Jeanne Crumly

Retired teacher, media specialist, farm owner


Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director and Photographer

June 15, 2017, in O’Neill, Nebraska

Introductory Note

NWNL was very fortunate to have met Jeanne Crumly during a kitchen roundtable discussion of the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. She generously then offered me a tour of her farm, its creeks, and the very loose porous soil in this region that leaves farmers’ crop fields and the great Ogallala aquifer quite vulnerable to damaging pollution from any pipeline oil leaks.

Pickle jars Jeanne filled to display sand and local soil in



The magic of the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline collaboration is “an unlikely alliance.” -- Jane Kleeb, Founder of Bold Nebraska

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.


JEANNE CRUMLY  According to Jane Kleeb [Founder of Bold Nebraska and Chair of Nebraska Democratic Party], the magic of the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline [KXL] collaboration is “an unlikely alliance.” It includes radical Republican sandhill ranchers and tree-hugging Omaha environmentalists. They’re now walk arm in arm because there’s a common cause. As well as the cause, Jane understood the magic of creating community through fun exercises of visibility. 

For example, Keystone TransCanada said, “Yes, okay, in the worst-case scenario, statistically we’ll probably have 11 leaks.” A University of Nebraska professor disagreed, saying more like 91. So, Jane picked up on that.  She had a gathering in Lincoln, and she had pumpkins, 91 pumpkins. So grandparents, parents and children came and carved the pumpkins to say “No XL.” They put them around the governor’s mansion, lit them and shined flashlights into the governor’s mansion to shine a light on the issue. 

It is community and it is relationships. In that we crossed the divide. It is a common cause. It is standing for our ethics. We have conversations about the things that others disagree with, but the energy and the unity is just unbelievable. It is an interesting vision, and it’s one we need now. 

1901 building in Neligh, first platted in 1873 and now county seat (population, 1,523)

It seems you envision this Bold Nebraska resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline proposal as a chance to be a model of cooperation.

JEANNE CRUMLY  It can be. What’s missing in debates at the national level is that common cause. The common cause in the Keystone brings people across the divide in their opposition of the pipeline.

NWNL  So an external threat is needed?

JEANNE CRUMLY  That, or a common belief, a core belief.  When I taught American literature, I particularly talked about The Scarlet Letter because it has three driving forces and a fulcrum.  Every human being needs have his or her fulcrum, where your core value sits. If you know what your core value and you imagine a fulcrum that determines the extreme extent of how far as you can go on anything. You need to know what that is. If you don’t have a fulcrum, you have no boundaries; but with it you are provided with an unmovable anchor.

I think we’ve lost that fulcrum in our nation. Where is that one unmovable principle that we all can agree is our bedrock? That extreme beyond which we can’t go. We no longer identify that. Perhaps it used to be religion or freedom. But when two sides are widely divided, you can’t get in the same circles. We must move back to where there’s one base thing on which we can agree.

NWNL  Where’s the overlap?  That’s what I think is needed. If you have two circles, all you need to do is overlap a little bit; and in that overlap we can find the solutions.

JEANNE CRUMLY  Yes. I think that’s the magic of Bold Nebraska.  We found something that we all concretely believe in. Some believe in it, because of property rights. Some believe in it because of environmental concerns. But either way, those rights and concerns are a means to an end. They allow differences to converge at the same spot.

Mural at Nebraska’s Niobrara Museum of covered wagons full of farming families


NWNL  Was Bold Nebraska started just because of the Keystone Pipeline proposal?  

JEANNE CRUMLY  As I understand it, Graham Christenson worked with Farmer’s Union, a lobbying entity for farmers. John Hanson has been an incredible advocate for a sustainable, healthy and workable farm policy. John and Graham saw the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as a threat and knew Jane had an entity looking for a space. Graham invited her to a Supervisors’ Meeting in the York or Columbus area to talk about the proposed KXL pipeline. Once there, Jane couldn’t believe the farmers’ and ranchers’ passion.

She walked out of the meeting saying, “I need to be a part of this.” Her energy, vision, creativity and relentless, relentless pursuit has been great. She’d be in her car driving, driving, driving, driving, driving. We saw that at our meeting here. Dave Domina presented and explained the law, which was encouraging; and Jane presented her magic spark that gave hope in the face of 

It’s countercultural, because our world is so materialistic, so capitalistic.  I think all economic systems have a lifecycle. Communism had a lifecycle. It had an ideal that became a reality. When the reality crushed the ideal, the reality fell apart.

I think capitalism has faced the same concept. When capitalism is a means to a better life, it works When capitalism becomes the mean or end, then it crushes that freedom to achieve a better life. We’ve got working poor. Shouldn’t people working 40 hours a week, be able to feed themselves?  But if that doesn’t happen, then something is wrong with the system. The country now has an economic system where money and profit drive everything – but not here.  Sustainability surpasses maximizing profit here.

Sustainability here means knowing that the cows are grazing on healthy needlegrasses


NWNL  So, the farmer and ranching passion is counter to profit-driven drive?

JEANNE CRUMLY  I think so, when in its purest form. The work of farming or ranching gives you a lifestyle. It involves family, community, respect and collaboration with nature. It involves risk-taking and frugality, an understanding of cycles, an understanding of a common destiny, I guess. In a sense, the community needs to work as one. That makes it sound like it’s ideal. It isn’t at all, except there is a fulcrum at its base. 

Our 4th, 5th and 6th-generation farmers don’t work all their life and then look for their retirement date in their last 10 years. Ron and his father are the best example of what “community” can be. Ron’s family has rented the same land – two quarters of ground just west of our house – for 50+ years. [Editor’s note: A quarter is a 160-acre square piece of land.] During that time, they’ve paid for that land. Likewise, we’re the 3rd generation of renting.

We went to the funeral of a 2nd-generation landlord, Ross Fink. His son stood up and said, “Dad’s heart will always be in Page, Nebraska. Let me tell you about Page. We’ve rented land to the Crumly’s for 50+ years. Every spring was the same thing. Dad would get a call from Ron Crumly. They’d talk about what rent was going to be that year, and there’d be the argument. Ron would say, ‘Okay, I’ve been jacking around what rent is this year, and this is it. We’re probably going to have to raise it by X amount.’ The renter was telling him how much to raise the rent. The landlord said, ‘Well, that’s ridiculous. I don’t think we need to raise it that much. It’s market value, and it’s fair.’” 

Jeanne conferring with their ranch manager, Chad Cronk

Ross’s son explained, “The argument the landlord made was, ‘We don’t need that much.’ Now that kind of integrity and working relationship is not profit-driven – it’s relationship-driven. It’s sustainability.” Ross would never have rented to anybody else, because nobody would have taken as good care of the land. That kind of sums up that relationship. Good one, huh?

NWNL  Oh, yes. I’m sorry to make you cry, but what a lovely and perfect ending. Thank you.

JEANNE CRUMLY  That’s a good story.

NWNL  It’s a great story in a great corner of this country. Thank you, Jeanne.

The green hills of Nebraska

Posted by NWNL on February 16, 2024.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.