SuperFan: Ex-Cape mayor Rediger's love affair for the "Big Red"
During this time of social distancing, the SuperFan series of articles focuses on fans who are geographically distant from the teams they support, who are fiercely loyal to a team outside the state of Missouri.
Today: Harry Rediger, 82, former two-term mayor of Cape Girardeau, longtime local J.C. Penney store manager and devoted fan of his home state Nebraska Cornhuskers. In 2014, Harry and his late wife, Fran, were named “Friends of the University” by Southeast Missouri State for their many years of service, support and commitment to SEMO.
Harry Rediger grew up in Seward, Nebraska, 30 miles west of the state capital of Lincoln, home to the main campus of the state’s flagship university.
He follows all the ups-and-downs of his ‘Huskers but says after four decades of living in Southeast Missouri, his passion for SEMO has grown exponentially.
“The nice thing is,” Rediger says, “the colors of both schools are almost exactly the same.”
Nebraska’s official colors are scarlet and cream.
Southeast’s are red and black.
“Our family has had season tickets for many decades, and we attended games in Lincoln through the 2017 season,” said Rediger, “but we let (the tickets) go.”
Deep roots in the Great Plains
Rediger took a few classes at Nebraska but earned his undergraduate degree in 1959 from Nebraska Wesleyan, a private Methodist school with 2,100 students today.
Rediger, who served as Cape mayor from 2010-2018, might have stayed in his hometown had life gone differently.
“Dad had a Mom-and-Pop hardware store in Seward and my original plan was to take over and run it,” said Rediger, a resident today of Chateau Girardeau.
“I decided (hardware) was not the path for me,” he added, although Rediger spent his career in a different kind of store just the same.
A traveling man
Rediger worked for J.C. Penney in Nebraska; St. Joseph, Missouri; Kansas City; Dallas and finally Cape Girardeau in 1976.
“I managed the Cape Penney’s for 20 years,” said Rediger. “The company asked me three times to move elsewhere but Fran and I found a home here and we stayed.”
Nebraska is where the heart is
Rediger and his late father started going to Cornhusker games in the mid-1950s.
“Someone approached Dad for his help in filling up Memorial Stadium,” recalled Rediger, a venue which once seated just 33,000.
Capacity today at Memorial is 85,458 but football attendance regularly tops 90,000.
Rediger remembers his high school band used to play at halftime of Cornhusker games.
“I was a clarinet player in the days when Memorial was open at both ends and every game was played in the afternoon,” Rediger said.
“In those early days, the team went through coaches like popcorn,” Rediger said. “The ‘Huskers were bad until Bob Devaney arrived from Wyoming in 1962,” he added.
“Nebraska was dead last in the old Big-8 in 1961 and Devaney had just one scholarship player, Bob Brown, returning for the ’62 season,” remembered Rediger.
In Devaney’s debut year In Nebraska, the Cornhuskers tied for first in the league and an era of consistent winning was born.
Devaney’s time in Lincoln, followed close on by the 25-year tenure of coaching legend Tom Osborne, firmly established the “Big Red” dynasty.
“I was working Saturdays at Penney’s in Lincoln in the ‘60s,” said Rediger, “and an hour before kickoff at Memorial not a soul was left in the store.”
The devotion to Nebraska football is self-evident as the team has sold out an NCAA-record 375 consecutive home games.
“On game Saturdays, Memorial becomes the third-largest city in the state, behind Omaha and Lincoln itself,” said Rediger.
Hopes for a football rebound
Nebraska has fallen on hard times in recent years, as Nebraska has posted three straight losing records dating to the ’17 campaign.
“Firing (coach) Frank Solich (in 2003) was a bad decision,” said the ex-Cape mayor, “but we hope Scott Frost will turn things around.
“Fans are hurting right now,” Rediger said, “and there’s pressure (on Frost) to bring back a winner.”
Rediger follows Big Red baseball and gymnastics teams but claims Nebraska basketball is traditionally not competitive.
“Football pays the bills, has the most fans, and it’s where my interest mainly is,” Rediger said.
Other local Cornhusker fans
The native Nebraskan claims the Big Red has quite a following in Cape Girardeau.
“We used to have two dozen or more show up at the old Drury Inn to watch the games,” Rediger remembered.
These days, from his fourth-floor perch at Chateau, Rediger no longer travels to Lincoln during football season.
“The recliner is a better spot from which to watch the team now,” Rediger quipped.