On certain Thursday summer evenings, one can find many Lincoln residents gathering on the grass of one of Lincoln’s most beautiful locations. Stransky Park is a south Lincoln neighborhood park at 17th and Harrison Avenue with a serene setting that includes a small waterfall. What many may not realize is that the park’s namesake, Leonard Stransky, played an important role in Lincoln’s history for decades.
What better place to start understanding parts of a man’s life than his scrapbook? Titled Leonard Stransky’s autobiography, the binder is available as a reference at Bennett Martin Library or at the Nebraska State Historical Society. The loose-leaf volume is filled with clipped articles. Topics include his areas of interest: the Lincoln Parks system, music, veterans’ affairs and his grocery store chain. Facts shared in this article are primarily from that collection and from other newspaper clippings.
Leonard Stransky was hardworking even as a young child. He had his first paper route at age 9. A year later, he started tending four coal furnaces in his neighborhood.
When his family moved to an acreage on the edge of Lincoln when he was a teenager, he decided to raise chickens. He boxed the eggs under a private label and sold them to local stores. Perhaps that was when his food business interest began. At age 15, he also raised six calves and sold them to the Lincoln Packing Co. as prime heifers.
His official start in the food business was with Frederich Bros. Grocery. While attending school, he worked evenings and weekends at this longtime local grocer. His experience must have been positive, because with his new wife, Angeleen, he started his own grocery store at 13th and K streets in 1939. Grainger, a local supplier, provided him $600 worth of groceries to sell. He quickly made a return on his business, a grocery store that lasted over 40 years. Incidentally, his marriage lasted even longer – almost 50 years.
Through the years, Stransky was an innovator as his store had the first deli, bakery and liquor department. His grocery store had several names: Trixie Grocery, Trixie Foodliner and Trixie IGA were a few of them. Trixie was his nickname, and Stransky was known to say, “I’ll Meet You at Trixies.”
Being near the city auditorium, his grocery store location provided him with many opportunities to meet touring musicians who would come to eat at his deli. Two men provided especially memorable meetings. Elvis Presley, whom he remembered as being bloated, was near the end of his career. Stransky thought Guy Lombardo was one of the nicest men he ever met. Stransky himself was a musician, as he toured with local polka bands. He played 14 different instruments fluently.
His store also served many governors. Since he gave politicians free food from his deli, this department was frequented. The fried chicken was especially popular.
This is but a brief explanation of a man who had many interesting experiences. His pole vault record for the former Greater Lincoln League stood for decades. Almost a golf pro, he was a popular caddy. He raced boats. He worked in property development.
But what mattered most to Stransky was serving the Lincoln community. The serenity prayer motivated him. His hard work resulted in philanthropy as he chose to give his money away. As longtime pet owners, the Stranskys gave the Capital Humane Society a gift. Angeleen’s alma mater, Milligan High School, received a designated sum. Students studying the retail grocery industry could apply for a Stransky scholarship.
Another group that had a place in his heart was veterans. He served from 1943 to 1946 in China, Burma and India. He continued to attend American Legion events.
His $1 million donation to the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department in 1994 was the single biggest donation up to that time. Those funds were used for many projects, including the Pioneers Park elk statue, and helped build the Antelope Park Rose Garden. His namesake park was the biggest portion of the gift, and he played a part in designing the space.
Stransky would definitely approve of the way “his” park is used, especially the musical aspect. This summer, KZUM is resuming the Stransky Park series. From July 1 through Aug. 5 on Thursday nights, the free concerts will occur from 7-9 p.m. Bring your own blanket or chair to soak in live music in this beautiful setting.
Gretchen M. Garrison wrote about additional Lincoln people and places in her book, “A History Lover’s Guide to Lincoln,” which was released last summer. She is also the author of “100 Things to See in Lincoln Before You Die” and “Detour Nebraska: Historic Destinations and Natural Wonders.”