The Wessels Living History Farm was named the Outstanding Tourism Attraction in the state, during the Nebraska Tourism Conference held in Norfolk in 2009. This annual award is given to a Nebraska tourism attraction that has worked toward the continued success and growth of its community and the state’s tourism industry. Attractions that have undergone significant improvements, changes or additions to increase the number of visitors to the attraction, community, region and state are encouraged for nominations. All Nebraska attractions are eligible for this award, such as museums, zoos, cultural and performance art centers and historical sites and parks.
Bob Sautter, executive director of the York County Visitors Bureau, nominated the Wessels Living History Farm for the prestigious award. As he outlined for the judging committee, since 2005, Wessels’ membership has grown by 175; the building exhibits grew to nine; there have been visitors from 50 states and 27 foreign countries; annual attendance increased to more than 8,000 people; the Living History Farm’s website visits increased to 2 million annually; and hours were extended to have the site open six days a week for seven months with the remaining open for educational programs and special events.
“Obviously, this growing attraction has had a significant impact on our local economy,” Sautter says. “As it continues to grow and improve, so do the numbers of visitors. Not only do travelers stop for the tours and events at the Wessels Living History Farm, but those same visitors stay in our lodging properties and campgrounds. They dine in some of our many eating establishments, shop our local retail businesses, play golf at our beautiful golf courses and take in some of our other attractions, such as Lee’s Marble Museum, Yorkshire Playhouse and Henderson Mennonite Heritage Park. All those extra tourism dollars that feed into our local economy would not be possible without an attraction such as this. We also fully expect Wessels Living History Farm to become much more of a tourism destination within the next few years.”
A number of local businesses submitted letters in support of Sautter’s nomination, saying they’ve seen increased traffic come through their doors, thanks to the Wessels attraction.
Another unique aspect of the Living History Farm, besides the physical location, is its award-winning
“The Wessels website, which was developed by the Ganzel Group Communications, is accessed by individuals and educators. It averages over 150,000 hits on a monthly basis, with visitors from around the globe. Material is downloaded by teachers across the United States for use in presenting specific agricultural periods in their classes. The Web site has been nationally recognized for its excellence in the presentation of the history of 20th century agriculture. It is ranked as ‘one of the best online resources for education in the humanities’ by the National Endowment for the Humanities.”
Wessels Director Dale Clark was credited for his dedication and hard work — under his direction, attendance has skyrocketed, as has the number of events.
“Eleven different agencies were trying for this same award. It’s a real honor for us to be chosen,” Clark says. “This goes on the state (tourism) Web site so when somebody pulls up Nebraska, we pop up as the leading attraction in the state, it’s the kind of advertising you can’t buy.
“We’ve had a tremendous summer, but this should really be able to boost our attendance” even more “and also our ability get grants and things. We’ve turned the corner. We’re out there in the public” among the top attractions in the state, Clark said, clearly still excited about the award presentation.
“It’s no wonder that the York County Visitors Bureau is not only proud, but excited to work with the Wessels Living History Farm every chance we have,” Sautter continued. “What started as ‘Dave’s Dream,’ is now ‘Dave’s Dream Come True.’ Not only is it an excellent educational opportunity, but an entertaining experience as well for those individuals and families seeking wholesome family fun.
What does the award mean?
“It just says, hey, you’re out there and one of the better ones in the state of Nebraska,” Clark said. “But it’s not just me, there have been all the volunteers, the board . . . It’s been a joint effort of the whole community.”
“Each nominee honored last night truly loves Nebraska and wants to see the state’s tourism industry succeed and flourish,” said Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy at this week’s conference. “They have shown that they enjoy being from Nebraska and working hard to make this state a tourist destination.”
Underwriting for the Wessels Living History Farm has also been provided by these Silver Donors:
- Dale and Joan Clark
- Don R. Freeman
- C. G. (Kelly) & Virginia Holthus
- Conner Roofing Company, Inc.
- Greg and Kris Holoch
- Boyd and Elaine Stuhr
- The 1920s section of this site was developed by the Interactive Media Unit of Nebraska Educational Telecommunications.
- The 1930s, 1940s, 1950s-60s and 70s to Today sections were developed by The Ganzel Group Communications of Lincoln, Nebraska.