In 1990 Wausa, population 647, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its birth. The well-traveled Viking ship that has long-publicized the town's Swedish heritage in parades, is being superseded by a new craft of more "authentic proportions."
Sweden endures in the community, in churches where parishioners once worshiped in Swedish, and in most family names. These traditions are evident in the annual autumn smorgasbord. Increased interest was evidenced when over 30 people enrolled in a "Swedish conversation course" through an adult evening class.
The history of the town begins in 1882 when Swedish-born Theodore Thorson set out from Scandia Grove, MN, looking for a good location for stock raising. The luxuriant grass of southeastern Knox County caught his fancy. He returned the following spring with his bride, leased 200 acres for a sheep farm, and built a sod hut. Thorson was named land agent and a post office was established in his home. A dozen new families had arrived by 1885, and the Swedish Evangelical Thabor Lutheran Congregation was formed, first meeting in the Thorson home.
The Randolph & Northeastern Railway Company laid rails from Randolph through Wausa and on to Bloomfield in 1890. That branch line was soon acquired by the Chicago, St.Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad, but never extended further. Like many other towns in this automobile age, Wausa no longer has rail service.
The town was originally named "Thorson" for its founder, but in 1885 the people decided to change it to "Vasa" for the celebrated king-emperor of Sweden, Gustavus I Vasa. The spelling "Wausa" was later chosen to guard the Swedish pronunciation (a "w" sound for "v") and also to include the letters "USA."
The first Lutheran Church was built west of town in 1886, and later moved into Wausa. The Evangelical Covenant Church was founded in 1893 as the Swedish Christian Church of Wausa. A Methodist Church began as St.James, with meetings north of town in 1891. In 1894 they offered Sunday school to children who did not understand the Swedish language. West of Wausa, Germans founded Golgotha Lutheran Church in 1896.
Educating Wausa children began in 1886, with teachers riding horseback to teach boys and girls, who were seated on boards placed on nail kegs. Country schools continued in the rural area around the town until 1958, when they consolidated into Wausa School District 76R. The fully accredited school system received high marks in a recent evaluation for its diverse curriculum.
The agriculture benefits discovered by Thorson have continued to be the mainstay of Wausa through a century of abundance and shortage, drought and harsh weather, as well as economic ups and downs. Corn, soybeans, oats, and alfalfa hay are the main crops. Farmers also breed and feed hogs and cattle.
Wausa gave the State of Nebraska a governor. Born in western Nebraska, Norbert Tiemann was president and board chairman of Wausa's Commercial State Bank, and chaired the village board before being elected governor in 1967.
While preparing for a gala centennial celebration, the people of Wausa are also working for the continued well-being of their town after 1990. The local development committee explores all possibilities for local enterprises to grow and new businesses to locate in town. The advantages as a home for retirees are also promoted.
The Heartland Center for Leadership Development selected Wausa as one of five Nebraska communities whose positive response to rural economic problems could encourage others. Researchers identified the survival secrets as; community pride, quality in business and community life, willingness to invest in the future, support for education, deliberate transition of power to younger generations, and willingness to seek outside help while keeping a conviction that "in the long run you have to do it yourself."
With qualities like this, Wausa can look forward to its bicentennial celebration 100 years from now.
By Robert P. Reinhardt, Editor-Publisher, Wausa Gazette, Wausa, NE 68786
ADDITIONAL MATERAL: Wausa 1890-1965; and a Wausa Development Corp flyer.