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‘Dear Homefolks’ program to tell the story of local WWI veterans

November 10, 2018

No one knows for sure who kept the scrapbook.

Over 10,000 words of correspondences that a Beatrice World War I veteran sent home are contained in it. Letters from his brother are in there, too.

The LaSelle brothers, Vaill and Ernest, served on the Western Front in different capacities but both chronicled the war through volumes of letters. Ernest wrote most of them, many of which were reprinted in the Beatrice Daily Sun.

The stories of these two Beatrice doughboys will be featured in a special musical program at the Vintage Venue, 620 Court St., this Sunday in honor of Veterans Day. Beatrice’s Community Players in collaboration with the Gage County Historical Society and Museum and Beatrice Public Library are putting on the event.

The program will feature WWI-era music interspersed with a video projection and readings of news headlines and letters, including those of Ernest and Vaill LaSelle. In fact, the program’s name “Dear Homefolks,” comes from Vaill’s signature address.

“This has been a really fun idea that germinated a long time ago,” said Jamie Ulmer, managing artistic director at Community Players. ”..It’s really a great example of the outreach opportunity that the theater has.”

Mary Beth Tuttle, board member of Community Players, said the theater was looking for a local angle to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, Nov. 11, which signaled the end to World War I. Armistice Day later became Veterans Day in the 1950s.

The theater sought local stories while Tuttle waded through the LaSelle scrapbook, cutting the correspondences down for the program.

“He (Ernest) was an excellent writer and takes you right into the trenches; what the trenches smelled like,” Tuttle said. “He was fabulous and we are really blessed...It was a delight to research.”

The Gage County Historical Society Museum houses the scrapbook, which Tuttle suspects was kept by the LaSelles’ sister Nellie, but no one knows for sure.

According to Tuttle, the LaSelles left no descendants and their fate is up to viewers to find out on Sunday.

“It’s absolutely unique,” Tuttle said. “I learned a lot researching it. It should be a really good show.”

A WWI veteran from DeWitt, Ben Schmidt, will also be featured in the program. Schmidt was wounded in battle after taking a machine bullet to the leg. Some of his artifacts, including that machine gun bullet, will be on display at Sunday’s program.

“Dear Homefolks” is from 2-4 p.m. and is open to the public. Free will donations will be accepted, with portions of the proceeds going to the Veterans Memorial Park.

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