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Officials: Chicken plant getting 'positive reception' in area

Two Colfax County farm operators have applied so far to raise chickens for an estimated $280 million processing plant set to open in April 2019 on a 414-acre industrial tract on the south side Fremont.

That’s what Colfax County commissioners learned last week from Lincoln Premium Poultry, a company that is working with Costco to develop the complex that will include a processing plant, hatchery and feed mill.

Community relations spokeswoman Jessica Kolterman and project manager Walt Shafer met with county board members to fill them in on the project’s timeline and the approximately $1.2 billion annual economic impact it will have on eastern Nebraska.

“We’ve been meeting with county boards and have been getting an overwhelmingly positive reception,” Kolterman said following the presentation to the Colfax County commissioners, who appeared to like what they heard while asking questions about a boost in the local ag economy and steps being taken to avoid negative environmental impacts.

“We understand we’re a new industry and people have questions,” Kolterman said. “People hear negative things, but we want to be good partners.”

The Fremont complex is expected to employ about 800 to 900 people, with wages averaging $13 to $15 an hour and full benefits.

Lincoln Premium’s plans call for contracting with about 125 chicken growers within a 60-mile radius of the Fremont complex.

Platte and Stanton counties may also have ag operators who want to apply to become growers, Kolterman said.

Shafer, a chicken grower in Virginia before joining the Costco project 18 months ago, said producers selected to raise the bulk of Costco’s chickens will learn a protocol on how to manage the poultry houses.

There will be around 500 barns throughout the region to grow the poultry needed to support the Fremont facilities, Shafer said. Each site will average four barns, each with about 42,000 birds, with a few sites having eight barns.

Developers want to have the bulk of the chicken barns built by this time in 2018 so growers have time to move into them by the spring of 2019, Shafer said.

The Fremont plant will process approximately 2 million birds a week at full production. It will take Lincoln Premium approximately a year to reach that point.

The feed mill will produce approximately 15,000 tons of finished feed per week, utilizing roughly 350,000 bushels of corn and 3,000 tons of soybean meal per week.

“We’re buying all of our grain locally,” Kolterman said.

Clarkson museum preserves community history

CLARKSON — When motorists drive over a sizable hill north of Highway 91 into Clarkson, a number of familiar Midwest sights greet them.

The community swimming pool tempts passersby looking to cool off in the summer heat. Townspeople make their way down sidewalks while going about their business. And friendly neighborhoods roll toward downtown to the town square.

That's where the Clarkson Historical Museum stands to remind Colfax County residents of their roots. The museum will celebrate its 50th anniversary in August.

Museum President Ruth Waters said most of the items displayed inside the 118-year-old building came from area residents' homes.

“Every now and then someone will ask me if I can take one of their grandfather’s shirts or a traditional Czech dress to put in the museum,” Waters said. “We try hard to make sure each clothing item has the original picture of the owner wearing it so that our visitors can see just what the article looked like in real time.”

The building was built in 1899 by Czech immigrants Adolph and Josefa Bukacek and used as a furniture business and mortuary. Original features from the mortuary are still present today, such as an embalming sink and special ceiling fan to accommodate the practice.

In 1928, the Bukaceks sold the building to their daughter and son-in-law, Anna and Charles Novotny. By 1960, the furniture business was discontinued, the mortuary was sold and the building was repurposed as a museum.

The property was willed to a nonprofit organization seven years later. Since 1967, the Clarkson Historical Museum has thrived on monetary contributions, local volunteers and the community coming together to donate historical and cultural items for exhibits.

Waters said the museum's exhibits are visual, rather than requiring visitors to "read everything about anything." Each room is dedicated to a specific era or subject. One room solely showcases 1950s kitchens and appliances and cleaning tools used at that time.

In addition to a full room of wedding dresses dating back to 1872, the museum has a farm room to share with the public a 400-piece toy tractor display donated by the daughter of a local farmer who passed away.

When the building was still owned by the Bukaceks, four upstairs apartments were rented out to doctors, dentists and other individuals. The apartments were renovated to provide more exhibit space.

Museum Vice President Nancy Doernemann and Waters used the original freight elevator to move more artifacts upstairs.

“When Charles Novotny first bought this building, he used it mainly for fixing musical instruments,” Waters said. “He had a knack for it. He also liked electronics and electrical works like light bulbs and really any kind of lighting fixtures.”

The upstairs west wing is dedicated to music and technological advancements through the 50 years of the museum’s existence.

There are two notable Clarkson residents honored at the museum.

Frank J. Richtig was a blacksmith and cutler who made a name for himself by designing a special knife. Richtig experimented with aluminum alloys and eventually produced a knife that could cut through steel. He gave demonstrations when one of his knives was used to slice through a steel bar. A few of these steel bars are displayed in the museum.

