What makes Kearney (pronounced KAR-nee) special? Partly, it’s about runzas and one-finger waves. Roger Jasnoch, executive director at the Kearney Visitors Bureau in Central Nebraska, tells us more about his favorite city. Here’s an excerpt from our chat over dinner at the Alley Rose restaurant:
Q: What do you do all day, Roger?
Roger Jasnoch: I go to work, and I really can’t believe I get paid for it. No two days are ever alike.
This week, obviously, I had the good fortune of showing 20 travel writers from throughout the United States what Kearney has to offer. Also, this weekend we are hosting the state speech contest for high schools, so we have several thousand people in. The next three weekends we have wrestling tournaments. Our normal convention business is biggest in March and April. The reason we have such a brisk convention business is we have three distinct convention centers.
Q: What led you to this job?
A: I went to school in the 1970s at what was then Kearney State College. It’s now the University of Nebraska Kearney. I was involved in the student senate and a lot of other organizations. I was also a resident assistant and worked in the admissions office. A couple of professors encouraged me to look into working for a chamber of commerce or a visitors bureau, so I did. I started in Kearney 30 years ago.
Q: What do you wish people knew about Kearney?
A: We have a genuine-ness, and I’m not sure all states can say that. When you walk down the street, people will say “Hi” to you. When you’re driving down the road, they’ll give you the farmer wave. It’s just a friendly way of recognizing someone.
Q: Now you’ve got me. What is the farmer wave?
A: It’s where you’ve got your hands high on the steering wheel, and when you see someone you know, you raise your index finger. It’s a one-finger wave.
Q: What’s the Number One “Can’t Miss” attraction for visitors in Kearney?
A: The Archway, it’s critical they see that. (The Great Platte River Road Archway is a history monument that uses life-size vignettes and special effects to tell the stories of immigrants and opportunists who passed through the area on their way to new lives in the American West.)
The vignettes start with the fur trappers, then the wagon trains to the California and Oregon trails. Then we have the telegraph, Pony Express and stagecoach. We get into the interstate road system and now the information super-highway.
Progressively, the amount of time it took to get across the country got shorter and shorter, and Kearney is in the middle of it all. We are 1700 miles from Boston and 1700 miles from San Francisco.
Q: Are you able to travel much yourself?
A: Not as much as I’d like because I get involved in so many activities here. We used to travel more when our kids were younger.
Q: If you did travel, what’s the one thing you would take with you?
A: My imagination, from the standpoint of not prejudging someone or some community or state or organization by what others have said. I would want to give them the benefit of the doubt and experience that venue for myself. Sometimes what is said is an opinion and not necessarily fact.
Q: When visitors come to Kearney, what should they be sure to eat?
A: Probably a steak because we have excellent steakhouses. Some are small family-oriented restaurants. Whiskey Creek is a homegrown steakhouse. They probably sell more steak than any other steakhouse in Nebraska. They have 15 locations through the United States. They have several locations through the United States.
Of course, you have to have a runza, which is a Nebraska specialty with German origins. It’s ground beef or sausage and cabbage wrapped in bread with spices and onions. There are variations that might include bacon or cheese or salsa.
My many thanks to Visit Kearney for co-hosting our media trip to Central Nebraska.