Christoffersens leaving community they have given so much to
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After 58 years of service to the community they love, Ken and Mary Christoffersen are saying goodbye to Gordon. “We are moving to an apartment complex in Golden Colorado called Clear Creek Commons,” they said. “We have a wonderful view of the river and a beautiful park with lots of walking paths, etc...”
Ken graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Pharmacy in 1952, one month after turning 21. He then followed his fiancée, Mary Helen Young, to her home town of Cody, Wyoming, where she was a fifth grade teacher. During this time Ken worked at Cody Drug. They were married that December.
The young ex-GI owner of Cody Drug, Dick Wilder, believed strongly in a pharmacist being involved in the community and insisted that Ken attend the weekly Chamber of Commerce luncheon meetings. This would carry over to his future in Gordon.
In 1954, while visiting his parents for Thanksgiving near Hay Springs, he heard about a drug store in Gordon that had just been purchased by two veterinarians, Drs. Waterman and Johnson. He made contact and was made an equal partner/pharmacist/manager two days later. In the week after Christmas Ken and Mary Helen moved to Gordon. Ken purchased the partner’s shares in 1962 when he also purchased the Ferd Shald building.
He became involved with the Gordon Chamber of Commerce at once, and attended their weekly luncheon meetings held at the Sheridan Hotel Dining Room. The Chamber was very active with twenty to thirty attending the meetings. Even Dr. Wanek allowed time to serve as president.
Ken became a member of a fairly newly formed Gordon Jaycee Club. It was involved in many community activities, one of which was the construction of the concrete foot bridge over Antelope Creek in Winship Park. He was on Carl Jensen’s Conoco Bowling Team with Carl, John Preskorn, Harry Eisenhower, and other businessmen. The bowling alley was on East 2nd street and used school kids as pin setters before moving into its present location.
Ken told the Chamber about a very successful PR activity that was held each year in Cody. To say thank you to the rural customers, they feted an annual “Town and County Day,” where the Chamber members served a meal followed by entertainment. The members thought it a good idea, and for several years it was a tradition in Gordon. Yellow western hats with a Gordon C of C logo were worn by all the members as they served the guests. Another annual event that Ken was active in was an annual arts and crafts fair, where local artists and crafters displayed their work for a weekend. “We are blessed with many local artists and others from a wide area who would also bring some of their work,” Ken said. “We tried to have at least one demonstration attraction. A glass blower creating tiny figures was one of the best that I recall.”
In years to come Ken was a member of the Lion’s Club and Toastmasters. He also was an assistant in two Dale Carnegie courses. He and his wife were members of the Grace Lutheran Church and later joined the Methodist Church. He was fund raising chairman for the Fellowship Hall and taught High School and Adult Sunday School classes.
A few local people saw the need for a nursing home in Gordon. A self-appointed committee was formed with Fred Chamberlin as chairman, Raleigh Barker, Secretary and no treasurer, as they had no money. Other members were Glen Messenger, Roy Ross, Ernest Purdy and Ken.
Ken had visited with his pastor, Elwin Bergstrauser, regarding ideas and Elwin suggested a growing new non-profit organization called The Lutheran Good Samaritan Society. The wiry 70 something founder, Reverend August Hoeger from South Dakota, met with the committee in person one night in the showroom of Chamberlin Furniture. His office was a weatherbeaten brief case. The committee added Rev. Bergstrauser to their membership. Blue prints were obtained from a recently built facility in Scotland, SD and signed by Bill Stewart of Rushville who held an engineering license allowing him to do so. Five thousand dollar bonds for the $120,000 cost were sold locally in less than two weeks and the home was built. Many additions have been added since, but the original unit was capable of 42 residents. Ken served on the Good Samaritan board for about 17 years after its completion.
One of the first elected Boards Ken ran for was the K-12 Gordon School Board in 1963. While serving two terms, and as president of the Board, the Class 6 high school district was formed that would extend from Merriman to Clinton east and west and the South Dakota border south into the Sandhills north and south. This was less expensive than the Free High School taxation for most rural districts. Also during his tenure the new shop, cafeteria and gymnasium were added to the Junior High/High School building. He had the privilege of handing out the first graduation diplomas awarded in the new gym.
From his early days in Gordon, Ken was active in the Nebraska Pharmacy Association. In the late 60’s and early 70’s he ran for the Board of Director’s seat representing the Nebraska Panhandle twice, winning both for 3 year terms each. He was very serious about attending the five or so meetings each year. He was given a lifetime membership in the NPA in 2005 when he received his “gold” 50 year license. His two years licensed in Wyoming didn’t count.
In 1966 Ken served as chairman for the Gordon Community Betterment competition which was a new state-wide program. It involved preparing scrap books highlighting the accomplishments by community businesses and individuals. We won third in our class. This activity was continued for several years with many individuals putting in many hours on the annual competition.
The Gordon Industrial Development Corporation had ceased to exist through the years. Ken and Frank Tolstead took it upon themselves to reorganize it. New Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws were drawn up as a pro bono contribution by Dennis King. The corporation is still active today.
Ken was elected to the Hospital board and served as chairman during part of his two terms. Ken started Sandhills Nursery in 1980 and sold the drug store business to Jack Harris in the mid 80’s. He continued to do relief pharmacy at the drug store and then became a relief pharmacist at the hospital pharmacy until 2002. He sold the nursery to Bill Roberts of Bills Tree Service in Chadron in 2000.
