Members of Hastings Fire and Rescue and the Hastings Police Department feel the agencies have strengthened their bond even more with the Battle of the Badges blood drive, now in its third year.
The annual blood drive was held Friday at the Adams County Fairgrounds.
Police Capt. Mike Doremus said the friendly competition provides another activity for the agencies to partake in together.
“Over the last five years, the fire department and police have gotten a lot closer,” he said. “This just helps build those relationships there and with the community.”
Assistant Fire Chief Troy Vorderstrasse said officers and firefighters tease one another in good fun, which makes the event more enjoyable for everyone involved.
To add to the stakes of the contest, this year’s losing agency will have to cook a meal for the winners. They also will bear the traveling trophy made for the competition last year.
Vorderstrasse ordered a championship belt to use as a trophy in 2020, hoping to repeat their first-year victory. When the police ended up with more donations last year, the trophy went home with them and Fire Chief Brad Starling had to wash Police Chief Adam Story’s vehicle.
Vorderstrasse said the firefighters wanted to win the belt back this year.
But no matter who wins when the final tally is made, both organizations agree they want to collect more donations than Grand Island and Kearney, which had similar blood drives on Tuesday and Wednesday. Hastings won last year’s Tri-Cities competition.
No matter the result, Vorderstrasse said, the real benefit is in making blood available for people who need it.
“All in all, it’s about providing the community with what’s needed and that’s blood donations,” he said. “The citizens of Hastings have always stepped up.”
Tranella McCoy, drive lead for the event, said the American Red Cross brought about 12 people to collect the donations, which are crucial to patients who have suffered a blood loss.
“The need never stops,” she said. “Our mission is to make sure that blood is there for the patients who need it.”
Danielle Wahl of Hastings was one of 121 people who pre-registered to donate during the drive. She said she usually donates blood on a regular basis and wanted to help during a community event like this.
“I’ve had a family member who needed to utilize blood,” she said. “It makes me feel good to be able to do this.”
Wahl encouraged others to consider donating blood to help alleviate the never-ending need.
“It’s not as bad a process as (people might) think,” she said. “It takes about an hour at most. You never know when somebody might need (blood) and you’ll be thankful that it’s there.”
For more information about donating blood, visit redcrossblood.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or download the free Red Cross Blood Donor app.
After the pandemic forced Vacation Bible School to become a virtual event in 2020, students at First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church were more than ready to come back this week after a year off.
For the Rev. Joel Remmers, pastor of the congregation, VBS also was a time to shed the “COVID beard” he has been growing since the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, disrupted life for the congregation and community starting in March 2020.
VBS students got to help Remmers get rid of the beard on Friday as a reward for their generosity in sponsoring a Guatemalan child in need of support.
Throughout the week, the students raised by drinking lemonade and giving $1 donations to help sponsor the student through Compassion International. Adding up the total before the end of the day Friday, the group was a little more than $4 short, but one student was willing to give up $4 of his own money to go toward the cause, which more than pleased the pastor.
“That was the sweetest thing you will ever see,” Remmers said. “In order to make sure that we can sponsor one of those kids through Compassion International, we had this lemonade stand and if the kids brought in a $1 donation, they can stop by between classes and drink as much lemonade as they wanted to. As a result of that, we raised $452, but to sponsor a student through Compassion International it costs $456, and all of a sudden a kid steps up and says, ‘How much are you short?’ and pulls out his own wallet. That stuff right there touches your heart.”
“This is not necessarily about the goal. We want to help those kids that are out there. It is about making a difference and touch some kids’ heart. Obviously, we did with one, and that is special.”
All week long, the students took classes on different areas of study related to their Christian faith. Remmers said he was thrilled to be around this group of kids.
“Last year VBS was online,” he said. “Everything was shut down. To have kids here and to be able to do what we want to do — this is what it is all about. It is harder to make that difference when you’re not in person. To have all of these kids here this week and to watch some of those things that did touch kids’ hearts is something.”
