by Kurt Jostes
This fall marks five years since I met our first Executive Director, Pastor Dave Buss, at an Orphan Grain Train convention in Norfolk, NE. He invited me to visit New Orleans and interview for a new position at RAI and Camp Restore. Knowing what I know now, I’m embarrassed to admit that I put up quite a bit of resistance at first. As a student finishing up college at Concordia-Nebraska, the furthest I thought I’d ever move south would be Kansas City.
Anyone who’s familiar with Pastor Buss knows that giving up easily isn’t part of his character, and before I knew it, I was living at Camp in a fifth-wheel camper trailer. My first week in town fell on New Year’s, the next was LSU’s National Championship win, and a month later I was catching Mardi Gras throws. Thus began the most exciting five years of my life (so far).
Over those five years, one of my biggest surprises wasn’t how much I love crawfish, but the amazing interconnectedness between New Orleans and Nebraska (along with the rest of the Midwest and Great Plains.)
So, without much further ado, I present my top ten New Orleans-Nebraska connections:
10. Orphan Grain Train
OGT is a great volunteer-driven nonprofit based in Norfolk, NE which filled the critical role of providing equipment and infrastructure for the creation of numerous volunteer camps after Hurricane Katrina, including both Camp Biloxi and Camp Restore.
9. College World Series
LSU fans have made bringing Louisiana home-cooking to Omaha such a tradition that they do it even when the Tigers don’t make it!
8. The Louisiana Purchase
When Nebraska first became part of the United States, it was actually part of the Louisiana Territory, purchased from France in 1803. So the first capital of Nebraska before it was Nebraska? New Orleans!
7. State Capitol Buildings
Running with the state capital theme, Nebraska and Louisiana have the two tallest state capitol buildings in the U.S. Nebraska’s was built first, and Louisiana’s controversial governor Huey P Long decided to copy the design and added a couple extra feet for good measure.
6. Andrew Higgins
Who is the most influential Nebraskan to move to Louisiana? You’d be hard-pressed to name a stronger candidate than Mr. Higgins, whose work is the reason why the National WWII Museum is located in the Crescent City. As seen in Saving Private Ryan and also known as landing craft, Higgins Boats were manufactured in New Orleans and first tested in Lake Pontchartrain before heading to Normandy.
5. German Immigration
Though New York’s Ellis Island is arguably the most historic point of entry for European immigrants, a large number of people, especially Germans, first saw the Louisiana marsh before debarking in New Orleans and heading up the Mississippi to start a new life. While most ended up in the Midwest and on the Plains, a significant number made “The German Coast” home.
3. Mississippi River Shipping
The number one strategic reason for New Orleans location on the Mississippi near the Gulf is shipping and transportation. The Port of South Louisiana is the largest bulk goods port in the Western Hemisphere, and much of that is grain from the Midwest. The history of coffee in New Orleans is also one to check out if you’re a fan.
2. The Land
The Mississippi River, once “too thick to drink and too thin to walk on,” deposited “Mississippi mud” throughout the delta for the past 5,000 years, building the land New Orleans is built on. I may no longer be in Nebraska, but I am standing on quite a bit of Husker topsoil from years ago! Thanks also to Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana…
1. The People
I’ve given up trying to find a good website to link to for this, because the rankings vary so much year-to-year. However, I will speak from personal, (and yes, biased) experience that Nebraska and Louisiana are two states that understand the word hospitality and put it into practice.