Where history comes to life
Lori White ’80 says that her old YC classmates would be shocked to know what she’s up to these days.
She didn’t graduate from YC with her contemporaries because of one little class she refused to take: American History. “I had no interest in the past,” she says.
Twenty-five years later, she did complete that YC degree. Now she’s dedicated to bringing the past to life as the president of Dobby’s Frontier Town, a living history museum in Alliance, Neb.
As leader of a community-operated tourist destination, every day is a little bit different for White. Some days she’s presenting to board members, examining budgets, and planning PR initiatives. Other days she’s giving tours to groups of school children, senior citizens, and college students.
The best days are when she gets to be in costume enjoying activities, such as the annual fall festival—complete with a quick draw pistol contest, cow chip throws, and sarsaparilla-swiggin’ at the historic saloon.
Often you’ll find her leading a team of volunteers, tool belt on, hammer in hand, working on ramps, roofs, and renovations for Frontier Town’s 24 buildings. Lori says one of the most rewarding parts of her job is empowering other women by passing on her knowledge of carpentry.
“Anything goes!” she says of her job. “It’s hard work, but I love every minute of it.”
White has been at the helm of Dobby’s since 2009. Originally the retirement project of local man Kenneth “Dobby” Lee, the attraction transferred to the Alliance community when Lee passed away. His family couldn’t manage the upkeep for the facility and suggested to the community that either they take it over, or the buildings would have to be torn down.
White was a friend of Dobby’s and hated the thought of his legacy being demolished. “I just adored the man. Everyone who knew him did,” she said. It was a big job taking over Frontier Town, but it became a labor of love, not just for White, but for the entire community.
The first year of operation was focused on much needed maintenance, including making some of the buildings handicap-accessible, cleaning up the facilities, and beautifying the 2.5 acre park with basic landscaping.
White says when she needs something for Frontier Town, be it shingles, lumber, doorknobs or labor, she’s frequently amazed at the response from the Alliance community. “They are a gracious people,” she says, as local folks are quick to pitch in and help out. What once was a virtually unknown spot is now growing in popularity, thanks to White and other volunteers’ efforts. Their guestbook boasts entries from all 50 states, as well as many foreign countries.
In 2010, the frontier town won a Nebraska community Improvement Program special award for tourism promotion and development recognizing community spirit.
White was named 2010 Volunteer of the Year by Box Butte County Chamber of Commerce.
Now, Frontier Town, which is funded solely by donations and grant money, is in a new phase of expansion. They’ve recently moved an historic German Evangelical church building to their site and are in the process of restoring it. Next on the construction docket will be a black powder gun shop. White hopes to soon add electricity and plumbing to more of the facilities so that Frontier Town can be a destination for special events, such as weddings, reunions, and receptions. Eventually, she would like to operate a bed and breakfast on the site.
White says she loves seeing her efforts and ordinary materials become something so many people enjoy. “Every day is a great day,” she says. “People are falling in love with what’s going on here.” Watching people interact with and enjoy a slice of Nebraska history is an unexpected blessing for the woman who once thought history didn’t apply to her.
More information at www.dobbysfrontiertown.com.