Work Continues on National Willa Cather Center


For the last decade the Willa Cather Foundation has been working toward a national center dedicated to the author in her childhood home of Red Cloud. Now they say with a little more help, they can make it happen.

Each year around 10,000 people travel to Red Cloud to see where author Willa Cather grew up, a place used as a backdrop in half her novels.

"Willa Cather has always been one of the main drawing points for Red Cloud," says Red Cloud Mayor Gary Ratzlaff. "There are tours, and the tourism that it draws is all an economic benefit to Red Cloud."

Ratzlaff says the ag-based community of about 1,000 people need those fans of works like "My Antonia" and "O Pioneers," as well as the non-profit foundation that's used Red Cloud as a place to preserve Cather's legacy.

"Making the main street look better, redoing the Opera House, and this next project will even be better," says Ratzlaff.

The next project is a multi-million dollar National Willa Cather Center. Ashley Olson, the foundation's Associated Executive Director, says they've raised most of the money needed for the public museum and state-of-the-art archive and research center, but need help to keep going.

"We are looking to continue that momentum and raise another $144,000 in order to meet a challenge grant that the Peter Kiewit Foundation has offered," she says.

The foundation will renovate historic downtown property they own to fit their needs.

"The restoration project will expand northward from the Opera House in what's currently known as the Moon Block Building," says Olson.

Olson says they'll lease part of the building for retail, something to help with maintenance cost and boost Red Cloud's business district, but the goal of the center is to get the 5,000 artifacts that stay boxed up now protected and displayed.

"We will be able to bring all of those things out of storage and make sure that they are properly housed and displayed for both study by scholars and interaction with school students and other visitors," says Olson.

Everything from books, to photos, to family heirlooms are collected and preserved by the foundation, and along with the Nebraska State Historical Society, they manage area buildings, farms, and sites found in Cather's life and writing.

The foundation hopes the National Center will open up Cather's work, and Red Cloud to even more people.

"Ten years ago when we completed the Opera House restoration we did see an increase in visitors by about 2,500 a year, so with the national exposure this campaign is getting we hope to continue that trend," Olson says.

The renovation will also expand the bookstore and art gallery the foundation has in the Opera House.

The deadline for the challenge grant is June 30. Click HERE to learn more about the project and how to donate.