Remembering Ralston

Photo by Katherine Leszczynski From left, Ralston Archives board members Lana Tribbie, Donna Caniglia and Rich Shively show their favorite photos at the Frank & Velma Johnson Ralston Archives Museum on Sunday afternoon. Not only do the members know about Ralston's history, they have interesting history with Ralston themselves.

The Frank & Velma Johnson Ralston Archives Museum, 5615 Woodlawn Ave., is filled with rich and interesting history.

The museum, open once a month, is run by Ralston residents who themselves are filled with rich and interesting history.

The Ralston Archives board has members, many of whom are lifelong Ralston residents, that have a history of their own that is just as fascinating as what is on the walls of the museum.

Four members of the Ralston Archives board shared their stories during an open house on Sunday.

While their stories are all different, they all had one thing in common: they love the City of Ralston.

Mary Lou Smith

Mary Lou Smith (nee Jefferson) has been in Ralston for decades. Eight of them, to be exact.

“I’ve lived here 82 or 83 years,” Smith said. “It was all dirt roads.”

In fact, a lot of Ralston was far more rural than today, Smith said. So rural that Smith’s mother’s flowers were regularly nibbled on by a neighbor’s barnyard creature.

“There was a cow that would break loose,” Smith said. “The neighbor kept it on a rope and it would break loose and get into our backyard and eat my mother’s flowers.”

Smith’s father, Don, used to work for Crown Products. He would drive out to 72nd Street every day from their then-home near Fontenelle.

“He did it one winter and he said to my mother ‘I cannot drive out there from Fontenelle every day. We’re going to rent, buy or build in Ralston.’ And here we are,” Smith said.

Smith’s father was also the mayor of Ralston in 1936, something she mentions very nonchalantly.

Smith married her husband Dan, who worked plastering walls, and raised four children all in Ralston.

Smith has also been on the Ralston Archives board since 1954.

In the 1970s, she started helping out at the former Baright Public Library on Park Lane (formerly Mechanic Street) when they opened a room for archiving.

Smith helped archive photos, newspaper clippings, papers and everything in between when the archives were shuffled from building to building. People would often bring stuff for the Archives they thought Smith might want. She hopes people continue to do so to preserve the history.

“As people moved, they would say ‘Oh you need this!’” she said. “We hope before people throw anything away, they think to give it to us. I’m more interested in the old Ralston than what’s going on now.”

Smith still lives in Ralston by herself. She has never seen herself living anywhere else.

“I still love Ralston,” she said. “I love a small town atmosphere. I always have.”

Donna Caniglia

Donna Caniglia (nee Nicola) was born and raised in Ralston. However, her family’s history here started long before she was even born.

Her father, Earl Nicola, was living in Ralston since at least 1930. Caniglia can’t remember the exact year. Earl came to Ralston to pave the streets when he met her mother, Mary.

Together they had 10 children. Earl later worked at Crown Products and Mary worked at the Beanery. Earl was also on the Ralston City Council.

Caniglia was in the first graduating class at St. Gerald’s Catholic School in 1958. She was one of 12 graduating students.

In 1960, Caniglia’s brother, Merle Nicola, was on the police force and a volunteer with the fire department. He was at a bank when it was robbed and he was taken hostage.

“The whole family panicked,” Caniglia said. “This was something else. His hands were tied up but he managed to unlatch the door and roll out of the car.”

Merle Nicola was seen as a hero. He was soon named the Police Chief of Ralston.

Caniglia met her husband of 53 years, Jeff, at the Ralston Bowl. They held their prenuptial dinner at the Village Bar, her bridal shower at Ralston Town Hall and their wedding at St. Gerald’s Catholic Church. They have raised four children in Ralston.

Caniglia joined the Archives Museum board about 10 years ago. Fellow member Lana Tribbie said Caniglia had a wealth of knowledge that the group needed to hear about.

“I realized she was answering questions I had instead of me answering her questions,” Tribbie said.

Caniglia loves the history of Ralston and has no plans to move.

“I’ve seen Ralston develop from a village, then to a town then to a city. I’ll never leave until they take me out,” she said with a laugh. “I love this town.”

Lana Tribbie

Lana Tribbie is a transplant to Ralston. She moved to Omaha in 1990 and first heard about the City of Ralston when working with the JayCee Community Service Group.

“We did all our service and activity here,” Tribbie said.

Tribbie always lived in the Ralston Public Schools District, but she fell in love with the city and wanted to move there. Her husband, Dennis, took her to see houses all around the metro area but nothing felt right.

“I kept saying ‘It’s not in Ralston so I’m just appeasing you,’” Tribbie said.

Tribbie moved to Ralston in 2002. She currently works at Edwards Jones in downtown Ralston.

She joined the Ralston Archives board in 2007 after board president Jan Gorman invited her to join. Tribbie is constantly amazed by how much the other board members remember.

“Our meetings could be four hours long because they talk about everything from memory,” Tribbie said with a laugh.

Caniglia is happy that Tribbie has joined the board.

“Lana is new here but she is really involved,” Caniglia said. “She can take on where we leave off.”

Rich Shively

Rich Shively was born and raised in Ralston, but he was not the first generation.

Shively’s grandfather moved to Ralston in 1917. He drove a rail car, worked in real estate and was the Western Douglas County Justice of the Peace.

Rich’s family lived in a house on Main Street that was built in 1911 that is still there today.

Shively’s brother, Dave, was on the City Street Department. He often still remembers who lived in what house and what business used to be everywhere, Shively said.

“His mind was sharp,” he said. “He remembers everything.”

Shively was in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years and lived in different places around the country. Once, when he was back in Ralston visiting, he was told about a deal he couldn’t resist.

“I was home on leave and Bob Eccles told me a nice house was for sale,” Shively said.

Shively and his wife, Chris, went to look at the house on Washington Street and immediately fell in love with it and how it opened up to Ponderosa Park in the backyard.

“We must have looked at 45 houses to try and talk ourselves out of it,” he said. “My wife liked the small community.”

Shively still had a year until he could move home though, but that didn’t stop him from buying the house a year early.

Shively started helping out around the Ralston Archives Museum after he retired from the Air Force in 1992. At first he would just help move things and other jobs, but he soon joined the committee in 1996. Shively is well connected in the community and well informed about its history. It has earned him a special nickname.

“I had a classmate that used to call me Mr. Ralston,” he said. “She said ‘It seems like you know everything.’”

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