O'NEILL, Neb. -- This weekend offered a day to celebrate heritage; something one town takes particular pride in.

"Are you kidding, I got a key to a city," said Dana Messinger, who traveled from San Diego to O'Neill with his family -- descendants of John C. O'Neill.

They gathered for the dedication of the John C. O'Neill sculpture in front of the Holt County Courthouse, Saturday.

Dana Messinger said he was grateful to learn why his great grandfather went to Canada, but also to learn about the midwest.

"We have grown up all our lives, knowing about the general. Our grandmother was Grace Margaret O'Neill, born in Spalding. For us, it's one thing to hear it but when you come here to experience it, it's heartwarming," said Grete Phillips, from Kansas City. "It reminds me of all the questions I wish I'd asked my grandmother," Phillips said.  She said she learned how her great grandfather influenced other immigrants, and the coal mining business. 

The statue is also beside 500 inscribed bricks. The sculpture was designed by Herb Mignery.

"I did a composite of what I thought would look like him," Mignery said. He said it can be difficult to create a face based on multiple photos, but that he's confident he nailed down the expression. 

Mignery has been drawn to art since grade school. He got into the profession straight out of college. He was an illustrator in Hawaii for the army, and then a cartoonist for the Wayne Herald. He then moved to a company in Hastings and started sculpting his own designs in 1973. 

Mignery noted that it's not just about history and art, but getting to know people. 

"I find it very interesting because you get into people's lives," Mignery said. 

Likewise, the siblings noted that besides learning about their ancestry, they learned about the people of northeast Nebraska. 

"I've been here before, I live in the midwest, but I didn't realize how vibrant a community O'Neill is," Ellen Messinger of San Francisco said. 

They said they'll carry this change with them as they return home, Monday. 

"It really changed my opinions of the midwest," Dana Messinger said. 

The history of this statue began in 1984 when former mayor Lois Cole Schaffer initiated the idea.