Belle Edwards, center, and Wes Grady (back row) of North Platte with some of the USS Nebraska crew, 2002.
Belle Edwards has “unusual” house guests every June.
For the past 20 years, she’s opened up her North Platte home to sailors, members of the USS Nebraska submarine crew.
Each year, the NebraskalandDays celebration in North Platte invites the Commander and several sailors from the submarine named after the Cornhusker State to town. To house the men, local volunteers are called upon.
Belle and her late husband, Clayton, got the call from Ron Books in 1994 and were glad to help. Every year since then, they have had 1-2 sailors from the USS Nebraska in their home.
The sailors spend 4-5 days in North Platte, and are the honorary guests at NebraskalandDays activities, from the pancake feed to the beef barbecue, the art show, the parade, the rodeo, and most everything in between. The sailors bake one of the cakes for the cake auction, and it’s often one of the highest selling cakes.
Each year’s crew tries to outdo last year’s cake bakers for money paid for the sailors’ cake.
“It’s important to them, that their cake auctions for a lot of money,” Edwards said.
The sailors wear their Navy uniforms and are greeted warmly.
“They are feted everywhere they go,” Belle said. “The patriotism of the people of North Platte is unparalleled, starting with the Canteen (from World War II). It seems like we've gained a reputation of really welcoming the military.”
The sailors are transported to each day’s activities, and each night come home to their hosts’ house. Belle usually leaves the door open for them, and there are snacks and drinks on hand when they come home to relax.
After Clayton died in 1999, she moved from Indian Hills to a condo, and now the sailors stay in the “west wing,” of her home, with their own bedroom and bathroom. “We encourage them to make themselves at home.”
Edwards has become friends with several of the sailors, including Commander Dittmer and his wife Lauri. Dittmer has been one of the few men who have come to NebraskalandDays twice, and when the USS Nebraska came into port at King’s Bay in Georgia in 2000, Edwards was invited on the tour with the families of the crew.
It was the first year after her husband’s death, and she was concerned about traveling to Georgia, staying at a hotel, and finding the port. But the Dittmers took care of her, having her stay in their home. She got to go out in the sub as it took a brief trip.
“I even sat down at the controls!” she laughed.
She loves the sailors who visit.
“They are all respectful and wonderful, just wonderful. It’s my honor and privilege to have them here, my opportunity to give back,” she said.
Belle will celebrate her 30th year as a real estate broker next year. She doesn't plan to retire, and she doesn't plan to quit hosting sailors, either.
“As long as I'm needed, I'll certainly be available. It’s little enough to do, considering the huge responsibility they take on to keep all of us safe," she said.
NebraskalandDays is June 18-28 in North Platte with a variety of activities, from parades to the four-day Buffalo Bill Rodeo, June 18-21. Lady Antebellum is in concert on June 27, with David Nail opening, and Billy Currington closes NebraskalandDays with a concert on June 28.
For more information, visit the website at Nebraskalanddays.com or call 308.532.7939.