COLUMBUS – Emiel Christensen, Jackson Caleb Echols, and Christ Wunderlich have been announced as the 2018 class of inductees to the Columbus Area Business Hall of Fame.
The inductees were announced by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. The 13th class of honorees will be honored on November 20 at the Hall of Fame Banquet.
Emiel Christensen was an architect, author, and teacher of community planning.
Christensen was born near Blair, Nebraska in 1895, a first-generation American. He served in World War I. He then studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis and worked as a draftsman in Florida and Omaha. He moved to Columbus in 1927 and began his own architectural practice soon after.
Christensen was involved in the design and construction of the Oak Ballroom in Schuyler, the old Columbus City Hall building, as well as many residential homes in Columbus. He became a technical advisor to the Columbus City Council and designed many of the city’s water and sewer extensions.
Christensen was well-known for his design and development of “Pa-Wi-To,” a 30-acre site on the bluffs south of Columbus. In partnership with businessman Elmer Bradley, they built unique structures including a cave and a cedar chalet and created a unique recreational area incorporating Emiel’s interest in the environment and natural materials.
From 1949 to 1964, Christensen was professor of planning at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Architecture. He was awarded the title of “Professor Emeritus” at the University in recognition of his service. He was made an honorary life member of the Nebraska chapter of the American Planning Association.
From 1958 to 1966, he was also director of planning for the Division of Nebraska Resources. In 1979, he was the first Nebraskan given the Silver Medal for Outstanding Environmental Design by Tau Sigma Delta, the national honor society for architecture.
Locally, Christensen was very active in the Platte County Historical Society, was a 50-year member of the Columbus Rotary Club, was a past commander of Hartman Post 84 of the American Legion, and was Red Cross disaster chair for many years and chaired numerous Red Cross blood drives during World War II and after.
Emiel married Clara Ann Newmeyer in 1920 and they had two sons, Philip and William. Emiel died in Columbus in 1988.
Jackson Caleb Echols was an active businessman in Columbus for 58 years, partnering in real estate, insurance, and finance as one of the key players in the development of Columbus during the first half of the 1900’s.
Echols came to Columbus in 1874 from Georgia at age 12, as his family left the South after the Civil War. Just two years later, his father died and his mother took the family back to Georgia. Jackson, however, wanted to return to Columbus so came on his own to take a job at a bookstore owned by his sister and brother-in-law, working for $6 a month and room & board.
Not wanting to burden his relatives, Echols offered to apprentice for Columbus’ leading paint shop and left the bookstore. For his first year he earned $52 in wages, of which he was able to save $27. At the age of 18, Echols bought out the former owner of the painting business for $100, took over and developed a lucrative business. He would run the business for 25 years before deciding to sell his paint shop in 1907.
During the time Echols was running his painting business, he bought and sold real estate on the side. Upon his retirement from the paint shop, Hans Elliott and G.B. Speice invited him to join their real estate and insurance firm.
During his years in real estate, Echols played a significant role in developing the areas north and south of the Frankfort Square, including the building where Speice-Echols-Boettcher Company resided and the building now known as Tooley Drug. Those developments are credited with spurring growth on Columbus’ “north side,” now the center of downtown.
Even before leaving his paint shop, Echols was one of the founders of the Equitable Building and Loan Association in 1905. He became Executive Secretary of the Association in 1908 and served in that capacity until his death.
Echols married Sarah Hudson in 1884. They had three sons and a daughter. All three sons and Mrs. Echols died between 1914 and 1918. Echols re-married in 1919 and died in Columbus in 1938.
Christ Wunderlich came to the United States from Germany in the early 1900’s. He attended a trade school in Chicago to learn how to run a brewery.
Wunderlich first came to Nebraska in 1904, as he and his wife Rosa opened up the Wunderlich Saloon in West Point. In 1908 he opened Park Buffet in Columbus, which he ran until the pending prohibition caused them to shut down in 1917.
Towards the end of prohibition, Wunderlich was the first to apply for and get approval in Columbus for a liquor license. In 1933, Christ opened Wunderlich’s Friendly Bar along with his three sons in downtown Columbus. At this location, the family added food to the menu, serving Rosa’s homemade soup and sandwiches. It was also here that Christ began serving the now famous “Tom & Jerry’s” drinks during the holidays. The original recipe is still in use.
Two of the three sons were called to active duty during World War II. After their return, in May of 1946 Wunderlich’s moved to a larger location in downtown Columbus, allowing expanded food and drink menus.
Christ died in Columbus in 1950 and his namesake left the family business at that time, leaving Max and Al to carry on their father’s legacy. They became a full-service restaurant in 1955. In 1981, the growing catering business demanded a larger location and banquet hall so Wunderlich’s moved to their current location on 23rd Street. The downtown location continued operating until 1983.
The third generation of Christ’s family now runs the family business, now known as Wunderlich’s Catering & Barley Shoppe.
The Hall of Fame induction will be held in conjunction with the celebration of the Chamber’s annual awards: Archway Award given to the area’s outstanding businessman by Pinnacle Bank; Ovation Award given to the area’s outstanding businesswoman by Ernst Auto Center/Ernst Toyota; and Charles Farnham Volunteer of the Year given by First Nebraska Bank.
Tickets for the event will be on sale at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce for $35. Contact the Chamber office (564-2769) for information.