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Another Hartington legend is gone

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Hall of Fame journalist Joan Burney dies in Lincoln

HARTINGTON — Hartington lost a great ambassador Saturday.

Joan Burney, 90, died quietly early Saturday in Lincoln after a long and successful career in journalism and public speaking.

Her writing and public speaking helped to put Hartington on the map.

She began her career late in life, but once she got started, she never looked back, jumping into that career with both feet.

In 1968, after her six children were all in school, she began her 40-year career as a columnist at the Cedar County News. 

Those columns did not go unnoticed as soon more than a dozen other publications, including the Sioux City Journal, Norfolk Daily News and Omaha World Herald, also carried her work. 

She later became an author and motivational speaker, compiling a three-book series of her columns, co-authoring two books on sharing faith with children, and traveling across the country for speaking engagements. 

Throughout her travels, she always seemed to slip in something about, “living in her little red farm house on a hill outside of Hartington, Nebraska.”

Over the course of her career, Burney won several accolades.

In 1991, she was named the Nebraska Mother of the Year. Later that same year, she was named the National Mother of the Year, beating out actor Tom Selleck’s mother for the honor.

At the time, she said her parenting philosophy was best summarized as raising kids “in a hugging atmosphere full of faith, love and humor.”

She was also named as the 1993 National Federation of Press Women’s National Communicator of Achievement, and in 1995 she earned the Hartington Community Service Award. 

She was named “Woman of Distinction” by the Nebraska Commission of the Status of Women in 1995, and Nebraskan of the Year by the Lincoln Rotary in 1999. In 2000, she became an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy, an honor bestowed by Gov. Mike Johanns. In 2009, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mount Marty College.

In 2015, she was inducted into the Marian Andersen Nebraska Women Journalists Hall of Fame.  That same year the Cedar County News honored her with a yearly Joan Rossiter Burney Outstanding Communicator Award for a Cedar Catholic High School graduating senior, 

Long-time Nebraska Press Association Executive Director Allen Beermann has known Joan Burney since the 1960s when her father-in-law was campaigning for office, and Beermann was working in the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office.

Joan was the type of person that could always light up a room, Beermann said.

“Whenever Joan came into the room, instantly everybody felt better. It was part magnitism, part humor. She always made people feel better and feel good,” he said.

Her writing had the ability to do the same thing, he said.

“She had a great belief in the power of the written word,” Beermann said. “There were people that would subscribe to papers just because of her columns. She knew the power and the magic of the written word. Her columns always had a meaning. and sometimes they had a hidden meaning you had to think about,” Beermann said.

Cedar County News Co-Publisher Peggy Year said Burney’s writing had the ability to bring people together.

“She was a journalist, who throughout her profession made friends she never met. Those friends are people she has touched so profoundly through her writing that they feel they know her and she knows them, and they like and care for each other. They could sit down and have coffee and talk together as if they grew up next door and saw each other every day,” Year said.

She always helped people find their self worth.

Joan Burney’s talent, dedication to her community and desire to help others are all attributes that today’s youth should aspire to possess, said Cedar County News Co-Publisher Rob Dump.

“That’s why we created the award for high school students,” Dump said. “She’s a great example of what you can do with your life if you just set your mind to it.”

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