Town Story: Eustis
In the heart of Nebraskan heartland, small town Eustis offers up the best and the 'wurst' of the good life.
(This story originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)
IN A SMALL TOWN like Eustis, you should always lock your car. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a box of zucchini on your front seat.
With that said, our guide, Eustis resident Don Brockmeier, didn’t follow his own sage advice while shuttling us between stops in his hometown. By the end of the day, we harvested more than produce.
After watching a flock of Eustis eagles – actually a vortex of turkey vultures riding thermals at daybreak over coffee at Don’s – we set out for a taste of the best and the wurst of Eustis.
When people think of Eustis, two things often come to mind: authentic German sausage (wurst) and the best pies known to mankind.
When we featured the Village PieMaker in 2004, Ne-braska’s Pie Queen, Judith Larsen, made 200 pies per day with the help of two part-time employees. Now, 27 workers sling filling into the 1,600 pies that are lovingly created each day before being shipped throughout Nebraska and 10 other states.
When we arrived, there were already racks full of pies, all apple, and Larsen was picking up a load bound for Grand Island. As we caught her coming, or going, she handed us a fresh, not yet boxed, still-warm pie with an aroma that convinced us apple pie ranks right up there with bacon and eggs for breakfast.
Larsen attributes much of the business’ success to her hardworking employees. Before we could cut into the breakfast pie and fully appreciate their hard work, we were already on our way to sample another Eustis delicacy.
Gregg Wolf grew up on a farm north of Eustis. He has farmed, worked as a mechanic, run a custom haying operation, and for many years ran the Wurst Haus, which is the grocery store his father purchased in 1970.
As a third-generation sausage maker, Wolf carries on the family wurst-making tradition that began in America when William Wolf emigrated from Germany in 1886.
After decades spent crafting the family’s locally famous sausage and growing the business in that small-town grocery, the Wurst Haus was splitting its bulging casing. Wolf, his cousin Deb Wolf Breinig, and her husband, Doug, recently built a 7,500-square-foot sausage-production facility thanks in part to a $255,000 community development block grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. The family operation moved from the Wurst Haus into the new plant last spring.
Lone Wolf Wurst Meats now employees 11 workers and sends thousands of pounds of its sausage, prime rib and dried sausage products across the Midwest. The company plans to add more staff, expand its presence across the country and is exploring markets in Canada, Mexico and Brazil. “We’re up and running, and people are howling about Lone Wolf Wurst Meats,” Wolf said, handing us two packages of his family’s famous summer sausage.
Next door to the old Wurst Haus, which is now H&J Grocery, Jan Yeutter is busy in the Der Deutsche Markt, a German-themed gift shop, readying an order for shipment.
The Main Street business is open seasonally, from May until mid-June during the busy spring wedding season and October through the end of December for holiday shoppers. But a call any time is all it takes to get in the door, and since someone needed a last-minute wedding gift, we were able to catch Yeutter inside.
The business started as a Eustis Chamber of Commerce project in 1993 with the intention of giving the business a stable foundation before turning it over to a prospective businessperson.
After two years, Yeutter and fellow chamber member Monika Jurjens partnered to acquire the quaint shop.
Wurstmeister Wolf owns the building which for years shared one wall with the sausage shop. Der Deutsche Markt sells Lone Wolf ’s sausages in exchange for rent. “The old fashioned barter system works well for us,” Yeutter said, adding, “When Greg was cooking over there, it would sometimes get a little smoky.”
Cuckoo clocks, German crystal, steins, Christmas ornaments and nutcrackers are sold here, too. The inventory includes pretzels made by Eustis’ young and little-old ladies, many of whom are of German descent. The twisted treats are rivaling Eustis’ wurst, and best pies, for the very best of Eustis’ kitchens voting.
SOME OF THOSE SAME pretzel perfectionists also have a way with another kind of dough. In the shadow of Eustis’ hilltop water tower, the Eustis Senior Center could be considered Nebraska’s Homemade Noodle Capital.
Cindy Schurr, the center’s director, said the facility fills several niches for the community. In addition to being a place of quilting, chess and shared stories of grandchildren and sports, the senior center is the local coffee shop. They make a lot of noodles here, too.
A big part of the facility’s operating budget comes from the sale of handmade noodles. “We ship egg noodles all over the country,” Schurr said. “One customer from Lincoln buys 200 pounds at a time.” Altogether, the 2,000 pounds of noodles sold each year generate about $7,000 to keep the Eustis Senior Center driving steadily toward the future.
When drivers end up with scratched paint, door dings or wurst – er, worse – one Eustis company has been there, banging out those dents for more than 30 years.
After Doug Keller graduated from Eustis High School and then Southeast Community College with a degree in auto body technology, he thought he could operate the best body shop around. With help from his grandfather Clarence Keller, a long-time Eustis-area farmer and county commissioner, Doug opened Eustis Body Shop.
More than three decades later, Keller has locations in Kearney, Grand Island, Lexington, Cozad and Eustis. Keller, a fifth-generation Eustis resident, attributes his success to the people of Eustis who influenced him while growing up. “I picked up their same work ethic,” Keller said. “When I opened the first shop, I received a lot of encouragement. They were happy to have me in business here.”
That same work ethic seems to shine across the community to-day. As a wildlife photographer, Brockmeier’s philosophy is never to disturb the subject at the far end of his long lens. Before he began traveling the world capturing exotic wildlife on camera, he attended country school south of Eustis until eighth grade.
Following graduation from Eustis High and after four years of ROTC while studying agronomy at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Brockmeier was assigned to a Hawk Missile unit in Germany.
Now, the veteran – who spent 38 years working in the bank his father and two uncles started – shoots hawks with his camera, not to mention other critters while exploring his childhood stomping grounds in the canyons south of town.
“You can drive through here for hours and not see another vehicle,” Brockmeier said. “But as soon as you pull over on the wrong side of the road to take a picture, or stop to relieve yourself,” he added while pouring coffee from his Thermos, “people come out of the woodwork.”