Millard was a village in 1956 when The World-Herald reported on plans for a huge new plant on the fringe of the metro area.
“Omaha landed the largest prize of its post-war industrial drive Thursday,” the front-page story began.
What became known as the “Omaha Works” of the Western Electric Co. would be built southwest of the city limits and next to Millard, the population of which was about 600.
Employment at the new plant was projected to be 3,000 to 4,000. It peaked at 7,700 in 1970.
Interstate 80 was built, angling southwest past the plant site toward Lincoln. In the 1960s, Millard became Nebraska's fastest-growing city.
The pace of development was breathtaking. Omaha leaders, suddenly fearful that Millard would cut off the larger city's growth, exercised authority under state law and — in a bitter controversy that saw the mayor of Omaha hanged in effigy — annexed Millard.
That annexation is an important part of our local history. Also part of history is the now-gone Western Electric plant, which had sparked suburban expansion and the “skyrocketing” growth of the Millard Public Schools.
The town of Millard ceased to exist in 1971. But Millard as an identity — as a place to live, work, shop and play, full of houses of worship in which to pray and sports venues in which to cheer the Patriot, Mustang and Wildcat high school teams — remains vigorous.
Millard is alive. The lettering on the water tower at 144th and Q Streets fairly shouts “MILLARD.”
“There's a tremendous sense of pride in the community,” said Amy Friedman, who recently ended 17 years as the school district's communications coordinator. “This was once a small town of German immigrants but now is a much more diverse area. People identify with that spirit.”
Friedman was the writer and editor for a new book, “Millard Times Remembered,” published by the Millard Public Schools Foundation. It can be ordered from www.mpsfoundation.org for the pre-publication discount price of $22.95 until Dec. 5.
Although the Western Electric plant and the annexation are part of the story, they don't dominate the book, which consists largely of photos, many of them submitted by Millardites. Friedman's words stitch together the story of a community.
It was named for the Millard family of Omaha, including brothers Ezra and Joseph Millard, businessmen who also served as mayors of Omaha.
Like Omaha, Millard went through a rough period when it was a base camp for railroad workers. But a postcard from the late 19th century shows a well-dressed couple at a park bench, the gentleman kneeling earnestly beside his lady as if asking her something important, under the words: “People are serious in Millard, Neb.”
They are serious, and they know how to have fun. Some entertainment venues depicted in the book, though, are no more — the Millrose Ballroom, Swimland and the Q-Twin drive-in movie theater.
Former farm fields became the Millard Airport, Oak Hills Country Club and Oak View Mall. The old Stockade restaurant became the Millard Roadhouse. For the past half-century, the area has celebrated with a summer parade and festival called Millard Days.
Friedman said Wednesday that in preparing the book, she detected no lingering unhappiness about the 1971 annexation. “I think everybody by now thinks of themselves as Omahans.”
The old Western Electric plant near 120th and L Streets, which opened in 1958 and made communications equipment, over the years was known as AT&T, Lucent, Avaya and Connectivity Solutions. Employment had dwindled, and it closed last year, though an Omaha Works Retiree group remains. In the past decade, Walmart, Sam's Club and Home Depot have opened stores on the property.
The 23,000-student Millard school district, Friedman said, now covers an area with a population exceeding 100,000. That's not to say Millard would have grown that large if not annexed — school district boundaries differ from municipal boundaries, and Omaha would have captured much of that population growth.
But Millard would have grown.
“Today we are proud to be part of Omaha,” Friedman wrote in the introduction, “and Millard's identity as a thriving community remains vibrant.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, firstname.lastname@example.org