For some time, Dick Janda of Lincoln and his brother Ken of Sun City, Ariz., had read their late mother’s name in the unclaimed property listings of the State Treasurer’s Office. But the address associated with the property didn’t match any familiar residences. So, they figured there was another Florence Janda just waiting to be found. That is until Dick received a letter from Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg.
“I was still a little skeptical,” Dick said. But the veteran TV and radio personality caught a 10/11 News story about the Treasurer’s unclaimed property program that cinched it. Janda had just spoken with unclaimed property researcher Mary Jones, and then “that very day I saw Lance’s Journal and Mary Jones was right there on camera. That’s how I knew Mary Jones was a real person in the Treasurer’s Office and not a scammer.”
Florence Janda—a smart, creative, hard-working, resourceful woman—died in 2011 at age 92. She had lived most of her life in Loup City and Ord. The $5,500 in her name came from an old insurance policy. “The most important thing to her was her family,” said Dick. “It’s fitting that the unclaimed property would come back to us.” The quilt in the cover photo was made by Florence for her granddaughter Jenny Janda, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1997.
Dick and his two living siblings and their brother’s widow split the unclaimed property money equally, but saved some for a family reunion last Labor Day.
The Jandas called it the 5s Reunion in honor of family members whose ages, birthdays, years of birth, or anniversaries were divisible by the number, five, a list their mother started tabulating years ago. It all started with their father, Emil, who was born on the fifth day of the fifth month in the year, 1910, and whose favorite numbers were five and ten. In 1915, he was 5 years old on the fifth day of the week, the fifth day of the month, and the fifth month of the year. Emil and Florence Janda, who later divorced, had five children, including a daughter who died in infancy. Eldest son Robert of Omaha died in 2013. In addition to sons Dick and Ken is daughter Marge Ritz, who lives in Ashton.
Not every day does someone approach Treasurer Don Stenberg at a public event just to thank him for finding their unclaimed property. But Jamalee Clark of Gering seized the moment when the Treasurer was in nearby Scottsbluff promoting the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust.
As a volunteer, Clark had helped set up for the event at the Riverside Discovery Center, and when she learned the identity of the special guest, she said she decided, “to come back and say thank you very much.”
Clark and her friend Evelyn Raymond had worked together on a book about the history of Gering for the town’s centennial in 1987. When the information was collected, articles written and edited, 950 books sold, and bills paid, the two hard-working volunteers used proceeds to purchase a bronze sculpture, “The Dream Tree,” by Dennis Smith for the Gering Library. On the advice of a local bank, the $1,000 that was left over was put into a cashier’s check for safekeeping until it could be donated to another worthy community project.
But, as Clark remembers, “I put it in a drawer and promptly forgot about it. Then our first children were graduating from high school and going off to college and then the next ones were graduating, and then there were wedding dresses to make, and pretty soon the years have gone by and we discovered we had never done anything with the check.” In the meantime, the bank had changed hands and “the trail began to unravel.” Unable to cash the check, Clark wrote to the Treasurer’s Office and, to her surprise, discovered that the money had been sent to the State of Nebraska just months after the check was prepared.
“Through the diligence of people in the Treasurer’s Office, we were able to track down the money,” Clark said. Equal checks were written to Clark and Raymond, and each donated her share to the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering.
Mary Louise Wenzl died in 2008 at age 93, leaving what was then considered a sizeable trust in Pawnee County, her lifelong home. The trust was handled by her Tecumseh attorney and divided four ways, according to her wishes.
“Mrs. Wenzl grew up in tough times, and whatever she was able to accumulate, through frugality on her part, she wanted to use to assist organizations she had a strong attachment to,” explained her attorney, Steven Mercure. “These were things that were important to her. We can see in the manner in which she gave her money.”
Those strong attachments included St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Steinauer, Neb., population 73. Also named in the trust were eight nieces and nephews and the music program at Pawnee City Public Schools.
Eight years later, more than $17,000 in death benefits from Voya Insurance and Annuity Co. surfaced in the unclaimed property holdings of the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office. While not common, resources sometimes do show up after estates are settled, Mercure said. “This is not something we were aware of or apprised of when we set up her trust in 1997.”
The unclaimed property was returned to the trust to be divided according to her original wishes.
A focal point of Mrs. Wenzl’s long life was the big, beautiful church in Steinauer, one of only two Catholic churches in the county. A widow, whose only two children had predeceased her, Mrs. Wenzl was born in Pawnee City. She and her husband, Emmett, were married at St. Anthony in 1936 and, in addition to farming, operated Hotel Pawnee in Pawnee City at one time.
Of the total unclaimed property returned to the trust in 2016, an estimated $4,700 of it will go to the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln Foundation for the benefit of St. Anthony. The stately Romanesque church, built in 1926, was restored in 2013, including the replacement of a high altar, side altars, and a communion rail, as well as refurbished statuary, refinished floors and pews, and fresh white paint with accents of turquoise, purple, blue, white, and gold.
“We are indebted to them,” Marie Schmit, church secretary for 55 years, said about Mrs. Wenzl and others who provide long-term financial support. “I don’t know if little parishes like ours—St. Anthony has 120 families—could survive if we didn’t have our early benefactors. They really had the faith.”
When Brian Selmer walked away from the oil fields of North Dakota almost a quarter century ago, he left behind what he thought was a failed venture in the rough and tumble oil business.
His company, Trader Capital Holdings, owned mineral rights on eight acres near Williston. “I figured my mineral rights were worthless. No one wanted to take a risk to fix these wells,” he said. “I went on and got into the contracting business, and that was the last I knew of it.”
Out of the blue, a couple of years ago, he received a letter from a company wanting to buy his mineral rights. Doubting the company’s offer, he got in the car and drove to Williston to find out for himself. There he discovered a boomtown in the middle of the oil-rich Bakken Formation.
He also discovered that ownership on one of the sections of land on which he held mineral rights had been transferred multiple times, eventually ending up with XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobile. Apparently unable to locate Selmer, XTO Energy held royalties for him in an escrow account. When a three-year time limit ran out, XTO Energy turned over royalties amounting to $23,207 to the Nebraska Treasurer’s Office.
“When I left in the 1990s, it was a sleepy little old area. The roads were terrible. I didn’t think anyone would drill wells there again,” Selmer said. But horizontal drilling changed all that. Selmer thought he had settled all legal and ownership matters relating to his mineral rights on his trip back to North Dakota, but shortly after returning home, he got a call from the Treasurer’s Office.
“I thought I had it all put to bed, but you called and said we’ve got royalties for you. The money that had accrued was from oil priced at $100 a barrel. I feel very fortunate,” he said. “I would never have known if the Treasurer’s Office hadn’t contacted me. Without the efforts of people who work in our best interest, I would never have known. The Treasurer’s Office did a great job tracking me down and getting this money to me. I don’t know how to say thanks.”
Selmer, 61, who now manages construction projects, lives in Bellevue to be close to his aging parents, Carl and Eleanor Selmer. In his free time, he enjoys watching football on TV with his dad, an original member of the coaching staff Bob Devaney brought with him from Wyoming to Nebraska back in the 1960s. Brian played football at the University of Miami where walked on as a wide receiver and kicker. He graduated with a degree in engineering.
While the future of his mineral rights still looks promising, Selmer says, he goes about business as usual. “I get up and go to work and do what I do,” he said. “I don’t look back.”