Lincoln couple gives back to preserve hometown history

As a young girl, Ginger Nissen loved visiting her grandfather’s house in Wayne, Nebraska. It was more than just a “house.” The home of the Rollie W. Ley family was, and still is, considered a mansion.

Built in 1900 for one of the first doctors in the community, the home was later sold to Rollie Ley, a local banker. The beautiful home reflects a Victorianized Colonial style and features original woodwork and carvings. The house has four original marble coal-burning fireplaces, a built-in bookcase with curved glass doors and several stained-glass and beveled-glass windows. The intricate parquet floors on the first level are among the home’s many unique features.

While these lavish appointments are impressive, two of Ginger’s favorite spaces in the grand old home were the sleeping porch and the third story, with its spacious balcony. “In a way, it was a little spooky,” Ginger said. “The stairs leading to the third story attic were dark and narrow. But once you were there, the rooms were filled with all sorts of costumes and delightful treasures from many years past.”

As a child, Ginger grew up in Lincoln, but moved to Wayne as a high school student. There she met her future husband, a farm boy named Jim Nissen. After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1954, the couple settled in Lincoln. Jim spent two years in the army, then returned to continue a lifelong career in banking. Ginger pursued her career as a homemaker, mother of four children and community volunteer.

In 1976, Rollie Ley’s children, including Ginger’s mother, donated their historic home to the Wayne County Historical Society. Today, the Rollie Ley mansion serves as the Wayne County Museum.

The museum features outstanding early 20th-century artifacts, including a desk designed for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and memorabilia from several historic wars. The basement showcases a variety of farm-related and primitive items from around the area.

Through the years, the Wayne County Historical Society has preserved this important local asset through annual fundraisers and other activities. In 2007, Jim and Ginger Nissen established a charitable gift annuity through Nebraska Community Foundation to augment hometown volunteer efforts. The gift would create a permanent endowment to provide additional ongoing support for maintenance and enhancement.

“Our family was blessed with some success here in Lincoln. Ginger and I felt it was appropriate to give back to a community with which we have strong ties,” said Jim. “We also hoped it would motivate others to give similar gifts. Community support for the museum would greatly assist volunteers who spend a lot of energy caring for the museum.”

In the spring of 2017, Jim and Ginger made a strategic decision with the hope of increasing awareness and support for the museum. They transferred assets of the Wayne County Historical Society Endowment Fund, which they had created, to the community’s newly reorganized Wayne Area Legacy Fund, a community-based fund of Nebraska Community Foundation.

“When the new Wayne Area Legacy Fund was formed it seemed to make sense to transfer the Historical Society’s endowment there to get broader community exposure. There are a number of families with a long history in the area who may be inclined to support the museum,” Jim said.

Under new leadership, the Wayne Area Legacy Fund has been reenergized to focus on both current and future community improvements. In addition to building a permanent endowment, the Fund is helping with the renovation of the Majestic Theatre and the rebuilding of Hank Overin sports field.

Wayne Area Legacy Fund has held several events in partnership with local organizations. In June, Arnie’s Ford dealership presented the Fund a $25,000 contribution and sponsored a “Drive 4 UR Community” kick-off event, donating $20 to the Legacy Fund for every test drive that day.

Jim and Ginger Nissens’s charitable contributions have not been limited to the Wayne County Museum. They also have supported Wayne State College Foundation and endowed a gift to First Presbyterian Church in Wayne where they were married.

In Lincoln, the couple is known for their community involvement and impact. Jim Nissen, now retired from Wells Fargo Bank, is a former president and CEO of National Bank of Commerce and Vistar Bank. He serves as director of The State Nebraska Bank & Trust of Wayne, and was president of several organizations, including the Nebraska Bankers Association, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, and the Bryan Memorial Hospital Foundation, to name a few.

Jim and Ginger feel fortunate to have been able to contribute to the well-being of the community where they have raised their family and built their lives, but added that there is a different feeling that comes with giving back to the hometown of your youth.

“Nebraska Community Foundation is helpful in exploring creative ways to make a positive difference,” Jim said. “They focus on finding the most appropriate method for an individual or family to make a charitable gift.”

Jim graduated from Wayne High School in 1947. For decades, he and his classmates gathered for a reunion every five years. Then, as they got older, the class decided it might be wise to shorten the interval to every two years. Now the group gathers for a luncheon every year in August.

In 2017, the class of ‘47 observed its 70th anniversary and celebrated by purchasing and installing concrete benches beneath the high school’s flag pole at the main entrance of the building.

“It wasn’t a big thing for our class. Just $2,500 or so. But it felt like the right thing to do. It shows loyalty to the class,” Jim said. “There’s just something special about giving back to your hometown.”

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