Since the enactment of the Nebraska Kansas Act of 1854, the establishment of Brownville on the Missouri River in that same year, the filing of the first Homestead Act land claim in Gage County by Daniel Freeman in 1863 and the statehood of Nebraska in 1867, Nebraska has been mostly about food. The blizzard of January, 1888, was no exception. When this document was initiated in 2014, Agriculture was Nebraska’s largest industry and Hospitality was Nebraska’s second largest. The rankings remain the same in 2021. Food, therefore, is still Nebraska’s top priority. And that food is shipped all over the world.
During Nebraska’s Territorial history, it had 11 Governors, although one of them was not recognized by the Federal Government and five of them were “acting.” Since Statehood, Nebraska has had 40 Governors and one Acting Governor. They’ve all been appreciative of Nebraska food.
During the First and Second World Wars, a lot of Nebraska food was used to feed our nation’s soldiers, as it also was in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Two years after the end of World War II, Ray Matson, Hilltop House restaurant, Omaha, began serving his two terms as President of the Nebraska Restaurant Association in 1947 and 1948, followed by Horay Anderson of Grand Island in 1949. Ray Matson was the first Nebraskan to serve as the president of the National Restaurant Association. Val Peterson was Governor during their terms and Harry Truman was President of the U.S. In 1949 Harry Truman ordered an airlift of hay to cattle in western Nebraska during a blizzard. In 1950, grateful citizens in Lincoln greeted President Truman during his stop there. By that time Bennie Davis of Bennie’s in Omaha was beginning the first of his two terms as President of the Nebraska Restaurant Association.
In 1957, Ruth Brink, of Kilpatrick’s, Omaha, may have been the first female president of Nebraska Restaurant Association, paving the way for Cynthia Barnes, Clarkson Hospital, Omaha, in 1984, Jan Moore, Amigo’s, Lincoln, in 2005, Dawn (Everett) Amend, Runza International, Lincoln, in 2006, and Judy Daniell, Ricardo’s Mexican Restaurant, Norfolk, 2010.
Being a member of the Advisory Board of the Association is like having a second job. Being a member of the voting Board of Directors and its committees is like have two extra jobs. Being on the Executive Committee, as an officer, is like having three extra jobs. In 1961, the Association began awarding a traveling trophy, for displaying one year, to recognize the Restaurateur of the Year. In 1974, the Association began recognizing the Associate of the Year. So many have contributed to the Association’s success that awards are now being given to Allied Members, Employees and Restaurants of the Year by Region.
During the 1983 presidential tenure of Raymond L. Tonkinson, Dalton Service & Café, Hastings, before the digital age, the Association began offering a free library and video service.
During the three 1986-1988 terms of presidency by John Peterson, Richfield Café, Richfield, the Association began publishing a newsletter and a Nebraska Guide to Good Eating.
In 1989, during the first presidency of Dean Rasmussen, Grandmother’s, Omaha & Lincoln, the Association began offering dual memberships in Nebraska Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association.
During the 1990 presidency of Jim Bryant, Sax’s Pizza, Grand Island, the Association began hosting its annual awards banquet, “Taste of Nebraska,” which is still going strong.
During the 1991 & 1992 presidencies of Tony Messineo, Valentino’s, Lincoln & Omaha, the Association opened an office, issued jackets to the Board, improved membership records, began offering Food Manager Permit testing, brought in national speakers for the “Taste of Nebraska” banquet, developed a strategic plan and changed the Newsletter to MainCourse Magazine. ‘Twas a busy two years!
During the 1993-1994 terms of President Charles Huff, Village Motor Inn, Lincoln, a trade exposition was resumed, a record number of memberships were signed up and Servsafe classes were begun. Speaking of new memberships, William F. Koehne, Arrow Inn Supper Club, Lincoln, sold 100 new memberships when he was president (year unknown).
During Dean Rasmussen’s 2003 term, the Association changed from a management company to a Board-operated association. Admiral James Partington, USN (Ret.), was hired as Executive Director. Partington soon also began serving as lobbyist for local, state and national issues. James Otto also began serving as lobbyist for the Association.
During Judy Daniell’s presidency, the Association redesigned its website and began selling on-line advertising.
During the 2012 presidency of Denis Hall, Fernando’s Café & Cantina, Omaha, the refinement of appropriate awards to be given out at “Taste of Nebraska” was achieved.
During the 2013 presidency of Wayne Boles, Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill restaurants and FireWorks Restaurant, Lincoln & Omaha, the Association staff, changed the name of MainCourse magazine to Nebraska Hospitality News. The Buyer’s Guide became an on-line publication. Boles began inquiries into the names of past presidents and the history of the Association, some of which is missing from the archives.
During the 2020 presidency of John Wade, Restaurants, Inc. the Board of Directors increased the number of meetings just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; a decision that has proved to be vital to communication of changes required of the industry on a seeming minute-by-minute timetable. So important was the information being disseminated by the association, our website crashed from the number of hits for information. We remain the voice of this industry.
A partial list of past presidents, some with photos and resumes, is in the archives of the Association.
Membership in the Association over the past decades has included leaders who hailed from Grand Island, where the State Fair now is, Omaha, the home of the largest railroad in the world, Union Pacific, Scottsbluff, named after Hiram Scott in 1843, Columbus, of Behlen fame, Schuyler, Shelby, Norfolk, home of Johnny Carlson, Hastings, home of Tom Osborne, Richfield, Lincoln, largest city in the world named after Abraham Lincoln, Kearney, new home of Nebraska’s Veterans Home, Bennet, Wayne, home of Wayne State College, Fremont, where the 17-year-old Crazy Horse and friends pestered Pawnee farmers in 1857, Callaway and McCook, home of George Norris, Ben Nelson and Bill Harris.
Food for one and food for all!