Nestled among the Sandhills of Cherry County is the small village of Nenzel. Located on U.S.Highway 20, it is one of the most northern towns in western Nebraska, only five miles from the South Dakota border.
The first resident of the community was George Nenzel, who filed a homestead claim in the fall of 1885. He spent that winter in La Crosse, WI, but returned the following spring to build a house. This was the first building within the limits of the present village, named in his honor.
Nenzel was incorporated on June 23, 1899. The village appears unique in that eight of the town's current 21 residents are descendants of its founder George Nenzel.
In 1951 the census bureau revealed Nenzel to be the smallest incorporated community in Nebraska and while there are now some smaller, the citizens of Nenzel still proudly administer the duties required to maintain its status of incorporation.
Nenzel's form of government calls for a mayor, a clerk, and a treasurer. When the town owned its own light system and employed a meter reader, the board had to meet twice a month to bill customers. With the coming of Consumers Public Power District (now N.P.P.D.), a session is called only when there is business. A notable account in the town's history is the fact that soon after moving to town in 1928, Nicholas Kehr was elected mayor and still holds that office.
In the 1890s, Nenzel was a thriving community with a number of businesses. Many of these were owned and operated by early settlers of this small town, who derived most of their business from the railroad. The trains would stop in Nenzel to pick up freight and herds of cattle to be hauled to market or other sale barns. The trains not only loaded cattle, but they also unloaded shipments of cattle that settlers bought to improve the blood lines on their ranches.
Tiny as it is, Nenzel has seen many changes. It grew from the sparse gathering of early homesteaders of 1887 to a thriving little community of nearly 150 in 1925. At its peak it boasted a hotel, bank, livery stable, cafe, lumber yard, a store or two, and was the nucleus of business and social life for farms and ranches over a far-flung area.
A tornado swept through the town in 1962 and tried to blow it away, but people just cleaned up, repaired or replaced what had been destroyed, and kept on going.
At this time, Nenzel's biggest activity is the Catholic Church, now a mission of Valentine. The parish includes the towns of Kilgore and Cody. Every Sunday after Mass, rolls and coffee are served to the 53 families, some of whom drive over 25 miles, even during inclement weather. The Knights of Columbus serve a Mother's Day breakfast each year to the ladies of the parish. On Father's Day they roast a pig, and in December they sponsor a pancake supper as a money-making project. Proceeds are then used to buy treats for all the children in the area, when Santa comes to visit just before Christmas. The largest community function is St. Mary's annual bazaar. At that time, between 500-600 people are served a barbecue beef dinner.
On August 16, 1987, the church celebrated its centennial. Bishop McNamara celebrated the mass together with three former priests from the parish; one from Gordon, and one from St. Frances Mission, in South Dakota. The former rectory, which had been completely remodeled for use as a religious education facility, was formally dedicated. A centennial plaque was mounted on the wall in the vestibule of the church. The two oldest members of Nenzel, Erma Nollette and Nick Kehr, were also honored during the ceremonies.
Traditionally, hospitality and a strong sense of community have characterized the people of Nenzel. Participation in both liturgical and civic affairs of our little town, and the surrounding territory, continues with enthusiasm.
By Anna Marie Nollette, HC 74 Box 7, Nenzel, NE 69219.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: A Sandhill Century; The West Nebraska Register; and articles in the Omaha World Herald.