If you’ve been in this community longer than 90 seconds, you have no doubt heard one of the residents refer to the community with these two words.
Not Wayne, Nebraska, mind you – but Wayne AMERICA.
It might seem a little presumptuous to those living outside the community, but anybody who spends any amount of time here will tell you that the community showcases a lot of what small-town America really is all about, from the friendliness of its citizens to the passion people have for the community that they live and work in.
But where DID the phrase “Wayne America” get its start?
Its beginnings can be traced back at least as far as the Vietnam era, according to Lyle George, a native of Wayne America who now works in real estate in Seattle, Wash., and often returns to his home town, especially around Chicken Show weekend.
“Somebody had told me that a guy named Terry Meyer remembered the first time he had heard the phrase was when a friend had returned from Vietnam and said ‘Here I am in Wayne America, and I think that’s where the roots of it comes from,” he said on his most recent return to town.
George was born in Wayne and graduated from high school in Laurel, but returned to town in 1980 to work as a seed sales representative and later opened an Apple computer dealership.
“The seed company said I could live in Norfolk or Wayne, and I chose Wayne because there were more interesting things going on here and they also had the college and I wanted to live in a college town,” he said.
George said that he heard college students refer to the community as Wayne America in more of a negative tone, but he looked at the phrase with a different state of mind – one of community pride.
“For me it was part of a bigger world view, whereas some of the college kids who said it made it more as a statement that they were stuck in Wayne America,” he said.
When the city built the new water tower on the east side of town in the early 80’s, George looked at it as an opportunity to make a lasting statement.
“The way I figured, if you were here and didn’t know you were already in Nebraska, you’ve got some problems that you need to figure out,” he said. “They originally were planning to put Wayne Nebraska or Wayne NE on the tower, and I said why not put Wayne America on the tower because that’s what everybody calls it.”
Putting Wayne America on the tower would serve as a way for out-of-towners to remember the community in a unique way, he added.
“It will catch the eye of people who see that and make them remember,” he said. “Any time you cause the mind to do a little flip and be a little different or novel, you have a better chance of being remembered. I’m very proud of the community and wanted to do that.”
George remembered that some people in the community didn’t necessarily like the idea, especially when it required a change order that cost the city the equivalent of about 37 cents per resident (a little more than $1,500).
“It hadn’t been painted yet, but they had to do a change order and some people were complaining that our taxes were already too high,” he said. “I offered to give anybody who complained their 37 cents if that was the reason they were objecting to it.”
The phrase “Wayne America” makes the community as easily recognizable as any big city, George said.
“I’m proud of this community and I think we’re worthy of that kind of national status,” he said. “When people talk about Paris, they don’t say Paris in the Nemes area of France, they just say Paris, France. For me, it was a cultural thing and I wanted to point out that we should have a national status.”
It’s a phrase that, even years later, continues to evoke a sense of community pride that George continues to see every time he talks about his home town.
“I know they’ve repainted the tower since then and it was repainted as is, so it was the ultimate canvas,” he said. “It draw us together, and I’ll see a lot of people on Facebook who are from Wayne America who live all over the country talk about how they’re coming home to Wayne America for the Chicken Show. I think that’s a beautiful thing. People should be proud of where they’re from.”