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LOOKING BACK: Community development in Gering often led by women

LOOKING BACK: Community development in Gering often led by women

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LOOKING BACK for 06-19

The Women's Literary Club, later renamed the Women's Club, was founded in 1895. Through most of its history, group members kept a scraphook of the projects the club worked on. The books are now housed at Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering.

Not all the essays from Gering Courier publisher A.B. Wood’s “Pioneer Tales” book were written by Wood. Several others made their own contribution to the narrative of the community’s early history.

One of them was Mrs. Ed W. Sayre, whose husband was a prominent Gering merchant who owned a grocery and dry goods store. Mrs. Sayre’s maiden name was Maggie Wood, A.B.’s sister.

“One could go on indefinitely telling of those early days and the miracles of the present day,” she wrote as she listed some of the primitive conditions of earlier days.

Things like waiting for the stage coach to deliver mail from Kimball. Or taking one bath a week in a tub brought into the kitchen. Water from the pump was heated on the stove for the evening wash.

This was a time when the only entertainment people had was what they made themselves. The women of the town would host literary entertainments and suppers to help fund projects like building the Methodist and Baptist churches, and later the Christian church.

Mrs. Sayre wrote the stirrings for more mental stimulation among the town’s women was an outgrowth of the sewing circles. Some of her friends thought the same and Mrs. Fred Woldt, wife of another Gering business leader, offered her home as a meeting place.

Asking about a half dozen women to discuss the idea of a “gathering,” all were in favor. So another meeting was scheduled with an invitation to all the women of Gering to attend.

In the Dec. 6, 1895, edition of the Gering Courier, Wood noted there was “an organization of ladies at the Wolt home on Thursday, object a library.”

Each woman was also invited to bring a book along, which would become the nucleus for a town library.

The next meeting, one that had an official program, was also in the Woldt house on Jan. 24, 1896. In addition to business, entertainments were presented, from the quotations of John Greenleaf Whittier to a musical quartet.

Mrs. Woldt also created a local sensation that year. Traveling by stagecoach an entire day, then by train, she arrived in York for the second meeting of the Nebraska Federation of Women’s Clubs.

The local group, originally called the Women’s Literary Club, it was changed in 1917 to the Women’s Club. And after the library project was a going concern, the club’s next project was raising funds for a fence. The fence would be strung around the small town cemetery near Dome Rock, now called West Lawn, to keep out coyotes and other predatory animals.

The funding came from dinners and literary entertainments and it became a point of honor in the town of 200 or so residents to be at those dinners to support the cause.

Once the cemetery was fenced in, the next project became siting a park in town. After all, any respectable town in the area had a park for the enjoyment of the public.

More dinners and more entertainments were to follow to help fund a park. A.B. Wood reported events such as an appearance by the Gering Cornet Band (Wood was a member). Also of note was a recitation by Miss Every Shockley of the favorite “When Angelina Johnson Comes a-Swingin’ Down the Line.”

The main benefactor for the park project donated an entire block of land, which was deeded to the city. He was one of the town founders: Oscar W. Gardner. The park, now at 11th and S Streets, bears his name — Gardner Park.

At great expense, the city planted and tended to the hardwood trees as it became another monument to the hard work of our settlers in turning the open prairie into a community.

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