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If there’s one word to describe Levern Hauptmann, it would be “passionate.”
Specifically, the a 1949 Neligh graduate is passionate about Antelope County
David Hauptmann, Levern’s son, can’t remember a time when his father wasn’t active in the community, especially in preserving the history of Antelope County and bringing the arts to Neligh.
“His entire life. He’s actually very unusually for someone in the country where he was born and raised in Antelope County, he’s always loved classical music and operas and theater,” David said. “For many, many years, Neligh had an arts council, and he always worked really hard to get events into town. And in later years what he’s really enjoyed the state One Act competitions that have been in Norfolk the last two years. He really takes a lot of joy in getting to see the plays that have been done and getting to know the students and actors.”
Like many during the 1950s, Levern served his country. He called his time in the Army as an instrumental time in growing his passion for the arts, especially opera.
“I was stationed at division headquarters, so I had contact with generals,” said Levern, who was stationed in Germany during his time in the service. “I’d be lined up against the wall when they opened their doors because I was just shuffling papers around mostly, but I met a lot of interesting people and I was stationed near Stuttgart, Germany. And Stuttgart had a magnificent opera company, and that’s always been something that I liked. So two or three times a week, I went to the opera and got to know those people . . . It was a real important part of my life.”
He brought that love back to Neligh, where he started an arts council, which he said was successful for 20 years. Levern’s passions go beyond history and the arts, though. Throughout his life, he also dedicated much of his energy to the civil rights movement in Antelope County, often vocally expressing his desire to see change.
“I’ve always been sort of involved in civil rights, and anti-discrimination and anti-hate,” said Levern, who described Obama’s inauguration eight years ago as one of the best moments, both politically and of his life, as he never expected to see an African-American president in office during his lifetime.
“The history with the newspapers in all this, I feuded with them a lot through the years, for probably 60, 70 years,” Levern said. “ . . . I remember The News, they use to get from the south those canned jokes columns, and they were just so racist. You just can’t believe it, all of the black face type of jokes and about the black people. They were just horrible. And I rounded them up a time or two in the paper and they did quit it then.”
Levern’s dedication to minorities continued, as he implemented programs through his church to bring diverse youth to Neligh.
“Two really successful programs that we had in Neligh, one a long time ago, for two or three years, we brought up ghetto youth from Omaha for a weekend stay,” Levern said. “And that was lucky. And it worked out I think very well.”
The second program was an exchange for students from the University of Nebraska.
“Every spring over Easter break, we had from the University of Nebraska, foreign students came and they would stay, it amounted to about a four-day week,” explained Levern. “And I was instrumental in getting that started and working at it while they came. This would amount to literally thousands of people, and we always kept somebody. But not only did they help, I mean they learned a lot about small rural communities. And boy did the people from our small rural community ever learn a lot about other cultures.”
Levern said that when they couldn’t find enough homes in his church able to take in students, others from the community stepped up to help.
Today, Levern serves as the historian in town and regularly works with the library to bring awareness for events. He also makes regular visits to local assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
“These people were adults at the time of the great depression,” Levern said. “And boy, to hear their stories!”
Some of Hauptmann’s favorite stories are about the big blizzard of 1949, which he lived through as well as a high school senior.
“Mrs. Marsh up there, she was pregnant and lived out a few miles from Neligh at the time that the blizzard had set in. And she had to walk something like close to a mile before she could get to somebody that had a loader tractor that she could get on into Neligh. And she said that sometimes she would be down and having to crawl . . . Out in the country you’d get things scooped out and that night it would blow shut again. We had people going out in the second story of their houses because it was solid.”
Levern’s life has been an inspiration to many, most of all his children. David Hauptmann nominated his father for Neligh High School’s Outstanding Alumnus award, and in 2009 Levern accepted the award following an emotional speech given by David.
“He’s very proud about the efforts of preserving Antelope County history and ensuring that it’ll be carried on,” David said. “He doesn’t give up. It’s that passion. He’s not only passionate about things but he’s also committed to supporting them and executing them.”
For Levern, his passion comes from love for his community and his family.
“The best things in my life have been that I was born in this community,” said Levern Hauptmann, “with its freedom and its wealth of food and housing. That I never had to go to bed hungry unless I’d been really bad, or I never, ever, ever had to listen to my children cry from hunger. And I give credit to the wife, and the children and the ten grandchildren for how good a life this has been.”