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GENOA — More often than not, volunteers give their time and services to an organization without expecting formal recognition in return.

Their dedication is a way to improve the community.

That's why Eugene Cromwell got involved with restoring the Genoa U.S. Indian School Museum two decades ago.

It all started with the windows.

“I replaced each window one pane at a time,” Cromwell said. “I took the whole window out and reglazed it, then put a new pane in. I didn’t repaint anything, someone else did that.”

As a lifelong farmer and cattle producer, Cromwell could only fix the windows during certain times of the year.

“When it was time to bring in the harvest, I had to stop working here,” Cromwell said. “But I was back once everything was settled on the farm.”

Once the windows were complete, he was eager to continue his work.

“I told them I could help with anything,” Cromwell said. “I wanted to help the museum as much as I could. I’ve lived in Genoa all my life and was here when they started the museum.”

The Indian school opened in 1884 as one of the nation's non-reservation boarding schools by the Office of Indian Affairs. Native American children brought to the school were taught skills to assimilate them into American culture. They were taught English, math and trades. Food, clothing and goods were grown and made on site by the students. The school was closed in 1934.

The museum is located in the old manual training building that was purchased by the Genoa U.S. Indian School Foundation. History of the school, as well as artifacts, are displayed in the museum.

Cromwell also donated a few pieces to the collection, including postcards featuring the Indian School when it was built in the late 1870s and other early times and other photographs of local interest.

Many of his weekends through the years were spent as a tour guide at the museum for visitors wanting to learn more about the former school and community.

“I didn’t know very much about the Indians,” Cromwell said. “But others who volunteered with me were knowledgeable enough to answer people’s questions.”

Cromwell was recognized for his contributions with the Addison E. Sheldon Memorial Award from the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2017.

He humbly accepted the honor.

“I’m a very simple man,” Cromwell said. “I got the letter in the mail from the historical society saying I’d won an award. I don’t understand how just volunteering can warrant such a thing.”

The Addison E. Sheldon Memorial Award, created in 1973, is given to individuals who exhibit outstanding contributions to the preservation and interpretation of Nebraska history. It includes a plaque and one-year membership to the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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