Richtig gained so much attention for his knives that he was featured in "Ripley’s Believe It or Not!" in 1936.

Another local resident featured in the museum is Frank Powolny, who was born in Austria and immigrated to Clarkson when he was 13 years old. He went on to become a Hollywood photographer and photographed Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death.

His most famous photograph, however, is displayed in the decorated military room of the museum. This picture is of Betty Grable wearing a bathing suit and glancing coyly over her shoulder toward the camera. The photograph became famous during World War II.

On select Sundays, the Clarkson Historical Museum holds open houses for the public. It is also open during Czech Days, when the museum gets its most visitors.

The museum will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Aug. 13 and Waters hopes to see a lot of guests that day.

“We will be offering refreshments, tours and just time to sit and reminisce,” she said.

Area 4-H'ers find calling through program

This year’s Colfax County Fair will be bittersweet for Hailey Coufal, Emily Ritzdorf and Elisia Vogel during their last hurrah as 4-H'ers.

The girls belong to different 4-H clubs, but they’ve known each other most of their young lives. All three recently graduated from Howells-Dodge, where they were classmates since kindergarten.

And for all three, 4-H helped them develop hobbies and skills and choose their future careers.

Ritzdorf credits 4-H and the county fair with her growth as an artist and photographer.

“I think each year I learn something different to improve the following years,” she said.

In addition to improving her art, Ritzdorf said she’s learned skills such as responsibility, time management and commitment, which will come in handy as she studies to become an architectural engineer at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“It’s a little nerve-racking trying to get ready for college, but it’ll be all right. Something new and a different adventure,” she said. “I’m going to miss all the (4-H) projects because it gives me something to do in the summer.”

Coufal started showing sheep during a peewee competition and continued until this year, when another commitment forced her to stop.

She was elected in April as one of seven state FFA officers, a position that requires her to travel across the state while participating in program events. Coufal most recently completed leadership officer training in Aurora.

With all those responsibilities, Coufal decided she couldn’t care for her sheep. The family sold the animals and she won’t be showing sheep at the county fair for the first time.

“Not showing this year was one of the biggest decisions I made this summer,” Coufal said. “I’m definitely going to miss the showing aspect. You definitely bond with that animal.”

Coufal is also preparing an application to go to South Africa through FFA and getting ready to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study agricultural business.

But, she still found time to complete a few projects for the fair.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for so many years.”

Vogel showed livestock, mainly chickens, and has also been heavily involved in the domestic arts in 4-H, such as cake decorating, quilting, baking and home design.

“(I’ve learned) how to look at one color and know what color will go great with that color, what patterns go great with designs and look at life differently,” she said.

One of those decorative arts inspired her career path as a florist. Vogel credits her involvement with 4-H for getting her into FFA, where she learned that her flower-arranging hobby could actually become a career.

She plans to study horticulture at Northeast Community College and eventually become a florist.

“It never hit me I could go into it until I was in FFA,” Vogel said. “If I’d never been in 4-H, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.”

Kracl sums up grand jury plans

Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl, who also serves as county coroner, has ordered a complete autopsy and toxicology report on the suspect in a June 27 homicide who authorities said died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as officers closed in on the Schuyler residence he was inside.

Kracl told the county board of commissioners last week that when the autopsy results and toxicology analysis are complete, typically within one to three months, she has 30 days to give the district court written notice of her intention to impanel a grand jury.

State law requires a grand jury be called when someone dies while in custody or while being arrested.

“(The suspect) was in the process of being apprehended, but no officers were in physical contact or were inside the house when he died,” Kracl told the three-member board of commissioners.

According to information released by Kracl’s office, law enforcement officers, including a Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team, were serving an arrest warrant at the apartment unit in the 700 block of E Street shortly before 6 p.m. June 30 when they heard a pair of gunshots from inside the residence.

A State Patrol robot was sent inside the residence, confirming the suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Kracl’s release. The incident is being investigated by a separate Nebraska State Patrol troop than the one involved in serving the arrest warrant.

The homicide suspect, identified as 55-year-old Fidelgarin Valdez, lived and worked in Schuyler.

Janner Ramon Torres Diaz, 33, suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the June 27 shooting at the Schuyler Inn and was pronounced dead at CHI Health Schuyler.

A grand jury’s job, Kracl said, is to determine whether any law enforcement officers violated any law during the attempted arrest. The jury is made up of 16 grand jurors and three alternates.

A grand jury in Valdez’s death will be the fourth Kracl has convened as a county attorney, with two others in Colfax County and one in York County.

Kracl said the grand jury deliberation process has since been opened up to more public scrutiny with changes in state law.

It used to be that if no indictment was returned finding wrongdoing with the actions by law enforcement, the deliberations were sealed and the public had no access, Kracl said.

Now, a transcript of grand jury proceedings, evidence exhibits and final findings are available for public review, she told the board.