In the early 1990s a few individuals realized the importance of the expanding potential of computers and distance learning centers. The internet and all that was on the horizon or being routinely used elsewhere. Ken and Mary Helen had attended a 3 hour night class on computers at CSC a few years before and Ken was using the technology in the drug store and at home.
The original group had Ken as chairman, Terry Hupp as treasurer and Barb Shald as secretary. Again Dennis King did the legal work pro bono. It was suggested to form a non-profit entity. It would be composed of the cities of Gordon and Rushville and the Gordon Hospital District.
The earliest Gordon/Rushville Information Technology Committee (G/R ITC) members included the officers plus Gladys Petersen, Mary Helen C., and Sharon Witt of Gordon and Bob Buchan and Bill Engel of Rushville. Twenty to thirty others were involved through the years. The initial goals were to offer computer classes and to try to find a way to have live audio/video capability in the hospital classroom.
Ken contacted the Nebraska Department of Economic Development director, Chris Hoy, to see if the state could be of assistance. It happened that Information Technology was one of the pet projects that Chris was working on. The G/R ITC began raising funds, using as seed money from the $1,000 each of the three partners had contributed. Donations were received from the Odd Fellows, the Ukena and Gottschalk funds, a state program and the largest donation, just under $20,000 from US West Communications.
Chris How learned that the 49 state senators were getting new computer systems and suggested that the community get some. He worked out a deal to get 35 computers at $100 each. Ken contacted Jim Skinner to see if Ross Transfer would bring them from Lincoln to Gordon and Rushville at no charge. This Ross generously agreed to. Twelve were placed in a classroom at the Gordon Hospital, and eight in the basement of the Rushville Library for a classroom there. The rest were held as replacements and loaners.
In 1995 the G/R ITC received state-wide recognition for its IT efforts and was included in a SBA video distributed nationally. Two years later Ken was asked to be one of the presenters at the Governor’s Information Technology Conference held in Kearney.
The ITC committee set up a “Bulletin Board” server in Bill Engel’s basement. Bill would be in charge of its electronic needs. This provided anyone with a Gordon or Rushville phone number to have a mini-internet experience. Anyone could post questions and comments in a blog format plus being able to download various materials. Will Stockwell was the blog moderator. Will was very sharp regarding computers and was in the 8th grade!
In 2000 Ken was elected to a four year term to the University of Nebraska Medical Center Board of Counselors. The board is composed of about 40 members from many different professions and areas in the state. They act as a public and political relations arm of the med center. Three meetings are held each year, two at the UNMC in Omaha and one at the Dental College in Lincoln. Ken was elected for a second term and in the 8 years that he was a member he and Mary Helen missed only one meeting. Dr. Joel Hutchins is currently a member of the Board.
Ken has served several years on the Gordon Blood Drive committee computerizing the donor schedules for each drive. This spring he was appointed to the Gordon Housing Authority Board.
Mary has also been quite busy since moving to Gordon in 1954.
“When Kenny and I came to Gordon in the mid-fifties, our first impressions of the community were of a welcoming people, friendly businesses and a certain “live wire” spirit. It was a good place to make a home and raise a family. We soon learned that “Gordon community” reached far beyond the city limits to include a large surrounding area.”
“Community” seemed to extend for miles in all directions. This brought a richness and cultural resource to the locale.”
After their three children grew to the “joining” age, Mary became involved as a Cub Scout den mother, 4-H leader, Campfire Girls leader and Sunday School teacher. She also became involved in the school related organization, P.T.A. In 1965 she was awarded a Life Membership in P.T.A.
When the new Gordon City Library was under construction in 1985, the Friends of the Library sponsored several fund-raising events to help pay for the equipment and furnishings for the new building. This group produced a dinner theater, an indoor carnival, and a progressive dinner plus other fund raisers. With substantial help from several businesses and individuals, the funds were raised. “Working with others in the Friends of the Library was a lively task, but very rewarding as the new Library became a source of pride for the whole community,” said Mary.
Mary organized the first Summer Reading Program to be held in the new Library in 1987. A large and enthusiastic group of kids enrolled in the Program. “After all, they had been the “human chain” which moved the books from the old Library to the new one,” she said. “It was their library, too.” The Summer Reading Program remains a major program for encouraging children to read during the summer break.
“When I became Director of the City Library in November of 1987, I soon realized the importance of volunteers,” said Mary. “The children’s Preschool Story Time and the Summer Reading Programs would have not been possible without them. The time shared by youth and adult volunteers in these programs was invaluable.”
After retiring as Library Director in 1995, Mary joined the Willow Tree Board as Chairman of the Children’s Stage. “I served in this role for eight years when I added Grant Writer to my involvement. After eleven years with the Children’s Stage I was fortunate to have a very competent replacement,” added Mary. “I continued as Grant Writer for two more years. I feel honored to have been a member of this Board for thirteen years. I am convinced that this annual Festival is a very outstanding event. It is a celebration for all those in the area to enjoy. Hundreds of volunteers are required to make this event a real happening. Their time and energy is essential to the success of the Festival. The Festival is now in its twenty-ninth year. May it continue for many more years!”
“Now, as I mark nearly six decades in the Gordon community, I find it still the friendly, welcoming place which I found it to be so long ago. It will always be my “hometown” where the “live wire” spirit still resides.”
City manager Fred Hlava had this to say about the Christoffersens: “The Christoffersen’s success in two different businesses in our community has only been exceeded by their many hours of volunteer service, “giving back,” to help our community and area to grow and prosper.”
“They have been a great asset to our community and area for over 50 years and we all say “Thank you” and wish you well in your retirement and move to Colorado.”