Zoe Kraus

Zoe Kraus

Zoe Kraus, a Crete High School senior, won several awards at the Lincoln District and State History Day contests this spring.

Kraus, the daughter of Steve and Diane Kraus of Denton, has been a National History Day participant for five years. The 2020 national theme was “Breaking Barriers.”

This year, Kraus created a 10-minute documentary titled, “Runza: Three Generations of Breaking Barriers in the Restaurant Business,” that tells the story of the popular, family-owned Nebraska restaurant. The menu centers around the German bierock sandwich, a food staple of the Germans from Russia ethnic group. This sandwich, the restaurant’s signature menu item, is now trademarked as “Runza.” The 70-year-old company, founded by Sarah Brening Everett, daughter of German immigrants from Russia, uses her family’s version of the bierock. The 80-store chain is now owned and operated by the third generation of Everetts. 

To prepare projects, students must do comprehensive research include using books, maps, historical newspapers and photos, websites and interviews when appropriate. They must write process papers explaining their topic choices and their research methods and include annotated bibliographies. Entries are judged on content, appearance and presentation, and also how well the individual topics adhere to the annual theme. 

Kraus researched Catherine the Great, the Volga River area as the 18th and 19th century home to a group of Germans, and the immigration of some of these German colonists from Russia to Nebraska. This created the context to understand how Sarah Brening Everett’s family came to settle in Nebraska.

She interviewed Everett family members and employees at the Runza National Office in Lincoln and in the Crete store, to learn how a common German food staple, the bierock bread pocket, became the popular Runza sandwich. Several interview video clips were part of the documentary.

The district History Day contest was held at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, on March 4. Kraus took first place in the Senior Individual Documentary division. She also won the “Best Project in Local or Nebraska History” award sponsored by the Crete Heritage Society. Eighty southeast Nebraska students participated in this district, and the top winners moved on to the state competition.

The Nebraska State History Day contest, originally scheduled for April 18 at Nebraska Wesleyan University, was held virtually during mid-April due to the coronavirus. Judging teams collaborated remotely to grade the projects that involved several hundred students. An awards ceremony was held via Zoom on April 26. Kraus won third place at the state contest in her category, and also received a Nebraskaland Foundation Honorable Mention. She is first alternate to the national competition in June. 

Crete Public Schools National History Day contestants are mentored by Doane University/Crete historian Janet Jeffries, in cooperation with Crete Public Schools enrichment teacher Karen Drevo. 

There are seven district contests in Nebraska. Participating students may compete with papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries and websites. Contestants are divided into junior and senior categories according to age. Topics are the student’s choice, but they must to adhere to the annual theme. District winners compete at the state level, and the state winners advance to the national contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. 

National History Day was founded in 1974 by the History Department at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio as a small local contest. The goal was to reinvigorate the teaching and learning of history in grades 6-12. The program became a national event in 1980. More than 300,000 student researchers nationwide participate annually in National History Day. 

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