We’re continuing to regain statewide conferences in Kearney. After a year-long absence because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Elks of Nebraska returned to Kearney to conduct its annual statewide conference Aug. 27-29 at Holiday Inn. About 150 Elks attended and many participated in golf at Meadowlark Golf Course before the business of the convention got underway.
In the past we Kearneyites might hardly notice when a statewide organization like the Elks comes to town, but after a year of empty hotel rooms caused by COVID, cancellations, every conference and the people that come to Kearney are conspicuous because so much of our local economy rides on tourism. It is among the five pillars of our diversified economy that include agriculture, education, health care and manufacturing.
Tourism in Kearney-Buffalo County ranks fourth in Nebraska behind Dodge, Lancaster and Sarpy counties. The heated competition for conferences, sporting events and other tourism opportunities only will grow in intensity in the years ahead as Nebraska cities try to cash in on casinos.
Kearney officially will try a different track, leaving gambling to other cities, and instead attempt to corner family friendly events with a mega sports complex.
While efforts to bring the sports facility to Kearney unfold, we’ll continue to watch as the bread and butter tourism opportunities rebound and return to Kearney, as the Nebraska Elks Association has done.
Last year was tough for service organizations because of the pandemic, but the Elks found ways to continue their good works. Elks chapters provided $33 million in aid to food pantries and soup lines. The organization also supported free clinics and assisted U.S. military veterans.
Elks even found a way to conduct their signature annual Hoop Shoot.
The Nebraska Elks are undertaking an interesting project. The Kids on the Block project delivers inclusive and supportive messages to children and young adults through puppetry. It’s a powerful medium to talk with youths in clubs, schools, summer programs and support groups. Elks manipulate the puppets and read from scripts that really zero in on problems youths may be encountering.
For example, on the topic of disabilities, the Elks puppeteers can address cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, hearing impairments, prosthetics, spina bifida and visual impairments.
The puppets also can help kids talk about bullying, substance abuse, medical concerns, aging and respect, safety and other topics. Any expenses for the Kids on the Block puppet shows are paid by the Nebraska Elks Association. To arrange a show, call Jane Berggren in Central City at 308-940-2260.