Chadron State College is home to a new permanent gallery of exhibits dedicated to the development of the Northern Plains beef industry.
About 50 supporters gathered Friday afternoon at the lower level of the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center to witness the opening of the the C.F. Coffee Gallery, the building’s new feature named for a prominent northwest Nebraska rancher and banker who was key in founding the college.
Although the new gallery by itself is not the largest museum in the region, supporters say its value will far exceed its square footage.
Displays include writings, photographs and interpretive maps that detail the development of the beef industry. About two dozen loaned artifacts are on display, including a saddle and boots from the J.S. Collins Saddle Co. projected to be more than 100 years old.
“You’re not ever going to find 100 saddles and 5,000 sets of spurs in here, because we obviously don’t have the room,” said Ron Hunter of Hay Springs, a member of the committee overseeing the gallery’s development. “It’s both a curse and a blessing. It’s a blessing because what we put in here has to be quality.”
Members of the committee say future exhibits are expected to include information about a wide range of topics related to the industry, including markets, brands, family stories, transportation and the role of women in ranching. It is also expected to feature classroom activities for children and other learning materials for teachers to use.
Supporters say a great strength of the new facility will be the archived information that isn’t directly visible in the main gallery space. College employees have been working to format the information so it’s easily accessible by researchers.
For instance, the archives already include up to a dozen interviews with prominent landowners on the High Plains that were recorded by area ranchers Barb and Charles Marcy, one of two area ranch couples who made instrumental monetary contributions to the gallery. Other primary contributors were Bill and Virginia Coffee of Harrison and the First National Bank of Chadron. Bill Coffee and Charles Marcy have died, but their widows are still active in the gallery’s development.
Friday’s event was filmed for another major contributor who was unable to attend, 95-year-old Billie Snyder Thornburg of North Platte.
Dr. Lois Veath, CSC vice president for academic affairs, said the college has a commitment to preserving High Plains history, and that the Coffee Gallery will be significant in meeting that goal. She said the gallery will play a prominent role in CSC’s future offerings that relate to the region’s history.
“We are the only four-year institution in a 350-mile radius in our service region, and it’s really up to us to preserve the heritage of this beautiful region and all the various people who came here,” she said. “This facility is very important in connecting with not only townspeople, but with constituents across the region,” she said.
During Friday’s ceremony, Hunter and Veath thanked more than a dozen other people and organizations responsible for the gallery’s funding and development.
“People have been very generous with the family archives and artifacts,” Hunter said.
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