SCOTTSBLUFF — One hundred years ago, Great Western Sugar Company purchased a factory in Ames, Iowa, and moved it to Scottsbluff. For the last century, the men and women working in those factories have played a crucial role in their success as well as the community’s.
At one time, factories dotted the Panhandle, with locations in Lyman, Mitchell, Gering, Bayard and Torrington in addition to the Scottsbluff plant.
“Now all we have is Scottsbluff, which has been expanded,” said Legacy of the Plains board member Jack Preston.
He and other organizers hope that an event on Friday will bring together generations of sugar workers from around the area.
The Great Western Sugar Reunion will take place from 1-5 p.m. on Friday at the Legacy of the Plains Museum.
Current and former employees of Western Sugar, Holly Sugar and Great Western Sugar, producers and community members are invited to attend.
“Anybody can come,” Preston said.
There will be exhibits of artifacts that tell the story of the regional sugar industry, as well as video and computer presentations, David Wolf, executive director at Legacy of the Plains, said.
Refreshments will be served and attendees will be able to visit the museum’s exhibit hall for free.
“We have a fairly extensive archive of sugar-related items,” Preston said, including harvesting and hauling equipment.
People are also encouraged to bring their own artifacts.
This evening, the museum will host a video and discussion about the sugar beet industry and the equipment used throughout the years. The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. and will allow those in attendance to share their experiences from the industry.
The crop will also be celebrated during the 23rd annual Harvest Festival this weekend.
According to the University of Nebraska CropWatch, the state currently ranks sixth in the U.S. in production of sugar beets, with an average of 45,000-60,000 acres planted per year.
Approximately 90% of sugar beets grown in Nebraska are produced in the Panhandle, with the majority of production occurring in Scotts Bluff, Morrill and Box Butte counties.
According to CropWatch, sugar beets contribute more than $130,000,000 to the local economy through the production and processing industries.
“Obviously, it’s a major economic driver,” Wolf said.
For more information about the reunion, contact Legacy of the Plains at 308-436-1989.