Monument to Harry Strunk unveiled
McCOOK, Neb. — Allen D. Strunk described his father as “a man of vision .. a man of action,” as he and his family watched the unveiling Saturday of a new monument that honors the legacy of newspaperman and conservationist Harry D. Strunk.
The memorial sits at the corner of Norris Avenue and H Street, one of McCook’s busiest corners, and tells the story of Harry Strunk, who started the Red Willow County Gazette newspaper at the age of 19 with only an eighth-grade education. The Gazette went daily in 1924, and Strunk made aviation and journalistic history in 1929 as the first daily newspaper in the world to deliver its papers by air. Oberlin pilot Steve Tuttle flew the little orange-and-yellow Curtiss-Robin C-1 that Strunk christened “The Newsboy” over 40-some Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas communities whose paperboys waited on the ground for the sound of the Newsboy’s radial engine and for their tightly-tied bundles of newspapers to fall from the sky.
Spurred on by depression, the drought, the Dust Bowl and the devastating and deadly Republican River Valley flood of 1935, Strunk became determined to save his people from nature. As the leader of the Republican Valley Conservation Association, he fought for federal funding and construction of flood control dams that would also provide irrigation, economic opportunities, recreation and wildlife habitat for the people and the plains that he loved.
Construction started at Enders Dam in 1947, followed by work on dams at Bonny in Colorado, at Norton in Kansas and at Trenton and Cambridge in Nebraska. Progress stalled through federal government channels on the dam on Red Willow Creek.
But Harry Strunk measured his life and life’s accomplishment by three mottos, and for this last dam project, it appears he leaned heavily on two of those: “On the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, lay down to rest, and in resting, died.” The second motto is, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Allan Strunk admitted, at the memorial’s dedication Saturday, that he often wondered just what the saying about “the bleached bones” meant. He said he finally figured it out: “When you think you’re a winner, don’t quit. Follow through to the finish.”
Harry Strunk didn’t quit … he got his dam at Red Willow. Groundbreaking started on the dam on July 4, 1960. And one month and one day later, Harry D. Strunk died. Harry Strunk followed through to the finish his vision of flood-free and irrigated plains, and generations after him have benefitted from his determination and far-reaching vision.
Harry Strunk believed so firmly in his other favorite quote that he engraved it in stone on his second Gazette office, in the 400 block of Norris Avenue, and cut it into brass at the front door of today’s Gazette office, in the 500 block of West First. “Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy in this world.” And Allen Strunk said his father always made sure to pay his rent in advance …
Allen Strunk said it was an “uncommon” happenstance that the land upon which the new memorial is located just happened to be owned by another Strunk family. Although they don’t believe that the Allen Strunk family and the Kent and Susan Strunk family are related, Allen said they just might be. The Strunks all came from Germany, Allen said, and most, if not all, were and are related. Allen said he appreciates Kent and Susan Strunk’s generosity in sharing the high visibility of the corner at Norris Avenue and H Street for the new Strunk memorial.
Strunk also said the new memorial would not have happened without the dogged determination of his son, Grant John, who has worked on the design of the memorial for a couple years.
The “new” memorial compliments a 58-year-old memorial located at the Strunk highway rest area two miles east of McCook — one that overlooks the wide Republican River Valley, but is seldom visited and viewed by the residents of Southwest Nebraska who benefitted most from Strunk’s reclamation projects. The rest area memorial will be repositioned and made handicap accessible.
The new memorial and its visibility make it easy to realize the full impact of the man who believed in the possibilities and potential of the plains and people of his Gazette newspaper coverage area.
A McCook businessman once asked Harry Strunk: “I’m moving to McCook, and I’m wondering what McCook has to offer.”
Strunk replied, “What do you have to offer McCook?”
Grant Strunk said the new memorial project involved many people over a couple years, including:
Randy Bauer of Gateway Realty, who researched the ownership of the property upon which he would eventually locate the new memorial.
Kent and Susan Strunk, who believed in his vision for the memorial corner, and for sharing their corner lot not only with him, but with the community as well.
Tim and Kristi Daum, Drew Daum and Aaron Koetter of Carpenter-Breland Funeral Home, who helped him develop the idea for the memorial and proceed through to its completion. It was Kristi’s suggestion to unveil the monument during McCook’s Heritage Day celebration, Strunk said.
Joe Leamon of JL Construction, “a good, good friend,” Strunk said, who always puts up an American flag.
Dustin Payton of DP Lawn Care. “Dustin is a hard worker … he is what the younger generation can be,” Strunk said.
Mike Baumfalk and Doak Construction, for the use of the crane to place the new memorial stone.
McCook attorney Bryant Brooks of the McCook Community Foundation Fund and the Norris Institute, which will take care of the perpetual maintenance of the memorial.
Bruce Hoffman and Ryan Davis, for their help with trees at the new memorial site.
At the highway memorial site, Kelly Doyle and Kurt Vosburg, and Jason Bieker and his family who built the new frame structure.
And ultimately, for the support of his family.
Grant Strunk said, “I’m proud of the relationships I’ve built through this project … they’re remarkable. And I’m blessed to be part of this community.”