A Lifetime in the making: Bennet native recalls memories of his home
By Jacilyn Bruns, The Voice News - March 8, 2018
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Jacilyn Bruns, The Voice News
Wayne Nelson now lives at Clark Jeary Assisted Living in Lincoln, but hopes to stay involved with the Bennet community the best that he can.
Wayne Nelson will turn 90 years old on March 9, and with every milestone comes times of reflection. Nelson grew up in Bennet and told the story of his great-grandfather who established a family homestead west of Bennet in 1869.
His relatives came over from Denmark with the Danish last name “Nielsen,” but Wayne said education wasn’t great in those times so somehow the name was changed to Nelson. Wayne’s great-grandparents had eight children and he bought each one of them 80 acres of ground.
When Wayne was 10 years old, his grandfather’s health failed, and they inherited one of the 80-acre plots that his great-grandfather homesteaded on Wittstruck Road west of Bennet.
Another 80 acres belonged to Wayne’s aunt who passed away, and his father bought it.
“That’s how my dad found out how my great-grandfather managed to have all that land, each 80 acres had $1,000 mortgage,” Nelson said.
Nelson helped his father on the farm when he was a kid, but never farmed himself.
“We farmed with horses back then,” he said.
They pulled horse-drawn machinery until they finally got a tractor.
When Nelson was 18, he went to the University of Nebraska- Lincoln studying engineering but didn’t have a burning desire to return after one year of college, so from there, he joined the Army.
He is classified as a World War II veteran even though that war was over. He was sent to Korea as part of the United States’ occupation forces.
“Nobody had heard of Korea in 1946. The conflict hadn’t started until the 50s,” Nelson said.
He wasn’t overseas very long, though; he served a very short 18-month enlistment.
“You’re not going to find too many guys who got in on that,” he said.
Nelson had a good high school friend that he roomed with during his second semester in college, and he was always talking Nelson into things. The same friend that talked Nelson into joining the Army also convinced him to move to New Mexico for a time.
Wayne and his new bride Lorraine were married in September 1951, and they headed for a warmer climate before winter set in. The two of them returned home to Nebraska for Easter and never went back, however, his friend stayed for another 10 years.
“He was always coming up with wild ideas. Later he asked me if I wanted to go into business together, which turned out to be pinball machines,” Nelson said.
Nelson got to work the technical aspects, such as the machines’ electric circuits.
Later, legislators declared pinball machines a game of chance, and gambling was taboo in the state of Nebraska; so, they went out of business.
“That’s where I became a businessman; it ain’t all roses,” Nelson said.
Nelson got a job with Northern Natural Gas near Palmyra and worked there for 32 years. He said he started at the bottom and worked his way up through the plant. He eventually earned his way up to a stage where he was working with civil engineering paperwork while also working as a corrosion technician. Nelson was offered a chance to retire early at 56.
“That was a difficult decision to make because my boy Scott just graduated from high school was getting ready to go to college. I made the decision to take the retirement and live on exactly half of the money before, but I’m glad I retired,” Nelson said.
In the Bennet community, Nelson has served on the town board and is still a part of the church board. Nelson is also a member of the American Legion Post 280 as a service officer.
When they first got married, Lorraine worked as a bank telephone operator. In the 1990s when their three children were grown, Lorraine was asked if she was interested in being the Bennet postmaster’s relief, covering days off and holidays.
“She really enjoyed it, seeing all the people coming and going, and she was very good at it,” Nelson said.
Wayne said Lorraine was also a wonderful musician and he still has her piano, which is loaded with family pictures.
Lorraine died of cancer four years ago and Wayne misses her dearly. He remembers one project that she initiated before she passed - she wanted to give the Bennet Cemetery Board money to plant newer trees. They sent out 40 letters to members of the community and received very good responses and donations. When she passed away, people gave memorials and were able to add another $1,000 to the tree fund. An additional grant gave them $1,700 to plant trees. They had a narrow time window to plant, and it was only 12 or 14 degrees the cold November day that they planted the six trees.
“We felt very fortunate to do that and it all started with her,” Nelson said. “It was a memorable experience.”
Wayne and Lorraine had three children, Connie Morris of York, Gayle Nelson of Lincoln and Scott Nelson of Highlands Ranch, Colo. They have four grandchildren, Jered Morris, Jennifer Simmelink, Chase Crain and Abigail Nelson; and eight great-grandchildren.
“I’ve told each of my great-grandkids all about the history of the homestead and maybe some of them will live there someday,” he said.
Now that Nelson is reaching a milestone, he’ll take life as it comes.
“I’m not ready to be 90, I wasn’t even ready to be 80!” Nelson said.
Nelson recently moved to Clark Jeary Assisted Living on Feb. 8 and he enjoys it so far. Someday he hopes to return home to his house in Bennet.
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