Letter to the Editor

Home for McCook's 125th anniversary

Saturday, October 13, 2007
Bob Harris

I really enjoyed returning to my hometown of McCook for the 125th Anniversary which brought back a lot of memories. Over the years, I have tried to return to McCook at least once a year to remind myself of my heritage and to visit family and friends.

My wife, Diane, and I have two young children and I want them to appreciate the Harris and Suess family history in McCook and be familiar with McCook's friendliness and the spirit of the people who still live and work there.

My family heritage in McCook starts with my mother's grandfather, Reverend William Suess, a Congregational preacher who came from Germany to Nebraska and settled near Crete, Neb., in the 1880s. He established several Congregational churches in Nebraska and Kansas including the German Congregational Church that was on West 4th in McCook. His son Louie Suess came to the McCook area with his father around the age of 16 and homesteaded between Culbertson and Trenton in the late 1800s. He eventually moved to McCook and worked at DeGroff's Department Store and over the next 20 years he purchased the store from Mr. C.L. DeGroff. The store remained in the family until it was closed in recent years. I named my 6-year-old son Louie in honor of his great grandfather, Louie Suess.

My mother, Eleanor Suess, was born in 1912 in McCook and has been an inspiration to her family and the people in McCook over the years. She is now 95 years young living in Opelika, Ala. She also attended McCook's 125th Anniversary celebration activities including the dedication of the George W. Norris Sculpture at the Norris home with her family.

She married an Alabama man named Mr. John T. Harris after meeting him in New York City in 1935. They eventually moved back to McCook in 1945 to raise their family of six boys and were both very active in McCook over the years. There are many stories of how my parents and Louie Suess were a positive influence on McCook, but too many to mention now.

For many people walking around their hometown is a daily routine, but for those of us who grew up in McCook and return home, walking around town is an opportunity to be cherished that brings back old memories.

I always walk around Norris Park area because it is only one block from where I grew up. I used to just walk by the Sen. George W. Norris home, but since Heritage Square has developed, I walk by the Gov. Frank and Maxine Morrison home, Gov. Ralph and Darlene Brooks home, and the childhood home of Governor and now U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson. All of these great leaders bring back a lot of fond memories.

My memories start with the Senator George Norris home since he was the first great leader to call McCook his home town and the elder statesman of McCook. I did not know George Norris because he died in 1944 and I was born in 1945, but his great legacy was always a part of my life. Mother and Dad were very good friends with his wife, Ellie, and we would visit the Norris home often over the years. I can still remember when I was a young boy that I felt it was an honor to know the wife of such a great and famous man like George Norris. On my way to and from junior high and high school in the late 1950s and early 1960s I would walk through Norris Park and sometimes see Ellie Norris outside and wave hello to her and even visit with her. Mother and Dad, helped facilitate the Norris home being designated as a State Historical site in the early 1960s with the help of George Norris's wife Ellie and their three daughters who gave the home to the State of Nebraska. They tried to get the Norris home designated as a National Historic Site, however they were informed that Norris had to be deceased at least 50 years in order to receive that designation. The 50-year time limit is over and now there is a possibility that the Norris Home could become a National Historic site.

The next home in Heritage Square on Norris Avenue according to the year he was Governor is the Ralph and Darlene Brooks home. I was in junior high school when Ralph Brooks was elected governor of Nebraska so I did not know him very well, but heard great stories about him. My parents were friends of Ralph and Darlene Brooks before he was elected governor and continued that friendship with Darlene after Gov. Ralph Brooks died within two years after taking office. Darlene lived in McCook for the rest of her life.

The next governor from McCook was Gov. Frank B. Morrison who served three terms from 1962 to 1968. Frank and Maxine were very good friends of my parents before he was elected Governor, during the years he was Governor and until he died several years ago. Frank and Maxine were an inspiration to so many people not only in McCook, but all across the State and Nation. I was always very proud to know that we were friends of the Morrison family.

The next home in Heritage Square is that of Governor and United States Senator Ben Nelson. I knew Ben Nelson when he was an Eagle Scout helping the Boy Scout Troop that I was involved with in the late 1950's. He was also the Hi-Y club counselor at the YMCA when I was in the club. Ben is four years my senior and when you are young that is a major difference. I looked up to him as a leader then and that continues today. I knew at a young age that Ben was someone special and would be a great success in life. He graduated from law school, eventually became a two term Governor of Nebraska and now is a two term U.S. Senator. For those of us who have followed Ben's career over the years, he has proven that hard work and perseverance can help anyone accomplish great goals. He is now one of the most important and influential men in the United States, making decisions that affect the nation and the world.

Ben Nelson is proud to have grown up in McCook and realizes that the legacies of Senator George Norris, Governor Ralph Brooks, Governor Frank Morrison and the spirit of the McCook people have had a great influence on his success and desire to accomplish great things in his life. There will be more leaders and great people for generations to come from McCook because of the influence of the Heritage Square leaders and the citizens of McCook.

I continue my walk from Norris Park down Norris Avenue to the train station which brings back memories of when McCook's downtown which was the business center of southwest Nebraska. It was hard to find parking places in downtown McCook in those days and every building was occupied. People 40 years and older can remember downtown the way it used to be in the good old days.

Retracing the routes that I took when going to various schools in McCook brings back names of classmates, teachers and events. I attended the now closed East Ward elementary school and the old junior high school on West 1st that was torn down years ago. I continue my walk to the high school which was just a few years old when I first attended classes and then I go to McCook Junior College which I attended for two years to see how the campus has changed.

I now work at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama which is one of George Norris's many great concepts and creations. He is known as the "Father of TVA" and worked for twelve years to overcome many obstacles to finally make TVA a reality when he was Chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the United States Senate. I think about George Norris every day when I enter the TVA building where I work because there is a bust of George Norris in the main foyer of the building. (I give him a little nod) With the close connection to George Norris in my history, it is interesting that I am now working for the TVA that George Norris helped create back in the late 1920's and early 1930's with the headquarters at that time in Muscle Shoals.

TVA's 75th Anniversary is on May 18th of next year and we hope to have United States Senator Ben Nelson and the Norris Foundation involved recognizing Senator Norris's role in the formation of TVA. A Proclamation of Appreciation from TVA was sent to the Norris Foundation and a sizeable check for the Norris Sculpture on the 29th of September.

I really enjoyed coming back home to McCook for the 125th Anniversary and the George W. Norris Sculpture Dedication. I hope to be able to come back to McCook for years to come with my wife and two young sons so they can share the legacy and heritage of McCook with the next generation.

-- Harris is project manager for emergening technologies for the TVA. He lives in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

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  • The article stirred many memories of McCook. We weren't famous people but our first home was on West 1st across from Morrison's home. My sister graduated from McCook High in 1945; I graduated from Trenton High in 1947 with a teaching certificate. Our real connection with McCook lies in two loved farm parents, both resting in the north cemetery; plus a niece, nephew and cousin. And, remember the Rocket Inn in Indianola for Pizza on Friday night! McCook was always our shopping center...from the sale barn to Pats Booterie, First National, Clapps, Suttons, Pates, etc...and I rode to high school some days with Royce Volentine when her Dad was going our way. No bus transportation...we walked wherever we needed to go, even in the rain, snow and 20 below! and we went home for lunch...no money for extravaganzas like lunch out. Norris Park is special too. I haven't been there for several years due to health problems, but I hope to come one more time to see how it's changed.

    -- Posted by Sara on Sat, Oct 13, 2007, at 7:22 PM
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