Ninety years ago, Nebraska City residents pulled together to raise funds for a building that would be named in honor of World War I veterans.
The effort began with a group of 12 people. Then, more than 130 people went door to door to raise money in Nebraska City and Otoe County. Small individual donations raised $50,000 for the Veterans Memorial Building, which cost $75,000 with a $25,000 mortgage, Ted Beilman said.
Today, Beilman is leading an effort to both renovate the building and honor veterans.
When he returned to his hometown three years ago, Beilman was surprised to discover that the building, which the city closed in 2007, was unusable. He is spending his retirement working to rectify that.
“This is basically my full-time, unpaid job to make this happen for the community,” Beilman said. “It’s a lot better than sitting around watching TV.”
Saturday day will mark the first public event at the building since it closed 10 years ago. It is only partially renovated, but the auditorium will be ready for the Honoring Our Heroes event.
More than 150 displays will honor 800-plus Nebraska City or Otoe County veterans, from World War I to the present.
“A lot of families have gone through their shoeboxes and pulled out old photos of their fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents to put these displays together,” Beilman said.
Beilman said he has been working 70 to 80 hours a week over the past six weeks to prepare the displays. He said one woman brought in material to display about her husband, who lost an arm while fighting in the Korean War.
“She started looking at (the displays) and just came up, gave me a hug and started to cry,” Beilman said. “It was emotional.”
A mural honoring veterans will be dedicated at 11 a.m. today, the 99th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
The mural, which is 18 feet tall and 105 feet long, will be dedicated at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the same time the armistice went into effect.
Muralist Kent Schwartz of Nebraska City completed the project in October. Despite its size, Schwartz said, the hardest part was including representations of everyone who deserves honor.
“It’s not like I could paint every airplane, because not everyone was in a fighter or a bomber,” Schwartz said. “I couldn’t paint every ship, and I couldn’t paint every conflict, so I had to plan it to where everybody would feel like they were included and honored in the mural.”
The mural includes portraits of 13 Otoe County veterans, a man playing taps and imagery of conflicts from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm.
Like the effort to put up the building in 1927, the work to renovate it is being funded through small individual donations.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March 2016, Beilman said, which makes it eligible for historic tax credits. A nonprofit organization also has been created for the renovation.
The auditorium will be open today from just after the 11 a.m. mural dedication until 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each day, an American flag will be given to the first 150 people to arrive.
“There’s a whole wealth of information about things we don’t know about,” Beilman said. “We can remember these individuals who for the most part have been forgotten.”