnegie Library that was joined to the P.L. Johnson Gymnasium (1906, 1925 and 1969)
  • Former maintenance building just north of Kiewit (1961)

The local historic district follows the general outlines of the campus itself, bounded by Seventh Street on the south, Turner Avenue and Elm Avenue on the west, 12th Street on the north and Ash Avenue on the east.

Brian Whetstone, a 2018 graduate of the college, did much of the research and paperwork to support the application for the historic district while he was an undergraduate.

According to the college, Whetstone originally had been tasked by the HC Board of Trustees with preparing an application for Weyer Hall, a dormitory building, to be included on the historic register. He received guidance in his work from Elizabeth Spilinek, executive director of the Adams County Historical Society.

Subsequently, the State Historic Preservation Office, part of History Nebraska, encouraged the college to think bigger and seek designation of an entire local historic district. Approval for the historic district was granted in August 2017.

Whetstone worked with local businessman Richard Loutzenheiser, a 1984 Hastings College graduate and current member of the Board of Trustees, to develop the wording for the two markers, which were produced by History Nebraska. The Loutzenheiser family then paid to have the markers built.

“These markers signify the dedication Hastings College has to preserving and honoring the history of the college and this area,” Loutzenheiser said. “We greatly appreciate the work Brian did to obtain the designation, and I’m glad we were able to place these markers on campus.”

According to the larger marker, Hastings College’s enrollment more than doubled from 524 students from 1943, in the depths of the war, to 1946, when service personnel were streaming back into American communities and resuming civilian life.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, known widely as the G.I. Bill of Rights, had been approved by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. Under its provisions, WWII veterans and their spouses were eligible to have their college and university tuition paid.

With the war over and the G.I. Bill in place, college and university enrollment nearly doubled across the United States.

The influx of students meant more, newer and better facilities were needed. A building boom followed on the Hastings College campus, with new structures going up in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s — in some cases, to replace wooden buildings that had been hauled in from the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot east of Hastings to help accommodate the swelling postwar enrollment.

A 2017 Hastings College article detailing Whetstone’s project explained that to be eligible for inclusion in the local historic district, campus buildings had to be at least 50 years old, historically significant, and of architectural integrity — meaning they were constructed of the same materials.

In that article, Whetstone said he had been surprised to learn how one thing had led to another in the unfolding history of the college.

He cited the example of Bronc Hall, which was built in 1960 to replace an old barracks building from the NAD that had been brought to campus after the war to alleviate residence hall overcrowding.

Nebraska Democrats struggle with 'dumpster fire' reputation

OMAHA — It’s never been easy to be a Democrat in Nebraska, but somehow it keeps getting even harder.

The 29% of Nebraska voters registered as Democrats is the smallest in at least 50 years, and that’s only one indication of the party’s problems.

Just in the last week, the party urged its U.S. Senate nominee to resign after he admitted to sending sexually offensive text messages to a campaign staffer and its nominee in a largely rural congressional district ditched the party so he could run on the “Legal Marijuana Now” ticket. That followed a recent Democratic nominee for governor endorsing the Republican in the state’s sole competitive U.S. House district.

The local Republican Party chapter in Omaha put it bluntly in a recent tweet: “Nebraska Dems have a dumpster fire on their hands.”

Or as former Nebraska Democratic Party executive director Paul Landow noted, “For a Democrat to win statewide office, something really crazy would have to happen.”

It wasn’t always this way.

Although the last Democratic presidential candidate to win Nebraska was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, members of the party were once competitive. Democrat Bob Kerrey was elected governor and to the U.S. Senate in the 1980s and 1990s, and Ben Nelson served two terms as governor in the 1990s and was twice elected to the U.S. Senate. And in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama won in an Omaha-based congressional district, thus earning a single Electoral College vote under Nebraska’s unusual system.

But more than a decade has passed since a Democrat won a statewide election, and Republican nominees now aren’t even seriously challenged.

Even some Republicans bemoan the situation.

“It’s better to have competitive races, both in the primary and general elections,” said J.L. Spray, a GOP national committee member and former state party chairman. “The voters should have a choice.”

Democrats say their biggest problem is a lack of money, and they argue the national party is short-changing states like Nebraska in favor of states seen as more competitive in presidential politics.

Jane Kleeb, the state party chairwoman, noted that when Howard Dean was the Democratic Party’s chairman, its national committee had a 50-state strategy that guaranteed at least $25,000 a month to every state party regardless of its size. That period of 2005 to 2009 coincided with Nelson’s reelection to U.S. Senate and Obama’s Electoral College win.

