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Old Settlers to honor the late Charlie Fenster
July 07, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Jack Preston, left, visits with Charlie Fenster on his 96th birthday last summer at Legacy of the Plains Museum. Courtesy photo

Charles “Charlie” Fenster, was elected in 2015 to serve as the 2016 Old Settlers Honorary President during Oregon Trail Days. On Friday, July 8 he will be memorialized during the Old Settlers noon meeting at the Gering Civic Center.

Charlie, who made major contributions to agriculture in the area of dryland farming and conservation tillage, passed away on Feb. 10, 2016 at the age of 96.

Charlie spent many years with the University of Nebraska Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff before retiring in 1982.

Starting in the 1950s, Charlie spent his university career researching the problems of wind erosion and what could be done to reduce its effects on agricultural land. One of his early successes was in the Alliance area, where he worked on increasing yields in winter wheat by preserving topsoil. Until 1956, yields were about 11 bushels an acre. Between 1956 and 1982, it had increased to 33 bushels an acre. Today, yields are more than 40 bushels an acre.

Even after this retirement from academic life, Charlie was still an influence in the community. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Farm And Ranch Museum in 1988. Since then, the museum has merged with the North Platte Valley Museum to form Legacy of the Plains Museum.

Working with university resources, Charlie created one of the museum’s major exhibits, “Breaking the Ground: The Evolution of Farming in the Panhandle of Nebraska Through 2002.” He called it “the story of my professional life.”

Charlie remained active at Legacy of the Plains Museum, volunteering regularly until just prior to his death.

Among his numerous honors, Charlie is in the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement. He was also an honored by the Nebraska Agribusiness Club with its Public Service to Agriculture Award. In 2008, he received the Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Award.

Charlie was honored again in 2015 as the university dedicated the Charles R. Fenster Building at the High Plains Agricultural Lab near Sidney. He accepted the honor on the condition the university stay committed to researching the latest methods of dryland farming in western Nebraska.

Outside of his work with the university and Legacy of the Plains Museum, Charlie was the longest serving member of the Gering Park, Cemetery and Tree Board, starting in the mid-1970s and continuing until his death.

Don Gentry, who will serve as Old Settlers Honorary President this year during Oregon Trail Days, is the second-longest serving Park Board member, since 1980. He said Charlie made a difference in the community in numerous ways, including the establishment of the Northfield Park Arboretum.

The arboretum was established to plant different tree species to determine which ones grow best in the harsh western Nebraska environment. Each year around Arbor Day, students from neighboring Northfield Elementary plant trees in the park. Many times, Charlie was there to watch and share with the kids the importance of trees in our community.

Charlie said it best himself when friends at Legacy of the Plains Museum gathered to honor him on his 96th birthday in July 2015. “I’ve had a lot of good people to work with over the years,” he said at the time. “People have been so good to me. I’ve been real fortunate in my lifetime.”
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