It’s been 5 years since we wrapped up the Nebraska 150 Celebration

In 2017, Nebraska reached an important milestone in its history —150 years of statehood.

The sesquicentennial provided a unique opportunity to connect Nebraskans across the state and create a sense of shared history, vision and goals. To honor this historic occasion, we presented a year of programs and events intended to educate, commemorate and celebrate.

In addition to the 13 programs we ran, we also coordinated with groups and communities across the state as they found unique ways to incorporate the sesquicentennial into their activities. More than 350 entities planned and executed programs, projects and events themed for the sesquicentennial. The sense of community and connectedness created by this celebration was remarkable, reinforcing the fact that we live in an amazing, diverse state with wonderful people and a rich heritage. Our shared history builds upon our pioneer spirit, importance of community and entrepreneurial attitude.

This page is a reflection on our programming for the Nebraska 150 Celebration.

Now You Know Nebraska

Now You Know Nebraska is a series of 180 engaging video shorts that chronicle some of the Cornhusker State’s most compelling, entertaining, little known historical facts and stories. The videos, each lasting one to two minutes, were created by Lincoln-based production firm V2 Content and were released on the Nebraska 150 Celebration’s YouTube channel.

The primary goal of the Now You Know Nebraska video series was to supplement history lessons already being taught in the classroom, providing another learning tool for educators. Videos addressed a wide variety of topics and time periods, incorporated all parts of the state, and included education on a variety of cultures, ethnicities and races. Each video begins with a story or fact and then provides background, context, and detail, defining the significance of each topic.

Nebraska 150 Challenge

The Nebraska 150 Challenge (NE150 Challenge) is a fitness initiative that asks individuals and groups to engage in 150 miles or more of physical activity each year. Because of its success during 2017, the program has been continued. The web-based initiative, which is free and open to all Nebraskans, allows registrants to log miles, track progress and earn digital badges for achieving specific milestones and participating in events. There is also a strong social media component of the site that encourages users to share their successes. The program is designed to promote health and wellness while also building a sense of community. It provides a platform for encouragement, social interaction and recognition as Nebraskans worked toward common goals.

The idea for the program came from the State of Missouri’s “100 Missouri Miles” initiative. In May 2013, the Governor and First Lady of Missouri launched the program, which encouraged Missourians to complete 100 miles of physical activity utilizing Missouri State Parks. The success of the initiative led to replication by several other states. Gov. Jay Nixon’s graciously agreed to provide the Nebraska 150 Celebration as much information as we needed to replicate the program, which allowed us to design our program at a much faster pace. Utilizing Missouri’s platform and process, we worked with developers to create our own platform and product.

The Nebraska Impact Initiative | Renamed Nebraska Volunteers in 2019

Nebraskans have an impressive history of volunteerism. The state consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally. According to the Volunteering and Civic Life in America report released by the Corporation for National Community Service, Nebraska ranked sixth in the nation for percentage of volunteers in 2015. The report found that 33.7 percent of the population, or 466,000 Nebraskans, engaged in volunteerism. Roughly 72 percent of the entire population engaged in informal volunteering in 2015, which includes activities such as babysitting or helping a neighbor.

The Nebraska Impact Initiative presented a way to highlight the state’s history of volunteerism during the sesquicentennial. The program challenged Nebraskans to volunteer 150 hours or more either as an individual or as part of a group. Utilizing an online platform, the initiative allowed participants to discover volunteer opportunities, connect with other Nebraskans and track progress. Because of its success in 2017, the program has been continued.

$2,182,871: Estimated economic impact in 2017

I am Nebraska

I Am Nebraska was an oral history project that invited citizens of all ages to share their Nebraska experience via social media by recording a short video and uploading it to their own Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram accounts under the hash tag “I Am Nebraska” (#IAMNEBRASKA).

The initiative was designed to encourage families, friends and even strangers to help preserve the perspectives that give depth and texture to historical data. The goals of the program were to document the past and present in an engaging way, strengthen connections between generations and celebrate life in Nebraska.

Participants did not have to be a professional videographer to contribute. Interviews could be easily conducted using a variety of recording devices, including smart phones.

Painting the Legacy of Nebraska

In 2012, artist Todd A. Williams approached the Nebraska State Historical Society and Friends Foundation with a proposal to create original paintings for each county in Nebraska in honor of the state’s sesquicentennial. Considering the projects statewide impact and focus on history and culture, the Friends Foundation quickly agreed to partner with Williams.