Gretchen Hollman Lainson, who grew up in Minden, moved to Hastings to attend college, then led a life of leadership and service to her adopted community, is being remembered by friends and admirers for her generosity and grace.
Lainson died June 4 at her home on University Street, where she had lived since 1939. At age 105, she had been the oldest living alumna of Hastings College.
She assigned herself the titles of wife, mother, homemaker and community volunteer. Those whose lives she touched are memorializing her for her kindness, her courtesy, her intellect, her elegance, her hospitality, her positive nature, and her lifelong love for and support of the arts and humanities.
They are remembering her as a beautiful example of what it means to lead by serving others, and for her way of lifting and encouraging those she met — especially young women — through the gifts of correspondence and conversation.
“When you think about Gretchen Lainson, one word comes to mind: ‘Gracious,’ ” said Phil Dudley, president emeritus of Hastings College, who had known Lainson and her late husband, Hastings business leader Hal Lainson, since his own arrival at the college as a young faculty member in 1973.
In 1996, she received an inaugural award for distinguished service from the YWCA of Adams County, in which she was active for many years. The Gretchen Hollman Lainson Award continues to be awarded to this day, but not every year.
Laura Stutte, executive director of the YWCA, has known Lainson throughout her eight-year tenure with the organization, which through its many programs and projects seeks to empower women and girls and eliminate racism in Hastings and around the world.
Stutte said Lainson not only gave leadership to the organization and its projects, but through her personal interactions was a source of great encouragement to women throughout the Hastings area.
“She was always one of the role models women looked up to in our community,” Stutte said.
A Celebration of Life service is planned for 11 a.m. July 23 at First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, where Lainson served the congregation in many roles through the years, including as its organist.
Gretchen Hollman was born Jan. 25, 1916, in Minden to William H. Hollman Jr., and Grace (Adams) Hollman. Her father worked with her grandfather, William H. Hollman Sr., in the family business, the Hollman-Youngson & Co. department store downtown.
Both sets of grandparents had moved to Minden in the 1880s. Hollman Sr. had grown up on a farm in Lower Saxony in Germany, but was apprenticed to a local merchant at age 12, learned the art of the sale, and then immigrated to the United States at age 16 to seek greater opportunities. He moved first to the Crete area where he met his future wife, Emma. They were married in 1888 and soon relocated to Minden, where Hollman Sr. and George N. Youngson became partners in operating the mercantile store at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue.
Her mother’s parents were District Judge E.L. and Alta (Strain) Adams.
Young Gretchen grew up in the old First Presbyterian Church in Minden and excelled as a student in the Minden Public Schools. As a graduating senior in 1933, she was awarded the Balfour Plaque for outstanding achievement and service.
“Miss Hollman was second in the class in academic standing and in addition to her fine work in the classroom, she was one of the most prominent in the many outside activities which are a part of the school program, making an enviable record in declamatory contests, school plays, musical organizations and girls’ athletics,” proclaimed an article in the Minden Courier June 1, 1933, announcing her selection for the award. “She has been editor in chief of the school paper during the past year and also a willing worker in many minor activities, ready to lead or serve as needed.”
Lainson matriculated at Hastings College in fall 1933, majoring in English while also developing her talents in the musical field. A photograph in the Minden Courier in November 1933 showed her on a bicycle, which she reportedly rode each morning to practice the organ at a Hastings theater and then returned to campus for classes.
She graduated from Hastings College in 1937, magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts.
In January 1938, she married Harry Ackley “Hal” Lainson Jr., a young Hastings businessman who had studied architecture at Iowa State University in Ames and business at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, before returning home to work with his father in the family business, the Dutton-Lainson Co., in 1933 and earned his degree from Hastings College in 1934.
The wedding ceremony took place in the front hall of her parents’ home at Fifth Street and Garber Avenue in Minden — the house her Grandparents Hollman had built in 1906.
Hal and Gretchen Lainson shared a love of music. Hal had a rich baritone voice and sang professionally as a young man.
