Prof’s relocation to Lincoln reveals unexpected family ties

John and Adella Cordner (courtesy Jenny Dauer)
John and Adella Cordner (courtesy Jenny Dauer)

When Jenny Dauer visited Lincoln to interview for a job at the School of Natural Resources in May 2013, she had dinner at Lazlo's Brewery and Grill, located in the Historic Haymarket.

Little did she know that the building in which the restaurant is housed, the Bennett Hotel, was built in 1915 by her great-great-grandfather.

"I knew that we had some connections with Nebraska in our family history, but I didn't really know much about it until I came here," said Dauer, assistant professor of practice.

As it turns out, Dauer's great-great-grandfather John G. Cordner was a prolific Lincoln-area architect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Thanks to research already gathered by her mother, Dauer was able to do some historical digging of her own once she was offered the job and moved to Lincoln.

"When I arrived, I asked Bob Kuzelka (emeritus associate professor) about it because he knows a lot about the architecture in the area," she said.

That conversation led Dauer to Ed Zimmer at the Preservation Association of Lincoln, who gave her a five-page document detailing all of the known buildings John had designed and constructed.

Many of these buildings are still standing and operational, including the Bennett Hotel, the College View library on the Union College campus and the building at 1421 O Street, which currently houses the pizza parlor Yia Yia's.

Dauer created an interactive map featuring some of the structures John built, viewable here:

"(John) seemed like a really interesting person," Dauer said. "He spent 28 years teaching Sunday school at the state penitentiary. He was really involved in the community and in doing service for the community."

John was born in Ohio in 1857. He lived in Iowa with wife Adella before moving to Lincoln and building his longtime home near 55th and O streets.

"The house is still there," Dauer said. "I've gone and looked at it. It's actually for sale."

John and Adella would go on to have six children, including son Ted Cordner, Dauer's great-grandfather.

Tragically, Ted died when he was 35. His wife, Lucile, passed away a decade later at the age of 42. They left behind three sons: Ted, Walker and James, Dauer's grandfather.

James was just 10-years-old when his mother died. He was taken in by his aunt and uncle. They would eventually leave Nebraska and move south.

"I knew some stories about my grandfather getting adopted and that Ted had died young," Dauer said. "All of John's kids moved away as adults. It's really interesting because none of the family stayed in Lincoln – no one in my family has been here until me."

Now that she and husband Joe, who was also hired by SNR as an assistant professor, live in Lincoln, the exploration of her family history is just beginning.

"My mom and I spent one afternoon just looking at places," she said. "Learning about my family history these last few months has been an interesting lens to view the history of Lincoln."

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources