Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

Omaha World Herald. December 12, 2019

Notable Nebraksa structures are added to National Register of Historic Places

Buildings can connect present times well into our past, helping current generations better understand our heritage. A notable example in Omaha is the former Nebraska School for the Deaf campus near 45th and Spencer Streets. The 20-acre campus is among seven Nebraska sites just added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

With its new additions, the National Register also is recognizing six other Nebraska communities. Represented are Hartington, Grand Island, Oshkosh, Fairbury, Lexington and Indianola.

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The Nebraska School for the Deaf was a longstanding institution in Omaha. It opened its doors in 1871, only four years after Nebraska achieved statehood, and remained in operation until 1998. The school, from its earliest years, stood out for the major investments it made in vocational education. The vocational staff included instructors who themselves were deaf, to maximize educational effectiveness.

“This campus and its story is an integral part of Nebraska’s history,” said David Calease from History Nebraska’s Historic Preservation Office. The school brought “deaf students from all across the state together in one place” and “helped unify and strengthen the deaf community.”

The campus buildings include the vocational building, a dormitory and a gymnasium, and several have architectural significance, featuring a style known as Collegiate Gothic. Abide, a nonprofit group, bought the campus in 2016.

Here are some highlights from the other Nebraska structures just added to the National Register of Historic Places:

» Hartington Downtown Historic District. The earliest building dates from 1900, and many of the structures “have retained their original look, feel and integrity,” History Nebraska notes.

» Grand Island’s Fourth Street Commercial Historic District. Forty-nine structures in the seven-block district illustrate Grand Island’s commercial development from the 1890s to the 1960s.

» Oshkosh Water Tower. The old-style “tin-man” construction of the tower, built in 1920, is a rarity in the 21st century. The tower, in excellent condition, was retired last year as a water delivery system, but Oshkosh residents banded together to save the tower, describing it as a community landmark.

» John C. Kesterson House, Fairbury. This stately house, was built in 1879 by a local horse breeder, freighter and businessman, who added a wing in 1885. The house retains its original design character with minimal alterations and includes features such as cast-iron gargoyles and a hitching post.

» Harry V. Temple House, Lexington. The foyer, office and dining areas of the house, finished in 1901, “are terrific examples of skilled craftsmen doing exceptional work that should be appreciated,” Calease said.

» Camp Indianola. Between 1943 and 1946, this site housed World War II prisoners captured in North Africa, Italy and mainland Europe. Of the four former prisoner of war camp locations in Nebraska, the ruins of Camp Indianola represent the best surviving example.

All of these structures provide a window back to notable parts of Nebraska’s past. It’s appropriate that they have been added to the National Register.

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The Grand Island Independent. December 13, 2019

Loneliness an epidemic among seniors

The Christmas holiday season is enjoyed as a time of peace and joy as people everywhere embrace the message of good will to all.

But for the elderly population here in Central Nebraska and throughout the country, December isn’t necessarily a respite from the epidemic of loneliness among U.S. senior citizens.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.5 million older adults live in one-person households, representing 28 percent of people age 65 or older. The National Poll on Healthy Aging reported earlier this year that 1 in 3 senior citizens suffer from loneliness.

“Research shows that chronic loneliness can impact older adults’ memory, physical well-being, mental health, and life expectancy,” write the authors of the report sponsored by AARP. “In fact, some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary, and just as much as smoking.”

More than a third of seniors in the poll said they felt a lack of companionship at least some of the time. Almost 30% said they socialized with friends, family or neighbors once a week or less.

According to AARP, potential signs of loneliness can include poor eating habits, loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance and significant clutter in the home, as well as a general lack of interest or withdrawal.

This is why it’s so important for people who are living alone because of the death of a spouse and those who find themselves more isolated after retirement to seek out ways to socialize with each other.

Grand Island and other Central Nebraska communities have senior centers that seek to provide activities, daily meals and a place for seniors to socialize with each other.

It is also important that retired people embrace the opportunities in their communities to volunteer as they provide ways to continue to feel needed and to interact with people of all ages. For example, volunteers help the Grand Island Public Library operate. There also are volunteers on duty every day at CHI Health St. Francis and the local schools.

Those of us who live near elderly people also can help out with tasks such as clearing snow from sidewalks and carrying groceries in from the car. Then, at the same time, we can just stop in to say hi and spend some time talking.

It’s important that we all look for ways to make connections with the people who have been so important to our communities in the past, but may now be struggling with the effects of aging and becoming more isolated. There is great value in their life experiences and we all can continue to contribute well into our 80s and 90s if steps are taken to protect our physical and mental well-being.

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McCook Daily Gazette. December 11, 2019

National trends make local Big Give even more remarkable

McCook-area residents came through in a big way again for the Big Give last month, giving $147,000 once all the contributions were tallied.

More than 700 individual donations were made this year, ranging from $1 to four figures, and included donations of grain and funds from IRA accounts.

Those donations were leveraged by generous local sponsors including MNB Bank, MNB Insurance, MNB Financial Services, the Graff Charitable Foundation, Great Western Bank and Community Hospital.

The money will be doled out by the Community Chest to 29 local non-profit organizations that work all year to make McCook a better place to live.

We should never take the generosity of our community for granted, and there’s more reason than ever.

McCook’s Community Chest replaced a local United Way effort, and that organization, which admittedly has had its own public relation problems, reports a worldwide 28 percent decline in giving over the past 10 years.

An official blamed changes in society such as workers with massive amounts of student debt, who are starting families later and staying in parents’ homes longer, making them less likely to give.

Charity officials are also blaming the 2017 tax law, which doubled the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. That makes taxpayers less likely to itemize on their tax returns, which in turn makes charitable contributions less attractive.

Individual giving declined 1.1% in 2018 to $292.09 billion, down 2.4% adjusted for inflation, according to Giving USA 2019. Individual giving, as a percentage of total giving, dropped from 70% in 2017 to 68% in 2018.

That was the first decline in individual giving since 2013, a strong reversal from the 5.7% increase in 2017, according to the report.

There were other factors, of course, including a decline in the stock market for 2018.

Time will tell whether the national trend in declining giving will continue, but we’ll bet our neighbors will continue to be generous, regardless of what their tax accountants say.

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