You know Neihardt, Norris, the Abbott sisters and the Astaires. Same goes for Edgerton, Eiseley and Eppley.
And surely most Nebraskans puff up a little at the mention of Buffett, Brando and Bryan.
But how about Baldrige, Blumkin and Boggs? Or Sutton, Swank and Swenson? Know them?
Famous Nebraskans are a staple of conversation in the Cornhusker State, a way to measure ourselves against the outside world and affirm our notion that, yes, geniuses, creators, leaders, aces, experts, world beaters and world changers indeed come from the neighborhood.
Now you can find about 1,000 of them in one place thanks to former Grand Island teacher and historian E.A. Kral. His detailed compilation, “Nationally Distinguished Nebraskans, A Bio-Bibliography of More Than 900 Individuals From 1854 to 2012,” arrived on my desk Thursday.
Kral did the research and wrote the biographies, which include references and suggested further readings for each entry. The book was published by the Nebraska State Education Association.
I can vouch for the work.
Kral was my high school English teacher, a stickler for details and exactitude. Reading through his book, I saw clean and concise copy, thorough research and particular and compelling anecdotes.
Kral’s criteria for “Nebraskan” was anyone born in the state or who lived here for any stretch after 1854, the year the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed.
He used six measuring sticks for “distinguished,” the first being: “A pioneer in a field, a founder, inventor, developer, creator, opinion maker, significant leader, record holder, performer or major philanthropist.”
After that he looked for listings in national publications worth their salt, longevity, the importance of the work, peer recognition and awards or honors. (I didn’t make the cut, an oversight I’m sure.)
The 976 who did make it fell into 22 categories, among them agriculture, business, sports, performing arts, science, literature and social science. Kral also included 61 Olympic medalists and 40 “Short-Term Residents of Distinction.”
The short-timers yielded Clark Gable, stationed at an air base in Kearney in the spring of 1943; Cy Young, for whom Major League Baseball’s most coveted pitching award is named and record-holder for most wins, who played in Red Cloud and Guide Rock before the turn of the century; and Charles Lindbergh, who learned to fly in Lincoln in 1922.
If you’re looking for building namesakes, “Nationally Distinguished Nebraskans” has Beadle, Bessey, Sandoz, Scott, Doorly and more. It’s also heavy on some local household names including Fonda, Ford, Carson, Cather and Osborne.
Kral rocks the modern universe, too, with entries for Kooser, Kerrey, Hagel, Hartung and Helgenberger.
Sports heroes abound (93), from Ashburn to Alexander to Skinner to Sayers to Woodhead.
This is a book about doers, like Charles Taylor, who lived in Kearney and Lincoln and who built the engine for the Wright Brothers’ first plane at Kitty Hawk. Or musician Neal Hefti, who composed the iconic theme for the “Batman” television series. He was born in Hastings and lived in Omaha.
Oh, before I forget: Letitia Baldrige was a White House social secretary and expert on manners; Rose Blumkin oversaw the Nebraska Furniture Mart empire; Wade Boggs is a baseball Hall of Famer; Eddie Sutton holds an NCAA record as a college basketball coach; Hilary Swank won an Academy Award; and Inga Swenson has been nominated for both Tony and Emmy awards.
So, if you know a Nebraskan who would love to read about fellow and distinguished Nebraskans, this expansive and thorough reference might make a nice Christmas gift.
Which reminds me: “You’re a Mean One, Mr, Grinch,” the popular Christmas song?
That’s the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft — born and raised in Norfolk.