As usual, the news spread to many on Facebook.
The social media site’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, turned up in Nebraska over the weekend and shared it through posts on his Facebook page.
One post featured a photo at the Heartland Pride festival at Omaha’s Stinson Park, where his appearance Saturday surprised many.
“Until recently, the Nebraska constitution banned gay marriage,” Zuckerberg wrote in his post. “Omaha is more welcoming, but we still have a long way to go.”
Zuckerberg’s team said his visit was part of a tour he’s been making across the country.
In January, Zuckerberg shared on Facebook that he was trying to travel to 30 states this year in order to achieve his goal of visiting and meeting people in every U.S. state. “My work is about connecting the world and giving everyone a voice,” he wrote. “I want to personally hear more of those voices this year.”
Matt Maryott was one of the first voices Zuckerberg heard in Nebraska. A friend with some connections to Zuckerberg’s staff told Maryott he wouldn’t want to miss dinner Friday night at Gorat’s steakhouse, but provided no details.
When Maryott showed up, the financial adviser with Mutual of Omaha met six other insurance professionals in a private room and learned they would be dining with Zuckerberg.
As they chatted over steaks, Zuckerberg told the Nebraskans he was trying to have more conversations with average Americans.
“I think he realized he’s in his own bubble,” Maryott said. “His deal now is kind of going around and getting to meet with front-line people.”
On Saturday, Zuckerberg drew attention at the Heartland Pride festival.
David Kerr, president of the nonprofit group that organized Saturday’s event, said Zuckerberg’s staff had been in touch with him about visiting the festival, but no one else there knew about the visit.
Kerr said he arranged for a “wide spectrum” of people within the LGBTQ community to be at the festival to meet Zuckerberg. Over the course of an hour, Zuckerberg asked people in that group and others about how their lives were in Nebraska and about the work they were doing in their communities.
“He was super personable and seemed sincerely interested in what people had to say,” Kerr said.
One of Zuckerberg’s conversations was with Mayor Jean Stothert, whom Kerr said they bumped into while walking around the festival. They spoke for about 10 minutes, with Stothert providing Zuckerberg some examples of places to see in town, and telling him that Omaha is a great city to live in and visit.
Zuckerberg soon headed off, surfacing next in North Platte, where he posted photos from his visit to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard, the world’s largest railroad classification yard. Covering 2,850 acres, the yard is a key point for east-west and north-south corridors of Union Pacific’s rail network.
Zuckerberg wrote in his post from North Platte that he met a man there who didn’t think people in Omaha understood or thought about rural places like North Platte.
“But with 40 percent of goods shipped across the country by rail, we all depend on the work people here do,” he wrote.
Zuckerberg stopped in Minnesota on Thursday and Iowa on Friday. In Minneapolis, he had Iftar dinner with a group of Somali refugees and later checked out a hockey practice in Minnetonka. His time in Iowa brought him to the town of Wilton and to Iowa 80, “The World’s Largest Truckstop.”
Zuckerberg told those he met over the weekend that this was his first visit to Nebraska, but his company already has roots in the area. Work is underway at a massive new Facebook data center near Papillion, which is expected to be up and running in 2020.