On Monday, Leslie Clark headed down to Wamego, Kansas, to check out the Totos.
Fifteen fiberglass terriers, painted and planted in a small town in the big state that made Dorothy’s little dog famous.
And while she checked out the dogs and learned about the town’s tourism campaign, the Auburn woman had honeybees on her mind.
A project for her own corner of Southeast Nebraska. Like the lightbulbs and the bikes in Lincoln and the dogs in Kansas.
A project that has been creating quite a buzz.
“We haven’t done anything like this in this area,” she said. “People have been so excited.”
Clark is a member of the Nemaha County Leadership Class, where engaged residents spend nine months learning what makes their community work and what they can do to make it better.
Each year’s class takes on a project and Honeybees in the Heartland — #comevisitourhive — is the brainchild of the class of 2019.
Its goal: 21 fiberglass bees in the county’s four towns — Brownville, Auburn, Peru and Johnson.
“We wanted to find a way to involve every town and village,” Clark said. “Something that helps give identity and character and has a tourism draw.”
The Honeybees in the Heartland committee has secured funding for 11 bees; and this week is putting out a call to recruit more sponsors — and artists — to paint the fiberglass bees. Artist packets and a Q&A session is scheduled for April 5 in Auburn, but artist packets are available via Facebook or email.
They’ve held a fundraiser and secured a manufacturer for the 39-inch tall, 50-inch wide honeybees.
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The committee honed in on the honeybee for several reasons, Clark said.
“This is the state insect and we’re an ag community, and also the situation the bees are in — we’re losing them.”
Clark discovered one more connection as she spread the word about the project: Louise Howe.
Howe had been a third-grade teacher at Auburn’s Calvert Elementary School in 1974, before Nebraska had an official state insect.
“And she asked her class, ‘What would you propose?’”
According to a 43-year-old story in the Auburn Press-Tribune, unearthed by Clark, the students voted for the ladybug “but the honeybee was a close second.”
And in the spirit of true politicians, “with their ears to the ground, the class could anticipate to some degree the support from legislators and switched their support.”
Once they’d settled on the honeybee, the students adopted senators and wrote letters.
They were fourth-graders by the time they boarded a bus and visited the Capitol to be on hand when the 42-1 vote made the honeybee the official insect of the Cornhusker state.
Clark posted the article on the Honeybees in the Heartland Facebook page.
And a few weeks ago, the leadership class took a field trip to the Capitol to share the story with their senator and admire the honeybees flying across the ceiling of the legislative chamber.
“Our hope and goal is to make it not only a tourism goal for our towns but in the future a festival, like Honey Days,” Clark said.
For now, the committee is putting the fiberglass bees before the honey.
“You have to start somewhere.”