Thursday, May 4, 2017

Jim Fras and Beautiful Nebraska

The current issue of the Nebraska Life Magazine contains a story on Jim Fras, composer of Beautiful Nebraska, the State song. Photographer Derrald Farnsworth-Livingston gives his visual interpretation of the lyrics of our state song with pictures. The last verse of the lyrics makes the connection:
          "Beautiful Nebraska, as you look around,
         you will see a rainbow reaching to the ground:
           All these wonders by the Master's hand.
                   Beautiful Nebraska Land."
Jim Fras, his wife and 2 sons, immigrated to Lincoln in 1952. He was born in the Soviet Union of wealthy parents but was still a toddler when Stalin's forces killed his father, confiscated the family's land and forced the family to another Russian town. He was a teenager when Nazi Germany invaded his homeland during WWII. His Mother and family were sent to Germany as slave-laborers. He remained in Germany after the war but his mother and sisters were forced to return to Russia. Jim spent 6 years in a post-war refugee camp where he met and married Irene Horek, a Polish refugee with whom they had two sons. 
The Fras family had some hard times during their early years in Lincoln but turned things around as Irene worked at Russell Stover candy factory and Jim played music at the Lincoln AFB officers club and elsewhere. When Jim heard of the contest for a State Song, he entered his ode to his adopted state. While he won the contest, it wasn't until 7 years later that the Legislature finally selected "Beautiful Nebraska as our state song. Jim Fras died in 2002 but his musical gift to Nebraska lives on. 
Elaine and I first met Jim when Walt Beckman brought him out to a Garland High Alumni reunion to provide the musical entertainment where he played Beautiful Nebraska on an accordion and sang. Some years later while we were in Washington, D.C. he again played his accordion and sang the song for a meeting of the "Nebraska Society" in the District.

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