Oregon’s iconic Tin Man has inspired a city hundreds of miles away.
After guidance and advice from Oregon residents, the city of Oshkosh, Nebraska, population 884, restored one of its own historic water towers.
On Thursday, April 30, a Facebook live video by the “Oshkosh Water Tower” group showed the 100 year old tower being lit for the first time. During the video, the announcer counts down from 10, and as the tower starts to glow listeners can hear car horns and people clapping.
The video has more than 13,000 views.
The Oshkosh Water Tower had been set to be demolished, but a grassroots effort by a nonprofit in the Oshkosh community bought and restored the 120-foot structure.
Randy Glysch, who spearheaded the effort to restore the 30,000 gallon that was affectionately named the “Tin Man” in Oregon starting in 2015, has been in contact with the Oshkosh Water Tower nonprofit since 2018.
Glysch said by the time Jo Lynn Blackwell, a member of the Oshkosh Water Tower nonprofit, contacted him about saving it, it was weeks away from being demolished.
Glysch, along with Jeff Rau, Oregon’s public works director, worked with Blackwell closely. They gave her advice about getting the word out, talking to council members, getting the local paper involved and mobilizing people from Oshkosh to come to a council meeting and speak about saving their own Tin Man. The Oshkosh Water Tower is now the only water tower on the National Register of Historic Places in Nebraska.
Oregon’s Tin Man is the heart of its downtown, Glysch said, and he and Rau are happy that a small village in Wisconsin can help another community in a different state save a historic monument.
“It makes a place special, and if we could also help preserve a part of history, of another community, then this is something we gladly wanted to do,” Glysch wrote to the Observer in an email.
Watching the Oshkosh Tin Man ceremony made Glysch nostalgic.
“Wow, for me, it was like the lighting of our Tin Man all over again,” he wrote in an email. “ I was also so proud of JoLynn, who was a one woman show to save the Tin Man. I know what it feels like to start something like this, and to finally see all the hard work that was put into saving the Tin Man. They are just amazing in what they accomplished in a very short period of time.”
For Oregon’s project, Glysch, then a community organizer and now a member of the Oregon Village Board, raised $30,000, and the village contributed $62,880. The funding went toward painting and lighting the Tin Man, including the addition of 12 LED lights along the catwalk and four lights on each leg, all of which point up to the bottom of the tank.
Today, Oregon’s water tower can be seen all the way from U.S. Hwy. 14.
In the Facebook Live video from Oshkosh, Blackwell, with her Nebraska accent thanks Glysch and Rau.
“What does Oregon Wisconsin have to do with our water tower?” she asked. “Well the lights on their water tower are the inspiration for the lights on our water tower. So thank you, Jeff and Randy – number one for answering my calls, and your advice, your inspiration and your guidance.”
The Oregon Tin Man’s lighting ceremony was on June 6, 2017 at Waterman Triangle Park. Hundreds of Oregonians showed up with glow sticks and former Village President Steve Staton addressed the crowd.
“This is another interesting and worthwhile chapter in our historical downtown,” he said. “(It) fortifies the sense of identity by pulling people together and giving something that they can recognize as being important in the past.”
Staton also thanked the late Joan Gefke, a local resident and historian who helped with downtown redevelopment and preserving buildings like the water tower and pump house through her “optimism and passion.” He quoted part of the letter she wrote to the Wisconsin State Journal in 2008, two years before her death, in response to an article titled, “Recycle Oregon’s ugly water tower.”
“Yes, the water tower does look over the downtown. Yes it is old and rusty. But the message it sends is not one of gloom and doom,” she wrote. “The message echoed from this magnificent icon is that there is real value in the past. History establishes a sense of place, of a hometown where its roots are important and that old, established walls and sites are ageless if taken care of.”