For Nebraska, a relatively young state with a small, stable population, the pool of potential Hall of Fame candidates has always been somewhat limited. The recent advent of the honor (1961) and the requirement that a candidate be deceased for ten years before consideration, has produced a select number of recipients, to total less than two dozen by century’s end.
Gather Nebraskans together and the first order of business is finding someone you know, or knowing someone who knows someone who . . . The same game could have been played with the men and women in the Nebraska Hall of Fame. The social, cultural, political, and historical connections shared by this small group say much about our “small” state, now and then.
Lt. John J. Pershing, on detached service from the U.S. Army to the University of Nebraska in the early 1890s, taught remedial mathematics to undergraduate Willa Cather. During his stint at the university, Pershing studied the law. Doubtless he benefitted from his discussions with Lincolnite Roscoe Pound, Cather’s friend and later dean of the Harvard Law School, and also from the generosity of William Jennings Bryan, who often allowed Pershing the use of his personal library.
Other hall-of-famers had more formal relationships. Robert Furnas, a Republican, and J. Sterling Morton, a Democrat, joined forces to initiate Nebraska’s own holiday, Arbor Day. In 1894 former Congressman Bryan became editor for Gilbert Hitchcock’s Omaha World-Herald. Bryan and Hitchcock had an irreparable falling out in 1915, when the Great War raged in Europe. Secretary of State Bryan resigned to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s steering the nation away from strict neutrality. U.S. Senator Hitchcock supported Wilson and in 1917 voted for war against Germany. One of the few senate votes against war was none other than Hitchcock’s fellow senator from Nebraska, George W. Norris–the first person inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.