Community Celebrates Elsie Eiler, Monowi Tavern

June 29, 2021, 4 p.m. ·

Elsie Eiler in front of the Monowi Tavern
Elsie Eiler in front of the Monowi Tavern

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There was a celebration late last week in Monowi, Nebraska -- population one – and lots of people showed up to thank the town’s only resident for the business she’s run for 50 years.

Highway sign for Monowi
Highway sign for Monowi (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

It’s Friday afternoon, and the Monowi Tavern, just off Highway 12 as it passes through town, is abuzz with people chowing down on burgers, beans and cake.

Elsie Eiler, the 87-year old proprietor and the town’s sole inhabitant, describes her business.

“It’s a bar and grill, I would call it. I do quite a lot of cooking the last couple of year. It’s a bar and a meeting place for everybody. There’s (a) toy box under the tv for all of the little kids that come in, and it’s just a community meeting I guess you would say,” Eiler says.

Eiler and her late husband Rudy, took over running the tavern 50 years ago, and she’s been serving up burgers and fries ever since.

In this sparsely-populated area about 90 miles northwest of Norfolk, near the South Dakota border, the nearest restaurants are more than a dozen miles away. But Elsie says business was slow at first.

“It took a while for people to start coming because they – you drive to get here, that’s all there is to it, you know. And you go to a locked-up place a time or two, you’re not going to go back,” she says.

Elsie says she and Rudy made it a point for one of them to always be there. And since Rudy died in 2004, she’s been a one-woman show. But the customers keep coming – Elsie estimates about 50 people a day stop in this modest building with its traditional wooden bar and a handful of tables.

Boyd County Sheriff Chuck Wrede, Elsie Eiler, and Knox County Sheriff Don Henery
Boyd County Sheriff Chuck Wrede, Elsie Eiler, and Knox County Sheriff Don Henery (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media)

One regular customer is Boyd County Sheriff Chuck Wrede, who says the tavern’s a meeting place for area law enforcement.

“We come here once a month and kind of have an intel meeting between the counties, and invite different people to come and discuss what we need to do and what things go on,” Wrede says.

That’s been going on for years, with Elsie doing the cooking. But this day, one day after the 50th anniversary of her taking over the tavern, Wrede and Don Henery, sheriff of neighboring Knox County, have switched things around.

“This is the last Friday of the month, so this is when we normally meet. So we’re feeding Elsie for a change instead of her feeding us,” Henery says.

Among those on hand is Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent John Bolduc. “I’m here to help celebrate with Elsie. Obviously it’s a milestone for her, and the local folks, as you can see, are really excited about the relationship they have with this little community. And Elsie certainly is a fixture here and has meant a lot to the folks in this county,” Bolduc says.

The celebration was originally going to be a surprise. Elsie says she’s glad it wasn’t.

“I said to our sheriff, to Chuck when he came in, I said ‘It’s a good thing I knew.’ I said ‘How would I have reacted if both doors opened, State Patrol, all in the uniforms, all of them coming in?’ I said ‘What do you think I would have done?’ I said ‘I’d have just surrendered right there,’” she says, laughing.

Seriously, Elsie says, she’s honored by the support from people in law enforcement.

“I’m a firm believer that our police don’t get enough credit for what they do. I’ve not had any trouble, but I know if I had trouble they’d be here in seconds,” she says.

In addition to law enforcement folks, lots of others showed up for the celebration as well. Jeff Uhlir, who farms 20 miles south of Monowi, says he and other farmers gather to play cards at the tavern.

“We come, we play euchre tournaments during the winter here on Sunday nights. You gotta make memories. Monowi won’t always be here. (I) come here as often as I can to see Elsie,” Uhlir says.

Elsie Eiler's grandson Adam Lassise and her daughter Rene Lassise in the Monowi Tavern
Elsie Eiler's grandson Adam Lassise and her daughter Rene Lassise in the Monowi Tavern (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media)

And Elsie’s grandson, Adam Lassise, came all the way from the Netherlands for the celebration.

“I flew from Amsterdam to Minneapolis, Minneapolis into Omaha, and then mom picked me up by car, drove me from Omaha to here. It’s grandma.” Lassise explains.

Elsie says she’s doing what she wants. “Each year I just renew my license and stay again. I mean, basically…I’m happy here. This is where I really – I want to be here, or I wouldn’t stay here,” she says.

And her customers, and fans, hope the Monowi Tavern’s 50th anniversary is far from the last. “Elsie, I hope we’ll be back for the hundredth,” one man says. “Congratulations”

“Thank you,” Elsie replies, before turning to the other guests.

Monowi map