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Civic Centerís bronze 'Trails Home' turns 23
July 07, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen 'Trails Home', a bronze sculpture honoring the pioneers who headed west, was placed in the Gering Civic Center in 1994 to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail.

It all started with an idea - a 1,000-pound bronze statue. Local businessman John Massey, president of JG Elliott Insurance, approached Don Roth, who at the time served at president of Gering New Horizons, with his vision to have a bronze statue placed in the foyer of the Gering Civic Center, Roth immediately said "Sign me up".

Massey knew that for the project to work, he would need the help of Travis Hiner and the Oregon Trail Community Foundation.

That was 23 years ago. At the time, some called Massey a dreamer. He's OK with that, chuckling, "I've been called worse".†

His vision included a 9-foot bronze sculpture characterizing family life on the Oregon Trail 150 years ago, and he knew just the person to get the job done - artist Herb Mignery of Estes Park, Colorado.†

Massey and his wife Megan had a distinct appreciation for western art, and he was certain others would too. He enlisted the help of Don Roth because Roth himself could help guide fundraising efforts, and more importantly, he knew Roth "could make good things happen." Oregon Trail Community Foundation's help made it possible for all donations to be tax deductible.

It was an enormous project to undertake, so Massey and Roth, plus members of Gering New Horizon's organization, began telling their story throughout the twin cities - a plan of paying tribute to our historic Oregon Trail by erecting a bronze statue depicting life as the early pioneers knew it.

The deadline was set and the unveiling of the statue would take place during Oregon Trail Days Celebration-1994, the 150th Anniversary of the old Oregon Trail.

The group raised over $100,000 for the project, which couldn't have happened without New Horizons members' efforts, the City of Gering's support and business sponsors who donated over $5,000, and finally, the proceeds from the sale of 30 smaller replicas of the statue, priced at $2,500 each.

Upon completion of the project, Roth said "A long as there's a Gering, Nebraska, there's going to be a statue commemorating the Oregon Trail that we can show our children and our grandchildren."

Rita Stinner, who served on the New Horizon's board, was asked what she thought was the most meaningful part of the project. "The name Trails Home and the feelings depicted by the bronze transfix the observer," she said. "The parents are looking down the Oregon Trail toward hopeful new beginnings, and the young boy looks quietly back toward the home left behind. All of us have had these feelings, as did our own ancestors. Every person who visits our region can see the pride we have and what we cooperatively accomplished. Each of us must always take a moment to view the grandeur that is 'Trails Home'."

Dr. Thom Van Boskirk, who also had served on the Gering New Horizon's board, said "I have always been fascinated with history and to own property in Gering where the Oregon Trail actually went across, located in front of the Gering Civic Center, along with the Herb Mignery commemoration 'Trails Home' statue, is amazing."

He continued, "We live on the Oregon Trail, the original Interstate across Nebraska. It is appropriate that a statue in Gering's Civic Center by a gifted, well-known artist, commemorate that - migration west - that migration to the future. I'm extremely pleased and proud to have been a part in making that happen."

Van Boskirk knew Mignery from his art work he had done because Van Boskirk had lived in Hastings, and later owned property in Estes Park, Colorado, where Mignery had his art studio at the time he made the bronze statue. Van Boskirk said, "He's not only a sculptor; he's a painter who illustrates life from his upbringing in the Nebraska Sandhills ranch and cattle country. He was, and still is very well known for cowboy art, bucking broncos, repairing and driving broken down cars, pickups, and farm and ranch equipment."

When asked about why the Civic Center became the home of the statue, Stinner said, "The Civic Center was brand new at the time, and was designed to be an important destination, not only for our communities, but the entire state and region; Massey, Roth, the Board of Gering New Horizons, the City of Gering, and other community visionaries, along with corporate and individual sponsors, saw the potential for the Valley in investing in the future of tourism for us all. The bronze became the artistic finish to the Civic Center structure and stands as a proud statement of our unity and pride.

It's an amazing artistic work and a beacon, leading all travelers onward to the Legacy of the Plains Museum and the Scotts Bluff National Monument on the Oregon Trail."

"I believe this project and the collaboration between Scottsbluff and Gering was unprecedented," said Bob Unzicker, who was Mayor of Gering at the time when the Civic Center was built. "These kinds of things don't just happen. It took talent, vision, foresight, financial resources, and leadership to make this project materialize. I was proud of our communities for accomplishing this monumental task."

Travis Hiner, President of the Oregon Trail Community Foundation, recognized the significance of the art, and said the OTCF was eager to help to make this a reality. He said, "This is a prominent work of art, and we're fortunate to have the statue displayed in the Civic Center, which sits on the Oregon Trail itself, where so many people have access to it. The Oregon Trail Community Foundation was thrilled to help make it possible for donors to receive a tax-deductible donation by having them write their checks to the Oregon Trail Community Foundation. OTCF proudly owns the statue, and we make sure it is properly insured. "Looking back on the project, Massey said "It was a very satisfying two-year process that brought so many people together to accomplish something memorable and historic; I can't imagine not having the 'Trails Home' bronze as part of the Oregon Trail landscape. My hope is that future generations will look back, be proud, and appreciate the work involved long ago; nothing can parallel the significance of the project, and its relevance to our unique history- the Oregon Trail itself."

The Oregon Trail Community Foundation is a 501(c) 3 charitable organization for more information, call 308-635-3393, or go to otcf.org.
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