by Wayne Hall
From 'History of the UNL Nebraska Water Center, from 1964 to 2008', School of Natural Resources: Karen E. Stork and Steven W. Ress, p. 29.
Director from 1975-1978
It was the green that surprised me. History spoke of The Nebraska Territory as being part of the “Great American Desert;” my expectations did not include green, even on a sunny day in April.
This, my first view of Nebraska, came at the invitation of my friend and colleague, Bud Viessman. He invited me to attend one of the early meetings of what quickly became an important part of the national water management dialogue, the annual Nebraska Water Resources Conference. Under his direction the institute developed into what many recognized as perhaps the best such body in the U.S.
The University recognized this distinction in 1974 by including the Water Institute as one of six components of the Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, a unit created that year and led by a Vice-Chancellor, to insure that the University’s actions were more sharply focused on the state’s agricultural enterprises and natural resources.
All this is to say that by March 1975, when Bud resigned as NWRRI Director, the position was extremely attractive. Bud had long been a good friend, and he proved to be one again in this instance. We first met and worked together at the University of Maine. Over the years he encouraged me to become more involved with state, regional and national water resources policy, planning and management. Now, he threw my name into the hat as a nominee to succeed him as Director of the NWRRI. Eventually I was offered the job, and after a bit of family agonizing, said yes. In August 1975, my wife, two children, one dog and five cats arrived at our new home in Lincoln.
Bud had developed a first rate, well organized staff. They, Bud’s prior planning, and the knowledgeable, enthusiastic and kindly assistance of Interim Director William Splinter (Chair of the Department of Agricultural Engineering) made the transition into the new job an easy one. I just did what I was told.
Bill Splinter is a pilot, and included me on a couple of flights around the state and nearby states soon after my arrival. Having a native son show you Nebraska from a small aircraft quickly gives you a sense of its vastness, its several geographical regions, and its diverse economic enterprises, essential schooling for an easterner seeking to be of service.
My memories of my time at the University of Nebraska are all good ones; good, but blurred, as if the film were being run too fast. I remember;
- Changing the name of the NWRRI to the Nebraska Water Resources Center, so that everyone could stop referring to an Institute within the Institute.
- Learning about the taste and texture of real beef; steaks at Dresbach’s after driving two hours to dinner, prime rib at Misty’s after driving across town.
- Appointment to the Governor’s Task Force on Drought, as Nebraska endured a years’ long, lengthening dry spell. As we were gathering for the first meeting of this imposing group, there was a sudden cloudburst, a real frog floater and trash mover; the drought was over – for a while, at least. Seldom are task forces so successful.
- Trying to establish an interdisciplinary Master’s Degree program in Water Resources Management. I think it produced one graduate.
- Learning to make an omelet while attending a meeting of the Nebraska Egg Producers Association.
- Visiting towns around Nebraska where people were trying hard to hang on to their cultural heritage -- Swedish, Danish, Czech, German, Ukrainian, Cowboy.
- Floating down the Niobrara in a canoe my son and I had helped make. Attending a barn dance at the end of the float trip and learning the “two-step.”
- Being surrounded by people, academicians, farmers, ranchers, politicians, public servants, others of many stripes, who had the patience to share with me their hard-won knowledge as I tried to learn my trade.
- Someone suggesting that the NWRC produce a booklet, titled, “The Summer it Rained ” by a Roger Welch; how I was filled with joy years later when I saw Roger’s regular column right there by that of Stephan J. Gould, in the Magazine of the American Museum of Natural History.
- A fall Saturday in Lincoln, the air chill, the light softening, the leaves coloring and starting to fall, and Big Red fans starting to lose their good western calm – actually, their sanity; up for breakfast with fans, pep band, coaches, cheerleaders, on to lunch with a similar crowd, to the stadium and its sea of red. I learned why some people are called fans; as in fanatics, as in loss of reason. A religious experience?
A confession. I loved my whole experience in Nebraska, the culture, the job, the people, and the geography. I have two children with diplomas from East High, one with a degree from the University of Nebraska. I was given a lot of my education in Nebraska; since leaving I have served governments, businesses and other universities in ways that would not have been possible without my experiences in Nebraska.