Later, Kleeb said the party reduced Nebraska’s monthly share to $2,500 a month before raising it again to $10,000. But by then, she said the party had ceded too much ground to Republicans and had grown disconnected from rural voters, who tend to turn out in greater proportions than those in Omaha and Lincoln.

“We’re having to rebuild relationships with voters who feel like the party has turned its backs on them,” said Kleeb, who published a book this year on how Democrats could win in rural America. “Rural voters used to see our faces and hear our voices, and those years are now gone.”

Kleeb said she’s focused on rebuilding the party and trying to recruit strong candidates even though many are reluctant to jump into races with long odds.

As the general election approaches, Democrats are facing a host of problems, starting with the effort to unseat Republican Sen. Ben Sasse.

The Democratic nominee, Chris Janicek, was always a long shot, but after a staffer revealed he had sent her text messages asking whether his campaign ought to spend money “getting her laid,” the party asked him to quit. Janicek has refused to step down, and under state law, the party can’t force him off the ballot without his consent.

Unless a replacement is found there will be no Democrat listed in the 3rd Congressional District. Nominee Mark Elworth Jr. had been the nominee but opted to run as a marijuana party candidate.

In the typically competitive 2nd District, it’s unclear whether it will damage Democrat Kara Eastman that the party’s 2018 nominee for governor endorsed Republican incumbent Don Bacon.

Democrats who have won in Nebraska said they’re surprised how dramatically the state’s political climate has shifted.

When Kerrey, a decorated Navy SEAL, returned to Nebraska in 2012 to run for his old U.S. Senate seat, Republicans tagged him as an out-of-touch carpetbagger because he had been living in New York. Kerrey lost in a landslide to Republican Deb Fischer, a rancher and state senator.

“There was hardly any party when I ran in 2012,” Kerrey said. “You get out of Omaha and Lincoln, and finding an elected Democrat is like hunting for a unicorn.”

The problem, Kerrey said, is about ideology as much as it is about money and reflects a leftward move of the national Democratic Party.

“If your conclusions about social and economic policy are in the minority, then you’re going to be in the minority,” Kerrey said.

Even in the past, Democrats typically lost unless facing unpopular incumbents, said Kim Robak, a Democratic lieutenant governor under Nelson. Robak said Nelson was able to unseat then-Republican Gov. Kay Orr largely because Orr approved a tax package that some voters viewed as a tax increase.

“Since then, the Republicans have become a lot more careful,” she said.

Nebraska Democrats have fared somewhat better in local elections and the nonpartisan Legislature, but they’re still relegated to the minority.

Democrats thought they might have a winning candidate in Jane Raybould, a moderate Lincoln businesswoman and city councilwoman who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018. Raybould launched her campaign in the heat of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, outlining a pro-trade agenda as farmers struggled financially.

Still, Fischer coasted to reelection with nearly 58% of the vote in a year when wins elsewhere enabled Democrats to take control of the House.

Raybould said raising money was difficult as the state party’s donor base is so small and out-of-state donors consider any Nebraska race to be unwinnable. Equally hard was convincing voters to consider a Democrat.

“It really is challenging to run for statewide office as a Democrat,” she said. “You’re already at a tremendous voter disadvantage. You’re already facing an uphill battle.”

Some states revert to restrictions as virus cases surge

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas and Florida reversed course and clamped down on bars again Friday in the nation’s biggest retreat yet as the daily number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the U.S. surged to an all-time high of 40,000.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars closed, while Florida banned alcohol at such establishments. The two states joined the small but growing list of those that are either backtracking or putting any further reopenings of their economies on hold because of a comeback by the virus, mostly in the South and West.

Health experts have said a disturbingly large number of cases are being seen among young people who are going out again, often without wearing masks or observing other social-distancing rules.

“It is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said.

Abbott had pursued up to now one of the most aggressive reopening schedules of any governor. The Republican not only resisted calls to order masks be worn but also refused until last week to let local governments take such measures.

“The doctors told us at the time, and told anyone who would listen, this will be a disaster. And it has been,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat who is the county’s top official. “Once again, the governor is slow to act. He is now being forced to do the things that we’ve been demanding that he do for the last month and a half.”

Stocks fell sharply on Wall Street again over the surging case numbers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 730 points, or nearly 3%.

Texas reported more than 17,000 new cases in the past three days, with a record high of nearly 6,000 on Thursday. The second-largest state also sets records daily for hospitalizations, surpassing 5,000 coronavirus patients for the first time Friday.

