As a business, insurance and estate planner with a background in journalism, for years, Bob Mundy thought there were untold stories of Nebraskans that needed to be told. This includes stories of agribusinesses, bankers, equipment dealers and cattle feeders.
“There are a lot of people that make sure things like estates and assets are preserved. What Bob noticed was missing were these personal stories that get passed down from one generation to another,” says John Dechant, Legacy Preservation president.
Mundy met Legacy Preservation co-founder David Harding nearly 20 years ago, when Harding was producing books that celebrated family heritage. At the time, Mundy toyed with a similar idea — a television program to interview prominent Nebraska business leaders.
“After running into some roadblocks, I gave up on the television idea, and it went dormant for a number of years. In 2005 or 2006, I reconnected with David,” Mundy says. “He introduced me to Jim [Fogarty, a journalist and former staff writer for the Omaha World Herald], and the three of us got together and started by contacting my clientele and the network of advisers I knew through my career. We developed a business plan, and it became a full-time business.”
Books about business leaders
In 2006, Mundy, Harding and Fogarty founded Legacy Preservation LLC. For the last 13 years, Legacy Preservation, which makes its home in the carriage house of Joslyn Castle in Omaha, Neb., has fulfilled its goal of telling the stories of prominent Nebraskans by writing books about them. Dechant, who has written for Legacy Preservation since 2008, became a partner in 2014 and president in 2018.
“In the early years, Bob was the chief marketer — reaching out through word of mouth or referrals — or reaching out to people Bob thought would be good candidates,” Dechant says. “Now, the phone starts to ring because people have heard of us. People will say, ‘I saw this book. I know this family.’”
One of Legacy’s favorite books it produced is about Robert Gottsch, founder of Gottsch Cattle Co.
“To this day, we get calls from all over the country for this book,” Dechant says. “[Gottsch] was a legendary, larger-than-life character in Nebraska and around the country in the cattle business.”
That is, Gottsch was known for his work ethic and resilience in the face of hardships. An example is highlighted in an excerpt from the Legacy Preservation book “Never Back Down: Bob Gottsch, the Business of Life.”
Dechant recalls, “One son told this story: Dad hated coffee because it was a way for people to waste time. That's why he wouldn’t allow a coffee maker at any of the feedyards or offices for years. When I was about 10, it was cold as hell and blowing snow, so I went to the little office to thaw out. The hired man was in there pouring a cup of coffee when Senior came busting in. He'd been riding pens and looked like the Abominable Snowman. He spotted the coffeepot and threw it through our one and only glass window. We scattered like rats. We didn’t have a coffeepot in an office for 30 years after that.”
Since 2006, Legacy Preservation has completed more than 100 books on people like Gottsch — mostly Nebraskans, but also clients from Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, Colorado and Arizona.
The writing process to create a book might take anywhere from nine to 16 months — some have taken up to three years to compile as many as 50 interviews and complete the book, with one lead writer, one editor and one person interviewing. Sometimes, Dechant notes, interviews yield surprising results, and they learn things family members themselves didn’t know.
“Sometimes we will interview a family, and the grown children will tell different versions of the same stories. We’ll compile these stories, go to the parents with the transcripts, and we’ll learn the parents told different versions of the stories to their kids,” Dechant says. “That makes me feel really good about the work we do, because we’re helping families compile a complete picture of their family.”
Frequently, the process involves telling the story of the community in conjunction with the legacy of the family and business. This includes brothers Duane, Harry, Ken and Dave Swanson, founders and owners of Sandhill Equipment in Bassett, Neb.; the Landen family, who founded Security National Bank in Omaha; Kenneth Morrison, founder of Morrison Enterprises in Hastings, Neb.; as well as multiple businesses throughout Nebraska and the U.S.; and Kelly Holthus, of York, Neb., owner of Cornerstone Bank.
“Often, it’s intergenerational. In the case of Kelly Holthus for example, there are family involved in the bank that I think will eventually succeed Kelly. The Swansons are another example,” Mundy says. “Frankly, the kind of people we’re working with are going to be doers in their community. I think it’s a kind of natural evolution. They become leaders, whether York or Omaha or Lincoln. Their story and the community story are integrated to some degree.”