Looking forward, Looking Back
By Paul Hosford

January is named for the Roman god Janus, a god of thresholds and doorways who had two faces, enabling him to look both forwards and backwards at the same time. To the Romans and many other people, the threshold between years is a natural place to pause and reflect upon the past. Looking back is an important part of moving forward — it gives us a chance to make changes and hold on to what‘s important.

While I’ve always subscribed to the maxim ‘never look back — something might be gaining on you’ — there’s much of value to be found in the past. Remembering the lives and sacrifices, struggles and successes of those who came before is a time-proven way for each new generation to chart its course in life. The past, after all, tends to repeat itself — if not in its details, certainly in its essence.

We’re not, unfortunately, doing a very good job of sharing our past. In hopes of retaining youth in rural Nebraska by understanding them better, Chris Schroeder of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship has been conducting in-depth surveys of young people across our state. A common concern among the over 2,000 youth he’s surveyed so far has been a lack of connection to their local heritage.

While our high school students didn’t participate in this survey, our middle school students did. Fully 80 percent of them rated this as an above average to excellent place to live, and 65 percent pictured themselves living here in the future.

But like other students across the state, one of our young people’s major concerns was their lack of a sense of heritage, lack of a connection with their past. In this regard, our children feel like strangers in their own hometowns.

I’m not sure why this is. Maybe we don’t think it’s important. Maybe we just take it for granted that everybody knows about the past. Or, maybe we don’t know that much about it ourselves. Whatever the reason, linking our young people to their past is a vital element in fostering a stronger sense of place. And a strong sense of place will do much to encourage our young people to return someday.

But there are simple ways to address this problem. The Albion Library has a number of books about this area’s history, as well as old editions of the Albion News on microfilm. And the Boone County Historical Society has worked for decades to preserve artifacts from this area’s past.

Despite ever-increasing demands on my time, I joined the Historical Society a year ago and am pleased that a lot of good things are happening. Our Historical Society is one of only a handful of museums selected to participate in the statewide Hands-On Experiential Learning Project (HELP). This professional development program is doing a great deal to help us bring our local museum into the 21st century.

Boone County Historical Society is also working with the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk preparing an exhibit about the history of Boone County. This exhibit, which will go on display Jan. 17 and be featured for six weeks, will expose new people to the history of Boone County — people who may decide to visit our county as a result.

A consultant from the HELP project visited our museum and said it has the most potential of any she’s seen to showcase the unique history of an area. She feels the sky’s the limit on what the Historical Society can do to live up to its mission statement of “Helping Us Move Forward By Preserving Where We’ve Been.” There’s a lot to be done to make this happen, but with hard work and community support, our museum can not only attract new visitors to our county but do much to connect our young people with their past. And this can only strengthen their ties to this area, making it that much more likely they’ll build their lives here.

Our ancestors worked very hard, after all, to carve out a life here. Their strength and determination can and should serve as an example to us today. Our county museum isn’t just a repository for old things — it’s a vital resource for our future. By preserving where we’ve been, it offers future generations not only a living link to their historical legacy but a proven roadmap to living successfully on the Great Plains.