WAVERLY – A total of 127 relatives from 10 states and Canada gathered on the family homestead eight miles northwest of Waverly to celebrate the anniversary of their ancestors settling in the Waverly area.
The Warner family reunion was held Sept. 29 on the original homestead, located on North 98th Road between Waverly and Davey Road. It was a day full of laughter, Swedish food, photographs and reminiscing.
“It was fantastic! It went like a well-greased thrashing machine,” said Darleen Warner Marolf, the 95-year-old granddaughter of homesteader S. Gus Warner.
In 1869, S. Gus Warner left Sweden to come to the United States at the age of 22 with his two brothers, John and Charles. Gus Warner landed first in Illinois, and then continued west to Nebraska, stopping in Polk for a short time before heading to Waverly in 1871.
He homesteaded in Section 25, Rock Creek Precinct north of Waverly, which is located on North 98th Street between Waverly and Davey roads. The family still has the original certificate of homestead, which was signed by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Today, the homestead remains in the Warner family. Kevin Neth, great-grandson of Gus Warner, lives on the land. He hosted the reunion.
Gus Warner’s brothers also followed him to Waverly. John Warner homesteaded just one mile from Gus Warner’s place, while Charles Warner found land south of Waverly, Marolf said.
Marolf said she was not sure exactly why her grandfather and his brothers left Sweden for America, but thinks it was in part to find a better life.
“Just like everybody, they thought there was a paradise to come,” she said.
Marolf’s assumptions are based in fact. The website loc.gov reports that there was a population crisis in Sweden in the mid-1800s, as the population grew rapidly and famine swept the country. After emigration rules were relaxed, about 100,000 Swedes fled their homeland between 1868 and 1873.
Although her grandfather died in 1932 when Marolf was just 8 years old, she remembers sitting on his lap.
“He was always very loving,” she said.
Marolf was born and raised in the Waverly area, staying close to her family roots.
“I am a permanent resident,” she said.
Her contacts with other family members made her an important part of the reunion planning process.
The idea of a reunion to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their family’s immigration came from Becky Warner Studebaker after she realized the sesquicentennial was nearing. She created a committee that originally included her, Marolf’s daughter and her cousin.
“They drew me in because I knew how to contact everybody,” she said.
They started by notifying Gus Warner’s children of their plans. Those descendants contacted their families, and the chain of communication was complete.
Everyone who could make it to the reunion was there, Marolf said.
“I think everybody was quite blown away with the attendance,” she said.
The family reunion also celebrated the fact that the three pioneer brothers created a legacy that includes legislators like Charles Warner, who was the first Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature and became lieutenant governor of Nebraska.
Charles Warner’s son, Jerome “Jerry” Warner, served in the Legislature from 1962 to his death in 1997, heading several committees and serving as speaker from 1969 to 1970.
Gus Warner’s great grandsons, Mark and George Lundeen, are world-renowned bronze sculptors.