In Florida, under GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, the agency that regulates bars acted after the daily number of new confirmed cases neared 9,000, almost doubling the record set just two days earlier.

Colleen Corbett, a 30-year-old bartender at two places in Tampa, said that she was disappointed and worried about being unemployed again but that the restrictions are the right move. Most customers were not wearing masks, she said.

“It was like they forgot there was a pandemic or just stopped caring,” Corbett said.

A number of the hardest-hit states, including Arizona and Arkansas, have Republican governors who have resisted mask-wearing requirements and have largely echoed President Donald Trump’s desire to reopen the economy quickly amid warnings the virus could come storming back.

The White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, held its first briefing in nearly two months, and Pence gave assurances that the U.S. is “in a much better place” than it was two months ago.

He said the country has more medical supplies on hand, a smaller share of patients are being hospitalized, and deaths are much lower than they were in the spring.

The count of new confirmed infections, provided by Johns Hopkins University, eclipsed the previous high of 36,400, set on April 24, during one of the deadliest stretches. Newly reported cases per day have risen on average about 60 percent over the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis.

While the rise partly reflects expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the scourge is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and higher percentages of tests coming back positive for the virus.

At the task force briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, urged people to mind their responsibility to others: “A risk for you is not just isolated to you.”

Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are running at about 600 per day, down from a peak of around 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level, because of advances in treatment and prevention and because younger adults are more likely than older ones to survive.

The virus is blamed for about 125,000 deaths and nearly 2.5 million confirmed infections nationwide, by Johns Hopkins’ count. But health officials believe the true number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives.

Louisiana reported its second one-day spike of more than 1,300 cases his week. The increasing numbers led Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards this week to suspend further easing of restrictions. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey did the same in Arizona, where cases are topping 3,000 a day and 85% of hospital beds are occupied.

For the second time in a week, Tennessee reported its biggest one-day jump in confirmed infections, with more than 1,400, but Republican Gov. Bill Lee has been reluctant to reinstate restrictions or call for a mask mandate.

In Texas, Abbott also scaled back restaurant capacity, shut down rafting operations and said any outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people will need approval from local officials.

DeSantis has been lifting restrictions more slowly than a task force recommended but has allowed theme parks to reopen, encouraged professional sports to come to Florida and pushed for the GOP convention to be held in the Sunshine State.

In a reversal of fortune, New York said it is offering equipment and other help to Arizona, Texas and Florida, noting that other states came to its aid when it was in the throes of the deadliest outbreak in the nation this spring.

“We will never forget that graciousness, and we will repay it any way we can,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Globally, another record daily increase in India pushed the caseload in the world’s second most populous nation toward half a million. And other countries with big populations like Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico grappled with large numbers of infections and strained health care systems.

CCC cuts tuition for high school students earning dual credits

Central Nebraska high school students wanting to start early on their postsecondary education through Central Community College will be able to do so at a substantial savings under a new rate structure CCC is implementing.

Earlier this month, the CCC Board of Governors approved the new rate structure for students throughout the college’s 25-county service area who enroll in early college coursework.

Previously, students taking dual-credit classes paid the going tuition rate of $90 per credit hour to receive credit through CCC, plus $12 per credit hour in student fees, said Scott Miller, senior director of college communications.

Under the new arrangement, the tuition for early college coursework will range from zero in cases where the high school provides the instruction and facilities, to a maximum of $92 when the high school doesn’t cover those expenses. Student fees will be $15 per credit hour.

In a news release Wednesday, Ronald Kluck, CCC‘s director of extended learning services, said the new rate structure should be great for students while strengthening the bonds between CCC and the high schools in its service area.

“This is an exciting opportunity for high school students in CCC’s service area to earn college credits, at a greatly reduced cost of only $15 per credit hour for student fees,” Kluck said. “This has been made possible through the collaboration of our extended learning services personnel working with high school administrators. We are anticipating increased early college enrollments and even stronger relationships with our schools.”

Miller said CCC currently works with 80 high schools in its service area, which includes much of Tribland, to offer dual-credit classes.

John Hakonson, superintendent of Lexington Public Schools, was quoted in the news release as saying the rate change by the CCC board would be a benefit to students throughout the area.

“The ability of students to complete a three-hour college course in high school for a mere $45 is a tremendous opportunity,” said Hakonson, a former superintendent at Blue Hill.

CCC, headquartered in Grand Island, has campuses in Hastings, Grand Island and Columbus, plus centers in Holdrege, Kearney, Lexington and Ord.