Lincoln’s Person of the Year: A bookstore owner who dared to enter the arena
The first time I met Scott Wendt, I went down to his bookstore when it was in its old location south of the Creamery in the Haymarket. He was up to his eyeballs in books, as they were just about to move to their current location a few blocks away on Ninth Street.
Up-and-coming developers at WRK had bought the building, and Bluestem Books had to find a new home. I’d go on to do a lot of talking to WRK owners Robert and Will Scott and Scott Wendt over the next few years, as they were crucial players in the debate over whether to build a $340 million arena project right next to Bluestem’s old home.
Good people, all around. I would have nominated the Scott twin brothers for Person of the Year, too, but I couldn’t just pick one and I know how twins hate to be considered one person, so I left them off the list.
Wendt was a quiet, studious bookstore owner who became increasingly involved in the arena debate. First, he showed up as commenter “scottw” on journalstar.com arena stories, sometimes mentioning that he was a Haymarket business owner, which always caught people’s interest. They, like me, had wrongly assumed most Haymarket owners would be ecstatic at the prospect of the city investing $340 million right next door to them.
Then Wendt began attending meetings of an opposition group that eventually called itself No2Arena. He became one of their spokespersons.
When I interviewed him in this new role — in his new bookstore — I was amazed at the amount of research he was doing. I thought I had immersed myself in all the reports and committee meetings and minutes I could find, but this guy sometimes found things I hadn’t seen. I guess we should expect that from a book learnin’ fellow.
He wasn’t always right — he’d clearly never been interviewed by TV, radio and newspaper reporters weekly and sometimes he stumbled over the facts. But overall, he was an impressive, grassroots spokesman for the “other side” — even if he was largely drowned out by a quarter-million-dollar pro-arena advertising campaign.
Of course, the No2Arena group was more than just Wendt, but he emerged as a thoughtful, reasonable, quiet but determined voice of opposition. He put himself out there in the public eye, and took his punches for it. He risked losing customers in the process.
Perhaps this is why Wendt trounced all other nominations for Person of the Year in Lincoln, with two and a half times as many votes from Winterized readers as Mayor Chris Beutler garnered, six times as many as UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, and nearly 20 times as many as the honorable Bo Pelini.
In the words of Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.