They bought a small house on University Street in 1939. With his academic background in architecture, Hal Lainson oversaw several additions to the structure over the decades to follow. That stately home and its adjoining formal garden have been the site of countless social occasions hosted by the Lainsons.
As the years passed, the Lainsons were involved in all manner of community activities. For eight years early in their marriage, Gretchen served as organist at the church, working closely with Hayes Fuhr, the legendary Hastings College music department leader who also was choral director for the congregation.
In the 1950s, she again worked closely with Fuhr as part of the committee to select the church’s new Austin pipe organ. In 1956, she served on the committee to dedicate the Dr. Hayes M. Fuhr Hall of Music on the college campus. And in 1990, after the building had been renovated, she served on the committee to dedicate it once again.
In the 1940s, she was a member and secretary of the first board of the Community Chest — forerunner to the United Way.
Lainson was appointed to the Hastings Public Library Board in 1956 and served until 1975. As board president, she led the effort to secure approval for a bond issue to build the new library at Fourth Street and Denver Avenue in 1963.
She served on the Nebraska State Library Commission and was its president in 1969-70. She received the Nebraska Outstanding Library Trustee award in 1972.
Other local activities included serving as co-chair of the Arbor Day Centennial Committee, which promoted the planting of hundreds of trees throughout the city in 1972-73; as co-chair of a committee in the late 1980s to bring about repairs to the City Auditorium; as a longtime member of the Hastings Symphony Orchestra board and a co-founder of the original Symphony Guild; as an 82-year member of Chapter P.E.O. Chapter G and the Round Table Book Club; and as a 32-year member of Finches, a small book and study club. She was a member of the Dutton-Lainson Co. board of directors for more than 50 years.
At the state level, she was a member of the first Nebraska Arts Council, a founding member of the Nebraska Committee for the Humanities, and a founding member of the Friends of Loren Eiseley, the Nebraska author and archeologist.
In 1984, Gov. Bob Kerrey appointed her to a statewide committee to study the needs of higher education across Nebraska.
Dudley, who served as president of Hastings College from 2000-11, said that through Hal Lainson’s 27-year tenure (1950-77) as chairman of the college’s Board of Trustees, Gretchen organized hundreds of college-related events she and her husband hosted in their home, which is within walking distance of the campus.
Some such events involved as many as 100 guests, said Dudley, who remembers attending a reception for new faculty members there when he began his own work at the college.
“She was a master of the details,” he said.
Dudley estimated that the Lainsons had opened their doors to visitors on behalf of the college at least 20 times per year through Hal’s time as board chairman.
The impact of such events taking place in a private home is hard to overstate, said Dudley, who is proud of how highly the college has been regarded through the years as a welcoming, supportive place to work and study.
“To be invited to the board chair’s home sends such a powerful message as to the culture of the place,” he said. “There’s a sense that ‘we’re appreciated.’ It means everything.”
Lainson cherished her longtime association with the YWCA, serving locally in many roles and eventually on the YWCA National World Service Council.
Stutte, the YWCA director who knew her late in life, said Lainson had a way of affirming others — particularly women — by taking the time to visit with them personally and seek their ideas.
“She was always very poised and positive,” Stutte said. “No matter what conversation you had with her, she always made you smile.”
Hastings resident Laura Marvel Wunderlich, who served many years as an assistant professor of English and editor of the Plainsongs poetry magazine at Hastings College, shared a personal memory of Lainson’s kind way of engaging others.
“Gretchen had a gift for making each person feel special,” she said. “She often asked a question first — like ‘what has inspired you lately?’ And she expected an honest response.
“The result was a beautiful conversation — I shared a thought and she shared her wisdom and experience, which often led to helpless laughter and sometimes profound visions of what it really means to be a truly engaged citizen of the United States living in Hastings, Nebraska.”
Survivors include her daughters and sons-in-law, Margaret and Charles Hermes and Mary and Jorn Olsen; four grandchildren, Stephanie (Mark) Bliss, William (Amy) Hermes, Erica Olsen and Christopher Olsen; three great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandchild to be born in July.
Amy Palser, former Tribune managing editor, contributed to this report.