Rocky Steinbrink, owner of Steinbrink Landscaping & Greenhouse, is the great-grandson of Father Nicola Yanney, whose legacy will be celebrated at St. George Orthodox Church Oct. Friday through Sunday. Steinbrink’s grandfather was Elias Yanney, for whom, with his wife Mary, Yanney Park is named. Steinbrink’s mother was their daughter Minnette Yanney Steinbrink.
Nicola Yanney came to this country from Lebanon, which was then under Turkish rule. “He knew life there wasn’t going to be very good, so he came to America. He had no background or specialty, but he knew how to farm, and that’s how people could make a living,” Steinbrink said.
An Omaha resident at first, Nicola, a peddler, visited central Nebraska and “saw how beautiful it was,” so he and his wife Martha homesteaded on “a little pasture north of Gibbon,” Steinbrink said. Martha died shortly after giving birth to their fourth child. The baby died eight days later. Yanney was left a widower with three children under the age of 9.
“He had friends here, but his wife was gone.” Steinbrink said. Meanwhile, the new Orthodox church in Kearney needed a leader. Although Yanney had no theological training, Bishop Rafael, now a saint, chose him as its founding priest.
Except for a few weeks of training in New York, he had no theological education, but “he was a leader. He was just a simple peddler, but people followed him and trusted him. They sensed that he was honest and cared about people,” Steinbrink said.
Father Nicola spent six months each year in Kearney and six months tending to his flock in the nation’s heartland, from Canada south to Mexico, and from the Mississippi River west into Colorado. “He went to Wisconsin, to North Dakota. If someone needed a funeral in Colorado or Oklahoma, he would go,” Steinbrink said.
When the Spanish flu roared across the nation, Father Nicola, unafraid, visited sick parishioners. He caught the flu and died.
St. George will honor his legacy Oct. 26-28, with 200 people from 16 states in attendance. A service will be late Friday afternoon at St. George Orthodox Church at 1511 G Ave., led by His Grace Bishop Basil from Wichita, followed by a dinner and symposium at Ramada Inn.
On Oct. 27, the faithful will gather for memorial prayers at Father Nicola’s grave at the Kearney Cemetery and then journey to the Yanney homestead north of Gibbon. Throughout the day, the church will be open to the public for tours and fellowship. That evening, a banquet will be served at the Holiday Inn, with a keynote by Orthodox historian Matthew Namee from Vancouver, Wash. Hierarchical services and a farewell lunch will conclude the weekend Oct. 28.
Steinbrink, who helped plan the weekend’s events, is deeply touched by the numbers who are coming. “We are humbled that so many people who have respect for Father will celebrate his repose with us,” he said.