[mccookgazette.com] Fair ~ 67°F  
High: 70°F ~ Low: 45°F
Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flora and George W. Norris Foundation

Monday, January 7, 2013

Judge Cloyd Clark presents checks and McCook College scholarships to essay award winners, Kelcey Berg of Cambridge, Kristen O'Brien of McCook and Crystal Pingetrzer of Lebanon in 1998.
(Courtesy photo)
NOTE: On Friday, Jan. 11, "A Norris Summit" will be held at the new Keystone Center in McCook, This meeting will bring together four local organizations who are interested in preserving the memory of, and honoring the achievements of McCook's favorite son, George W. Norris. Since 1991, the Norris Foundation, the Norris Institute, The Museum of the High Plains, and the Heritage Square Committee have each, in its own way, promoted the memory of George Norris and his influence on McCook, Nebraska, and the Nation. For all of this time Flora Lundberg has been a leading figure in the advancement of the Norris history.

Flora Lundberg has been a busy gal -- rearing a family, operating a very active real estate business since the death of her husband, holding most of the lay offices of her church, serving several terms as Mayor of McCook, and serving as President of the George W. Norris Foundation since its organization. She would have it no other way.

President Flora Lundberg and Secretary Ruth Leopold accept kickoff check for the Norris Foundation from Pete Graff, on behalf of the McCook National Bank.
(Courtesy photo)
Flora has been an admirer of Senator Norris "forever it seems." Her grandfather thought that George Norris was the greatest American statesman, and Flora believed her grandfather.

Once, during junior high, a rumor swept the school that President Roosevelt had been shot. Flora was with a group of friends in downtown McCook, still abuzz with the shooting rumor, when they spotted Mr. Norris, home during a Senate break, just entering the Post Office.

Breaking away from the group, Flora exclaimed, "I'm going to ask Senator Norris. He's from Washington and he is a friend of the President, and he will know if that story is true!"

Senator Norris was very gracious. He took the news of the shooting seriously, telling Flora, "I have not been home yet this afternoon. I know who I can call to find out if the news is true. Thank you for telling me."

Fortunately, the news of the President being shot was just a rumor, but the encounter with Senator Norris stayed with Flora. Years later, as an adult, Flora was still appreciative of her contacts with Senator Norris. She believed that children, (and adults) need heroes in their lives -- someone whom they can look up to for guidance, and inspiration. She was grateful that she had had a chance to speak to her hero personally. In 1991, when there was a movement in McCook to honor its most illustrious citizen, Flora was among the leaders of that movement. The result of their efforts to honor Senator Norris was the formation of the George W. Norris Foundation. Flora was chosen to be the Foundation's first President, a position she held until announcing her retirement from that office in late 2012.

Over the years the Norris Foundation has instigated a number of worthwhile projects to honor Sen. Norris, and at the same time promote Rural Nebraska and McCook, as the home of George W. Norris. The first big function of the Norris Foundation, in 1991, was a "Governors' Day", honoring the three men from McCook who had become Governors of Nebraska -- Ralph Brooks, Frank Morrison, and Ben Nelson, all of whom gave credit to George Norris' example for getting them interested in politics. It was an eventful day -- the governors of the surrounding states were invited to attend, along with President Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle. It must be said that not all of the governors came to the Ball, nor did the President and Vice President, but the people of McCook turned out in large numbers.

In the early afternoon an instrumental group from the Strategic Air Command gave a concert in Norris Park, followed by a First Ladies' Tea at the Norris home, across from the Park.

In the evening a large crowd danced to the music of The Nebraska Jazz Band, probably McCook's premier dance band of the 90s (and even today). Proceeds from this event provided the funds to form the Norris Foundation.

In 1997 a dinner to recognize the founding members of the Foundation was held at the McCook Elks' Club, with the popular roving columnist from the Omaha World Herald, Tom Allan, as the featured speaker. (Mr. Allen did as much toward uniting Eastern and Western Nebraska as did Cornhusker football, making the World Herald the newspaper of choice for all Nebraska -- a position , which sadly, the paper has abdicated, with its decision to cut off delivery of the paper to outstate Nebraska.)

Mr. Allan regaled a large crowd with his stories, and declared McCook as "The Oratorical Capital" of Nebraska, the "speechiest city in the state." To prove his point he cited the three governors from McCook, and the Senate's all-time great, George Norris. To further his argument, Allan brought up the Ted Sorensen speech at a Norris Centennial dinner in 1961. According to Allan, the speech was delivered in a monotone, and was so dry that few in the audience appreciated the impact of Sorensen's words.

The World Herald, however, took note, and printed the story, which was taken up by newspapers across the nation. Sorensen referred to Nebraska as "an educationally depressed area -- a State old, outmoded, a place to come from or a place to die."

McCook citizens (especially McCook Mayor Dr. F.M. Karrer) were incensed, and bombarded Nebraska representatives in Lincoln and Washington with telegrams, demanding an apology -- which came (sort of) from President Kennedy.

Later, Allan had kind words for Sorensen, pointing out that he had often written very positively of Norris, notably in the chapter he penned for Kennedy's "Profiles of Courage."

Flora Lundberg has been a strong advocate of preserving the Norris legacy, which has taken various forms during her long tenure as Foundation President. A few of these events:

For many years the Norris Foundation sponsored an essay contest in area schools, where high school juniors and seniors submitted their thoughts on a wide range of topics affecting our region, the state and our nation, such as "9-11 terrorist attack! Tragedy, destruction and conflict! How has it affected the world, the USA, and your life," or "The fairest way to elect a President of the United States," to mention just two of the topics students wrote about. Students competed for cash prizes of $200, $150, and $100, plus McCook College Scholarships to the winners.

The Norris Foundation has had a continuing strong relationship with the REA and the TVA, as George Norris is considered the Father of the TVA and Rural Electrification. In 2002 the Foundation sponsored Bent Cobb's book, "Circle of Light," in which Rural Americans recall The Day the Lights Came On, an anthology of stories from 170 writers whose lives changed drastically -- for the better -- when power lines finally etched paths into Rural America. The book, distributed nationwide, amply told of George Norris' influence.

In 2007 the Foundation, led by Duane Tappe and Flora Lundberg, commissioned a life-sized statue of George Norris, who sits on a bench in front of the Norris Home, with newspapers on his lap. The bronze statue is the creation of local sculptors, Jon Leitner and Gary Ginther. The amazingly detailed statue has been extremely popular with McCookites and visitors alike.

The Foundation sponsors a "Prayer Breakfast" annually as part of the Heritage Days festivities. These breakfasts have brought outstanding speakers to McCook, speakers who have brought up little known facts of George Norris, his life in McCook, his work in establishing the Nebraska Unicameral system of government, his work in establishing the TVA and the REA, and his other work in Washington over many years in the Congress and Senate.

The members of the Norris Foundation Board would like to thank Flora Lundberg for her leadership in creating, and making the Norris Foundation a positive force in the promotion of the Norris legacy. We hope that even in retirement she will be available for inspiration, guidance, and encouragement into the future.

Fact Check
See inaccurate information in this story?

Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. If you feel that a comment is offensive, please Login or Create an account first, and then you will be able to flag a comment as objectionable. Please also note that those who post comments on mccookgazette.com may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.

Flora has been and continues to be a positive community leader. She would make George Norris proud.

-- Posted by dennis on Mon, Jan 7, 2013, at 1:14 PM

McCook actually has FOUR former residents who became Governor...Dave Heineman also resided in McCook and attended East Ward School. The family moved before his junior high / high school years.

-- Posted by dennis on Wed, Jan 9, 2013, at 5:19 PM

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration:

Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By