Nebraska is a beautiful state full of history and natural wonders. From prairies, pristine lakes, rivers and rock formations to beautiful cities and historic small towns, Nebraska has a little something for everyone. Meeting planners will find unique meeting venues that offer a bit of everything that makes small-town Nebraska great.
Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum
The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Ashland is a one-of-a-kind venue that integrates meetings and events with its vast collection of aerospace artifacts, many stemming from the Strategic Air Command’s Cold War activities.
With more than 300,000 square feet of exhibition and event space, event planners can take advantage of the large glass atrium, organizing events beneath an SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range reconnaissance plane, or serve dinner or hors d’oeuvres on the mezzanine above the exhibits or among aircraft in one of the hangars. The museum can host meetings for as few as 25 people in its library or conference room or for as many as 3,000 using the entire facility.
“The museum provides on-site catering with many different menu options,” said Aly Rasmussen, marketing and sales manager at the museum. “Most rooms come with AV and specialized lighting and the ability to have a private guided tour of the museum during your event.”
The museum was founded in 1959 and moved to its current location in 1998.
Visitors can see numerous aircraft, including a B-17G Flying Fortress, a B-52 Stratofortress and a B-36J Peacemaker. The facility also has missiles and rockets on display and special exhibits on the strategic bombers of World War II, Doolittle’s Tokyo Raiders and Clayton Anderson, an astronaut from Ashland who traveled to the International Space Station in 2007 and went on another shuttle mission in 2010.
Harold Warp Pioneer Village
Harold Warp Pioneer Village was founded in 1953. The village museum comprises 28 historic buildings plucked from all across Nebraska that were restored and placed on 20 acres in Minden. It includes a one-room schoolhouse that was active until 1935; a Pony Express station where settlers came to file homestead claims; an old prairie church; and the Elm Creek Fort, which was built in 1869 in Webster County and that protected five families during the Indian wars.
Along with Western history, the site includes a motel and a campground. Meeting planners can host their banquets or meetings in the basement of the motel, which holds up to 150 people. The museum has hosted everything from corporate meetings and family reunions to tractor shows.
The museum houses more than 350 vintage automobiles, 100 tractors and 20 aircraft. It also showcases art and statuary, guns, trains, trolleys and boats, virtually every field of human endeavor from 1830 to today, said Marshall Nelson, manager at the museum. Meeting attendees can take a guided tour of the museum as part of their event or host catered meals in the event space.
Minden is about 22 miles from Kearney and 30 miles from Grand Island. The motel has 44 rooms, free cable and a continental breakfast. Visitors who stay in the motel get free guest passes to the museum. There is a snack bar on-site, and planners can bring in catered meals or organize visits to some of the area’s restaurants.
National Willa Cather Center
Author Willa Cather has breathed new life into her former hometown of Red Cloud. When the National Willa Cather Center opened to the public in 2017 in the heart of downtown Red Cloud, it was the catalyst for numerous renovations and preservation efforts.
The arts and cultural center serves as a memorial to this Pulitzer Prize-winning author who moved to the area with her family in 1883 and is best known for her novels, such as “My Antonia” and “One of Ours,” that detail life on the Great Plains during the early 1900s.
The 20,000-square-foot center includes a public museum, an archive, a research center, a classroom, a bookstore, an art gallery and a performing arts center.
It “provides a unique small-town experience in a modern setting for any corporate meeting or small weddings at various sites and in the Opera House,” said Catherine Seiberling Pond, marketing coordinator for the center.
The Red Cloud Opera House hosts groups of up to 200 people and includes audiovisual equipment. Local caterers and restaurants are available to tailor menus to a group’s preferences.
The center offers group tours and a country tour, “which is a really interesting way to explore outlying farm properties and things related to her books,” Pond said. “We find that the people who come here want to get away from it all and get a bit of quiet.”
Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center
When many people envision Nebraska, they think of tallgrass prairie. The Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center in Denton is one of the best places in the state to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and see some of the last, untouched tallgrass prairie in the state. The sanctuary sits on 850 acres of native prairie grasslands, wetlands and ponds, wildflowers and grasses about 20 minutes southwest of Lincoln.
The visitor center, which opened in 2006, is a good place for meeting planners to host events and help get attendees out of their comfort zones and into nature. Groups of up to 150 people can rent out the entire center, but most meetings held there are for fewer than 100. While the facility doesn’t have an in-house caterer, it does provide a full kitchen, place settings, silverware and coffeepots for those who host meetings there. Conferences are welcome to hire outside caterers or bring in their own meals.
Along with the meeting rental, conferences can book a guided tour of the property for their attendees.
“We are rustic,” said Kevin Poague, operations manager for the center. “Some people really like that. They are away from the city, away from their office. They feel they are out in the country and can focus more on what their meeting is about, and not worry about traffic and phones and things.”
Wessels Living History Farm
Meeting groups get a distinctive experience at Wessels Living History Farm, a 1920s-era working farm. Attendees can get see miniature ponies, donkeys, goats and calves up close. They can feed the animals, shell some corn, learn how to make ice cream or churn butter by hand. The original owner of the 145-acre farm, David Wessels, wanted part of his property and money to go toward establishing a project that would educate future generations about farming.
Since the mid-1990s, the York Community Foundation, which manages Wessels’ bequest, has acquired numerous buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, including a giant barn, a granary, a church, a schoolhouse, a windmill, a Model T garage and outhouses.
The barn is a fine location for receptions or meetings of 100 or fewer people. The farm also has a tent that can add capacity to the venue.
“It is a barn. It is not real fancy, but it seems to draw a lot of attention,” said Bobbie Bock-Itzen, the director of Wessels Living History Farm.
A church on the property can host events for up to 100 in the basement. Unlike the barn, the church is air conditioned and has access to a kitchen. Attendees can tour the farm and the original farmhouse, which looks as it did in the 1920s.
Visitors can play vintage games or take a tractor-pulled wagon ride around the farm.