Williams began the project by researching historical landmarks and individuals who had made significant contributions to the state. Members of the Friends Foundation leveraged their contacts to assist Williams in finding painting sponsors, which involved advanced purchases. The partnership provided the Friends Foundation with 10 percent of sale proceeds and 25 percent of related merchandise sale proceeds. Monies earned by the Friends Foundation were used to support programming for the overall Nebraska 150 Celebration.

In the end, due to interest in the project and multiple sponsors in some of the counties, a total of 123 paintings were created to represent Nebraska’s 93 counties.

Nebraska Atlas

Nebraska fourth graders spend their academic year learning about the state, its history and culture. Some students have been fortunate enough to travel the state and see firsthand many of its unique landmarks and hear its remarkable stories. Others have not yet had the opportunity and may find it difficult to relate to the information they are presented in the classroom. The Nebraksa150 Celebration wanted to help make lessons about the state come alive for fourth graders by providing classrooms with informative and appealing learning materials.

Dr. Randy Bertolas, chair of the Department of History, Politics, and Geography at Wayne State College and coordinator for the Geographic Educators of Nebraska, created the Nebraska Atlas, a 56-page color workbook, and accompanying curriculum in 2014. The multidisciplinary workbook features information on Nebraska geography, Native American history, westward expansion, science, reading and writing. Math skills are also incorporated with lessons on coordinate grids and distance calculations.

The Nebraska 150 Celebration set out to provide copies of the Nebraska Atlas to every fourth grade classroom in the state so it could be utilized during the 2017-18 academic year and remain available for use for years to come.

One State, One Book

The goal of this program was to share the story of this incredible civil rights leaders and native son with young Nebraskans during the sesquicentennial. The Nebraska 150 Celebration printed and distributed more than 28,000 copies of the book Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve to public and private fifth grade classrooms across the state. The books, printed by the University of Nebraska Press, were distributed via Nebraska’s 17 Educational Service Units (ESU) and by request to home school students.

The books were packaged according to the number of fifth grade students and teachers served by each ESU and shipped directly to each headquarter office for distribution to their respective region. Like the Nebraska Atlas, the One State, One Book program was not intended to be required curriculum. Rather, it was provided to classrooms and teachers as an optional resource. An accompanying curriculum was developed for teachers interested in utilizing the resource by an award-winning Omaha educator and made available for download on the Nebraska 150 Celebration’s web site. A digital download of the book was also made available on the site.

The Nebraska Experience

Nebraska has many grand traditions. Perhaps one of the best is the annual fourth grade field trip to the Nebraska State Capitol. Unfortunately, more and more schools are faced with difficult fiscal realities and may not be able to afford this “extra” as part of their Nebraska Studies curriculum. While learning about historically and culturally relevant site in the classroom is wonderful, nothing can compare to having a full immersion experience.

In 2017, the Nebraska 150 Celebration wanted to ensure that as many fourth graders as possible had the opportunity to visit the State Capitol or one of 11 other iconic state landmarks and historically/culturally relevant sites. A partnership with the Nebraska Arts Council’s (NAC), the Nebraska Experience was modeled after the organization’s long-time School Bus for the Arts Grant Program. The Nebraska 150 Celebration underwrote the cost of school buses as well as admission fees to select historical landmarks, museums and other venues across the state.

Tree Planting Initiative

The Arbor Day Foundation graciously agreed to partner with the Nebraska 150 Celebration on a program to help restore the Nebraska National Forest, which has been negatively impacted by fire, insects, disease and weather. The Arbor Day Foundation established a web page on its online store,, to facilitate the program. The celebration’s web site,, also linked to the page.

Visitors were able to purchase trees to be planted by the U.S. Forest Service in the Nebraska National Forest to honor specific individuals and commemorate the Nebraska 150 Celebration. The program was promoted as an easy shopping alternative for “impossible to buy for” people as well as a positive environmental initiative, given that trees help clean the air and water, provide habitat for wildlife, slow climate change and add beauty to our great state.

A donation of $20 purchased 10 trees, $50 purchased 25 trees and $300 purchased 150 trees. A special acknowledgement certificate themed for the Nebraska 150 Celebration was provided to each customer.

