Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Diary of a Trip to Seward

The website at this link has a lot of descriptions and photographs of Seward, written by geneaology nut Alice Imig Stipak ("a grateful granddaughter of Seward"), who traveled to Seward in August 2001. There is a lot here in particular about the Imig family, and I remember that name among St. John students. Here is her overall description of her trip:

Those of you who know me will remember my excitement about my long-dreamt-of research trip with my brother Brian to Seward, August 8th to August 11th [2001]. It was my first visit to my mother's and grandparents' birthplace in almost 30 years, and my first as an information- and reunion-hungry family genealogist. Several of you kindly wrote to wish me a safe and happy trip, to ask me to watch for your kin, and to offer much-needed guidance.

My eagerness was well founded, for it was a glorious trip, indeed! To thank you for your warm send-off, and to explore new ways of sharing with all of you, I have decided to write my trip report to you in several diary-style installments.

I couldn't have imagined what my Seward homecoming would be like, feel like, look like. I want to relate my experiences in a personal way with those of you who yearn, as I did and still do, to walk the streets and cemeteries of Seward again. I hope that some of you might discover that while in Seward I crossed paths with your ancestors, cousins, or memories, and that you might benefit in some way from my stories and photos. Seward, I came to realize, is a place of mostly pleasant surprises and much heart-warming nostalgia.

For those of you who want "just the facts, ma'am!" I will also try to highlight surnames, cemetery names, and landmarks in a way that will catch your eye with a quick scan of my rambling messages. To accompany my diary, I will post many photos I took in Seward County on my family website and point you to their location.

I hope you will enjoy reading my "Return to Seward Diary, August 2001" reports, and looking at the dozens of photos. Your feedback and contributions of stories and photos will be much appreciated!

Once you start reading Alice Imig Stipak's chatty travel diary and enjoying its beautiful photographs, you might not be able to stop until you read through the entire website! (There are no descriptions or photographs related to the Concordia area, however.)

A street corner at the town square of Seward, Nebraska. The photo was taken from
A view from the court house out toward the town square of Seward, Nebraska. The photo was taken from
A view from the court house toward the Rivoli Theater on the town square of Seward, Nebraska. The photo was taken from
Seward High School in Seward, Nebraska. The photo was taken from
The Imig Family memorial bench in the North Cemetery in Seward, Nebraska. The photo was taken from
A truck belonging to a business of George Imig in 1927. The photo was taken from

Here's a sample from the diary:

... finding a place to park in downtown Seward was no problem at all; we parallel-parked half a block from the square. As I scrambled out of the car, I marveled at how right Debra of Bakersfield on our Seward-list had been in her bon-voyage email to me the day before: "Seward is still the small town it was 20 years ago; in fact, they have only added a few new stores on the outskirts of town. You can still go downtown and have lunch when the whistle blows for the townspeople to have their lunch in the local cafe. It's really weird, it kind of makes you feel like you're in another era of time." Yes, it really does, and I love it!

It was almost noon, and our stomachs were growling, so Brian and I were listening for that whistle and wondering which cafe blew it. We started eyeing the Corner Cafe as a likely target. But I was also famished for Seward cousins and for directions to the cemeteries and such, so I prowled the streets like an uncaged mountain lion, looking for a place to buy a map of Seward.

Spotting a combination convenience and gas store, I strode in confidently and asked to buy a map of Seward. "I don't think they make one," the lady said, in a nice way. Taken somewhat aback by this, I regrouped and blurted out, "Well, have you ever heard of anyone named HAGEMAN or IMIG? She replied, "Hageman, no, but Imig, yes, I know of Imigs -- there are a lot of them living around here."

"Really? A lot?" I broke into a grin; I needed to hear that even more than I needed a map of Seward, or lunch. I could feel fireworks exploding inside me; now I could relate to Seward being called the "4th of July City." My middle name, also my brother's, is IMIG, taken from our mother's maiden name. All of our lives we had never met anyone other than members of our immediate family who had ever even HEARD of the name Imig.

