Ronda Graff

Community Connections

News and views from the McCook Community Foundation Fund


The value of McCook's heritage

Thursday, September 24, 2020

With McCook in the midst of celebrating Heritage Days, this is a great opportunity to reflect on the influential heritage McCook has on a regular basis ... something that many of us take for granted.

Last week, I was hanging out in front of the Senator George Norris State Historical Site, or as it is more commonly known, the Norris Home. No, I don’t normally just hang out at historical sites, but was scoping out the yard for a future project.

As I sat on the bench on the front lawn of the Norris Home, next to a life-sized sculpture of the “Fighting Liberal,” an out-of-state car pulled up with two young men inside. While I continued my conversation with my fellow instigator-at-large, Denise Garey, I watched them out of the corner of my eye.

Their first stop was actually to the historical marker across the street at Norris Park. Next, they walked north to look over the Harry Strunk memorial, dedicated in 2018, followed by a short walk to the marker at former Gov. Morrison’s home. They then walked the two blocks south to the Sutton Home, or its more famous moniker, the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. They stopped for a moment at Sen. and Gov. Ben Nelson’s boyhood home before wandering back to the Norris House.

After a brief conversation, I learned that the visitors were from the Kansas City area and were traveling to South Dakota. But they had purposely stopped in McCook because they had just finished John F. Kennedy’s famous book, “Profiles in Courage,” which includes a chapter on Sen. George Norris.

They wanted to see the house where the man who had influenced JFK had lived for more than 40 years. While researching the home of George Norris, they also discovered that McCook was home to the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Nebraska. Upon discovering these “treasurers,” they created a route specifically through McCook.

Day after day, we pass these historical markers but most of us don’t take the time to reflect on their importance, their significance or their uniqueness. Actually, that work is already done for us. There is a McCook Heritage Square Walking Tour brochure which is available throughout the community and a digital tour is in the works.

As the young men prepared to head leave town, one of their other comments stuck with me. After all their research, they were surprised when they reached the city limits and saw the population listed at less than 8,000. In their minds, the city had to be more like 20,000 to 25,000 people, based on everything that was listed and available online.

We have an opportunity to capitalize on the historical value of these leaders and significant sites. Like Willa Cather in Red Cloud, we should be celebrating George Norris, who had the courage to both stand up for what he believed was right and to reach across the aisle to compromise. Both sadly missing in many of today’s political leaders.

I have to admit that I had not read “Profiles in Courage” until speaking to these visitors. Since then, I finished the book and have even more respect for George Norris, who met with both success and failure. But the quote from JFK’s book which stuck with me most about George Norris was the following, “History asks: “Did the man have integrity? Did the man have unselfishness? Did the man have courage? Did the man have consistency?”

All of those apply to George Norris and that is something McCook can and should celebrate as its heritage.


If you want to learn more about the significance of George Norris, please attend the Heritage Days’ Prayer Breakfast on Friday at 7 a.m. at McCook Christian Church.

Hosted by the Norris Institute, this year’s featured speaker is Trevor Jones, director and CEO of History Nebraska who will speak on the importance of George Norris, not just for Nebraska but for the country.

And if that isn’t enough history and heritage for you, consider stopping by the McCook Public Library at 1 p.m. on Saturday when former Sen. and Gov. Ben Nelson will be celebrating the creation of the Birdella Nelson Technology Center at the library.

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