By Shannon Smith, President of the Mari Sandoz Society
On Tuesday, October 25, Nebraska Department of Transportation workers Ryan Kozal, Chris Frandson, and Taylon Pascoe reinstalled the Mari Sandoz Nebraska Historical Marker about 30 miles south of Gordon. The marker was unveiled on Sunday, August 11, 1968, two years after Sandoz died of cancer in New York City on March 10, 1966. Mari did not want a big ceremony or funeral and she requested that she be buried in the Sandhills on her family’s land overlooking the orchard her father, Jules, had planted and about which she had written in her award-winning memoir of the homesteading life, “Old Jules.”
Because there was no memorial celebration, Sandoz’s many friends and fans felt deprived of a way to pay their respects. Soon a veritable flood of visitors started to come to the Sandhills to go to her as yet unmarked grave. Mari’s sister, Caroline Pifer, was the host of most of these visits and she soon realized that more should be done to memorialize her famous sibling. She ensured signs to the gravesite and a headstone were erected. Then, the community of Gordon came together through the Chamber of Commerce and the Sheridan County Historical Society to install a historical marker, one of the earliest of the Nebraska Historical Marker Program. The now familiar blue and silver signs bearing the great seal of the State of Nebraska required local sponsorship to provide half of the cost of the marker and Gordon quickly came through.
As you can imagine, years of sandblasting by our Sandhills winds had worn away the writing and the sign was in disrepair. The Mari Sandoz Society researched the process to get the sign repainted, raised the necessary funds, and arranged with the Sheridan County office of the State Department of Transportation to take it down and haul the heavy sign to Alliance where it was professionally restored. In Alliance it took quite a team to restore the sign, Jim Todd of Todd’s Body and Frame Shop, took the lead and had Ralph Hoxworth at H and H Sanitation sand blast all the paint off and then local artist, Greg Garret hand paint the sign and then Todd’s then put several coats of protective coating on. After months of work, the sign was ready and the great DOT team, under the direction of Justin Meeks, retrieved it and reinstalled it at its beautiful location just a few hundred feet south of the road to Sandoz’s grave and the homestead’s orchard. Be sure to stop and take a look the gorgeous marker the next time you pass by, and don’t forget to visit Mari’s grave—though the signs marking direction to the grave are in disrepair and are next on the Sandoz Society list of projects.
It takes a village to ensure our important cultural heritage is preserved and promoted, and the Sandoz Society is very grateful to all the people at the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Department of Transportation, the Alliance team, and especially the people who donate to the society so we can accomplish this significant work. Special thanks go out to Mari Sandoz Society Vice President Dan Kusek of Alliance for his year-long effort to renovate this marker.