Courthouse Celebrates a Century 10/26/12 10/26/12 12:01:00 AM
Printer Friendly Version
County Courthouse Celebrates a Century
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
It was brisk enough for a coat, but the sun was shining, the winds had died down, and there was just a glorious nip in the fall air. It was Saturday, October 20, 2012.
A crowd had gathered, as many others had in the hundred years before, on the Douglas County Courthouse lawn, this time to celebrate the centennial of the beautiful French Renaissance Revival-style six-story edifice.
It had stood the test of time, surviving for a century, through riots, protests, and countless people climbing the grand stairs to the granite and limestone building, where they all sought justice.
This Centennial Celebration day, Mayor Jim Suttle, Douglas County Commissioner Board Chairman Marc Kraft, and event co-chairs Commissioner Pam Tusa, and Acting Director of Public Properties Jerry Leahy welcomed the crowd and made introductions.
The VFW Riders of Post #2503 opened with a motorcycle brigade, and American Legion #1 members raised the flag and gave a rifle shot salute, then played taps as a tribute to the service men and women. The courthouse has played a significant role in the armed forces throughout its history: hundreds of World War I draftees gathered on the lawn and Armed Forces Day brought out crowds to see a display of aircraft and arms.
The Acappella Omaha Chorus of Sweet Adelines sang the National Anthem, after which descendents of Architect John Latenser Sr. were recognized. Also honored were two of Douglas County’s most senior citizens, Kay Winklebauer at 100, and Maude Fodrea Wangberg, who at 107 is the oldest living Douglas County resident on record. They were also presented with proclamations at the county board meeting on October 16.
The new Douglas County seal was unveiled, after a countywide contest that attracted more than two-dozen entries.
Miguel Chavez’s entry was chosen to replace the current seal. Runners-up were Kenneth Valentine in second place and Jacob Slobodnik in third.
Chavez said, “It’s an honor to be chosen to contribute to the history of the county.”
The seal will be finalized and incorporated into use in a few months, after the current supply of printed matter is depleted.
The large fifth-floor courtroom #6, currently used by District Court Judge Joseph Troia, was jammed with people eager to hear the stories of some of the Courthouse’s longtime public servants. Speakers were U.S. Federal District Court Judge Lyle E. Strom, who was in private practice before being appointed to the bench in 1985; retired City Prosecutor Marty Conboy; retired Chief Deputy Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dempsey; and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine. District Court Judges Michael Coffey and Greg Schatz also shared some memories. As Conboy said, “It’s a privilege to work in a building such as this.”
While the business at hand in the courthouse is usually serious, there were apparently a lot of funny things happening there as well, as the speakers revealed. They told of eccentric attorneys of old, daring prisoners housed on the top floor, two of the most notorious of which escaped by climbing down the outer wall on bedsheets, then escaped in an airplane, having learned to fly by reading aviation books in jail. Fortunately, they were apprehended when they headed the wrong way to Canada and ended up walking back toward Omaha.
The 45-minute segment could have gone on for hours, and probably did in the halls as small groups congregated to talk and peer at the many history displays that dotted the fifth and main floors. There were even black arrows on the walls pointing out where the bullets had struck during the 1919 riot.
Children who attended did not go away disappointed. Colors da Clown painted their faces, made them elaborate balloon animals, and they sneaked extra pieces of a beautifully decorated cake sporting a picture of the courthouse.
And they danced, to the music of the Rock Steady Band, whose drummer is Captain Steve Glandt of the Criminal Investigations Bureau of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.