Truckin’ Through Nebraska: A Mobile Children’s Museum

Truckin’ Through Nebraska: A Mobile Children’s Museum was a state-of-the art, hands-on children’s museum experience created to commemorate 150 years of statehood in 2017. The intent of the museum was to provide a unique, entertaining and unforgettable learning experience to thousands of youth living in areas of the state without their own children’s museum. Our goal was to instill a sense of pride and wonder in Nebraska children and inspire them to make their own place in the future of the state.

An expandable tractor-trailer outfitted with tailor-made, hands-on learning exhibits toured the state for 26 weeks visiting 42 communities. Through play, interactivity and the latest technology, children and families learned about the state’s history and discovered some of the diverse stories that make Nebraska great.

The Mobile Children’s Museum was contained in a 53-foot, state-of-the-art, custom air-ride, double-expandable trailer specially designed and outfitted for traveling museum exhibits. The unit was ADA accessible and climate controlled. It featured GPS tracking and had an independent generator. The trailer was wrapped with a custom graphics. Additionally, two 13’x13’ outdoor tents and one 13’x26’ outdoor tent provided protection from the elements for our outdoor exhibits. The lease included a driver and fuel for duration of the tour.

Statehood Day Celebration

Nebraska became the 37th state admitted to the Union on March 1, 1867, just two years after the Civil War, under a proclamation signed by President Andrew Johnson. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of this historic occasion, a series of celebratory activities was planned at the Nebraska State Capitol and Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. The events were designed to honor the pioneering, innovative spirit of generations of Nebraskans.

Statehood Day festivities presented a unique opportunity to bring our state together to celebrate who we are as Nebraskans. It also served as the official kick-off to a year of NE150 programming and activities throughout the state.

Nebraska 150 Express

The histories of the state of Nebraska and Union Pacific Railroad (UP) are inextricably linked. UP was founded in Omaha in 1862 with the signing of the Pacific Railroad Act by President Abraham Lincoln, five years before Nebraska became a state. UP was tasked with building tracks westward from the Missouri River while the Central Pacific Railroad of California began building tracks eastward from Sacramento. The two would meet in Promontory, Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad in North America.

During the Nebraska 150 Express Whistle Stop Tour (NE150 Express), Nebraskans celebrated our railroad heritage in a distinctive way that harkened back to similar 19th century whistle stop tours. On Aug. 4, 2017, UP’s heritage equipment, led by the Streamliner E-9 locomotive, embarked on a three-day tour of the state, departing from Omaha and stopping for rallies in Columbus, North Platte, Ogallala, Sidney, Gering, Kearney and Grand Island. The Heritage Fleet is the last of Union Pacific’s famous streamliner and dome liner passenger trains of the high-speed diesel-electric era.

Salute to the Good Life

The last of the sesquicentennial’s events, the Salute to the Good Life was held from 3-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22 on Centennial Mall South as well as K and L Streets from 14th to 16th Streets in Lincoln. To make this celebration available to as many citizens as possible, the event was held during the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Homecoming weekend, giving Nebraskans an additional reason to gather and celebrate.

The outdoor gala featured live music, food trucks/vendors, fireworks, the “Remembering Our Fallen” exhibit, Truckin’ Through Nebraska: A Mobile Children’s Museum and a laser light show projected onto the Nebraska State Capitol. Nebraska 150 branded merchandise was available for sale on site.

Admission was free and the public was encouraged to attend. Seating was festival-style, so attendees were encouraged to arrive early and bring their own portable seating (lawn chairs, blankets, etc.). A section of chairs was reserved on Centennial Mall South near the fountain for active duty military, family members of the deployed and veterans. NRG Media – Broadcast House served as master of ceremonies.

Below is a schedule of events.

3 p.m. ’“Remembering Our Fallen” Exhibit Opens
3 p.m. Food Trucks/Vendors Open
3-9 p.m. Nebraska 150 Branded Merchandise Sales Begin
3-7 p.m. Truckin’ Through Nebraska: A Mobile Children’s Museum
3-7 p.m. Free Face Painting, Balloon Animals
4 p.m. Nebraska National Guard 43rd Army Band
Fly-Over by Nebraska National Guard
5 p.m. Performance by Josh Hoyer of The Voice
6:15 p.m. Performance by The Back 40
7:30 p.m. Gov. Pete Ricketts & First Lady Susanne Shore
7:45 p.m. Performance by Kris Lager Band
8:45 p.m. Laser Light Show by Laser Spectacles
9:15 p.m. Performance by Kris Lager Band
10:15 p.m. Fireworks Finale by J&M Displays

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