Thurston County family to give Civic Nebraska its largest donation

By: - October 27, 2023 12:46 pm

An aerial view of the Thurston County farmland being sold to benefit Civic Nebraska. (

LINCOLN — A Nebraska nonprofit working to rebuild the culture that binds together people of different beliefs in our body politic is poised to receive its largest single donation.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld
Former State Sen Adam Morfeld of Lincoln (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Thurston County landowners Matt and Drey Samuelson are gifting the proceeds from this weekend’s sale of 120 acres of family land between Walthill and Winnebago to Civic Nebraska. 

Based on local sales of similar farmland, the family expects to raise around $1 million for the Lincoln-based group. 

Drey Samuelson had worked in South Dakota politics, including as a chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. His brother, Matt, retired after two decades as a judge in Nebraska.

“I’m 70, he’s 68, and we both thought it was the right time for us to sell the land,” Drey Samuelson said. “We wanted to do something good for our home state.”

Rural health

Samuelson said they chose Civic Nebraska to receive the funds because they knew its director, former State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, and appreciated the 15-year-old group’s work.

Matt (left) and Drey Samuelson in a family photo. (Courtesy of Drey Samuelson)

They like Civic Nebraska’s focus on rural civic health, including boosting awareness of the importance of community involvement and investments in local participation.

They also appreciate Civic Nebraska’s emphasis on studying and preserving free and fair elections. The group also holds classes for kids and others on participating in the political system. 

Voting rights

The organization’s voting rights experts testify at legislative hearings, including recent discussions on shaping the implementation of Nebraska’s new voter ID law by stressing who might be harmed.

Civic Nebraska gets much of its funding from small and large foundations and other donors in Nebraska and nationally. It has 30 full time employees, 70 part-time staff and a $3.2 million budget.

Heidi Uhing, public policy director for Civic Nebraska, testifies at a legislative hearing in Lincoln. (Steve Smith/Civic Nebraska)

The group’s mission is nonpartisan. Some legislative conservatives have criticized its stances and its director for opposing some voting restrictions favored by the officially nonpartisan Legislature’s GOP majority.

The farm ground is being auctioned off online. Bidding closes at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Morfeld, Civic Nebraska’s executive director, said the Samuelsons’ gift “will bolster civic education” and “help ensure that generations of Nebraskans regardless of political affiliation can participate in our democracy.”

Drey Samuelson said the decision was an easy one: “I’m a passionate believer in fixing what’s wrong with democracy. It works well when it works, but (right now) it’s not working.”

Correction: This article has been updated with the correct time when bidding on the property will end.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.