The newly reconstructed 1891 Officers Quarters at Fort Robinson State Park was described as “a welcome addition to a world-class place” as it was dedicated in honor of a highly-regarded Sandhills ranch couple during a ceremony Saturday morning.
The event at the new building paid tribute to the late Don and Olive Forney of Rushville, whose friends and family contributed a majority of the funding for the $1.7 million building. About 75 percent of the project’s costs came from private donations the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation.
The new frame structure, which blends historical features with modern amenities, was erected at its original footprint on the northwestern corner of the park’s central complex, complementing the other historical lodging facilities along the horseshoe-shaped drive and standing within an uninterrupted view of the scenic Red Cloud Buttes and the park’s parade grounds. Each of the duplex’s two sections will sleep 16 people, complete with air conditioning, a sitting area, gas fireplace and a full kitchen.
With the sun shining and more than 100 people overfilling bleachers in front of the building, the ceremony’s speakers noted the hospitality of Don and Olive Forney at their ranch and said the new building will stand as a fitting tribute as families and other groups gather to build memories just as they did at the Forneys’ place. Those in attendance were among the first to be greeted by signs paying tribute to the Forneys and the more than 30 donors as they toured the building following the ceremony.
Jim Douglas, director of the Game and Parks Commission, noted that Fort Robinson State Park has been named by USA Today as one of the top 10 places in the nation to have a family reunion, and that the new building will only make it better.
The Forneys were also remembered as being exemplary stewards of the land and natural resources and as ardent promoters of the Sandhills and northwestern Nebraska. Don Forney was recognized for his role as a Foundation board member, playing instrumental roles in the development of many projects including the Bowring Ranch State Historical Park near Merriman and the Buffalo Soldiers Barracks reconstruction at Fort Robinson State Park.
Along with Douglas and Game and Parks assistant director Roger Kuhn, speakers included Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation board members Jim Abel and John Gottschalk. Game and Parks Commission board chairman Kent Forney of Lincoln, Don and Olive’s son, was one of many Forney family members in attendance and closed the ceremony by paying tribute to his parents and thanking the Foundation and Game and Parks Commission for making the project’s vision become reality.
The building represents one of five two-story officers’ quarters that were constructed along with many other buildings during an expansion in 1891. They were demolished in 1956, after the fort’s heyday as a military installation and prior to it becoming a state park. Since all of the buildings from that expansion had been razed, the new building will represent an era of architecture that had been lost at the fort.
Following their presentations and a ribbon cutting, Forney and the other speakers planted a flowering crabapple tree near the house – one final touch that will be enjoyed by generations to come.