Nebraska, admitted to the Union as the 37th state in 1867. "Nebraska" is the Otoe Indian name for the Platte River, and means "flat water." It was first used by the French explorer Bourgmont in 1714. It was applied to the Platte watershed by John C. Freemont in 1841, and later to the state. It is near the center of the Great Plains region of North America, the eastern border formed by the Missouri River. Its dominant surface characteristic is its undulating prairie. The mean altitude is approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. The population of the state was 1,371,000 in 1952, 1,711,263 in 2000; its area is 77,227 sq. miles. It is predominantly a rural state; in the mid-1950s it had only 36 towns with more than 2,500. The chief natural resource is the rich soil of the loess region, a triangular area of approximately 42,000 square miles extending over the southeastern half of the state. The climate is characterized by rather light rainfall, low humidity, severe winters, hot summers, frequent changes in the weather, and considerable variation in rainfall and temperature from year to year. The average annual rainfall varies from 34 inches in the southeast to 16 inches in the west. Omaha (pop. 251,117 in 1986, 390,007 in 2000) is Nebraska's principal trading center, with livestock market receipts from more than twenty states. Other important trading centers are Lincoln (state capital, pop. 100,000 in 1986, 266,787 in 2000), Grand Island, Hastings, Scottsbluff, North Platte, Norfolk, Fremont, and Beatrice.
The first Mennonites to settle in Nebraska were a group of three Amish Mennonite families (MC) who came from the East and settled west of Milford in April 1873. In August 1874, 28 immigrant families from Russia under the leadership of Peter Jansen arrived in Beatrice and in September, under the leadership of Elder Jacob Buller, another group of Russians arrived in Lincoln. From this group 37 families (206 persons) settled in York and Hamilton counties near Henderson. From these three early settlements the largest Mennonite settlements of the state, Milford, Beatrice, and Henderson, have developed. With the exception of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ and Grace Bible Institute, the other Mennonite congregations in the 1950s over the state were part of the expansion programs of these three original settlements.
The United Missionary Church congregations in Nebraska resulted from an evangelistic movement occurring around the turn of the century. Seven congregations were established, all of which are small or have become extinct. The Grace Bible Institute of Omaha was organized in 1943 and serves as an inter-Mennonite school.
The Mennonite congregations in Nebraska (in 1954 numbering 25 with 3,832 members) with their conference affiliation, location, and membership numbers in 1954 were as follows: Evangelical Mennonite Brethren—Ebenezer at Henderson (96), EMB Church at Jansen (70), total 166; General Conference Mennonite Church Northern District Conference—Bethesda at Henderson (1,014), First at Madrid (44), Salem at Wisner (14); General Conference Central District Conference—Pleasant View at Aurora (180); General Conference Western District Conference—Beatrice at Beatrice (180), First (originally called Wehrlose Mennoniten-Gemeinde) at Beatrice (333), Kilpatrick at Beatrice (extinct); total General Conference Mennonite Church, 1,765; Mennonite Church—Plum Creek at Beemer (137), West Fairview at Beaver Crossing (156), East Fairview at Milford (444), Chappell (63), Wood River (102), Salem at Shickley (257), Roseland (17), Broken View at Broken Bow (42), Milford (196), total Mennonite Church, 1,414; Mennonite Brethren—Culbertson (14), Henderson (274), Paxton (74), total Mennonite Brethren, 362; United Missionary Church—Bloomington (extinct), Cambridge (extinct), Franklin (15), Lewellen (30), Milford (30), Weeping Water (50), total UMC, 125.
Other Mennonite institutions in the state were (1) Abbott Mennonite Mission (MC), established at Abbott in 1951, sponsored by Wood River Mennonite (MC) Church; (2) Grace Bible Institute, Omaha; (3) Grace Children's Home, Henderson, sponsored by the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church; (4) Mennonite Hospital at Beatrice, sponsored by the General Conference Mennonite churches of Beatrice; and (5) Sunset Home for the Aged at Geneva, established in 1951, sponsored by the Mennonite Church congregations of eastern Nebraska. -- D. Paul Miller
There have been several changes in the Mennonite Churches in Nebraska since 1950. Churches that had closed their doors for various reasons by 1987 were Salem, at Wisner (1957), and Roseland, at Roseland (1959). The Mennonite Church at Chapell merged with the Julesburg, Colorado, Mennonite Church in 1974. An Old Order Amish settlement established in 1978 at Pawnee City was dissolved in 1982 because of a conflict with authorities over certified teachers for the settlement's school. The Sunset Home for the Aged at Geneva closed its doors in 1981 after 30 years of service.
Mennonite Church (MC) congregations established in Nebraska (membership in parentheses) from the mid-1950s to mid-1980s were First Mennonite at Lincoln (56), which is also affiliated with the General Conference Mennonite Church; Beth-El, at Milford (118); Bellwood, at Milford (215); and Omaha Mennonite Fellowship (13). Mennonite Church (MC) membership in the state was 1,300 in 12 congregations (1985), including one congregation affiliated with the Afro-American Mennonite Association. Four General Conference Mennonite Church congregations (in addition to the dually affiliated Lincoln congregation) had 1,600 members. Faith Mennonite Church at Geneva was established in 1963 (60 members). Four Mennonite Brethren congregations have been established since 1950. One disassociated itself from the conference in 1977, another closed in 1977, leaving a total of four congregations active in 1987. Five Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches) congregations (583 members in 1984) and one unaffiliated Mennonite congregation, completed the roster of the state's 26 Mennonite congregations (ca. 3,700 members).
The Nebraska Mennonite Central Committee relief sale has become a major event in the life of the Mennonite churches in Nebraska. Established in 1980, it is held annually on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April as a joint venture of all the churches in Nebraska. -- Ivan E. Troyer
Andreas, W. C. "Highlights and Sidelights of the Mennonites in Beatrice." Mennonite Life 1 (July 1946): 21.
Friesen, J. J. "Remaking a Community, Henderson, Nebraska." Mennonite Life 5 (October 1950): 10.
Friesen, Jacob T. "A Rural Church—Beatrice, Nebraska." Mennonite Life 8 (April 1953): 80.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 201 f.
Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House (1988-89): 29.
Miller, D. Paul. "The Story of Jansen, Nebraska." Mennonite Life 9 (October 1954): 173.
Miller, D. Paul. "The Story of the Jansen Churches." Mennonite Life 10 (January 1955): 38.
Reimer, Gustav E. and G. R. Gaeddert. Exiled by the Czar. Cornelius Jansen and the Great Mennonite Migration, 1874. Newton, KS, 1956.
Schmidt, Theodore. The Mennonites of Nebraska. Lincoln, NE, 1933.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 815-817; vol. 5, p. 621. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Miller, D. Paul and Ivan E. Troyer. "Nebraska (USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N425.html.
APA style: Miller, D. Paul and Ivan E. Troyer. (1990). Nebraska (USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N425.html.