When do we know that we 'belong?'

· 5 min read

When do we know that we ‘belong?’

N150: Looking back
Pres. Gerald Ford (front, right) and former NU president D.B. Woody Varner (right) greet guests during a luncheon in September 1977.
University Archives and Special Collections
Pres. Gerald Ford (front, right) and former NU president D.B. Woody Varner (right) greet guests during a luncheon in September 1977.

Remarks below were shared by D.B. “Woody” Varner, the first University of Nebraska president, when he was presented the Distinguished Nebraskalander Award by Gov. Kay Orr on March 10, 1990.

Varner’s daughter, Sue Varner Wilkins, reiterated the remarks when her parents were posthumously awarded the Harlan Noddle Award by the University of Nebraska Foundation on Oct. 4.

Then we belong

By Woody Varner

After I learned that I was to receive this honor tonight and realized that it represents the fact that Paula and I have been accepted as true Nebraskans, I reflected a bit on the process of “belonging.” How does it happen? At what point is the transformation complete? How do we know that we truly belong?


I suppose it is only fair to conclude that the process is continuous and that all of us — all the time — must share the honor and the responsibility of being Nebraskans. We come to realize that the state is us — each of us, all of us — and all we are all the time. It is the sum of many parts.

It is the rich soil of the Platte River Valley and the broad expanse of the Sandhills. The impounded water in Lake McConaughy and the thousands of picturesque center pivot systems that insure our crops against devastating drought. It is the bitter chill of winter winds and the sultry heat of the summer sun. It is the ecstasy of Cornhusker football victories and the precision of the marching band. The intense rivalry and partisanship of political campaigns and the ultimate discovery that we can, and do, work in harmony for the common good.

Out of it all comes Nebraska and the realization that it is people, the sum of who we are, what we do and what we stand for. And Paula and I are glad to be Nebraskans — bona fide, card carrying, and tax paying Nebraskans!

When do we know that we “belong”?

Perhaps the answer lies in the culmination and aggregation of many pieces of evidence:

  • When you have planted the seed and grown and nurtured plants in this fertile Nebraska soil as I have in my garden for 20 years — and watched and waited for rain — and despaired when it did not come; when you have battled the chilling wind and scorching sun and unpredictable frosts and vow in August not to go through this again, only to discover that February and March and April find you eagerly waiting for the moment to start planting again, then we belong.

  • When we take that occasional trip to New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles and then rejoice when we step off the plane in Nebraska; when we fill our lungs with unpolluted air and see friendly, smiling faces of people we know; and travel home without congestion or smog or blaring horns and breathe that deeply felt sigh of relief and sheer joy at being home again, then we belong.

  • When your spirits rise with each victory of our beloved Cornhuskers and this “high” carries for a minimum of 7 days; when your spirits fall into a deep depression (which lasts intensively for a full week) on the occasion of those rare defeats; when you wrap up the football season on Jan. 1 but then eagerly scan the sports pages for the ensuing six weeks to learn of those gifted scholar athletes who have declared themselves the “Cornhuskers of the future”; when we bleed profusely when some ill-informed and ill-mannered and ill-intentioned writer speaks patent untruths about our coach and our players, then we belong.

  • When we have re-defined true beauty by describing — however ineptly — the many shades of color surrounding those majestic Nebraska sunsets; by witnessing the raw and serene landscapes of the Piney Ridge country; by capturing the deep sense of tranquility which flows from the panoramic view across the patterns of green and gold etched by our fields of corn and wheat in late spring; when we come to have a true appreciation of the beauty which God and man jointly created on this earth of ours, then we belong.

  • When we gather at the graveside and shed a silent tear for departed friends — friends like Earl Campbell and George Cook and Burnham Yates and Bill Marshall and Peter Kiewit and Maurice Kremer — and remember that it is people like them who have built the Nebraska we know, then we belong.

Tonight you have honored Paula and me more than my inadequate words can describe.

You have made us officially one of you. In the process, you have implied that we have “given” to Nebraska. Let me assure you that you have given far more to us that we have given in return. You have made us feel warm and comfortable and welcome; you have given us genuine friendship; you have extended the hand and heart of genuine fellowship.

You have made us rich in so many ways that really count. You have made us one of you — and we are grateful.

We could hope for no greater honor.

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