The last gentleman of the “gentlemen’s agreement” that staved off Ralston’s annexation by Omaha in the 1960s has died.
Wendell Kronberg, Ralston’s mayor from 1963 to 1969, died Sept. 6 at the age of 82. In the late 1960s, Kronberg met with Omaha Mayor A.V. Sorensen at a hotel at 72nd and Center Streets and the two forged an accord: If Ralston agreed not to extend its reach any farther than its roughly 1½-square-mile area, Omaha would not make a move for annexation.
The deal made for the stuff of legend in Ralston’s history, Kronberg’s daughter Jann Glesmann said.
“It’s something that still makes me incredibly proud,” Glesmann said. “You tell people about it, and some of them don’t believe something like that could really happen. But it happened.”
The handshake deal has stood for decades now, through the annexations of Millard in 1971 and Elkhorn in 2007, and a dozen other rumblings and grumblings, all of which end with a mention of the agreement and each city’s desire to honor it.
“It has enabled Ralston to remain Ralston,” said Joyce Kronberg, his wife of 61 years.
“Wendell always felt we had something special in Ralston, a really community-minded place, and he wanted it to always stay that way, and I think it has. He always said you have to give back for the space that you occupy, and he always looked for ways to do that.”
Moving to Ralston in 1955 after a four-year stint in the Air Force, Kronberg immediately set about making himself useful in his adopted community. He joined the volunteer fire department and American Legion Post 373, was a charter member of Messiah Lutheran Church and soon was elected to the Ralston City Council.
Kronberg was a State Farm insurance agent for 40 years as well as a public servant. His counsel was often sought in civic and personal matters, Joyce Kronberg said.
“People listened to him,” she said. “He wanted the best for people and for the city, and when it came down to it, if you wanted to do something and it was good for Ralston, he would take the lead.”
Even after his mayoral tenure, Kronberg remained active in community building, serving with the Ralston Community Foundation, the Offutt Air Force Base Advisory Council and the Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce.
After the death of their son Hal in 1980, the Kronbergs established a college scholarship named in Hal Kronberg’s honor.
“The scholarship was always very important to Wendell,” Joyce Kronberg said. “It’s something he always saw as giving young people at least a little start to their lives.”
The Kronbergs left Ralston in 2011 to move to a senior living community in west Omaha, but Joyce Kronberg said her husband never considered anywhere but Ralston to be home.
“It was always, always Ralston,” she said.
Kronberg is also survived by son Dr. Kent Kronberg of Omaha, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Messiah Lutheran Church, 5015 S. 80th St., in Ralston.