McCook's Man on Main Street: Publisher Harry D. Strunk and the politics of water reclamation in southwest Nebraska, 1928-1938
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Harl A. Dalstrom
By the time Harry D. Strunk arrived in his new home of McCook, Nebraska in 1909, he had set his sights on becoming a newspaperman. While only seventeen years-old at the time of his first job with a McCook newspaper, he had already worked as a printer's devil and itinerant printer since the age of fourteen. With his arrival in McCook and first job in that city with the established Tribune, he soon found that his future in the newspaper business lay with starting his own paper. In 1911, without benefit of a formal journalistic education, Strunk opened the Red Willow County Gazette. With his own newspaper, he immediately challenged the community's recognized editorial voice at the Tribune. In 1924, he established a daily newspaper. For the next forty-seven years until its publisher's death in 1961, the McCook Daily Gazette served as the newspaper and editorial voice for Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas. In 1926, when he built a new office building for the Gazette on McCook's Main Street, Strunk had etched in the concrete above the building's entryway his concept of service to the community. With the motto, "Service is the Rent We Pay for the Space We Occupy in This World," Strunk set the tone and direction for both himself and his newspaper. Strunk's dedication to community service was no more evident than in his lifetime work on behalf of flood control and irrigation along the Republican River. For a span of some three decades, "McCook's man on Main Street" hurled editorial challenges at state and national politicians to fund water control projects in Southwest Nebraska. Within his editorial demands for government programs to benefit his community, Strunk maintained a healthy dose of political pragmatism. In 1928, Strunk began an active role in the foundation and work of the Twin Valley Association of Commercial Clubs. That organization stood in the forefront for planning irrigation and flood control programs along the Republican and Frenchman rivers. As a member of the group's executive committee and chairman o f its flood control committee, Strunk played an important role in making the goals of the organization known to elected officials. Among the politicians who felt the wrath of Strunk's editorial attacks on sometimes inattentive politicians was a fellow townsman, the popular five-term senator from Nebraska, George W. Norris. In a volatile exchange of correspondence in advance of the 1930 senatorial election, the two men engaged in political polemics over their differing visions of water control in semi-arid Southwest Nebraska. With similar visions about water control but different methods for achievement, the two men sparred over how best to bring both flood control and irrigation to a land of sparse water resources. It was over the issue of water control that they had their greatest disagreement. Norris favored combining hydro-electric power with irrigation and flood control, while Strunk believed that water power had no place along the Republican River. Their differences would largely disappear when they found common bond after a devastating flood hit along the Republican River in 1935. Strunk became well known throughout the state and much o f the Midwest because of his dedication to water control and reclamation on the upper Republican River. His importance in bringing federally funded water programs to southwestern Nebraska was recognized by Congress. Congress passed legislation in 1952 designating the body of water held by Medicine Creek Dam near Cambridge, Nebraska, as Harry Strunk Lake. From an itinerant printer to newspaper publisher to a recognized water reclamationist, Harry Strunk fulfilled his motto of service to his community o f McCook and Southwest Nebraska.
Real, Charles E., "McCook's Man on Main Street: Publisher Harry D. Strunk and the politics of water reclamation in southwest Nebraska, 1928-1938" (1996). Student Work. 537.
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A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1996, Charles E. Real