For the past three years, I had been working hard to connect with other Imig researchers all over the country, learning about our family's epic immigration to America from Germany in a cattle-boat in 1858. I had even met one family of four Imig descendants (no longer named Imig) when they visited San Jose last Thanksgiving. But to be in a town where people on the street had heard of the name, and actually knew Imigs?? Now that was really something!

I emerged from the convenience store not with the map of Seward I had gone in there after but with the revelation that, thank goodness, at least some people in this town were still familiar with my family name IMIG. Heading back up the sidewalk toward Seward Town Square where I had last seen my brother, I spotted a boy coming my way on a bicycle.

"Do you know where the Seward and Greenwood Cemeteries are?" I asked, wondering if one so young would know such things. He frowned thoughtfully, then pointed up the road and said, "Well, the North Cemetery is out of town a couple of miles that way, and the Greenwood Cemetery is up Second Street a few blocks." Thanking him, I puzzled about whether this "North Cemetery" was the same as the "Seward Cemetery" whose entrance sign I clearly remembered seeing in photos.

I spotted my brother up the street and yelled our family's "here I am" signal, "Yo!" and flagged him down. Clearly, Brian had been asking some questions of his own, for he reported, "Everyone seems to agree that the best place for lunch is the Corner Cafe," and gestured to the humble diner on the other side of the crosswalk. "One man said, 'The service is great, and the food is good.'"

And so, giving up on the fabled lunch whistle, we stepped through the glass doors of the tiny Corner Cafe, and were transported back in time. Once inside, we stopped and stared at the pre-World War II interior, the counter with its round, chrome-stemmed stools, and the neat little booths. ...

The Corner Cafe was not crowded, so we helped ourselves to a booth by the window. At once an energetic, white-haired waitress wearing bifocals welcomed us with a smile, brought us menus, and offered us coffee. "Do you have corn on the cob?" Brian asked, for that is one of his favorite foods, and we had just driven through miles of corn ripening in the sun. "No, I'm sorry, we don't," she said. Disappointed, he ordered a side of mashed potatoes and a bowl of their soup of the day, beef noodle, while I asked for a bacon and tomato sandwich with chips.

"By the way," I piped up, "have you ever heard of anyone named HAGEMAN or IMIG?"

Hageman, no, but Imig, yes, of course," she replied, and turned to take the chef our order. Brian, by this time sharing my glee, quipped, "Who would have guessed that Imig would be like Smith here?!" ....

We started driving north on 6th Street (Highway 15), very slowly, not wanting to miss anything. In two short blocks, we spotted the Seward Civic Center on the right and pulled over to check it out. I bounded up the front steps and into the building in search of helpful people, information, and maps. Happily, I scored a free Seward phone book by the front door, which would come in handy. I passed by a room with a few people having a meeting that I dared not interrupt. Later I was told that Seward Genealogical Society Secretary Jane Graff, whom I would love to meet, was in that meeting. Hmmm, GRAFF, she could even be an IMIG cousin.

I spent the next few minutes exploring the hallways and even the basement of the modern, vast structure, full of deserted but inviting rooms. Near another entrance, I loaded up on an assortment of Seward-related brochures. I made a mental note of the convenient, full-sized men's and women's restrooms, which served us well during our stay in Seward.

Returning to the parking lot, I noticed a group of older ladies about to get in a car. Maybe they remember some of my relatives, I thought, and came out with my favorite line, yes, you guessed it, "Excuse me, we're from out of town, and we're searching for relatives. Have you ever heard of anyone named HAGEMAN or IMIG?"

I saw the taller woman's jaw drop, and she quickly said, "Why, yes, I'm a ROCKER, and my mother was an IMIG. My father's mother was also an IMIG." My jaw dropped, too, for I recognized ROCKER as one of the main families that IMIGs married. I was not surprised that she, like my brother and I, is a double-Imig, since all Imig researchers quickly learn that "Imigs liked to marry Imigs," and cousin marriages were very common. Then the lady next to her piped up, "I'm Beverly, a ROCKER, too, by marriage." They are sisters-in-law, it turns out.

The fourth paragraph from the end mentions a Jane Graff. I think she is the mother of my St. John classmate Lisa Graff.

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