At its most recent gathering, the expats in Arkansas doubled down on their agenda.
The Big Red worshipers of Bella Vista celebrating both St. Patrick’s Day and the 152nd birthday of their home state. The former involved corned beef and cabbage, while the latter involved a sheet cake and a Nebraska-themed quiz.
What Nebraskan was nicknamed Black Jack? (Gen. John J. Pershing).
What Nebraska town has a population of 1? (Monowi).
When Frank Solich played for NU, what was his position? (Fullback).
I learned of the mid-March gathering from Sue Smith, co-treasurer of the club whose membership hovers around 180 (the biggest of the various state fan clubs in the lake town of 30,000).
Smith and her co- treasurer — husband KB — moved from Lincoln to northwest Arkansas nearly 20 years ago.
They wanted to live on the water in retirement and when they discovered Bella Vista was a haven for Huskers, all the better.
“My husband joined up even before we moved down here,” says Sue, a former home editor at Nebraska Farmer. “We got our act together and bought a house on the second day we were here.”
The club was going strong.
It’s not an official alumni club and they don’t gather in a bar to cheer on gamedays.
“We’ve held watch parties, but those weren’t very successful,” Sue says. “People like to watch from their living rooms.” (Eat what they want, she says, use their own powder room.)
Makes perfect sense to me, Loyal Huskers of the Ozarks.
The group’s official title is The Nebraska Club of Bella Vista and Northwest Arkansas, with members welcomed from neighboring towns. Pea Ridge. Siloam Springs. Shell Knob in Missouri. All of them holding on tight to home.
Record-keeping is spotty, Sue says, but the club has proof of existence beginning in 1991.
Dues have gone from $5 a couple to $5 a person. (Nebraska has gone from a share of the national championship to sitting out bowl season).
KB drives a red, Ford F-150 with a Husker license plate, and when Sue wants to know what time it is, she looks down at the big red N on her Husker wristwatch.
Somewhere in her closet is her red skirt and matching poncho made from material designed to look like a football field covered with hash marks.
A friend sewed it for her, says Sue, who kindly agreed to dig it out and pose for KB’s cellphone camera.
There’s an annual tailgate. At one time, club members roasted a pig every year. (The tradition has died, along with the original roasters).
There’s still an annual Christmas party with a Nebraska-themed gift exchange.
The golf tournament is coming up in a few weeks with burgers and a raffle.
Before the Big Ten Conference era, members bought ads on the local radio station and the Husker broadcast would air on Saturdays in return.
They’d rent a motor coach and tool to Texas or up to Memorial Stadium for a home game.
Bob Devaney spoke to the members. Milt Tenopir made an appearance. More recently, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen came by to chat. (The network’s NFL analyst was a Bella Vista resident at the time).
Many of the members are retirees, Sue says. But not all.
Walmart headquarters are down the road and Tyson Foods is nearby, too, so younger Huskers are coming to the area for work.
And if you’re thinking of moving to Arkansas, Sue says, come find them.
You can check them out first on their Facebook page, mingling in red sweaters and red cowboy hats and red sports jackets.
Drinking beer from red cups.
Clutching red blankets and waving red caps.
Slicing a Nebraska birthday cake piped with red frosting and trimmed with candy corn.
Answering questions only a Husker would know. Where is Pioneer Village? (Minden). When was Memorial Stadium built? (1923). Which Husker was called Train Wreck? (Tom Novak).
Feeling at home, far from home.