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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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November 5, 2009
Today a departure from the norm: Only two subjects, but I hope you will find them of interest. I’ll return to mostly political commentary next week.
* * *
In last week’s column, I promised to tell the story of how Webster Street got its name—a subject which seems to be of little or no interest to print and broadcast journalists who have been reporting on the proposal to have the City Council rename a seven-block downtown stretch of Webster Street for former Mayor Mike Fahey, who left office less than six months ago.
Former Mayor Hal Daub, I believe, put the matter in proper perspective with his reaction to a proposal that a stretch of 10th Street be named for him since it runs past the Qwest Center, construction of which he had strongly supported. Daub said he thought consideration of street-naming should be delayed until there can be an appraisal of the totality of the potential nominee’s life of service.
To Daub’s well-considered perspective on the matter of street-renaming, I would add this advice for journalists and, in this case, city council members who have been considering whether to rename a portion of Webster Street for Mike Fahey: Look into the reasons the street was named for someone else, then decide whether renaming even a portion of the street might, in effect, be dishonoring the memory of that individual.
So who was this Webster, honored by the naming of a street, seven next-to-the-ballpark blocks of which are proposed to be renamed for Mike Fahey for his work in promoting construction of a downtown ballpark to assure a 25-year extension of Omaha as the site of the College World Series?
Let me tell you something about the life and achievements of John Lee Webster, for whom Webster Street was named. The highlights of the Webster story, as reported in The Omaha World-Herald September 3, 1929 after Webster died at age 82:
“Since 1869, he had been one of Omaha’s most vigorous and picturesque citizens, a leader at the bar, famed alike for his eloquence, his devotion to the arts, and his faith and pride in Omaha and Nebraska.”
During his 60 years in residence in Nebraska after moving from Ohio, at age 22, Webster had quickly risen to prominence: President of the first state constitutional convention in 1875, attorney in many of the most important lawsuits fought in Omaha. Service as general counsel for the Metropolitan Utilities District and for the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company.
King of Ak-Sar-Ben in 1916 after suggesting and arranging Nebraska’s celebration of 50 years of statehood—a celebration that, in the words of The World-Herald story, “brought many of the nation’s great personalities to Omaha, including President Woodrow Wilson.”
Webster headed the Nebraska delegation to the Republican National Convention in 1892.
He served for six years as president of the Nebraska Historical Society. He was “famed for his lectures on Alexander Hamilton, and on the constitution,” The World-Herald story said. He delivered lectures before state bar associations in Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota and Nebraska. He called the United States Constitution “the greatest achievement of mankind.”
Well known as a patron of the arts, Webster traveled to Europe frequently, bringing back works of art. He founded the Friends of Art Association in Nebraska.
Until a few months before his death, Webster was still working as head of the committee seeking to create a World War memorial in Omaha.
The World-Herald account of his life noted that as an attorney, Webster “had exceptional success,” including famously his role in the historic trial which freed Ponca Chief Standing Bear from Army custody in Omaha and allowed him and his followers to return to their homeland along the Niobrara River rather than being forced to return to a reservation in what is now Oklahoma.
This, then, was the Webster for whom Webster Street was—and is—named—a prominent seven-block section of which would be renamed for a mayor who left office less than six months ago and whose entire eight-year record in office is not being offered as justification for the street renaming. What a contrast to the remarkable lifetime of achievement and service to Omaha and Nebraska which was the heritage of John Lee Webster.
(The City Council Tuesday agreed to vote next Tuesday on the street-renaming proposal. This has the apparently unintended effect of providing time for the news media and council members themselves—and Fahey—to learn more about the life of John Lee Webster. Time also to reflect on the fact that the idea of a new downtown ballpark originated with the NCAA, not with Fahey, who thus played the role of facilitator, not originator, of the deal which will keep the NCAA-owned College World Series in Omaha for 25 additional years.)
* * *
Sarah—the sweet, lovable senior citizen in the Andersen household—is no longer with us.
Dr. Pete Bashara—the most competent and compassionate of the several veterinarians with whom we have dealt over the past half century—agreed with Marian’s and my decision that the compassionate course would be to end the suffering of a dog whom we had loved—and who gave every sign of loving us—over the past 15 years. She had totally lost her appetite, the use of her hind legs and any sign of a response to what was going on around her.
She gave no sign of recognition when I sat down beside her as she lay on her stomach, pretty as ever, in a room in Dr. Bashara’s clinic. I talked to her as if she could understand my saying that I thought she would have agreed that her quality of life was gone and we were making the right decision. I told her we loved her and would never forget her and kissed her on the head several times.
After a few minutes, Dr. Bashara entered the room, with a box of Kleenex in hand. I used one of the Kleenex, gave Sarah a final kiss, adjusted my dark glasses and went out to our station wagon where Marian had chosen to wait. Marian said that she had bid Sarah goodbye when she took her to the clinic for the last time.
We arranged for Sarah to be cremated, with the thought that we will scatter her ashes, perhaps on the lawn around the backyard swimming pool where she and Marian and her two younger “sisters,” Charlotte and Claire, had spent many happy hours, the dogs lying nearby as Marian read or talked on the phone.
Marian recalls with pleasure the fact that Sarah’s quality of life had continued, at a declining but still enjoyable level, until shortly before a final combination of ailments brought her down. She had, for example, climbed the steps to the backyard a couple of times two weeks ago.
I’m continuing this report at some length as, I suppose, a sort of form of therapy for me, but also because over the years so many readers have told us how much they enjoy reading about our family life, including especially stories involving our dogs. So please indulge me as I recall a few examples of life with Sarah.
One of my favorite memories is the way Sarah reacted when she had burrowed her way into a closet, rummaging among anything she could find on the closet floor and occasionally being trapped in the closet when the door was inadvertently closed on her. When this occasionally happened to Charlotte, she very quickly let you know, with some indignant barking, as if implying that you had trapped her and you had better come and let her out.
Sarah, by way of contrast, would sit quietly behind the closet door, waiting for one of us to discover she was missing and start looking for her. Her attitude, we like to believe, was something like this: “I know they didn’t mean to shut me in here, and I’m sure they will come soon and let me out.”
There was the breakfast table performance every morning. The three dogs would line up at my right side, confident that I would remember to share some morsels with them. Sarah always sat quietly behind Claire and Charlotte. The routine was unvaried. I would, for example, take three small pieces of toast, toss two of them far enough away that I could give the third piece—always the largest one—to Sarah without competition from her “sisters.”
Then there was what might be called Sarah’s love affair with those little baked—I guess they bake them—morsels called “Goldfish.” Years ago I started keeping a supply of “Goldfish” on a shelf in my upstairs “workroom.” It didn’t take long for Sarah to discover that if she followed me upstairs, she would get a treat. She invariably got a few “Goldfish,” then patiently stood by for more. Sometimes I would respond, but other times I would go sit at my desk, figuring one treat was enough.
This resulted in Sarah following me very quietly to the side of my desk, and sitting there looking up at me with those lovely brown eyes. She never jumped on my leg, as Charlotte or Claire might have done. She simply sat there, quietly and patiently, confident that she would get another treat. Her confidence was usually justified.
Incidentally, when I went to the veterinarian’s clinic on decision day, I took some “Goldfish” with me, hoping that this might give Sarah a bit of a treat and stir some recognition of who was calling on her. But Sarah simply turned away when I offered the treat.
There is a saying that to have loved much and been much loved is a path to a good life. By that test, Sarah lived a very good life indeed.
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