NORFOLK, Neb. – A piece of northeast Nebraska history was recognized by the community on Saturday.

Norfolk Public Schools held an open house celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Norfolk Junior High building. School officials welcomed former teachers, students, administrators and community members to the facility, which previously served as the high school.

Current students, faculty and staff helped design self-guided tours with QR codes that visitors could scan. Members of the school community also provided guided tours.

Norfolk Junior High School Principal Dr. Jennifer Robinson said the turnout was “overwhelming,” and provided her an opportunity to learn even more about the school’s history.

“I have been in this building now for about 15 to 21 years throughout the district, and I learn more and more things every year about this amazing building and the people that are in the amazing building,” Robinson said.

Hundreds of community members gathered, with the school holding a raffle in aid of fundraising efforts to renovate the school’s auditorium, which had previously served as the site of some of Norfolk High alumnus Johnny Carson’s earliest magic performances.

Part of the tour was a presentation of Johnny Comes Home, a documentary in which Carson, who helmed The Tonight Show for 30 years, returned to Norfolk in 1981.

“We’re pretty sure that this was the classroom that they recorded that, and where Faye Gordon was his favorite teacher,” Robinson said of the room where the documentary was screened on Saturday. “If you’re a Johnny Carson fan, you’ve done a little bit of research with that and know that she had a special place in his heart.”

Robinson said guests of Saturday’s event recounted several stories from the recording of that documentary, noting that several of the people who were students at that time have gone on to teach at the school. Robinson said she learned on Saturday that the staff at the time was not informed in advance that Carson would be coming to the school.

“The teachers got a phone call the night before and said ‘7:30 meeting, be here sharp first thing in the morning,’” Robinson said.

Robinson said the story's re-teller recalled teachers being anxious for the meeting, only to learn that their celebrity alumnus would be returning to the school that day.

Robinson said the Saturday celebration required roughly 18 months of planning, with approximately 10 to 15 people began meeting once a month. The group chose to schedule it for the same weekend as the Great American Comedy Festival to honor Carson.

The tour also included a room honoring another Norfolk native who worked in the entertainment industry, with a display recognizing the achievements of Thurl Ravenscroft. The 1932 Norfolk High graduate was the voice of Tony the Tiger and was the vocalist for "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch" in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Robinson said staff at the building continues to uncover artifacts, with one attendee gifting a 1923 school yearbook on Saturday. The yearbook will go to the Elkhorn Valley Museum, Robinson said.

Robinson said community response to the event exceeded her expectations.

“When this building was originally constructed, it took a community to build this building, and it was the centerpiece of Norfolk. I really do think that people coming back still feel that centerpiece of Norfolk, still in the history here, and that it still lives on.”